Tag: mixed review

DVD Review: Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12


Forgotten Noir and Crime, Volume 12 collects another three rare low-budget films.

First up is The Treasure of Monte Cristo: A seaman (Glenn Langan) on shore leave is swept up into romance and marries a mysterious woman (Adele Jurgens) and then finds himself framed for murder. This is a clever plot and it’s gutsy for a low-budget film to try to write a modern-day sequel to one of literature’s great classics. There are nice location scenes and Langan and Jergens (who would later marry) are both pretty good. The rest of the acting is uneven and some plot points are not well-realized, including a confusing escape sequence. Still, this is a fun story.

The second film is Roaring City, the second of the Dennis O’Brien films which adapted two Johnny Madero radio scripts per film. Hugh Beaumont does seem to settle into his role as the tough talking private eye, strolling casually through scenes pipe in hand and finding a way to deliver the over the top hard boiled lines with as much credibility as he could muster. Similarly, Edward Brophy settles into his role as sidekick/roommate/drunk Professor Schicker.  The film is fun and breezy but not without errors. Outside of Beaumont and Brophy, the acting is so-so and there’s a pretty significant continuity error in the second half. O’Brien tells the Professor he’s agreed to go on a date and pretend to be a woman’s husband before he goes on the date and then after he’s inevitably framed for murder, he tells the Professor all over again as if he hadn’t told him the first time. Still, if you can get past hiccups like this, it’s not a bad way to spend about an hour.

The final film is Sky Liner, which is about a murder occuring mid-flight and being investigated before the plane lands. This is a film with silliness that includes ridiculously fast autopsies, but it’s a good setting and with a breezy pace that’s a tad under 50 minutes. There is a longer version of the film that includes a juvenile song number and a subplot about a newlywed couple. I can’t help but feel that this is probably the best cut of the film.

Overall, these are pretty good, low-budget films. They’re quirky and fun. There’s plenty of flaws to be found, but also fun elements that will bring a smile to the face of classic film buffs.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 8

The eighth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more stories adapted from the classic TV series.

“The Long Morrow” is about an astronaut who is chosen for a long-term deep-space mission because he has no attachments to anyone on Earth. Right before he’s scheduled to leave, he goes on a date, meets a woman, and falls deeply in love with her. He’s to go into a stasis capsule and not age during the whole voyage. There’s a lot I like about this story. The romance and character stuff is engaging, but they also explore some interesting sci-fi concepts that a lot of the “going into stasis until you arrive on a new planet” stories kind of ignore. It’s an all-around solid listen.

“The 7th is Made of Phantoms” is about an Army National Guard Unit in the 1960s that’s on maneuvers and finds itself interacting with the Battle of Little Big Horn. This is one of those stories that I just don’t get the point, the moral, or the lesson. There’s no explanation or hint of one, so it’s a very unsatisfying story.

“Mirror Image” is a really unsettling tale where a woman with an apparently poor memory at a bus station comes to believe she has a doppelganger who is trying to take her place. There’s little atmosphere or real explanation of what’s going on, but it really builds tension and atmosphere to make it a worthwhile listen.

“A Thing About Machines:” A man who lives alone seems to be constantly at war with his machines and for his machines, the feeling appears to be mutual. This one doesn’t work for me because the machines only go so far, and since we’re not dealing with like a computer or artificial intelligence, it’s just a bit silly.

“The Last Night of Jockey”-A disgraced jockey gets one wish and wants to make himself a big man. This is an interesting story and it works as a morality tale. It’s an interesting theme that the Twilight Zone examines where a protagonist thinks they need just one break in order to escape their failed lives, they get a break, and ultimately they prove that fundamentally their own character flaws led to their downfall.

“The Fever”-A tightwad (Stacy Keach) is afraid his long-suffering wife will get hooked into out-of-control gambling when they win a free trip to Vegas. So, of course, it happens to the husband instead. This has been a pretty common plot, though this has a supernatural twist. The success of the production ultimately comes down to Keach’s performance.

