Director Joanou definitely familiarized himself with film noir before directing Dead-End for Delia (an episode of noir anthology “Fallen Angels”) but apparently didn’t realized doing it in color would break the shots. Especially since cinematographer Declan Quinn often just boosts the contrast to hide modern background elements.
But Scott Frank’s script is also a problem. He and Joanou play up the film noir homage to an absurd level, with Gary Oldman walking around in a coat too big for him like it’s a B noir from the fifties and not something with a budget. Frank’s script (it’s based on a short story) has a couple nice moments, but the twist is obvious and weak.
Ditto the acting. Gabrielle Anwar’s terrible as the titular character and Oldman ranges from mediocre to bored. Meg Tilly, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Paul Guilfoyle do provide nice supporting work though.
Besides them, there’s nothing here.
Directed by Phil Joanou; teleplay by Scott Frank, based on the story by William Campbell Gault; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Stan Salfas; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.
Starring Gary Oldman (Pat Keiley), Meg Tilly (Lois Weldon), Paul Guilfoyle (Steve Prokowski), Vondie Curtis-Hall (David O’Connor), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Calender), Wayne Knight (Leo Cunningham), Patrick Masset (Joe Helgeson), John Putch (Officer Barnes) and Gabrielle Anwar (Delia).
Wildcat Bus is a tepid b picture about corruption in the hired car business. A group of bad guys–they run an unlicensed car firm–go after sweet old Oscar O’Shea’s bus company. It all hinges on a bankrupted blue blood (Charles Lang), his trusty sidekick (Paul Guilfoyle) and O’Shea’s daughter (Fay Wray).
If Wildcat weren’t so earnest about its story, the film might be good for a laugh. Instead, thanks to the serious nature of its approach, it’s a frequently lame outing. There is a fantastic chase sequence in the third act, however, which shows more directorial skill from Woodruff–not to mention editing competency from George Crone–than the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the good sequence doesn’t turn Wildcat around. It’s just an island.
Woodruff’s utterly incapable of directing actors. Lang and Wray are both appealing, but neither are good. Guilfoyle manages to be both, as he apparently required less direction. Some of the bad guys–Don Costello in particular–are good. Though Leona Roberts is terrible as the lead villain.
The picture runs just over an hour and they apparently saved money by not showing any moving cars during the first act. That budget constraint at least gave Wildcat some personality; it gets worse when there’s actual action (until that great pre-finale chase).
Speaking of the finale, it’s idiotic and more appropriate for slapstick. There’s a good joke or two–definitely one, I might be misremembering another.
It’s not worth investing the hour in Wildcat.
Directed by Frank Woodruff; written by Lou Lusty; director of photography, Jack MacKenzie; edited by George Crone; music by Roy Webb; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Fay Wray (Ted Dawson), Charles Lang (Jerry Waters), Paul Guilfoyle (Donovan), Don Costello (Sid Casey), Oscar O’Shea (Charles Dawson), Leona Roberts (Ma), Frank Shannon (Sweeney), Paul McGrath (Stanley Regan), Joe Sawyer (Burke), Roland Drew (Davis) and Warren Ashe (Joe Miller).
The politics of The Woman on Pier 13 are more interesting than the film itself. While it’s rabidly anti-Communist, the film is pro-Union. It sets up the Communist Party (the USA branch—there’s no mention of Soviet ties) as an unimaginably devious and effective organization. There’s no motive for their activities—except to mess with honest, working Americans… in the Union—but villain Thomas Gomez is still fantastic. He doesn’t fret about motivation.
Also more interesting than the film are its credits. Laraine Day gets top billing, but she doesn’t even need to be present until the last twenty minutes. The film’s pacing is awkward, with most of it following either Day’s new husband, played by Robert Ryan, or his old flame, played by Janis Carter. The billing probably should’ve had Day third after Ryan and Carter.
The only thing motivating Ryan’s character throughout is his desire to hide his old Communist Party membership. Even when it becomes clear Day may be in danger, Ryan hesitates. Worse, Ryan doesn’t show any understanding of the character’s selfishness. Instead of being the complicated story of a coward who looks like Robert Ryan, it’s Ryan behaving nonsensically.
Carter’s got some great moments, but her hysterics are fairly awful. John Agar’s good as Day’s impressionable younger brother.
The film’s best performance is from William Talman as a sociopathic hit man. He’s amazing.
Stevenson’s composition’s okay but Roland Gross’s editing is bad. Leigh Harline’s score is terrible.
The film’s peculiar, but not worthwhile.
