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Capsule Reviews (April 2006)

Orgazmo (1997) Trey Parker

This is almost the definition of a guilty pleasure. Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, is a kung fu Mormon missionary working door to door, and he ends up working in a superhero porn movie. It really ought to be a one joke film but I laugh harder to this than most far superior comedies. Most of the real laughs are in the details and there are so many of them. It's also such a real script. As much as it's totally over the top and deliberately extreme, it rings so true. These situations are total flights of fancy but the characters in them are so true to life it's unreal. And they so shouldn't be.

Put it this way: if I can love this film with so many hairy male butts on show, then anyone can.

Germany Year Zero (1947) Roberto Rossellini

I don't know a lot about neo-realism, though I've now seen a few no-budget European films of the era that had to make up for their lack of financial backing by pure innovation. Most of the movies I've seen with this mentality are French, such as the early films of Jean Luc Godard. This one's Italian but set in Germany just after the Second World War, which is in fact when it was made. And that's the whole point of the title, whether it's Germania Anno Zero or Deutschland im Jahre Null, it's Germany Year Zero: after the war finally ended Germany, and especially Germany's children, had to start again from scratch.

Berlin looks just like it did in Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair, only one year later, but there's no gloss here. The city is stunning to look at, and in fact it's so stunning to look at that there's really no need for sets or a cinematographer. The whole city is one giant set that merely needs actors to populate it and anyone could point a camera at it and get something impressive.

Rossellini points his camera at Edmund Koeler, a twelve year old boy who wanders around trying to keep the lives of his family intact. In keeping with the uncertainty of the situation, the camera never seems sure what it should be looking at and never stops moving. I'm also amazed at how much Rossellini can instil menace into a situation without anything much to back him up. Mere moments like when we see a dead horse in the street, when Edmund meets a former teacher or when he makes tea for his father become tense and dangerous because the people see the horse as nothing more than meat, the teacher is obviously a child molester and Edmund has laced the tea with poison to put him out of his misery.

For a film made with almost no money at all this is pretty special, even though some of the dubbing is terrible. It really captures a moment in time very well indeed. I wasn't there and I wasn't even alive at the time, but it rings really true. As a film, regardless of circumstance, it's still not bad.

The Clairvoyant (1934) Maurice Elvey

This was a rare moment in time, captured on film: Claude Rains a year after his awesome debut in The Invisible Man and Fay Wray a year after she became the original scream queen in King Kong. It's an intriguing little film too that comes off as a Final Destination sixty years early.

Rains is a fake mindreader working the music halls, but then he discovers that he really does have the power. He saves the life of the daughter of the editor of the Sun and so hits the big time, but life gets more and more complicated. Rains is suave and powerful but he's still finding his feet. Wray is sometimes a little stiff in delivery but obviously relishing the role. What's most surprising is that the comedy is more joyous than the chills.

The Invisible Ray (1936) Lambert Hillyer

Karloff and Lugosi back together again for film three of seven they did together, and from moment one it's obviously one of the more over the top Universals. They knew what they were doing, there's no doubt about that, but as much as I can decry the treatment of serious science fiction in Hollywood today, the filmmakers of the thirties really made some outrageously bad movies. This one is full of the typical Universal trappings: vast buildings, violent storms, buzzing Van Der Graaf generators and of course an initial setting on top of the Carpathian mountains.

Karloff has a moustache and looks like an Italian organ grinder wondering where his pet monkey went. He's playing someone quite cracked and he's obviously relishing the opportunity. Lugosi has a moustache too and looks like a Renaissance painter. Outside of these stalwarts of the era, nobody else really comes close except Karloff's mother-in-law who chews up the scenery even though she's blind and can't see it. There's a young man trying desperately to be Leslie Howard and another gentleman trying to be Terry-Thomas.

We start off hitching a ride on the invisible ray to the Andromedan nebula where we turn round and see a meteorite striking the Earth millions of years ago. Then we head off to Africa to see where it hit, complete with bug eyed natives and jungle drums. There's every clich´┐Ż you can imagine, which soon becomes annoying but by the time we reach the rock melting laser gun in the middle of the African jungle and Karloff starts glowing in the dark and killing everyone he touches, it all becomes joyous through its sheer inanity. This is insane fifties scifi at its extravagant worst, just done twenty years early.

Midnight Lace (1960) David Miller

I had no clue what this one was about going in but I'm watching it because of the presence of Myrna Loy, well after her heyday and twelve years later than the latest I've yet seen her. The stars are really Doris Day and Rex Harrison, with John Gavin. Then there's Loy and a young Roddy McDowall in smaller print and then whoever else filled out the bill.

