Sunday, 18 March 2018

Movie Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

An espionage thriller, Red Sparrow features a strong Jennifer Lawrence performance but is poorly executed.

In Russia, Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a famed Russian ballerina who also looks after her sick mother. When Dominika suffers a seemingly accidental career-ending on-stage leg break, her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) first uses her as bait in an assassination mission and then recruits her into the Red Sparrow spy school, where Russians are trained to be lethal agents with expertise in psychology and seduction.

Under the tutelage of the Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika proves in training that she is as ruthless as her uncle, but resents his manipulation of her life. She is assigned to get close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), now in Budapest after fleeing from Moscow. Dominika's mission is to get Nate to reveal the identity of a high ranking Russian mole. The two spies get close to each other, and both have to find a way to get what they need in a high stakes game.

Directed by Francis Lawrence and based on a book by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is overlong and from about its halfway point, almost incomprehensible. Despite the needlessly prolonged 140 minutes of running time, Lawrence and his screenwriter Justin Haythe spectacularly botch the pacing, tension and key plot points.

Which is a pity, because up until the end of Dominika's training scenes Red Sparrow is a decent enough spy story with a strong character at its core, an intriguing Russian perspective, and a suitably grey, cold aesthetic. Jennifer Lawrence is another plus, fully dedicated to the role, commanding the screen and injecting a steely spine into the role.

It all goes sideways once Dominika and Nate meet. Important facts, key characters and crucial events start to wade in and out of the story with a bewildering lack of cohesion. The plot gets distracted by US Senator's aid Stephanie Boucher (Mary-Louise Parker) being suddenly drop kicked into (and then out of) the story as a wannabe traitor. Dominika's roommate in Budapest Marta is also sketched in and out, contributing seemingly key information in undecipherable snippets.

The Russian station chief in Budapest alternates between doofus and menace, and numerous senior intelligence chiefs on both the American and Russian sides (including Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds) contribute little of value except more shallow obfuscation. Motivations are lost, explanations are skipped, and the film totally loses its way.

Dominika and Nate share no chemistry, and nothing that either of them has to say rings true, because their core business is lying. Several torture ordeals follow, but the impact is absent because the characters are adrift in an emotional void. Somewhere in the scattered debris of the script Dominika is plotting an elaborate ruse that becomes clear in the final scene, and by then the dots are well and truly not worth connecting.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Movie Review: D.O.A. (1988)

A murder mystery, D.O.A. possesses some obvious style but is badly let-down by a weak script.

In a rainstorm at Christmas time, Professor Dexter Cornell (Dennis Quaid) stumbles into a police station and announces that he has been murdered. He recounts the past 36 hours of his life and the rest of the film unfolds in flashback. Dexter teaches English literature, and his talented but troubled student Nick (Robert Knepper), an aspiring writer, shockingly appears to commit suicide by throwing himself off a campus building roof. Dexter and his wife Gail (Jane Kaczmarek) are going through a painful divorce, while his friend Hal (Daniel Stern) is celebrating a promotion and the upcoming publication of a book.

After a night of heavy drinking with his attractive and starstruck student Sydney (Meg Ryan), Dexter discovers that he has been poisoned and has just hours to live. His frantic investigation leads him to Nick's funeral, where Nick's sponsor Mrs. Fitzwaring (Charlotte Rampling), her daughter Cookie (Robin Johnson) and the family chauffeur Bernard (Christopher Neame) are hiding shocking secrets of their own.

Co-directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, D.O.A. is as remake of the 1949 film noir. The 1988 version finds modest success with a few stylistic elements, but overall sinks into a sea of familiar and overstuffed plot elements. The mystery is uninteresting, the perpetrator easy to guess, and the evil plot, once revealed, borders on the ridiculous.

The opening 20 minutes are promising enough. The opening scene hots the target, a near-collapse Dexter storming into the police station and announcing his own murder. The professor and his surrounding circle of students, colleagues and family are introduced with admirable efficiency planting the seeds for what could have been an engaging story. Dexter has given up on writing, Gail has given up on the marriage, Nick is tortured and seeking affirmation, Sydney is salivating for a shot at her professor (despite Meg Ryan, at 27, being too old for the rile) and the circle of academics contains the usual wolves in tweed clothing.