Directed by Robert Stevenson; screenplay by Charles Grayson and Robert Hardy Andrews, based on a story by George W. George and George F. Slavin; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Jack J. Gross; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Laraine Day (Nan Lowry Collins), Robert Ryan (Bradley Collins), John Agar (Don Lowry), Thomas Gomez (Vanning), Janis Carter (Christine Norman), Richard Rober (Jim Travers), William Talman (Bailey), Paul E. Burns (J.T. Arnold), Paul Guilfoyle (Ralston), G. Pat Collins (Charlie Dover), Fred Graham (Grip Wilson), Harry Cheshire (J. Francis Cornwall) and Jack Stoney (Garth).
I probably read Heaven’s Prisoners, the novel, about eighteen years ago; I don’t remember it. But I’m sure this adaptation is faithful to the events of the novel because this movie is a mess and there’s no good reason for it.
The novel can have space for a mystery and a character drama, but–at least under Joanou’s exceptionally bad direction–there’s no way the movie can have enough room. A decision needed to be made, whether they wanted to make a mystery, an alcoholism drama or a revenge thriller and no one seemed willing to make it. So instead of Heaven’s Prisoners, the film, succeeding, it fails.
It’s not a complete failure. Alec Baldwin is a problematic lead, but decent enough. Had he and nemesis Eric Roberts switched roles, the film would have been amazing, Joanou or not. Roberts is still great as a bad guy.
Also phenomenal–a word I rarely use–is Mary Stuart Masterson, who really gets the short end of the adaptation stick. In order to match the novel’s conclusion, the screenwriters fail her character. It really is one of the worst adaptations… the narrative structure, an abridging of the novel, is disastrous.
Bad acting from Kelly Lynch and laughably awful from Teri Hatcher make for painful scenes, but they don’t really do more damage than the direction.
Joanou somehow manages to suck the life out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s swamps, making them incredibly boring.
Inappropriate and bad music from George Fenton hurt it too.
It’s still worthwhile.
Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, based on the novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by William Steinkamp; music by George Fenton; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Leslie Greif, Andre Morgan and Albert S. Ruddy; released by New Line Cinema.
Starring Alec Baldwin (Dave Robicheaux), Kelly Lynch (Annie Robicheaux), Mary Stuart Masterson (Robin Gaddis), Eric Roberts (Bubba Rocque), Teri Hatcher (Claudette Rocque), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Minos P. Dautrieve), Badja Djola (Batist), Samantha Lagpacan (Alafair), Joe Viterelli (Didi Giancano), Tuck Milligan (Jerry Falgout), Hawthorne James (Victor Romero), Don Stark (Eddie Keats), Carl A. McGee (Toot) and Paul Guilfoyle (Det. Magelli).
It’d be interesting to know how much of the relationship between Howard and Lea Thompson got toned down, like if Huyck and Katz originally had them more visibly romantically involved. It wouldn’t be interesting to see cut scenes or even to read old drafts of the script, it’d just be interesting to know. Seeing cut scenes or reading the script would require one to endure more of this intolerable production.
Howard the Duck has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Casting Richard Kiley as the Voice of the Cosmos aside, it’s worthless. All I could think, as the terribly acted Duck got to Earth and met Thompson was–these people wrote American Graffiti. The duck planet scenes at the beginning, which should have been amusing and inventive is more instead tired. There’s no exuberance to the scenes, they’re mundane. As a director, Huyck is never willing to acknowledge Howard the Duck‘s idiocy. It’s about a talking duck who gets it on with a human girl. It ought to be dumb, fun and outlandish–and aware of it. Instead, it’s all about not selling out the music for the man. It’s embarrassing to watch it, much less to imagine having participated in its making in any capacity.
I’m not real familiar with the comic books, but the movie Howard is a unfunny whiner who’s mad he had to get a job. I can only figure the comic book Howard is probably a funny whiner. The occasional promises of a smoking and drinking duck are never realized (he gets whisked to Earth before he lights his cigar and his beer later magically disappears into PG-land). Sadly, Howard the Duck probably isn’t even the worst of the atrocious teen-minded sci-fi movies on the mid-1980s, just the most famous.
The acting is unspeakable. Lea Thompson has never been really good so her inability to act opposite a guy in a costume who talks (the cast of “Alf” did far better) is no surprise. But Tim Robbins? Robbins is awful. Jeffrey Jones is awful. Some of the blame has to fall on the script and direction, but good acting might have made it a little less unbearable.
As for the costumed Howard the Duck… the costume’s not detailed enough to be convincing in regular shots. It looks like a television commercial. And Chip Zien’s vocal performance as Howard might be the worst thing in the movie, which is a hard thing to be.