It starts slowly but soon reveals itself to be a precursor of those Murder, Mystery, Suspense TV movies of the 70s and 80s. Doris Day is a young housewife with a husband who spends much of his time working. She picks up what we would now call a stalker but back in 1960 was just a telephone talker. He calls to her in the fog and rings her up on the phone to throw unwanted sexual advances and death threats her way. Gradually the question arises as to whether this telephone talker really exists or whether it's just a mental instability.

Myrna Loy is definitely far older than I've seen her, outside of latter day documentary footage, but her eyes are sparkling as much as her voice and she's obviously enjoying herself. She's also moving far more than I've seen her before. The leading stars are solid too: Day makes a decent damsel in distress and Harrison is excellent at keeping the balance between doting husband and absent husband. The plot is clever without being unduly intricate and I thought it worked very well. My wife of course worked it out way ahead of time.

Remember Last Night? (1935) James Whale

Here's another 1930s Universal directed by James Whale, but this one is far from Bride of Frankenstein, the other film he made for Universal that year. The first half plays like a musical without any music, which has to be my favourite sort of musical. It's a rapid fire barrage of gags, plot twists and stage directions, many of which are far from politically correct in today's climate. Look away from the screen for minute and you'll be lost. A minute in this film means that the entire cast have moved to a new house, put on black face masks and started firing champagne bottles at fake yachts.

Whale has a slew of capable almost star players to work with. The biggest name is probably Robert Young but there are Constance Cummings and Edward Brophy and Reginald Denny and Robert Armstrong and Gustav von Seyffertitz and a bunch of others too. I'm not sure how happily they looked back at this one given that there are more people doing animal imitations in the first half hour of this movie than in most actors' entire careers. Cummings and Brophy are the most fun, but the rest do their job.

Anyway the title isn't a rhetorical question. After a mad night partying, one of a bunch of rich playboy types doesn't wake up in the morning. Unfortunately most of them don't have a clue are totally unable to remember last night. If you can get by people racking wise after they've discovered a friend dead, then you might just enjoy this one. It makes no sense at all but in a very strange carefree way it's hilarious. Just remember to keep your eyes open.

Mr Lucky (1943) H C Potter

This one promised to be interesting. I've been catching up on my Cary Grants and I've come to appreciate his talent, something that took a little while. Here he's a tough gambler and a crook with a permanent grin. Laraine Day is the object of his affection, and she's a delectable young lady trying to raise money for war relief. Because he needs a gambling concession from them, he goes to work for war relief and is hit with everyone except Day and she's the one he needs to win over. What makes the film interesting is that both of them are trying to use the other for their own ends, but we're always kept wondering whether they'll do the right thing instead.

Grant is good but he's better when he's not being as dubious as he is here. Certainly the films I've seen of his so far work best when he's the put upon everyman. I don't buy him as the rough and tumble crook, especially when he's passing off Cockney rhyming slang as Australian. I wonder how he felt about it, given that he was an Englishman born and bred, though no Cockney. As the film progresses and his character changes, he really grows into the role.

It's also really Grant and Day for almost the entire film. In a way that's a shame because some of the supporting cast are superb. I've been a Charles Bickford fan for a while, but he's mostly only in the bookend story wrapped round the main one. C Aubrey Smith is always a gem but there could have been more of him as Day's grandfather. What we do see a lot of is the skill of director H C Potter. In watching all these classic movies, I'm learning something of what makes a director great. It's not just in what they choose to do, but also in what they choose not to do. There are points here where Potter works carefully, with static shots and fades and slow camera movements, but there are also points where he moves confidently with flourishes and sweeps and superb manoeuvers. He impresses without ever showing off.

City for Conquest (1940) Anatole Litvak

When he got to the end of the thirties, Jimmy Cagney had got fed up of being a gangster at the behest of his fans and the studio who owned him, so he split and made a few movies on his own with his brother William as producer. They didn't work for him in the sense of box office returns or fan reaction, so back he went to the same old grind for the studio. I've seen a few of them now and found them to be some of his most interesting films. There's far more depth in these films than most movies of the era, with well crafted subplots and rounded characters down to the supporting cast.

