Invisible Wells Classic

DATELINE: Whale of a Film

Rains

When James Whale chose to do his next amusing gothic horror, it turned out to be H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist who becomes invisible. It has now become a trite metaphor, but this is the original—and therein hangs some fascination. The Invisible Man came out in 1933.

To play a man who won’t be seen for most of the film, Whale chose Claude Rains whose voice manages to carry his performance. And Jack Pierce’s makeup is the notion of a wig, fake nose, dark glasses, and a bandaged mummy wrap to hide the lack of face.

Rains would go on to become one of the most familiar of second-banana stars—stealing movies like Casablanca in every scene they gave him.

For a film made in the early 1930s, the delightful special effects of invisibility set a standard that today still cannot be achieved. There is something in the primitive, expressionistic style that gives the unwrapping of Rains to scare the locals with such hilarious and horrific power.

As Dr. Jack Griffin, Rains gives a couple of classic homicidal maniac speeches about murdering people for the good of science, while his lovely girlfriend Gloria Stuart (of Titanic fame about 60 years later) frets about. Whale nixed Rains as Dr. Praetorius in the Bride of Frankenstein because of on-set difficulties between them.

Henry Travers is the dutiful sober-sided scientist. Best known as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is less befuddled here. As the loud, half-crazed tavern owner, there is Una O’Connor, shrieking whenever there is a chance.

We also saw Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in one of his earliest roles as the man with the bicycle. He does a wonderful low-brow Brit accent. Also there is John Carradine, father of Keith and David, as a minor character on the telephone.

Alas, Whale was saddled with many American actors whose regionalisms are completely out of place in a small English town. The village boys are decidedly American in tone.

Whales frequently films shorty Rains from the knees looking upward, giving him a frightful height, and the sets are spectacular and sumptuous, a sign that the budgets had improved for the director of Frankenstein.

 

Whatever its shortcomings, this remains an impressive achievement in cinema history.

 

 

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Monster Magic Maker: Jack Pierce

DATELINE: Unsung Creative Force!

jack with lon jr Wolf Man Credit!

What a delicious untold story!  A Greek immigrant boy comes to Hollywood and his creative juices give us the most famous monster makeup creatures of 20th century movies. Check out Jack Pierce: Maker of Monsters.

Like all the people who came to Hollywood in its infancy, they were self-made and their artistic sense was equally applied to their own lives. Jack Pierce did it all—from stunts, to camera operator, to director, but found his niche in applying makeup to the stars.

When Lon Chaney bailed on playing Dracula, Jack was thwarted by Bela Lugosi who had his own ideas. However, it was on Frankenstein that he grew into legend, spending months researching how the creature should look. It led to a plethora of famous monsters: The Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, but he was head of Universal and worked on making beautiful women more stunning.

The Mummy makeup took 8 hours to apply and another hour to remove. If Karloff was uncomplaining, no wonder a friendship between them developed.

Pierce’s makeup effects often terrified the naïve audiences of the 1930s. He was Universal Studio’s master: responsible for all the horrors up to 1947. When they were about to gather all the monsters for a comedy, Abbot and Costello meet, Jack was fired, but his makeup style was maintained.

Later, a myth grew around Frankenstein that James Whale, director, created the face: not true. Karloff always gave credit to his friend, Pierce. You can thank the movie and book Gods and Monsters for the misinfo.

Always an actor at heart, Jack wore a lab coat in the makeup room, which certainly intimidated Elsa Lanchester, who was the Bride of the monster. She recalled it thirty years later in less than happy terms. Jack did Lon Chaney, Jr., as Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein, over the years. That too was not a good relationship.

If they needed a star to age from 30 to 80, Jack Pierce could make it happen for a generation. One of his last makeup jobs was for Mr. Ed, the talking horse, hired by his friend from Universal, Arthur Lubin.

When Jack died in 1969, almost no one from the movie world came to his funeral. Fascinating bio of a nearly forgotten figure of film history.

