New Recipe: HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (AIP 1965)


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HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, the sixth entry in American-International’s “Beach Party” series, attempts to breathe new life into the tried-and-true  formula of sun, sand, surf, songs, and corny jokes. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are still around as Frankie and Dee Dee, but in this go-round they’re separated; he’s in the Navy stationed on the tropical island of Goona-Goona, while Annette has to contend with the romantic enticements of Dwayne Hickman .

Frankie’s part amounts to a cameo, enlisting local witch doctor Buster Keaton (!!) to keep those girl-hungry beach bums away from Dee Dee (while he frolics unfettered with lovely Irene Tsu !). Keaton’s magic ain’t what it used to be, so he has his daughter conjure up a knockout named Cassandra, who first appears on the beach as an animated bikini. All the boys go ga-ga for Cassandra, including a go-go ad man named Peachy Keane…

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My Huckleberry Friend: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (Paramount 1961)


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(“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” airs tonight, 6/12/17 at 8:00 EST on TCM as part of their month-long salute to Audrey Hepburn.)

“You mustn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree and then to the sky” – Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.

From it’s hauntingly romantic theme “Moon River” to it’s sophisticated screenplay by George Axelrod, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is a near-perfect movie. The bittersweet comedy-drama stars Audrey Hepburn in an Oscar nominated performance as Holly Golightly, a New York “party girl” who winds up falling for struggling writer George Peppard. That Hepburn didn’t get the Oscar (Sophia Loren took it home that year for TWO WOMEN) is one of the Academy’s greatest crimes. The film has a very personal connection with…

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A Movie A Day #126: Baby Face Nelson (1957, directed by Don Siegel)


The place is Chicago.  The time is the era of Prohibition.  The head of the Chicago Outfit, Rocca (Ted de Corsia), has arranged for a career criminal named Lester Gillis (Mickey Rooney) to be released from prison.  A crack shot and all-around tough customer, Gillis has only two insecurities: his diminutive height and his youthful appearance.  Rocca wants to use Gillis as a hit man but Gillis prefers to rob banks.  When Rocca attempts to frame Gillis for a murder, Gillis first guns down his former benefactor and then goes on the run with his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (Carolyn Jones).  Because they are both patients of the same underworld doctor (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Gillis eventually meets public enemy number one, John Dillinger (Leo Gordon).  Joining Dillinger’s gang, Gillis becomes a famous bank robber and is saddled with a nickname that he hates: Baby Face Nelson.

While it is true that Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis was an associate of John Dillinger’s and supposedly hated his nickname, the rest of this biopic is highly fictionalized.  The real Baby Face Nelson was a family man who, when he went on the run, took his wife and two children with him.  While he did get his start running with a Chicago street gang, there is also no evidence that Nelson was ever affiliated with the Chicago Outfit.  (The film’s Rocca is an obvious stand-in for Al Capone.)  In real life, it was Dillinger, having just recently escaped from jail, who hooked up with Nelson’s gang.  The film Nelson is jealous of Dillinger and wants to take over the gang but, in reality, the gang had no leader.  Because Nelson killed three FBI agents (more than any other criminal), he has developed a reputation for being one of the most dangerous of the Depression-era outlaws but, actually, he was no more violent than the typical 1930s bank robber.  Among the era’s outlaws, Dillinger was more unique for only having committed one murder over the course of his career.  In this film (and practically every other film that has featured Baby Face Nelson as a character), Nelson is a full on psychopath, one who even aims his gun at children.

Baby Face Nelson may be terrible history but it is still an excellent B-movie.  Don Siegel directs in his usual no-nonsense style and Mickey Rooney does a great job, playing Baby Face Nelson as a ruthless but insecure criminal with a perpetual chip on his shoulder.  As his fictional girlfriend, Carolyn Jones is both tough and sexy, a moll that any gangster would be lucky to have waiting for him back at the safe house.  B-movie veterans like Thayer David, Jack Elam, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Hoyt all have colorful supporting roles but the most unexpected name in the cast is that of Cedric Hardwicke, playing an alcoholic surgeon with broken down dignity.

