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

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

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.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

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

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

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

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes with Jude Law as Watson. Holmes efforts lead to the capture of a cult leader and black magic practitioner named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who has been on a killing spree through grotesque human sacrifices. At the same time, Dr. Watson is engaged and Holmes is doing his best to wreck the engagement to keep his much needed assistant at his elbow.

Before Lord Blackwood is executed, he promises Holmes that there will be three deaths that Holmes can’t stop that will change the world and drive Holmes mad. Watson declares Lord Blackwood dead, but then three days later Blackwood’s tomb has been found empty and the promised deaths begin.  Holmes has to unravel the puzzle and is plunged into a world of dark conspiracies and the occult as he searches for the truth. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the movie is to list some of its key deviations from traditional Holmes stories:

  • Holmes uses his fists far more than usual. True enough. In A Study in Scarlet, it does mention that Holmes is an expert boxer, but the thread seems almost to have been forgotten by Doyle in later stories. But in Sherlock Holmes , Holmes has as many martial arts moves as Jackie Chan. However, Guy Ritchie did a good job working Holmes thinking process into his fighting which made it easier to swallow.
  • He and Irene Adler are an item and Adler, rather than being a dancer who gets into a scrape with a Bohemian king, is an international criminal.
  • Holmes’ traditional portrayal as a drug addict is gone. And instead,  in this movie, we find Holmes having to guard against Watson’s gambling habit to make sure Mrs. Hudson gets the rent money.
  • Holmes is intentionally trying to sabotage the engagement of Mary Marston, not so in the books.

There are other differences. Holmes definitely doesn’t act like he lived in the Victorian era for one. Despite these issues, I found myself oddly enjoying the movie. Perhaps, it’s because there’s a long-running tradition of messing around with the character for dramatic portrayals going back to William Gillette who wrote the first dramatic adaptation. He asked permission from Doyle to marry Sherlock Holmes off and was told, “You may marry him or murder him or do whatever you like with him.”

And so it’s been. We’ve had all sorts of Sherlock Holmes films and television shows. There’s been a young Sherlock Holmes movie, there’s been an animated Sherlock Holmes Television series featuring Holmes in the 22nd Century with a robot Dr. Watson. We’ve had stupid Holmes and brilliant Watson movies, and of course our post-modern Holmes over on the BBC. There have been  pastiches that have taken the character in all directions.

Yet, the true Holmes of fiction is well known to most people, so while movies and television can play with Holmes’ character, they can’t really redefine it in the eyes of the public, just as Patrick Stewart’s King of Texas didn’t make anyone thing King Lear was really set in Texas.

Similarly, Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes could best be understood by bringing one of fiction’s greatest heroes to the biggest moneymaking arena there is: The Summer Popcorn movie.  By this account, Sherlock Holmes was a fine film. It was an action packed thriller with plenty of plot twists and engaging story that holds your attention to the end. If there’s any film I’d compare it to, it’d be be the Basil Rathbone vehicle The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes which was a solid action thriller for 1939. Sherlock Holmes show how much more Hollywood has amped up its performance and how much more action audiences demand.

Perhaps, the story’s truest touch was the its portrayal of the close friendship between Holmes and Watson.  While not as warm as the Rathbone-Bruce or Brett-Hardwicke portrayals, or even the Ronald Howard and Howard Marion Crawford performances from the 1954 syndicated Television series,  the Holmes-Watson interplay between Downing and Jude Law was better than the BBC’s vision from Sherlock.

Overall, the results of Robert Downey, Jr. and Direct Guy Ritchie playing with the Sherlock Holmes character turned out surprising well, even if they won’t make me forget Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0  stars.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

The Top 10 Perry Mason TV Movies, Part One

Having recently watched all 26 of the 1980s-90s Perry Mason Revival movies, I’ve decided to make a list of the best of them.

While these movies are not the equals of the original series, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale’s talents still made the films worthwhile and entertaining through each of the 26 installments.

Without any further adieu, here’s my top 10 list:

10) Perry Mason and the Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)

Geraldo Rivera is perfectly cast as a trashy TV host who releases a memoir detailing his past escapades and dishing dirt on all of his lovers. It’s no surprise when he’s killed and suspects abound.

The mystery takes several turns with some great misdirection when Ken Malansky stumbles into two suspects who are in the witness protection program, but everything wraps up quite nicely.

 9) Perry Mason and the Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)

Perry usually doesn’t take the case of hardcore criminals, but finds himself defending reformed mobster Johnny Sorento (Michael Nader) who has apparently settled down in legitimate business. There are quite a few red herring in this one that throw the viewer off the truth, but the ending  has an incredible twist as the outcome can’t be exactly what Perry’s client was hoping for.

 8) Perry Mason and the Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)

The movie begins with Perry giving an interview with a news co-anchor. The news anchor is on a power trip and kills the story, prompting an angry confrontation with his co-anchor. When the anchor turns up dead and the co-anchor is charged, Perry leads in the defense.

If there’s one theme that does recur in these movies, it’s talented people who become the top dog and step on everyone else around them. It’s rarely more plainly shown than in this installment.

This telefilm also includes more than your average bit of action as Ken Malansky has to go to more extreme measures than usual to corral a key witness.

 7) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)

Speaking of Ken Malansky, The Lethal Lesson was where his involvement with Mason began. In this episode, he ends up Mason’s client after he’s accused of murdering a fellow law school student.

This particular installment has a fun love triangle between Ken’s girlfriend (Karen Kopins) and his an ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Paul) who is telling everyone that she’s Ken’s intended. For the first half of the movie you think Paul’s character is bonkers, but by the end of the film you’re given a surprise whammy in the payoff.

The story is solid with the usual tension between Perry’s friendships and his duty to his clinets. But the introduction of Malansky makes this a fascinating study. With Malansky on-board, the series was on its way to capturing some real magic in the chemistry between the cast and that alone makes this a worthwhile film.

To be Continued…Next Week

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.