Monday, September 24, 2018

The 'Ocean Swells' bring laughter

Ocean Swells (1934)
Starring: Zeffie Tilbury, Dorothy Granger, Carol Tevis, Grady Sutton, Cully Richards, Landers Stevens, and Edgar Dearing
Director: George Stevens
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

While on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation on Catalina Island, three laundry workers (Granger, Tevis, and Tilbury) pose as high society ladies. When the two younger ones meet a pair of handsome rich men (Richards and Sutton), and are mistaken for relatives of a wealthy yacht owner, the women decide to take full advantage of the situation. Unfortunately for them, the wealthy young men are also just posing...

The sixth installment in RKO's "The Blonde and the Redhead" non-series series (a "non-series" in the sense that while the same core performers are featured in most of them, they are playing different characters in each film) is different from previous ones in a couple different ways. First, June Brewster has been replaced as the Redhead by Dorothy Granger. This change is hardly noticeable, except Granger's comedic timing is better than Brewster's (which could go a long way to explaining why Granger's career continued into the 1950s and Brewster's was essentially over at this point). Secondly, the actual lead here is Zeffie Tilbury, both in the sense that she's the instigator of plot complications as well as portraying the character with the most lines and screen time. Usually, its some lie or clever idea from one of the "girls" that gets them in trouble. It's only fair that Tilbury should get to take center stage in this film--she had been performing on stage and in films for 20 years when this film was made--but it's still an unusual move, given the formula of the series.

"Ocean Swells" is a comedy of errors and it's very amusing even while being absolutely predictable. From the moment "Auntie" (Tilbury) promises that she's going to hook her young friends (Dorothy Granger and Carol Tevis) up with rich men, viewers have a sense of where this film is going to end up. As is often the case in the "The Blonde and the Redhead" series, the stakes keep getting higher and the situation gets more and more complicated as the film unfolds, and so the viewers continued attention is assured to be held.

The film's funniest moment come during the "seduction" scene between Tevis and Grady Sutton; it plays with the height difference between the two actors--with Tevis barely clearing 5' and Sutton being over 6' tall and Sutton playing his typical romantically challenged character. That one scene is worth a whole Star in my rating, by itself.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

It's a pain for the butler, but you'll laugh while he suffers

Just a Pain the Parlor (1932)
Starring: Harry Sweet, Monte Collins, Cecil Cunningham, Billy Gilbert, and James Donlan
Director: George Marshall
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A butler (Collins) must try to make an Olympic athlete, who is the very definition of a dumb jock (Sweet), presentable for a high society party.

"Just a Pain in the Parlor" is a silly little movie that runs 20 very fast minutes. It consists mostly of slapstick humor revolving around servants attempting to clean up a simple-minded houseguest so he be shown off at a can party being hosted by the snooty lady of the house (Cecil Cunningham). If you're a fan of Laurel & Hardy shorts, I think you'll like this one. As it was unfolding, I was put in mind of Hardy playing the beleagured butler and Laurel the dimwitted athlete. The only part that of this that didn't feel like a Laurel & Hardy film was the ending.

Since this isn't a Laurel & Hardy film, how did the actual performers do? Everyone did a fine job, and although the story and situation put me in mind of a Laurel & Hardy film, none of the performances did... well, almost none. Harry Sweet does a bit where he jumps up and gloms onto people who touch his tie that really put me in mind of Stan Laurel due to the rest of the film. One thing I particularly appreciated was the understated way Monte Collins behaved throughout the picture. He was mostly calm and steady and in control of himself (if not the situation he'd been thrust into), just like you'd expect a butler to be. Collins isn't the usual type of actor who played butlers in these kinds of comedies, but I think that made him even more effective as the film's only straight man.

The only negative with this movie is that the gags get repetative. I know comedy can be about repetion, but with "Just a Pain in the Parlor", they don't only milk some of the gags until dry, they salt them and smoke them and turn them into joke jerky. This problem is not severe enough to ruin the film, but it did keep me from giving it a Seven Rating.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

In celebration of Speak Like a Pirate Day

Yarr, me maties... here be pittures o' lady pirates and even some pirate booty shorts!
Maureen O'Hara
Kay English

Dorothy Sebastian
Wynn Gibson
Gwen Lee
Claudia Dell
Frances Drake (the most suitable lady pirate of all)

For more Talk Like a Pirate Day inspiration and goodies, be sure to check out this treasure chest full of novellas by Robert E. Howard, comics, roleplaying game scenarios, and some fiction vignettes from the host of Shades of Gray, Steve Miller! Click here for more!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

'The Plot Thickens' with a new Hildegarde

The Plot Thickens (1936)
Starring: James Gleason, ZaSu Pitts, Louise Latimer, Owen Davis Jr., Barbara Barondess, Paul Fix,  Arthur Aylesworth, Lew Kelly, Agnes Anderson, and Richard Tucker
Director: Ben Holmes
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a wealthy man with a mysterious background (Tucker) is shot to death in his car, but is found the next day sitting in his study, the mysteries that need to be solved by homicide detective Oscar Piper (Gleason) and his friend Hildegarde Withers (Pitts) keep expanding and multiplying. Who's the mruderer?; the damsel in distress (Latimer), the jealous boyfriend (Davis)... or perhaps this time it was actually the butler (Aylesworth) who did it? And how does the mysterious Frenchman, with whom the victim was seen arguing, and the victim's connection to an unsolved art heist fit into the picture?

