Mister Total Irreverence

Among most Fields’ enthusiasts, The Bank Dick is considered one of his best films, right up there with It’s a Gift (1934). It’s also the only film in which Fields enjoyed full creative control and it would be his last. His final starring role in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) was an unhappy experience and turned into one long battle with the Universal top brass over scripting and censorship issues. 

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Bernard Wicki’s Die Brucke

When film critics compile their favorite top ten lists of anti-war movies, you can usually expect to see titles like King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925), Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plains (1959), Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) among the favored elite. It has only been in recent years that Bernhard Wicki’s The Bridge (German title: Die Brucke) has popped up on lists, thanks in part to The Criterion Collection, which remastered it on DVD and Blu-ray in June 2015. Almost forgotten since its original release in 1959, the film is just as powerful and moving as it was over sixty years ago.

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The Prince and the Peasant

Will there be a happy ending for Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) and Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren) in More Than a Miracle (1967), directed by Francesco Rosi.

Imagine, if you can, a rustic Neapolitan fairy tale directed by Francesco Rosi in the docudrama style of his post-neorealism films of the early sixties like The Moment of Truth (1965), shoot it in Technicolor and Techniscope, add a lush musical score by Piero Piccioni and you get More Than a Miracle (1967), a zesty Southern Italian fantasy-romance that was more appropriately titled Cinderella, Italian Style in Europe.   Continue reading

Rachel Carson vs. Irwin Allen

You wouldn’t think there would be a connection between these two people but they were linked forever in 1953 over the film adaptation of Rachel L. Carson’s award-winning book, The Sea Around Us. Carson was a respected marine biologist and an unusually eloquent nature writer whose first book, Under the Sea Wind, received critical acclaim in 1941. Irwin Allen, on the other hand, was relatively unknown at the time. A journalism graduate of Columbia University, he was trying to break into the film industry and wasn’t yet famous as the producer of such sci-fi TV series as Lost in Space and disaster genre films like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974).   Continue reading

Commies at the Greasy Spoon Diner

The Psychotronic Video Guide calls it “One of the oddest movies of the fifties,” Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide deems it a “trash classic,” and any movie buff who has ever seen it will probably concur that Shack Out on 101 (1955) is easily the nuttiest B-movie to emerge in the Cold War era when paranoia over communist infiltration provided Hollywood with a new type of villain.   Continue reading

Working Without a Safety Net

Alexandra Stewart & Warren Beatty defy gravity in Arthur Penn’s existential noir, Mickey One (1965).

Every actor or director probably has at least one movie in their filmography unlike anything else they’ve ever done before or since and for Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn that film would be Mickey One (1965). Allegedly inspired by the French New Wave films of the early sixties, Penn’s film is an enigmatic and existential tale of a nightclub stand-up comic who goes on the lam from the mob because of a huge financial debt he can’t repay.  Continue reading

Martyrdom, Italian Style

Ingrid Bergman in Europe ’51 (1952), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

The second film collaboration between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Europe ’51 (1952) might be the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the famous director-actress team during their turbulent and controversial relationship. Between 1950 and 1955, the couple made five features together and one episode for the five chapter compilation film, We, the Women (1953). Although most film critics seem to regard 1954’s Journey to Italy as their peak achievement, Europe ’51 (aka Europa ’51) received a second chance at reappraisal in September 2013, thanks to The Criterion Collection, which released the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in a set with Stromboli (the first Bergman-Rossellini film from 1950) and Journey to Italy (aka Viaggio in Italia, 1953) .     Continue reading

Love Hurts

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson have a traumatic love affair in Autumn Leaves (1956).

In 1956 directed Robert Aldrich surprised everyone by trying his hand at a “woman’s picture,” a melodramatic soap opera that on the surface appeared to be a complete departure from his previous work which included two westerns (Apache, Vera Cruz), a film noir (Kiss Me Deadly) and a drama (The Big Knife), whose emotional volatility equals the physical violence in the three preceding films.  Continue reading

A Walking Plague Called Sheila

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)Think of the teeming hub of humanity that is New York City and then imagine a person with a highly contagious and deadly disease wandering among the masses, spreading death and panic. Based on an actual case in 1946 – a smallpox scare in which millions of New Yorkers received free vaccinations – The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a fictionalized dramatization of that incident. It stars Evelyn Keyes as Sheila Bennet, a modern day “Typhoid Mary” who contracts smallpox in Cuba while serving as a courier for Matt (Charles Korvin), her no-good musician boyfriend, in a stolen diamond smuggling scheme.

Smallpox vaccine is administered to citizens of New York City in 1947 during an outbreak of the disease

Smallpox vaccine is administered to citizens of New York City in 1947 during an outbreak of the disease

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Marriage as Tragicomedy

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Often overlooked among the films George Cukor directed in the fifties, The Marrying Kind (1952) starring Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray might have suffered from the fact that it was not a pure comedy like Pat and Mike (1952) and It Should Happen to You (1954). It is quite unique from anything else that Cukor attempted and it deserves more than the no-frills DVD release that was issued from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment back in 2003. This is one that cries out for a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray upgrade with all of the extra features that celebrate the featured film in context to its time, place and creation. The Marrying Kind is also an intriguing reminder of the career Aldo Ray might have had if other directors had not cast the actor in roles that accented his imposing physical presence over his acting ability.    Continue reading