 

 

 

Noir Classic: He Walked by Night

DATELINE:  Movie as TV Pilot

Dragnet

We had never seen He Walked by Night, and it took us aback right away. It is thought to be a 70-year old black and white masterpiece of low-budget, poverty-row studio. Even the directorship is mysterious: was it really Anthony Mann who sneaked over to another studio to do the work?

Right from the Prologue, we recognized the classic line: “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” What’s more, actor Jack Webb had a featured role!

Then came the ponderous narrator talking about Los Angeles, a big city, etc.. This was followed almost immediately with a long discussion of a dragnet across the city!

Yep:  it was Dragnet!  We were about to see some kind of movie prototype of the famous police show of the 1950s.

Webb did not play Sgt. Joe Friday. No, he was some lab rat in the forensics department, and young virile Scott Brady was the cop.

We learned later that Jack Webb befriended Marty Wynn, the LA technical adviser (whom Brady played). They partnered and came up with the radio/TV show Dragnet in 1950.

This movie was unusual for other reasons. The LA criminal psychopath was played by young Richard Basehart—in cashmere gloves and Brooks Brothers suit. He was a tech-savvy genius, creating 12-foot TV projection screens 40 years before they really happened.

This villain was brilliant and diabolical in his murdering rampage. The intriguing concept of Dragnet, always, was that the pedestrian and bland cops were flatfooted, but persistent.

The other feature here was the deadpan humor of the police, likely a defensive response to the evil they always encountered. It too would surface on Dragnet a few years later.

Also a bit ahead of its time, the climax in the underground flood tunnels of Los Angeles is a precursor of the Third Man where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was chased by police in Vienna.

The Hard Way Made Easy

DATELINE: Little Known Classic

McGoohan & Van Cleef Old Stars Die Hard!

It comes across as a movie made for British TV, but The Hard Way is easily a thoughtful and careful drama.

The stars are the mainspring of this film:  you have a chance to see Lee Van Cleef play an American mobster with Irish ties, and his assassin Patrick McGoohan. What a treat to find these aging legends together in a taut character drama.

Since the film is set in and made in 1979, the two stars are about 15 years past their prime.

As a consequence, both stars look like extremely tired versions of their middle-aged selves. They are not quite old, but soon will be there. The film has long been unavailable in the United States, but now can be streamed from Prime.

As we all know, Patrick McGoohan made a career out of playing some kind of British secret agent with a license to kill, whether he was The Prisoner or Danger Man.  And, here he is not too far afield as Connor, a secret mob hitman.

Van Cleef was more at home on the range but seems not too far removed when he visits McGoohan’s bleak, spartan cottage in the rural wilds of Ireland. In seclusion, far from family, McGoohan’s noir hero stays alone, apart from close contacts for miles, but the depressing little house has electricity in some miraculous fashion.

Van Cleef will force his enforcer to kill again by some dint of personal loyalty. It is not a case of enthusiastic friendship, and their scenes together are fascinating in the politesse of criminal etiquette.

John Boorman produced this film, which was done in Ireland entirely as a modern film noir with redeeming moments of stunning silence. The sense of bleak coldness is palpable.

The film is a treat for aficionados, more akin to a LeCarre story.

Out of Time and Out of Clues

DATELINE: Dean Cain & Denzel Back in 2003

Dean & Denzel

Like Bruce Willis, for twenty years or more, Denzel Washington has showed a knack for picking interesting films and character roles. One of these is called Out of Time, a hackneyed suspense drama.

In 2003, he tried his luck as a semi-corrupt small-town sheriff in the Florida Keys. The film has all the workings of film noir in the 1940s that Robert Mitchum could have played.

Denzel is an anchor among some flashy performers, and the opening wit is entertaining before it devolves into a mystery muddier than anything Raymond Chandler could dredge up.

You will enjoy seeing Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain as a couple of reprobates, but their general dubious crime associations are masked by their attractiveness. The first-half fun is replaced by a phony suspense device in the second half.

