Reginald Denny

Batman: The Movie (1966, Leslie H. Martinson)

Burt Ward is really bad in Batman: The Movie. Sure, he’s just around to parrot Adam West, who’s a horny, kind of dumb, know-it-all. The problem is it doesn’t seem like anyone else is in on the joke because director Martinson does such a bad job. There are some okay scenes in Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script–none for West and Ward but, they’re still okay scenes. And Martinson screws them up. Yes, Howard Schwartz’s cinematography is bland but why bother with anything given Martinson never does anything.

Until the big fight scene at the end. The big fight scene at the end has the potential to be a farcical masterpiece. It could even be one subtly. But Martinson. And editor Harry W. Gerstad. He cuts the action too long; it gives more time to the actors, which they don’t need given the scale of the action. It’s too bad. Some gem in Batman: The Movie would be nice to find.

At best, the film has an amusing moment for Alan Napier (as Alfred), who apparently wants to perve on West romancing Lee Meriwether and Ward has to shut it down. Ward’s Robin is an obnoxious little yes boy, spouting off stupid ideas. It’s like West isn’t even letting Ward in on the joke.

Meriwether’s Catwoman is bad. She’s kind of likable, but only because West’s such a dumb horny guy around her and she gets it. So she’s in on the joke. But she’s not good at all.

Burgess Meredith has some moments. Less than if Martinson and Gerstad cut his close-ups better. The composition is a mess. Martinson’s framing for The Movie is way too much like a TV show (shocker) and it needs to be more open. Just enough for headroom in some cases.

Frank Gorshin’s okay. You know, he’s okay. He’s weird. It works. A lot better than Cesar Romero’s Cowardly Lion Joker character. But Romero’s kind of likable. You feel a little bad for him. You don’t feel bad for the scenes of West and Ward acting like clowns. Batman: The Movie is most engaging when the lack of awareness about the absurdity–the complete lack of verisimilitude, if you would–makes it an unbearable experience.

And what’s up with the music? Nelson Riddle has some pretty decent music and then some awful music. It’s a toss-up. It’s probably the best thing about the movie–except the opening titles. They’re actually pretty darn cool.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; director of photography, Howard Schwartz; edited by Harry W. Gerstad; music by Nelson Riddle; produced by William Dozier; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adam West (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Burt Ward (Robin / Dick Grayson), Lee Meriwether (The Catwoman), Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Alan Napier (Alfred), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), Stafford Repp (Chief O’Hara), Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet Cooper) and Reginald Denny (Commodore Schmidlapp).


The Phantom (1961, Harold Daniels)

“The Phantom” is horrific. Between Lon Chaney Jr. trying a Cajun accent and Paulette Goddard’s hilariously bad turn as a Ms. Big, there’s no good acting. But these two guest stars aren’t even the worst–lead Roger Creed is unbearably awful. I’m sure he was hired to put on the purple jumpsuit but still… he doesn’t deliver a single acceptable line.

Daniels’s direction is no help either. He’s a little classier than the rest of the production–which just makes one realize how far Chaney and Goddard had fallen since Hollywood. Another particularly bad element is George W. Merrick’s inept editing. It’s like he tries to cut away from Creed’s deliveries, but just makes it worse.

Thankfully, the pilot never went to series–saving co-star Reginald Denny some amount of embarrassment I’m sure–but it’s terrifying enough on its own.

Unless you love Richard Kiel, avoid at all costs.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Daniels; teleplay by John Carr, based on the character created by Lee Falk; director of photography, Jack Taylor; edited by George W. Merrick; music by Gene Kauer; produced by Robert Gilbert.

Starring Roger Creed (The Phantom), Paulette Goddard (Mrs. Harris), Lon Chaney Jr. (Jed), Reginald Denny (Commissioner Mallory), Chaino (Chaino), Richard Kiel (Big Mike), Morgan Lane (Lt. Hartwell), Robert Curtis (Johnson), Glen Marshall (Deek), Mike De Anda (Jim), Ewing Miles Brown (Barney) and Allan Nixon (Doc Sanders).


