Road to Utopia (1946)

ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)
Article 2267 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2007
Posting Date: 10-27-27
Directed by Hal Walker
Featuring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour

Two con men find a map to a gold mine which they steal from some desperate criminals. They pose as the criminals in the hope that they can find the treasure.

You’d think that with a title like ROAD TO UTOPIA, this would be the road movie that would be heaviest on the fantastic content. Such is not the case. By Utopia, they mean Alaska (because of all the gold they hope to find there), and the fantastic elements are singularly slight; an appearance by Santa Claus, and jokes involving talking animals are the sum total of such elements. As for the movie itself, well… let’s just say that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy one of the Hope/Crosby road movies, and there’s a distinct chance I wasn’t in the mood when I saw this one. I generally like them, and this is supposed to be one of the best, but when I’m not in the mood, I find the gags too mild, the pace too languid, and the music dull. My favorite touch isn’t used near enough; Robert Benchley serves as a narrator who appears on occasion (ostensibly to help clarify the plot), but he isn’t used near enough. Maybe it’s because there never really seems to be enough room in one of these movies for humor from anyone else but Bob, Bing and Dorothy. At any rate, I came out of this one a little disappointed. Maybe if I watch it again the next time I’m in the mood…

 

Advertisements

The Risk (1960)

THE RISK (1960)
aka Suspect
Article 2266 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2007
Posting Date: 10-26-2007
Directed by John and Roy Boulting
Featuring Tony Britton, Virginia Maskell, Ian Bannen

A group of scientists researching plague cures is denied the chance to publish their results when their project is put under top secret security. One scientist, angered at how the inability to publish the work because of the many lives that could be saved, ends up meeting a man who offers him a chance to get it secretly published. However, things may not be what they seem…

This movie spends enough time at the beginning of the movie discussing the scientific methods used for the research that I found myself hoping it would actually emerge as a full-blown science fiction movie. But once the government makes the project top secret, the plague cure becomes the Gizmo Maguffin in another spy thriller. My disappointment was checked, however, by the fact that it is a good one, with an unusual story line and interesting character relationships. A good cast also helps; along with the ones listed above, the movie also features Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence and “Goon Show” regular Spike Milligan as a genuinely amusing comic relief lab assistant. Still, despite the star power, the movie is stolen by the most interesting characters in the movie; Ian Bannen plays the armless war veteran who turns the life of his lover (a female scientist working on the project) into a living hell, and has special plans for his rival (another scientist on the project), and Thorley Walters, who plays the special agent in charge of security on the project as an absent-minded eccentric. It’s the way the plot unfolds that really makes this movie work; we get to see how the various forces at work conspire to tempt the scientist played by Tony Britton into turning into a traitor. I really liked this movie, though the science fiction content remains marginal.

 

Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977)

RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE (1977)
Article 2252 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2007
Posting Date: 10-12-2007
Directed by Richard Williams
Featuring the voices of Didi Conn, Mark Baker, Mason Adams

When a young girl’s new doll from France is kidnapped by a pirate, Raggedy Ann and Andy leave the playroom and go out into the wide world to rescue her.

With just one look at that title, I sat down to prepare myself for what I was sure going to prove an hour and a half of insufferable cuteness. Having now watched, I can at least strike the word “insufferable”. Yes, it’s got major problems; it’s certainly no TOY STORY, it is cuter than I have a taste for (for example, it features a pirate singing a song about friendship to his parrot), and there are far too many songs. But the songs, mediocre as they are, are still consistently stronger than those in PUFNSTUF , and at least one of them (the poignant song of the camel) was strong enough that I actually found myself caught up in the fate of the singer. The animation is also nicely done; in particular, it retains that kind of floppy rag-doll feel that is appropriate for the title characters. Another plus is that it didn’t actively annoy me; only a pair of identical dolls got on my nerves, and they only pop up sporadically. All in all, I found it passable kiddie entertainment, though it may get a little too weird towards the end for the very young.

 

The Red Mill (1927)

THE RED MILL (1927)
Article 2215 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2007
Posting Date: 9-5-2007
Directed by Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
Featuring Marion Davies, Owen Moore, Louise Fazenda

In a Dutch village, the maid to a tyrannical burgomaster falls in love with a visiting Irishman. She tries to win him while saving the burgomaster’s daughter from entering a forced marriage with the governor. However, the burgomaster has a way of dealing with those that get in his way; he locks them up in a haunted mill.

Here’s another movie that sat on my list for some time before it finally manifested itself in a showing on TCM, and, as usual, I’m glad to finally see it. However, that doesn’t keep me from consigning it to the non-essential viewing category for fans of fantastic cinema. The haunted mill isn’t really haunted (though I can’t think of why a skeleton is stored in there), but it’s passably scary in the last ten minutes of the movie, which, outside of a couple of minutes in the middle of the movie, is the only time it gets used. The rest of the movie is a light and inconsequential romantic comedy based on an operetta, and I found it only mildly amusing at best. Most of the humor seems to come from the odd dialogue that appears on the title cards, but these get old fairly quickly, and I only found a few laughs along the way. Still, the cast is spirited enough, and those who like romantic comedies might find it their cup of tea. For me, the best moments come at the end, particularly with some of the stunt work involved in having characters climbing on the arms of a windmill. Incidentally, this was made after the scandal that destroyed Arbuckle’s career, and was directed under the nom de plume of William Goodrich.