The stories in this set are fine, but I’d only say “The Long Morrow” and “Mirror Image” are very strong pieces. This is one collection where it may make sense to go on audible or the Itunes store and purchase your favorite episode as a standalone, because the quality in this set is a bit mixed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 6

The Sixth Volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six radio dramas that recreate classic episodes.

The Dummy: Bruno Kirby plays a ventriloquist who believes his dummy is alive. Trouble starts when he decides to replace his dummy with a new one.  Ventriloquist dummies are great in creepy stories, and I think they work particularly well over audio.

No Time Like the Past: Jason Alexander stars as a scientist who tries to change history three times to make a better world before giving up and deciding to go and live in history, where he falls in love with a woman who is fated to die. Some of the emotional beats in this story work, but the logic of both the scientist and the story are a bit strained. His attempts to change history were haphazard at best and doomed to failure due to his lack of planning. A theme of this episode is that history can’t be changed, but the overall point can be taken as, “History definitely can’t be changed if you don’t actually think through your plan.”

Still Valley: Adam West plays a Confederate sergeant who is given a chance to win the war through witchcraft. I do love Adam West, and he puts in a very good performance, and the story goes in a direction I didn’t expect. There’s some great atmosphere and nice music. This is a really easy listen.

King Nine Will Not Return: The story focuses on the pilot (Adam Baldwin) of a crashed bomber searching for his crew in the dessert.  The story itself is pretty good, with a nice twist, and a bit of unexplained spookiness at the end. But what makes this a standout is Adam Baldwin’s performance. This is his second Twilight Zone and once again, he’s got nearly all the lines and his performance is superb. These two plays convince me that Baldwin’s talents are underrated. If radio/audio were as huge in America as it used to be, Baldwin would be the guy I’d want to listen to all the time.

I Am the Night Color Me Black: A man (John Ratzenberger) is about to be executed for killing an abusive racist when strange things begin to happen. This one was definitely a very moody, suspenseful, and surrealistic play. It’s definitely a different role for Ratzenberger, who is best known for his work in comedies like the TV show Cheers. It’s well worth listening to.

The Incredible World of Horace Ford: A toymaker (Mike Starr) is literally transformed back into a kid when he visits his old neighborhood. This isn’t a bad story. It deals with the idea of the dangers of living an idealized past, and the importance of living your life in the present. It’s a recurring theme in the The Twilight Zone. But that also means its a story they’ve done in more interesting ways. In particular, I think of, “Walking Distance.” (Done on Audio in Volume 5.) This feels like a slightly inferior exploration of the same theme and a little too on the nose.

Overall, this is a pretty strong set. While the stories aren’t perfect, these feature a couple of my favorite stories so far, and everything else is fine.

Ratings: 4 out of 5

DVD Review: Forgotten Noir, Volume Seven

Forgotten Noir, Volume 7 collects three B-movie mystery/adventure films from the 1950s, all of which had interest to me as a fan of old time radio.

The first is David Harding, Counter Spy. Based on the long-running Phillip H. Lord radio series, the film has a framing device of a commentator who blasted the government, having the idea of counter-espionage explained to him through a story that occurred during World War II as a Navy Lieutenant Commander is called in to find out how information is being leaked from a torpedo manufacturing plant. The framing device is unnecessary and the film has a few slower moments, but this is the best film in the set as it was made as a studio B picture for Columbia rather than as an Independent release.

Next up is Danger Zone. There’s some confusion around this movie. Some say it’s based on Pat Novak for Hire starring Jack Webb. It’s actually based on the Pat Novak for Hire ripoff Johnny Madero, Pier 23 also starring Jack Webb. Future Ward Cleaver Hugh Beaumont stars as Dennis O’Brien, who is Johnny Madero by another name. This movie adapts two different stories made over radio with little to link them, apparently to allow the option of splitting them to air on television. One of the stories adapts an existing radio episode, “The Fatal Auction” and follows the plot beat for beat.