This one is no exception. Cagney is a trucker who could be a great boxer and Ann Sheridan is his long term girlfriend who could be a great dancer. They resist for a while but get drawn into the path to fame, caught up in the swirl and go and up and down that great stairway to stardom. We also get long time Cagney cohort Frank McHugh, along with a young Anthony Quinn. It's surprising but I'm seeing far more early Quinn than heyday Quinn lately, this being the third film of his I've seen from 1940 alone. One day I'll catch back up with his great films from twenty or more years later. The leading lady is Ann Sheridan who does a good job but comes off as a lesser Ingrid Bergman. There's also Donald Crisp and even Elia Kazan, not directing but acting. Here's the two time Oscar winner and director of such classics as On the Waterfront, East of Eden and A Streetcar Named Desire, yet he's playing a gangster with a great death scene.

What's most surprising about this one is though that there's plenty of dancing but Cagney keeps resisting getting involved. He does plenty of boxing though and he's believable both when he's cocky and when he's damaged. The more I see him in action the more I believe that he's the most dynamic leading man that Hollywood ever saw. Like his counterpart Edward G Robinson, he had a knack of stealing the show merely by showing up. He never tried to upstage everyone but he just couldn't help it. All he did was open his mouth and move.

At the end of the day I think this is a greater film than could be made. It could have benefitted from another twenty minutes or so to tidy up the ending and make something more of some worthy subplots. It's just a shame that Cagney didn't get to make more of his independent films because the potential was awesome.

Them Thar Hills (1934) Charles Rogers

This is a Laurel and Hardy short from the Hal Roach studios with some outrageous hair from Stan. I can't decide if he's a caricature of a latter day Clint Eastwood or a precursor to Jerry Lee Lewis. This one sees them heading off into the wilds so that Ollie can recover from a case of gout, but instead fall into the aftermath of a gunfight between bootleggers and law enforcement. Drunken hilarity ensues.

In particular I love the entirely unrealistic fight they get into with a passing driver. They each take it in turns to attack each other with whatever props come to mind, but the victim waits in anticipation and never ever tries to block an attack. They just sit there and wait for the results of the attack on them before mounting their revenge attack. It's as unrealistic as anything people like Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey came up with with their cartoon antics, but it's somehow rivetting.

Tit for Tat (1935) Charles Rogers

And here's another Laurel and Hardy short from a year later, but still with the same cast. That's not just Stan and Ollie, but Mae Busch and Charley Hall too, along with director Tit for Tat. In fact it's actually a sequel to Them Thar Hills. This time round Stan and Ollie are opening an electrical store that turns out to be right next to the grocery run by the couple they ran into in the hills a year earlier.

Needless to say things don't go well and the entire plot, let alone the title, is an extension of that stupidly unrealistic rivalry from the last film.

Piccadilly (1929) E A Dupont

I'm still catching up on all the silent films that come along, and here's one that's English, features the first oriental star, Anna May Wong, is written by no less a name than Arnold Bennett and even manages to cram in the debut appearance on film of Charles Laughton.

The credits are wonderful, featured across the advertising hoardings on the side of double decker buses, and that's just the start. The production design of this film is superb and the cinematogaphy is wonderful. I realise that this was released in 1929, right at the end of the silent era when a number of people were creating new kinds of movie magic, but I wasn't expecting this level of sophistication from an English release. Whoever worked this really knew what they were doing. There are superb closeups, innovative camera angeles and camera placement, long shots following movement, silhouette shots, point of view shots, shots in distorted mirrors, even an intriguing pan back and forth between characters as their interactions evolve. It's all very cleverly done indeed and often reminded me of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Unfortunately the plot doesn't hold up to that standard.

The lead is technically someone called Gilda Grey, who I'd never previously heard of and know nothing whatsoever about. She's pretty good as the lead dancer at the Piccadilly Club for the first half of the film, though she's obviously a cut rate Garbo. She's outshone by her replacement Anna May Wong who's great when she starts out in the scullery in stockings with runs and she's great when she does her exotic dancing in lavish costumes. Laughton only gives us a cameo appearance but there's definitely distinguishable character there, even when he's mostly hidden behind a table in a silent movie arguing about a dirty plate.

Sons of the Desert (1933) William A Seiter

The Sons of the Desert are a fraternal organisation on the lines of the freemasons, but counting amongst their number Stan and Ollie. The annual convention in Chicago is coming up and they take a solemn oath to be there while not being entirely sure whether their wives will let them go or not. Far from being a Rudolph Valentino spoof (like the earlier Mud and Sand), this is really a battle of the sexes. Their good ladies run the show and are quite happy to let them know it.

Laurel & Hardy regular Mae Busch is one of them and we also get to meet Charley Chase as a Texan practical joker. He steals the middle part of the film, but the early part is certainly Stan's show. He's even more imbecilic than usual and he makes the most of it.

