Dean Jagger

Alligator (1980, Lewis Teague)

Alligator has quite a few things going for it. Lead Robert Forster is great, Robin Riker’s solid as his love interest and sidekick, John Sayles’s script has some excellent moments in it (some of them just being the attention he pays to Forster and Riker’s relationship), the giant alligator effects are solid, Larry Bock and Ron Medico’s editing is outstanding. Unfortunately, director Teague is a bit of a liability. He doesn’t direct actors well, he doesn’t set up shots well, he doesn’t understand scale when it comes to the giant alligator. The film is also shooting Los Angeles for Chicago, which comes off as pointless since there’s nothing Chicago about the film except the casting. They don’t even have second unit shots of Chicago. They shoot second unit against the mountains. Teague’s lack of ability and imagination with the budget hurt immensely.

Other problems–let’s just get them out of the way now–include the score and the plotting. Craig Huxley’s score rip-offs the Jaws theme way too obviously, but then the rest of the music is bad too so it’s not like it should be a surprise. Joseph Mangine’s photography is generally competent–especially given the amount of sewer shots–but lacks personality. Even though Forster and Riker have personality, Alligator doesn’t.

There’s some nice supporting work from Henry Silva as the absurd great white hunter. He comes off the best besides the leads. Dean Jagger is pretty lame as the evil industrialist who unintentionally creates the giant alligator because he’s an evil industrialist. I’m assuming Jagger’s part was supposed to be humorous, but Teague doesn’t have an ear for comedy. At all.

Michael V. Gazzo should be better as Forster’s boss. The only thing Teague does reliably is direct Gazzo’s scenes worse than anything else in the film. Perry Lang’s okay as a young beat cop, Bart Braverman’s okay as the noisy reporter. If the film just had more perfectly okay performances… well, it would still have all the problems Teague brings to it.

It’s hard to dislike Alligator, but only because of Forster, Riker and the film’s somewhat reluctant concentration on their relationship. Oh, and Silva. Silva’s really amusing. And you want to like Gazzo’s performance. It’s just not well-directed enough to get over the budget issues and it’s not well-written enough to get over the directing issues and it’s not well-produced enough to get over any of it. It’s all right. For a giant alligator movie set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles without enough good supporting performances, tepid direction and a too wonky script, Alligator is all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli; director of photography, Joseph Mangine; edited by Larry Bock and Ron Medico; music by Craig Huxley; produced by Brandon Chase and Mark L. Rosen; released by Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

Starring Robert Forster (David Madison), Robin Riker (Dr. Marisa Kendall), Michael V. Gazzo (Chief Clark), Dean Jagger (Slade), Jack Carter (Mayor), Sydney Lassick (Gutchel), James Ingersoll (Helms), Bart Braverman (Kemp), Perry Lang (Kelly) and Henry Silva (Brock).


Revolt of the Zombies (1936, Victor Halperin)

What an unmitigated disaster.

It takes a lot for me to open with such a statement–well, maybe not, but certainly for a film I finished watching, even if it only does run sixty-two minutes.

But Revolt of the Zombies might be one of the worst things ever and really shouldn’t be. Okay, worst things ever is an overstatement, but it really should have been better.

It opens as a war film, set during the first World War, with zombies–the brainwashed kind, not the flesh-eating–being used as a weapon. Interesting idea, kind of groundbreaking for 1936. But then the film rushes off to Cambodia, where a bunch of Europeans take time off from the war to try and destroy the secret of zombies, so no other power can use it.

Then the film turns into this turgid soap opera with Dorothy Stone playing a scheming harpy who seduces and gets engaged to Dean Jagger in hopes of getting his best friend, Robert Noland, interested in her.

Once she does, Jagger loses it and starts turning everyone into a zombie in order to win her.

Or some such nonsense. It’s really hurried and almost impossible to follow… with some of the terrible acting–Jagger and Stone are particularly atrocious–to complement the terrible script.

There’s some nice rear screen footage of Angkor, but the film’s dreadfully cheap. There’s zero filmmaking ingenuity here–Halperin’s direction seems almost embarrassed.

