Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Adventurous Blonde (1937)

The Adventurous Blonde was the third of the nine Torchy Blane B-movies made by Warner Brothers between 1937 and 1939. Glenda Farrell played the title rôle and Barton MacLane played her boyfriend and partner in crime-solving, Lieutenant Steve McBride, in all but two of these films.

Feisty girl reporters were a regular feature of Hollywood B-movies of that era but it was something that Glenda Farrell did particularly well. She’s one of the two big assets in this movie, the other being the delightful chemistry she has with Barton MacLane. In this movie Torchy and McBride are about to get married. In fact it seems like they’re about to get married in every one of the Torchy Blane movies. It becomes a kind of running gag. Every time they’re about to walk down the aisle somebody gets murdered. There’s only one thing McBride loves more than Torchy, and that’s a good murder case. And there’s only one thing Torchy loves more than McBride, and that’s the chance of getting a scoop on a murder case. So the marriage keeps getting put off.

The Adventurous Blonde
begins with a joke. Due to her connection with Lieutenant McBride Torchy keeps scooping her rivals. Several of those rival reporters decide to teach her and McBride a lesson - they’ll set up a phoney murder, Torchy will think she’s got another scoop, then when her story gets printed they will reveal (in a rival newspaper) that it was a hoax and that there never was a murder.

A once-famous actor whose career is on the downslide agrees to further the hoax by faking his own murder.

Of course things don’t turn out as those jealous reporters had hoped. The fake murder turns out to be all too real, and Torchy gets her scoop.

Now Torchy and Steve McBride have an actual murder to solve.

McBride follows the obvious leads while Torchy suspects there’s more to this case. The plot gets quite involved with some good twists. It’s hard to keep up with the games Torchy is playing, and that of course is her intention - to mystify and then trap the real killer.

Naturally you don’t want to take any of the plot seriously. No reporters would ever pull a stunt as crazy as the murder hoax. No reporter would trample journalistic ethics quite so thoroughly as Torchy does in this movie. But this is not real life, it’s a movie. Things happen in movies that could never happen in real life and the characters in movies take those things for granted. Actual murder investigations involve huge amounts of incredibly boring routine police work. Nobody would ever watch a movie that approached police work in a realistic manner.

This is movie escapism and you just have to enjoy the ride.

The Torchy-McBride romance doesn’t feel like a mere tacked-on gimmick. While the murder investigation is wildly unrealistic the Torchy-McBride relationship does feel at least partly grounded in reality. A relationship between an ambitious cop and an ambitious reporter is going to be tempestuous and filled with tensions. But they’re both likeable and we want them to work things out. We just don’t want them to work things out yet - we want to see more fireworks between them in the next movie in the series.

I’ve already mentioned Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane as the movie’s biggest assets. Homicide cop Gahagan (Tom Kennedy) is a comic relief character but he’s kept in the background and never becomes irritating. The other cast members are perfectly competent.

The 61-minute running time is a plus - it demands rapid pacing and that’s what the movie delivers.

The ending is quite satisfactory, both in terms of the mystery and the romance angles.

This movie is light breezy fun. If you accept it for what it is, a B-movie with no ambitions to be anything more than a B-movie, it’s highly recommended.

All nine Torchy Blane movies are included in the Warner Archive DVD boxed set. The transfers are quite acceptable.

I’ve reviewed the two earlier Torchy Blane movies, Smart Blonde (1937) and Fly-Away Baby (1937).

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Doomed to Die (1940)

Doomed to Die (AKA Mystery of the Wentworth Castle) was the fifth of the six Mr Wong crime B-movies made by Monogram Pictures from 1938 to 1940. It was the last to star Boris Karloff as Mr Wong. Keye Luke took over the role for the sixth and final movie. The five Boris Karloff Mr Wong movies were all directed by William Nigh.

