Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

After the high-concept science-fiction of the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek 2 was a much more straight forward action film and probably the best Star Trek film of all. A sequel to the Star Trek TV episode "Space Seed" with Ricardo Montalban reprising his role of the genetically enhanced warlord Khan.

Khan escapes his exile and gets his hands on a starship, the Reliant. He also finds out about a science project led by Dr Marcus (Bibi Besch) called Genesis that can turn a lifeless world into one filled with abundant life, Khan realised that this also makes it the ultimate weapon. He sets a trap for his nemesis Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise...

Star Trek 2 portrays space travel along very nautical lines, the film could pretty easily have been set underwater with the Enterprise and Reliant as submarines. They even both have torpedo bays. Beyond the action (which is pretty decent) there are themes of ageing, friendship and humanity which are well explored. It was this which elevated Star Trek 2 beyond just another film about model spaceships blowing lumps out of each other. Great science fiction (and Star Trek) has always been about exploring humanity more than anything else and this film accomplished this more than many.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Days of Jesse James (1939)

Roy Rogers is out after the Jesse James (Don "Red" Barry) gang after a string of railway robberies and finally a bank robbery. The bank was owned by Mr Wyatt (Arthur Lott), but is everything quite how it seems?

Indeed not, Wyatt has robbed his own bank and blamed the James Gang. Rogers and grandpa Gabby (Gabby Hayes) chase after and infiltrate the James Gang to find out exactly what is going on.

Expect some run-of-the-mill Western adventure and punctuated by the rather lovely "Echo mountain" sung by Rogers. Hayes is great as the old gold miner, his dog Whiskers also plays a great role. Jesse James is portrayed as a rogue with honour (so not that realistic).

Monday, October 29, 2018

Secret Evidence (1941)

Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) is the secretary to a lawyer (Charles Quigley). When he becomes the DA he asks Linda to marry him. Now engaged she is high on cloud nine... until gangster Tony (Wade McTaggart) turns up back from jail. Tony wants Linda back though she isn't that keen...

When Tony is shot suspicion falls on Linda's brother Jerry (Howard Masters) who was on the scene... and with a gun...

An interesting little crime drama mixing some family dynamics and dark secrets. Not a bad film but could have been improved with some better writing. McTaggart is great in his role, a cool bad guy with some sharp lines. The courtroom scenes at the end of the film are good though whether the DA would really have stayed on the case involving his fiance is of course nonsense.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

Stockbroker Gerald Parker (Guy Usher) is found floating dead in the penguin pool at the NY aquarium, the aquarium that just happens to be owned by the guy (Clarence Wilson) he recently ripped off. Not long before that he was in a fracas with his wife Gwen's (Mae Clarke) lover Seymore (Donald Cook) and punched out cold. But did Seymore kill Parker? And who is this lawyer (Robert Armstrong) who seems so keen to help?

It falls on the police Inspector Piper (James Gleason) to try and unravel the mystery though the school teacher Hilda Withers (Edna May Oliver) seems to have more idea than the police. So this is basically a neat little Golden Age mystery with all of the common ingredients (plenty of murder suspects, bumbling police and a keen amateur).

It is a fun romp with a good cast. Gleason and Oliver make a good double act with plenty of good one-liners. What elevates the film to another level is the setting, the penguins are little stars.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

One of the earliest surviving American movies and one of the first films with an actual plot and one of the earliest Westerns. The Great Train Robbery depicts a gang robbing a train and then being hunted down by a posse.

Although a short film there isn't a huge amount of story in it, quite a lot of time is wasted by the actors standing around seemingly doing very little. Everyone is rather anonymous too with the film largely in long shots (apart from the iconic close-up of Justus Barnes at the end) though for such an early film it is very well made. Many of the techniques used in this film such as location shooting and cross cutting, which are taken for granted nowadays, were truly innovative for 1903.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Amazing Adventure (1937)

Cary Grant stars in this light hearted (if rather unlikely) comedy drama (which is also known as The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss). Rich playboy Ernest Bliss (Grant) is afflicted by some sort of illness, a doctor (Peter Gawthorne) prescribes it as idle-itis. Bliss bets with the doctor that he can survive for a year without his riches and live on only what he earns himself...

It doesn't turn out to be quite as easy as Bliss imagines but he soon gets a job as an oven salesman. This doesn't go down too well until he uses his money to generate sales. However he moves on to become a chauffeur but also falls for secretary Frances (Mary Brian). As the months roll on he successfully manages to survive but various shenanigans mean his life becomes... interesting... when the mob gets involved.

A charming little film, Grant's star quality making the film though the story itself is nothing special. It passes pleasantly on by.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Stranger in Town (1943)

Supreme Court Justice Grant (Frank Morgan) heads out of the capitol, incognito, to shoot some ducks on vacation. There he finds corruption in a small town and an election contest between the incumbent mayor (Robert Barrat) and a young lawyer Bill Adams (Richard Carlson) out to take him down.

With the local judge and the police in the mayor's pocket Bill finds himself locked up, Grant decides to help Bill out - without telling anyone who he really is.

Grant is great in the role, bringing a dignified air. The film is a nice commentary of small town America with plenty of light touches, maybe a bit preachy but in these dark times maybe we do need a bit of idealism. Bill and Grant's secretary Lucy (Jean Rogers) give the film a romantic angle.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Trapped by Television (1936)

Early television appears to have held a fascination for the movie makers, in this film television (which was still a few months from the first public broadcast by the BBC) was portrayed a bit more realistically than in Murder by Television.

Lyle Talbot is Fred, a struggling inventor of a revolutionary television system. Debt collector Rocky (Nat Pendleton) comes calling but instead of putting the heavy on Fred joins him in trying to complete his invention. Also getting involved is investor Barbara (Mary Astor) who ends up falling for the invention and Fred.