With "The Plot Thickens", the fifth movie in the "Hildegarde Withers" series of mystery-comedies, ZaSu Pitts becomes the third actor to play the school teacher amateur detective and semi-official consultant to New York City's homicide squad. Since the excellent first installment, "The Penguin Pool Murder", each film that followed has fallen short its prececessors. I sat down to watch this one hoping that pattern wouldn't hold.

And for the most part, it didn't. While it's no "The Penguin Pool Muder", it's a far better film than the previous two entries in the series and almost as good as "Murder on the Blackboard". The humor is still not as strong as it was during the first couple of films, but the mysteries present here are meaty and plentiful--something the script-writers mostly manage to pull off without triggering my common complaint of the film seeming rushed or too crowded with characters. The screen-writers also restored the character of Oscar Piper to what he had been in the initial movies, which was a cranky but intelligent detective, instead of the dimwitted incompetant bully he was portrayed as in "Murder on the Bridle Path". The writers also reinstituted the personal relationship between Oscar and Hildegarde, which had almost been forgotten in the previous two films; they may not be romantically involved, but they are at the very least friends beyond the context of the grim task of catching killers.

On the downside, I think ZaSu Pitts may have been miscast as Hildegarde Withers. I can't say how someone for whom this is the first encounter with the character might view her, but it took me a while to get used to Pitts in the role. This isn't because Pitt's a bad actress, but it's because she isn't as forceful a presence as either Edna May Oliver or Helen Broderick who portrayed the character before her, and as a result she is overwhelmed by James Gleason's blustery Oscar Piper. By the end of the picture, I had gotten used to the more sedate (but equally sharp-tongued). Pitts and Gleason were far better together in "The Crooked Circle" where they are the best part of a forgettable film.

To a small degree, Pitt was also badly served in her first outing as Hildegarde by a bizarre tendency that was introduced for the character in the previous film: She steals items from crime scenes for no good reason--and in this instance it might actually have threatened the police investigation of the case. I think the writers were trying to capture elements in the initial films where she also picked up items from scenes, but these were obvious clues and she grabbed them to perserve them. It this film, the item she absconds with had no obvious connection to the murder until later, and she seems to take it only because it was an interesting item on the murder victim's desk.

In the end, though, Hildegarde's cleptomania is only a minor issue. A far bigger problem with the film is its resolution. While the pieces come together and all the plots and mysteries as solved, I was left with two questions that I don't see an answer to: First, why was the body moved? Second, how did the killer manage to commit the murder? If the writers had even attempted to offer plausible explanations to either of those questions, "The Plot Thickens" might have rated a low Seven of Ten Stars instead of the Low Six I am giving it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Milla Jovovich Quarterly: Goodbye Summer!

The days are getting shorter, and the wind is carrying a sharper edge. Milla is planning to take one last walk along the beach before she has to bundle up.

Or maybe she'll grab a gun and pop a cap in Ole Man Winter's ass if he shows up any sooner than the end of October!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Good idea, lousy execution in "Castle of Evil"

Castle of Evil (1966)
Starring: Scott Brady, Virginia Mayo, David Brian, Lisa Gaye and William Thourlby
Director: Francis D. Lyon
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A mad scientist (Thourlby) invites his relatives to his remote estate where his robot double proceeds to stalk and kill them in order to avenge a disfiguring accident he suffered years before.

I don't usually give away story twists in my teaser summaries, but in the case of "Castle of Evil", it doesn't matter. Despite the rating of 4, I don't recommend that you waste your time with this movie.

Which is too bad, because the script for this film is actually pretty good. It's a great retro-fusion of the "dark old house" and "mad scientist" film genres that flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, and the featured actors all give respectable performances in their various parts.

Unfortunately, the writer and cast are let down by an incompetent director. The staging of every scene is flat and lifeless, no opportunity for padding is left untapped--except for the ending that is inexplicably sudden and abrupt--and all the bad choices sap every bit of life from the film, driving even the most friendly-minded viewer into a stupour of boredom.

I love the "mad scientist" and "dark old house" movies--as the countless reviews of films in those genres here attest to--and I really wanted to like "Castle of Evil". But, it's just too incompently done. That is a terrible shame, because there's an excellent script that went to waste here.

(THIS is the kind of movie that Hollywood big shots sould be remaking, not "Karate Kid" and other movies that were already good. They should show themselves to be REAL artists and filmmakers who, if they are so devoid of creativity that they can't make original films, should at the very least take misfires and give them second chances.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Meme Monday: Just Do It!

It's been 30 years since Nike launched its hugely successful "Just Do It" ad campaign, so they decided to bring it back... with quotes from atheletes over black-and-white pictures. The first picture to be released featured professional football player Colin Kaepernick and a vague quote.

People being people, and the internet being the internet, much twisting, intentional misinterpretations, and lampooning immediately took place. Here are a few of my favorites among those I've come across.