The character was created by Hugh Wiley in a series of 1930s short stories. The James Lee Wong of Wiley’s stories bears almost no resemblance to the character as portrayed in the films. In the stories Wong is a young Chinese-American man, Yale-educated and very Americanised, and he is a Treasury agent. In the movies Mr Wong is a middle-aged Chinese gentleman, English-educated and very English in outlook (although still quite comfortable with his Chinese cultural heritage), and he’s a private detective.

In Doomed to Die shipping tycoon Cyrus Wentworth (Melvin Lang) has a lot of problems to deal with. One of his ships, the Wentworth Castle, caught fire resulting in the loss of 400 lives. There was a certain item of cargo aboard which could be considered contraband and Wentworth knew about it. His business arch-rival Paul Fleming (Guy Usher), whom he hates and despises, is trying to force a merger on him. And Fleming’s son Dick (William Stelling) wants to marry Wentworth’s daughter Cynthia (Catherine Craig), a match Wentworth is determined to prevent.

When Wentworth is shot Dick Fleming is the very obvious prime suspect. Cynthia’s best friend, feisty girl reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds), tells her not to worry. She has persuaded the famous detective Mr Wong to take the case.

The Homicide cop investigating the case, Captain William Street (Grant Withers), is as loud and confident as he is stupid. Having jumped to the conclusion, based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, that Dick Fleming was the killer he has no desire to do any real investigating.

Mr Wong has a few leads he’d like to follow up. He’s very interested in the passenger list for the Wentworth Castle’s ill-fated final voyage. He’s also interested in Wentworth’s chauffeur. And he finds a clue. It’s a document stolen by a man who has cracked the safe in Wentworth’s office. The man managed to burn the paper but Mr Wong doesn’t despair. That paper can still give up its secret, thanks to infra-red photography (which in 1940 would have seemed like cool high-tech forensic technology).

The plot is quite serviceable and there are enough suspects to keep things interesting.

Karloff is all avuncular charm and is fun to watch.

Marjorie Reynolds makes a fine feisty girl reporter. I imagine that in real life feisty girl reporters are probably quite annoying but in 1930s/40s American B-movies they’re always great fun.

This is a Monogram movie so production values are pretty basic. William Nigh spent most of his career churning out B-movies, being the kind of director who was totally lacking in inspiration but could bring a low-budget movie in on time and on budget. And this movie is pretty well paced.

The best thing about this movie is that there is no comic relief. It’s an absolute joy to watch an American B-movie of this era that isn’t saddled with lame irritating comic interludes.

Doomed to Die is a perfectly competent B-movie which provides decent entertainment and Karloff makes anything worth watching. Recommended.

VCI’s Mr Wong Collection offers all six movies on two DVDs. The transfers are far from pristine but they’re acceptable.

I’ve reviewed Hugh Wiley’s Mr Wong short story collection Murder by the Dozen. I’ve also reviewed other Mr Wong movies - Mr Wong, Detective (1938), The Mystery of Mr Wong (1939), Mr Wong in Chinatown (1939) and The Fatal Hour (AKA Mr Wong at Headquarters, 1940).

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Spanish Dancer (1923)

The Spanish Dancer is a 1923 romantic melodrama made by Famous Players-Lassky (about to become Paramount Pictures). It’s a starring vehicle for Pola Negri. It was based on a hugely successful play.

The Spanish Dancer was one of two adaptations of the play made in Hollywood in 1923, the other being Rosita starring Mary Pickford.

The setting is Spain during the first half of the 17th century. Cardinal Richelieu is trying to negotiate a treaty with King Philip IV of Spain. There is strong opposition to this at the Spanish court and plots are being hatched to sabotage the treaty. Philip’s French-born queen will be manipulated in order to achieve this, either by having a courtier (the treacherous Don Salluste played by Adolphe Menjou) seduce the queen or by convincing the queen that the king is sharing another woman’s bed.

While this is happening a band of gypsies is in the neighbourhood. This band includes the beautiful dancer and fortune-teller Maritana (Pola Negri).