But after Nick's death, D.O.A. unravels quickly. Both Dexter's behaviour and his emotions are poorly written and sloppily executed, and the film descends into a series of contrived conflicts, more crimes and murders, and clumsy attempts at suspense. The story wades knee deep into convolutions that may have worked with more talent, in black and white, and in the 1940s. Here, the sordid affairs of Mrs. Fitzwaring, her multiple husbands, out-of-control daughter and menacing chauffeur are tiresome and derivative distractions.

The body count mounts at an alarming pace, and if it wasn't already too easy to guess the murderer, it gets much simpler as the rest of the cast members are methodically knocked off, seemingly without attracting a single investigative police officer.

Dennis Quaid struggles against the weak material and comes up empty, and the rest of the cast members barely register. It may not exactly be dead on arrival, but D.O.A. expires early in any event.

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Movie Review: Dressed To Kill (1980)

An erotic suspense thriller with horror elements, Dressed To Kill is a vivid and effective homage to Alfred Hitchcock.

In New York City, Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a sexually frustrated housewife, stuck with a remote and boring husband who cannot satisfy her. She resorts to rape fantasies to spice up her life. Her teenaged son Peter (Keith Gordon) tinkers in electronics and has invented his own computer-like device as a school project. Kate is seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine), and he encourages to express her frustrations rather than keep them bottled up.

Kate spends the day at an art gallery, where a mysterious man tries to get her attention. She is interested, they silently flirt and pursue each other, and finally get together for steamy afternoon sex in the back of a taxi and then at his apartment. As she is leaving later in the afternoon, Kate is horrified to learn that her illicit lover has venereal disease. A gory murder is then committed, partially witnessed by high-class call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen). Sarcastic detective Marino (Dennis Franz) gets involved to try and sort out the mess.

Not much more should be revealed about the plot, because Dressed To Kill is filled with stylistic and plot surprises. While the identity of the murderer is quite easy to guess and the plot holes are plentiful, director and writer Brian De Palma is more interested in staging eloquent set-pieces, and he often succeeds quite brilliantly. Using a minimum number of words, with entire scenes passing by without dialogue, De Palma unapologetically salutes, mimics and modernizes Hitchcock. With a cunning Pino Donaggio music score enhancing the tension, Dressed To Kill adopts the familiar formula of a deranged murderer stalking vulnerable women, and adds plenty of spice, nudity and gore.

The highlights are many. The two opening scenes, first in the bathroom and then in the bedroom, are shocking for in-your-face eroticism bordering on soft-porn but combined with mental angst, as De Palma announces the start of the 1980s with raw on-screen sexuality that will soon mix with dissatisfaction, violence and then gore. The art gallery scene is a classic, Kate and her mysterious admirer playing silent adult hide and seek through the maze of rooms filled with art.

Stranger danger quickly catches fire with the startling taxi sex scene, Kate finally jumping into the fire of irresponsibility. The first murder is sudden and intense, Psycho's shower replaced with an elevator, De Palma prolonging the impact all the way to a bloodied and lifeless hand preventing the door from closing. And the murder also serves as a hand-off for Liz to take centre stage, as the call girl finds herself exactly at the wrong place at the wrong time, a witness and suspect all at once with few allies to turn to.

Another wordless sequence follows on a subway platform, this time Lisa navigating around multiple threats with a surprise late intervention. Late in the film sex, psychology, manipulation, voyeurism and mental instability all come together as Liz goes looking for the killer's name and finds much more than what she bargained for.

Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen are both excellent, sharing the woman-in-danger role and committing to their characters. Dickinson does wonders expressing frustration and curiosity with an economy of words, while Allen brings plenty of scrappy spirit to Lisa's predicament.

Mixing fantasy with stark and sick reality, Dressed To Kill is slick, sleazy and stylish.

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Movie Review: China Gate (1957)

A war drama set in Indochina during the dying days of French involvement, China Gate offers a few good concepts but suffers from clunky execution.

The setting is Indochina in 1954, with the French Foreign Legion in a desperate struggle to resist the buoyant Soviet-backed communist forces of Ho Chi Minh. The village of Sun Toy is near the front lines, still held by the French with the help of American air drops, but almost fully destroyed by enemy bombardments. A Eurasian woman known as Lucky Legs (Angie Dickinson) runs what's left of the local bar. She also knows the terrain thanks to regular booze smuggling runs to Major Cham (Lee Van Cleef), the local leader of the opposing North Vietnamese forces.