Eva Mendes as Denzel’s ex-wife and John Billingsley as his slob of a medical examiner are worth having their own pictures. Sanaa Lathan and Eva play ping-pong with Denzel’s balls.

Plot holes start to do in the viewer as the complications become less amusing and more ridiculous. It seems Denzel’s sheriff is a dope (self-admitted by film’s end) and must work to extricate himself from a set-up that, for unknown reasons, makes him a fall-guy.

Since he is a charmer and likeable, we figure that drug dealers have it in for him. We might be wrong, as usual. However, clever clues are not forthcoming to help armchair detectives figure out the thriller mystery. Yet, Dean Cain and Denzel are at the peak of their youthful good looks in this one, and they are highly watchable.

All your natural action ingredients are tossed in, and there is a time handicap that never really becomes a deadline of importance. The suspense is botched.

Yet, for Denzel’s fans, it is another masterful performance in a well-produced movie. For the rest of us, it’s a ho-hummer, beating the clock for an hour.

 

Two Mrs. Carrolls Lacks Noir

 DATELINE: Oldie May Not Be Goodie

  Stanwyk & Bogart Great Stars! Abysmal Script!

Back in the late 1940s, it was tough to find leading ladies who were strong enough to stand up to Humphrey Bogart. Usually producers fell back on his wife, Lauren Bacall, for a counterpoint.

In a rare miss, Bogart was teamed with one of the big misses of the era.

Big women movie stars on the screen—like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—did not measure up to the scripts that suited Bogart.

On the other hand, Barbara Stanwyk was also a tough cookie to play against. She was so tough that her leading men came off as Neanderthal, if not pussycats. Gary Cooper was a regular costar, and after that, you were facing weaker characters (played by Fred MacMurray or Ronald Reagan, or the nice guys like Bill Holden).

After Sorry, Wrong Number, she took on more nasty victims, and so we come to teaming Bogart and Stanwyk, almost deserving of each other in the dull-witted murder-thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Stanwyk is hysterical on the telephone once again, and rest assured, the rainy Scottish weather means that Bogart will don his obligatory trench-coat and fedora for at least one scene. It isn’t enough.

It was post-World War II and tough-guy actors were stretching into demi-villains. Thus odd-ball film is set in Scotland with an American cast of apparent expatriates. Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson) is on hand as a dotty doctor for Stanwyk as she is poisoned, and Alexis Smith is the new muse for the diabolical painter.

You keep wondering when Sydney Greenstreet will show up to trap Bogart’s bad guy.

As Geoffrey Carroll, Humphrey Bogart loses interest in his latest wife as muse, murders her, and finds another. It is kind of Andrea del Sarto as Bluebeard.

He plays an unconvincing American artist in this one, not a detective, and he seems to have headaches when the word “death” echoes behind him. He exhibits a bunch of the Deadly Sins—including rage, pride, jealousy, among others.

His alleged successful paintings are deplorable.

These are not good signs for Bogie in the last days of noir. They may be worse news for Stanwyk as victim. She is made so demure that the point of putting a strong woman opposite Bogart was lost. Bogart feeds poisoned milk to his wives, like Cary Grant in Suspicion by Hitchcock. It’s that kind of copycat movie.

This British play is devoid of wit, suspense, plot, action, or anything that could be saved by the high-powered actors at the top of their careers. This was not a Warner Brothers film, or it would never have been made like this.

The final few seconds are the high-point when Bogie offers warm milk to the policemen about to take him away. (Oh, it’s laced with that poison).

What a disappointment for the most part.

 

 

 

Please Murder Me! TV Titans in Film Noir!

DATELINE: Perry Mason Meets Murder, She Wrote!

TV titans

When Perry Mason meets Jessica Fletcher, we have a murder mystery donnybrook, she wrote. Murder Me Please is a surprise of the first magnitude. Who knew?

