A Movie A Day #278: The Power (1968, directed by Byron Haskin)


Who is Adam Hart?

That is the mystery that Professors Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) and Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) have to solve.  Someone is using psychic powers to kill their co-workers in a research laboratory.  The police think that Tanner is guilty but Tanner knows that one of his colleagues is actually a super human named Adam Hart.  Hart is planning on using his super powers to control the world and, because Tanner is the only person who has proof of his existence, Hart is methodically framing Tanner for every murder that he commits.

The Power is underrated by entertaining movie, a mix of mystery and science fiction with a pop art twist.  It was also one of the first attempts to portray telekinesis on film.  Similar films, like Scanners, may be better known but all of them are directly descended from The Power.  George Hamilton may seem like an unlikely research scientist but he and Suzanne Pleshette are a good team and The Power makes good use of Pleshette’s way with a one liner.  Also keep an eye out for familiar faces like Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Rennie, Gary Merrill, Yvonne DeCarlo, Vaughn Taylor, Aldo Ray, and even Forrest J. Ackerman as a hotel clerk.

 

Bad Blonde: TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949)


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I just finished viewing the 1949 feature TOO LATE FOR TEARS on TCM. The title may sound like a weepy tearjerker, but this is film noir dynamite. Once incomplete due to falling into public domain, the UCLA Film & Television Archive have restored it to its black & white glory. I’d never seen this one before, and it was time well spent. It’s based on a Saturday Evening Post serial by screenwriter Roy Huggins, who later went on to produce television classics like MAVERICK, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, and BARETTA. TOO LATE FOR TEARS can hold it’s own with the better known noirs of the era.

Alan and Jane Palmer are driving down a lonely LA highway when a satchel is tossed in their car by another driver. They discover the bag’s loaded with cold, hard cash. They’re chased by the intended party, but manage to elude them. When the couple opens the bag at their apartment, Jane’s money lust is palpable. See, she was married once before to a man who committed suicide when he lost his fortune. Jane yearns to return to the easy life and sees this cash as a way out. Sensible Alan argues they should turn it over to the cops, but greedy Jane persuades him to stash it in a train station locker for a week, until cooler heads can prevail.

While Alan’s at work, Jane gets a visit from slimeball Danny who says he’s a cop. After nosing around a bit, he tells her he’s the guy the bag was intended for and threatens her. Not willing to give up her claim on the dough, Jane entices the bum into helping get the money in exchange for half. Danny goes along and agrees to meet her at the lake. Alan and Jane go on a fateful boat ride, where she shoots her husband and has Danny switch clothes with the corpse. Then they tie an anchor to him and drop the poor sap at the bottom of the lake. Jane creates an elaborate ruse to convince everyone that Alan’s run off. But Alan’s little sister Cathy has her doubts, and grows suspicious. An old Army buddy of Alan’s named Don drops by to visit his pal. But Don’s not what he seems to be (no one is in this movie!). Jane plots with Danny to poison little sister and get her out of the way. Instead, Danny ends up poisoned by duplicitous Jane. She ends up hightailing it with the loot to Mexico. Jane’s really living it up on her ill-gotten gains, until Don shows up and the truth is revealed…..

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The ending’s a doozy, and Jane gets her final comeuppance in the film’s climax. TOO LATE FOR TEARS is all about crosses and double-crosses, greed, lust, and murder. The cast is full of dependable actors. Lizabeth Scott stars as Jane, the ultimate femme fatale. Scott got her big break in DEAD RECKONING (with Humphrey Bogart), and went on to film noir stardom in I WALK ALONE, DARK CITY, and THE RACKET. She even played opposite Elvis in LOVING YOU. Dan Duryea (Danny) has long been one of my favorite actors. His sleazy touch can be seen in SCARLET STEET (a real gem), LARCENY, CRISS CROSS, and WINCHESTER ’73. Don Defoe (Don), usually cast as the lead’s sidekick, is more recognizable for the sitcoms OZZIE & HARRIET and HAZEL. Always dependable Arthur Kennedy doesn’t make it through the first third of the movie, but is fine as straight laced Alan. If you don’t blink, you’ll spot Denver Pyle, Billy Halop of the Dead End Kids, and MICKEY MOUSE CLUB host Jimmy Dodd in small uncredited roles.

