Saturday, June 27, 2015

Stubs – Danger Signal


Danger Signal (1945) Starring: Faye Emerson, Zachary Scott, Dick Erdman, Rosemary DeCamp, Bruce Bennett, Mona Freeman. Directed by Robert Flory. Screenplay by Adele Commandini and Graham Baker. Based on the novel "Danger Signal" by Phyllis Bottome (Boston, 1939). Produced by William Jacobs. U.S.A. 78 minutes. Black and White. Film Noir, Drama

Following the success of Mildred Pierce (1945), Warner Bros. wanted to make a bigger star out of Zachary Scott, who played Monte Beragon, Mildred’s second husband and her daughter’s Veda’s lover. Mildred had only been the Texan’s fourth film after a short career on Broadway. The vehicle they found for him, Phyllis Bottome’s novel, Danger Signal. was originally optioned by Paramount for Patricia Monson with Henry Hathaway set to directing, but the project didn’t go anywhere. Reports were that "the idea failed to jell into a screenplay.” Warner Bros. later optioned the novel for Bette Davis and assigned John Wexley to write the screenplay. But that is not the star or script that made it to production.

Zachary Scott was making a name for himself in Hollywood after Mildred Pierce.

Faye Emerson is not a name many are familiar with now. She had a rather short career in Hollywood and is perhaps best known as appearing opposite Zachary Scott in three films, his first, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), this one and Guilty Bystander (1950). But at the time of filming Danger Signal, she was engaged and later married to Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They met through Howard Hughes in 1943 and even though Roosevelt was married at the time, Hughes encouraged the relationship.

According to co-star Rosemary DeCamp, the relationship caused delays in the production of Danger Signal, which started in late March, 1945. “Every time [Elliott] flew over the sound stage we all had to turn out and wave, falling behind day after day. Then they - Faye and Elliott - went to Arizona for their wedding, adding another four days to the schedule. When filming resumed, our fabulous cinematographer, Jimmy Wong Howe, said he couldn't repair the honeymoon damage and Faye's face had to have a rest. Finally, we had almost caught up when President Roosevelt died, and Faye went off to Washington." Despite the delays, the film wrapped in mid-May.

The film opens with a landlady banging on the door to one of her tenant’s rooms. A couple she had thought was married isn’t and she has the newspaper headline to prove it. But inside, Alice Turner lies dead. There is a man inside the room, Ronnie Marsh (Zachary Scott) who manages to escape by jumping from a window just before another tenant knocks down the door.

The police notify Alice’s husband, Thomas (John Ridgely), that her death has been ruled a suicide, but despite the note in her handwriting, he still believes its murder.

Meanwhile, Ronnie escapes to Los Angeles where he manages to rent a room in the Fenchurch house with mother (Mary Servoss) and her eldest daughter, Hilda (Faye Emerson). The youngest daughter, Anne (Mona Hoffman), is away convalescing. Ronnie is a would-be writer and spends most of his time in his room or in the Fenchurch house.

Scott's character Ronnie, moves in with the Fenchurch's, mother
(Mary Servoss) and eldest daughter, Hilda (Faye Emerson)

Hilda is a stenographer for hire and has attracted the attention of Dr. Andrew Lang (Bruce Bennett). He uses her services to type up his speeches, etc. and wants to ask her out. But Ronnie has beaten him to the punch.

One of her clients, Dr. Lang (Bruce Bennett), wants to ask her out, but loses his nerve.

Ronnie and Hilda go away for a weekend, which Hilda pays for. While they’re gone, Ronnie presents her with the wedding ring he’d removed from Alice’s dead hand, but tells her that it belonged to his mother. He tells Hilda that he wants to marry her once he’s sold some stories and the two are now engaged, though he asks her not to tell anyone.

Soon afterwards, Anne returns home. The teenage girl is prettier than her sister and Ronnie is immediately interested. He becomes more so when she tells him that her rich Uncle has left her $25,000. But Anne knows Hilda is in love with Ronnie, which he acknowledges, but adds that he doesn’t feel the same way about her.

Ronnie is attracted to the younger, prettier and richer Anne (Mona
 Hoffman), who returns home while he's engaged to Hilda.

While they try to date in secret, Hilda does become suspicious that Ronnie isn’t who he says he is. She goes into his room while he is out dancing with Anne and finds a gun. Ronnie, of course, dismisses her concerns. He even tricks her into writing a suicide note, saying he needs help with a story idea.

Things don’t completely click in until she learns from Anne’s old boyfriend, Bunke Taylor (Dick Erdman) that Anne and Ronnie have been dating regularly and that Ronnie has been paying for the dates with the money he’s been making from selling his stories. Furious, Hilda orders Ronnie to leave, but he says if he goes, he’ll take Anne with him.

Hilda turns to one of her clients, psychiatrist Dr. Jane Silla (Rosemary DeCamp) for help. She agrees to meet with him and determine if he’s dangerous or not; she meets him and determines the former is true. She offers to let Hilda use her beach house to get away for a while.

When in need, Hilda turns to a client, Dr. Jane Silla (Rosemary DeCamp).

One evening while she’s helping Dr. Lang in his lab, Hilda discovers a vile of deadly botulism bacillus and steals it. Pretending to be Dr. Silla and using a telegram, Hilda invites Ronnie to the doctor’s beach house for dinner. Ronnie leaves immediately. Even though Hilda has brought him to the secluded house under false pretenses, he stays for dinner.

While Dr. Lang is distracted, Hilda steals a vile of botulism bacillus.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lang tells his colleague, Dr. Silla, that one of his test tubes of botulism is missing. Dr. Silla puts two and two together and they rush to the beach house to stop Hilda.

After dinner, Hilda tells Ronnie that she’s poisoned him and he becomes upset. It is only after the doctors arrive that is it revealed that Hilda did not open the test tube. Determined to go back to town, Ronnie leaves. It is on the Cliffside road on the way back to the bus that Ronnie is intercepted by Alice’s husband, Thomas, who has never stopped looking for her killer. Ronnie, a coward, runs but accidentally falls to his death over the cliffs.