The Legion recruit Lucky to join a special forces mission to locate and destroy an enemy munitions depot. She agrees, but is unhappy that her American ex-husband Sergeant Brock (Gene Barry) is also part of the mission. The racist Brock abandoned Lucky when their baby was born with Asian features. Goldie (Nat King Cole) is another American member of the Legion who joins the squad. The assignment is filled with danger and skirmishes with enemy soldiers, and also affords plenty of time for Lucky and Brock to confront their past.

Directed and written by Samuel Fuller, China Gate is a limited-budget, studio-bound affair, exploring the Vietnam conflict prior to the still-to-come wide scale American involvement. The acting from a decidedly B-grade cast is stiff, the sound stage settings are plastic, the supposed jungle ambience is laughable, and the frontline infiltration tactics are unconvincing and border on ridiculous. On several occasions the Legion squadron encounters a single and isolated enemy guard, and it's never explained why they don't snipe him out instead of trying to tiptoe around him, often causing noisy carnage.

Fuller's real focus is on politics and racism. The film is filled with anti-communist rants, while the singular character arc features Brock's journey, starting from a despicable racist who abandoned his own child and finding his way to a caring husband and father. Neither Gene Barry's acting nor Fuller's writing are up to the task, and the emotional dialogue exchanges between Brock and Lucky, often incongruously set near dead bodies and in front of other soldiers, simply don't work.

Goldie's involvement as a brave black soldier is an interesting counterpoint to Brock's racism, and Nat King Cole gets to warble the title song -- twice.

Angie Dickinson often comes to the rescue of China Gate, and her performance and character are about the only thing worth watching. As a single mother very much alone in a crumbling man's world, she stands out for having a higher motive and a mission within a mission to improve her young son's future prospects.

Potentially intriguing but ultimately disappointing, China Gate is lost at the front lines where promising ideas crash against low budgets bolstered by talent limitations.

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Movie Review: A Face In The Crowd (1957)

A hard hitting drama, A Face In The Crowd examines the ruinous trend of celebrity culture propelled by television.

In a small rural Arkansas town, radio show producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) features hard drinking drifter Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Andy Griffith) on her "A Face In The Crowd" radio show. Rhodes has no talent but his rambling, honest and animated monologues capture the public's imagination. He is offered a regular radio slot, and soon attracts the attention of television producers and sponsors in Memphis. Marcia relocates with him, and teams up with acerbic writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) to help grow Lonesome's popularity.

Ambitious office worker Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa) recognizes Rhodes appeal, and finagles a national television deal resulting in a big contract and another relocation, this time to New York City. Now wealthy and influential beyond his dreams, Rhodes relies on Marcia to keep him somewhat grounded, but is otherwise obsessed with his celebrity status and growing influence. He starts to dabble in politics and is smitten by young cheerleader Betty Lou Fleckum (Lee Remick).

Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, A Face In The Crowd is a prescient rags-to-riches and lust-for-power story examining the emerging influence of broadcast media. In two hours Kazan traces the trajectory of Rhodes, starting from a dank prison cell where he is passed out in the corner, all the way to a New York City penthouse with Rhodes as the nations most prominent television personality and a political kingmaker influencing election campaigns.

A Face In The Crowd predicts the era of talentless celebrities and influencers, capable of grabbing attention and dominating the media landscape based on little more than hot air. Rhodes' only talent is to "tell it like it is", spouting home truths with apparent blue collar honesty, poking fun at corporate sponsors and speaking in language that appeals to the less educated masses huddled around their radios and televisions.

And there is plenty of money to be made on the back of an unlikely superstar, and wealth creates greedy enablers. His corporate sponsors learn to love him, and men like Joey DePalma get rich by creating business empires around him. Even Marcia, who found and unleashed the genie from the bottle, insists on getting a financial cut once she starts to doubt that Rhodes will ever be able to truly commit to her.

In his film debut, Andy Griffith is a revelation, dominating almost every scene and creating a memorable character as Rhodes rides his country boy appeal to the top, always smart enough to adapt his zeal to suit ever changing circumstances. Kazan also cajoles moments of poignancy out of Griffith, often in the company of Neal's Marcia, as it becomes apparent to Rhodes that no amount of fame can fill the void inside.

Every man has every right to pursue his dreams. A Face In The Crowd accompanies Lonesome Rhoades on his wild ride, and exposes the ease with which a nation can be entranced and manipulated by simplistic platitudes.

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Monday, 12 March 2018

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

A groundbreaking superhero movie, Black Panther is one of the finest examples of what the genre is capable of, with a rich story and a multitude of characters carrying far-reaching resonance.