In 1956, fresh off Godzilla, Raymond Burr took on another role in which he spoke into a tape recorder while murderous film history was made around him. It was likely this movie role, heroic and protagonistic, that won him the lifetime achievement as lawyer Perry Mason. This is his first true Perry Mason role.

Here, he must defend a woman he knows is guilty of murder—and live with the consequence of exonerating a danger and menace.

His nemesis is Angela Lansbury, looking all too femme fatale before moving into matron roles. Here she gives one of her last great villain acting jobs (culminating in Manchurian Candidate).

This film noir is so dark during the first 15 minutes that you want to scream at the screen to turn on a light.

It is classic 50s nighttime in Los Angeles among the upper-classes. The supporting cast is gem-laden:  Dick Foran is the cuckold husband, and John Dehner is the Ham Burger to Burr. Young Lamont Johnson is the callow artist in his final acting job before going on to direct movies.

This is a Peter Godfrey picture, meaning it is stylish and professional, before he slipped into directing routine television anthology shows.

The fireworks between Burr and Lansbury are worth your time. It was a forgotten B-picture in its era of 1956, with far more interest today as a sign of great actors having a field day.

One problem is the print of the movie, clearly abused by time with scratches, lines, and other distractions coming from careless handling of the prints. Yet, the film itself transcends with its harsh, hard-knocks, noir crime thrills.

Lansbury and Burr would become TV icons as Fletcher and Mason, but that is mere promise in this movie. This is acting war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Again, Hysterical Satire

DATELINE: Reincarnation Mystery

kookoo mystery Kookoo Noir Takeoff

There was a time nearly 30 years ago when Kenneth Branagh was considered the reincarnation of Orson Welles, with a dollop of Laurence Olivier thrown into the mix.

So, the time has arrived to re-assess one of his early efforts called Dead Again from 1991.

He was a promising and brilliant director of unusual fare and acted well too. This looney mystery deviated from his usual Shakespearean play adaptations by entering the film noir, detective story, broadly copying Warner and Parmount features of the late 1940s.

What most missed back then was the fact that this overwrought tale of reincarnation and murder was overdone deliberately. We cannot believe Branagh was dumb enough to think this was not a comedy.

The film does double duty: telling a modern case of a detective Mike Church in LA today, and the strange killer, Roman Strauss, a composer and conductor of 1948, who was executed for murdering his wife. The black and white noir flashbacks are spot on for 1940s imitation. Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are suitably channeled.

Branagh is a little weird as a detective (his reincarnated self) who is an LA sleuth with a Brooklyn accent. That might be the first mistake, or first clue.

The cast is equally impressive, with Emma Thompson as Strauss’s wife, the concert pianist victim, and the modern woman with amnesia that Church must help.

Call in Derek Jacobi as some kind of psychic hypnotist to regress the woman to 1948, and you have another brilliant performer slightly out of place in an American movie.

Also hanging around in cameos are Robin Williams, Scott Campbell, and Andy Garcia. This film is no slouch when it comes to top-level talent. Yes, Wayne Knight is here too.

We are a sucker when it comes to transgender resurrection and timeless love stories.

Everyone immediately notices that Emma Thompson resembles a woman dead in 1948, but no one seems to notice that Kenneth Branagh resembles her convicted murderer, executed in 1949.

Oh, well, that’s Life Magazine for you. In the meantime, the movie moves more and more toward utter lunacy, skipping over plot holes like hopscotch gone to bad karma.

We like our twist of reincarnation with a bitter of gender bending. Add some lemons and you have Branagh imitating Paramount and Warner Brothers murder mystery thrillers of the 1940s with panache. We are Between Two Worlds and the Two Mrs. Carrolls.

Like a warm British beer, this movie is all frothy, and the suds will make you queasy. It’s eye-rolling fun.

 

 

Portrait of a Fantasy Classic

DATELINE: Robert Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie

Brackman Jennie Brackman Painting Used in Film!

Portrait of Jennie is unusual movie fare by any standard—whether it is today or when it was released in 1949.