Don’t watch Baby Face Nelson for a history lesson.  Watch it for an entertaining B-masterpiece.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Boys Town (dir by Norman Taurog)


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Before writing about the 1938 film Boys Town, I want to share a story that might be false but it’s still a nice little story.  Call this an Oscar Urban Legend:

Boys Town is about a real-life community in Nebraska, a home for orphaned and homeless boys that was started by Father Edward Flanagan.  In the film, which was made while Father Flanagan was still very much alive, he was played by Spencer Tracy.  Boys Town was a huge box office success that led to the real Boys Town receiving a lot of favorable publicity.  When Tracy won his Oscar for Boys Town, his entire acceptance speech was devoted to Father Flanagan.

However, a problem arose when an overeager PR person at MGM announced that Spencer Tracy would be donating his Oscar to Boys Town.  Tracy didn’t want to give away his Oscar.  He felt that he had earned it through his acting and that he should be able to keep it.  Tracy, the legend continues, was eventually persuaded to donate his Oscar on the condition that he would get a replacement.

However, when the replacement arrived, the engraving on the award read, “Best Actor — Dick Tracy.”

That’s a fun little story, one that is at least partially true.  (Tracy’s Oscar — or at least one of them — does currently reside at the Boys Town national headquarters.)  It’s also a story that, in many ways, is more interesting than the film itself.

Don’t get me wrong.  Boys Town is not a bad movie.  For me, it was kind of nice to see a movie where a priest was portrayed positively as opposed to being accused of being a pederast.  In a way, Boys Town serves as a nice counterbalance to Spotlight.  But, with all that said, there’s not a surprising moment to be found in Boys Town.  It’s pretty much a standard 1930s juvenile delinquency melodrama.

The movie opens when Father Flanagan giving last rites to a man who is about to be executed.  (Boys Town takes a firm stand against the death penalty, which is one of the more consistent and laudable stands of the modern Church.)  The man says the he never had a chance.  From the time he was a young boy, he was thrown into the reform school system.  Instead of being reformed, he just learned how to be a better criminal.  Father Flanagan is so moved by the doomed man’s words that he starts Boys Town, under the assumption that “there’s no such thing as a bad boy.”

Father Flanagan’s techniques are put to the test when Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney ) arrives.  Whitey is angry.  He’s rebellious.  He tries to run away every chance that he gets and, during one such escape attempt, he even gets caught up in a bank robbery.  Can Father Flanagan reach Whitey and prove that there’s no such thing as a bad boy?

Well, you already know the answer to that.  As I said, there’s really nothing surprising to be found in the plot of Boys Town.  It’s just not a very interesting movie, though there is a great shot of a despondent Whitey walking past a several lines of former juvenile delinquents, all kneeling in prayer.  As Father Flanagan, Spencer Tracy is the ideal priest but his role is almost a supporting one.  Believe it or not, the film is dominated by Mickey Rooney, who gives a raw and edgy performance as the angry Whitey Marsh.

(That said, it’s hard to take Whitey seriously as a future gangster when he’s always wearing a bowtie.  Then again, that may have been the height of gangster style in 1938.)

Boys Town was nominated for best picture but lost to You Can’t Take It With You.

A Soggy Bowl of PULP (United Artists 1972)


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They had the hook in me, and I was caught like a large mouth bass. The bait was the stuff my dreams were made of, a heady concoction of gangsters and femmes fatale, of faded Hollywood stars and references to Mickey Spillane and Ross MacDonald. I had let my guard down and plunged headlong into the trap, forgetting you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially one luridly titled PULP.

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It all started so promisingly. I was introduced to Mickey King, a second-rate English hack writing under the pseudonym “Guy Strange”, scribbler of paperback trash like “Kill Me Gently” and “My Gun is Long”. Mick’s paid a visit by a gravel-voiced goon called Dinuccio, a Neanderthal throwback who hires the wordsmith to ghost a biography for his mysterious boss. Next thing Mickey knows, he’s on a tour bus and told he’ll be contacted. An American named Miller could be the one, but Miller…

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The Fabulous Forties #45: Love Laughs At Andy Hardy (dir by Willis Goldbeck)


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I cringed a little when I saw that the 45th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s Love Laughs At Andy Hardy.  

