Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn in “Charade”

Over the weekend, I heard the theme from the movie “Charade” and that spurred me to watch it again.

I have seen “Charade” a half a dozen times over the years, and even though I know the story, know the mystery’s solution, know where the clues are planted, I still enjoy it.

While on vacation at a French mountain resort, Regina Lambert, played by the elegant Audrey Hepburn (in clothes designed by Givenchy) contemplates divorce from her shady husband. She does not have to think too long about it because he is murdered on a train by men searching for stolen money. The men and the husband were all in on the theft, but the husband made off with it, and now they want their share.

Regina meets a dashing, mysterious and somewhat older man, played by Cary Grant, who volunteers to protect her from the bad guys. Or, does he just want the money himself?

Grant was 25 years older than Hepburn, but that hardly matters since these movie stars are such charismatic superstars, complete with their own unique accents.

So right there, the movie has two of the most charming people ever to appear on the silver – or Technicolor – screen.

Hepburn and Grant are plunked down in Paris to solve the mystery, while trying hard not to be killed by three odd villains played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass. Into this mix comes a square, but humorous American government man, played by Walter Matthau.

For just under two hours, this group dodges, attacks, evades, and detects in a clever, intricate, and light script by Peter Stone and Marc Behm. The doings were guided by director Stanley Donen, in a departure from the musicals he made in the 1950s, many with Gene Kelly.

And talking about music, “Charade” has one of the best theme songs courtesy of the great Henry Mancini. If you don’t remember what it sounded like, click here and listen.

Now a question:

Was there ever a cooler, classier, comic-mystery-thriller than this 1963 film?

Maybe there was. “North by Northwest”? Perhaps. But for me, Hepburn and Grant were a better combo than Grant and Saint.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“It Always Rains on Sunday” Kitchen Sink Noir

As a fan of British films, particularly those of the post-World War II period, I waited a long time before catching “It Always Rains on Sunday”.

The movie is a surprising combination of styles, one that was near its height when it came out in 1947 and another not quite a style yet. “It Always Rains on Sunday” is a crime picture, a thriller with film-noir touches, and an early example of “kitchen sink” drama, a style that would catch on a decade later with the “angry young man” dramas.

This film could be called an angry young woman film. In fact it has several angry young women in it.

Rose, played by Googie Withers, is a former barmaid whose boyfriend proposes to her just before getting arrested and shipped off to prison. She settles for a man 15 years her senior whom she marries. When the picture opens, she is living with him and his two grown daughters and little son in a tiny attached house. A good deal of Rose’s life, and this movie, is spent in the cramped kitchen which doubles as the dining room, laundry room, and bathroom – that is, the tub is in there, too. The other fixture, I am guessing, is out behind the house.

One night, Rose’s former boyfriend escapes from jail and hides in a shed in her backyard. She finds him, takes him in, feeds him and lets him sleep in her bed while the rest of the family is out on a rainy Sunday. But family members keep returning to the house, giving Rose and the con several scares and breaking up a rekindled romance.

In the meantime, one step-daughter is seeing a shady, married man. The shady man’s brother, a small-time gambler and fence of stolen items, is putting the moves of the other, more na├»ve step-daughter. And the married man’s wife, who catches on to the affair, is the fourth angry woman in this film.

This moody, edgy film has some unusual twists for its time. It is as crowded with story as its streets are crowded with people. In a subplot, three petty criminals try to unload stolen goods and immediately attract the attention of a police detective, played by Jack Warner (not the Hollywood mogul, but the British actor who looked a bit like Jack Hawkins). The detective is happy to pinch them, but he is busy on the trail of Rose’s old boyfriend. The circle quickly closes in on Rose and the con.

The man makes a run for it and Rose considers suicide in a subtle but horrifying scene in the kitchen.

This rough, crude drama winds itself up with an exciting finish in a railroad yard.

“It Always Rains on Sunday,” based on a novel by Arthur Le Bern, was directed by Robert Hamer, and was produced by Michael Balcon and Henry Cornelius at Ealing Studios. Ealing was famous for its Alec Guinness comedies, but the company produced a variety of very good dramas in the 1940s and 1950s. “It Always Rains on Sunday” was one of them and it is well worth seeing.

(For more posts on film and television, check out Todd Mason's blog.)

Friday, April 7, 2017

FFB: The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman

Moe Prager is a former New York City cop who left the force after a knee injury. He splits his time between the up-scale wine shop he owns with his brother, and the occasional private investigation job.

At the beginning of The James Deans, a wealthy man pressures Moe to investigate the unsolved case of a murdered intern of a state senator. The crime derailed the career of the politician, changing him from a rising star to a prime suspect. His wealthy backer wants him cleared so the man can continue his climb.

As a cop in Brooklyn ten years earlier, Moe Prager made the papers when he solved a missing child case. The rich man believes Moe is luckier than the police and the private investigators stumped by the case.

The pressure applied to Moe comes in the form of a state inspector arriving at his wine shop. The message to Moe is people with political pull can make his life miserable if he refuses to work the case. Moe agrees to take a look. A friend in the NYPD helps him with department information. But another former cop, the hard-drinking father of the dead woman, refuses to talk to Moe, which is a smaller mystery within the larger story.

Moe digs into the case, exposing other mysteries and placing himself, his brother, and his wife and child in danger.

The James Deans is Reed Farrel Coleman’s third Moe Prager mystery, but the first I have read. Meeting his cool, savvy P.I. and sampling his hard-edged writing style, I will be reading more Moe Prager stories, soon.

(For more posts on books, check out Patti Abbott's blog.)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Western Movie: Return to Warbow

“Return to Warbow” is one of the better, budget Westerns turned out by Hollywood in the 1950s.

Clay Hollister, a prisoner for eleven years at Yuma for robbing a stagecoach, is on a work detail outside the walls when he coordinates a violent escape. He and two others use their picks and shovels on the guards, steal the work wagon and drive the team of horses nearly to death in their getaway.

The men head for the town of Warbow where Clay plans to meet his brother, Frank, who was in on the robbery, got away and promised to hold the loot until Clay returned. Clay and his tough, untrustworthy gang make their way to the home of Clay’s former love. She is now married to the owner of the stage outfit, whom Clay will force to go fetch his brother. When the brother, now a drunk, learns Clay has escaped, he is terrified.

The prison notifies the sheriff of Warbow of Clay’s escape. The sheriff forms a posse and they comb the area for the gang. Complicating matters, Clay can barely control the two men he brought with him who have no regard for anyone but themselves and are a danger to the woman and her young son.

This 67-minute, Technicolor movie from 1958, has enough action, violence, twists and turns for a full-length feature. It moves along at a nice pace.

Clay is played by Phil Carey, an actor who appeared in many films and television shows from the early 1950s through the 1970s. The owner of the stage line is played by Andrew Duggan, another actor who shows up in supporting roles in movies and TV. Carey, listed on the IMDb as 6-foot-4, and Duggan at 6-foot-5, both close in age, both World War II vets, are well-matched as rivals. Robert J. Wilke, another big guy, 6-2, made a career of playing hard-bitten bad men, and here he is the member of the gang Clay has the most to worry about. Clay’s love interest is played by Catherine McLeod, and her son by Christopher Olsen, one of the better child actors. Clay’s brother Frank is played by James Griffith, a good character actor of the day. And, in a small role, Jay Silverheels, best remembered as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” series, plays a former stage employee who was blinded in Clay’s hold up.

“Return to Warbow” was written by Les Savage, Jr., based on his novel. It was directed by Ray Nazarro, a man who made dozens of Westerns in the 1940s and 1950s.

(For more posts on film and TV, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)