The film ends with things back on track. Anne has reconciled with Bunke, who has since joined the Navy. Dr. Lang comes over to invite Hilda to a concert, but when she says she has work to do for him, he takes her out.

Again, this movie was presented as part of TCM’s Summer of Darkness series. And once again, I’m not really sure I would consider it to be a good example of the genre they are supposedly highlighting. The film is more melodramatic than noir-ish.

Danger Signal comes across as a sort of Mildred Pierce-lite. While the story is very different, there are still similar elements that drive the story and they revolve around Ronnie. Zachary Scott, who played the two-timing Monte so well in his previous film, is called upon to channel that character here. Instead of mother – daughter it is sisters. And like Monte, Ronnie has no problems with being a kept man, whether it’s letting Hilda pay for things or it’s Anne’s inheritance.

Once again, the film looks good. Perhaps TCM is really trying to feature the work of James Wong Howe, but there is more to film noir than looks alone. There is a substance that needs to be there in the story and characters. It’s not enough to throw ingredients into a cinematic mixing bowl and bake a film noir.

In the case of Danger Signal, it falls flat. Contemporary critic Bosley Crowther, at The New York Times, panned the film and called it a "diluted little melodrama", so my disappointment is nothing new.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Inside Out - Pixar Can Still Create Magic


Inside Out (2015) Voices by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Directed by Pete Docter. Screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. Produced by Jonas Rivera. U.S. Run Time: 94 minutes. Animation, Comedy, Drama.

I hadn’t intended to write a review of Inside Out. It was a Father’s Day outing and I’d like to think there are some movies I don’t have to write about, but since this will probably show up on my top five for 2015, I thought I’d better post something to refer to later.

I feel like I have a personal and familial relationship with Pixar Animation. The first film my sons saw in a theater was A Bug’s Life (1998) and Pixar films had been must-sees for us from then on until Cars (2006). While John Lassiter’s pet project may have been a merchandising juggernaut, it was the first clunker for us. The studio that had seemed to be innovative and cutting edge fell back into the same routine as the big guys. They’d already made a sequel, Toy Story 2 (1999), but they made it a trilogy (2010). And they made Cars 2 (2011). Disney Animation, by then under Lassiter’s direction, even cranked out a Pixar-clone, Planes (2013). I have to imagine it’s only Thomas the Tank Engine that stands between us and Trains.

Definitely, it felt like the bloom was off the rose by the time Brave (2012) was released. While the studio is already in regurgitation-mode with a Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2 and sorry to say a Cars 3 in production, they still can hit magic, something the studio has been missing the mark on since Up (2009). Sequels only make us nostalgic for experiencing the original, that sense that we’ve discovered something new and had a shared experience not only with the people we’re with, but the people in the theater and every theater showing the movie across the world. Sequels, try as they might to re-create that experience, usually fail to deliver something as wonderful the second, third and fourth time around. The production values might be better in subsequent sequels, but there is nothing like the first time you saw Toy Story.

Inside Out shows that there is still some magic left at Pixar. Maybe some of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust from parent Disney has cross pollinated its Emeryville subsidiary, but Inside Out is one of the most original concepts to come along in quite a while.

From Left to Right: Anger (Lewis Black) Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Joy
(Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

The film offers a look at what goes on inside a person’s brain and how memories and emotions determine who we are, allow us to make friends and have interests. Pixar selected five emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler); Sadness (Phyllis Smith); Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), which are enough to carry the day and tell the story. All of these reside in the brain or control center inside Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), a preteen who, along with her mother (Diane Lane) and father (Kyle MacLachlan), has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco.


The Anderson's Mother (Diane Lane), Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and Father (Kyle MacLachlan)

Starting over is always difficult and it plays havoc with her emotions and consequently her core memories which are the building blocks of who Riley is. When everything is falling apart, Joy and Sadness have to work together to save Riley from making the biggest mistake in her life.

The voice acting is a little bit like a crossover episode of Parks and Recreation (Poehler) and The American Office (Smith and Kaling), two shows that were never quite as funny as they could have/should have been in my opinion. (Not that I don’t think Poehler is a very talented comedian.) Throw in Poehler’s fellow SNL alum Hader, who has made a second career doing voice work (Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 1 & 2) and stand up turned actor/commentator Black and you’ve got a very strong ensemble. Black brings his stand up anger shtick with him the same way Don Rickles brought his insult routine to Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise.

Like the emotions on screen, I found myself going through the range, from laughing out loud to literally crying before the film was over. Up was the last time Pixar had made me cry at one of their movies. Inside Out shows that Pixar can still be a studio with original ideas that can succeed with audiences all around the world. But no doubt if this is as big of a success as it appears we’ll be looking at Inside Out 2: Riley’s Teen Years in 2022 a year after Pixar and Disney reap the merchandise bonanza of Cars 3. (That is why they’re making it, right?)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Stubs – Nora Prentiss


Nora Prentiss (1947) Starring: Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda, Rosemary DeCamp. Directed by Vincent Sherman. Screenplay by N. Richard Nash. Produced by William Jacobs. Run Time: 111. Black and White. U.S. Film Noir, Drama

One of the characteristics of film noir is that protagonist tend to make decisions that don’t seem to be in their own best interests. How often have you seen a film where the main character chooses to run when simply telling the police the truth would have gotten them off the hook? Sometimes their actions are explained away by a shady past or they’re trying to protect someone else. Often it’s “no one will believe me” if I come forward. And one problem or lie leads to another and another and pretty soon nothing can be salvaged.

Such is the case with Nora Prentiss, which marked Ann Sheridan’s return to the screen after 18 months. We’ve looked at earlier films in her career: San Quentin (1937), Indianapolis Speedway (1939), It All CameTrue (1940) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as her star was rising at her home studio, Warner Bros. But her relationship there wasn’t always peaches and cream. In fact, Nora Prentiss sees her near the end of her tenure there. There were disagreements about scripts and Sheridan was suspended for turning down roles, including the starring role in Mildred Pierce (1945). She would be dropped by the studio a year later.


