Movie Review – “The Blob” (1958)

 

 

Meet the definition of cheese and camp for science fiction in the 1950s – “The Blob.”

Looking beyond the laughable yet effective special effects, mostly consisting of running slime down a slope, and the story being made up of adults playing rebellious teenagers while trying to stop an alien amoeba creature, I feel the main reason people still talk about “The Blob” is because of the lead actor – Steve McQueen in his film debut.

Despite the fact that he does not look like a teenager in his Mister Rogers sweater, all the elements of what made McQueen so likable are here – cool, suave, rebellious, but with a heart of gold. Even if this is just a B-movie with a cult following, McQueen gives an A-list performance and sells that this is a teen that feels like he has the world against him. Effectively, he’s playing the boy who cried wolf, as the whole town doesn’t believe there is a gelatinous monster and every time he spots the jelly, it vanishes. He spends the rest of the movie proving that he’s not insane and trying to save the town from being consumed by the blob, and McQueen lives in the agony and pain of his character.

 

 

Beyond this, “The Blob” feels like a beach party movie that turned into a low-budget monster film, with it’s overplayed rebel teens versus the police plot and how the adults just don’t understand the kids these days. This plot takes up far more of the film than the story about the monster terrorizing the whole town. Then there’s the 1950s groovy theme for the Blob that feels like something out of “Scooby-Doo.” The whole film is campy fun like this, but it never takes itself too seriously so that the mood becomes disturbing, despite the fact that citizens are being dissolved by an alien jam.

Overall, “The Blob” has certainly earned its cult status, even if it belongs on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” It’s a strange mix of a rebel teen tale and a B-horror movie and works as both for the most part. The effects are minimal and dated, but still get the job done, especially during the climax. And of course, Steve McQueen turns in a captivating and heartfelt performance that he would become known for long after this film. Watch this one with some friends and some alcohol, and you’ll have a blast.

Final Grade: C+

 

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Movie Review – “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964)

 

 

“Cheyenne Autumn” is another case where the story of how the film was made is far more interesting than the film itself, much like “Spartacus.” This is the last western that John Ford ever made and was based on the true events of Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878, as group of nearly 200 Cheyenne Native Americans marched from their designated land in Oklahoma, given to them by the American government, back to their homeland in Wyoming.

Ford chose to make this his last western as a way to apologize to the Native American community after decades of portraying them as the heartless villains in his other westerns, such as “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” Instead of the rugged cowboy risking his life to save a town or a girl from the clutches of the evil Indians, the roles are reversed – The Native Americans are the heroes for fighting for what they believe in, and the cowboys are the villains for trying to stop them.

That being said, “Cheyenne Autumn” takes a lot of artistic liberties with history, namely the path the Native Americans take to get back home being vastly different and the many side plots of other forces trying to stop them outside of the U.S. cavalry. And although Ford made this film as a way to show his love and passion for the Native American people, it is not without the Hollywood touch that tends to be a bit racist. Namely, several of the lead roles for the Native Americans are played by non-native actors, with the biggest one being Ricardo Montalban played Chief Little Wolf and Gilbert Roland as Chief Dull Knife.

 

 

So the whole idea of racial equality is muddy and unclear with this film – it’s hard to promote a message about the power of Native Americans when you don’t cast native actors in the lead roles.

Beyond this, “Cheyenne Autumn” has no sense of direction or plot. Large chunks of the film are dedicated solely to side plots that never connect to the main plot. This includes a nearly 20-minute sequence involving an elderly Wyatt Earp (played by Jimmy Stewart) hanging out in a saloon and playing poker. Earp never meets up with the Cheyenne, nor does anybody in the town he’s in – it’s all just comedic filler. Even the presence of Jimmy Stewart in this role doesn’t help the meandering plot and dull pacing. But the biggest offender of this huge scene is that it isn’t funny, thus wasting everyone’s time in a film that’s nearly three hours long.

As the final western made by John Ford, it is admirable to make this film as an apology to those who didn’t need to be portrayed as the villains. Ford was the one to start the trend of Native Americans being the antagonists in most westerns, which would lead to so many things about cowboys and Indians. So to see the same man that started this trend come forward and say it was wrong of him to do gets my respect.

However, beyond this, there is nothing special about “Cheyenne Autumn.” It is dull, without emotion or passion, and is a sign that the western genre was dying as the energy and flare for the dramatic is missing. If you’re curious about this film, it’s better just to read up on the behind-the-scenes than it is to actually watch this film.