It might’ve had a chance if they’d stayed in France.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Victor Halperin; written by Victor Halperin, Howard Higgin and Rollo Lloyd; director of photography, Jockey Arthur Feindel and Arthur Martinelli; edited by Douglass Biggs; produced by Edward Halperin; produced by Academy Pictures Distributing Corporation.

Starring Dorothy Stone (Claire Duval), Dean Jagger (Armand Louque), Roy D’Arcy (Col. Mazovia), Robert Noland (Clifford Grayson), George Cleveland (Gen. Duval), E. Alyn Warren (Dr. Trevissant), Carl Stockdale (Ignacio MacDonald), William Crowell (Priest Tsiang), Teru Shimada (Buna) and Adolph Milar (Gen. von Schelling).


Wings in the Dark (1935, James Flood)

Wings in the Dark is three-quarters overwrought melodrama with the remainder squandered potential. The film opens with Myrna Loy as the protagonist, an aviatrix (never thought I’d get to type that word) whose flying abilities can’t compensate–in terms of professional opportunities–for her lack of male gender. This part of the film, with Loy trying to make a living when she can’t do much more than stunt flying, is interesting. It reminded me, Amelia Earhart or no Amelia Earhart, I don’t think I’ve ever flown on a flight with a female pilot (or even a female member of the flight crew).

But the film quickly turns Loy into a standard melodramatic female role with the appearance of Cary Grant. Grant’s a successful pilot–who doesn’t even have to time to acknowledge fliers like Loy–and Loy seems to love him for it. It’s excusable at this point, part of the narrative; it isn’t until later the melodramatic syrup clogs the whole film down.

Grant ends up blind–but not really blind, there’s the chance he’ll get his sight back–and the film becomes an advertisement for anti-blindness. It’s too bad there isn’t a word for it, as it’s difficult to describe the film’s hostility towards the blind. Where they could make distinctions between Grant’s character’s situation and those of blind people, they make generalizations. It’s stunning–being blind, according to Wings in the Dark, is worse than being a leper. It really is a burden on friends and family and the world at large. Plus, Grant might awkwardly bump into things, you know, to show off how he can’t see after just having an argument about people deceiving him because he can’t see. All it needs is a laugh track.

Grant and Loy do have a lot of chemistry, which keeps it going through some of the worse scripted scenes. There’s a walk through the woods, for instance, and it’s beautifully done. James Flood’s a fine director, but he can’t do much with the content.

Just before the worst of the poor blind Grant scenes, there’s some more fine Loy as the female flier material. The film’s trying to put way too much into seventy-five minutes and without the screenwriters to pull it off. Both leads have individual story lines deserving of attention and the film’s attempt to tie them together fails.

It doesn’t help the supporting cast is phoning in their performances. Hobert Cavanaugh’s direction was apparently to have a loud Scottish accent and he does, even if it’s shaky at times. Roscoe Karns, who should be lovable as Loy’s thoughtlessly ambitious manager, is not. Any time he comes on the screen, it’s unbelievable Loy would associate with such a snake. Dean Jagger’s good, but he’s only in it at the beginning and end.

There’s some nice aerial photography and there’s a fine effects sequence at the end, but the movie stops early. That effects sequence earns it some more consideration and instead of playing it all out, it ends at the first possible moment following. Going a little longer and concluding some of the story lines wouldn’t have helped a lot, but it would have helped some. Especially since Loy spends the last quarter of the film alone in a cockpit, not the most interesting place for an actor to be….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Flood; screenplay by Jack Kirkland and Frank Partos, based on an adaptation by Dale Van Every and E.H. Robinson and a story by Philip D. Hurn and Neil Shipman; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by William Shea; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Myrna Loy (Sheila Mason), Cary Grant (Ken Gordon), Roscoe Karns (Nick Williams), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mac), Dean Jagger (Top Harmon), Russell Hopton (Jake Brashear), Matt McHugh (Mechanic) and Graham McNamee (Radio Announcer).


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