Back then, audiences were better educated for sure. The movie starts out with quotes from Euripides and Keats on mortality and the philosophy of death. As if to prove you are not in Kansas, the film uses the stunning music of Debussy’s “Nuages,” with an assist from Dmitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann. Phew!

You don’t have music like this as background audio nowadays!

Unsuccessful painter of landscapes, Eban Adams (Joe Cotten), cannot find a plug nickel for his work in 1934. When he begs art dealers Ethel Barrymore and Cecil Kellaway to buy one of his pictures, they take pity on him. However, the price is to be told there is no love in his work, in critique by a spinster art collector.

When he meets a turn-of-the-century little girl in Central Park, she tells him she will grow up fast to marry him. Lo and behold, when he sees her again, she is older, and then again older. He is enchanted, and forced to do detective work to find her.

The twosome finally conclude that there is some error in the time-space continuum, no mean feat considering when the movie was made. They are not supposed to cross paths, let alone find the love of their lives, of all time.

You know that something is afoot when the screen goes garish green toward the climax.

The actual prop portrait of Jennifer Jones, breathtakingly beautiful, was actually done by Robert Brackman—and kept in the library of producer David O. Selznick, married to Miss Jones at the time.

With another gallery acting job by Joseph Cotten—and an assist from Ethel Barrymore, the old lady with a crush on him, you have an instant classic—and more.

Throw in Lillian Gish and Cecil Kellaway—and the film noir photography of Central Park at night, and we can forgive any logical weirdness in the storyline.

You owe yourself one romantic fantasy in a lifetime. This should be it, and never let drowning in a tsunami stop you from going to Land’s End on Cape Cod.

 

 

Hitler’s Hollywood by Any Other Name

DATELINE: Singing in the Reich

Hitler on movie set

If  imitation is a sincere form of flattery, Hitler’s attempt to copy Hollywood movies is indeed a nasty compliment. Hitler’s Hollywood is a horrid misnomer.

During the years 1933 to 1945, there was a thriving movie business under the Nazis in Germany, run by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of notoriety.

Hitler loved movies—and his studios planned to give him an exact duplicate of the big boffo productions out of Hollywood.

If he couldn’t have Garbo, he had Ingrid Bergman in one movie before she cleared out of the Third Reich for Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

The Germans loved musicals with numbers more extravagant than the Busby Berkley movies. They were overlaid, however, with nasty digs at Jews at every turn in subtle fashion. Then, there were the outright anti-Semitic films.

There were about a 1000 movies made by the German state studio with their own star system: comedy, melodrama, and historic epics, but never science fiction or horror. In fact, the melodrama featured so much fantasy and nightmares to the Aryan heroes that they turned into horror pictures.

The Nazis never knew irony.

If there was a steady theme, it was the glorification of death for the Fatherland. Good Germans dying for their country was a common theme.

As the war proceeded and was undermining morale, the films started to be oriented for female audiences—and in glorious technicolor. But the wild extravagance was panic to keep the home audiences on target.

The version of the Titanic sinking was blamed on the Jewish financiers, and then was banned from showings in Germany itself by Goebbels.

The entire documentary is narrated in creepy fashion by Udo Keir—and is hypnotic, horrifying, and surprising.

Primal Fear & Secondary Plot

 DATELINE: Attorney-Client Privilege

 attorney privilege

In 1996 came another of those lawyer with killer client movies. This one featured Richard Gere as the hotshot attorney, and young Edward Norton as the simpleton altar boy who butchers the archbishop.

Smarmy, with a wink, and an attitude to put the screws to anyone in his way, infamous attorney Richard Gere defends mobsters (Steven Bauer) and anyone else who will cause his picture to adorn the city’s magazines.

Laura Linney is his antagonist in the prosecutor’s office and dismisses him after a one-night stand that “lasted six months.” Her buttons can be pushed, and she pushes back. In light of the Hollywood mistreatment of women, the brazen sexism of the Gere character is a bit too much. However, it fits in with the attitudes he exhibits.

