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Black Cats, Devils, and Concrete
THE STRANGER (1946) Not the Camus novel, with its images of desert sand and life-and-death profundities, but a nourish thriller in which one-time screen heavy Edward G. Robinson makes it to the side of the angels as he tries to determine whether Loretta Young’s suave fiancé, Orson Welles – history teacher in small town America – is really an escaped Nazi (the giveaway clue comes when he says Karl Marx wasn’t a German, he was a Jew). Gripping tale, with a good script and performances, and a bang-up conclusion.
THE FARMER’S DAUGHTER (1947) The amusing story of Katie Holstrom (Loretta Young), a Swedish-American, who begins her professional life working for U.S. Representative Glenn Morley (Joseph Cotten), impresses everyone with her refreshing, down-to-earth common sense, and ends up running for Congress herself. This charming comedy, which was ahead of its time in its push for women’s rights, won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Loretta Young. It was later remade as a TV series.
THE NAKED CITY (1948) There may be eight million stories in The Naked City, as the narrator says at the conclusion of this crime drama, but the one here is good enough. The basis for the television series, this movie takes a Dragnet-style approach to solving crimes, using actual locations in The Big Apple to give the tale verimisilitude. It works. The film is as much a documentary record of 1940s New York as it is police procedural. Directed by Jules Dassin, with Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Don Taylor, Dorothy Hart, Ted de Corsia, House Jameson, Frank Conroy, and David Opatoshu.
THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT (1936) It’s still not Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason (see previous review), but at least Ricardo Cortez’s interpretation of the role takes whole business seriously, and is not just interested in eating, drinking, and “witty” exchanges with Della Street. Based on Gardner’s complex The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat, the story is fairly faithful to its source novel. But the novels – and TV series – are still the preferred form of media.
THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (1941) A terrific comedy (not to be confused with the infamous porn film, The Devil In Miss Jones), this movie features Charles Coburn (the devil) and Jean Arthur (Miss Jones) at the top of their games. Coburn plays a rich businessman who goes undercover to find out who the agitators are at his department store; Arthur is one of the employees. In the course of the tale both learn a few lessons about life.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) The first and final performance of George Lazenby as James Bond, about whom one critic famously asserted: “He fills the role, the way concrete fills a hole.” Lazenby is pretty bad in a good film that attempts to give a little more shading to Agent 007, doing away with gadgets and increasing the relationship moments as well as the action sequences. It more or less works, though why – when Bond impersonates Sir Hillary Bray, who is looking into family lineage for Blofeld – does he feel it’s important to do a vocal impression of Sir Hillary? Does Blofeld know Sir Hillary’s voice? (And how does Bond not recognize Blofeld? Didn’t he meet him face to face at the climax of You Only Live Twice? Well, yes, but that was different actors you see, Sean Connery and Donald Pleasance, and the sequence of the books has been switched, so by being faithful to the novel, Bond has not met Blofeld, which makes a bizarre kind of sense…)
TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) It really is. Forget the nonsense about Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) being the definitive Tarzan movie because it follows a great deal of the plot from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 1912 novel (it gets the details right, but the spirit of Tarzan is lost – he becomes more lost child than “Lord of the Apes”). And forget all the Tarzans (including Johnny Weissmuller and Ron Ely) who have worn the ape man’s loin cloth before and since this movie premiered. Gordon Scott (dubbed “Tarzan the Best” by Gabe Essoe in the great Tarzan of the Movies) is Tarzan as we always imagined he could be: laconic, practical, savage when he has to be, a man of action, with great jungle skills, and articulate to boot (no “Me Tarzan, You Jane” stuff here; in fact, no Jane at all). This adult action story has the ape man pursuing a quartet of rogues (Anthony Quayle and Sean Connery among them), who have committed robbery and theft and must now be caught and punished. It is a high-caliber cast that went on to greater things (Quayle appeared in Lawrence of Arabia; Connery – well, whatever happened to him?) but there is no greater Tarzan movie than this, ably directed by John Guillerman.
May 7, 2013