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.

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: A Blueprint for Murder (dir by Andrew L. Stone)


(I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR!  I recorded the 1953 film noir, A Blueprint for Murder, off of FXM on February 21st.)

Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, A Blueprint for Murder stars Joseph Cotten in a story about a seemingly wonderful person who might actually be a murderer.  Actually, now that I think about it, it seems like Joseph Cotten appeared in quite a few films that centered around that idea.  What distinguished A Blueprint For Murder is that, for once, Joseph Cotten is not the murderer.  Instead, he’s the one who is forced to deal with the overwhelming evidence that someone in his life might be a sociopath.

Cotten plays Cam Cameron, who is shocked when his niece, Polly, suddenly takes ill and dies.  Cam’s immediate response is to comfort his sister-in-law, Lynne (Jean Peters).  And yet, Lynne doesn’t seem to be too upset over Polly’s death.  Could it be because Polly was only her stepdaughter? Or maybe Lynne is no longer surprised by sudden death, seeing as how her husband also died after a sudden and mysterious illness.

Or could it be that Lynne murdered both Polly and her husband?  That’s the theory put forward by Maggie (Catherine McLeod), the wife of Cam’s friend, Fred (Gary Merrill).  Maggie thinks that it sounds like both Polly and her father were poisoned with strychnine!  As the initially skeptical Fred points out, when Lynne’s husband died, he put all of his money in a trust for his children.  If his children die, Lynne stands to inherit the fortune.  Polly’s already dead.  The only remaining obstacle would be Cam’s nephew, Doug.

Much like Don’t Bother To Knock, A Blueprint for Murder barely clocks in at a little over 70 minutes.  It’s a briskly told melodrama and, seen today, it’s easier to imagine it as an episode of a television series than as an actual movie.  As I watched it, I kept thinking that it felt like an old episode of CSI Miami, with Joseph Cotten in the role that would have been played by David Caruso.  (“Two deaths in one family?  It sounds like something’s in the water and it’s not fluoride.”  YEEEEEEEEEEAHHHHHH!  DON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN!!  NO NO!)  For that matter, it was also easy for me to imagine A Blueprint For Murder being remade for Lifetime, with Josie Davis in the Joseph Cotten role and maybe AnnaLynne McCord replacing Jean Peters.

A Blueprint For Murder is actually pretty predictable up until the final 15 minutes.  It’s during the final 15 minutes that Cam, Lynne, and Doug all end up on a cruise ship together and, in an effort to prove his suspicions, Cam does something that has so much potential for backfiring that it kind of makes you reconsider everything that you previously assumed about him.  To be honest, it doesn’t make much sense.  It’s hard to believe, despite what Cam insists, that what he did was his only possible option.  Then again, it is the 1950s.  In an era before DNA testing, maybe the only way to solve a crime was by doing something crazy.

That said, I enjoyed A Blueprint for Murder.  It’s a real time capsule film and you know how much I love those.  I may never be able to find a time machine but I can always experience the past by watching something like A Blueprint for Murder.  Joseph Cotten is, as always, a sturdy lead.  In real life, Jean Peters’s acting career was somewhat derailed when she married legendary weird guy Howard Hughes.  In this film, she gives a great performance as the potentially murderous sister-in-law.

If you’re a fan of 50s noir or either of the two leads, keep an eye out for A Blueprint For Murder.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #14: Decision Before Dawn (dir by Anatole Litvak)


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So, I’m currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 40 films that I recorded from March to June of this year.  Yesterday, I watched the 14th film on my DVR, the 1951 film Decision Before Dawn.  

Decision Before Dawn aired on April 9th on FXM and I specifically recorded it because it was nominated for best picture.  It only received one other nomination (for editing) and it’s one of those nominees that often seems to be dismissed by Oscar historians.  Whenever Decision Before Dawn is mentioned, it’s usually because it’s being unfavorably compared to the other nominees: A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, and An American In Paris.  I went into Decision Before Dawn with very low expectations but you know what?

Decision Before Dawn is not a bad film.  In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it’s actually a damn good film.  If you’re into war films — and, admittedly, I am not — you will love Decision Before Dawn.  If, like me, you’re a history nerd, you’ll be fascinated by the fact that, since this film was shot on location, Decision Before Dawn offers a chance to see what Europe looked like in the years immediately following the destruction of World War II.

As I mentioned, I’m not really into war movies but fortunately, Decision Before Dawn takes place during World War II.  World War II is one of the few wars where there’s no real ambiguity about whether or not the war needed to be fought.  When it comes to picking a villain that everyone can hate, Adolf Hitler and his followers are petty much the perfect villains to go with.

In Decision Before Dawn, Oskar Werner plays Karl Maurer, a German soldier who deserts after his best friend is executed for insubordination.  Though Karl loves his home country, he hates the Nazis who have taken it over.  Karl surrenders to the Americans and volunteers to return to Germany to act as a spy.  Karl finds himself in a strange situation.  Though he’s fighting against the Nazis, he is also mistrusted by the Allies.  He is literally a man without a country.

