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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
Andre De Toth's noir-ish western, Ramrod, is notable for its examination of doubles; almost every character has someone else who matches their identity.

Andre De Toth’s Ramrod is a classic film licensed by Olive Films from Paramount, although this indie production was distributed by United Artists and this print for some reason opens with the MGM lion. What matters is that it’s here now, in a print a bit dusty but easily watchable. It stars De Toth’s then-wife Veronica Lake, reunited with the same Joel McCrea who supposedly never wanted to work with her again after Sullivan’s Travels.


From the beginning, it quietly shows off nice lengthy shots (from cinematographer Russell Harlan) that glide sideways for complexly staged actions, usually left to right. This gives an aesthetic unity to a first reel whose script is a confusing snarl of relations and implications based on a story by Luke Short. It’s a complicated, seething, noir-ish western in which everyone deceives everyone else about something or other, and indeed deception is sometimes necessary for survival. Shot in Utah, the story takes place in a part of the country where everybody lives in picturesque canyons that dwarf them; at the risk of making too much of it, the climax finds McCrea’s hero “reborn” from a womblike cave.


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Wednesday, Jun 25, 2014
There's really nothing wrong with the movie except the script, which has lots of firepower for something so tiresome.

Struggling evening-jacketed songwriter Terry (Robert Taylor) moons around Miami because he’s fallen in love at a distance with chic gossamer-caped Consuelo (Norma Shearer). When he loses $3,500 to her at chemin-de-fer, she hires him to run interference against unfaithful cad Tony (George Sanders), with whom she’s hopelessly in love. Terry will pretend to be Consuelo’s lover, and he’s to ignore all Consuelo’s later orders to the contrary.


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Monday, Jun 16, 2014
This modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.


This is the almost-nothing-happens, not-quite-romance between a tall, gangling, aw-shucks, naive young cowpoke (Carleton Carpenter) and a tight-sweatered blonde (Jan Sterling) who always seems about two minutes away from taking his cash and leaving him flat. The story is so light and anecdotal, it’s a wonder it stretches to 70 minutes, but those 70 engage the viewer enough to see it through as our cowboy chalks up a learning experience.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The color of going too far

RaroVideo’s DVD of Alberto Cavallone’s difficult-to-describe Blue Movie is an important release that I hope presages more from this obscure cult figure. I say this with due consideration. Many people, attracted by the title’s promise of sleaze (on which the film delivers both less and more than most would wish), will find the movie a confusing, unwatchable eyesore, which it is. This is partly for reasons beyond the late Cavallone’s control, and partly due to his deliberate vision.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The play's the thing

The Reckoning begins with lovely, stylized, cold images of nature while Nicholas (Paul Bettany) shaves his head in a forest, drinks from a stream, and flashes back to his downfall from priesthood for sins of the flesh. After a terrifying encounter, he learns (again) that appearances are deceiving and takes up with a troupe of traveling players who perform “Mysteries” (Biblical plays) across the rural England of 1380.


They arrive at one village, dominated by the castle of the local lord (Vincent Cassel), just in time to witness a mute woman’s conviction for strangling a boy. She’s sentenced to hang. The troupe’s leader (Willem Dafoe) wants to put on a new kind of play, one that dramatizes the local event. After arguing the morality of this, their investigation and production stirs up new evidence and lots of trouble, as we realize we’re in yet another plot about a serial killer of children. This is apparently what we need to take our entertainment seriously nowadays.


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