Maritana encounters Don Cesar de Bazan (Antonio Moreno), a rich nobleman who has run up debts he cannot pay. He is about to lose everything. He cannot however lose his pride or his good humour.

Maritana reads his fortune in the cards. The predictions come true, but in very unexpected ways.

It’s clear that Don Cesar’s fortune has been dissipated on wine, women and song and especially gambling. He is irresponsible and proud, which can be a dangerous combination. He’s also handsome, charming and dashing with an irrepressible lust for life and pleasure. He’s Maritana’s kind of man.

Maritana is fiery and passionate. She’s like a stick of dynamite in the shape of a woman. She’s Don Cesar’s kind of gal.

Unfortunately both Don Cesar and Maritana will get caught up, much against their will, in those court intrigues. They will both be used as pawns in a game they know nothing about.

Herbert Brenon was not the most inspired of directors but he was competent and in this film he has the advantage of having James Wong Howe as his cinematographer. Any movie photographed by Howe is going to look good, and the sumptuous sets help as well. This was a lavish production.

June Mathis (who had written hits for Rudolph Valentino) worked on the script which was originally intended as a star vehicle for Valentino. Valentino dropped out and the movie was retooled as a star vehicle for Pola Negri which meant that the focus would now be on Maritana rather than Don Cesar.

Pola Negri was so dynamic that she needed a leading man with enough charisma not to be totally overshadowed and Antonio Moreno fits the bill perfectly. Their chemistry is superb.

Pola Negri had been a huge star in Germany (making a series of extraordinary movies with Ernst Lubitsch). She then set out to conquer Hollywood, which she did, becoming one of the biggest stars of the 20s. She had her own unique style which this movie showcases nicely.

Surprisingly the movie at least makes an effort to capture the formality of the Spanish court and it’s quite successful in portraying the pride and sense of honour of the Spanish nobility.

This is pretty much straight romance, without the touches of swashbuckling adventure one might have expected. But that’s fine. It’s a great love story and it’s engrossing.

The source materials were in bad shape. The restoration had to be made by piecing together bits of the fur surviving very incomplete prints. The movie is now basically complete but there’s a lot of print damage in places. Given how many silent films have been lost we’re lucky this one has survived at all.

A great romance movie and a chance to see Pola Negri at the top of her game. Highly recommended. And it’s now available on Blu-Ray.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Experiment in Terror (1962)

Experiment in Terror is a 1962 psychological thriller produced and directed by Blake Edwards.

I have mixed feelings about Blake Edwards. I regard him as very much a hit-or-miss film-maker but he made some interesting movies. If you’ve seen his 1958-1961 TV series Peter Gunn you know that Edwards had some fondness for the look and feel of classic film noir. Experiment in Terror is not film noir and it’s not neo-noir but it does display plenty of film noir stylistic influences. There are lots of Venetian blind shots!

The opening is extraordinarily harrowing and it’s a fine example of terror being much more effective without the use of blood or overt violence. Edwards relies on a sense of overwhelming menace and madness. A pretty young woman, Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is attacked in the garage of her house by a man whose face she cannot see. She thinks she is going to be raped. The viewer will make the same assumption. That’s not what happens. Not quite. What happens is a violation, but it’s a violation of her whole life, her sense of herself, her sense of living in a sane ordered society. Her attacker is not motivated by lust for sex but by lust for money. He intends to force her to help him to rob a bank.

It’s not a rape, but there is a sense of sexual menace. There is an implied threat that if she doesn’t play along she might be raped or murdered, or both. And there is an overt threat that her kid sister Toby will suffer a similar fate.

Kelly decides to call the F.B.I. and now she discovers that her attacker is watching her constantly and knows every move she makes. She’s now in even more danger but the F.B.I. is now involved, in the person of Special Agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford).

