Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.

 

 

 

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From Russia (With Kisses & Flowers)

DATELINE: Spy Extravaganza

Lotte Lenya Lets Bond Have It

Lotte Lenya & Sean Connery in Fight Royale!

No, From Russia with Love is not about a date between Trump and Putin. It’s the 1963 movie about James Bond, based on Ian Fleming’s hilarious novels, and starring Sean Connery.

With its iconic music, beautiful location photography, glorious Technicolor, and outrageous performances, it is a hoot and a half, even fifty years after its original release. Every set up will have your mouth agape and fighting back laughs.

If you want to know how a movie can stand up to time, take a look: even with its anachronistic and silly car phones, beepers, and lasers. These were cutting edge back then.

Not half the entertainment is in its two foremost early Bond villains: Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya.

Shaw’s tow-headed muscle guy was a forerunner of Dolph Lundgren’s Soviet superman from Rocky. It was the start of a decade of over-the-top villains, culminating with Quint from Jaws.

No overwhelming technology or special effects had yet to take hold in the well-produced low-budget Bond movies. However, a regrettable act or two occurs, with Connery slugging a woman. The producers also steal Hitchcock’s North by Northwest crop duster chase with a helicopter going after Bond.

Pipsqueak septuagenarian Lotte Lenya steals every scene, as she did as the procuress in Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Her final confrontation, a fight with James Bond, is a kick or two to the head. She gives him a run for his secret agent style. You can’t beat an old lady fighting James Bond in grand style.

Trump’s 2020 Opponent

 DATELINE:  Checkmate, Matey!

Reaper Chess, anyone?

Much speculation now circulates on who will be the best candidate against Trump in 2020. We know the winner, hands down.

Polls seem to indicate the best person to run against Trump will be a woman. Our choice is more gender-neutral. We suggest the Grim Reaper.

You may recall that Ingmar Bergman’s Knight dealt with him in The Seventh Seal, and more recently Bill and Ted went up against him.

Of course, we know that Trump is not smart enough to beat the Grim Reaper at chess. Heavens, he probably doesn’t even know a Fischer from a Spassky. He is the quintessential rook-master, but calls it a castle.

Some suggest Michelle Obama would look good in a cowl and black robe, but we think there is another candidate from Destiny. His name is the Grim Reaper.

He seems inevitable. Considering Trump’s age and weight, the President in his mid-70s with a considerable girth may be just what the Reaper wants in his white male presidential candidates.

Not since William Howard Taft became stuck in his bathtub as the fattest president has there been someone as zaftig as Trump. Taft lost the election, not weight.

There is a fat chance that Trump will continue to eat fast food cheeseburgers for lunch and wash it down with sugary soda. If so, by 2020, our vision tells us he will be the size of overcooked Roman emperors, and just as likely for a palace coup led by the Reaper.

Trump loses to the Grim Reaper and is cut down by the scythe of life.

Winter Kills an Assassination Plot

DATELINE:  Not Citizen Kane

Taylor as Madam Hollywood Miss Taylor, We Presume?

Richard Condon’s novel called Winter Kills, a roman a clef of the Kennedy Assassination, makes for one of the earliest of conspiracy theory movies. Winter Kills is by the man who wrote the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi’s Honor.

Vincent Canby of the NY Times called it equal to Citizen Kane, but that seems a stretch. It is more akin to Oliver Stone’s JFK.

A stunning cast of cameos appear and disappear quickly. The opening credits are about as jaw-dropping as Murder on the Orient Express:  Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Dorothy Malone, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, and on and on.

How could it go wrong? Well, you can start by scratching your head over the notion that movie is billed as a tragic comedy.

The Kennedy murder in 1963 may be a comedy of errors in its commission and solution, but hardly a comedy.

The film takes the off-putting hints of conspiracy and gives them fake names:  Joe Diamond for Jack Ruby, etc.

Jeff Bridges is the young man (at his most attractive in 1979) who is the brother of an assassinated president who decides to solve the crime himself. In the meantime, conspirators are killing everyone around him. His attitude is bizarre, like someone has strung together unrelated scenes (blame goes to the director).

John Huston gives another irascible performance as the President’s father and Dorothy Malone is his mother.

The film predates the Internet but makes some intriguing theories that a master-programmed spy network of computers is following everyone as early as 1960. It is a stunning prediction on today’s world. That alone is gripping and clairvoyant.

All the usual suspects are present: Hollywood moguls, billionaires, crackpot businessmen, mobsters, Cubans, political hacks, the CIA, and on and on. We know the drill by now, but back in 1980, this was shocking. With more evidence now available, the theories here are standard conclusions today.

