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by Michael Barrett

6 Jan 2017


Leon Bary, Eugene Pallette, Douglas Fairbanks, George Siegmann

Douglas Fairbanks was one of the greatest stars of silent cinema and one of its most astute in taking control of his career and molding his own image with the co-founding of United Artists. He shared these qualities with his wife, Mary Pickford. In this way, he transformed from a magnetic actor in comedies into a genuine superstar who became Hollywood’s first real action hero in stunt-based epics. One of his early hits in this new mode is now available as a print-on-demand DVD from Undercrank Productions.

Based on the senior Alexandre Dumas’ oft-filmed novel, The Three Musketeers is the familiar tale of D’Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks), a lad from the provinces who goes to Paris and instantly makes friends with the three best swordsmen: Athos (Leon Bary), Porthos (George Siegmann) and Aramis (Eugene Pallette). They work as a kind of securitiy force for Louis XIII (Adolphe Menjou) and are known as Musketeers, even though they don’t display any muskets.

by Michael Barrett

21 Dec 2016


John Howard in The Undying Monster (1942)

These Blu-rays upgrade and preserve the contents of two DVDs from a box called Fox Horror Classics, reviewed by PopMatters back in 2007. You needn’t exert yourself to the clicking of links, however; your tireless reviewer has no compunction about recapitulating his erstwhile insights here.

Both films are directed by John Brahm, an expressionistically gifted stylist who emigrated to Hollywood from Hitler’s Germany and whose career flowered in TV, where he directed episodes of a virtual encyclopedia of classic series. His visual talent might be why he was tapped for the B-picture The Undying Monster, one of 20th Century Fox’s few attempts to cash in on the horror genre that was making so much money for Universal and RKO in the ‘40s, especially with movies about people who transform into animals.

by Michael Barrett

15 Dec 2016


Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)

Warner Archive has issued two new Blu-rays of ‘70s fantasies that occasion very different memories in your nostalgic reviewer.

By now, Dear Reader, you must have learned one of the rules: Avoid most movies you loved as a kid. What struck my squeaky post-toddler self as cinematic masterworks, like Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), look dull and pale today.

by Michael Barrett

14 Dec 2016


Clara Bow and Esther Ralston in Children of Divorce (1927)

In the opening scenes of Children of Divorce, two little girls make friends at boarding school. Tiny dark-haired Kitty (Joyce Coad) and tall blonde Jean (Yvonne Pelletier) bond because they’re both children of divorce. In the world of this film, that’s got nothing to do with shared custody or single parents. It means they’ve been abandoned by careless, cocktail-swilling, party-hopping, big-chapeau-wearing, Eurotrash-hobnobbing moms who belong to a parasitic social class that could afford divorce (like the people who made Hollywood movies in the ‘20s).

It’s virtually a Marxist statement despite itself, although an incoherent one. To pick one obvious nit, the other kids in the school have also been dumped by parents of the same class who simply didn’t bother getting divorced first. Later, the “young set” they run with will be depicted as equally useless, idle, and prone to avoiding productivity, even though few of them can utter the badge of declaration spouted by the adult Jean (Esther Ralston): “We’re children of divorce!” Maybe so, but she doesn’t look that miserable.

by Michael Barrett

6 Dec 2016


Peter Sellers (and part of Constance Cummings) in The Battle of the Sexes (1960)

James Thurber’s 1942 story “The Catbird Seat” is one of the crueler classics in the American canon. It’s a revenge story in which a mild-mannered accountant, one of the army of faceless and unimaginative cogs organized into the corporate wheels, decides to kill an efficiency expert whose decisions are causing lay-offs and streamlined procedures that threaten his dull world. Since the expert is a woman, there’s an inevitable sense of the sexist fear of women in the previously male domain of the workplace. From the accountant’s point of view, she’s presented as an interloper of annoying mannerisms and phrases, like her use of “catbird seat”.

This story is filmed more or less faithfully while being transferred to Edinburgh: “A man’s world, a world in which the shortest skirts are worn by man” declares the narrator (Sam Wanamaker). In the clothing firm called MacPherson Tweeds, the cloth is hand-woven by families in the Hebrides and nothing has changed since the company was founded by the current owner’s grandfather. The latest MacPherson (Robert Morley) falls under the spell of outgoing American consultant Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings), who begins modernizing and updating the systems of filing, accounting and manufacture.

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