Unforgettable Vikings

DATELINE: Frolic in the Fjord

Viking Liking Sons of a Black Ram!

What a cast! Liking a Viking!

Forget the new-fangled cable TV series. Go back to the 1958 movie with Kirk Douglas as the Viking raider. If you have never heard the Mario Nascimbene theme, you are in for a treat—as it will stay in your head forever as the theme of Viking warriors.

If you have never seen The Vikings, prepare yourself.

This movie featured an all-star cast in bravura, over-the-top performances. Kirk Douglas and his costar Tony Curtis would return in Spartacus two years later and essentially play the same roles: Brothers under the tunic.

Here, Ernest Borgnine is the rapacious and fierce Viking king and father to Kirk (and to Tony, though no one in the movie ever learns this bit of dizzying plot complication). We are even more amused to learn that Borgnine was actually younger than the man who played his son!

Fresh off his Oscar for Marty, Ernie Borgnine is preparing to play McHale for his TV series by jumping off longboats. He calls Tony Curtis the son of a black ram, without realizing he was self-incriminating.

Throw in juicy actors like Frank Thring as an evil English king usurper (one in a line of magnificent villains—from Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur and King Herod in King of Kings). There is stalwart James Donald as the traitor to England and friend to the Vikings, and Alexander Knox as the suffering priest, with Edric Connor as Tony Curtis’s best friend.

Everyone shines. Director Richard Fleisher manages Viking chaos deftly.

Kirk Douglas plays nearly the entire film with one eye yanked out by a falcon (he wears a white contact lens).  It makes him even more frightful and plays the contrast to good Tony Curtis (whose wife Janet Leigh is the young woman every Viking wants.

This is one of those delicious fun movies you cannot believe they cannot make anymore. When the principals tried to do Spartacus, it became more message and less fun.

Every scene is exquisite in its outrageous melodrama, including amputations, eye-gouges, and a jump into a wolf pack to be chewed up. You can’t beat this stuff with special effects or computer-generated fakery.

With pure Hollywood magic, you have a truly atmospheric tale of 1000 years ago—filmed in magnificent fjords and drafty castles. The dangerous sword-fight atop the castle ramparts at the end will give you vertigo.

We lost track of how many times we heard that Nascimbene tune in various motifs. You will never forget it.

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Hollywood Takes on the Bible

DATELINE: Testament of the Trailers

hollywood bible

From 1994, in time for the Passover/Easter season, comes a two-part documentary that relies heavily on newsreel footage and trailers of Bible movies from silent days to the heydays of the 1960s epics.

You can find rare clips from all your favorite epics like King of Kings and The Greatest Story.  It’s all subverted by dry humor.

Of course, the fly in the ointment is that the streaming part two comes before part one. No way to stop that cart before the horse. The Bible According to Hollywood is a fast-paced sermon on the mount.

The narrator sounds like Robert Osborne, late of TMC fame, but it is a wit named Henry Stephens. And, the Old Testament starts off with a hoot and a half as it lambastes all those tacky Adam and Eve movies.

The light-tone and word play certainly makes this an enjoyable documentary. Since Cecil B. DeMille is the name on the marquee most of the time, you have mostly clips from his movies and his interviews.

Now and then, you hear from one of the stars of yore, like Virginia Mayo or Charlton Heston, They offer a few amusing morsels too. Heston contends he made only two Bible movies: the others were costume dramas. We’ll let you guess which ones he believes a truly Biblical.

Most of these sword and sandal films use a copyright free source to save money—and the early silent movies set the tone, and likely made the most money. Profits over prophets seemed to be the Hollywood motto.

Alas, most of the movies flopped:  the Old Testament stuff is far livelier than the New Testament, which is hamstrung by political forces: evangelicals want referential, and Jews don’t want to be scapegoats. The New Testament movies walk a tightrope.

All in all, the two parts could be interchangeable, and they will make you laugh and roll your eyes. What else can you expect from parables adapted for the screen?