As for the movie, it is over-the-top and worth your attention. Not Citizen Kane, it is equal to Stone’s JFK.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Identical Strangers

DATELINE: Triplets Separated at Birth

3some Reunited for a time.

Oh, a feel-good human-interest documentary? It’s called ironically Three Identical Strangers.

Not so fast. This movie is a roller-coaster that takes you to

emotional heights and depths you may not expect. It may be the most powerful film we have reviewed in quite some time: disturbing, funny, horrifying, exposing some unethical natures in our world.

Three gorgeous 19-year old men discover they are triplets separated at birth by a ruthless agency and uncaring birth mother. Eddy, Bobby, and David, are charming, but the little princes are about to face adversity.

Their tale of discovery is delightful and fun as they become 1980s media darlings, showing up on every talk venue of the era. They had found each other and nothing else mattered.

Their adoptive parents were distressed that the boys had been cruelly separated by the Wise Jewish Adoption Agency. But, the group stone-walled them and celebrated holding them at bay.

At first the boys did not care much, too overwhelmed in finding each other. Yet, as time passed, they began to see some horror in the mysterious separation.

About half through the film, you too will be shaken by the ruthless human experimentation: deliberately separating children who were twins or triplets for the egotistical study of a notable New York psychiatrist.

Even today, surviving members of the business shrug it off in an infuriating manner. Playing like Nazis with the lives of children did not bother them at all. It is revolting.

As for the boys, growing up to learn they were lab rats, may have done even more damage. The journalist who discovers the ugly secret cannot compel powerful forces to reveal why they did this nasty experiment—ripping apart children from their closest relatives.

The ultimate tragedy that befalls the triplets undercuts the happy-go-lucky age of discovery that had in 1981. What ultimately transpires will stun you.

This is powerful story-telling about crypto-Nazis in America.

 

 

Who Murdered Whitey?

 DATELINE:  Inside Scoop You Won’t See Elsewhere!

Itt

Based on information leaked to us anonymously, we have learned who and how the Federal Bureau of Prisons arranged to have James ‘Whitey’ Bulger murdered.

There are 3 “drop out” US Penitentiaries in the US federal prison system. The rest of the UPS’s or “Pens”, which are the high security prisons, are called “active yards”. This is because the prison authorities know about ACTIVE and CONDONED gang activity.

The BOP likes the gangs because they divide the prison population and work with the “shot callers” (aka the gang leaders).

Gangs fall into two categories. First category includes well- known gangs, like the Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia, Tango Blast, Bloods, Latin Kings, etc. Then, there are “cars”. These are really gangs of undeclared gang members who “gang up” by State of Region of the County.

The “car” that most wanted Whitey was the “Northeast car “which Boston is obviously part of. These gang members had a hit on WB which is and was known to the BOP officials. Within this system “rats” are “crushed” which means sneak attacks by at least two or more attackers and beaten until the guards get there.

A favorite weapon is a lock in a sock or a lock on a belt along with others things like homemade knives “shanks” or “bangers”.

The active yard BOP system wide prisoners live by the “fact” that anyone coming from a “drop-out yard” (such as Terre Haute, Tucson AZ, or Coleman II, in FL), as soon as they arrive at any other USP, shall and must be crushed.

This is known to all BOP officials.

No prisoner from a drop-out yard can be allowed to enter an active prison, especially with a KNOWN CONTRACT on his head like James Bulger.

Whitey came from Coleman II, then was in Tucson with a contract on him and then wheeled in his wheelchair on to Hazelton’s active yard.

The inmates who work at the Receiving and Discharge always know in advance who is arriving because they are told. It was all planned from the beginning and despite the BOP’s obligation to “protect” those in custody, they fed him to exactly who wanted to get him…all premeditated.

Valentino’s The Black Eagle

 DATELINE: Surprisingly Fun Silent

 Valentino Yes, Valentino!

You may well think that we’ve lost what’s left of our wits when we chose to watch a silent movie that is not The Artist of a few years back.

No, we picked one of the lesser well-known works of Rudolph Valentino: it’s called The Eagle, based on an old Russian novel by Pushkin. For those unfamiliar with Russian classics, it’s a Robin Hood tale about a wayward young officer who runs afoul of Czarina Catherine when he rebuffs her advances.

Taking to the hills, the young man becomes an outlaw bent on vengeance for loss of his family estate. It all becomes complicated when he falls for the beautiful daughter of his enemy. All this is done with aplomb and humor, sumptuous sets and delightful underplaying.