As for the film, it's certainly great fun. I don't think it's up to the standards of Way Out West, but it's certainly a superb example of what this legendary duo could get up to.

Motel Hell (1980) Kevin Connor

A quirky 1980 cannibal movie starring old western actor Rory Calhoun, Motel Hell is actually pretty good. Calhoun runs Motel Hello (with a malfunctioning last O) with his overweight sister and collaborator Ida, raises pigs and also sells Farmer Vincent's famous smoked meats. What we soon realise, after he booby traps the road with beartraps to kill a couple of passing bikers is that it isn't just pigs in those smoked meats.

And there's much more strangeness to come: human plants, cardboard cows and freaky swingers, for a start. There's watching drive in monster movies with binoculars from Lover's Lane, a duel with chainsaws and the most bizarre way to break necks I've ever seen. Then there's Wolfman Jack as a preacher and Norm from Cheers in a strange heavy rock band called Ivan and the Terribles. How could we go wrong?

As for the cast, I don't have the background in westerns that my wife has so I don't recognise Rory Calhoun. He's obviously having fun though as Farmer Vincent, well out of his usual element. No pun intended, but it seems like he's really relishing it. He's also a far more notable actor than many of the rest of the cast, but everyone is having a ball including the scriptwriter who conjures up a number of gems. Definitely a strange but very very cool movie.

Gidget (1959) Paul Wendkos

I think my main reason for watching this is to prove to myself that teen culture in my parents' generation achieved something a little higher than Beach Blanket Bingo. That film may have had Buster Keaton but it very little else. This one has Sandra Dee who was apparently good enough as a Californian surfer girl to reprise the title role in more and more Gidget movies to come, even though she was really from New Jersey. Ten minutes in it's obvious that she has far more talent than the entire cast of Beach Blanket Bingo (Old Stoneface excepted), but she's more than a little annoying to boot. She acts circles round everyone else by exuding energy and talking absolute nonsense. But it's fun. Except the squeaking.

The surf bums are just surf bums, part time or no. None of them can surf either. All the long distance shots are believably them but they just bump into each and fall off the wave; all the closeups are obviously rear projection shots and they don't even try. Cliff Robertson is pretty good as the chief surf bum, which he ought to be as a future Oscar winner, but the rest of the bunch are close to embarrassing, including Doug McClure and James Darren, who I think I last saw in The Guns of Navarone. Then again, Sandra Dee is embarrassing at points too. She's the least talented of all the not very talented surfers, with a painfully obvious stunt double, but more noticeably she's a tomboy who wears pink dresses. Yeah, I didn't buy that either.

So, is it better than Beach Blanket Bingo? Well that wouldn't have been difficult. Is it any good? Well, that's another question. It's OK. It's about as authentic as the exotica of people like Martin Denny and Les Baxter, but not as much fun.

Torrid Zone (1940) William Keighley

Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien together are pretty unstoppable and here they are south of the border. On the face of it O'Brien runs a fruit company but really runs the town of Puerto Aguilar. He's a real pain in the ass called Senor Case who tells everyone what to do and when to do it, including the police. Of course the police are Mexican so they're reasonably incompetent: not quite Keystone Kops but pretty close. Everybody seems to work for Senor Case, including Andy Devine, Helen Vinson and a certain character called Nick Butler, who we don't get to see for a while but hear plenty of. It's obviously Cagney, not just because he's the star but because we can see his face in the words. Then again when we do see his face there's a moustache on it that really doesn't belong.

It's plenty lively, not just because of the Cagney/O'Brien banter, but for the Ann Sheridan/Helen Vinson catfighting and a whole bunch of other combinations. Sheridan is the leading lady of the piece and she's desperately trying to be Bogart-era Lauren Bacall, but she's effective bitching at the competition. Given that the competition is Helen Vinson there are obviously going to be sparks flying. I've seen Vinson a few times and she's an underrated gem. Unfortunately there's not really a lot of real substance behind the dialogue.

Footlight Parade (1933) Lloyd Bacon

Lots of names here. It's a Lloyd Bacon movie (a regular Cagney director) with William Keighley (another regular Cagney director) as dialogue director. Along with Cagney, there's Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh (one of my favourites), Guy Kibbee and other names. And last but not least for a musical, the musical numbers are courtesy of Busby Berkeley, probably the biggest name in the business.

