The Case of the Fake MD

Most medical dramas focus on storylines about the inner workings of a hospital, rivalries between staff members, patients in crisis situations or maybe all of the above. Bedside (1934) is unique in that the main character, Dr. J. Herbert Martell aka Bob Brown, isn’t a real doctor at all. He’s only an X-ray technician posing as a MD and his motivation has nothing to do with the Hippocratic Oath. He’s a dirty rotten scoundrel and you know he’s up to no good from the start because he is played by Warren William, a familiar face in films of the Pre-Code period.

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Roald Dahl’s Gift to Patricia Neal

What do you get when you mix together a serial killer thriller, a May-December romance between an older woman and younger man and a masochistic mother-adopted daughter relationship melodrama with echoes of Now, Voyager (1942)? The result, The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder), from a screenplay by Roald Dahl, is much more homogeneous than you’d expect and is an unjustifiably overlooked curiosity in the filmography of Patricia Neal.   Continue reading

High School Was Never Like This!

Among the many peculiar assemblages of cast and crew in Hollywood history, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) is in a class by itself. A black comedy set in a California high school where someone is murdering female students, the film marked the U.S. film debut of French director Roger Vadim (Barbarella, 1968) with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry producing and writing the screenplay. Mix in a number of seasoned Hollywood professionals (Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, William Campbell) with a hip, younger cast of aspiring actors and starlets. Top it off with a music score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, 1996) and a theme song co-written by Christian music mogul Mike Curb and sung by The Osmonds. And the result is a delicious guilty pleasure for some and a cringe-inducing embarrassment for others. There is no middle ground here unless you choose to view the film as a sociology experiment.   Continue reading

Jack Webb: Drill Instructor

“I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER!” – Sergeant Jim Moore

One of the more popular releases in the Warner Archives Collection, The D.I. (1957) was not a box office smash upon its original release but the cult of Jack Webb has grown considerably since then and The D.I. is undiluted, industrial-strength Webb; the star/director/producer is on the screen almost the entire time during this 106 minute marine training drama.  Continue reading

Tone Deaf

Everyone loves a good satire and the music industry always makes a great target with such superior examples of the form as The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Head (1968) and This Is Spinal Tap (1984). The Cool Ones (1967), the story of a has-been pop idol and an aspiring singer teaming up to become the next big thing, certainly deserves credit for taking a lighthearted, broadly comic approach to the world of greedy record executives, egomaniacal producers, opportunistic promoters and wildly ambitious musicians. But the film is so hopelessly out of step with its intended audience and played at such a manic pitch that it approaches the infamous badness of Skidoo (1968), Otto Preminger’s mind-boggling mashup that pits gangsters against hippies.  Continue reading

Vagabond Screwballs

Slither (1973) is a film of firsts in many ways. It marked the directorial debut of Howard Zieff, who would go on to become one of the most sought-after comedy directors in Hollywood during the ’70s (Hearts of the West [1975], House Calls [1978], Private Benjamin [1980]). It featured the first screenplay by W. D. Richter who would later pen the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1979 remake of Dracula, and Brubaker [1980] as well as direct the cult film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension [1984]. And it was James Caan’s first starring role after his critically acclaimed success in The Godfather [1972] and the beginning of his reign as a Hollywood leading man after struggling to break through in smaller scale movies like Rabbit, Run [1970] and T.R. Baskin [1971].   Continue reading

Irene Dunne in a Sinclair Lewis World

Among the many film adaptations of Sinclair Lewis novels over the years, Ann Vickers (1933) is probably the least known of them all, and, it wasn’t among the most popular or critically acclaimed of Lewis’s novels either. Those would be Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925), Elmer Gantry (1927) and Dodsworth (1929). Yet, Ann Vickers is probably Lewis’s most fully developed female protagonist and the 1933 film version starring Irene Dunne and Walter Huston is a flawed but fascinating movie that provides an apt example of how the work of a great American writer can be completely altered, distorted or softened by Hollywood and the Production Code officials.   Continue reading

Divine Intervention

A political allegory that was one of the first films to openly address the problems resulting from the Great Depression, Gabriel Over the White House (1933), directed by Gregory La Cava, takes on such pressing issues as unemployment, homeless people and the rising crime rate in a storyline that comes across like a populist turned fascist fantasy. You also won’t see another Hollywood film from the 20th century in which our fearless leader is viewed by his constituents as either a madman or a messiah.  Continue reading