The only other thing worth commenting on is John Barry’s score. When I saw his name in the opening titles, I figured at least the music would be good. It isn’t. It’s John Barry trying to be zany. It’s a metaphor for the whole movie–a bunch of squares pretending to be zany and not even managing to make an unconventional failure.
Directed by Willard Huyck; screenplay by Huyck and Gloria Katz, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Michael Chandler and Sidney Wolinsky; music by John Barry; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Katz; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Lea Thompson (Beverly Switzler), Jeffrey Jones (Dr. Walter Jenning), Tim Robbins (Phil Blumburtt), Paul Guilfoyle (Lieutenant Welker) and Ed Gale & Chip Zien (Howard T. Duck).
Thanks to a frantic trip through the New York skyline and Danny Elfman’s familiar score, Extreme Measures’s opening credits play like an unused Batman sequel opening… until the two naked guys run out on to the street. It’s an odd opening (and the naked guys and their plight are compelling enough one forgets Elfman until his credit comes up… then the opening makes more sense).
Strangely, Elfman quickly shifts gears and turns in a reasonable thriller score. Apted’s a great thriller director too–there’s one particular sequence I found myself getting agitated while watching, even though it’s perfectly clear the movie is not going to have some twist ending. In fact, the film gets off to a really unique start and keeps a solid quality pace until the resolution turns out to be a twenty minute, real time sequence. Really drags the movie down.
The reason for Extreme Measures being so damn peculiar is Hugh Grant. I’m not sure if he’s changed lately, but during his 1990s rise, Grant was actually rather unique–every movie, he played a variation on his Four Weddings and a Funeral performance. Had his British accent, that tight smile, the goofy hair. Extreme Measures is like watching some guy who ought to be bickering with Sandra Bullock instead get chased around by crazed FBI agent David Morse (Morse is fine playing a… crazed FBI agent, but I hate seeing him wasted in shallow roles). It’s hilarious and it really does work well for a thriller.
Unfortunately, besides Grant, the cast is questionable. Some of the problems stem from it being a thriller and everyone being a suspect, so there isn’t the opportunity for good character relationships (though a nice, lengthy build-up to a betrayal scene would not have hurt–however, Sarah Jessica Parker is terrible and the betrayal scene might have been centered around her and… it would have instead been awful). It wasn’t until the middle I realized there wasn’t going to be a romance between Parker and Grant. Then I realized it maybe wasn’t even giving the impression there was going to be one. I just assumed; it wasn’t so much anything in the movie, rather Parker was supposed to be playing a regular person… except, regardless of acting talent, Parker is a movie star… which probably made her performance even worse.
Gene Hackman is sort of around–I remember he was revealed as the villain in the trailer and it wouldn’t have been possible to show him as anything else. All of his scenes suggest great villainy and he’s a lot of fun when he’s being the villain, it’s when he supposed to be human too. Doesn’t work, makes Extreme Measures seem unaware of its place as a straight thriller with incredibly goofy aspects.
Bill Nunn’s in it a bit and he’s good, so is John Toles-Bey, so is Paul Guilfoyle. The ending’s failure could have been easily averted, but since Grant’s character actually had very little visual to lose or fight for (he’s doing it because he believes in being a doctor) there’s a bit of a quandary. But the ending they went with simply didn’t work following the twenty minute sequence. They sped the film up and then slowed it too suddenly. They needed to give things actual time to sit; instead the ending feels forced and empty.
Directed by Michael Apted; written by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Michael Palmer; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Rick Shaine; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Doug Kraner; produced by Elizabeth Hurley; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Hugh Grant (Dr. Guy Luthan), Gene Hackman (Dr. Lawrence Myrick), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jodie Trammel), David Morse (Frank Hare), Bill Nunn (Burke), Paul Guilfoyle (Dr. Jeffrey Manko) and John Toles-Bey (Bobby).
Speedily paced. The Saint Takes Over is somehow fast, running sixty-nine minutes, but quite full of content. It’s so full of content, in the first act, I was convinced George Sanders was somehow going to remain non-central to the picture, since so much time was being spent establishing the ground situation he finds himself in. And there’s no mystery either… the murder, if not the motive, is revealed rather early on. But it all still works–and this Saint is my first (besides the tragically unappreciated Val Kilmer one); I waited until after it was over to check IMDb and now I understand I would have known what was going on were I familiar with the series.
The story is engaging because, instead of revealing clues, the characters are continually wrapped tighter and tighter in an impossible situation. Eventually, it’s all up to Sanders to get them out of it, which of course he will, but he does so in a–while not unpredictable–always entertaining way. It’s a solid amusement.