I'd have to investigate to prove it, but this may well be Cagney's first musical. It's well known that he loved to dance but got stuck into the gangster mould early on with The Public Enemy. The thing is that this is a comedy, but the jokes are so damn quick you have to really pay attention to catch them, especially as more than a few wouldn't have passed the censor a year later when the precode era sadly passed.

Cagney is sharp in this one, when he's tossing off one liners or showing off his fast footwork. Blondell is cute, talented and underappreciated, both as a character and as an actress. She should have been Oscar nominated for this performance. Frank McHugh is a joy, as always, even when he's not prancing around with a long cat tail attached to his back end or playing the female half of a cuddly duet, complete with prominent cigar. I actually enjoyed Ruby Keeler in this one, even though I thought she was the weakest link in 42nd Street. Then again I still preferred it when she was acting rather than dancing, and thought she looked a lot better in her straightlaced schoolteacher look rather than the supposedly more glamorous dancing beauty.

I even enjoyed the musical numbers, which are usually the downfall of any musical for me. Then again maybe I enjoy Busby Berkeley production numbers because they're totally insane. He was breaking the boundaries of choreography by breaking the traditional bond with the stage. He brought in lavishly extravagant sets and new camera angles that had never been seen before. The thing is that the whole concept of this particular film is for Cagney to put musical prologues on stages for talking picture audiences to see. It's hard to believe that some of them would even fit in the entire theatres whose stages they're supposed to be taking place on. The water number in particular is about as extravagent as extravagent gets. It doesn't even fit within the bounds of reality let alone a stage, but that's the beauty of it. If you're going to go insane, why not go whole hog. Suddenly I realise where Mel Brooks got the end of Blazing Saddles from: Dom Deluise is playing Frank McHugh and the entire last half hour is a tribute to Busby Berkeley.

This may well be my favourite musical thus far.

Raffles (1940) Sam Wood

David Niven was always going to be the best choice to play a gentleman crook in a sympathetic vein. I grew up on the Pink Panther films and never failed to enjoy the jewel robberies almost as much as the antics of Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. Here he plays Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, and he turns on the charm wonderfully and eases through the film with effortless grace.

Olivia de Havilland is his leading lady, shortly after she was so annoyingly pure in Gone with the Wind. She has little to do here because it's entirely Niven's show. Not even Dame May Whitty, a born scene-stealer if there ever was one, can make much of an impact. It's really lightweight material but it's done well and it's good fun. Apparently it's a very close remake of the Ronald Colman original.

Passage to Marseille (1944) Michael Curtiz

It's been far too long since I've seen a Peter Lorre movie and here he is with his most famous colleagues, Sidney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart. It's also a Michael Curtiz movie with Claude Rains, marking a real Casablanca reunion. How can you go wrong with these people involved? The only name we're really missing is Ingrid Bergman, or indeed any leading lady.

This time round we're not in Morocco fighting the Germans, we're over the Rhineland fighting the Germans for the Free French Air Force. At least that's the framing story that makes everything look great for the allies. The real story starts with a long flashback to a bunch of half dead Frenchmen being rescued by a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Then there are flashbacks from the flashback to life as convicts in Devil's Island and still more flashbacks from there to Bogie's life before being transported. It's all managed well enough, but it's a shame that it's so fragmented when there isn't enough length to do each section justice.

Even so, there's so much talent crammed together in some of these scenes that they can hardly fail. One in particular has Bogart and Lorre being grilled in a small room by Greenstreet with Rains looking on. As always Lorre is a joy to behold, but he has doesn't have a huge part here. It's Rains who has the biggest role and Greenstreet the most notable one. Bogie does well enough in his featured flashback but it's a far cry from Casablanca.

Hold Your Man (1933) Sam Wood

The first actor I managed to watch in serious depth was Clark Gable. From none, I worked through a full half of his movies in little over a year before the schedules started filling up with Gables that I'd already seen. This is the first new one in nearly four months and Gable the low budget con artist in this film is certainly a welcome sight.

Gable and co-star Jean Harlow are the only names I know, but both of them have become like old friends to me. Harlow was never a great actress but she really tried to be one and she did have a presence all of her own. She also got notably better as the few years she had progressed and this is around the time she started learning how to act a little; it's sandwiched in between Red Dust (another Gable) and Dinner at Eight, with half of the great names of Hollywood.

This time round she's a hard boiled young lady who's been everywhere and done everything, and Gable's a cheap con man. In fact she's more notable than he is, because he's trying too hard to fit in with her style rather than just working some of his own.