The isolated African country of Wakanda hides behind a veil of poverty while enjoying prosperity and advanced technology afforded by Vibranium, a mineral deposited by an ancient meteor strike. As well, a heart-shaped herb provides supernatural Black Panther combat powers to the country's selected ruler. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) rises to King of Wakanda when his father is assassinated. He reunites with his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), elder statesman Zuri (Forest Whitaker), and ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o). The fierce General Okoye (Danai Gurira) is in charge of the all-female security warriors, while T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) heads up the technology advancement labs despite her young age.

W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) leads the border tribe, one of four clans united under T'Challa, but M'Baku (Winston Duke), the leader of the Jabari Mountain Tribe, chooses to remain isolated. The new king is immediately confronted by a threat. Black market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) teams up with the mysterious Erik "Killmonger" Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) to try and sell stolen Vibranium to undercover CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) at a rendevouz in South Korea. T'Challa, Nakia and Okoye intervene to try and reclaim the precious mineral, triggering a potentially catastrophic series of events carrying echoes of decisions made by T'Challa's father in years past.

With black director Ryan Coogler at the helm, an almost all-black cast and a predominantly African setting, Black Panther is a bold step forward in the Marvel Studios cinematic world. But remarkably, the brave new racial frontier is only one of the film's many spectacular successes. Black Panther creates the most compelling fantasy world since the original Star Wars, and a fertile plot teeming with interesting characters and events. The script, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, soon asserts itself. The story proudly takes centre stage, and several themes intertwine across the screen, connecting Wakanda's fantasy with current realities. The film's genius resides in debating with searing honesty pressing and relevant societal issues.

A central theme is an advanced country's role in the family of nations. Wakanda has always prided itself - and thrived - on a policy of isolation, looking inwards to the prosperity of its own people and disengaging from the rest of the world. T'Challa is challenged with three options: maintain the status quo, export technology to promote weaponized conflicts, or find a way to engage peacefully. Each potential choice comes with risks, and the film presents a well rounded view of all the justifications.

The black experience is tackled from two fronts. Black Africa's hidden potential to positively contribute globally is presented as an intriguing future state, while the appropriate response to the historical and current mistreatment of blacks in the United States and indeed around the world is the key grievance driving the film's antagonist Erik Stevens.

The sins of the father haunting future generations gradually emerges as a powerful thread unting T'Challa and his resentful cousin, who steps forward from the shadow of history seeking to right old wrongs. The film distinguishes itself by bringing the conflict to Wakanda itself, the struggle between good and evil presented as an internal conflict for the soul of a country .

All the plot elements provide opportunities for the many characters to shine, and Black Panther introduces an extraordinary number of memorable people, most of them women. While T'Challa hovers the near the middle of all the intersecting ideas, General Okoye, Nakia and Shuri emerge as his closest allies and confidants, and Coogler provides each with a worthwhile personality.

All of which leaves the superhero elements as the cherry on the cake, a natural embellishment to the film rather than its reason for being. Black Panther does not disappoint when the time comes for special effects and stunts, although the breathless chase scene in South Korea outshines the final triple-headed climax. The right dose of dry wit and a sprinkling of high-tech gadgets add a layer of gloss.

Smart, engaging, and relevant, Black Panther sets a new standard for superhero achievement.

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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Movie Review: Sanctuary (1961)

A steamy drama dealing with all manners of shocking behavior from rape and abuse to illicit love and murder, Sanctuary conjures up a thick but lumpy brew.

It's 1928 in the deep south of Mississippi, and Nancy (Odetta), a black housekeeper, is sentenced to death for murdering the infant son of her employers Temple and Gowan Stevens (Lee Remick and Bradford Dillman). Nancy seems content and accepting of her fate. On the day before the execution, Temple rushes to her father Governor Drake (Howard St. John) to appeal for a pardon. She recounts her story in flashback.

Six years prior, Temple was a young woman flirting with Gowan. He takes her out on a drunken joy ride to the backwoods, where they fall into the clutches of suave bootlegger Candy Man (Yves Montand) whose ramshackle crew includes Nancy. With Gowan passed out Temple is raped by Candy, despite Nancy's warnings. Temple anyway falls in love with her abuser and he installs her in a brothel, where she enjoys a life of blissful nihilism. Their turbulent relationship is interrupted by a fiery automobile crash, and Temple is thrown back into the clutches of domesticity with Gowan, with a lot more turmoil to come.

