Monday, April 30, 2018

Yellow Canary (1943)

A fascinating war time film involving Nazi spies and sympathisers. Anna Neagle plays Sally, a notorious pro-Nazi who is scorned by everyone from her own family down, who is sent off to Canada.

There she becomes involved with a Polish officer (Albert Lieven) while British officer Richard Greene keeps an eye on her.

However all is not what it seems, Sally is really a deep cover agent and Albert is the spy. Sally's mission is to penetrate a spy ring and foil a devastating Nazi plot. That and other twists elevate this film above standard wartime propaganda fare. There are some good performances too including from Margaret Rutherford who provides a bit of light relief.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

A wonderful attempt at a Golden Age murder mystery, complete with intriguing locked room puzzle and more suspects than you could shake a stick at! It stars William Powell as private detective Philo Vance, on hand to show the police what to do.

Archer Coe (Robert Barrat) is the victim, though as he was found in a locked room with a gun in his hand suicide is suspected. Though as the victim wasn't killed by a gunshot but rather a stab in the back suicide becomes unlikely. Unfortunately for Vance and the police Coe was rather unpleasant and had many enemies and people who would have had cause to kill him. His niece played by Mary Astor hated him for restricting her money, his secretary (Ralph Morgan) hated him for not letting him marry his niece. Even his servants had reasons to kill him!

The case is complex but by using fast editing and plenty of energy in the directing and performances a lot of story is packed into a fairly short film. The leads put on a good show backed up by some great supporting parts. A very good film indeed.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Smart Alec (1951)

This is a very strange film, the story (a murder and the subsequent investigation) is serious but it is performed with such an air of farce as to be completely ridiculous.

It stars Peter Reynolds as a smug young bounder who murders his rich uncle. He appears to be completely guilty but there is a problem: no bullet.

The crime story is actually quite innovative but the film is so full of ridiculous characters and nonsense it just can't be taken seriously. It does star a young Charles Hawtrey as a detective though which is interesting seeing him in a straight (well in theory) role.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Encounters in the Deep (1979)

The Bermuda Triangle where boats and people disappear without trace? Well that includes Miles' (Gabriele Ferzetti) daughter on a holiday. He funds Peters (Manuel Zarzo) and Scott (Andres Garcia) to mount an expedition to find just what is going on. Peters thinks it is extraterrestrials...

It sounds promising, unfortunately this Italian-Spanish co-production does not really go anywhere apart from aimlessly travelling around the sea and seeing underwater lights.

There is something strange going on but the motley crew on the boat seem pretty ill-equipped to handle it. A crew man is possessed and many strange things happen including a whole freighter vanishing, however only the ship's dog (who also seems the only one who can act in this film) seems to know what is going on. It is total nonsense of course, and lacks much in the way of coherence or suspense. The special effects are also laughable. I quite enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Shatter (1974)

An attempt by Hammer Films to cash in on the early 1970s martial arts craze, Shatter stars Stuart Whitman as Shatter, an assassin who is double crossed when trying to collect his money after a successful hit in Hong Kong. He ends up on the run and being menaced by... basically everyone including the security services led by Peter Cushing.

Along the way Shatter is helped by kung-fu master Ti Lung and love interest Lily Lee through a series of fights (the fights are actually pretty good) until he gets his dollars... or gets killed.

Well the plot isn't very complicated and the story is stretched out a bit but the overall film isn't bad at all though a bit ridiculous. The main problem is Whitman looks too much of a wreck to be a supposedly top-notch hitman who can survive fighting the mob and everyone else (luckily Ti Lung does most of the fighting for him). Still if you can suspend disbelief long enough then the film is enjoyable. The nostalgia for HK is strong with this one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

When Thief Meets Thief (1937)

Also known as Jump for Glory this romantic drama stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr as a thief who falls in love with Valerie Hobson (while he is trying to steal her jewels) who ends up breaks off her engagement to Alan Hale.

Douglas wants to go straight and settle down with Valerie but she is forced to return to Alan - who is not really a respectable businessman but really Douglas' ex-partner-in-crime and nemesis from the US...

A light and energetic film, although the three leads are all crooks in different ways actual criminal activities do not feature highly in the film. The film has an interesting take on a love triangle.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impulse (1954)

Alan Curtis is Arthur, a bored estate agent in a Sussex village who hates his humdrum regular life. He crosses paths with the sexy Lila (Constance Smith) who must get to London and is being followed by the police.

She is mixed up with a jewel robbery and Arthur decides to follow the excitement instead of returning to his dull life. Arthur's naivety gets him into ever greater trouble as Lila finds it easy to manipulate him...

It is an enjoyable little B-movie exploring the tedium of normal life and the temptation of the darker side. The seedy streets of London contrasting with the innocence of the shires. The story has some nice twists and turns with the two leads giving great performances. The only problem with the film is that it does stretch credibility a bit, especially the forgiveness of Arthur's wife at the end!