Actress Ann Sheridan was once known as the
 "Oomph Girl", but fell out of favor at Warner Bros.

Known as a woman’s director, Vincent Sherman started his Hollywood career as an actor in William Wyler's Counsellor at Law (1933). His directorial debut is one of the oddest films Humphrey Bogart ever made, the horror film The Return of Doctor X (1939); not an auspicious start. Sherman is perhaps best known for the three films he made with Joan Crawford, The Damned Don't Cry! (1950), Harriet Craig (1950), and Goodbye, My Fancy (1951).

The film opens with a wanted criminal being brought in to stand trial for murder. We don't see his face and he refuses to answer questions, but we hear him thinking about the charges as he recounts his story.


A man is brought to jail to stand trial for murder. He only speaks to us, the viewer.

Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith) heads a functional family: wife Lucy (Rosemary DeCamp), a son, Gregory (Robert Arthur) and a daughter, Bonita “Bunny” (Wanda Hendrix). Lucy, the daughter of a doctor, believes in keeping to schedules and in self-discipline. Talbot sees Bonita try to buck the trend and being squashed by Lucy for it.

A punctual man, whom others seem to set their clocks by, Talbot starts to rethink his life and decides to take the scenic route to work, arriving an uncustomary twenty-minutes late. His life would never be the same after that.

Talbot’s partner in his practice, Dr. Joel Merriman (Bruce Bennett) has left a patient for him to examine, Walter Bailey (John Ridgely). A lonely man, living at the YMCA, Bailey suffers from a heart ailment, never really defined, but incurable nevertheless.

When Merriman does arrive, Talbot lectures him about being available for his patients, to which he counters that he can’t live like Talbot, it would be too dull. Still at work after hours, Talbot responds to a traffic accident across the street from his office. Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) stepped out in front of a truck and while she’s not injured very badly, is still unconscious. Talbot has her taken to his office where he can examine her.


Dr. Talbot (Kent Smith) examines Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) after she was hit by a truck outside his office.

Nora is a nightclub singer, who has seen Talbot come and go. She’s one of the people that set their clocks by his actions. She’s flirtatious and carefree, the opposite of the stuffy Talbot. Her only injury is a bruise over her knee. Talbot gives her a cigarette and a shot of liquor, you know medicinal stuff, and then walks her home after the police officer (Clifton Young) on the scene has gotten her statement.

When he gets back home, he wants to be with Lucy instead of going out that night, but they have a commitment to keep. He asks her to change her weekend plans, to go with him to the mountains instead of her sisters, but she turns him down. He has a paper for a medical conference to write after all.

Back in the office on a Saturday night, Talbot tries to work on his paper, but is interrupted by Nora, who stops by. Her boss has asked her to come into work and she wants the doctor’s clearance.

Later that night, he shows up at the club and watches her sing. The club owner, Phil Dinardo (Robert Alda), is hovering around Nora, attentive but hands off. She introduces Talbot to him as an out of town friend, named Mr. Thompson. When Nora is about to return to the stage for her next number, a bracelet she’s wearing comes off and Talbot offers to hold it for her. He stays until the club closes, even though Nora has told him she’s not interested in an affair, and he drives her home. At her door, she lets Talbot kiss her good-night.

It is when he gets home that Talbot realizes he still has her bracelet and offers to bring it to her the next morning, Sunday. And, if she has no plans, how about going for a drive with him? She says okay and they end up at his cabin in the mountains, where he had wanted to go with Lucy. After cleaning the cabin all afternoon, Talbot plays piano while Nora lounges by a roaring fire. When she tells him that Phil is going to New York to open a new nightclub and wants her to go with him, Talbot doesn’t want her to leave. She confesses she doesn’t want to go. But before things come to fruition between her and Talbot, Nora asks to be taken home.


Nora and Lyle talk at his mountain cabin. Things start to heat up between them.

Despite her misgivings, she and Talbot start an affair. And try as he might, everyone seems to notice a change in his behavior. He is at work late every night, often times not returning until early morning, when he used to be home at seven every night. He’s late for work to the point even Merriman says something.

Things between Talbot and Nora get to the point where he needs to make a decision or lose her. Determined to tell his wife he wants a divorce, Talbot leaves Nora and goes back home. But it is Bonita’s 16th birthday party, which he has forgotten. Lucy, suddenly the loving wife, has bought him a gift to give Bonita and with a house full of partygoers, including Merriman, the moment is not right to announce he’s leaving.

Upset that Talbot is not breaking off his marriage, Nora packs to leave for New York. Talbot tries to stop her, but doesn’t even try to explain the situation to her about the night before. He goes back to the office, and starts to write a letter to Lucy explaining things, you know coward stuff. As he writes about the bonds in the office safe, he goes to retrieve them. They are in there with his life insurance, which conveniently has his age, height and weight prominently displayed. But Talbot can’t finish the letter.

Not sure what to do, Talbot’s thought are interrupted when Walter Bailey bangs on the office door. His heart is acting up and he needs help. Talbot goes to get a syringe of something, but Bailey collapses. The injection does no good and Bailey is lying dead on the floor of Talbot’s office. He sits down at his desk to call the police, when he notices that Bailey is the same age, height and weight as himself. That’s when the idea to fake his own death comes to him.

Putting his ring and other accessories on Bailey, he drives him to a cliff and, after setting the car on fire with alcohol, pushes it over the edge. He manages to make it back to meet Nora before she gets to the train.
His death is ruled an accident, but the circumstances bother Merriman. After hearing from Lucy that money had been withdrawn from their checking account, he goes into Talbot’s office and finds the charred remains of the letter he’d written to Lucy. He sees the word "desperate" and after finding a broken statue, goes to the police with his theory that Talbot must have been blackmailed and then killed with blunt force.