When word comes down that a German general is willing to surrender, Karl and another German soldier-turned-spy, the greedy and cowardly Sgt. Barth (Hans Christian Bleth), are sent into Germany to both find out if the information is true and to find out where another division of German soldiers is located.  Accompanying the two Germans is a bitter American, Lt. Dick Rennick (Richard Basehart).  Rennick doesn’t trust either of the Germans.

While Rennick and Barth track down the surrendering General, Karl is sent to track down the other division.  Along the way, Karl visits many bombed out German towns and meets Germans of every political persuasion.  Some of them still vainly cling to hope for victory over the Allies but the majority of them are like Hilde (Hildegard Knef), a young war widow who just desperately wants the fighting to end.  Thanks to the deeply empathetic performances of Werner and Knef, the scenes between Hilde and Karl elevate the entire film.  In those scenes, Decision Before Dawn becomes more than just a war film.  It becomes a portrait of men and women trapped by circumstances that they cannot control.

Decision Before Dawn is an exciting and well-acted thriller, one that starts slow but then builds up to a truly thrilling conclusion.  Anatole Litvak directs the film almost as if it were a film noir, filling the entire screen with menacing shadows and moody set pieces.  Decision Before Dawn is a war film that does not celebrate war but instead mourns the evil that men do and argues that sometimes the most patriotic thing that one can do is defy his or her government.  It may be one of the more obscure best picture nominees but it’s still one that deserves to be rediscovered.

By the way, if you do watch Decision Before Dawn, be sure to keep an eye out for Klaus Kinski.  He only appears for a minute or two and he’s not even credited but you’ll recognize him as soon as you see him.  The eyes give him away as soon as he shows up.

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Darkness on the Edge of Town: WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (20th Century Fox 1950)


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I recorded WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS way back in June, and haven’t watched it until just recently. It was well worth the wait, for this is one of the finest noirs I’ve seen yet. Director Otto Preminger reunited with the stars of his film LAURA, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, to give us a bleak crime drama that more than holds its own with the best films noir of the era.

Police Detective Mark Dixon (Andrews) is a proto-Dirty Harry cop, a tough SOB not above laying the smackdown on New York City’s criminal element. Another assault charge leads to Mark being demoted by his superiors. Mark’s got a reason for his brutality tactics, though: his father was a criminal, and he’s psychologically compelled to clean up the corruption in his city.

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He’s particularly got a hair across his ass about gambling czar Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), who was set up in…

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Horror on TV: Twilight Zone 3.76 “Still Valley”


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In this episode of The Twilight Zone, a Confederate soldier (Gary Merrill) meets an old man (Vaughn Taylor) who claims that, through magic, he can help the Confederacy win the Civil War. However, as often happens when it comes to weird old men and magic, there’s a price that must be paid.


I like this episode, largely because I’m obsessed with three things: history, the Civil War, and magic. And this one has all three!


It originally aired on November 24th, 1961.


Embracing The Melodrama #22: The Incident (dir by Larry Peerce)


The Incident

The 1967 film The Incident could just as easily have been called Train of Fools.  Much like Ship of Fools, it’s an ensemble piece in which a group of people — all of whom represent different aspect of modern society — find themselves trapped in their chosen mode of transportation and forced to deal with intrusions from the outside world.

That intrusion comes in the form of two sociopaths who have decided to spend the entire ride tormenting their fellow passengers.  The more dominant of the two is Joe (played by Tony Musante, who would later star in Dario Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage), who the film hints might also be a pedophile.  His partner is Artie (Martin Sheen), who is less intelligent than Joe but just as viscous.  (And yes,even though he does a good job in the role,  it is odd to see an intelligent and reportedly very nice actor like Martin Sheen playing a character who is both so evil and so stupid.)

Among the passengers:

Bill (Ed McMahon) and Helen (Diana Van Der Vills) are only on the train because Bill refused to pay the extra money to take a taxi back home. Now, they’re stuck on the train with their young daughter who, in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes, Joe starts to show an interest in.

Teenage Alice (Donna Mills) is on a date with the far more sexually experienced Tony (Victor Arnold).  When Joe and Artie start to harass her, her date proves himself to be pretty much useless.

Douglas McCann (Gary Merrill) is a recovering alcoholic who, before Artie and Joe got on the train, was spending most of his time scornfully watching Kenneth (Robert Otis), a gay man who previously attempted to pick Doug up at the train station and who will eventually fall victim to one of Artie’s crueler jokes.

Muriel Purvis (Jan Sterling) resents her meek husband, Harry (Mike Kellin) and see the entire incident as another excuse to cast doubts upon his manhood.

Sam and Bertha Beckerman (played by Jack Gilford and Thelma Ritter) are an elderly Jewish couple who, over the course of a lifetime, have already had to deal with far too many bullies.  Sam’s attempt to stand up to Joe and Artie results in both he and his wife being trapped on the train.

