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When I was visiting my mother and brother in Maine last month, I would up watching a LOT of Turner Classic Movies. Really, it's now about the only reason I could think of wanting cable television at home (and it isn't nearly enough to go for it). I do hope they wind up creating a streaming service that I could subscribe to, but for now, I just get my fix when visiting family.

As opposed to the eight movies I watched in one day while up there I listed last time, I only got through seven my last two days of the visit, so before returning to NYC and my continuing journey through (primarily) foreign film from 1946 to the present, I'll finish what I saw up north...

January 19

Fanatic (1965) directed by Silvio Narizzano

Ah, so apparently the film now best known as Die! Die! My Darling had a more sedate title...

Somehow never saw this before now, and was more than a little disappointed. It's an okay little British thriller from the period but nothing special -- with Bankhead (who IS pretty damn good) and a script by Richard Matheson, I expected more, but it takes a long time to not go all that far. Too bad, the essential concept isn't that bad, just poorly executed. When violence finally erupts, it happens in a room of stained glass so we finally get some nice Mario Bava-style color to break up the standard flat (if comfortable) mid-60s Hammer tones, but it's too little, too late. Funny to see Donald Sutherland as the mentally disabled hulking goon. Doesn't live up to the great over-the-top title it's now mostly known by; the original, blander-but-accurate, title serves it better. Two and a half Stars

Skidoo (1968) directed by Otto Preminger

I honestly love this film, no matter what anyone else thinks.

I saw it years ago in a packed movie theater with a crowd ready to laugh AT it (as we just had the Lana Turner LSD trashfest The Big Cube), and the whole crowd was won over to laughing with Skidoo. It's all over the place, there's great acting, bad acting, and everything in between, good jokes, bad jokes, squareness, hipness, surrealism, and a great LSD trip sequence (and a really disturbing scene of Carol Channing in her underwear). It's never ever been as good as that first viewing, but I still love it and will defend it to the death. Three and a half Stars

Portrait of Jennie (1948) directed by William Dieterle

Wanted to watch this as I know it's been an influence on other works I like, but was a hair concerned about the sappiness factor, especially when the overwrought prologue started up. Turned out to be sweet, lovely, moody, and haunting more than sappy (though that is there, sure). Cotten and Jones and an amazing all-around cast (great bits from Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, and a dozen others) somehow ground this airy story in a somewhat-real world. There's a real magic to this one. There's also a hair of a too-fussed-over quality typical of Selznick productions, especially those with Miss Jones in them -- some odd editorial choices here and there, and a weird reliance on optical zooms for closeups. The green tinting of the storm sequence and the final technicolor shot of the title portrait also seem to spawn from Selznick's need to impress, but in this case, they work perfectly at just that (I wonder how accurate the tint now is to how it looked in '48, but it looks gorgeous). Lovely little tune by Bernard Herrmann used in there -- Dmitri Tiomkin does an OK job orchestrating Debussy for the rest of the score (apparently a Selznick edict hated by Tiomkin, who probably could have done as good or better at an original score). But in the end a lovely piece of work I hope to see again soon. Three and a half Stars

Lover Come Back (1961) directed by Delbert Mann

Cheap-looking and silly comedy very much of the period, with the standard offensive qualities as well, but it gets better and better as it goes along, until the last few plot twists take it into another zone that allows Day, Hudson, Randall and some other fine actors to show off their best comic chops. And now I know where the clips I've seen of Hudson acting as a "sissy" all come from (and he's funny as hell at it, though Day's sidelong reactions to it once she realizes he's playacting are even better). Need to get to the other Hudson/Day comedies sometime, I guess... Two and a half Stars

The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) directed by Peter Godfrey

Starts out really well and gradually disintegrates, to a not only predictable but horribly written and staged conclusion (and a stunningly bad final line and moment), but it's good creepy fun for most of the running time. Bogart and Stanwyck do just fine (they are apparently often criticized, especially Bogart, as being miscast, but I think they are believable; I especially like Bogart as a tortured painter), and Alexis Smith and Ann Carter are better than fine. Boy, does it just come apart as the characters do, though. Pity. Two and a half Stars

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968) directed by James Neilsen

Wound up watching this sequel to the Trouble with Angels after trying to watch that film and, after actually getting into it, being kicked off TCM due to the family DVR needing to record 5 TV shows at once. Then I wound up with this far inferior follow-up that is every bit as silly and inconsequential as I expected both films to be. The first, directed by Ida Lupino, by where I had left off, had surprisingly developed into a fun and funny and even touching coming-of-age story. This is just a stupid 60s teen romp with nuns. Gets two stars because there are still some good comic moments from some talented cast members, but really, there's not much here. And I still now want to see the rest of the Trouble with Angels. Two Stars

January 20

Souls for Sale (1923) directed by Rupert Hughes

Beautiful, elegant silent that runs the gamut from silly fun comedy to a truly hair-raising climax in and around a burning circus tent. In this story on an innocent coming to Hollywood and trying to get into the picture business, there's some great behind-the-scenes footage of other films being made (and beautiful period L.A. shots), and some hysterical doth-protest-too-much titles and scenes really out to convince you that these picture people are all just hard-workin' folks sacrificing themselves for less pay than you'd think just for your entertainment, and no, NO, there's no decadence in the business. Well, that's amusing enough, but it doesn't get in the way of the comic/thriller/romantic story going on. And damn but the fiery conclusion is exciting (and I have no idea how they pulled it off, unless it was actually like in the film itself, where the director tells his cameramen to just shoot the circus burning down and he'll find a way to use it later). Great fun all around. Three Stars

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