 

The Reluctant Saint (1962)

THE RELUCTANT SAINT (1962)
Article 2176 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2007
Posting Date: 7-28-2007
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Featuring Maximilian Schell, Ricardo Montalban, Lea Padovani

The story of Saint Joseph of Cupertino is told here. At the beginning of the movie, he amounts to what would be called the village idiot, and his mother pulls strings to have him accepted as a lay worker by the monastery. By an amazing chain of events, he manages to take holy orders and become a priest. It is then discovered that he can levitate when he is in the throes of religious ecstasy.

This movie opens with a statement saying that the story the movie tells is “in essence” true to the facts, which I interpret to mean that some liberties were taken with the story. After having seen the movie, that didn’t really bother me; I found it a fascinating, moving, and sometimes comic experience. What really makes this inspirational movie come to life are the performances, especially from Maximilian Schell (I was flabbergasted that he didn’t get nominated for an Oscar for his acting in the title role), Akim Tamiroff as an archbishop (his scenes with Schell are the highlights of the movie), and Ricardo Montalban, who I didn’t even know was in the movie until I saw his name in the final credits; his ability to disappear into his role here is simply amazing. I didn’t anticipate really enjoying this movie, but from the beginning I was hooked. This is one of those rare inspirational movies that really does inspire, even if you’re not particularly religious. Highly recommended.

 

Return to Oz (1964)

RETURN TO OZ (1964)
Article 2169 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-22-2007
Posting Date: 7-21-2007
Directed by F. R. Craley, Thomas Glynn and Larry Roemer
Featuring the voices of Larry D. Mann, Alfie Scopp, Carl Banas

Dorothy is whisked back to Oz where she must contend with the revived Wicked Witch of the West and help her friends once again regain the prizes they got from the wizard.

One of the problems I had with PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE was its attempt to clone as much of the plot of the original movie version as it could for a sequel; in general, if a sequel can do little more than repeat the original, it seems unnecessary. This one is even worse; Dorothy is whisked to Oz on a tornado, meets the munchkins and Glenda the Good Witch, and embarks on a quest to find her friends and take them to the emerald city to get a heart, a brain, and courage. From the emerald city they are sent to face the witch, etc. etc. Despite the fact that this is an early Rankin/Bass feature, I find it pretty charmless in comparison to their more famous holiday movies, and the extremely limited animation and the bad songs (when was the last time you hummed “I Wanna Go Back”?) really make this one a chore to watch. The most amusing variation it adds to the story is having the witch send flying crocodiles rather than flying monkeys to capture Dorothy. Fortunately, since it was made for TV, it is fairly short.

 

The Red Tent (1969)

THE RED TENT (1969)
aka KRASNAYA PALATKA
Article 2151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-4-2007
Posting Date: 7-3-2007
Directed by Mikheil Kalatozishvili
Featuring Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale

When an expedition to the North Pole via dirigible ends in disaster and leaves a handful of men lost in the arctic regions, the commander does what he can to keep his men safe and to facilitate the rescue efforts underway to save them.

Usually when I list the actors, I just take the first three names listed in IMDB, which usually reflects the order in which they were billed in the credits of the movie. Every once in a while I feel compelled to make exceptions, such as in this case. Peter Finch only receives fourth billing, despite the fact that he is the central character in the story, whereas Sean Connery, though obviously the bigger name star (and it is probably due to this that he received top billing) plays what amounts to a supporting role; his character hardly appears at all during the first half of the movie, and has only a few scenes in the second half. This is not to denigrate Connery’s performance in any way; he gives one of his best performances as Roald Amundsen, and he gets the best lines of the movie (my favorite has to do with the perils of an arctic explorer having too little or too much courage). But it is Finch’s story, as it is his haunted perception of the events that unfold that gives the movie its themes. The fantastic content is something of a plot device; General Nobile is visited by the ghosts of those involved in the story, who sit in judgment of his actions. The ghosts (like those in THUNDER ROCK) are most likely not real, but they do serve the job of helping us understand the themes of guilt and the nature of leadership which are central to the story. This was a joint Russian/Italian production; it originally ran three and a quarter hours, but this version runs just over two hours, and since most of the cast is already speaking English, there’s no real dubbing issue to contend with. I also quite liked the performances of Mario Adorf as the radio operator on the expedition, and Eduard Martesevich as a Swede whose relationship with a nurse (Claudia Cardinale) ends up driving some of the rescue efforts. The movie is not perfect; even in its shorter form, I feel some of the scenes could have used a bit of trimming, but the ending is excellent, and it didn’t really deserve to be the financial disaster it turned out to be.