The Party’s Over: Dean Martin in MR. RICCO (MGM 1975)


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It’s an older, more world-weary Dean Martin we see in MR. RICCO, a fairly gritty but ultimately unfulfilling 70’s flick that would’ve made a decent pilot for a TV series (maybe in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE rotation with Columbo and McCloud), but as a feature was best suited for the bottom half of a double bill. This was Dino’s last starring role, though he did appear in two more movies (THE CANNONBALL RUN and it’s sequel), and this attempt to change his image from footloose swinger to a more *gasp!* sober Martin doesn’t really cut it.

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Dean’s a defense lawyer, a “lily white liberal” who gets black militant Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala ) off a murder rap. When two cops are blown away in an ambush, the witness provides a description of Steele, causing friction between Ricco and the police, especially his friend Detective Captain Cronyn (Eugene Roche, an underrated character actor who’s really good here). The…

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The Fabulous Forties #9: Jungle Book (dir by Zoltan Korda)


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The 9th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties DVD box set was 1942’s Jungle Book.  Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling (which was later made into an animated Disney film and of which a remake is scheduled to be released next week), Jungle Book was directed by Zoltan Korda and produced by Zoltan’s brother, Alexander.  Today, the Hungarian-born Korda Brothers are best remembered as being pioneers of the British film industry.  However, during World War II, they relocated their film making to the United States.  Jungle Book was one of the most critically and commercially successful of their American films.

Jungle Book opens in colonial India.  An elderly Indian storyteller is visited by a British woman (Faith Brook) who wants to hear a story from his youth.  The rest of the film plays out in flashback, a structure that allows Jungle Book to walk a thin line between reality and fantasy.  Is the storyteller telling the exact truth or is he exaggerating his tale?  That’s left up to the viewer to decide.  Personally, I chose to believe that he’s telling the exact truth.  It’s more magical that way.

The storyteller starts by telling the woman about the Indian jungle and the animals that live within it.  Some of the animals are kind and some of them are cruel but they all serve a purpose.  The most feared of the animals is a tiger named Shere Kahn.  When a baby disappears from a nearby village, the villagers assume that he, like his father, was killed by Shere Kahn.  What they do not know is that the baby actually wandered into the jungle and was raised by wolves.

The baby grows up to be Mowgli (Sabu), a feral young man who can talk to the animals.  When Mowgli is captured by the villagers, he is unknowing adopted by his real mother, Mesusa (Rosemary DeCamp).  At first, the wild Mowgli struggles to adapt to human ways and one of the villagers, Buldeo (Joseph Calleia), insists that Mowgli has “the evil eye.”

As Mowgli becomes a little more civilized (though he’s never exactly tamed), he starts to fall in love with a Mahala (Patricia O’Rourke).  Unfortunately, Mahala is the daughter of Buldeo and Buldeo is none to happy when Mowgli and Mahala start to spend all of their time exploring the jungle together.  However, that’s before Mowgli and Mahala come across a lost palace that is full of treasure.  When the greedy Buldeo finds out about the treasure, he demands that Mowgli tell him where the palace is.  Driven mad by Mowgli’s refusal to tell him, Buldeo goes to more and more extreme measures to find the treasure…

Jungle Book is a big epic film, one that proudly announces that it was shot in Technicolor.  The sets are big, the live animal footage (as opposed to the stock footage usually used in films like this) is impressive, and it’s just a fun movie to watch.  (Even though I was watching a typically cheap Mill Creek transfer, I was still impressed with the films visuals.)  Indian actor Sabu makes for a charismatic Sabu but the film’s best performance comes from Joseph Calleia, who brings unexpected depth to his villainous character.

(Movie lovers, like you and me, probably best know Joseph Calleia as Orson Welles’s tragic partner in Touch of Evil.)

You can watch the original Jungle Book below!

(Jungle Book is in the public domain so, if the video above gets taken down — as often seems to happen with embedded YouTube videos — I would suggest just going to YouTube and doing a search for Jungle Book 1942.  You’ll find hundreds of other uploads.  I picked the one above because it did not appear to have any commercials.)

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #15: Casablanca (dir by Michael Curtiz)


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(This review contains spoilers but seriously, you should know all of this already.)

Is there anything left to be said about Casablanca?

Probably not.

As a film reviewer, I’m not supposed to admit that.  I’m supposed to come up with some sort of new, out-of-nowhere, batshit crazy way to look at Casablanca.  I’m supposed to argue that Rick was actually meant to be a survivor of abuse or that Victor Laszlo was some sort of precursor to President Obama or something.  Or, if that doesn’t work, I’m supposed to intentionally troll everyone by writing something like, “10 reasons why Casablanca is overrated” or “I hate Casablanca and I don’t care who knows it!”

