MURDER IS MY BEAT (1955) – Film-noir with characters you care about

Murder_Is_My_Beat_poster

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

It’s a dame, of course. In film-noir, it’s always a dame.

Detective Ray Patrick (Paul Langton) has literally trekked through a mountain of snow to bring in a murder suspect, Eden Lane (Barbara Peyton). He brings her in, the case against her is air-tight, and Ray’s detective work earns kudos for his department. But of course, Ray isn’t satisfied, because he thinks the dame got a bum deal in court just to close the case.

As it so happens, Ray is chosen to escort Eden to her prison sentence on a train ride. And as it even more so happens, Eden looks out the window and just happens to see the very man she’s been accused of murdering. Of course, Ray’s first instinct is to believe that Eden is pulling a stunt to get out of her prison rap. But Eden sobs and continues to plead her innocence. And, well, hey…if you were a lonely cop, and you were hired to keep tabs on a prisoner who purrs and looks like Barbara Peyton, how long would it be before you melted into a puddle on your passenger seat?

This is a taut and very satisfying film-noir thriller. Director Edgar G. Ulmer, who made his noir reputation a decade earlier with the almost existential Detour, seems to have finally fought faintly the old ennui and relaxes a little here. Not to give too much away, but he and screenwriter Aubrey Wisberg find it in themselves to give their toughened characters a bit of humanity, which helps the audience to extend a lot of goodwill towards this movie’s Detour-like low budget.

Visit Murder Is My Beat to enjoy its allegiance to noir tropes, and stay for the surprising stake you’ll end up having in its bad-luck-ridden characters.

Only two more weeks for THE “MOVIES THAT HAVEN’T AGED WELL” BLOGATHON!

small

There are only two more weeks left for the “Movies that Haven’t Aged Well” Blogathon. So if you have a movie that you have revisited over the years, only to find that the film wasn’t as wonderful as you had initially remembered, share your experience here! It’s happened to all of us…maybe some wet-behind-the-ears cinephile can benefit from your life experience!

If you need some ideas, click here to visit our original blogathon announcement and see links to the entries that have already been submitted. We have some really great entries so far, so join the club and tell us about a movie that’s done you wrong over the years!

GREASE (1978) – Gets better with age

15183822h4l0AB04

Time has been kind to Grease. The darned thing about made me sick in 1978. Every time I turned on the radio, I heard Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta warbling some song from the monster-hit soundtrack. And when I finally saw the movie, I was suitably unimpressed.

A generation later, my then-7-year-old daughter fell for the 20th-anniversary edition, so I’ve had ample opportunity to take another look at it. And as musicals go, it’s not bad. Granted, I’m not always crazy about my young girl falling for a movie where a worldly girl complains about “missing her period,” but it reminds me of the Peanuts cartoon where Linus explains how he handles the novel The Brothers Karamazov: “Whenever I come to a part I don’t understand, I just ‘bleep’ right over it!”

images

The musical is a campy take on 1950’s high-school life. No school cliche is left unturned: the dumb, muscular jocks with greasy hair and cigarette boxes rolled up in their sleeves (particularly Danny, as played by Travolta); the clean-cut girls who go for them (Newton-John as Sandy, the foreign-exchange student); the football coach with his “Win one for the Gipper”-type speeches (Sid Caesar, rather wasted in many senses of the word); the uptight principal (Eve Arden); and the “American Bandstand”-like TV dance show, complete with nostalgia group Sha Na Na doing a big number.

Even on its own simplistic terms, the movie is a lot to swallow. For one thing, this is the oldest-looking bunch of high-school-age kids seen on film since The Bowery Boys. Secondly, what is it with Stockard Channing’s character Rizzo? Even when she thinks she’s pregnant and her boyfriend (Jeff Conaway) wants to do right by her, she blows him off with a first-class insult. We’re meant to see that Rizzo hurts people to keep from getting hurt herself, but after too many scenes of this sob-sister routine, you start thinking that she gets what she deserves.

images (1)

But still, there’s much to enjoy. The TV show is only an excuse for an extended dance scene that’s quite lively and, in the wake of “musicals” that followed this one (Flashdance, Footloose), it’s a treat to see dancers actually dancing to express some joy, rather than waiting for the movie’s editor to hop up their routines. Travolta’s “Sandy” number, performed in front of a drive-in movie screen, has enough panache to elicit the pathos it obviously strives for. And Newton-John, whose part was obviously rewritten to accommodate her (then-) star status, does well enough with the songs that she’s actually passable. (Her nadir wouldn’t come until the disastrous musical Xanadu [1980], which was enough to retire Gene Kelly from movies for good.)

