Category: Movie Review

Movie Review: A Close Call for Boston Blackie

A Close Call for Boston Blackie is one of just three Boston Blackie movies starring Chester Morris that are official releases.

In this film, a man is murdered in Blackie’s apartment and his widow escapes, leaving the baby in the care of Blackie and his sidekick Runt. Blackie has to stay one step ahead of Inspector Farraday and his minions.

Chester Morris is charming and funny as Blackie and has a very convincing turn in his disguise. Some of the early scenes reminded me of the radio show but this played things for comedy more than the radio show did and not all of the humor worked. The baby is cute, however most of the humor centering around the child falls flat. Frank Sully (who plays Sergeant Matthews) seems to be trying to be a poor man’s Red Skelton but ultimately doesn’t work. The pace of the first half of this hour-long film drags as it takes forever to get out of Blackie’s apartment. However, the film does become more engaging in the second half.

Overall, the film isn’t bad, but it’s essentially an average detective B movie from the 1940s. It is entertaining due to a strong performance by Morris more than anything else.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

Movie Review: Blonde for a Day

Lloyd Nolan had a solid run as Michael Shayne in seven B-movies for Fox in the early forties. Then in 1946-47, a second series of Shayne films were made starring Hugh Beaumont (Leave it to Beaver) as Shayne. Blonde for a Day was the third film.

In Blonde for a Day, Shayne heads back to his hometown from San Francisco when his old reporter pal Tim Rourke is put in hospital and out of commission while investigating racketeers. Shayne has to unravel the truth behind the shootings and the rackets.

The film has two things going for it. First, it’s based on a story by Brett Halliday and it’s easy to tell they kept to Halliday’s plot, which is far more than you could say for most of the Fox Shayne films. The basics of the mystery are good and make the movie better than it would be otherwise. Beaumont is a competent leading man, while by no means a first choice for Shayne, he puts in a serviceable performance.

The rest of the film is fairly awful. It lacks the stylishness of the Nolan pictures and it’s poorly made in its own right. The beginning is hard to watch as it’s dominated by stock footage, bad acting, and a dreadful soundtrack plays over every scene.The other actors’ performances remain almost universally bad with dated routines (even by 1946 standards) being poorly executed.

This is the only Beaumont Shayne film to be released and as such, it is a bit of curiosity. Given the quality of the film, the best way to satisfy curiosity is with a $1.99 digital rental. It’s just not worth buying the DVD unless you’re a collector.

Rating: 2.25 out of 5.0

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Film Review: The Saint (1996)

This film attempts to remake and update Leslie Charteris’ character of Simon Templar (aka: The Saint.) In this modern setting, the Saint is still a criminal who hasn’t gone straight and finds himself entangled in issues in post-Soviet Russia where control of energy is vital to the future and evil Communist turned evil Billionaire is planning to topple the government by obtaining the secret to cold fusion. The Saint must obtain the secret from Doctor Emma Russell (played by Elizabeth Shue).

Positives: The film does a great job with its location work, bringing to life Russia in Winter with all its cold and grittiness. Elizabeth Shue’s character is pretty well-crafted, cutting against the grain of stereotypical scientists who are cold and lifeless and she’s longing for something deeper and is hungry for philosophy, truth, and beauty.

Kudos to whoever did Val Kilmer’s make up. In this version, Simon Templar is a master of disguise and it seems plausible that he could pull it off with how different he looks in each disguise and Kilmer’s dialects are masterful.

Negatives: We can start with spending the first six minutes of the movie gratuitously showing Simon being beaten by a stereotypically overbearing priest for refusing to accept the name chosen for him as he was left at the orphanage as a nameless orphan. Will Hollywood decide this cliche is ever overdone?

In the film’s second and third acts, the best it can really manage is typical action slock which is not bad but not really good either. Plus the ending drags out through senseless decompression after the resolution.

I also have to say that the film’s understanding of science is dumbfounding. The formula obtained for cold fusion is incomplete, but all our heroine needs is two hours in a room without computers or anything to wrap it up. But hey, it’s an action film.

The film’s biggest flaw goes back to Templar. The character just isn’t likable. In fact, we rarely understand why he does anything. He wants to get $50 million in his bank account to retire…why? Why $50 million? And why does he want to quit? Is he wanting to stay out of jails? Does he not like what he does and feels on some level its wrong? It’s never explained.

Part of this is Kilmer who lacks any charm or charisma that actors like George Sanders or Roger Moore brought to the role. There’s no swagger in Kilmer’s Saint until the end by which point its too late. There’s no sense of fun. It’s just a guy doing a job and wanting to make money.

