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-


Prince of Foxes (1949, Directed by Henry King) English 7

Starring Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Wanda Hendrix, Marina Berti, Everett Sloane, Felix Aylmer

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(7-Very Good Film)

Absorbing. Rousing. Expert.

In the beginning years of the 16th century, Andrea Orsini (Power) serves the ruthless Prince Cesare Borgia (Welles). Hired to assassinate the kindly, wise Count Marc Antonio Verano (Aylmer), Orsini begins to question his allegiances just as he falls for the count’s young wife, Camilla (Hendrix). Prince of Foxes is an expertly crafted swashbuckler and star vehicle for Power, who may be the king of swashbucklers (Errol Flynn being his chief competitor for this title). Orson Welles is charismatic and riveting as Cesare Borgia. There’s no shortage of plot or intrigue either.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The King and Four Queens (1956, Directed by Raoul Walsh) English 6

Starring Clark Gable, Eleanor Parker, Jean Willes, Jo Van Fleet, Barbara Nichols, Sarah Shane

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(6-Good Film)

Risqué. Alluring. Tame.

Scoundrel, Dan Kehoe (Gable), wanders into some random, dusty town in the American West and learns about a house full of women guarding an immense fortune that their deceased husbands stole years back. Attempting to worm his way into their house, their hearts, and their pockets proves more difficult than he expects. Not because of the four women themselves but the mother-in-law, Ma McCade (Van Fleet), a harsh, old bird who turns out to be the only one who actually knows where the money is. The setup is there for a fun, bawdy western, and nobody plays a better scoundrel than Gable, but ultimately The King and Four Queens plays it pretty safe and never manufactures much in the way of suspense. Instead, it’s satisfied to merely have Gable flirt with the beautiful ladies on screen. That’s enough to entertain but not to make the film essential.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Caught in the Draft (1941, Directed by David Butler) English 8

Starring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Eddie Bracken, Lynne Overman, Clarence Kolb, Paul Hurst

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Farcical. Inspired. Winning.

It’s 1941, World War II looms, and fussy, self-serving Hollywood actor, Don Bolton (Hope), is wary of the possibility for a military draft. Attempting to get ahead of it and out of its way, he exploits a loophole that would excuse him. If he gets married, he’s exempt. The problem is, he needs to find a girl. Setting his sights on the beautiful Antoinette Fairbanks (Lamour) turns out to be a mistake since her father is a Colonel and once she figures out what he’s up to, she despises him. And by this time, Don’s fallen in love with her for real, so he has to prove that he’s not a coward to win her back. Eddie Bracken and Lynn Overman play Don’s friend and agent, respectively, and go with him down any insane scheme he comes up with. Inspired farce with one great scene after another, Caught in the Draft represents one of Hope’s best comedies.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Strange Fascination (1952, Directed by Hugo Haas) English 6

Starring Hugo Haas, Cleo Moore, Mona Barrie, Karen Sharpe, Rick Vallin

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(6-Good Film)

Intriguing. Vague. Low-key.

Talented concert pianist, Paul Marvan (Haas), tours in the states to no little success, but once he meets beautiful but shallow Margo, his talent and his career go downhill. What is this film? Noir? Character study? Melodrama? Each attempt I made to define Strange Fascination while watching it only frustrated me, mainly because it’s ill-defined. The “femme fatale” isn’t actually very dangerous (at least, she means no harm) and the “tragic hero” never does anything wrong. He falls in love and his career suffers. That’s not to say this isn’t a good film. It grips, entertains, and lingers well after it’s done, even if I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly its point was. Rather than the plot revolving around the actions of its characters, Strange Fascination seems tethered to fate or some unseen forces, which is why the consequences sometimes feel melodramatic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Take One False Step (1949, Directed by Chester Erskine) English 6

Starring William Powell, Shelley Winters, Marsha Hunt, James Gleason, Dorothy Hart, Felix Bressart, Sheldon Leonard

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(6-Good Film)

Tame. Typical. Solid.

Happily married Professor Andrew Gentling (Powell) reconnects with an old flame, Catherine Sykes (Winters), while visiting California on a business trip. Soon after, she’s murdered and the cops are after the professor for questioning. It’s a prime setup for noir, and Take One False Step delivers on so many fronts that it’s disappointing that it watered down the tone instead of being the dark cautionary tale it set up. First of all, the professor is too much of a saint. Even when he’s having drinks with a woman that’s not his wife, there’s no threat that he’s tempted to cheat. There is genuine suspense in this film, however, and Shelley Winters, as demonstrated on many occasions, excels as a dangerously unstable woman.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-