Arnold (Brock Peters) and Joan (Ruby Dee) are the only black people on the train.  Arnold, at first, enjoys watching the white people fight among each other and even turns down a chance to get off the train because he finds it to be so entertaining.  But finally, Joe turns on him as well.

And then there’s the two soldiers, streetwise Phil (Robert Bannard) and his best friend, Felix (Beau Bridges).  Felix speaks with a soft Southern accent and has a broken arm.

And finally, there’s the bum.  When we first see the bum (Henry Proach) he is asleep.  He doesn’t even wake up when Joe and Artie attempt to set him on fire.

One-by-one, Joe and Artie attack and humiliate every single person on the train.  The other passengers, for the most part, remain passive.  Even when some try to stand up to Joe and Artie, their fellow passengers don’t offer to help.  It’s only when one last passenger finally stands up to the two that the rest of them show any reaction at all and even then, it’s not necessarily the reaction that anyone was hoping for.

The Incident, which shows up on TCM occasionally, is a heavy-handed but effective look at what happens when good people choose to do nothing in the face of evil.  Joe and Artie can be viewed as stand-ins for any number of distasteful groups or ideologies and both Tony Musante and Martin Sheen are believable as dangerous (if occasionally moronic) petty criminals.  For that matter, the entire film is well-acted with the entire cast managing to bring life to characters that, in lesser hands, could have come across as being one-dimensional.  The entire film basically takes place in that one subway car but fortunately, the harsh black-and-white cinematography and the continually roaming camera all come together to keep things visually interesting.

The Incident may not be a great film (it’s occasionally bit too stagey and, after watching the first 30 minutes, you’ll be able to guess how the movie is going to end) but it’s still one to keep an eye out for.

Martin Sheen in The Incident

Embracing the Melodrama #11: All About Eve (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Bette Davis

“Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night!” — Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in All About Eve (1950)

If you’re a lover of classic films or even if you’re just someone who occasionally watches TCM, chances are that you already know All About Eve.  It’s one of those films that is endlessly quoted and it features at least two performances — Bette Davis’s turn as aging Broadway diva Margo Channing and George Sanders’ acidic theater critic Addison DeWitt — that serve as frequent inspiration for professional impersonators.  It’s the film that was named best picture of 1950 and it continues to hold the record for both the most Oscar nominations overall and it’s the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations.

Even more importantly, it’s a film that everyone already knows it great.

So, that brings up the question that every film blogger dreads: how do you review a classic film that everyone already knows about?  I’ve often said that it’s easier to review a bad film than a great one.  It’s easy to pinpoint why a film fails but when it comes time to explain why a film is great, it’s often difficult to put to words the intangible qualities that elevate it.

Eve and Margo

For instance, I could tell you that the film has a fascinating plot but that barely only begins to scratch the surface of everything that’s going on underneath the glossy and melodramatic surface of All About Eve.  The movie tells the story of how scheming young actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) becomes a star with the help of Addison DeWitt and at the expense of the talented but aging Margo Channing.  In telling Eve and Margo’s stories, All About Eve explores issues of female friendship and competition, sexuality, and why older men are celebrated while older women are constantly at risk of being pushed to the side for a newer model.  The complexity and power of All About Eve’s storyline can be summed up by the fact that right now, when I watch the film, I relate to Eve but I imagine that  twenty years from now, I’ll rewatch and I’ll relate to Margo.

I could tell you that this is a film that is full of bigger-than-life characters and iconic performances but that doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of how well-acted and perfectly cast this film is.  Even boring old Hugh Marlowe is a perfect choice for playing boring old playwright Lloyd Richards.  (His wife is played by Celeste Holm.  Reportedly Bette Davis hated working with Celeste Holm but onscreen, their friendship feels very real and poignant and leads to some of the best scenes in the entire film.)  Gary Merrill, who later married Bette Davis, is likable as Margo’s boyfriend and Thelma Ritter is great as Margo’s outspoken assistant, largely because she’s Thelma Ritter and she was always great.  Marilyn Monroe famously makes the most of her minor role in All About Eve, playing an aspiring actress who has a very good reason for calling the butler a waiter.  And then there’s Bette Davis and George Sanders, both of whom are simply brilliant.

My favorite scene from All About Eve

My favorite scene from All About Eve

But to me, the best performance in All About Eve comes from Anne Baxter.  Baxter plays Eve as a perpetually smiling schemer and one of the great pleasures of the film is watching as Eve wrecks passive-aggressive havoc through Margo’s circle of friends.  Just watch the scenes where she deftly manipulates Celeste Holm.  All About Eve is usually referred to as being a vehicle for Bette Davis but if you actually watch the film, you see that the title is absolutely appropriate.  The film really is all about Eve.

And I could always tell you about how wonderfully sardonic the dialogue is but you already know that.  There’s a reason why even people who have never seen the film still quote Margo’s suggestion that everyone fasten their seat belts!

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So, in the end, what can I tell you about All About Eve?  Well, all I can really tell you is that it’s a great film and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to make time to learn all about Eve.

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