Tower of London (1939)

Tower of Londontower of london poster
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Written by Robert N. Lee
Universal Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental


Mord: [to Richard] You’re more than a king, more than a man. You’re a god to me!

This fairly lame retelling of Richard III does not have nearly enough Karloff in it.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone), eliminates the heirs that stand between himself and the throne with the help of his faithful giant Mord the executioner (Boris Karloff). On the margins, Richard prevents the love match of his niece and a  courtier. With Vincent Price as Clarence, Ian Hunter as King Edward IV, and Barbara O’Neill as Queen Elyzabeth.

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This is just barely OK.  The good performances (Rathbone, Karloff, Price) are balanced out with some pretty pedestrian ones.  I was expecting a horror angle and I didn’t get one.  Karloff is effectively menacing but has very little on-screen time.  The film is mainly a watered-down version of Shakespeare’s play with way too much corny romance tacked on.

Clip – drinking contest between Gloucester and Clarence (Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price)


Into the Wild (2007)

Into the WildInto-the-Wild poster
Directed by Sean Penn
Written by Sean Penn based on the book by Jon Krakauer
Paramount Vantage/Art Linson Productions/Into the Wild/River Road Entertainment

First viewing; Streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly
#1100 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2013 Combined List)

Christopher McCandless: Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild. – Alexander Supertramp May 1992

I recently read Krakauer’s book and watched this screen adaptation on impulse.  I was not disappointed.  This is a beautiful and haunting film with outstanding performances.

This is the true story of Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who graduated from college and took off across America, largely by foot and thumb, on a journey of self-discovery calling himself Alexander Supertramp.  Along the way, he meets several kind people who take an interest in him.  But his ultimate goal is to “live off the land” alone in the wilderness of Alaska.  This is easier dreamed than done.  With Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt as Chris’s parents and Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Hal Holbrook as friends he makes on his journey.

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I’m surprised Sean Penn did not receive at least a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for this film.  He certainly deserved one.  It was not an easy book to adapt since so much of the story is very lonely.  Now I can’t imagine how it could have been done any other way.  Penn also got outstanding performances out of his cast.  Emile Hirsch is an absolute revelation.

McCandless, who basically disappeared and methodically covered his tracks, caused an immense amount of pain to his family.  Still, it is hard not to identify with the yearning to immerse oneself in nature and McCandless’s youthful idealism is admirable.  Both the book and the movie leave open a lot of questions regarding the boy’s sanity and true purpose.  I like that the story seems to end with the belated realization “Happiness only real when shared”.

Hal Holbrook received a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in Into the Wild.  The film was also nominated for Best Achievement in Film Editing.

Alternative trailer

Clip – Saying goodbye – Hal Holbrook and Emile Hirsch




Jamaica Inn (1939)

Jamaica InnJamaica Inn
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, et al adapted from the novel by Daphne du Maurier
Mayflower Pictures Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental


Title Card: “Oh Lord, we pray thee ~~ not that wrecks should happen ~~ but that if they do happen / Thou wilt guide them ~~ to the coast of Cornwall ~~ for the benefit of the poor inhabitants.”

This movie was much better than what I expected – which, by reputation, was very little.

Mary (Maureen O’Hara in her British film debut) has recently lost her mother and travels to England to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn.  The coach driver refuses to deliver her to her unsavory destination, however, and deposits her and her trunk at night in the road.  Mary makes her way to the doorway of effete pleasure-lover Sir Humphrey Pengallen (Charles Laughton), who, noticing her beauty, welcomes her with open arms and takes her to the inn in his carriage.  There Mary finds that her aunt is under the thumb of her husband Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks), who is the leader of a gang of cutthroats and wreck-robbers.  Finally, she sees the gang attempt to hang Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton), a new member who is found with excess money in his pocket.  Mary cuts him down and the two flee together, eventually into what they think is the safety of Sir Humphrey’s manse.

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As an adventure/thriller goes, I thought this was an enjoyable film.  Hitchcock hated it, though, and it certainly does not boast much of the Master’s characteristic style.  You can see traces of it but his efforts to build suspense were doomed by Laughton’s desire to appear in most of the scenes in the picture.  This proved to be irresistible because Laughton was the principal financier.  Thus, a key plot twist is revealed much too early in the story. Laughton was also given wide latitude to ham it up which did not do him or the film any favors.  Still, I’d rather see Laughton overact than most actors act and all the rest of the performances are excellent.  There are some nice storms and other maritime effects.  The 1939 British viewing public apparently ate it up too.

The movie is in the public domain and is available streaming on several sites including YouTube and Amazon Prime Instant.

Project A 2 (1987)

Project A 2 (‘A’ gai wak 2)Projecta2 poster
Directed by Jackie Chan
Written by Jackie Chan, Edward Tang and Yu Ting
1987/Hong Kong
Golden Way Films Ltd./Paragon Films LTD

First viewing/Streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly
#788 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 7.2/10; I say 6.5/10

I’m crazy, but I’m not stupid. — Jackie Chan

I think I would need a couple of months of testosterone therapy to truly appreciate this. There is no denying Jackie Chan’s charisma though.