This was because I had never seen an Andy Hardy film before but I did know enough to know that, starting in the 1930s, MGM made a series of films that featured Mickey Rooney in the role of a “nice, young man” named Andy Hardy.  Andy was a well-meaning kid who grew up in Middle America under the watchful eye of his father, Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone).  What little I had heard of the Andy Hardy films led me to suspect that they were very much a product of their time and had not aged particularly well.

Having now watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy … well, I can confirm that it is a product of its time.  And it is definitely an uneven film, though perhaps I would have felt differently if I had seen any of the other Andy Hardy films.  (Love Laughs was the 15th film about Andy Hardy and it pretty much assumes that the viewer already knows who Andy and all of his friends and family are.)  But I will say this: Mickey Rooney was a really good actor.  In fact, as I watched Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, I was shocked by just how good a performance Rooney gave.  When I think of Mickey Rooney — well, to be honest, it’s rare that I ever do.  But when I do, it’s usually in relation to the exploitation films he made after he was a star.  These were movies like The Manipulator or Silent Night Deadly Night 5, all of which feature an elderly and obviously unwell Mickey acting up a storm.  In contrast to those film, in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, Mickey gives a totally empathetic and, at times, even subtle performance.   Even by contemporary standards, his performance feels real and, as I watched, I started to understand how there actually could have been 16 separate films about Andy Hardy.  You really do find yourself caring about the little guy,

As for this film, it opens with Andy returning from serving in World War II.  Apparently, he left college to enlist in the army.  Now that he’s back in America, he’s ready to return to college and ask his old girlfriend, Kay (Bonita Granville) to marry him.  However, to Andy’s shock and disappointment, Kay has moved on and has other plans.  Why, it’s almost enough to make Andy want to drop out of school, give up his dreams of becoming an attorney, and try to find work as an engineer in South America!

Fortunately, Judge Hardy is there to talk some sense into his son.

It’s all fairly predictable and, as I said before, definitely uneven.  I get the feeling that a lot of the scenes in Love Laughs At Andy Hardy were meant to serve as call backs to previous films in the series.  Watching this film without a context can lead to a lot of confusion.  But, again, it’s all saved by Mickey Rooney’s performance.  While I can’t really give this film a strong recommendation, I imagine if you’re fan of Rooney’s or the Andy Hardy films, you’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps the best scene in the film comes when Andy is set up on a blind date with a girl named Coffy (Dorothy Ford).  When Andy goes to Coffy’s dorm to pick her up, he can’t understand why all the other girls keep looking at him and laughing.  However, once Coffy shows up, it quickly becomes obvious.  Coffy is 6’2 while Andy is a full foot shorter.

However, when Andy and Coffy arrive at the college dance, they defy all the laughs and the snide remarks.  Instead of surrendering to the expectations of snarky society, they perform a dance to end all dances and I’m going to conclude this review by sharing it below.

Enjoy!

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 7: Film Noir Festival


Now that Lisa’s finished cleaning out her DVR, it’s time once again for me to clean mine, featuring five fabulous films noir:

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I first got my DVR service from DirecTV just in time for last year’s TCM Summer of Darkness series, and there’s still a ton of films I haven’t gotten around to viewing… until now! So without further ado, let’s dive right into the fog-shrouded world of film noir:

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RAW DEAL (Eagle-Lion 1948, D: Anthony Mann)

This tough-talking film seems to cram every film noir trope in the book into its 79 minutes. Gangster Dennis O’Keefe busts out of prison with the help of his moll ( Claire Trevor ), kidnaps social worker Marsha Hunt, and goes after the sadistic crime boss (Raymond Burr) who owes him fifty grand. Director Mann and DP John Alton make this flawed but effective ultra-low budget film work, with help from a great cast. Burr’s nasty, fire-obsessed kingpin is scary, and John Ireland as his torpedo has a great fight scene with O’Keefe. The flaming finale is well staged…

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