Barbara's plan is to sell the television to Paragon Broadcasting however Paragon's own system has been put on ice after their inventor was snatched (then put on ice) by the mob and who are then trying to sell Paragon their own invention back to them. Unbeknown to everyone one of Paragon's own board is behind the scam and is now out to stop Fred from spoiling their plans at all costs...

Although the plot is nothing out the ordinary and could really have used any kind of invention it is a very enjoyable film. For a start the film looks very good, the television is a rather fabulous looking Art Deco prop. The film has a somewhat unusual mix of humour and drama, maybe sometimes it is a bit confusing exactly what kind of film it is. However never mind that as the film sparkles. A good cast with some good lines, especially from Pendleton.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

The iconic 1960s TV series Star Trek reached the big screen in 1979, everyone was a little older but the budget was a lot bigger and the special effects much improved. Of course only Kirk and the Enterprise can save the day as a gigantic energy cloud with the mysterious VGER approaches Earth...

Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) takes over the rebuilt Enterprise, much to the chagrin of Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) who thought it was his ship. His crew is a mixture of the original crew including Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelly and some new faces (who prove largely expendable).

The special effects are very impressive, especially of VGER, early computer graphics and lasers helping generate a wonderful vision of alien technology. The sense of scale is stupendous.

However at times the special effects do go on a bit. The story is probably the most "Star Trek" of any of the movie series though is a bit slow at times - space battles were to come later in the series.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

It Couldn't Have Happened (1936)

A strange murder mystery which takes place in theatreland. A light hearted film which always jars slightly when the bodies start piling up!

Reginald Denny is Greg Stone, a playwright locked into a long-term contract with two producers (Bryan Washburn and Claude King). When they are found dead Greg finds himself pushed into investigating the case himself by his girlfriend Linda (Inez Courtney) and poundshop hoodlum Smiley (Jack La Rue). There are plenty of suspects including the wife of one of the victims (Evelyn Brent).

It sounds a bit dubious but is infact a highly enjoyable film with some sharp dialogue especially from La Rue (especially when he embarrassingly reveals his alibi was watching a Shirley Temple movie!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Lost World (1925)

The Lost World is based in Arthur Conan Doyle's famous novel about a "lost world" with surviving dinosaurs and other amazing beasts on a plateau in South America. Paula White (Bessie Love) brings the journal of her father Maple to London, in the journal are descriptions and drawings of beasts thought long extinct. The scientific community are sceptical naturally but Paula launches an expedition to the plateau with Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) and a motley crew of other explorers.

When they reach the plateau they find Maple White was right, there is a lost world of dinosaurs and giant apes. Naturally there are plenty of dangers for our humans to survive including a giant apeman and a volcanic eruption. Plus a bit of a love triangle with Paula, Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes) and Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone) - probably better places for that kind of thing to be honest when there are Allosauruses feasting on Pteranodons in the background. An entertaining film with good stop-motion special effects, especially for the day.

On a historical note, this was the very first film to be shown on an airliner during a flight (Imperial Airways).

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Captured in Chinatown (1935)

What a wonderfully weird film! Two Chinese clans seemingly endless blood feud is finally ended by a couple (Joy Ling and Wing Foo) who cross the divide. To cement the union a highly valuable jade necklace is to be presented at the wedding but some (American) crooks led by Zamboni (Paul Ellis) plot to steal it.

Amid this mayhem a young reporter couple Bob and Ann (played by Charles Delaney and Marion Shilling) in a love-hate relationship who get wrapped up in the theft and save the day and avert a full on bloody Triad war.

The real star of the show is Tarzan the dog who performs tricks like turning on the gas to boil the kettle for his owner's coffee and delivering notes. Tarzan is also probably the best actor in the film too (and got top billing).

Tarzan's tricks are mostly to pad the film out as there isn't a lot of storyline to fill the time otherwise. It is all pretty awful but happily it's in the "so bad it's good" category mostly because the dated stereotypes are just so ridiculous.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941)

A murder mystery set in a hospital with a high degree of farce, maybe a bit too much but it is undeniably entertaining. Ralph Bellamy plays the famous mystery writer/amateur sleuth Ellery Queen this time with Charley Grapewin his old man on the force and Margaret Lindsey as Nikki, Ellery's assistant.

The rather unpleasant Augusta Stack (Blanche Yurka), benefactor of a local hospital, calls in the police as she suspects one of her surgeons is a murderer. Ellery Queen gets drawn into the case but when Augusta is bought in after an auto accident and mysteriously dies during an operation he begins to investigate the strange goings on in the hospital.

Unfortunately for the Queens possible suspects start get bumped off too. Quite a lot of the film is a bit of a romp in the hospital as an injured hoodlum tries to escape the police. If you can get past the farce it is quite an interesting murder mystery.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Exile Express (1939)

Anna Sten is Nadine, the Ukrainian assistant to a scientist (Harry Davenport) and preparing to become an American citizen. On the eve of the ceremony Soviet spies led by her "boyfriend" Paul Brandt (Jerome Cowan) - not that she knows his real intentions towards her - kill the scientist to get their hands on a potential chemical weapon. However they need Nadine to translate the notes, but she is on a train heading across the country to be deported having being suspected of involvement in the scientist's death.

Reporter Steve (Alan Marshall) is also on the train covering another story. He becomes interested in Nadine and gets involved when she makes a getaway. He even ends up becoming married to her! However not only are the police after them, Brandt and his gang are too...

Although often ridiculous, and with a bit too much lightness thrown in at times - some of the "comedy" characters are simply bizarre and tedious apart from the raving lunatic Bolshevik. The film is an enjoyable romp with some chase scenes but quite a lot of filler, luckily Anna Sten and Alan Marshall do a good enough job to keep you interested.