Valentino does not dance a tango here, but a minuet. And, the director is one of the greats of Hollywood, Clarence Brown who is best known for The Yearling, twenty years later. He was an actors’ director, especially good with child stars.

Brown could always coax great performances, and Valentino is a surprise with a comedic touch. The ridiculous legend does not do him justice. And, Vilma Banky is the swanky belle with the odd name. She too is perfection. Minor roles, like the Czarina and the chaperone of Vilma, are older women with deft touches in their acting.

A silent of this kind of movie might have failed had we heard Valentino’s accent and voice, but what a shame that we never had the chance.

If a silent film comes your way, this may be the one to sample.

 

 

 

 

Dominic Dunne: Party On

DATELINE: Murder Will Out Gossip

 DD Character Assassin’s Best Friend

His friends always called him Nic, not Dom. And, he was the biggest social climber in Hollywood for a time, and then he was the biggest crime writer in America.

Dominic Dunne: After the Party is an Australian documentary from ten years ago that is making its waves now on streaming video.

Dunne fully cooperated, and he shows no mercy to himself and his youthful flaws. His son, actor Griffin Dunne is first to join the chorus of critical bric-a-bracs.

Not truly a journalist, he was not even a writer until age 50 when he started writing novels about social climbing society types, like the Two Mrs. Glenvilles. Only later, after his daughter’s murder in Hollywood, does he change his metier and go after the bad guys: the rich and pampered who think they were above the law.

Among his famous cases: O.J., the Menendez Brothers, and Phil Spector. He is merciless about their guilt and their unpleasantness. He makes big-time enemies, like Robert Kennedy, Jr.

He knew them all in the 1950s, joining in some monumental parties with names that are unforgettable. Then, he produced a bunch of movies, like gay groundbreaker Boys in the Band and plastic surgery breaker Ash Wednesday with Elizabeth Taylor.

He was married to an heiress for a time, but he never admits much beyond this as his sexploits are concerned. Only in later years, he admits he is celibate and carefree.

Like many social butterflies, he seemed to miss the point that these fests with big names were hollow and as much for their name-dropping as anything else. He is still not above or below the idea of dropping names or embellishing his luxuries. His son disdains this quality, but he is right about his father.

A compelling picture of a Hollywood groupie who found a passport to the inner world, this documentary is gossip on a high-level, high-octane whirlwind.

 

 

 

 

 

Avenging Angels Kill Whitey Bulger

DATELINE: Infamy’s Bullseye?

 Jimmy  Young Whitey Bulger

We must admit that a prison sentence in a federal penitentiary is not meant to be a fun experience. However, it is not necessarily a death sentence unless lethal injection is the sentence. If you are a celebrity prisoner, you have received a death sentence in the prison systems of the United States.

So, the powers of the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided to move an 89-year old sociopathic, legendary snitch killer of the mob to a new home where death awaited in the form of greeting committee. USP Hazelton is a dangerous deathtrap for inmates, thanks to the Trump hiring freeze and incarceration of illegal immigrants.

James “Whitey” Bulger never spent 24 hours in his new digs because they killed him instantly. There was no trick or treat offered unless it was to the Death Penalty often meted out by killers willy-nilly.

Now, we figure it does not take much to kill an 89-year old on his last legs, no matter how infamous or how well he takes care. So, this hit comes off as crude when security is the name of the high-security pen in West Virginia.

We are reminded that another local villain, Albert de Salvo, was also murdered in prison. He was the Boston Strangler, or so the conspiratorial types dispute. Then, more recently, we had Aaron Hernandez, another local product, a suicide in grisly fashion, though some thought he was done in. And, who can forget gay cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, killed in prison?

You’ll never hear the true story when fake news is the government’s stock-in-trade.

And, then there was Father Geoghan, the child molestor, who found himself strangled by a self-appointed child abuse victim judge and jury.

All this seems to indicate that prisons are not doing the job, or are taking on the role of Avenging Angel when they are merely meant to be Lucifer’s Waiting Room.

We hate to throw cold water on the killing spree offered by the federal bureau under Trump’s budget cuts, but the unkindest cut of all is to circumvent justice.

We seem to have a plethora of that going around the country nowadays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geriatric Death Wish

DATELINE: Don’t Call Him Dirty Harry!

what's it all about, Alfie?  Dirty Alfie?

When you take a premise to the British producers, you will have something better than the original American version.

So, when someone floated the idea of a British vigilante going after bad guys that the police cannot catch, you end up with Harry Brown, outdoing Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis in Death Wish.

