Here’s a special treat that none of you have been asking for: brief reviews of every movie I watched while I was hospitalized.
Early on, when I learned open-heart surgery was in the cards, I bought a small portable Blu-ray player. Beyond its obvious use, during the upcoming hospital stay, I knew it would be cool to have on trips where early-to-bedder Barb could go to sleep in our hotel room while I watched something on the Blu-ray player, listening through headphones and not bothering her. Getting that Blu-ray portable was smart of me.
Here’s where I was dumb. Instead of picking DVDs and Blu-rays (from my stupidly large collection) that were either old favorites or which had a lot of potential, I filled a little CD case with oddball stuff I hadn’t got around to yet, and that I was pretty sure Barb would have no interest in.
But it was Barb who soon realized I was making my hospital time even worse by torturing myself with crap movies. I guess when you almost die, you have less patience for spending time pointlessly. So here’s a rundown on a bunch of movies that you should avoid. I’m using the Leonard Maltin four-star system, just don’t look for any four-stars. I usually am loathe to write bad reviews of movies. But since I loathed these movies, I’ll make these exceptions.
SMART GIRLS DON’T TALK (1948) – * ½. Pitiful excuse for a film noir with Virginia Mayo (her character all over the good-girl/bad-girl map) supported by Bruce Bennett and Robert Hutton, two of the dullest leading men on record.
CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) – * ½. Two of my favorite (if limited) actors, Randolph Scott and George Raft, in a sort of anthology movie that is among the dreariest Christmas movies ever made. After this contemporary misfire, Scott made only westerns. Good choice!
THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953) – *. Worst John Ford movie ever. A personal favorite of his, and the pits – cornball smalltown humor, sentimental slop, and incredibly racist attitudes even for its era (Stepin Fetchit co-stars). A remake of a much earlier Ford starring Will Rogers. Full disclosure: the only one of these terrible movies I didn’t make it through.
CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A. (1950). 1 ½ *. Incredibly dull, slow-moving Alan Ladd almost-noir. Don’t believe the “U.S.A.” – it takes place in a studio-created Italy. Somebody betrayed Ladd during the war and he wants to get even. I watched the thing and I’d like to get even myself.
THE CROOKED WAY (1949) – 1 ½ *. I’m a fan of John Payne, whose MIRACLE ON 34th STREET performance is pitch-perfect. Here he’s earning a paycheck as an amnesiac in a rote would-be noir that remembers only to hit every cliche, hard. I wish I could forget it.
YOU AND ME (1938) **. Probably the most interesting of these movies, but nonetheless an oddball misfire from director Fritz Lang. It’s a musical starring George Raft! Neither Raft nor co-star Sylvia Sidney sing. A Greek chorus of lowlifes, courtesy of Kurt Weill, recalls THREEPENNY OPERA, but nothing here was worth Bobby Darin covering. Bob Cummings plays a gangster!
MAN IN THE SHADOW (1957) 1 ½ *. Brain-numbingly predictable modern-day western in which the whole town stands up against a sheriff (Jeff Chandler) who wants to stand up against the rich guy who owns the place. That the rich guy is Orson Welles in a fake nose somehow only makes it worse. Written by STAR TREK scripter Gene L. Coon, who should have known better.
ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966) **. Conceived as a nautical take on OCEAN’S 11, and based on a Jack Finney novel, this one has Frank Sinatra very much in TONY ROME mode. Fine, but then the plot turns out to be about using a recovered Nazi sub to rob the Queen Mary. Sinatra participates because he likes the way Virna Lisi looks. I don’t disagree with that, but I wouldn’t try to knock over the Queen Mary for her, particularly in the company of an unbearable Tony Franciosa.
NO MAN’S WOMAN – (1955) *. This by-the-numbers low-end crime melodrama (calling it noir is a stretch) holds a strange fascination by playing like an early PERRY MASON episode, right down to Marie Windsor’s femme fatale racking up an array of suspects in the early reels for after she gets murdered. Just about every actor here appeared on a MASON, but without Raymond Burr, William Hopper and Barbara Hale, the result is lacking somehow.
THE ANGRY HILLS – * (1959). Barb actually brought me this at the hospital (it had arrived in the mail) because she was concerned about the effect lousy movies were having on me. Much looked forward to by me, it’s the rejoining of KISS ME DEADLY’s director (Robert Aldrich) and writer (A.I. Bezzerides). And it stars Robert Mitchum! And it blows!
During World War Two, reporter Mitchum wanders around Europe to deliver a message to somebody. The Warner Archive DVD must be the European cut, because there’s a lengthy topless dancer scene that doesn’t mitigate the agony.
CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN – (1958) **. Slow-moving, unexciting rip-off of THE MUMMY. Standard B schlock from notorious team of director Edward L. Cahn and producer Robert E. Kent. Another STAR TREK writer, Jerome Bixby, shares the guilt. Why do I do this to myself?
BEACHHEAD – (1954) **. Tony Curtis gets out-acted by Frank Lovejoy as they portray two soldiers during World War Two, who openly hate each other, yet are somehow selected to cross enemy territory together to deliver a message (Robert Mitchum wasn’t available). They pick up a cute love interest along the way (Mary Murphy of THE WILD ONE) but I still fell asleep in the middle of it and didn’t bother going back to see what I missed when I woke up.
SPELLBINDER – (1988) **½. Probably my favorite of these movies, which is the faintest of praise. An okay ‘80s horror flick with Timothy Daly doing a nice job as a regular guy who falls for gorgeous coven escapee, Kelly Preston. Think of it as ROSEMARY’S BABE, with a predictably downbeat ending.
A LOVELY WAY TO DIE – (1968) **. A goofy, crazily sexist private eye mystery that is almost enjoyable, thanks to the high energy of Kirk Douglas. But it goes on forever…well, an hour and forty-one minutes, which is long enough. Remember when a helicopter chasing a car was exciting? Me either.
And you thought you’d heard about the worst horrors that greeted me during my hospital stay!
Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet wrote about the pending publication by Brash Books of my complete ROAD TO PERDITION novel. Scroll down for it.