William Faulkner made his reputation with the book Sanctuary, published in 1931, and the sequel Requiem for a Nun followed twenty years later. Pre-Code Hollywood took a quick crack at the first novel with 1933's scandalous The Story of Temple Drake, starring Miriam Hopkins. With the Code just beginning to wobble, the 1961 version of Sanctuary provides plenty of sizzle but cannot overcome the inherent weaknesses of the story.

Director Tony Richardson surrenders to the plot's convulsions and does not exhibit much control. The film jumps between scenes, settings and eras with jerks rather than transitions, and with insufficient character depth to cover up the cracks. A governor's daughter disappears in the backwoods and reappears living in a New Orleans brothel, and no one seems to care enough to look for her. She re-enters civilized society with no questions asked.

The psychological turmoil within Temple driving her to love a criminal like Candy as he rapes and abuses her exists only by extension, and not by any conscious script definition. The motivation for the murder of the infant, once it arrives, is much less than convincing.

Despite the shortcomings Sanctuary provides transfixing adult-level entertainment, the 90 minutes filled with memorable and stark events. Temple's full embrace of life as an exploited and kept woman is presented as a terrifying dance with darkness, Candy Man a metaphor for all that feeds the flesh and destroys the soul. Surrounded by limp drunkards like Gowan, Temple's thrill seeking search for primal masculine danger is almost understandable, and Richardson at least opens the door on the conversation as to what compels some women to seek the embrace of a reprehensible debaucher.

The backwoods scenes are excellent preludes to the characters in Deliverance, and the film takes an intriguing turn towards horror as Temple faces threats from inbred retards only for the exceptionally well dressed and seemingly out of context Candy Man to emerge as the real gateway to hell.

Lee Remick does her best with the material, but could have benefitted from more scenes to colour in her spirit. Yves Montand is all smoky menace, an almost spectral presence demanding absolute submission.

Sanctuary may lack some credibility and coherence, but it has enough substance to satisfy.

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

Movie Review: I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

A romantic drama, I'll Be Seeing You is an involving wartime story designed for maximum sentimentality.

Christmas is approaching, and Mary Marshall (Ginger Rogers) and decorated Sergeant Zachary Morgan (Joseph Cotten) meet on a train trip in California. They are both harbouring secrets that they hide from each other: she is a prisoner on a short break for good behaviour. He is suffering from shell shock after being wounded in battle, and is on temporary release from hospital to test his emotional resilience in society.

During her furlough Mary stays at the house of her Uncle Henry and Aunt Sarah (Tom Tully and Spring Byington) and her teenaged niece Barbara (Shirley Temple). They welcome Zach to dinner and a relationship starts to blossom between him and Mary. Zach finds comfort with his new companion and reveals his condition, but Mary cannot bring herself to talk about her imprisonment, and also has to navigate around young Barbara's passive hostility.

Directed by William Dieterle and with a title derived from a hit song of the day. I'll Be Seeing You covers some of the same ground later tackled with more polish in The Best Years Of Our Lives. While I'll Be Seeing You deserves credit for delving into the world of what is now called post traumatic stress disorder, the film is less about the impacts of war and more about damaged souls helping each other heal. Dieterle delivers a purposeful and compact sub-90 minute drama, the film's efficacy matched only by its predictability.

The tension between Mary and Zach is generated by the shame they carry, and an inability to navigate towards honesty. She cannot imagine any form of bright future as a future ex-convict, and is sure revealing her status will drive away anyone who may care about her. After a couple of meltdowns Zach starts to understand that Mary is good for him and stumbles his way towards revealing his condition, creating a growing but uneven dependency.

With a sappy music score milking every scene, Dieterle carefully constructed the film for maximum tragic effect, the lovers' happiness doomed to fall into a deep pothole. I'll Be Seeing You does not disappoint in its singular intent to deliver intense romance in the face of hopelessness, with Mary and Zach carrying enough humanity to make the experience worth caring about.

Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten are both serviceable in the roles but both also appear older than their characters. The Marshall household provides the supporting cast, and Shirley Temple adds an enterprising dimension as the niece caught between curiosity and repulsion.

Arriving exactly at the intended station, I'll Be Seeing You is professionally syrupy.

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Movie Review: The Thrill Of It All (1963)

A romantic comedy with a focus on the career versus family dilemma faced by women, The Thrill Of It All is out of step with the times but still offers plenty of laughs.