The planned heist plays little part in the movie. The focus is on Kelly being the prey for the psycho (we later find out his name is Red Lynch), while Red Lynch is the prey being hunted by Special Agent Ripley. Two cat-and-mouse games are going to be played out and they’re played out in an effectively suspenseful way.

One thing that’s interesting is the relentless minimalism of the characterisation. We get no backstory whatsoever on Ripley. We get absolutely no backstory on Kelly Sherwood. More surprisingly, we are never given any backstory on Red Lynch. Everything we know about these three key characters we know from their reactions to the events of the movie. It’s obvious that Ripley is very professional but his concern for Kelly’s safety is genuine.

We can see that Kelly is tougher than she appears on the surface - she doesn’t fall apart in situations in which she could be forgiven for doing so. We know she’s raised her kid sister and she seems to have done a good job. The bank trusts her to handle large amounts of cash. She’s obviously sensible and responsible. We see a guy at the bank ask her out and clearly the two of them date regularly. She has a normal emotional and social life. It’s the very normality of her that makes Red Lynch’s violation of her life so shocking.

As for Red Lynch, we get lots of tantalising hints. We know he’s a ruthless killer but he’s paid all the hospital bills for Lisa Soong’s sick son. We don’t know why. Does he have a sentimental side, or is this action driven by guilt of some sort? He may have a relationship with Lisa Soong, and possibly with mannequin artist Nancy Ashton. But are these normal sexual relationships? The fact that he has the opportunity to rape both Kelly and Toby and that he enjoys making them think they’re going to be raped but he doesn’t actually do it leads us to suspect some severe sexual dysfunction, and we suspect that that is his major motivation, but all we have are hints. We’d like to know more.

It’s possible that Blake Edwards was worried that over-explaining the character would lessen the movie’s impact (which had been a slight problem in Hitchcock’s Psycho two years earlier). I do suspect that this characterisation minimalism must have been a deliberate choice. The movie has a relentless focus on the dynamic between Kelly and Red Lynch and there’s nothing to distract us from it. That’s presumably why there is no hint of any romantic attraction between Kelly and Ripley. That would have resulted in a totally different movie.

I think it’s reasonable to see some Hitchcock influences on this movie (and in 1962 it was pretty difficult to make a thriller without being influenced to some degree by Hitchcock. The themes of surveillance and voyeurism suggest a Hitchcock influence, the San Francisco setting calls to mind Vertigo and I think there are touches of both Psycho and Dial M for Murder.

This is a beautifully shot movie (Philip Lathrop did the black-and-white cinematography). The visual style is not quite film noir, but with strong noir affinities.

I don’t think there’s any other movie quite like this one in Blake Edwards’ filmography. It’s a very effective slightly noir-inflected slightly Hitchcockian thriller and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

The Powerhouse Indicator Blu-Ray looks lovely and includes a number of extras.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Dick Tracy (serial, 1937)

Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip was immensely popular back in the 1930s (it began is run in 1931). Inevitably Hollywood took an interest. Four serials were made by Republic with Ralph Byrd as Tracy and four feature films from RKO followed. The two-way wrist radio that later became such a recognised trademark of the strip did not put in an appearance until 1946 and therefore does not feature in either the serials or the movies.

At the moment we’re concerned with the first of the serials, Dick Tracy, made in 1937.

The enemy of ace G-Man Dick Tracy in this story is the Spider Gang, led by a sinister lame man. The Spider Gang have kidnapped Dick’s brother Gordon and have performed brain surgery on him, turning him evil. The gang has plans to destroy the Bay Bridge in San Francisco (the famous bridge had been opened in 1936).

The Spider Gang have some high-tech weaponry at their disposal, such as a disintegrating sound gun and a huge flying wing aircraft (which looks extremely cool).

The Lame One comes up with a host of sinister plans involving everything from jewel thefts to counterfeiting to espionage. Much to his disgust Dick Tracy keeps thwarting those plans.