But I’m not going to do that.

The fact of the matter is that Casablanca is as good a film as everyone says it is.  It is a film that everyone should see.  It is a film that quite rightfully was named best picture of 1943.  It deserves to be celebrated.  It deserves to be seen.  In fact, stop reading this review right now and go watch it.  Don’t let me waste another second of your time.

The thing with Casablanca is that it’s such an iconic film that everyone knows what happens, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched the entire film or not.  They know that the film takes place in Casablanca during World War II.  They know that Casablanca is full of refugees, spies, and people who are hiding from their past.  They know that Casablanca is policed by the charmingly corrupt Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains).  They know that Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) is the Nazi in charge.  (I nearly said that Strasser was the “evil Nazi in charge” but when you identify someone as a Nazi, is it really necessary to add that they’re evil?)  They know that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is the American expatriate who owns Rick’s Cafe Americain and that everyone comes to Rick’s.  They know that Rick’s slogan is that he doesn’t stick his neck out for anyone but they also know that his cynicism hides the fact that he’s still in love with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).  They know that when Ilsa shows up at Rick’s and needs him to help her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), escape from Occupied Europe, Rick is forced to decide whether or not to get involved in the resistance.

And, whether you’ve seen the film or not, you know that it all ends on a foggy airstrip.  Ilsa wants to stay in Casablanca with Rick but Rick tells her that she has to get on the plane with Laszlo because, if she doesn’t, she’ll regret it.  Ilsa goes with Laszlo, leaving Rick behind.

And it may have been the right thing to do but how many viewers would have done the same if they had been in Ilsa’s high heels?  Throughout the entire movie, we hear about how wonderful Laszlo is but, whenever he actually shows up on screen, it’s always a little bit surprising to discover just how boring a character Victor Laszlo really is.  Unlike the troubled and deceptively cynical Rick, there’s not much going on underneath the surface with Laszlo.  Just as Rick overshadows Laszlo, Bogart’s performance overshadows Paul Henreid’s.  Bogart and Bergman have all the chemistry and the charisma.  Henreid, on the other hand, comes across as stiff and a little dull.  But, as the film suggests, World War II was not a time for self-doubt and self-interest.  World War II was a time when the world needed straight-forward, determined men like Victor Laszlo.

And, if the world needed Laszlo and Laszlo needed Ilsa, then that meant Ilsa had to get on that plane.

That said, I’ve always liked to think that Ilsa ended up leaving Laszlo in 1945 and immediately made her way back to Morocco.  Rick and Ilsa belonged together.

But until Ilsa comes back, Rick has his friendship with Renault.  “Louis,” he says, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  Did Bogart realize, when he delivered that line, that literally thousands of people would be repeating it decades later?  Bogart’s performance is probably one of the most imitated performances of all time.  Anyone who sees Casablanca thinks that they can talk about gin joints and hills of beans in Bogart’s trademark style.  Of course, they can’t and it’s a testament to the power of Bogart’s performance that it remains effective even after being endlessly imitated.

On Valentine’s Day of 2014, I saw Casablanca at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.  It was an amazing and romantic experience.  See Casablanca on the big screen.  It’ll make you love life and bring life to your love.

Needless to say, Casablanca is an intimidating film to review.  So, I’ll just say this: Casablanca is even better than you think it is.  If you haven’t seen it, go watch it.  If you have seen it, go watch it again.

Just resist the temptation to say, “Play it again, Sam,” in your best Bogart-like voice.

Because, seriously, Rick never actually says that line.

Horror on the Lens: The Boogie Man Will Get You (dir by Lew Landers)


Today’s horror on the lens is a short horror comedy from 1942.  In The Boogie Man Will Get You, Winnie Slade (Miss Jeff Donnell) buys an old house from Prof. Billings (Boris Karloff) with plans to covert it into a hotel.  However, one of the conditions of the sale is that Prof. Billings and his servants be allowed to live on the property.  What Winnie doesn’t know is that Prof. Billings had been conducting experiments on traveling salesman.  He hopes to turn them into supermen who can then be sent overseas to fight the Nazis.  (Kind of like Capt. America, when you think about it…)  However, his experiments have yet to be successful and have mostly just resulted into a lot of salesman being buried out in the rose garden…

However, things start to look up for Prof. Billings when he meets Dr. Lorencz (Peter Lorre), who is not only a doctor but also a mayor, sheriff, and dog catcher.  Seriously, Dr. Lorencz can do it all….

The Boogie Man Will Get You is a fun little time capsule of the time in which it was made.  For horror fans, it is mostly interesting because it features both Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.  Both Karloff and Lorre appear to be having a lot of fun parodying their usual screen images.

Enjoy!