Beverly Boyer (Doris Day) is a housewife happily married to successful obstetrician Gerald (James Garner). She is fully in charge of running the house and raising two kids. Beverly is unexpectedly offered the opportunity to star in a television commercial for Happy soap, and her honest style is an immediate hit with viewers.

The Happy company make Beverly an offer she cannot refuse to become their regular spokesperson, and soon she is appearing on countless television commercials, billboards and in magazines. Her sudden success disrupts the Boyer's family life, Beverly and Gerald barely get to see each other, and he begins to deeply resent her career.

Directed by Norman Jewison and co-written by Carl Reiner, The Thrill Of It All offers an attractive package. The chemistry between Day and Garner is strong, the writing is sharp, the kids are unusually cute, the humour on the sides of the main plot is potent, and the story finds its way to some interesting emotional games between husband and wife.

At the heart of the film are the shifting household dynamics when a woman chooses to pursue a career. Stuck between the traditional 1950s and the turbulent 1960s, the film attempts to find its feet, and does not shortchange Beverly's willingness to try a new role and industry's big-money pursuit of a woman to represent a corporation. But Gerald is the most traditional of traditionalists, and much as he loves his wife he is incapable of elegantly adjusting to her having a career outside the house.

Jewison, in his second directorial feature, surrounds his troubled couple with plenty of wacky animated energy. The two young kids provide wry commentary, a German housekeeper rumbles through the household with tanklike charm, and Gerald's patient Mrs. Fraleigh (Arlene Francis) and her husband Gardiner (Edward Andrews) are fumbling with an unexpected later-in-life pregnancy. Gardiner's old coot of a father (Reginald Owen) owns Happy soap and is still smart enough to recognize a viewers' darling when he sees one. And an overnight swimming pool installation creates opportunities for some good madness.

The film's chosen ending belongs in another era entirely, but does not fully take away from the entertainment value. The Thrill Of It All is a societal relic, but it's a glossy and funny relic.

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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Movie Review: Midnight Lace (1960)

A psychological suspense thriller, Midnight Lace is reasonably effective but also repetitive and predictable.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American living in London and recently married to Tony (Rex Harrison), a senior executive at the investment company that carries his family name. Walking home alone in the thick fog one day Doris hears a menacing voice threatening her with death. Soon she starts receiving harassing phone calls. With Tony always busy work, neighbour Peggy (Natasha Perry) tries to help, and the arrival of  Aunt Bea (Myrna Loy) for a visit provides some comfort, but the threats continue.

Kit and Tony reach out to Scotland Yard and Inspector Byrnes (John Williams) starts to investigate. Contractor Brian Younger (John Gavin) is working on a construction site next to the Prestons' apartment and seems to have his eye on Kit. Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowall) is the good-for-nothing son of the Prestons' housekeeper, always on the lookout for money. And a mysterious man in a black suit and black hat is continuously hovering in the neighbourhood. But when no suspects are apprehended, Kit starts to question her own sanity.

An adaptation of the play Matilda Shouted Fire by Janet Green, Midnight Lace is directed by David Miller and features glossy sets, lavish costumes and handsome London locations. The film shows no signs of being held captive by the stage origins, and Miller along with script writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts conjure up a good-to-look-at and fairly engaging mystery. The cinematography is dynamic, and Miller is alway on the lookout for the more interesting angle to shoot from.

But despite the gloss, the story carries echoes of Gaslight, and once the premise is set, the film stumbles with repetitive scenes of Kit receiving the next threat and reacting with hysterics. Miller makes a couple of mistakes: the voice on the other end of the phone is rarely heard, and while this is intended to raise doubt as to whether Kit is dealing with reality or not, the muting of the aggressor  defangs the suspense level. Doris Day can only widen her eyes and scream so many times before tired duplication sets in.

The other misstep is in the pacing, and as much as the middle section of the film sags, the ending is rushed, unbalanced and clumsy, featuring the unnecessary traversing of construction scaffolding but not enough exposition to tidy up plenty of loose ends. Some characters disappear, others are introduced in a late muddle and what was a relatively cerebral plot deflates.

There is enough in Doris Day's performance to suggest her career would have benefited from more dramatic roles, and Rex Harrison is sturdy as the husband torn between work duties and an increasingly frantic wife. The supporting cast is unusually strong but also underutilized. Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall,  John Gavin and John Williams could all have benefited from having more to do.

Midnight Lace may not carry its momentum all the way through, but although the tension diminishes, the sleek packaging endures.

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