The whole thing, in terms of being entertaining, rests on Sanders’s shoulders. I wanted to see one of his Saint films because it’s Sanders and he’s usually enough… except, I had no idea how amazing his performance was going to be. The film starts on a cruise ship and Sanders intrudes into an existing situation, establishing himself very quickly. It’s a series and establishing the main character in a series is always difficult. What if someone hasn’t seen the previous film or what if the character were played by a different actor… whatever. But Sanders sort of–well, oozes sounds bad–he’s funny, charming, and sophisticated. He’s just amazing. His comic delivery, his sarcastic comments, all perfect. But there’s also another element to the film, the one pushing it beyond the b-programmer. It’s sensitive. The Saint is sensitive and so is the film. The director has some really nice moves for showing the emotional effect of these fantastic, b-movie situations on the characters.
Besides Sanders’s unspeakably great performance, there are a handful of other good ones. Most are mediocre, especially Wendy Barrie, who’s too much the mystery woman, but she does have a couple good scenes. Paul Guilfoyle and Jonathan Hale are both good and after that lengthy establishing period is over, it’s really all about the three (Sanders, Guilfoyle, and Hale) hanging out and being really funny together. It’s a pleasure to watch them, though Hale’s the only one who wouldn’t have anything to do if it weren’t for the others’ great comic performances.
The film is rather simple, but it’s not condescending and it is centered around its characters, even if it sets itself up as being centered around its setpieces. It’s got some depth to it, making it funny, engaging, and deep, which a lot of a-list movies are not. And they don’t have Sanders as the lead… and Sanders makes a great leading man. He’s an acting leading man–that uncommon variety, though there are always the rather obvious exceptions–but he’s actually able to shrink (and Sanders is a big guy) when the Saint needs to shrink. He’s just great.
Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Desmond Marquette; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Ruth Summers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Paul Guilfoyle (‘Pearly’ Gates), Morgan Conway (Sam Reese), Robert Emmett Keane (Leo Sloan) and Cy Kendall (Max Bremer).
One Crowded Night opens strong enough–a Mojave desert motel and lunch counter, run by a family with a past, with employees with romantic woes. It’s an RKO B-picture, as the most recognizable people in the cast are bit players from bigger films. It’s filmed on location (at the motel) and it starts centered around Anne Revere’s character, which gets it that “strong enough” comment. Revere plays a woman whose husband’s in prison and she’s dropped out from her former life. At first, it sounds like he did it, then we find out he was framed. Once I heard it was an unjust imprisonment, I knew Crowded Night was going to get into trouble, but she’s real good anyway. Unfortunately, she doesn’t remain the focus… especially not after the husband shows up.
If it had been about the women, Crowded Night could have been excellent. All of the female actors are good, with Revere and Billie Seward standing out. Seward’s particularly exceptional. Crowded Night was one of her last films, after a number of Westerns, and it’s worth seeing just for her performance. Another reason it should have concentrated on the women is the men. None of the male actors are good, only a couple are mediocre–though Steve Pendleton approaches having a good scene–and the two most important, Charles Lang and Paul Guilfoyle, are terrible.
The film’s constructed to solve a problem–it’s a sixty-eight minute deus ex machina, in fact–and all the added complications take away from what works. Oddly, the film was never predictable past the unbelievably fortuitous set-up. Characters remained in peril throughout, making for a tense last ten minutes. The director, Irving Reis, did go on to bigger films, which is no surprise, since much of One Crowded Night is well-directed. At first I thought it wasn’t, then I realized it’s just the editing. The film has the worst cuts between shots I’ve ever seen. They’re eyesores and until I caught on, I blamed it all on Reis. Actually, the bad taste from the edits was carrying over into his good work.
So, for a sixty-eight minute B-picture, One Crowded Night is fine. Seward and Revere make up for the film’s acting and writing deficiencies and Reis is just a bonus.
Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Ben Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau, based on a story by Ben Holmes; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Billie Seward (Gladys), William Haade (Joe Miller), Charles Lang (Fred Matson), Pamela Blake (Ruth Matson), J.M. Kerrigan (Brother ‘Doc’ Joseph), Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Andrews), Anne Revere (Mae Andrews), Gale Storm (Annie Mathews), Dick Hogan (Vince Sanders), George Watts (Pa Mathews), Emma Dunn (Ma Mathews), Don Costello (Lefty), Steve Pendleton (Mat Denlen), Casey Johnson (Bobby Andrews), Harry Shannon (Detective Lt. McDermott) and Ferris Taylor (Detective Sgt. Lansing).