Arsene Lupin (1932) Jack Conway

Not one but two Barrymores and Lionel kicks off the film in bliss at the prospect of arresting his brother John. He believes him to be the notorious criminal Arsene Lupin, but soon discovers that he is actually a member of the aristocracy. No doubt we'll soon discover that he's both, but we can enjoy Lionel's joy in the meantime. Either that or Arsene Lupin is actually Lionel, playing the inept policeman because it's the best disguise possible.

The leading lady is Karen Morley, and she's also thoroughly enjoying herself acting alongside John Barrymore. Then again she has a wonderful entrance, as it were. We first see her naked in John's bed, even though he knows nothing about it. Naturally John is having a great time talking with her.

The film itself is fun because of the stars and because of the intricacies of the plot. It's obvious that John is playing Lupin but there's enough back and forth to make us doubt our convictions and believe that maybe it's Lionel. Maybe it's this cat and mouse play that made the brothers enjoy it so much, and they must have enjoyed it because the next few films of theirs that I've seen are all further collaborations: Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight both featured both of them, and Rasputin and the Empress added sister Ethel to the mix.

Doom (2005) Andrzej Bartkowiak

While precedent suggests that any movie based on a video game is not likely to be any good, I grew up playing id software: Wolfenstein 3D, Spear of Destiny, Doom, Doom II, Doom III, Quake, Quake II, the works. Doom was a revolutionary game that became a way of life for a while. How could a mere film live up to my experiences of the game?

Well it's not bad, but it's not really a translation of the game: more of a homage, especially when the first scientist we see is named Carmack, after the graphics guru of id software who was the primary reason why Doom was so revolutionary to begin with. We also gert some other elements of the game, such as the BFG which every Doom player knows never stood for Big Force Gun.

The Rock is the only name I know here, outside of the guy who played Caesar in Xena: Warrior Princess, and just as in his wrestling career, he plays a great face and a great heel. The rest try to instil some character into their characters, but without a huge amount of success. The real stars are the monsters, and the director wisely lets us in on them slowly, though maybe a little too slowly. He also provides us with some very cool death scenes indeed and an awesome section shot from a first person shoot 'em up standpoint. The chainsaw was a really nice touch. All in all, one of the better computer game adaptations. Then again, after House of the Dead, a ninety minute shot of my bare ass would look good.

The Girl from Missouri (1934) Jack Conway

The girl from Missouri is Jean Harlow, and the more I see her the more I'm surprised that MGM gave her so many star vehicles but the more I'm happy that they did. Here she's a young lady escaping to the big city to get rich by marrying a millionaire, back when golddigging was a respectable occupation.

She's far from the only notable name here. Lionel Barrymore is goggle eyed like Godzilla but having fun, as always as a rich banker who Harlow has set her sights on. Lewis Stone is the serious elderly gentleman, but then he's a rich man made poor and should look serious, for the minute or two he stays alive at least. There's also Franchot Tone turning on the charm as Barrymore's son and one of my favourite extras, Nat Pendleton in a bit part as a lifeguard. I'm not sure who's playing Harlow's girlfriend but she's trying desperately to be Una Merkel. And Jean Harlow herself is on top form with some really solid emotional scenes where she impresses no end. Just think what she could have accomplished if she hadn't met such a tragic end.

Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)

I missed the first Jesse Stone film that CBS ran last year but my wife caught it. She gave Stone Cold with an Excellent and I guess a lot of other people did too or there wouldn't have been a number two let alone a number three, which is what this is. Tom Selleck plays Stone and obviously has a major affection for the role as he was involved with both the production and the screenplay as well as the acting. Maybe Selleck is a fan of the original novels by Robert B Parker. I have some but haven't got round to them yet. Maybe now I should.

My first impression was that Tom Selleck is getting old. Like everyone else, I grew up watching Magnum, PI, and it's pretty obvious that there isn't much chance of Selleck revisiting that role for a reunion special. Or if he did, we wouldn't buy it. My next impression was that I could happily buy him in a role like this. He's slow to speak and methodical to act, but there's plenty going on behind his calm eyes. He also has plenty of depth and we can really believe that there are reasons for all those lines on his face. In short, he's a real person and thus the sort of character you'd read about in a novel rather than the sort of character you'd see in a TV movie.

As to the plot, it really isn't what you'd see in a TV movie either. There's no glitz and no flash. There's no Horatio Cane sunglasses shots. There's no modern technological magic. It's slow and meaningful and isn't filled with complex plot twists. As with the characters, it just feels real. And as much as I like intricacy, that's refreshing.


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