The story is but an excuse for the epic fight sequences.  I will try my best.  Hong Kong Police Sergeant Dragon Ma Yue Lung (Chan) is assigned to pose as Superintendent Chun’s assistant to investigate whether the Superintendent is staging arrests.  For a long time, however, Dragon and his loyal team are more involved with taking down a vice kingpin and dealing with very confusing efforts by and against a rebel group fighting (?) the forces of the Dowager Empress (of China?).  With the gorgeous Maggie Cheung as one of the rebels.

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I suppose everyone should see one Jackie Chan movie before they die.  This one is interesting in that it pre-dates the British hand-over of Hong Kong to China.  So we get a lot of British twits in high places plus, in the dubbed version available to me, several local characters with ludicrous Cockney accents.  It’s all very light and fun.

US Home Video Trailer

The Rains Came (1939)

The Rains Camerains came poster
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Philip Dunne and Julian Josephson from a novel by Louis Bromfield
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

First viewing/Netflix rental

Thomas ‘Tom’ Ransome: [Describing Ranchipur to Lady Edwina Esketh] See, in Ranchipur, the important things in life are the elemental things, such as crops, starvation, and weather. In Europe, when someone says “It looks like rain,” in all probability, he’s trying to make polite conversation. But here, where people die as easily as they’re born, they’re speaking in terms of life and death. You’ll see what I mean, if you’re still here when the rains come. You’ll see them overnight turn the fields, the gardens and the jungles from a parched and burning desert, into a mass of green that seems to live, to writhe and to devour the walls, the trees and the houses.

Despite some over the top melodrama at the end, I enjoyed this disaster/romantic drama..

(The fictional) Ranchipur province  India is governed by a benevolent, progressive maharaja (H.B. Warner) and his wife (Maria Ouspenskaya).  The disreputable painter Tom Ransome (George Brent) has lived on the fringes of the palace for several years.  When Lord (Nigel Bruce) and Lady (Myrna Loy) Edwina Esketh arrive, Tom and the libertine Edwina apparently rekindle an old flame.  But Edwina is soon distracted by Major Rama Safti (Tyrone Power), a noted physician and court favorite.  She gets nowhere with the major until the rains come and an earthquake and dam failure inspire her to take pity on the sick and dieing.  With some great character actors, including Joseph Schildkraut, Henry Travers, Mary Nash, Jane Darwell, and Laura Hope Crewes.

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I think this would have been a more interesting story if it had been made outside the strictures of the Hayes Code.  It was not bad as it was, containing many more wrinkles than I was able to include in my plot summary.  It was not easy to buy Tyrone Power as an Indian.  The rest of the cast was great and it was nice to see Myrna Loy back in a vamp role.

The Rains Came won an Oscar for its special effects.  It was also nominated by the Academy in the categories of: Best Black and White Cinematography; Best Art Direction; Best Sound Recording; Best Film Editing; and Best Original Score (Alfred Newman).

Clip – earthquake


The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)

The Man in the Iron Maskman in the iron mask poster
Directed by James Whale
Written by George Bruce based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas pére
Universal Pictures

First Viewing/Streaming on Amazon Instant Video

Philippe: There is one law in life, my brother, that not even a king can escape… the law of retribution!

As swashbuckling costume drama goes, this one is OK.

Louis XIII’s wife gives birth to identical twin sons (both played as adults by Louis Hayward). Seeking to avoid strife over the succession to the throne, the king and his courtiers decide to turn one of the boys, Philippe, over to musketeer D’Artagnan (Warren William) to be raised.   All are sworn to secrecy. Unbeknownst to the monarch, evil Fouquet (Joseph Schildkraut) has overheard the plan. Philippe grows up to be a brave, loyal man but Louis XIV, who becomes monarch as a child, is idle, vain, and heartless.

Louis’s grasping ways have caused him to be widely hated among the population.  When Spanish princess Maria Theresa (Joan Bennett) comes to France to marry him, she loathes him as well.  Louis is so unpopular that he fears he will be assassinated if he emerges to light a candle at the cathedral on his father’s name day.  Fortuitously, Philippe is arrested for some crime and when the uncanny resemblance is discovered, Louis sends him out to take the risk for him.  But Philippe easily makes peace with the assassins and captivates Maria Theresa. When Louis finally learns that Philippe is his brother, he imprisons him in the Bastille locked in an iron mask.    How can justice and true love triumph?  You can be sure swordplay is involved.  With Alan Hale as one of the musketeers.

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I went in with some trepidation because I couldn’t stand Louis Hayward’s mugging in the only other movie I’d seen him in.  However, he is quite OK here and especially suited to the nasty, foppish Louis.  Joseph Schildkraut, as usual, makes a really excellent villain. It’s a drags a bit but there’s enough excitement to make it entertaining on balance.

Lud Guskin and Lucien Moraweck were nominated for the Best Original Score Oscar for this film.

Clip – scenes near end – Dwight Frye has a cameo as Fouquet’s valet at approx 3:45

Invisible Stripes (1939)

Invisible StripesInvisible Stripes poster
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Warren Duff and Jonathan Finn based on the book by Warden Lewis E. Lawes
Warner Bros.