Dick’s biggest problem is that his kid brother Gordon (also a G-Man) has fallen into the hands of the Spider Gang and the Lame One’s outrageously malevolent hunchbacked mad scientist accomplice has performed brain surgery on him. Gordon Tracy has been turned into a ruthless conscienceless killer.

The cliffhangers are not as inspired as the ones you’ll find in William Witney-directed serials such as Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) or Spy Smasher (1942) but they’re competent. And nobody ever got close to matching Witney’s skills when it came to cliffhangers.

On the plus side there’s a lot of aviation stuff, and I love 30s aviation serials. And there’s a zeppelin! The aerial stuff is done pretty well, with a mix of real aircraft and miniatures. Today it would all be done with CGI and would probably look less convincing.

In 1937 everything in this serial would have seemed ultra-modern. Aircraft, zeppelins, powerboats, submarines, two-way radios, a miniature radio transmitter. And Dick’s young ward records radio programs off the air onto phonograph records. Cool stuff in 1937.

Ralph Byrd is a perfect square-jawed Dick Tracy. The acting of the other cast members is mostly bad, but it’s bad in a really fun B-movie way. The villains are sinister melodrama villains. Dick Tracy’s assistant are fairly incompetent but that’s OK because it keeps the focus on the main hero. His only competent assistant is Gwen, who runs his forensic science laboratory.

When considering the fairly minor flaws in this serial you have to bear in mind that serials were pitched at a young audience. Dick Tracy’s young ward Junior is mildly annoying at times but having a kid in the cast (who provides the hero with some vital clues) gave the kids in the audience someone with whom to identify. Smiley Burnette as Mike McGuirk, one of Tracy’s G-Man, provides excruciating comic relief but kids like that sort of obvious comedy. Kay Hughes as Gwen has little to do. She would have made an obvious love interest for Dick Tracy but presumably it was felt that younger viewers wouldn’t have gone for all that soppy love stuff.

There are plenty of pluses to compensate. There’s no shortage of action and excitement. The action scenes are well executed, the stunt-work is good and the flying wing aircraft really does look impressive. There’s stacks of cool 1930s technology. There are hair’s-breadth escapes from danger. There’s a decent mystery involving the true identity of the Lame One. There’s some mad scientist stuff. And there’s suspense involving the final fate of Dick’s brother Gordon - can the brain surgery that turned him evil be reversed?

Overall this is a very entertaining serial and it’s recommended.

VCI’s DVD release (in a boxed set containing all three Dick Tracy serials) offers quite acceptable image and sound quality.

I’ve also reviewed a couple of the RKO movies - Dick Tracy, Detective (1945) and Dick Tracy vs Cueball (1946).

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

Quai des Orfèvres is a 1947 movie directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known for The Wages of Fear and Diabolique.

Henri-Georges Clouzot doesn’t really fit neatly into a particular genre. There is a bit of a film noir vibe. Surprisingly perhaps it doesn’t have all that much in common with the French poetic realist movies of the 30s which are generally regarded as important precursors of film noir. Quai des Orfèvres is also a police procedural, and it’s a showbiz movie.

It’s a showbiz movie with the emphasis on the seedy sleazy side of the business. If you want to get ahead you might not have to be willing to sell your soul but you certainly have to be willing to sell your body. Getting ahead means making producers and promoters happy in the bedroom.

Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a popular singer in a theatre that appears to be a French equivalent of British music hall. Jenny is very ambitious. She intends to use her sex appeal to get to the top. How far she is prepared to go is debatable. She probably doesn’t know herself. She hopes not to have to go as far as actually sleeping her way to the top but we get the feeling that it’s an idea she wouldn’t dismiss out of hand. She’s certainly more than willing to be groped.

Jenny is married to her musical accompanist, Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier). He’s extremely jealous and possessive and it has to be admitted that he has some justification for not trusting his wife.

Their friend Dora lives in the same apartment block. There’s some kind of romantic triangle going on between these three but the nature of that triangle does not become clear until later. Dora is a photographer.

