Monday, May 03, 2010

Cleo, Disco, Juliet and Gloria too.

One Girl’s Confession 1953

I know I shouldn’t have liked this film, but I did. Cleo Moore and her breasts star in this B potboiler directed by Hugo Haas who turned out many B potboilers in his career. Cleo plays Mary Adams, basically a good girl, who works in a dump of a dive diner on the waterfront, and who doesn’t take any crap from the male patrons who make rude remarks and gestures towards her. She also has to put up with crap from the owner of the dive who yells at her, and many years before cheated our Mary’s dad out of a lot of money. So one night Mary gets her revenge and steals 25,000 big ones. But instead of breaking free she buries the moola somewhere and confesses her crime to the cops and is promptly sent up the river for 5 years. No big deal Mary tells one of her cellmates. Already the film has taken an odd turn (one of many) as Mary bides her time until she gets out and can dig up the dollars and do everything she ever dreamed of doing. In jail Mary gets a job working along side the great Burt Mustin, character actor par excellence in the prison garden that is made of cardboard & plaster of paris and not even Johnny Appleseed could get anything to grow in this little patch of fakery. But Mary and Burt plant away and soon because she is so good the warden gives her an early release. Mary is off and running but instead of digging up the loot right away she finds work in another dive this one owned and operated by none another than Hugo Haas who plays a character named Dragomie Damitrof. He’s a gambler and soon loses everything in a card game thus causing another big twist in the film. Also in the picture is the handsome hunky hunk fisherman played by Glenn Langan who is probably best know for his role as The Amazing Colossal Man and I can easily see why. Fisherman Glenn has the hots for Cleo and they slowly build up a nice little relationship with romantic interludes on a process shot beach. As I said there are many twists and turns in this nice crummy little B whose message seems to be to be careful what you wish for because it all can really blow up in your face. Cleo Moore was a pint size little sex thing, something you might find at the bottom of a cracker jack box, in fact you could probably find the whole film at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack. Cleo was never able to take her blonde hair and curves to a good seat at the table, (it didn’t help that she was a bad actress) and neither could Hugo Haas who made several B’s with Moore in the early and mid fifties. This one must have had a budget of $1.99 and although shot on the back lot of Columbia Pictures, it looks like they filmed it in a cave. There are some nice quick day for night outdoor shots of a deco apartment house in which a pivotal 1953 party takes place in and the music for the film has to be one of the worst scores ever and I mean ever written for a film. There are some nice character actors who pop up including a very beautiful actress named Ellen Stansbury. Her look reminded me of Ann Dvorak with a touch of Ronee Blakley and Jennifer Beals thrown in for good measure who plays Damitrof‘s main tootsie and who never made another film after this one. The film also has some terrific cinematography by none other than the great Paul Ivano who goes way back to the silent years and did the cinematography for Von Stroheim’s Queen Kelly and also The Shanghai Gesture for Von Sternberg. along with tons of B and Noir films and lots of TV in the 50’s. Part of the women of Film Noir DVD set.

Juliet Of The Spirits

A financial and critical bomb when first released in 1965, Fellini’s thinly disguised autobiographical film about his tumultuous marriage to the great actress Giulletta Masina is an overwrought overdone symbolic nightmare. This was his first film in color and it is certainly colorful. Full of bright reds, op art patterns, psychedelic clothes and decor along with his usual circus of grotesque characters some real but most of them in Juliet’s mind. They overflow and spill out all over the place. Fellini really hits us over the head with his fantasies and dreams but places them on Juliet/Giulletta. His failures are now hers and ours because we have to sit there and witness it. There are many flashbacks and dreams both day and night that link us to her troubled childhood, with all the usual suppressive Catholic signs and symbols. There are the crucifixions and burnings, scary nuns (are there any other kind?), punishments for sexual curiosity, a cold and distant mother and a loving free spirit of a grandfather to mention just a few of the sublime and not so subtle images that Fellini uses sometimes with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. Deep down Juliet longs for freedom and escape from her tired boring life and her cheating husband, but she is not able to take the steps to achieve this freedom. Of course eventually she does, after a little door appears a golden light shines forth, and suddenly all the demons of her mind disappear and the final images of the film shows a peaceful Juliet wandering outside her Magritte inspired house and garden. The film is certainly beautiful to look at (the transfer from Criterion is superb) but after a while all the obvious symbolism wore me down. Still because Fellini is such a great filmmaker, I would have to say see it if you never have, but if you want to see his really great works (all in black and white by the way) check out I Vitelloni, Variety Lights, La Strada, The White Sheik, "Nights of Cabiria", La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2.