This thriller is about an octogenarian who takes on teenage hoodlums single-handedly. Now, there are a raft of British movie stars who could come out of retirement to play such a role (Sean Connery, Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, etc.). However, this one is delightful because the man of the gun is a version of Dirty Harry, Michael Caine.

As far as the teenage bad guys, they seem motiveless and simply evil for their own pleasure, which could likely be true enough.

Michael Caine is driven to draw on his heroic soldier roots from Belfast’s conflicts. He notes that the enemy in that British conflict actually stood for something they believed in. These drug-infested youth are just nasty for their own sake.

You throw in some highly inept British police that are typified by Emily Mortimer as an all-business detective, and you have the need for an aging hero to try to chase kids down the mean streets.

Caine’s righteous anger simmers and you believe this retired gentleman can draw upon something from his past when he goes rogue. We need to see a tough guy without mercy who is 80.

Obviously, the world of movies and the old stars still has a draw—and the aging boomer generation still loves its Alfie and 60s spy. We know what it’s all about: showing that age has not slowed down heroic feelings.

Good/Bad &/or Ugly

DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece

Ugly or Bad? Ugly or Bad?

Apart from the title being incorrectly punctuated, the Sergio Leone classic western cannot be judged by any normal standard of movie-making.

It is singular, both hilarious and horse opera bouffe. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is amazing, now restored and digitally remastered. It never looked better. It is 3 hours of utter charm.

The film starred Clint Eastwood, but he was outshone in every moment by Eli Wallach’s Tuco the Rat. It is a performance that comes once in a lifetime of great acting. It is so over-the-top and looney that it works as perfection. There is some question as to which is the Ugly one. In trailers, it is Lee Van Cleef, and in the movie the word is placed over Wallach’s image.

Scenes are historically inaccurate, overlong, and seem to be in some fantasy world that is not the real west. It does not matter one whit.

If the scenes were not epic enough (Tuco in a bubble bath with guns) or Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes shooting kids, you do have Clint’s nameless character with a nickname of “Blondie,” which Eli Wallach seems to relish.

Scene-stealing should be added to the list of crimes that Tuco commits (the litany includes murder, rape, and cheating at cards).

We have not even touched on the iconic music that dots every panorama and desert viewpoint. The plot has something to do with three mercenaries with no morality and ethics seeking a gold treasure in someone’s grave.

The climax may be the longest stand-off shoot-out in the history of movies with three gunslingers facing off for six minutes.

There may well be deep messages conveyed here, but all that is secondary to the delight and mirth of showing the American Civil War as a dirty business. Indeed, all the major actors have flies on them.  We do learn how Clint took that iconic serape off a dying young blond man who looks like a younger version of him.

This film is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Long Riders, Brotherly Love

 DATELINE: Brothers Carradine, et al.

Carradines

If you want a seminal rehash of all the big-time bank and train robbers of the West, you could not find a more succinct and intriguing film than The Long Riders.

Written partly by the Keach brothers, Stacey and James, it has as its basic catch-all hook the fact that sets of brothers play sets of brothers:  Jesse and Frank, the Younger Boys, the Millers, and those pesky Fords.

It would seem the director Walter Hill wanted to showcase brotherly relations by finding siblings to play off each other. The family ties also go against each other, as if we are watching some movie history of famous family actors in heat.

The film came out in 1980 and has all the hallmarks of the Peckinpah violence of the era. These outlaws take a dose of slow-motion death throes from The Wild Bunch, etc.

If you want bravura acting, here it is. Without a doubt, the rivalry between brothers is almost as tasty as that between sets of brothers. As you might expect, the gang life of the young criminals and gunslingers is not idyllic, except in dime novels.

The script is episodic: seemingly finding moments, like family gatherings, dances, bordello bonding, and funerals, as the means to lead up to the disaster at Northfield, Minnesota, when they went off reservation and out of their metier.

It’s hard not to cite David Carradine and Keith as scene stealers, though the Keaches write themselves some good lines too. The Quaid boys, Randy and Dennis, seem extremely young, but it was forty years ago.

Macho preening and male bonding have not changed much since 1880 or 1980, and this film is a document to show that fact.

 

 

 

Another Dr. Moreau from H.G. Wells

DATELINE:  Genetic Engineering’s Early Days

 moreau Lancaster Experiments on York!

Of the many Island of Dr. Moreau movies, with its many caricatures of the deranged scientist, we count Charles Laughton and Marlon Brando. Each played a zaftig and outrageous mad scientist to the rafters.