Final Grade: D+

 

Movie Review – “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963)

 

 

There’s an innocent yet touching charm to “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” that really made it infectious and fun from start to finish, mostly powered by the relationship between its likable yet traumatized father and son (Glenn Ford and little Ron Howard). The joy they go through feels honest, while their conversations about life and dealing with death feel down to earth, all while they both deal with the lose of the person they cared about the most in the world. It never comes off as preachy or heavy-handed, finding the right balance between drama and comedy to make it heartfelt.

Glenn Ford plays Tom Corbett, who recently lost his wife, leaving him to raise their son Eddie (Ron Howard) alone in New York City. After the two take some time to adjust to their new lives without a wife and mother, Eddie decides that the only way they’ll both be happy again is if they find another woman who can be both. Thus, Eddie decides to play matchmaker and find his father a new wife, whether he’s ready for another relationship or not.

Ford plays the role of single father with dignity, strength and compassion, all while trying to keep up with Eddie’s shenanigans. He is selfless in his pursuit to give Eddie the best life he can without his mother, despite both of them still being in a lot of pain over her lose. Little Ron Howard, yes the same Ron Howard that would directed “Apollo 13” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” has far more class and charm than you would ever expect from a child actor, even out-acting Glenn Ford in some scenes about handling his mother’s death. Together, they create a touching and inquisitive relationship that serves as the backbone of this movie, helping to keep everything in perspective.

 

 

Yet the film is as funny as it is charming, as Eddie over does it on the matchmaking and ends up finding multiple women who would all desire to be with his father. Eddie’s innocence plays a key factor into all of this, taking a lot of what his father says to heart and dumping it onto these women in the classic child manner. Roberta Sherwood plays their live-in maid, who serves as the voice of reason as their lives get more and more chaotic and filled with women, all while she learns Spanish over a record. The standout amongst the many women is Stella Stevens as a would-be Miss America contestant afraid of socializing and embarrassing herself, who is surprisingly intelligent and sophisticated while taking everything in stride.

Overall, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” perfectly balances the tragedy of losing a family member and the comedy of trying to find a quick replacement. It’s built upon the relationship between it’s two leads and how much they really care for one another, without sacrificing anything for laughs. Every performance is stellar, especially from the leads, and the film always feels honest and heartfelt. It’ll have you smiling throughout, just like it did with me.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (1960)

 

 

Fun fact – this is the first time I’ve watched a Doris Day movie. And from watching this one film, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” I can see why she was such a beloved and charming actress. She is strong-willed, determined and passionate while remaining focused on her goals of raising a family and making a difference in her community. Day’s performance is the highlight of the film, as she remains witty and calm throughout the chaos of her busy life, raising four small boys in a tiny New York City apartment while her husband (David Niven) gets roasted as the newest Broadway critic.

To be honest, this wasn’t a film I took too seriously with any other characters, aside from Doris Day as she works through all these hardships, including moving into a new home out in the country, with a smile and a witty comment. David Niven is in the middle of all this chaos and loses his mind a couple times, but Day’s character is right there to be his moral compass and guide him to be better than he is. As a result, their on-screen relationship is hot-headed and chaotic, but caring and rewarding at the same time.

 

 

Day plays the role as the kind of mother you would want to have help you through your most difficult times. She puts her own wants and desires aside to help her family without any resentment or animosity. Yet when she needs to get angry or upset, she’ll strike back as hard as she can to stand up for herself. To her, being a mother is the greatest job in the world, but it isn’t the only thing she can be.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.” It’s not an overly complex movie, but it filled with laughs and clever set pieces, especially as Niven’s character tries to make everyone happy only to make no one happy. Doris Day excels as the star of the show and leaves a great impression on the audience with little more than her charm and wit. A great little comedy with a stellar cast.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Island of Lost Souls” (1932)

 

 

In the context of 1932, “Island of Lost Souls” is a bold, experimental picture. This was before the time of “King Kong”‘s effects and the scope of films like “Gone With the Wind” and “Wizard of Oz,” and the most successful horror films were “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” And yet, this film features an elaborate yet modern mad scientist with more ambition than he does servants, hell-bent on seeing how far he can take his experiments on animals. The film does its best to adapt H.G. Wells’ novel with the best technology and effects they could produce at the time.

That being said, “Island of Lost Souls” is incredibly dated. The dialogue and audio has that same scratchy, hard-to-understand tone that most films from the early 1930s had, and the makeup and effects on the many creatures Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) has experimented on are clearly just big guys with lots of hair glued on. The story has been simplified to focus on its big male lead Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) and we’re given no reason to sympathize with the mad scientist that should be the focus of the story rather than being the antagonist that has only a few tricks up his sleeve.