Madonna & W./E. Against Us!

DATELINE: Material Girl Directs!

Andrea Riseborough Andrea Riseborough as Duchess of Windsor!

If you are looking for Madonna in her 2011 movie W./E., you won’t see her. She was behind the camera, directing it.

The film is everything you might expect—and is also totally unexpected. It may seem like Downton Abbey in Material Girl terms, but it is really a solid case of Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam meeting Henry James and The Aspern Papers.

Two women named Wallis, 70 years apart, have what appears to be a paranormal encounter.  They are unsympathetic protagonists, but what the world hates, Madonna loves.

Back in 2011, the movie was widely castigated by critics as an overreach and under-achievement. Those tuning in to see the iconic woman will see only her stand-ins: the two Wallys.

Now with a few years passed, we can see W./E. as something far more interesting and poorly judged by audiences and the anti-Madonna contingent. The film is beautifully constructed and under-appreciated.

A modern 1998 woman is obsessed with Wallis Simpson and her husband, the one-time King of England.

Here the legendary singer stretched her wings to make a film about a woman researching the legendary love affair of the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Wallis advises her modern counterpart, as both women are rapacious and obsessive.

Madonna seems intent on showing the Duchess of Windsor sacrificed far more than her husband.

In Madonna’s hands, this tale becomes a curious parallel to the Henry James story called The Aspern Papers. The conceit is that Wallis Simpson has left some letters that explain the affair in more comprehensive terms of the 21st century. It seems the King may not have given up the throne for the woman he loved exactly as advertised. He made his wife a glamorous prisoner.

Madonna’s modern woman is flawed greatly, intense and refusing to be denied: much like the Duchess of Windsor and the Madonna of music.

Intriguing Abbie Cornish is the modern Wally, and Andrea Riseborough is the brilliant version of the Duchess Wally. This is a fascinating film on many levels. You need to re-discover it.

Listening to Marlon Brando

DATELINE:  Method Man

Marlon Brando Fires Point Blank.

With its odd title, you may have trouble discerning what exactly is being told to whom.  Yet, Listen to Me Marlon is an affecting and striking documentary Showtime documentary about the legendary star of The Godfather, Streetcar Named Desire, and Reflections in a Golden Eye.

We wrote extensively about Brandon in Troubles in a Golden Eye, our movie biography, done with Hollywood master, Jan Merlin.

Intensely private and hostile to the press in the second half of his life, Brando made dozens and dozens of audio tapes of his philosophy, problems, and feelings. He clearly wanted to be remembered.

At the last he even had a digital map of his talking head so that it could be used sometime in futuristic movies.

In the meantime, we find many unusual photos and recreations of his unpleasant childhood in Omaha that he idealized. Though you see photos of associates and workmates, there is no gossip talk of colleagues. He speaks most admirably of Stella Adler, his acting teacher.

He does discuss his tortured children:  one committed suicide after her half-brother murdered her boyfriend. Christian died of pneumonia a few years after his father died.

He is thoughtful and sensitive, clearly appalled more and more by the money, profits, and legalities of movie-making. He worked three months a year for enormous salaries—and grew increasingly difficult to work with (ask Francis Ford Coppola).

A mutual friend of ours once told that Marlon was not like his public image: he was much, much softer. And that clearly comes across in his tapes.

Brando even rehearses how to die, which is chilling. He calls life the real improvisation and acting merely a deception of truth.

If you are a fan of Brando, or ever wondered about him, there may never be a more accurate depiction of his life—if only through his own distorted vision of self.

Jan Merlin & William Russo wrote Troubles in a Golden Eye, nonfiction about making the John Huston movie version of Carson McCullers’ novella Reflections in a Golden Eye. Brando and Elizabeth Taylor starred.

 

Sahara: Classic Desert War Movie

DATELINE: Bogie in a Tank

Bogie:Sahara

Seventy-six years old, and still modern. It is called Sahara from 1943. That is the condition of the new HD version of Humphrey Bogart’s best World War II movie.

