Cowboy Christmas: TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (Republic 1950)

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There’s no sign of Robin Hood to be found in the Roy Rogers vehicle TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD. However, the film has gained a cult following among sagebrush aficionados for the plethora of cowboy stars gathered together in this extremely likable little ‘B’ Western directed by Republic Pictures workhorse William Whitney William Whitney, with plenty of songs by Roy and the Riders of the Purple Sage to go along with that trademark Republic fightin’ and a-ridin’ action (thanks, stuntmen Art Dillon, Ken Terrell, and Joe Yrigoyen!).

Some rustlers have been stealing Christmas trees from ‘retired actor’ Jack Holt’s tree farm. The benign Jack raises his trees to sell at cost to parents of poor kids, but avaricious J.C. Aldridge (Emory Parnell ) and his foreman Mitch McCall (former Our Gang member Clifton Young ) want to put an end to it and corner the Christmas tree market! U.S. Forestry Agent…

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Halloween Havoc!: BLACK MOON (Columbia 1934)

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I thought I’d seen, or at least heard of, all the horror films made during the 1930’s. I was wrong. BLACK MOON was new to me when I viewed it recently as part of TCM’S Summer Under the Stars salute to KING KONG’s  main squeeze, Fay Wray. It’s a voodoo tale also starring square-jawed Jack Holt and Pre-Code favorite Dorothy Burgess . The director is Roy William Neill, who would later work with genre giants Karloff (THE BLACK ROOM), Lugosi and Chaney (FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN), and helm eleven of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.


The film open with the pounding of jungle drums, and we see Nita Lane (Burgess) is the one pounding them in her luxurious home. Nita grew up on the Caribbean isle of San Christopher, where her parents were murdered during a native uprising. Hubby Stephen (Holt) is against Nita returning to the…

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The Fabulous Forties #18: The Chase (dir by Arthur Ripley)

The_Chase_1946_posterThe 18th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s The Chase, which turned out to be a pretty nifty little film noir.  Did I actually just use the word nifty in a film review?  Yes, I did but then again, everyone should use the word “nifty” at least once in their lives.

The Chase tells the story of Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings), whose life is anything but nifty.  When we first meet him, he’s standing outside in the rain, staring into a restaurant, and enviously watching the people eating inside.  Chuck is a returning serviceman.  He helped to win World War II but he’s now returned to a society that has changed in his absence.  He has no money, he has no home, and he suffers from what we would today call PTSD.

Things change for Chuck when he finds the wallet of a man named Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran).  He returns the wallet, discovering that Eddie not only lives in a mansion but he also has a sinister henchman named Gino (Peter Lorre!).  Eddie is so impressed that Chuck returned the wallet and didn’t try to steal any of the money that he offers to put Chuck on the payroll.

Soon, he is working as Eddie’s driver.  Of course, Eddie has an accelerator installed in the backseat, so that he can control how fast the car is going.  Eddie enjoys freaking Chuck out by randomly speeding up the car.  Along with being a spectacularly bad passenger, Eddie also turns out to be a gangster.

When Chuck meets the mysterious Lorna (Michele Morgan), it’s love at first sight but there’s a big problem.  Lorna happens to be married … to Eddie!  Chuck and Lorna flee to Cuba, with Eddie and Gino in pursuit…

Or do they?

Chuck, it turns out, has been suffering from nightmares since he returned from the war.  Often times, he wakes up with amnesia.  Are Eddie, Gino, and Lorna real or are they just figments of Chuck’s dream state?  Is Chuck really living in a film noir or is he just dreaming that he is?

The Chase is an effectively dark little film noir, one that will keep you guessing.  Steve Cochran appears to be having a lot of fun as the cheerfully sociopathic Eddie (and it’s interesting to note that, in the same year as The Chase, Cochran had a supporting role in another film about the struggles of returning servicemen, the Oscar-winning Best Years Of Our Lives) and, of course, Peter Lorre is great as Gino.  Michele Morgan is both sympathetic and enigmatic as Lorna and Robert Cummings does a good job of playing a man who is never quite sure whether he’s awake or he’s asleep.

The Chase is a classic mix of film noir and psychological melodrama.  Watch it below!

Horror Film Review: Cat People (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


The 1942 horror classic Cat People is often described as being a horror film where, up until the last few minutes, the monsters are mostly psychological.  And there is some definite truth to that.  The title creatures remain a mystery for the majority of the film and, up until those final minutes, the audience would have every right to wonder whether or not they actually existed.  This is a film that seems to take place almost totally in the shadows, a film noir without detectives or gangsters but featuring a memorable and compelling femme fatale.

However, I would argue that there is a monster who is present on-screen long before the audience first sees the shadowy form of a cat person.  That monster is named Louis Judd and he’s the true villain of this story.  As played by Tom Conway, Louis Judd is a psychiatrist and, from the minute we first see him, we know that he’s not to be trusted.  He’s far too smooth for his own good and his soothing tones barely disguise the arrogant condescension behind his words.  If his pencil-thin mustache didn’t make him sinister enough, Dr. Judd also keeps a sword concealed inside of his walking stick.