Dr. Merriman (Bruce Bennett), Talbot's business partner, thinks
there's more to his death than the accident its been labelled.

Meanwhile, in New York, Talbot lives as Thompson and in a hotel room across from Nora’s. Apparently the $6500 he’s taken from the bank before he left is enough for them to have separate accommodations. Talbot has told Nora that he’s waiting for his divorce to come through, all the time looking at the San Francisco papers about updates on himself. When he sees that the police are investigating his murder, he becomes even more cautious.

He lets Nora talk him into going to Phil’s New York club, but when he sees a doctor he met in San Francisco, he panics. Finally he confesses to Nora that there is no divorce and that he’s faked his own death. While this would seem like a time to break things off, Nora stays with him. She talks Phil into giving her a job, which he is only more than happy to do.


Nora goes back to her job as a singer, this time in Phil Dinardo's NewYork night club.

But she spends too much time at the club for Talbot. Jealous, he even slaps Nora, but still she stays with him. And so does jealousy. One night he goes down to the club. Phil has given Nora an expensive bracelet as a thank you and she’s about to return it when Talbot bursts in. In his rage, he attacks Phil and is about to kill him when Nora stops him. Hearing the disturbance, the police have been called and Talbot must flee before they get there.

Jumping into a car, he drives fast and erratically, drawing the attention of another police car and the chase is on. Losing control of the car, Talbot crashes and the car catches on fire. Phil forgives the fight and the destruction of his car. Nora visits Talbot in the hospital and is there when the bandages come off. He is disfigured, but somewhat relieved that he doesn’t look like his old self. On the day he is released, two New York detectives take him downtown for questioning about his involvement in the Talbot murder.


Nora visits Talbot in the hospital after his accident.

While their suspicions are circumstantial, having to do with his bank account of $6000, his finger prints match those lifted off the can of alcohol found at the Talbot murder scene. Rather than explain what had happened, Talbot lets himself be arrested, extradited to California and offers no defense at his trial for murdering himself. Nora, who has come back as well, sits in the gallery, but never speaks to his attorney about what she knows is 
the truth.

Though there are no witnesses, Talbot is convicted and sentenced to death. The first time we see Nora speak to him is after the conviction and begs him to tell the truth. He tells her that this is the best way to resolve things. He can’t go back to his old life as a doctor and it would shame his family to learn he’s still alive. No thought is given to Nora or her feelings. He makes her promise not to tell anyone the truth and she leaves.

Talbot makes Nora promise not to tell anyone the truth about his identity.

Outside, Dinardo is waiting. In the final shot of the film, we see him hurrying to catch up to Nora as she walks into the shadowy night.

In reading about the film, it is considered a hit, though I don’t have any idea how it fared at the box-office. However, the film was not a critical success at the time of its release, being described in Variety as “an overlong melodrama.”

My first time to see Nora Prentiss was as the primetime kick off film for TCM’s 2015 Summer of Darkness and frankly I was greatly disappointed, after seeing it, that it was selected for the honor. While this film has many of the elements of film noir, I have to agree with Variety’s assessment.

Yes, the decisions Talbot makes lead him further and further down the road to ruin, but his decisions come more from his own cowardice than from Nora Prentiss. She loves him, but he lies to her about everything when the truth was called for. Breaking up with your wife on your daughter’s sweet sixteen is the wrong time, but he didn’t tell Nora that simple fact. Faking your own death to be with someone is really bad, but he only did it because he was too much of a coward to face his wife. And then he’s too much of a coward to tell Nora once they’re in New York. And at the end of the film, he’s too much of a coward to face his wife with the truth, so he would rather literally die to avoid the awkward situation.

Nora’s not much better. She has the power to save him, but she doesn’t. It would have been much better if she had something to gain by letting Talbot get convicted of killing himself. That’s what a true femme fatale would have on the line. Instead, Nora comes off as a smart-talking beauty who gets in over her head with a married man and tries to make the best of the situation. She is unappreciated, used and ultimately unimportant to Talbot, who at the end of the film is thinking more about his wife and children than he is of Nora. She has been a mistake in his life all along.

The ending smells of the Production Code. Since Talbot and Nora have carried on an extra-marital affair, someone has to be punished. Bad enough that Talbot is burned, but the only way to really make things right is to let yourself be put to death as the result of a miscarriage of justice. Nora is thrown to the curb, since that’s where these kinds of women belong, but she still can be saved by the love of a good man, Phil Dinardo.

The character of Phil Dinardo is certainly against type. Robert Alda, the father of actor Alan Alda, of M*A*S*H fame, plays one of the nicest night club owners ever to be portrayed in a film noir if not on celluloid. He seems to have no underworld connections, is obviously in love with Nora, but never forces himself on her; and to top it off, he forgives Talbot for trying to kill him and wrecking his car. At the end, he is waiting patiently on his own for Nora and no doubt will help her cope getting over Talbot with backrubs and cups of soothing tea. What a great guy and somehow so milquetoast at the same time.

The film has the look of a film noir, with cinematography by James Wong Howe (great final shot), but it needs more. The film is more melodramatic, boarding on the designation Woman’s Picture, but even then it’s not really a “weepy” either. Perhaps they were going for some genre fusion here, but it doesn’t work.

I always try to go into every movie wanting to like it. I was very intrigued by the premise, but disappointed by the execution. Nora Prentiss is not the film to use to introduce anyone to the genre. It represents just how far its characteristic can be stretched to include anything that is “dark”, but it really never delivers the goods one expects from good film noir.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World – Better than the Original, But Still Flawed



Jurassic World (2015) Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Based on characters created by Michael Crichton. Produced by Frank Marshall. U.S. Color. Run Time: 124. Science Fiction. 