It was meant to be a throwaway propaganda piece. Director Zoltan Korda made something far more reaching and lasting.

You can take all the clichés here and wrap them up as a gift. Three lost American soldiers in a tank (Bogart as Sgt. Gunn, Dan Duryea and Bruce Bennett) motivate their lone tank, Lulubelle, across the desert south to avoid the Nazi onslaught.

Along the way they meet a bunch of ragtag men without units: South African, Sudanese, Dublin, France, and even an Italian prisoner of war.

The cast is your exemplary second-banana team, including Lloyd Bridges and J. Carroll Naish. Every costar is given a big scene in which he bares a soul to the others and has a moment of glory.

There is plenty of foreshadowing with talk of miracles, and the dirty bunch end up at some abandoned mosque in the middle of nowhere with a dry well. Well, not so dry. There is a trickle of water to give them life and hope.

Rex Ingram, notable black actor and director, has a particularly large role and heroic one as Tambul. When a Nazi officer resists being searched by Ingram, Bogart tells him not to worry: the black won’t rub off on his pretty uniform.

The movie is loaded with timeless bits that were the stuff of a great America.

Korda even films one moment of flowing sand that is a mirage: it looks like cascading water.

The Nazis are ruthless and nasty, demanding “Wasser,” and dying of thirst while a handful of rainbow troops from all manner of places and races holds them off in a kind of Alamo stand. It was filmed at Palm Springs desert, but you’d swear you were in Africa.

You owe yourself to see what a studio could produce in its heyday of glory.

 

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.

 

 

Brazil, Where the Nuts Are!

DATELINE: Beyond the Twilight Zone

acting chops Whose Acting Chops?

If you thought nutcase movies are here today, you are about 30 years off. Brazil is a movie aficionado’s fantasy and nightmare, defying convention and logic. You just passed the signpost of Ipanema.

Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) went out of his way to make the Citizen Kane of kookoo-bird movies in 1985.

This was no small achievement as the film holds up as beyond modern and relevant. Its madness may yet to be realized in the future.

Like Blade Runner, the future is the past. There is an aura of 1940s film noir interspersed with superhero comic fantasy.

Jonathan Pryce is some bureaucrat by day and by night, in his dreams, some kind of flying circus performer out to save a damsel in distress. In the meantime, he works in mindless government agencies that are after Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro) in an early comedic performance as a heating engineer who is a wanted man for doing duct work without a license.

Pryce’s mother Ida Lowry is played by the youth-conscious Katherine Helmond in a face-stretching performance with Jim Broadbent, as her fey plastic surgeon, striving for tighter skin.

Included in the shenanigans are such familiar faces as Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and Ian Richardson. If they wanted to kick off the unorthodoxy of their careers, this film is definitely the forerunner.

If you want a plot, you will fall into a black hole and likely be stretched to kingdom come.

You can ride the wave of this movie from one loony tune moment to the next, not bothering to connect the dots or the scenes. It’s like being in the Trump Administration: you just sit back and experience the Cinerama of movie magic to the mambo-jumbo notes of the song “Brazil.”

Heavens, or is that Land of Goshen?

Sad Hill Unearthed! Fake Cemetery

 DATELINE:  Restoring the Un-Dead to Fake Life

sad hill trio Famous Trio at Sad Hill!

In Burgos, Spain, an amateur group of archeologists located the place where the climax of the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was filmed in 1966.

You have to love the spaghetti western (and it is hilarious horse opera with Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, and Clint Eastwood). Its climactic graveyard shootout is magnificent film-making—and its restored grandeur is stunning.

It is called Sad Hill Cemetery (not real), except as reel film history.

The responsible men are descended from locals who worked as extras in the movie, and they find the place is magical. It had been lost and buried under six inches of dirt. They dug up to find the circular stone center. Around it were mounds where the fake graves once stood with crosses.

It took much work, and many volunteers. They sold gravesites, with your name painted on a wooden cross, to finance the excavations.

