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Friday, May 23, 2014
Or, Mann on Men in War

If you’re in the mood for an excellent, fascinating 1950s movie about the Korean War, with African-American actor James Edwards (Home of the Brave) in a memorable supporting role, then look for Samuel Fuller’s The Steel Helmet. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a film directed by Anthony Mann and scripted by Philip Yordan for their own production company, and co-starring Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray—then look for God’s Little Acre. If you can’t find either of these first choices, a distant second is the movie just released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Olive Films, Mann’s Men in War.


Lt. Benson (Robert Ryan) leads the weary, jittery, unshaven survivors of his platoon on a 15-mile trek to Hill 245, where American reinforcements supposedly wait. He encounters a jeep driven by rock-jawed Sgt. Montana (Aldo Ray), an insubordinate cuss who devotes his loyalty and love to a shell-shocked archetype called the Colonel (Robert Keith). Montana announces that they’ve decided to drop out of the war.


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Friday, May 9, 2014
Italian cops get the runaround

Two 1970s Italian crime films from Raro Video are downbeat police procedurals combined with other oddball elements.


From 1970, Duccio Tessari’s Death Occurred Last Night predates the avalanche of tough-guy Italian cop/action films that emerged in the wake of Dirty Harry and The French Connection. This one features a sensitive cop (Frank Wolff) who goes home from his thankless, depressing chores to play guitar with his fabulous reporter-girlfriend (Eva Renzi) and moan about the state of the world. Wolfe plays impassively or with a weary if inappropriate smile.


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Friday, May 9, 2014
Sheriffs, Spies & Pilots--70s style

Freshly on demand from Warner Archive are two TV movies that served as pilots for prospective 1970s crime series. One of them succeeded, the other didn’t.


The Girl in the Empty Grave is the first of two 1977 movies starring Andy Griffith as Abel Marsh, police chief of the sleepy, beautiful town of Jasper Lake (actually Big Bear Lake) in the San Bernardino Mountains; Warner Archive has already released the sequel, Deadly Game. As scripted by Lane Slate, this mystery about a local girl who apparently didn’t die in the opening car-off-the-cliff stunt is a routine procedural enlivened by gorgeous locations and lots of comic, none-too-scintillating small-town interplay divided between deadpan repetitions and kvetching over budget issues. Maybe one reason for their money problems is that they seem to have at least two officers too many. For more comic relief, Marsh drives a DeSoto that doesn’t always run. The modestly clever plot winds down in an endless, unnecessary, picturesque car chase.


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Friday, May 2, 2014
Aside from its tight, fast construction, William Bowers' script is all snappy dialogue.

Former crooner Dick Powell, now working the tough-guy beat, plays Rocky Mulloy. He was sent up for a robbery/murder he didn’t commit, and he’s just been sprung from a life sentence after five years. The ex-Marine who provided his alibi is on the make for some of that stolen cash, so he’s disappointed that Rocky’s innocent. Rocky looks up Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), an old flame married to a buddy still imprisoned for the same robbery. Rocky and Nancy are still stuck on each other, even though she’s “out of bounds”. Most of all, Rocky hounds Castro (William Conrad, in several wonderful scenes of humiliation), a scuzzball responsible for his woes. Rocky’s driven, angry, sledge-hammer approach is indirectly responsible for getting a quasi-innocent party killed.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2014
Douglas Sirk goes for baroque

Sleep My Love (not to be confused with Arise My Love, also starring Claudette Colbert) is the middle of three woman-in-danger thrillers directed by Douglas Sirk in the late 1940s. From the first reel, the audience knows it’s what they used to call the Gaslight routine, the plot where the husband tries to convince the rich wife she’s losing her marbles so he can inherit her dough and trade her in on the younger model waiting in the wings. The attraction of this device is that it taps into women’s insecurities about being patronized, disbelieved, and manipulated by male-dominated society. The drawback is that it makes the heroines into the most frustratingly obtuse idiots in the world.


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