The summer is barely underway and we already have our fourth major sequel release with more to follow. This time, we’re revisiting the dinosaur park first imagined in Jurassic Park (1993) by Steven Spielberg, who serves as an Executive Producer on this film.  Jurassic World tries to align itself with Jurassic Park, the events of Jurassic Park:  The Lost World (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001) are ignored in this film, so in some ways this is a sequel to Park and not the fourth in the series.

So much has happened in 22 years in the way of filmmaking and the improvements in CGI, which seem to dominate the summer sequel season. The special effects that wowed audiences in 1993, which helped make Jurassic Park the top-grossing film to that time, have only gotten better.

Too bad not everything has improved as much. This is not to say that Jurassic World is not a fun ride, fast-paced and all that. If that’s your check list for films, check, check, check. But the problem with this sequel is that we’ve seen it before, maybe not in 3-D, but there is nothing really new here. We have the Spielberg staple of kids in trouble and evil government agents, this time not carrying CGI-altered cell phones, but high powered futuristic weapons.

And of course, there are the dinosaurs, who are not really the stars of the film, but the reason audiences will see it. They are back and, in typical sequel fashion, bigger and badder than before. And yes, they are impressive as a computer can make them.


Chris Pratt plays Owen Grady, a Velociraptor-whisperer in Jurassic World.
There are still actors in this. Chris Pratt, who is on the verge of his third billion dollar starring-role in as many films, plays the muscular Owen Grady, a Velociraptor-whisperer, who apparently gained these skills in the U.S. Navy (?) since that is the only background he’s given. Bryce Dallas Howard is the pretty and resourceful Claire Dearing, the park’s head of Operation. We’re given no background on her and you have to wonder what sort of work-experience would prepare you for running such an amusement park.  Her two nephews Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gary (Ty Simpkins) provide the children in danger part that this kind of film needs.

Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gary (Ty Simpkins) are the children in danger.
Vincent D’Onofrio plays Vic Hoskins, the evil head of Security for InGen, the parent company of the Park. At the same time, he seems to be working with the U.S. Army, trying, of all things, to weaponize Owen’s Velociraptors. B.D. Wong reprises his role of the egotistical, evil and very stupid head of genetic research, Dr. Henry Wu. Dr. Wu is the only surviving character I remember from Crichton’s original story.

In the typical synergy that big corporations crave, Jimmy “Safety First” Fallon makes an appearance. Universal and NBC are both owned by the same parent company, ComCast.  I guess Al Roker had already shot his credibility, along with Matt Lauer, in Sharknado 2 (2014). Take away, Jimmy is not to be trusted.

The Park itself, is a cross between Universal Studios Florida (there’s no doubt a new ride in here somewhere) and the San Diego Zoo, only instead of African animals, there are pre-historic creatures. 

While the premise is interesting, it’s all in the execution. And while you’re no doubt saying to yourself, I’d go to see real live dinosaurs; you have to wonder why they would recreate the carnivores. That’s just asking for trouble. And I’m no geneticist, but why are they not filling in the DNA gaps with bird DNA, the species dinosaurs evolved into.

The movie, like Jurassic Park, boils down to a man against dinosaur fight for existence. Not surprisingly, we are no more prepared for it 22 years later than we were in the original.  This time though, we have the Velociraptors sort of one our side in the fight, but it takes the biggest deus ex machina to save the day.

Director Colin Trevorrow, who’s list of features, includes this film,  Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) and nothing else, makes the same leap Marc Webb made from independent, (500) Days of Summer (2009), to blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). In his case, Trevorrow doesn’t embarrass himself the way Webb did. However, the expectations are different. No one goes into Jurassic World having grown up with Owen Grady or Dr. Wu, the way many did with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The movie is well-paced, with one exception, the love story is about as clichéd as they come, but I didn’t leave not liking the main character the way I did after seeing the less than Amazing.

(Claire Dearing) Bryce Dallas Howard provides the love interest for Owen.
While Jurassic World ignores II and III, it sort of assumes you’ve seen Jurassic Park. There are definitely call backs to the original and not just throwaways. At the same time, it is not crucial that you’ve seen it. The film does its best to fill you in that the Park existed, without going into its backstory. If you have a chance, I would recommend watching/rewatching Jurassic Park before you go. It will add some depth to your experience.

Having taken my own advice, I would say I liked Jurassic World a little better than Jurassic Park.  Box-office does not mean great filmmaking, but this is an interesting spectacle with likable characters and I’m sure the summer will bring us far worse than this before it’s over.

A note about my own movie-going experience, just before the credits began to roll, the alarms in the theater started to go off and we were evacuated while the credits rolled. According to the internet, there is no post credit scene, and while we are normally credit watchers, I took a full refund rather than going back in for the scroll of names.

For free, Jurassic World is great. Even if you’re putting down real money, Jurassic World, warts and all, is still worth it and I would say better than the original. But how about we stop here with the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Stubs – Over-Exposed


Over-Exposed (1956) Starring: Cleo Moore, Richard Crenna. Directed by Lewis Seiler. Screenplay by: James Gunn, Gil Orlovitz. Story by Richard Sale. Produced by: Lewis J. Rachmill. Run Time: 79. Black and White. U.S. Drama, Film Noir

In the 1950’s every studio was looking for the next Marilyn Monroe or at least their version of her. The blonde bombshell was as old as Hollywood, dating back to the days of Jean Harlow. Cleo Moore, a native of Louisiana seemed to fill the bill for a few years at Columbia Pictures. She had all the requisite requirements: an hour-glass figure, big breasts, sex appeal and, of course, blonde hair.

Arriving on film, in 1948, the same year as Monroe, Moore never got beyond B-movie stardom. Not a Monroe imitator, Moore made 18 films in her ten year career. Along with Mamie Van Doren, Moore became known as a “bad girl”, a subgenre of films featuring sexy actresses playing ruthless and amoral young women. Moore was not only the queen of the “bad girls” she was also keen on publicity, including a five-minute kiss on live Chicago television in 1954.