Remember Last Night? (1935, James Whale)

I wish I knew if Remember Last Night? is supposed to be a knock-off of The Thin Man or if it’s just a highly coincidental release, coming a year later, with a similarly intoxicated, ritzy couple solving crimes as they get more intoxicated (Robert Young and Constance Cummings play the couple in this film). Remember Last Night? is based on a novel, which suggests the latter.

The film’s about a bunch of facile rich party animals getting involved with murder–imagine “Sex and the City” with couples, set in the thirties, with murder investigation thrown in.

It’s a nearly unbearable film. While completely unsuited for comedy, Whale does have some amazing crane shots, just beautiful work, but then he’s got these terrible inserts and all of his close-ups look somewhat off. His direction of the actors is also problematic, but some of those failures might just be the script.

The script’s entirely contrived–when they need a detective, they call one (Edward Arnold), who isn’t supposed to be investigating, mind you, just helping them out. The same goes for a psychic (Gustav von Seyffertitz). It’s never explained why socialite alcoholic Young knows detective Arnold.

The acting’s not bad. Young has his moments and Cummings is excellent. Sally Eilers, Robert Armstrong and Reginald Denny are all strong, though the script gives out on them all eventually (well, except Armstrong, only because he’s barely in it).

The film misuses Edward Brophy, which I hadn’t believed possible before seeing this one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Harry Clork, Doris Malloy and Dan Totheroh, based on a novel by Adam Hobhouse; director of photography, Joseph A. Valentine; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Whale and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Arnold (Danny Harrison), Robert Young (Tony Milburn), Constance Cummings (Carlotta Milburn), George Meeker (Vic Huling), Sally Eilers (Bette Huling), Reginald Denny (Jake Whitridge), Louise Henry (Penny Whitridge), Robert Armstrong (Flannagan), Gregory Ratoff (Faronea), Monroe Owsley (Billy Arliss), Jack La Rue (Baptiste Bouclier), Edward Brophy (Maxie), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Professor Karl Jones) and Arthur Treacher (Clarence Phelps).


Thunder Birds (1942, William A. Wellman)

Thunder Birds runs just under eighty minutes and if one were to subtract the propaganda, both narrated and in lengthy monologues–not to mention the flashback to the stoic Brits–he or she would have a fifty-five minute love triangle set at an Army flight training base. The whole reason one leg of the triangle is British (John Sutton) is to rouse up support for the British.

Luckily, the movie’s love triangle is mildly effective, which makes the propaganda digressions tolerable. All of the credit for that success is surprisingly not Gene Tierney. Tierney’s great in the movie, bringing a combination of playfulness and maturity to the role. What’s surprising about the movie’s treatment of her is the constant sexism. There’s a terrible sequence at a Red Cross training with all the volunteers–all female–coming off as man-crazy and incompetent. Worse is Tierney’s grandfather, George Barbier, frequently deriding her (she’s “still a woman,” after all).

But that paragraph was supposed to be positive. Sutton’s quite good in the film, bringing a thoughtful sense to his role (an acrophobic doctor turned RAF cadet). He and Tierney have excellent chemistry; big surprise. Leading man Preston Foster is the last leg of the triangle and he and Tierney too have good chemistry. But when Foster’s with Sutton, the scenes are just bad. Foster’s very Hollywood acting doesn’t mix well with Sutton’s subdued, introspective performance. Either Tierney just worked well with Foster–her performance is a mix of charm and intelligence–or she manages to get good scenes out of anyone.

Since there really is less than an hour of story, there’s not much time for a supporting cast. Barbier’s good as the chauvinist pig (what makes it so disturbing is how he’s siding against his granddaughter’s wishes, which is a bit surprising in a Lamar Trotti script, but I guess Trotti is a servant to his source material). Richard Haydn’s great as Sutton’s friend who disappears way too fast. But Dame May Whitty’s brief, flashback role is a waste of time both for her and the film.