Irena Reed (Simone Simon) is one of Dr. Judd’s patients.  A fashion designer from Serbia, Irena has recently married an engineer named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith).  Despite the fact that she loves Olivier, she cannot bring herself to be intimate with him.  As Dr. Judd discovers, Irena fears that she has been cursed and, if she ever allows herself to become aroused, she will be transformed into a panther.  Dr. Judd repeatedly tells her that her belief is just superstition and that her fears are the result of repressed trauma from her childhood.  When Irena refuses to accept his diagnosis and continues to insist that she is cursed, Dr. Judd assumes that he can prove her wrong by forcing himself on her.  (Big mistake.)

Meanwhile, Oliver loves Irena but her refusal to consummate their marriage is driving him away.  He finds himself growing more and more attracted to his co-worker, Alice (Jane Randolph).  At first, Irena is upset to discover that Oliver has been telling Alice about their problems.  But eventually Irena realizes that all she can do is watch as Oliver and Alice grow closer and closer.  Irena knows that she can’t give Oliver what he desires but the confident and outspoken Alice can.  As Irena grows more and more jealous, Alice starts to feel as if she’s being watched and followed.  She starts to hear growls in the shadows and when she’s at her most vulnerable — swimming alone at night — she is shocked when Irena suddenly appears and demands to know where Oliver is.

And really, that’s what makes Cat People such a great film.  It’s not necessarily a scary film, at least not to modern audiences.  Sadly, we have seen so much graphic real-life horror and have become so jaded by CGI that we’re no longer scared by the mere cinematic suggestion of a monster.  But the film still works because we can relate to both Irena and Alice.  When I look over my relationships, I can see times when I’ve been both the insecure Irena and the confident Alice.  For a film where the word “sex” is never uttered once, Cat People is a penetratingly honest look at relationships, love, and sexuality.

And it also features a truly memorable monster.

Seriously, that Dr. Judd is the worst!

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: San Francisco (dir by W.S. Van Dyke)


As I sit here writing this, I’m snowed in, my asthma’s acting up, and our cat is quickly losing patience with me.  On the plus side, however, this weather has given me an opportunity to watch some more of the old best picture nominees that I had saved up on my DVR.

For instance, I just finished watching the 1936 best picture nominee, San Francisco.

San Francisco was one of the first disaster films, a film that follows a group of characters as they attempt to survive the 1906 earthquake that destroyed the town of San Francisco.  And it has to be said that, nearly 80 years after the film was first released, the climatic earthquake remains effective and scary.  San Francisco, of course, was made long before there was any such thing as CGI.  Many of the film’s sets were built on special platforms that were designed to shake back and forth, just like in an actual earthquake.  When you see walls and buildings collapsing in San Francisco, you know that those walls are breaking apart and collapsing for real and the extras running for their life are literally doing just that.  After the earthquake, Clark Gable, as the film’s hero, walks through the ruins of San Francisco with the haunted look of a true survivor.  Gable was such a confident actor that it’s still jarring to see him looking overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, before you get to that spectacular earthquake, you have to sit through the rest of the film.  It’s a massive understatement to say that the pre-earthquake portion of San Francisco drags.  Clark Gable is Blackie Norton, a notorious gambler and saloon keeper.  Blackie may be a rogue but he’s a rogue with a heart of gold.  His childhood friend, Father Tim (Spencer Tracy), wants Blackie to run for the board of supervisors.  Blackie, however, is more interested in Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), the newest singer at his club.

From the minute she first appears to the very end of the film, Jeanette MacDonald is singing.  Even when she’s not at the center of the scene, you can often hear her singing in the background.  And, after a little while, you just want her to stop singing.  But, whenever that happens, she tries to act and you realize that the only thing more boring than Jeanette MacDonald singing is Jeanette MacDonald acting.

Anyway, the film goes through all of the expected melodrama.  Blackie wants to reform.  Blackie decides not to reform.  Father Tim believes that there’s good in Blackie.  Father Tim gives up on Blackie.  Father Tim decides to give Blackie another chance.  Mary loves Blackie.  Mary fears Blackie.  Mary leaves Blackie.  Mary comes back to Blackie.  Mary leaves Blackie again.  Mary sings.  And sings and sings and sings…

But then, just when you’re about to fall asleep, the city starts to shake and all is forgotten in the wake of a natural disaster.  Even earthquakes serve a purpose…

San Francisco was a huge box office success.  It was nominated for best picture.  Somehow, Spencer Tracy received a nomination for best actor, despite the fact that he’s really not that impressive in the film. (His role is primarily a supporting one and he’s consistently overshadowed by Gable.)  The only Oscar that San Francisco won was for best sound recording and it must be said that, after all these years, the earthquake still sounds terrifying.

As for the film itself, I’d suggest skipping ahead to the earthquake.  That, after all, is the main reason anyone would be watching the film and, by skipping ahead, you’re spared having to sit through an hour and a half of Jeanette MacDonald singing.