 

 

The main reason to watch “Island of Lost Souls” these days is to see Charles Laughton play god in the most sadistic yet quiet way possible. He plays the role as if he were the puppet master, where he feels like he can manipulate everyone around him to his whim, toying with everyone without hardly ever raising his voice above a whisper. It comes across like he has everything calculated and planned, like this is all a game of chess to him and he’s already won. His ambition is as big as his ego, and Laughton plays it with as much charm as we’ve come to expect from him.

Overall, “Island of Lost Souls” is fine if dated picture from the early 1930s that is bolstered by a great performance from Charles Laughton. As far as pre-Hayes Code horror goes, this one is about as grotesque as they could get at the time. At only 71 minutes long, the film flies by at a brisk pace and feels like it tells a two-hour long story in less than half the time. If you’re a fan of 1930s horror or are curious how effects-driven films were done at this time, I’d suggest checking this one out.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Jezebel” (1939)

 

 

You know, sometimes all you need is one little piece of historical evidence to understand why a film is created. While I watched 1939’s “Jezebel,” I couldn’t understand what this southern belle drama with Bette Davis was trying to achieve until I learned something crucial after watching the movie – “Jezebel” was made entirely from scratch as a way to compensate Bette Davis after she failed to the get the lead role in “Gone with the Wind.”

Now everything makes perfect sense. The time period, the racial tension, the elaborate outfits and gowns, the dramatic almost operatic performances from Davis and Henry Fonda. All of it is a way of trying to give Bette Davis the same experience she would have got from “Gone with the Wind.”

Full disclosure – I’ve never seen “Gone with the Wind.” I realize this probably takes a few points off of my film buff card, considering it is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and still holds the record for highest grossing film ever when adjusted for inflation. But I am always hesitant to watch any film over three and a half hours long, and this particular film is closer to four hours. At that point, the film is more of a chore to sit through than anything else. I plan to watch the whole film before the end of the year, but I’m in no particular hurry to do so. But my point is that I don’t have a frame of reference to compare “Jezebel” to, other than similar Bette Davis films like “Dark Victory.”

 

 

The film takes place in New Orleans shortly before the start of the civil war, as the spoiled southern belle Julie (Bette Davis) decides to make herself stand out among her fellow socialites in any way she can. This is often met with shock and scorn, much to the dismay of her fiancĂ©e Preston (Henry Fonda), who doesn’t want anything to do with her after she wears a red dress to the big ball.

At first I was tempted to write this film off as another melodrama for the sake of melodrama, much like “Dark Victory” or to prove Bette Davis’ acting ability, but there’s a certain sense of charm and class to “Jezebel” that clues you in to why these trivial things were life-or-death matters back in the 1850s. The cold dead stares of everyone at the ball, all of them retreating from the happy couple like they have the plague, casts a bigger cloud over this film than all of the southern accents throughout this film. This really does feel like a world fueled by chivalry and class, and failure to live up to these standards has deadly consequences.

Overall, “Jezebel” is a fine little film that was made as a way to keep Bette Davis happy after not scoring possibly the role of a lifetime. It has that southern charm that only a film set in New Orleans can offer while building a nice world for itself. Davis does a fine job as always, while Fonda seems a bit lost and confused in this performance. Nothing too special about this one, except to see a different type of historical American drama.

Final Grade: C

 

Movie Review – “No Time for Sergeants” (1958)

 

 

The charm of “No Time for Sergeants” is that it never takes itself too seriously while always trying to be as fun and endearing as possible in its own simple way. Andy Griffith masterfully pulls off the backwoods rube act of Will Stockdale during the peacetime air force, while always coming across as kind and charming in his own unique way, not unlike Forrest Gump – honest and larger than life, but knows nothing about how the real world works. This combination makes for a stand-out comedy that feels like an air force equivalent of “Mister Roberts.”

There isn’t too much else to say about “No Time for Sergeants” other than how effective it is through its simplicity of putting a uncultured yet well-meaning baffoon in the care of an orderly sergeant that is prone to emotional outbursts when things don’t go his way. The film doesn’t have an overly profound statement or message about the air force, nor does it berate the military. Instead, it presents a ridiculous situation and rolls with every ludicrious moment like it was a war using pies. This is just a simple yet fun ride that brought a smile to my film-loving face.

Final Grade: B