But Moore’s star didn’t shine too brightly or last too long. While she garnered attention for her role as Myrna Bowers, the doomed gun moll in On Dangerous Ground (1952), her movie career began to wane, when her home studio, Columbia Pictures, hired Kim Novak in 1954. Over-Exposed would prove to be Moore’s penultimate film, before she retired from acting after Hit and Run (1957). After her film career was over, Moore would marry a wealthy real estate developer, but die in her sleep, three days shy of her 49th birthday.

In Over-Exposed, Moore stars as Lily Krenshka, a transient floozy caught up in a small town police vice raid on a clip joint. Charged with soliciting drinks at a bar, she is given the choice to either leave town or go to jail. Lily chooses a third option when she begs Max West (Raymond Greenleaf), a down-and-out alcoholic photographer, to give her the photo he shot of her when she was brought in by police.


When Lily (Cleo Moore) is arrested, Max West (Raymond Greenleaf) takes her photo.
Getting the photo back starts Lily on a life changing journey.

Max agrees to her demand if she accompanies him back to his apartment so he can safely extract the negatives from his camera. Lily, a brassy blonde suspicious of all men, is surprised when the elderly Max offers her a few hours work as a bathing suit model and then allows her to spend the night on his couch. When Max recalls his glory days as a society photographer, including winning an award at an exhibition, Lily asks him to teach her photography, but he refuses, insisting she follow the police edict and leave town the next morning, having already missed the last bus out that night.


Lily ends up posing for Max for a night sleeping on his couch.

But Lily is nothing but cunning. When a customer calls the next day about a job, Lily speaks for Max, who is still sleeping one off, and tells the customer that not only have the photos turned out great, but that Max is hand coloring one to enter into competition. Next she gets Max to do the work and the customer is impressed. Lily takes charge of Max’s career and gets him out of debt. In turn, Max teaches Lily everything he knows about photography, often posing for her himself. Months later, when she decides to strike out on her own to New York City, Max gives her a camera and suggests she change her name to the more elegant Lila Crane.

New York is not hospitable. On her way out of the Allied News Service building, where she couldn’t get anyone to talk to her, Lily meets reporter Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna) when they collide in a revolving door. When Lily mentions that she has been unable to find a job, Russ advises her to snap some exclusive pictures of a breaking news story. Lily continues to try and ply her trade, but gets turned down everywhere she goes, sometimes also getting propositioned along the way.

Lily befriends reporter Russell Bassett (Richard Crenna).

One night, when she hears sirens, Lily remembers Russ's advice and follows them in a taxi to the scene of a raging fire. Bluffing her way past the police, saying she’s with the press, Lily get recklessly close to the fire for a close-up. Russ, who shows up after her, sees the peril she’s in and sweeps her out of the way of falling burning debris. He then offers her the use of Allied News' darkroom to develop her negatives. While Allied is willing to buy her photo, they don’t offer her a full time job. Russ tells her those take time.

Lily bluffs her way to get close to the action as a wannabe news photographer.

But Russ does give her the name of an owner of a sleazy nightclub, Les Bauer (Jack Albertson), who is looking for a photographer or “flash girl”. Russ also helps her find a room in the cheap hotel he lives in. At the club, gossip columnist Roy Carver (James O’Rear) offers to pay her for any incriminating photographs he can print.

When Roy instructs Lily to take a photo of mob lawyer Horace Sutherland (Dayton Lummis) and his mistress, Lily takes the portrait to Sutherland herself. Carver had told her about Sutherland's boss, gangster Frank Backlin, is investing in a high-class nightclub that is opening soon, Club Coco. Always the opportunist, Lily threatens Sutherland with the photo, Lily convinces him to help her get the photo concession at the club.

Lily takes over the photo concession at Club Coco.

Soon after, Russ returns from an assignment and informs Lily that Allied plans to hire her as a staff photographer. But the ambitious Lily refuses to relinquish her lucrative position at the nightclub which pays her more than Allied would. Russ chides her for choosing to work for a gangster.

One night, Mrs. Payton Grange (Isobel Elsom), a café society dowager, whom Lily recognizes as someone Max once photographed, comes to Club Coco. Mrs. Grange has refused to be photographed for years, but relents when Lily asks if she can take a picture for Max. After Lily develops and retouches the photo, Mrs. Grange is so pleased that she agrees to let Lily publish it, thus launching her career as a society photographer.

One year later, Lily is still striving to reach the top, although she has achieved a certain amount of acclaim. She has branched out and while she still works at Club Coco, where she does society photography, she also does some agency work as well. Despite telling a television interviewer that she does all the work herself, she sends for Max to assist her.

Meanwhile, Russ invites Lily to go to Maine with him on vacation, but she tells him she can’t get away. That is until one night at the club, a prominent judge asks Lily to shoot his party's photo to celebrate his wedding anniversary. But a dancer bumps into Lily and her framing is thrown off. Later, when Max develops the film, she notices two strange men standing in the background. The next day, Coco Fields (Donald Randolph), the club's manager and namesake, phones Lily and instructs her to testify that she spent the night with Backlin, providing him with an alibi for the murder of one of his associates the previous evening.

Upon reexamining the mis-framed photo, Lily realizes that Backlin and his murdered associate are pictured in the background. Unnerved, Lily joins Russ in Maine and things seem to be going great between them. But when he asks her to marry him and work with him as a photographer on his new assignment as foreign correspondent, she refuses to resign her job at the club.

Lily returns to New York alone. Mrs. Grange returns to Club Coco to celebrate her birthday. While Lily is in the midst of shooting some photographs of Mrs. Grange dancing, the older woman collapses and dies. After Lily rejects Roy's offer to buy the print, he steals the negative and publishes it anyway. The world thinks  Lily violated Mrs. Grange's trust: Coco fires her, and soon her other clients do the same. After Russ refuses to believe Lily’s innocence, she decides to sell Sutherland his client’s incriminating photograph for $25,000, keeping back one copy as insurance.