Alfre Woodard is the judge who is not about to let her courtroom become a place where Gere can let loose his vendettas. The corrupt city prosecutors are about as hooked into mob ventures as the church in this cynical movie.

This time the archbishop isn’t diddling the boys, only videotaping their antics with hired girls. What a change of pace!

Norton seems to play the hillbilly boy brought to the big city by the slick priest. However, neuropsychiatrist Frances McDormand isn’t quite convinced during the 60 hours of conversation she holds with the young choir boy.

Gere uses a bag of tricks to acquit the young man of the heinous crime (a word he claims is too fancy for the dumb jury).

The growing twisted jazz score indicates that we are in film noir territory, and come-uppance is around the corner. Movie is well-done and has fine performances, though we feel like we have been there in several similar movies, most notably with Keanu Reeves last year in The Whole Truth and Gary Oldman a few years back in Criminal Law. They had client troubles too.

You could do worse than pay attention here.

Mummy Dearest

DATELINE:   Tut-Tut!

Mummy Dearest Karloff!

Of the Quartet of Classic Horror from the early 1930s, the fourth entry in the series is often relegated to the bottom tier. The Mummy follows the legendary Frankenstein, Dracula, and Invisible Man. But he is no also-ran.

Unfortunately for him, we learn in the first few minutes of the 1933 film that the mummy is actually a misnomer. He is not mummified at all, having been buried alive.

So much for false advertising.

Beyond that, we have a whale of a movie—not James Whale: the director was famous cinematographer Karl Freund in his first directing effort.

As star Lita Johann said, he was a nasty guy—to her. Exotic star Lita was married later to John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield to you). Whatever he did to her during their 23-days of filming, she is marvelous as the reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s daughter.

As for Karloff, what can you say? He is so tall in his scenes, we think he was wearing lifts under his rakish robes. He looks like a bag of fragile bones, as the mummy-come-to-life.  His face is dustier and has more riles than a Moon crater as he plays Im-Ho-Tep (not to be confused with IHOP).

The biggest special effect is Karloff’s eyes, which is impressive indeed.

Scenes of a second unit, or stock footage, of Egypt, surely gives us a sense of the pre-Howard Carter King Tut world. And, audiences in the 1930s knew what a mummy’s curse was, which is played to the hilt.

The climactic scene is when the Mummy relates his unfortunate murder by the Pharaoh’s men. Juicy and grotesque horror!

As a love story, this is thriller covers 3700 years and incantations about the dead, which transcend undying love.

What a treat.

 

 

Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.

 

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Small Time Crime, Cheap

DATELINE: Big Town Movie

small town crime Superior Entertainment!

Billed as a darkly comic crime drama, we had visions of billboards along a highway with Oscar performances.

On top of that, this would-be up-dated film noir movie was being streamed for less than a dollar. If you want to convince people you have a bad movie, that will go a long way to achieving the effect.

Small Town Crime, whatever its price, is actually an interesting movie. Not quite an all-star cast, it has many familiar faces and highly competent actors who give us a detective story with a twist of lemon.

We failed to see any dark humor in an alcoholic policeman thrown off the force and desperately trying to solve a murder as a civilian to win back his job. John Hawkes looks even more weather-beaten and exhausted than Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart in the role of laconic dick.

Slowly, as he recovers from his alcoholic haze, he seems to become the reformed detective he wishes he could be.

We were thrilled to see Octavia Spencer as star and producer. Add Anthony Anderson, Robert Forster, and Clifton Collins, and you have a cast worth watching. The good guys are delightful when they form their alliance. And who would not want to team up Clifton Collins and Robert Forster?

To reform his reputation and act the role of a hero, disgraced detective Mike Kendall (Hawkes) must go through the usual physical pains along the way. This is first-rate noir, even in color and mostly during the day in Utah where setting is suitably empty with beauty and sordid with criminals.

The film builds to its climax and grows in its appeal as a thriller.