Sturm und Drang Under Western Skies

One of the more ambitious and offbeat Westerns of the early sixties, The Last Sunset (1961) is an odd duck that has its admirers and detractors with several participants of the film – director Robert Aldrich, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and star Kirk Douglas – being the most vocal about its flaws and unrealized potential. For a frontier tale that attempts to emulate a Greek tragedy on the range, there is an abundance of plot twists and varying acting styles to keep you riveted to the sight of this often visually stunning box office failure. Themes of revenge, incest, and cowardice infused with an overarching cod psychology are baked in a heavy casserole that includes dust storms, a cattle stampede, quicksand, trigger-happy rustlers, embittered ex-Confederates in the post-Civil War years, marauding Indians and a natural phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s fire. Even Leonard Maltin in his capsule movie review for his popular guide calls it “Strange on the Range.”

Continue reading

Lucille Ball, Douglas Sirk and a Serial Killer

That unlikely combination in the header is just part of the quirky appeal of Lured, a 1947 mystery released by United Artists which is also equal parts comedy and romance. It was a remake of the French film Pieges [1939] by Robert Siodmak and starred Erich von Stroheim, Marie Déa and Maurice Chevalier. Most biographers of Lucille Ball and director Douglas Sirk have routinely dismissed it as an insignificant film in their careers but I think part of the problem was that critics and audiences expected a genuine thriller and got something else entirely. It is an eccentric original and highly recommended for anyone who wants to see Lucille Ball in one of her most underrated and accomplished performances; she plays dance hall hostess hired by the police as an undercover female detective and “bait” for a London serial killer.   Continue reading