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Byron Haskin was a top cinematographer and headed Warner Brothers’ special effects department before turning to directing in the late 40s. He keeps a tight reign on this one, but is best known for his work in science-fiction films like WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, and the 60s TV anthology THE OUTER LIMITS. TOO LATE FOR TEARS, despite the sappy title, is a great little piece of filmmaking. Independently produced by Hunt Stromberg (RED DUST, THE THIN MAN) and originally released through United Artists, this is a movie that will satisfy any film noir buff. Thank you UCLA for your continued work in saving these lesser known pieces of  Hollywood history. And as always, thanks to TCM for giving us all the privilege of watching them again and again.

Shattered Politics #12: The Boss (dir by Byron Haskin)


The Boss

After you’ve watched The Phenix City Story, why not go over to Netflix and watch another obscure but hard-hitting B-movie, The Boss?

First released in 1956, The Boss came out a year after The Phenix City Story but they both serve as good companion pieces to each other.  Whereas The Phenix City Story shows what it’s like to live in a city dominated by corruption and crime, The Boss shows how a city could get that way in the first place.

The Boss opens in 1919, in an unanmed midwestern city.  (A title card informs us that the city is a “middle class city.”)  World War I has ended and the returning soldiers are marching in a parade throughout the city.  Leading the march is Capt. Matt Brady (John Payne), a humorless war hero.  Marching behind him are a group of soldiers who all seem to hate his guts, even after Bob Herrick (William Bishop) attempts to defend him.  It appears that Matt was a strict officer during the war and Bob was the only one of his men who didn’t hate him.  Of course, a lot of that is because Bob was a childhood friend of Matt’s.  They both grew up in the city together.  To be exact, their home was in the third ward.  As Bob explains, the Brady family rules the third ward.

Matt’s older brother, Tim (Roy Roberts), is the 3rd ward’s alderman.  After the parade ends, Tim explains that he expects Matt to follow in the family business.  However, Matt doesn’t want anything to do with politics.  Instead, he just wants to marry Elsie (Doe Avedon) and live a normal life.  In fact, Matt says, he’s got a date with Elsie that night.

However, before Matt can go on that date, he ends up getting attacked and beaten up by some of the soldiers from the parade.  He’s late for his date and when Elsie refuses to forgive him, Matt ends up going out and getting drunk.  After getting into a few more fights, he meets an insecure woman named Lorry (Gloria McGhee) and announces that they’re getting married whether she wants to or not.

The next morning, Matt wakes up to discover that he now has a wife, Elsie never wants to see him again, and that Tim has dropped dead of a heart attack.  Bruised and hungover, Matt suddenly finds himself forced to take over the family business.

The film jumps forward a few years.  Matt is now the most powerful man in the city.  He decides who get elected to which office and, with the help of the Mafia, he’s made a lot of money for himself.  Bob, meanwhile, has married Elsie and is now Matt’s attorney and unofficial second-in-command.  Meanwhile, Lorry lives in a huge mansion that she never leaves.

It took me a while to get into The Boss.  In fact, I nearly stopped watching after the first twenty minutes because it didn’t ever seem like there would be a moment when Matt would be anything other than surly, drunk, and bruised.  But then, once Tim drops dead, the movie becomes a bit more interesting.  If you remember John Payne for anything, it’s probably for being the nice but kind of boring lawyer from the original Miracle on 34th Street.  So, it’s interesting to see him here, playing a crude and perpetually angry man who always seems to be on the verge of punching someone out.  He gives a good performance and occasionally you even feel a little sorry for Matt.  For everything he does wrong, he’s still essentially the same guy who wanted to marry a school teacher and live out in the suburbs.

Of course, I’m a history nerd so my favorite scenes in The Boss were the ones that dealt with real moments from history, like the scene where Matt panics when he hears about the 1929 Stock Market crash.  Even better, though, is a brief sequence that takes place at a political convention.  Though no names are uttered and the party is never specifically identified, it’s obvious that Matt is meant to be at the 1932 Democratic Convention and the candidate that is asking for Matt’s support is obviously meant to Franklin Roosevelt.  When Roosevelt is nominated without Matt’s support, Matt can only bitterly observe that he wishes he was from Chicago because then he could own a President.

Would a movie made today have the guts to say such a thing about FDR?  I doubt it.

The Boss is currently available on Netflix.  If you’re into politics and history (and maybe even political history), be sure to watch it before it goes away.