The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Branzie, Bernard Miles, Daniel Gélin, Christopher Olsen

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(7-Very Good Film)

Surprising. Astute. Expert.

Hitchcock reworked the “ordinary man thrust into action” theme throughout his career. This particular film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, is, in fact, a remake of a picture he made twenty years prior with Peter Lorre. This time around, he uses major Hollywood stars in James Stewart and Doris Day. They play an old married couple, Ben and Jo McKenna, who travel to Morocco with their school-aged son. A seemingly random encounter with a Frenchman named Louis Bernard puts them right in the middle of an assassination plot and, making matters worse, their son is kidnapped. Typically grand entertainment by the great Hitchcock, The Man Who Knew Too Much does suffer slightly from being better in its first half (there’s a really effective misdirection in its opening act to follow its intriguing setup) than in its second half, but that doesn’t take away from its charms. The performances are excellent, including Doris Day, whom I’m a fan of, but stood the risk of being distracting in a genre we’re not used to seeing her in. Most of Hitchcock’s films along these lines feature a male protagonist boosted into the espionage world. This film offers an interesting twist in that you have a married couple both thrown in, and Hitchcock lets us know from the start that they’re not great with new situations (Stewart’s character very awkwardly does his best with local customs in a Morrocan restaurant). This makes their later ingenuity and success more appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Dial M for Murder (1954, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock) English 7

Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Tense. Devious. Absorbing.

Hitchcock made so many films-all of them good in my book-a large percentage of them classic. The very best films he made, I’ve seen a few dozen times, so sometimes watching his lesser pictures (and I include Dial M for Murder among these), which are still very good, can be a more exciting experience. This is only my second time seeing Dial M for Murder after first watching it many years ago. It felt fresh. Based on a stage play, it follows a husband, Tony Wendice (Milland), plotting the perfect murder to get rid of his wealthy, cheating wife, Margot (Kelly). Unfolding very neatly from the plan to the execution to the aftermath, Dial M for Murder takes place almost entirely in one room. Hitchcock is masterful in how he constantly but unobtrusively moves the camera and also keeps his actors moving during conversation. It should be the yardstick for how to take something inherently theatrical and make it cinematic. I will say that some of my old disappointment from years ago came flooding back in the film’s final act. I found myself deeply invested in the husband’s schemes and, rather perversely, wanted him to get away with it. While the Chief Inspector character is well-drawn, his methods are unsporting at every turn and I’d have to say illegal. As a result, his inevitable triumph is less than satisfactory to me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Crimson Pirate (1952, Directed by Robert Siodmak) English 6

Starring Burt Lancaster, Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok, Torin Thatcher, Leslie Bradley, Christopher Lee, James Hayter

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(6-Good Film)

Frantic. Fun. Jolly.

Captain Vallo (Lancaster) leads his ship and his crew through the waters of the Caribbean late in the 18th century. He agrees to capture and turn in a man calling himself El Libre, an enemy of the British Empire. Instead, he meets and falls in love with El Libre’s daughter, Consuelo (Bartok), then decides to help their cause. According to Christopher Lee who plays a small part in this swashbuckler, The Crimson Pirate started out as a more serious pirate film. Its director, Robert Siodmak, changed that and what resulted is a light, fast-paced adventure anchored by a charismatic performance by Burt Lancaster. I’m more familiar with Lancaster in heavyweight dramatic fare, so seeing him swinging through the impressively elaborate sets and playing the rogue is a welcome surprise. Though lightning-fast paced and non-stop action, The Crimson Pirate did take a while for me to invest in. Eventually, however, its star and sense of fun win the day.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Time to Kill (1942, Directed by Herbert I. Leeds) English 6

Starring Lloyd Nolan, Heather Angel, Doris Merrick, Ralph Byrd, Richard Lane, Sheila Bromley

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(6-Good Film)

Brief. Light. Appealing.

Raymond Chandler’s series of private eye novels following Phillip Marlowe are masterpieces of style and content for those who are willing to give them their proper consideration (which includes most people now, decades later). I’m guessing back in the day, however, many only saw the style, with early adaptation, Time to Kill, as evidence. Taking Chandler’s third novel, The High Window, and mixing it in with a popular movie series featuring the character, Michael Shayne (Nolan), Time to Kill is awfully slight. About an hour-long and offering very little in the form of stakes, Time to Kill instead aims for humor with quick setups and payoffs. The plot is a bastardized version of the one Chandler wrote. Private detective, Shayne, is hired by a rich old battle-ax to get back a rare coin stolen, convinced that it was her no-good daughter-in-law. The real selling point, as with all films in this series, is Shayne himself. He’s a slick, likable character. Not much of an adaptation though.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Summer Stock (1950, Directed by Charles Walters) English 7

Starring Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins

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(7-Very Good Film)

Familiar. Cozy. Joyful.

Judy Garland is a hardworking farm girl named Jane Falbury. One day, her vain, inconsiderate sister shows up with an acting troupe, unannounced, to rehearse and Jane reluctantly agrees to let them stay if they carry their weight on the farm. Jane meets Joe Ross (Kelly), her sister’s fiancée and the troupe’s director, and over the next several days, inconvenient as it is, the two fall in love. As with all classic MGM musicals, it’s not about being surprising as much as it is being spectacular. Summer Stock showcases two ultra-talented stars in Kelly and Garland with a handful of good numbers and a picturesque setting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Sea Hawk (1940, Directed by Michael Curtiz) English 8

Starring Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, Una O’Connor, Donald Crisp

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Skillful. Rousing. Compelling.

Reteaming the director, Michael Curtiz, with the swashbuckling star, Errol Flynn, and joined by a familiar cast of supporting players (Claude Rains and Alan Hale), The Sea Hawk is every bit as rousing and entertaining as their previous work, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn plays an English privateer, Geoffrey Thorpe, loyal to his Queen, Elizabeth (Robson), caught up in the political maneuvering of rival Spain preparing their legendary armada. Brenda Marshall plays Flynn’s love interest, a Spanish subject who initially despises Thorpe. Masterful action sequences, compelling characters including a fantastic turn from Flora Robson as the Queen, and plenty of intrigue which I always find fascinating. The Sea Hawk is a testament to the classic Hollywood studio system which made countless great films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Call Me Madam (1953, Directed by Walter Lang) English 6

Starring Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, George Sanders, Vera-Ellen, Billy De Wolfe, Walter Slezak, Steven Geray

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(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Witty. Stagey.

Brash, wealthy socialite, Sally Adams (Merman), is appointed America’s ambassador to the tiny, fictional country of Lichtenburg. She takes with her an amiable, recently fired journalist, Kenneth Gibson (O’Connor), as her press attaché, and the two, while managing the political responsibilities of her job, both fall in love during their time in Lichtenburg-Sally with the country’s general, Cosmo (Sanders), and Kenneth with the Princess, Maria (Vera-Ellen). Based on a stage musical, the transfer to film still feels stagey much of the time, but the small cast of characters are strong and the dialogue is excellent. The main attraction, though, is O’Connor’s inspired dance numbers, particularly his drunken, balloon-popping number.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-