The Glass Wall 1953

Vittorio Gassman very handsome indeed, stows away on a ship coming from Europe sometime after the war that is carrying refuges and displaced people to New York to hopefully begin a new life, but he gets caught and they want to send him back to Hungry where he came from. Vittorio jumps ship, and thus .begins the cat and mouse chase as he searches for an ex-G.I. who is now a jazz musician and whose life Vittorio saved during the war when they were hiding from the Nazi‘s. Vittorio thinks he’ll be able to stay in the country if only he can find him and the guy can testify on his behalf that he saved a soldier’s life, thus according to law would entitle Vittorio to stay in America On his journey he comes across a down and out Gloria Grahame who has definitely seen better days. Gloria is in a cafeteria where she attempts to steal Kathleen Freeman’s coat as Kathleen munches down on a lot of food, while poor Gloria has to do with a cup of hot water, a tea bag from home, and a half eaten donut that someone left at her table. Yum. So Gloria takes off with the coat with everyone running after her including Vittorio who has a badly damaged rib from when he jumped off the ship and wants to help pouty Gloria to get away. A complicated story to say the least, and I haven’t mentioned half of the plot twists. My favorite being when Vittorio meets up with a Hungarian slightly over the hill exotic dancer who takes pity on him and brings him home to have a meal with her kids, her mother and her nasty brother played by the great Joe Turkel a favorite of Stanley Kurbrick’s. This is a nice little B movie that has amazing on location footage (by the great cinematographer Joseph F.Biroc) of Times Square at night that was taken with a hidden camera and there is lots of it. Personally I was in heaven seeing how the once great Square looked in 1953. There is also wonderful footage all over the town including a car ride down 3rd avenue under the El, and the final sequences at a still unfinished United Nations Building that is referred to in the film a big glass wall, thus the title of the film. Part of the Women of Film Noir DVD set.

Night Editor 1946

This is a misleading title for a sleazy very good little B film noir that is so B it starts leaning into C. The film takes place on a very hot night in New York City and a bunch of newspaper men are sitting around playing cards and chewing the fat. The Night editor for some reason that I won’t go into here starts to tell the story of a cop involved in a murder investigation. and we flashback to the low fat story of the cop played by William Gargan in what can only be described as a tortured performance. Gargan is basically a good cop and family man , but is playing down and dirty on his sweet adorable wife (Jeff Donnell) with one hell of a Cul-de-sac married high society twist that makes every other film noir dame look like Little Mary Sunshine. Played to cold as ice perfection by the very beautiful Janice Carter, who has Gargan twisted around her little jewel encrusted finger. He’s tortured over this affair but he can’t let go, and one night as they smooch in a lover’s lane, they witness a horrible murder of a young woman and they both see who the killer is. Carter practically has an orgasm over this shocking crime and actually wants Gargan to drive by the car so she can look at the corpse. “I want to see her, Tony! I want to look at her’ she screams out. I told you she was one hell of a dame. Meanwhile Gargan is conflicted over what to do, tell what he knows and he looses his family his job and probably his freedom, don’t tell and he looses his mind. That’s all I’m saying about the plot so don’t try to get any more out of me. Filmed on sets that are so compact and claustrophobic they look as if they were all built next to each other on one of Columbia Pictures sound stages, and the actors just walked through one door to the next set. Nothing fancy here. This film is so unclean that you can almost see it crawling about on it’s belly looking for a rock to hide under. The kind of movie that would make James Ellroy drool. Highly recommended. Part of the Women In Film Noir DVD set.

The Last Days of Disco

Funny adroit comedy of manners, set in and around disco partying in the early 80’s and the relationships of a small group of waspy yuppie 20 something professionals trying to make a go of it in Manhattan. The first thing I was attracted to was the marvelous screenplay (the rap the friends have abo...ut the psychological meanings of Disney’s Lady and The Tramp is to be savored), and the lovely performances by Kate Beckinsale (perfect American accent) and Chloë Sevigny (if there is a more beautiful actress working in films today please let me know). They play co workers at a publishing firm who are also friends (ill suited) and roommates (very ill suited) who share a railroad apartment no less, and where Kate is pushy and some what mean, Chloe is demure determined and sweet. Not much really happens they dance a little, drink, date pick up a few venereal diseases and do a lot of talking , but I found them and their young attractive men friends beguiling. Maybe it’s my age. Some have complained that the styles and music are not right for the time, well yes the music, although terrific is more from the mid to late 70’s and the hair and very nice clothes look 90’s but I think that might have been part of the director Whit Stillman’s plan. There are a few sub-plots involving the corruption going on behind closed doors at the Disco, as one character says “To me, shipping cash in canvas bags to Switzerland doesn't sound honest.'' but the film is mainly about the up’s and down’s of this small group of friends. Nicely filmed in New York (the dvd transfer from Criterion is gorgeous as usual) with a great soundtrack and a final scene on the subway that is one of the most charming endings of a film that I have seen and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. One of the best films of 1998.


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