It’s funny that what looked campy in 1978 makes one nostalgic for the movie musical only 20 years later. The warbling non-singers in, say, Woody Allen’s musical Everyone Says I Love You make the Grease cast look like Astaire and Rogers by comparison.

Our first Live Tweet: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS!

download

Got nothing to do this Saturday night? Neither do I! Let’s be two peas in a pod!

On Sat., Aug. 15 at 10 p.m. EST, I join the tweet-and-riff crowd with my premiere Live Tweet event of the classic 1956 sci-fi thriller, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It stars Kevin McCarthy as Miles Bennell, a small-town doctor who is caught unaware when his patients’ loved ones are suddenly replaced by emotionless impostors. The doc digs deeper and finds that an alien species of human duplicates, grown from plant-like pods, is taking over the town. Dr. Bennell soon learns the hard way that there are some things they don’t teach you in medical school!

To join the pod party, just log onto Twitter and, if you’re not already one of my Twitter “followers,” type @MovieMovieBlogB to get to my Twitter page. From there, I’ll provide a free link to the movie via YouTube. When I instruct you at 10 p.m., just click on the start of the movie and follow along. To post comments about the movie while it’s running, use the hashtag #MovieMovieBlogB, and you’ll be part of our group. (Just make sure it’s really you doing the posting, and not your alien imposter!)

Here’s an original trailer for the movie. See you on Saturday at 10!

FANTASIA 2000 (1999) – Worthy of the 1940 original

download (1)

Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, has said that the original Fantasia is “a wondrous sampler. This one’s a cherry cream, and that one’s a chocolate-covered nut.” Roy Disney was executive producer of Fantasia 2000, which is the complete dessert tray. The movie is an unabashed slice of joy that zips along at 75 minutes.

Ignore any trepidations you might have about the movie, such as “Is the sequel a rip-off of the original?” After you’ve been bathed in its imagery for about five minutes, all anxiety will cease.

I hesitate to give an in-depth description of the movie’s seven new segments, because I don’t want to turn this review into a lengthy summary, and I don’t want to give away the movie’s many surprises. Suffice to say, there’s not a loser in the bunch. The new segments include:

download* An impressionistic segment set to the opening of “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony,” which looks like a kid’s cardboard cut-outs come wildly to life.

download (1)* A surreal segment of humpback whales taking flight, to the strains of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

download (2)* A New York interpretation of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” done in the style of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld (who is credited as artistic consultant).

download* Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” set to Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto #2.”

download (1)* Saint-Saens’ finale to “Carnival of the Animals” backing a hilarious story of a flock of flamingos and a yo-yo (Don’t ask, just watch).

download (2)* My personal favorite: Donald Duck serving as assistant to Noah (of ark fame), backed by Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”

download* A Bambi-like take on nature and re-birth, set to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”

Ironically, the movie’s weakest segment is the only one retained from the original Fantasia: Mickey Mouse’s take on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s still fun to watch, but compared to the state-of-the-art animation that bookends it, it looks grainy and dated. It’s a pity that the Disney tinkerers couldn’t find a way to expand or update the segment for the new movie.

In lieu of Taylor Deems’ somewhat stuffy narration in the original movie, each segment here is “hosted” by celebrities including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, and Angela Lansbury, all of whom are delightful.

In an age where any animation that earns a profit gets shoveled onto a movie screen, the Disney studio with Toy Story 2 and Fantasia 2000 (two sequels, yet) demonstrated in 1999 how truly great animation doesn’t need a kid in tow to make it enjoyable for any age group. Fantasia 2000 is simply a knockout.