Jenny is hoping to sign a contract with movie producer Georges Brignon. It’s obvious that Jenny hopes to get the contract without actually sleeping with Brignon (although she’d be willing to do everything short of having actual sex with him). It’s also obvious that Brignon has no intention of giving her the contract unless she does have sex with him. Jenny gets herself into a very awkward situation.

There’s a murder. Jenny, Maurice and Dora will all be suspects at some stage. Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) is shabby and seedy and doesn’t give the impression of being over-competent but he’s been a cop for a lot of years and he can be dogged.

The script will eventually throw a few curve balls at us.

The three key characters are neither overly sympathetic nor overly unsympathetic. They have their faults but they have their good points and when they behave badly their actions are usually at least understandable. Jenny is cheerfully amoral. Dora seems oblivious to conventional morality. Maurice is much more moral, but that doesn’t make him better than the two women.

There are several things that sharply distinguish this movie from Hollywood films of the same era. The endings of Hollywood movies of this era were very predictable since usually there was only one ending that the Production Code Authority was going to permit. But in a French film, unconstrained by the Production Code, you can’t make any assumptions about the ending.

It’s also much more sexually open than any Hollywood offering of that period. There are very strong hints that Dora wants to be more than just good friends with Jenny. The movie is quite open about the fact that Jenny slept around before her marriage. The movie does not suggest that this makes her a wicked woman. Dora is quite unembarrassed by the fact that much of her income comes from taking nudie photos of girls. There is no suggestion that there is anything shocking or shameful about this. All of these things are pretty much taken for granted.

There’s plenty of sexual tension without any actual sex, which is of course a very sound approach for the movie to take. Sex, sexual jealousy and thwarted desire drive the actions of the characters.

The police are also portrayed less sympathetically than in Hollywood movies. They’re unethical and sneaky and brutal and generally unpleasant.

The acting is uniformly excellent. I was particularly impressed by Suzy Delair whose performance is both vibrant and nuanced.

Quai des Orfèvres does not turn out in quite the way you might expect although there are certainly clues that point towards the actual ending. A very good movie. Highly recommended.

Kino Lorber’s DVD (they’re released it on Blu-Ray as well) offers an excellent transfer. This release confirms the company’s formidable reputation for atrocious audio commentaries. In this case we get endless lists of film credits for every bit part actor and assistant hairdresser involved in the movie.

But it’s a fine movie and the disc is worth buying for that reason.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Carny (1980)

Carny is a movie that seems to have fallen through the cracks somewhat. It’s a terrific movie but it’s easy to see why it’s so often overlooked. It’s an oddball movie and it that doesn’t fit neatly into a particular genre. Such movies don’t go down well in Hollywood, or with mainstream critics. Studios are left wondering how to promote such movies and too often solve the problem by not promoting them at all.

There’s some comedy, almost enough darkness to qualify it as film noir, there’s an unconventional love story, at times it flirts with both the crime and horror genres. And it’s a bit of an oddity in Jodie Foster’s filmography.

This movie seems to have been a labour of love for Robbie Robertson, better known as the guitarist and main songwriter of The Band. He produced the movie, he co-wrote the story, he plays one of the three lead roles and he contributed some of the music. He had been a carny in his younger days and that is undoubtedly one of the things that gives this film an air of authenticity.

Foster plays Donna, an 18-year-old waitress who goes to a travelling carnival with her boyfriend. She’s starting to realise the boyfriend is a jerk. She meets Frankie (Gary Busey). Frankie is more or less the carnival’s geek. He wears clown makeup and calls himself Bozo and sits in a cage insulting the patrons who throw baseballs at a target. If they hit the target Bozo gets dumped into a pool of water. The more Frankie/Bozo insults them the keener they are to pay their money to try to dunk him. He’s a weird guy but Donna takes a liking to him.

Donna dumps her boyfriend and sleeps with Frankie.