Where Thunder Birds really excels is in the Technicolor cinematography and the action sequence at the end. Ernest Palmer’s cinematography is great and the aerial photography is fantastic. But Wellman is just churning it out during these scenes. It’s all fine, but it’s never particularly significant. The end sequence, featuring Sutton (in a plane) saving Foster from a sandstorm is amazing. Great stuff, with some fine editing from Walter Thompson.

The story–the standard Fox war movie love triangle–does take an unexpected turn at the end. Wellman successfully milks the anticipation for the last five minutes, but then gets stuck with that narrated propaganda for a close. In the last ten minutes, I’m not sure Sutton even has a line–odd for the protagonist. The Fox propaganda movies were always decent and Thunder Birds is fine enough as one; it’s just a little emptier of actual content than I would have guessed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck; director of photography, Ernest Palmer; edited by Walter Thompson; music by David Buttolph; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Kay Saunders), Preston Foster (Steve Britt), John Sutton (Peter Stackhouse), Jack Holt (Colonel MacDonald), May Whitty (Lady Jane Stackhouse), George Barbier (Gramps), Richard Haydn (George Lockwood), Reginald Denny (Barrett) and Ted North (Cadet Hackzell).


Escape Me Never (1947, Peter Godfrey)

Until now, I’d seen all of Eleanor Parker’s readily available films (the ones on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD) except Escape Me Never. She made two films with Errol Flynn, playing the lead in the other, Never Say Goodbye, and a supporting role in Escape Me Never. Ida Lupino plays the lead female. Parker plays the other woman, who’s married to Gig Young, who’s playing Flynn’s brother. It makes little sense and the whole film hinges on an agreement with the viewer never to question Flynn being irresistible.

The film is set in Venice in 1900. While the Venice sets, gondolas, canals and all, are quite nice, Lupino spends her first scene talking in 1940s slang. I’ve never seen Lupino in anything before and Escape Me Never certainly encourages me to be wary about seeing her in anything again. It’s not just the slang–or the special lighting she gets–or even her accent appearing and disappearing… she’s just really annoying (though her ludicrous costumes might contribute). Flynn is bad as well, somehow he’s impossible to take seriously as a tortured composer. Gig Young is fine, but looks and acts like he belongs in a different movie–one actually set in 1900….

Eleanor Parker–in one of her most glamorous parts–is so completely lost I can’t even mount a grand defense, which is fine, since it’s the studio’s fault. A few years before, Warner had given Parker the villainous role in Of Human Bondage (which she essayed brilliantly), but in Escape Me Never, her character’s not responsible for her objectionable actions and so the character has no depth. It’s probably Parker’s shallowest role, but it fits the film’s opinion of women. Women, it observes, are only of value for the reasons Flynn (and Flynn alone) says… There’s even a line about it. More than one, probably.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone speaking the film’s dialogue and conveying any sense of quality. Thames Williamson’s script is occasionally so ludicrous, along with Lupino’s shoddy performance, I was convinced the film was a farcical comedy. The scenes of Flynn, Lupino, and Young walking through the mountains, dressed in lederhosen certainly seems like it belongs in a farce. When the film moves its focus to a mountain resort (incredibly modern-looking for 1900 in Italy), the farce stops amusing and the viewer realizes it’s supposed to be serious. Escape Me Never came at the end of the studio system–Flynn and Lupino were on their way down while Parker and Young were moving up–and it’s a fine example of the system’s failings. It’s another one of those films I always had available on hand, but never watched for no good reason, only to watch it and wonder why I ever did, the original avoidance turning out to be fortuitous.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Thames Williamson, from the novel by Margaret Kennedy; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Sebastian Dubrok), Ida Lupino (Gemma Smith), Eleanor Parker (Fionella MacLean), Gig Young (Caryl Dubrok), Reginald Denny (Mr. MacLean), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. MacLean), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Heinrich), Ludwig Stössel (Mr. Steinach) and Milada Mladova (Natrova).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.
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