First viewing/Netflix rental


Chuck Martin: [Bitterly to Clint] I’m gonna make them pay for every day I spent in that crummy stir!

I thought this social drama was OK with a good cast.

Cliff Taylor (George Raft) and Chuck Martin (Humphrey Bogart) are prison pals although their attitudes couldn’t be more different.  Cliff is determined to go straight upon release while Chuck is heading straight back to his gang.  Cliff has the support of his mother (Flora Robson) and brother Tim (William Holden).  Even so, nothing goes right for him.  He soon loses his girl who can’t see life with an ex-con and his old job because as a parolee he is not allowed to drive.  His efforts to secure work fail until finally he is forced to work with teenagers as a stock clerk.  Tim is so disgusted with his own prospects and life’s unfairness to Cliff that he is tempted to turn to crime himself.  Cliff will do anything to prevent his brother from suffering his own fate and reaches out to Chuck.

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This is a solid movie though nothing I would seek out again.  It made me wonder when American society lost all sympathy for prisoners.  I don’t think such a film would be made today though the stakes in reintegrating released convicts are even higher.

Clip – Opening scenes


The Spy in Black (1939)

The Spy in Black (AKA “U-Boat 29”)spy in black poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Written by J. Storer Clousten, Emeric Pressburger, and Roland Pertwee
London Film Productions

First viewing/Streaming on Hulu Plus


The performance of Conrad Veidt and some beautiful noirish camerawork under the direction of Michael Powell highlighted this unexpected gem.

In 1917, Captain Hardt (Veidt) is sent on  a secret mission to the Orkney Islands where he is to rendezvous with a German agent masquerading as a schoolteacher (Valerie Hobson).  Together they are to exploit intelligence gleaned from a British traitor to intercept the British fleet as it sails to Germany.  But the mission is fraught with complications and twists, not the least is Hardt’s attraction to the schoolteacher.

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I was really impressed with this one.  Veidt is just fantastic as the spy of the title and the screenplay treats him with some nuance and even a little sympathy.  The shots are glorious and I thought the ending was really suspenseful.  Another highlight is the Miklos Rosca score.  Not necessarily for thrillseekers but nevertheless warmly recommended.

Clip – the accomplices meet – Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson


Babes in Arms (1939)

Babes in ArmsBabes in Arms poster
Directed by Busby Berkeley
Written by Jack McGowan and Kay Van Riper based on the play by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart

First viewing/Netflix rental
#140 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Michael C. ‘Mickey’ Moran: No, no, no, judge! You don’t understand; she don’t understand, either. Oh, she don’t mean no harm to us, but… we’re not her kind of people – or yours, either. We belong in show business. We gotta start young so we can get some steel in our backbone. Well, gee, we’re developing. You couldn’t teach us a trade: we’ve GOT one. And you couldn’t do without it… Oh, we’re only kids now, but someday we’re gonna be the guys that make ya laugh and cry and think that there’s a little stardust left on life’s dirty old pan. Oh, she don’t understand: she’d put butterflies to work makin’ rubber tires!

I love both movie musicals and Judy Garland but I couldn’t get very enthusiastic about this movie.

Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney) and Patsy Barton (Judy Garland) have grown up on the road with their vaudevillian parents  Vaudeville has died and Mickey’s father (Charles Winninger) organizes a troupe to play in small towns.  A busy body (Margaret Hamilton) wants to send all the teenage children to a work camp.  Seeking to rescue his father, Mickey gets all his pals together to put on a show.  With Guy Kibbee as a judge.

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This is fine but aside from the standard “Where or When” (unfortunately not sung by Garland) and the “Good Morning” duet with Rooney and Garland the music is not memorable.  It contains every cliché of the “let’s put on a show” genre, though to be fair a lot of these clichés either originated or were perfected here. Mickey Rooney’s impersonations get kind of old.

Amazingly, the Academy nominated Mickey Rooney for Best Actor for this role among a prestigious field.  Roger Edens and George Stoll were nominated for a Best Music, Scoring Oscar.


The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

The Man They Could Not Hangman_they_could_not_hang_poster_01
Directed by Nick Grinde
Written by Karl Brown, George Wallace Sayre, and Leslie T. White
Columbia Pictures

First viewing/Netflix rental


Dr. Henryk Savaard: Always remember I offered you life, and you gave me death!

This is a good little “B” horror picture with a fine performance by Boris Karloff.

Dr. Henryk Savaard (Karloff) has invented a process of reviving the dead through the use of a mechanical heart.  The idea is to be able to operate on a still body like mechanics work on cars with their engines turned off.  Savaard’s assistant is enthusiastic about being the first human test subject for the procedure.  Unfortunately, the assistant’s hysterical fiance calls the cops, who refuse to let Savaard revive the corpse but order an autopsy. Savaard is sentenced to death for murder but the mechanical heart and a colleague are still around and the good doctor prepares an elaborate revenge plot.

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I thought this was better than it had any right to be.  Of course with Karloff you can’t go too wrong.

Clip – the initial experiment