But that is one copy too many for Backlin, who has his thugs kidnap Lily and ransack her place looking for it. Russ goes to Max’s looking for Lily and finds a copy of the photo sent to Max, instructing him to go to the police if anything happens to her. Alarmed, Russ hurries to Lily's apartment and is met by the burglar. After throwing photo developing chemicals into the man's eyes, Russ forces him to reveal that Lily is being held prisoner at a trucking company warehouse. Russ manages to overpower her abductors, and, having finally learned her lesson, she presents the police with the incriminating photo. When Max takes her photo on the way out of police headquarters, they jokingly re-enact their first meeting. Coco, who is also there, offers her job back at his club, but Russ informs everyone that he doesn’t want his wife working at any nightclub.

While Cleo Moore might be one of the few reasons to watch this movie, her character Lily is all over the place. Part of the character’s interest in learning photography is that a woman can do it and not rely on her looks. And she assumes, rightly, that all men see her as a sex object (there are more than a fair share of them who practically salivate at the sight of her figure). She is immediately suspicious of any man that offers to help her. But at the same time, she is not above using her sex appeal to get what she wants, whether it’s to get the bell hop to act as stand in for her so she can frame her own cheesecake pose, or to exchange meeting male patrons after work to get them to order more prints of the photos she takes in the clubs. It’s hard to feel sympathetic for a woman being treated as a sexual object when she uses her sex appeal to her advantage. She perpetuates the same problem that she is supposed to be fighting against.


Co-stars Cleo Moore and Richard Crenna in publicity shot for Over-Exposed.
Richard Crenna is fresh from his role as Walter Denton, the well-intentioned but clumsy high school student on the Our Miss Brooks television situation comedy (1948-1957) and a feature film of the same name released in 1956. Crenna seems like an actor in transition from playing juvenile to adult roles, even though he’s thirty years old when this film is released. His Russell Bassett, while a definite change of pace from Walter Denton, has his own character problems. Russ seems to be written to fill whatever need the movie has at the moment. Lily needs a man to help her find work and a place to live but without sex being attached, there’s Russ; Lily needs someone to love her unconditionally while she acts the bitch, there’s Russ; Lily needs someone to rescue her from harm, there’s Russ. And at the end of the film, when she needs to get married (don’t all single women in these movies?); Russ is there, too.

Outside of the two leads, there really isn’t that much to recommend. This is not a bad film, but it is far from great. There is perhaps one too many plot twists for the movie to pull off. And while this has been included in a collection from Sony Pictures (Columbia’s successor) Home Entertainment of Bad Girl Film Noirs, the film really doesn’t qualify as noir based on the usual definitions of the subgenre. Sometimes rebranding a movie can give it new life. Since this film has been branded a film noir, my inclusion is as a cautionary tale. Don’t be fooled by the deliberate mislabeling to elevate this film from the routine drama it was to something more.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of films in this genre.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Stubs – Pitfall


Pitfall (1948) Starring: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, Raymond Burr  Directed by Andre de Toth Produced by Samuel Bischoff. Screenplay by Karl Kamb, Andre de Toth and William Bowers. Based on the novel, Pitfall by Jay Dratler. Run Time: 86 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Film Noir

I’m a sucker for film noir and am always on the lookout for a forgotten gem to watch. When I saw Pitfall, which starred Dick Powell and Raymond Burr and had a logline that read like a B-movie version of Double Indemnity: “A married insurance man gets involved with a blonde model he meets on a case and commits fraud and murder,” I hoped I’d found one. But the proof is in the watching.

Pitfall opens with insurance agent John Forbes (Dick Powell) enjoying a comfortable, suburban home life in post-World War II Los Angeles. He has a wife, Sue (Jane Wyatt), and a son, Tommy (Jimmy Hunt). But he feels restlessness, saying out loud that the couple should have accomplished more and traveled more before now. He expresses dissatisfaction with his work and social routine to Sue, who humors him, but make sure he still gets to work on time. He has responsibilities that outweigh his flights of fantasy.


Jane Wyatt plays Ann, the good wife who keeps John on time to work.

At work, Forbes meets with a former policeman turned private investigator, J. B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr). MacDonald has been investigating an embezzler, Bill Smiley (Byron Barr), whom Forbes' company, Olympic Mutual Insurance, had bonded for up to $10,000. Smiley is already in jail. MacDonald reports he’s traced presents (fur coats, jewelry, etc.) bought with stolen funds given to Smiley's girlfriend, May Co. model Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). MacDonald indicates that he is attracted to Mona and because of that Forbes pulls him off the case. MacDonald tells Forbes he intends to see her again socially.


J.B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr) is a less than scrupulous private detective.

John visits Mona at her apartment and requests a list of presents she has received from Smiley. Mona resists at first, and challenges John’s company man approach, reinforcing his own feelings that he’s sold out. John responds by asking her for a drink. Mona capitulates on helping and not only gives up the gifts, but even tells John about another gift MacDonald didn’t find out about, a speedboat called Tempest. They spend the afternoon speeding around Santa Monica Bay (too much screen time if you ask me) and then go for that drink, during which they become attracted to each other. Later that evening as he leaves her apartment, John is observed by MacDonald, who has been tailing them.


John (Dick Powell) takes Mona (Lizabeth Scott) for a boat ride around the bay.

The next day, John finds MacDonald waiting in his office, again. MacDonald has seen the list of items recovered and asks John about a speed boat that, as a favor to Mona, John has not listed. John then informs Mona he has to take possession of the boat as MacDonald might cause trouble for him. She thanks him for his help anyway and they begin an affair.

When John returns home that night, MacDonald is waiting for him at his garage. MacDonald tells John that he has been following them and is not happy John is stepping in on Mona. To drive home his displeasure, MacDonald beats up John. Meanwhile, Mona discovers that John has left his attaché case in her apartment. When she calls his place of business the next day, she’s told that he’s called in sick.


MacDonald waits for John to tell him he's not happy about him stepping in on Mona.