A few survivors of the movie:  film editor and composer Ennio Morricone gave interviews. The film documentary is enhanced with behind-the-scenes photos—and movie clips. Old interviews with Sergio Leone are also a treat.

It was backbreaking work to restore the concentric circles of Leone’s visionary shootout scene among the crosses, row on row.

When finished, the magic returned. A large crowd showed up in the rural area where an orchestra played the film score, the archeologists re-enacted the shootout. It went on for ten to fifteen minutes in the film, and Clint even sent a recorded thank you message to the assembled crowd.

restored reel cemetery Restored at Last!

If you love this classic Western, you need this companion piece to history, myth, and movie magic.

 

Ancient Aliens Bring Captain Kirk Aboard

DATELINE: Von Daniken Beamed UP 13.14

shat Shat Upon Sagan!

It was inevitable. As 2019 starts a new special, Ancient Aliens Season 13, episode 14, brings in the most ancient astronaut of TV fame: there is William Shatner giving advice to Giorgio and the crew.

You have to love it. This is a special edition for sure. Cross-pollination is one of History Channel’s favorite Venerable Bede compliments. There is no one from outer space more ancient than Shatner. Where has he been for a 100 other episodes?

The reason for his appearance is to honor Erich Von Daniken. In 1976 Shatner made a movie called Mysteries of the Gods, which adapted more or less from one of Daniken’s books. Hence, the honor from History Channel. Clips of young Shatner appear, but no mention comes of Leonard Nimoy’s series In Search of…, which History is also remaking with the new Spock, Zachary Quinto.

The two-hour special is meant to be homage to Von Daniken’s amazing career since the 1960s when he burst onto the scene with his outlandish theories. We read Chariots of the Gods in 1968, before most the guests on this special were born.

We recall being surprised and more than a little confused as to why no one else had seen what the author revealed. It was mind-boggling, but then again so was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, he has more credibility than Carl Sagan. Indeed, the special has a clip of Sagan looking pathetic, attacking the notion of Ancient Aliens. Today, if the astronomer were still alive, he’d be ripe to serve as Trump’s Acting Ambassador to Mars.

The show manages to catalogue all the movies, TV shows, and other documentaries that had direct influence from Von Daniken: they also admit that Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick slightly preceded him.

Von Daniken reveals his Jesuit education that influenced him, and he also discusses how his background in hotel management ruined him with academics and their Ph.D.-union card prejudice.

As one with a doctorate, we feel as do some NASA people and Dr. Travis Taylor, that lack of degree means nothing when it comes to creative minds.

This latest entry seems a premature obit for Erich Von Daniken, or eulogy in anticipation. It does not detract from his remarkable veracity.

Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.

Dangerous Edge: Greene for Danger

DATELINE:  Literary Marvel

Greene  The Other Shade of Greene

Before Graham Greene was known as a Native American actor and movie star, he was one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  Oh, they were different people with the same name.

British writer Greene joined Hemingway as a character as vivid as his heroes of fiction. Like them, he was a converted Roman Catholic with severe doubts and moral lapses. He was, like them, often a writer and journalist, and he shared a background as a spy with many of his literary heroes. He was not a nice man.

And he loved to write movie reviews. Well, he wasn’t all bad.

As a cinematic novelist, his works often reached the screen with great influence: from This Gun for Hire, The Third Man,  Power and Glory, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt, and on and on.

He seemed always to visit a far-off location right before it blew up into an international crisis spot: from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam.

As a boy, his father was the headmaster of their school—and all his classmates regarded him as a spy for the old man. The notion stuck.

He was notoriously promiscuous and a womanizer, as well as an inveterate traveler. He was virulently anti-American for the most part—and loathed the movies that messed up his message (Quiet American Audie Murphy comes to mind, which can be seen in the book Audie Murphy in Vietnam by William Russo).

He defended notorious Communist Kim Philby, the Brit spy, and one of his closest friends. He accepted honors from the Soviet Union, but not from the Nobel Prize committee. No wonder the FBI and CIA kept him under surveillance.