In 1977, the most subdued of the versions came out from American International, of all studios, and starred Burt Lancaster as Dr. Moreau. The titan of movies was then 65, but still virile and active. His performance is pure Burt.

Playing the young shipwrecked officer came another star at the top of his game: Michael York, wafer-thin and at his most attractive in the decade where his name was above the title.

He and Lancaster really have several face-offs of grand debate over science. It falls to Lancaster to give his performance the veneer of respectability. He is not a caricature but comes across as the voice of reason. It makes his mad scientist even more frightful.

In an age before DNA, the H.G. Wells tale deals with genetic mutation at the cellular level by means of serum. Here, Moreau wants to change animals into men.

It becomes horrific when he decides to change a man into an animal in the name of science—and York is the victim.

The cast is small, but effective. Among the standouts are Richard Basehart, unrecognizable in makeup, and Nigel Davenport as the assistant to Moreau. Around for looks is Barbara Carrera, standard exotic beauty of the decade.

As for the manimals, they seem to be wearing the leftover costumes from some Planet of the Apes sequel.

The movie belongs to the master, Lancaster. Savor it.

Hitler’s Mountain Retreat

DATELINE:  Serviette from Hitler’s Table

Hitler's napkin

We have a long-standing aversion to these Nazi documentaries because, all too often, they are masked celebrations of the low-point of human history as occurred in Germany in the 1930s & 1940s.

Hitler’s Mountain: Hidden Remnants, a film about the ostentatious residence of Hitler in the Bavarian mountains sounds like one of those Netflix series episodes, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes: the Dark Side.

Well, we are happy to report that this film, French in origin, is fairly blunt about the evil that was done in such a place of beauty. Even Hitler’s waiters in white waistcoats were model Aryan coverboys.

Nazi overlord Martin Bormann oversaw the constant renovations: it was never finished. Ultimately the house above ground had 30 luxurious rooms with a titanic picture window, used as a backdrop by the Fuhrer. His stairway up to the house also served as a means to put diplomats in their place.

Most of the time, the house was the reserve of Eva Braun and her friends, where she took home movies of the luxury. After the war, most of her clothes and personal items were looted and put up for auction.

Though nearly everything above ground was bombed and then blown up again in the 1950s by the Bavarian government (which always sounds like Barbarian in this film), the greatest achievement was the underground bunker. It is actually a city, never quite finished. And it was never quite destroyed, now under lock and key for preservation. Even unfinished, its size rivaled a major subway system.

We also see the tablecloths and napkins that were used in the dining halls, as well as Hitler’s private silverware. This too is in a museum in France.

The Eagle’s Nest, reached by an elevator ride for 40 seconds, to the mountain top was never bombed, nor destroyed. Today it serves as an elegant restaurant in a rejuvenated area that features modern hotels and re-forestation of the area.

This extraordinary home will horrify viewers with the notion that it inspired Hitler’s most diabolical and vicious ideas. Home, sweet home, indeed.

 

Palace of Silents, Off Sunset Boulevard

DATELINE: Silence Please!

silent movie theatre

We thought Palace of Silents would be some nostalgic look at a movie house that shows only silent movies since the early 1940s. You know, slightly wacky, obsessive people with good intentions.

Little did we know we were about to enter Sunset Boulevard where Los Angelinos are all Norma Desmond.

You have to love a movie that offers you a surprise or two.

Around the start of World War II, a conscientious objector named Hampton and his wife built their own tiny theatre with a small apartment above. Here they planned to show his grand collection of silent movies to an ever-decreasing and disinterested public.

Not exactly a popular activity, he was a pioneer in film restoration, finding the best prints and splicing them together in his home lab. If a half-dozen people came by, it was enough for forty years.

A friend named Lawrence Austin horned in on the widow, pulling a snow job on her and taking over the property. Lawrence Austin was a Hollywood fraud, telling lies and embezzling to beat the band. However, he refurbished the theatre and continued its mission. Silent Movie Theatre continued, perhaps even flourished with riding the coattails of Buster Keaton revivals.

Austin’s dubious and secretive past (he was a closet gay and may have used the old theatre for shows not on the screen). Eventually, he had a laundry list of enemies, including ex-cons.

He was murdered one night in the theatre as it was about to show Murnau’s Sunrise. A minor scandal in Hollywood, it was quickly solved, and the theatre was saved again by a vaudevillian mentality who knew little about silent movies.

Yet, the story of the grand old movie house transcends scandal, sordid lives, and misuse of its charm. The movie may pleasantly surprise you.