The biggest change is that rather than having his confidant be a waterfront priest, Dennis’ go-to guy, Professor Frederic Schiker, is a Jocko Madigan-type drunk who lives with O’Brien, which does save on scene changes. I did miss the character’s chiding (which was a feature of both Pat Novak and Johnny Madero) and without that the performance is a bit flat. The stories are decent, but the acting is a bit off. Even Beaumont, true pro that he was, seemed to not totally believe the off-the-wall hard boiled lines he was being asked to deliver. It does make me appreciate the unique quality that allowed Jack Webb to deliver those lines with as much conviction as he did.

Finally, we have The Big Chase. I was interested in this film as it starred Mystery is My Hobby and Stand by for Crime star Glenn Langan and his wife (and Stand by for Crime co-star) Adele Jurgens as a rookie policeman and his expectant wife. The story does have some nice features. Langan’s character is given depth as we learned why he joined the force and why he wants to get into the juvenile division. Langan does a good job and plays his part without the more refined voice he does his most famous radio voice in.

The story features better talent than you’d expect with a film like this with Lon Chaney, Jr. playing one of the bad guys and Douglas Kennedy playing our hero’s police Lieutenant buddy. It also featured Joe Flynn (of McHale’s Navy fame) in one of his earliest film roles as a reporter in yet another unnecessary set of framing scenes. The film is called the Big Chase for a reason. It has a twenty minute chase scene that’s a lot of fun. It involves cars, trains, a helicopter, boats, as well as some fisticuffs, and gun play. It’s not perfectly executed but makes up for it with some nice location shooting which can cover a multiple of film-making sins for many fans.

The big problem with the film is that it is severely padded. It runs a little over an hour and has enough interesting material to fill somewhere between 25-35 minutes. The chase really gets started nearly 40 minutes in, and prior to that the pacing was positively glacial.

I was glad to watch the films, but this is one of those ones I couldn’t recommend for everyone. This is a film that you have to be an OTR buff to appreciate. We have a well-known radio series coming to film, an obscure radio series coming to film, and a star of two lesser known radio series playing a policeman in a slow, dull film that gives way to an impressive low budget chase. As the saying goes, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you would like.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

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DVD Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy is a comic strip movie starring Warren Beatty as the famous detective Dick Tracy, as he tries to take down the criminal organization of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) while avoiding the designs of Breathless Mahoney (Madonna.)

This film won three technical Oscars and deserved it. The world created for this movie is visually appealing with some stunning use of color and art deco touches as well. The make-up and costume design are top notch. In addition, Danny Elfman turns in a typically good score.

The story is decent if not spectacular. The final the twist at the end is good. The plot points related to Junior are taken right out of the comic and feel right in place. There are also some great actors in relatively minor roles including Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hofffman, and James Caan. In addition, in a nod to classic detective movies, Mike Mazurki shows up.

There are three problems with the film. First, I don’t care much for Beatty’s performance as Tracy. He was going for strait-laced and upright but instead comes off as stiff. Al Pacino, on the other hand, gives a performance that is way over the top. I’ll never understand how he got nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Saturn Award. For me, it was a grating, scenery-chewing performance that was more annoying than funny.

Second, there’s too much of Madonna singing in this film. One or two musical numbers, I can see. But she has five numbers in this film. They’re all well-written, but the only one that worked was, “Back in Business.”

Third, the film’s tone is inconsistent. It’s a movie that doesn’t know who its marketing itself to. I remember seeing happy meal toys for this movie and the bright colors and character of Junior would appeal to kids. On the other hand, some of the violence was too extreme for children and Breathless Mahoney is an over-sexualized character in keeping with Madonna’s 1990s brand. On the other hand, much of the plot, story, and characters doesn’t appeal to adults. The tonal differences means that sometimes, it feels like the characters are in different movies.

They were trying to imitate Chester Gould, who made Dick Tracy, the type of comic strip the whole family wanted to read by mixing elements that appeal to kids and adults to satisfy everyone. In the film, they seem to have succeeded in not fully satisfying many people at all.

That said, there are worse attempts to adapt a classic property. A lot does work about the film. Something Val Kilmer would prove six years later in The Saint. The film looks classy and has a great sense of style, with a lot of homages to its source material. If you’re a Madonna fan and/or you liked Al Pacino’s performance in this, you’re going to like it more than I did. For me, it’s a film that had a lot of potential but never fully lived up to it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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