Greene was also a suicidal manic-depressive most of the time, though he lived until his 80s and finally came to realize his mission was to write. He believed his work ultimately was his life and his identity. He was not far wrong.

The documentary about his life, Dangerous Edge, even features people like John LeCarre, his likely successor in literature, and the film uses many clips from the famous movies. He used to call his less serious work “entertainments,” but it all ended up as serious and entertaining.

The Twonky: 1st Artificial-Intelligence Movie

DATELINE:  Non-conformist Weirdo Stuff !

twonky To Twonk or Not to Twonk?

When the protagonist of your movie is a pedantic philosophy professor (the ubiquitous Hans Conreid) in 1952, you likely had a bomb of a movie on your hands. When star Conreid said this to director Arch Oboler, the temperamental auteur noted he needed a tax write-off for the year anyhow.

The Twonky was based on a Lewis Padgett short story, one of the earliest visionaries to see computers and AI as the controlling force of the future.

Robbie the Robot and Gort were the mechanical men of the age (though a primitive slave robot was at work in Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire in 1935). It was the Twonky, a creature from the future who took up life in a modern TV set.

As eggheads decried television as a wasteland back in the 1950s, it is all the more ironic that the future visitor and time traveler would end up as an animated TV set.

Though Professor Conreid finds it distasteful to be at the mercy of a trained computer that tries to fulfill every wish, it would today make for a great weekly series on TV. The Twonky is there to make life easier for humans—and to monitor them, depriving privacy and free choice.

Its comedic elements are frightful, and the man who sees it all to clearly is the college football coach, an old geyser played by Billy Lynn. He drops pearls of insight and knocks the hero for not knowing his science fiction.

Arch Oboler’s weird film is decades ahead of its time, criticized for its humor and poor technical effects, the movie is actually on the marvelous side. We enjoyed watching the Twonky climb stairs, throttle a TV repairman, and strip a bill collector down to the birthday suit.

The best moment for us, as former college professor, was when the doctor offered Professor Conreid a sedative. He demurred as he had to write his college class lecture that night—to which the doctor noted, “Oh, well, then you don’t need a sedative.”

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.

Rupert, aka Xmas Wish

DATELINE: Two Orders of Ham.

durante

One of the most forgotten of low-budget Christmas movies is a strange concoction from 1950. It has been titled Rupert the Great, and when colorized in recent years in India, was re-christened, A Christmas Wish.

Whatever you call it, this is a bizarre film billed as “heart-warming,” but it is an odd duck about an odder squirrel.

Yes, Great Rupert is a Puppetoon squirrel in show biz (made from stop-action). He dances in kilts and is highly intelligent. The film comes from the mind and production of the great George Pal. Alas, Rupert is a mere second banana in a second-rate movie directed by Irving Pichel.

The star is non-stop action. It is the inimitable Jimmy Durante who pulls out all the stops.

Perhaps kids in 1950 were more easily entertained.

However, this does not prevent us from watching in utter fascination. Jimmy Durante pretends to be Danny Amendola, not the former Patriots player, but some kind of vaudeville comic. Don’t be fooled: it’s Jimmy Durante playing himself.

If you ever wondered why Durante never starred in more movies, this one reveals the amazing truth. He steals every scene, wipes out other performances, blows away any semblance of plot, and dominates every moment of the film.

Not even an animated squirrel can stand up to Jimmy. He is a happening, an event, a force of nature.

Terry Moore was supposed to star with top-billing, her major film role after Mighty Joe Young, another animated creature by George Pal’s protégé Ray Harryhausen. Miss Moore was too cute to worry about animals. Durante was another matter.

The film was re-tailored to allow Durante to do his usual patter and sing “Jingle Bells,” in one scene at the piano.

Even Rupert the Great never dared to show his rodent face when Durante was about. This is a weak Christmas film, but a work of stunning film history. Thus, we have rendered this year’s Xmas movie review moot.