The other thing is the way the film was written makes the character hard to like and it’s the way he seduces vulnerable women and uses them for his own ends. First, it’s a passenger on the plane who just found out her husband is cheating on her and then Doctor Russell, a lonely eccentric romantic longing for something deeper. This is contrary to the original Saint films and TV shows, that while roguish, always fought on the side of angels, and left you with the impression that no innocent person had been hurt.

It would have taken magnificent performance to make such a character likable and Kilmer’s mediocre performance just doesn’t do it.

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Movie Review: The Brasher Doubloon

This 1947 adaptation of the Philip Marlowe novel, The High Window is an illustration both of how not to adapt a book and how not to do a detective movie.

As soon as I saw the Mustached George Montgomery, I knew I’d had trouble buying him in the role of Philip Marlowe. Philip Marlowe with a mustache? He couldn’t carry it off and it was more than the facial hair.

To be clear, Montgomery does give the best performance in this movie, but that’s not saying much. Every performance in this movie is either extremely wooden or hammy.

The movie was also incredibly inconsistent with Marlowe narrating, with it being present at the early part of the film and then disappearing later on. In addition, the voice overs he did were pointless. A good voice over should communicate something we didn’t or show off the hard boiled nature of the private eye or the setting. The narration here did nothing other than say things that we could see on the screen or were just plain bland. In addition, while this is supposed to be a hard boiled private eye movie, it ends with a gathering of the suspects and Marlowe revealing whodunit like it’s Charlie Chan or the Thin Man.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a story of the greatest hard boiled eye of them all, Philip Marlowe and the “romance” angle in this movie is so hard to swallow. In the novel High Window, Marlowe recognizes that the timid secretary of his client is emotionally wounded and needs helped. He gallantly works to help her with no idea of doing anything romantic with her. Here, George Montgomery’s Marlowe is downright creepy in his attempts to seduce Merle Davis (Nancy Guild). It just felt icky and my feeling has nothing to do with our politically correct times. Chandler recognized this was not the way a hero should act and that a man who has to hit on an emotionally traumatized woman is not only a cad, but a loser.

The movie does have a chase scene that’s half way decent. In some way screenwriter Dorothy Bennett did manage to pare down Chandler’s more convoluted story line and eliminate character like Leslie Murdoch’s wife. The story features a young Conrad Janis who looks a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio in this film. Finally, the DVD release is long overdue, and it’s worth watching once for Philip Marlowe completists.

In the end, this is just a poor film, and it’s poor for a B-film. It’d be understandable if this came from a studio like Monogram, but Fox made this and they showed in both Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto that they could make entertaining B detective movies, for whatever reason, they didn’t here.

Rating: 3.0 out of 10

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Movie Review: Death on the Nile (1978)

In Death on the Nile, wealthy young heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Lois Chiles) is murdered on board a boat travelling down the Nile. The most likely suspect, a jealous ex-friend (Mia Farrow) from whom Ridgeway stole her fiance (Simon MacCorkindale) is eliminated because of being indisposed under the influence of morphine after shooting the dead woman’s husband in the leg. However Poirot (Peter Ustinov) does not find himself wanting for suspects as it seems everyone on the boat had a motive.

Death on the Nile was the second of three big screen adaptations made featuring Hercules Poirot in an eight year period from 1974-82. It has all the hallmarks of the other two Poirot films: luscious landscapes and an all-star cast. All three movies also have cases with very unique features  and in this one, no one but the most likely suspect has an alibi.

This was Ustinov’s first time appearing as Poirot and he does a marvelous job. His performance in Death on the Nile gave Poirot a great balance of dignity and humanity. While in Evil Under the Sun (1982), Poirot ends up getting played more comically, Ustinov gets it perfect here.

I’ve now seen all three films from this period and this was my favorite. All of them had features, but also some major flaws which slightly marred the experience making it so so. This is definitely not the case with Death on the Nile.

The cinematography and music is top notch. The all-star cast is used brilliantly playing as a solid team. Angela Lansbury is marvelous in her portrayal of a romance writer. And Mia Farrow turns in a fantastic performance as the menacing “spurned woman.” To top it all off, David Niven gives  a fantastic performance as Colonel Race, Poirot’s sidekick for this adventure and rarely has Poirot had better.

My only problem with this film is that Poirot’s initial theory seemed hard to swallow and harder still to believe Poirot would postulate. Still Agatha Christie asked us to believe it in a well-beloved mystery book, so I can’t knock it too much.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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