Frankie shares a caravan with his buddy Patch (Robbie Robertson). Patch is suspicious of Donna. She’s not a carny. He thinks it’s a bad idea for Frankie to get involved with her.

Various dramas disrupt the life of the carnival. The carnies are used to that. They’re used to having to deal with corrupt cops and city officials. They’re used to irate marks causing trouble. Donna’s arrival is another disruption, threatening the friendship between Frankie and Patch.

Donna tries to become a carny. She gets a job in the girlie show. That causes more dramas.

There isn’t really a strong central plotline. The focus is on the three lead characters. That puts a lot of pressure on the three leads but they’re than equal to the challenge.

I see this movie as playing a part in Jodie Foster’s career similar to that played by Sky West and Crooked in Hayley Mills’ career. In both cases you have successful child actresses starting to make the move into grown-up roles. This is really Foster’s first romantic leading lady role. Both movies are coming-of-age movies of a sort. Both deal with girls who are outsiders. Both deal with girls trying to cope with making the move into womanhood and finding the transition difficult. In both cases the result was superb performances by the actresses in question in very fine movies.

Donna is a nice girl but she’s a teenager and she’s a bit unpredictable, as all teenagers are. Foster makes her likeable and charming. One doesn’t normally think of Jodie Foster as a sex symbol but she has her moments in this movie.

Donna is an outsider who desperately wants to find her place in the world but she knows she’s never going to fit in to conventional society. She dislikes that world and has deliberately chosen to reject it. But she needs to fit in somewhere. She has to decide if the carny world is the world for her. She is also aware that she will have to prove her ability to be part of the world. The carny world is based on fierce in-group loyalty. In the scene that was undoubtedly responsible for the movie’s X rating she has to decide if she is capable of that absolute loyalty. She has to decide is she is prepared to whore herself out to a crooked local official in order to save the carnival.

Gary Busey goes over-the-top but that’s the right way to play his role.

Robbie Robertson strike the right note of cynicism, but while Patch is cynical he has a fundamentally decent side that he tries to hide. The carnival is Patch’s whole life. He is initially hostile to Donna because she’s not a carny. He doesn’t dislike her as a person. She’s just not a carny. If Donna can persuade Patch to accept her as a carny then everyone else will accept her but the sexual attraction between them complicates things.

What really makes the movie work is the three-way chemistry between Foster, Busey and Robertson. They work together beautifully.

This movie is an odd mix of romanticism and cynicism. The carny world is amoral and not overly honest but they are loyal. The movie doesn’t try to push the viewer into making a judgment on them. By the end of the story you will have to make up your own mind. It's also refreshingly free of moralising about sex.

There have been quite a few movies dealing with the outsider world of the carnival. I wouldn’t necessarily say Carny is the best of them but it is the one that feels most honest and authentic. And I think it offers the most complex look at that world. It is a bit episodic but this is a movie that is character and relationship-driven rather than plot-driven. And the characters and relationships are fascinating. The relationships cover the whole gamut of human relationships - friendship, group loyalty, love and sexual relationships.

Carny really is a movie that should get a lot more attention. I love this movie. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

best classic movie viewings 2023

I watched 254 movies in 2023. Some first-time watched and some re-watches.

The most pleasant surprises among the first time classic movie watches were:

Hangman’s Knot (1952) written and directed by Roy Huggins. Randolph Scott is excellent as always. He's stolen a gold shipment but it's much more complicated than that.

Ernst Lubitsch's wild crazy visually flamboyant 1921 silent comedy/romance The Wildcat (Die Bergkatze) starring the one and only Pola Negri.

Of the re-watches the standouts were:

The Beast of the City (1932), an extraordinarily hard-hitting gangster movie with a cop hero who is as brutal as the worst gangster. Based on a story by W. R. Burnett and stars Walter Huston and Jean Harlow.

Raw Deal (1948), the most admired of Anthony Mann’s films noirs, and with good reason.