John is home getting bandaged up by a doctor. He’s told his wife that he was mugged outside their garage, but has refused to call the police. Sue can tell something is up, but John changes the subject rather than answer her questions. Meanwhile, Mona has borrowed a car and bought some food and driven to John’s house, arriving just as Sue and Tommy are leaving the house; Mona figures out John’s married.


John tells Mona that he was mugged.

Later, Mona tells John that she wants out, and that he should return to his wife. John does and, for a while, appears more content with his family life. But MacDonald continues to bother Mona, even stalking her at the May Co. and making a scene in front of her boss. She tells MacDonald that she does not like him and threatens to call the police if he continues. When he says he will tell John's wife about the affair if she is not "cooperative," Mona seeks help from John, whose response is to beat up MacDonald, telling him to leave her alone.

In retaliation, MacDonald goes repeatedly to visit Smiley in prison and tells him about John and Mona. As a result of Mona having returned the misbegotten goods, Smiley is released early from captivity and goes to Mona's apartment when released. MacDonald has already given him a gun and Smiley wants to go see John and settle the score. Smiley gets drunk and when Mona tries to take him home, he runs out on her. MacDonald does his part and drives Smiley to John’s house.

Mona calls John to warn him that Smiley is armed and on the way. At the Forbes’ house, John tries to scare Smiley away, but he returns, breaking a window. With Sue and Tommy upstairs, shots are exchanged and Smiley is killed.

Meanwhile, MacDonald shows up uninvited to Mona’s. She threatens him if anything has happened to either John or Smiley. MacDonald calls the police to confirm what he already knows: Smiley is dead. MacDonald starts to pack Mona’s bags, as if she’s his woman now, his possession. But Mona has other ideas. Pulling out her own gun, she shoots MacDonald, which we later learn doesn’t kill him right away.

When the police show up at John's house, he claims that the killing was self-defense against a prowler. But after they leave, John finally comes clean with Sue, telling her everything that’s happened and the prowler’s real identity. Sue doesn’t want John to go to tell the police the truth now, knowing what the admission could do to their family. But John goes off walking, ending up at his office the next morning. Even though he’s early, there are already two men from the District Attorney’s office waiting for him. John wants to confess everything and they take him in.

John eventually has to come clean with Sue and admits everything.

The district attorney (John Litel), tells him that Mona's fate will be determined by whether or not MacDonald survives the shooting. He then lectures John that Smiley's killing, though justified, could have been avoided. John should have called the police. Even though the DA would like to prosecute John, he can’t and he lets him go.

When John goes outside, he finds Sue is waiting for him in the car. She tells him that she’s considered divorce, but she wants to try and make a go of their marriage. Sue suggests to John that they move to another town and try to rebuild their life together. But you have to know John will be paying for his indiscretion the rest of his life.

The last time we talked about Dick Powell was during the review of Footlight Parade (1933). In the fifteen years since playing the juvenile, Scotty Blair, in that film, he had begun playing heavier roles, such as Phillip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet (1943). In Pitfall, he is supposed to be an everyman who for 24 hours goes off course and then must spend the rest of his life paying for it and making it up to his wife and family. I’m not sure this was the best part for him.

Raymond Burr is an interesting actor. Burr is perhaps best known to a certain generation as Perry Mason (1957-1966) and then as Ironside (1967-1975) on television. His portrayal as MacDonald, the menacing private detective, is pretty much spot on. He becomes obsessed with Mona and won’t let anyone stand in his way of getting her, even Mona, before she fights back. This role and his turn as the womanizer, Harry Prebble in Blue Gardenia (1953), show that he could and did play a variety of roles over his career. And who can forget him as Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s  Rear Window (1954), who seems to personify evil without speaking a word.

Lizabeth Scott, the film’s femme fatale, has always struck me as a poor copy of Lauren Bacall. From her look to her voice to her screen presence, so close, yet so far. Nowhere is this more apparent when Scott plays opposite Bacall’s husband, Humphrey Bogart, in Dead Reckoning (1947). Seeing Scott listed in the credits of a film is sort of a red flag for me. I knew she was in Pitfall going in, hoping that this time would be different, but sadly I was wrong. Every time I see Scott act, I can’t help but think someone else could do it better.


I always thought of Lizabeth Scott as a poor copy of Lauren Bacall.

Jane Wyatt is best remembered as the TV Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best (1954-1960) and as Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother on the original Star Trek series (1966-1969). Even though she’d been in films since One More River (1934), this is the first film I believe I’d ever seen her in. Her part of Sue Forbes is not too far off Margaret Anderson, the difference is that Jim Anderson was never unfaithful or ever killed anyone. Wyatt has an understated beauty as well as acting style.


"Jim, I mean John, breakfast is ready." Jane Wyatt plays a similar character to Margaret Anderson in Pitfall.

I believe this is also the first film I’ve seen directed by Andre de Toth, who worked in Hollywood from 1943 until 1978 (he was a second unit director on Superman). Born Sâsvári Farkasfalvi Tóthfalusi Tóth Endre Antal Mihály in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he fled Europe, like so many did, and came to Hollywood via England where he worked with fellow Hungarian émigré Alexander Korda. De Toth, who was once married to Veronica Lake, is perhaps best known as the director for the House of Wax 3-D (1953) and for his writing on 1950’s The Gunfighter for which de Toth and co-writer William Bowers were nominated by the Academy for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. Judging from this film, I’m not sure if I would be seeking out more of his directorial efforts.

While Pitfall is not a diamond in the rough, it is not quite a lump of coal either. Perhaps if you’re more of a fan of Lizabeth Scott than I am, I’m certain there are some out there, you might enjoy Pitfall more. I personally don’t think anyone in the film is really at their best. There are certainly other film noirs I would recommend before than this one. Pitfall might make an interesting double feature with Double Indemnity, it’s far superior insurance-based film noir cousin, but it is certainly no substitute.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.