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Floorwalker (1916)

Charlie Chaplin becomes a prototype Captain Peacock in this short silent movie. It is set in a department store which is being ripped off by it's manager (Eric Campbell) and floorwalker (Lloyd Bacon). Chaplin unwittingly foils their plan and, as he looks almost identical to Bacon, takes his place as the floorwalker while Bacon is arrested.

There then follows much slapstick as Campbell tries to get his bag of money back. Much of the mayhem involves an escalator, the film being the first to employ the running staircase gag (where people running on the escalator remain in the same spot).

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Kong Island (1968)

Low budget monkey business in a film that is not about King Kong, or set on an island. It stars Brad Harris as a mercenary who is enlisted to help a girl (Ursula Davis) on a big game hunt in a forbidden jungle who has been kidnapped by gorillas.

These arn't normal gorillas though (as that obviously wouldn't be bad enough), these are cyborg gorillas. The slaves of a mad scientist bent on world domination, or at least kidnapping a young girl for nookie.

Naturally the film is unintentionally hilarious and makes little sense. It makes even less sense when we come across Eva (Esmeralda Barros) who has apparently been raised by monkeys and is regarded as some kind of loincloth clad god. It is not altogether clear why they needed to add a jungle girl to an already confusing film about revenge, mercenaries, kidnaps, mad scientists and gorillas... maybe they thought they just needed some more near naked female flesh.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Black Shampoo (1976)

Black Shampoo is a film about a hairdresser, however as it is a  blaxploitation film the hairdresser spends most of his time sleeping with his female clients and ends up fighting the mob.

It stars John Daniels as the hairdresser/stud who ends up getting into trouble when he falls for his new receptionist Tanya Boyd. She has walked out on a gangster who naturally doesn't take no for answer.

So that is the story, the reality is the film is just a massive slab of sleazy cheese. Sex and gratuitious nudity punctuated by violence and ridiculous stereotypes a plenty. It isn't a film to bore though as everything proceeds at a high rate of knots. It is total nonsense of course but made very bearable by the sheer cool and a nice 70s soul/pop soundtrack.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sin Takes A Holiday (1930)

Oh the morals of the fabulous people of late 1920s New York, cheating and divorcing left right and centre apparently. Constance Bennett plays a dowdy secretary to a womanising divorce lawyer (Kenneth MacKenna). They form a marriage of convenience to help Kenneth avoid marriage to his mistress though Constance secretly loves him for real.

Constance gets sent off to Paris so Kenneth can continue his cheating ways, there she is seduced by Basil Rathbone and a bit of European sophistication. She undergoes a bit of an Eliza Doolittle transformation before she returns to New York and confront her husband.

It's an enjoyable little film, some of the characters are a bit annoying but there enough good lines in this romantic comedy to keep the interest. There are some enjoyable supporting parts such as that of ZaSu Pitts. The three main leads, especially Constance who is appealingly sardonic throughout, shine. The snapshot of late 1920s/early 1930s life is fascinating.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Top Bet (1991)

No one can make films about gambling quite like HK cinema used to, often giving a mystical bent to it.

The Saint Of Gamblers has gone off on holiday which is inconsiderate as the Triad boss needs a top gambler to win the gambling championship. Uncle Ng Man-Tat is tasked to find someone to win or he gets the chop (literally).

He happens upon the Queen of Gambling (Carol Cheng), basically a tough HK fisherwomen who does some card tricks. She pretends to have magical gambling powers in order to get the money to help her paralysed brother. Still with me? No? I'm not surprised.

Meanwhile real magical powers arrive in the shape of the Saint's sister Mai (Anita Mui) from the mainland but she refuses to use her magical powers to help gambling and capitalist imperialist activities (this was before the Mainland Communist Party discovered the love of cash of course). But then, with the Triad's rival is also getting help from psychic power, Mai decides to help the Queen in her battle against the bad guy with the help of magical card tricks and plenty of kung fu.

If you've seen a HK gambling movie before you know what to expect. Grand entrances in slow motion, sharp suits and stirring music. Plus a lot of slapstick humour and fun. Its ridiculous, its bizarre, its pretty banal. But you'll love it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

A low-budget science fiction B-movie which was filmed in 3-D (though does not seem to really take a great deal advantage of the extra dimension). The plot is simple: Earth sends a rocket to the Moon, discovers ancient race of Cat-Women who want to steal the rocket and enslave Earth. The film is complete nonsense of course though campy fun.

The Cat-Women (heavily made up in black jumpsuits) are able to control women but not men, luckily one of the human crew is female (Marie Windsor) whom they are able to manipulate. Can the humans led by Sonny Tufts and Victor Jory foil the plans of the Cat-Women led by Carol Brewster?

Well yes of course but a lot of the film is absurd, starting with the ridiculous interior of the spaceship with wooden tables. The Moon seems to reuse familiar science-fiction tropes including giant spiders and the Cat-Women City looks like the reused set from another film. Well you can have a lot of fun with this tripe to be honest. I did.