Et Al. Oct20

Seven Keys To Baldpate (1929)

Author William Halliwell Magee (Richard Dix) is challenged by his friend, Hal Bentley (Crauford Kent), to complete a 10,000 word story within 24 hours, midnight to midnight. When Magee accepts the bet, Bentley offers him “the most isolated place in the world” in which to work, the Baldpate Inn: a summer resort in the middle of winter. Bentley tells Magee that he will be met by Elijah Quimby (Harvey Clark) and his wife (Edith Murgatroyd), the caretakers; he is to deliver his manuscript to Quimby at the stroke of the second midnight. At the last moment, however, Magee is distracted by an introduction to Mary Norton (Miriam Seegar), who is visting New York with her aunt, Mrs Rhodes (Nella Walker). So drawn is he to Mary, he tries to wriggle out of the bet; but Bentley is having none of it. Magee arrives at the Baldpate Inn to find it everything that Bentley has promised – snowbound and isolated – and he settles down to his work…only to discover that the inn is not so lonely as he has been led to believe; nor does he have the only key… Based less upon the novel by Earl Derr Biggers than its stage adaptation by George M. Cohen (whose name is far more prominent in the credits), this version of Seven Keys To Baldpate is a brisk and fairly successful rendering of this seminal absurdist plot. Though described as a “mystery-comedy” in the titles, this is sensibly less outright funny (or rather, intended to be) than humorous via the piling on of subplot after subplot, as “the most isolated place in the world” begins to resemble Grand Central Station—being invaded sequentially by a hermit-turned-ghost (Joseph Allen Sr), a corrupt politician (DeWitt Jennings), a railway executive with bribery on his mind (Lucien Littlefiend), his double-crossing henchman (Alan Roscoe), the henchman’s triple-crossing girlfriend (Margaret Livingston), and a surprisingly competent – if not incorruptible – local police chief (Carleton Macy); and this is before Mary shows up with her aunt. Magee, often criticised for his “trash fiction”, is at first delighted to find life imitating art—only to grow increasingly frustrated that no-one takes him seriously when he starts to “talk like his books”. Richard Dix was perhaps a little too old for the part of Magee, but he does a good job in conveying the author’s slide from amusement to bewilderment to panic as his situation spirals out of control; and the ensemble cast around him is generally effective. The standout, as she was in the same year’s The Last Warning, is Margaret Livingston (here doing an aggressive “lower-class” accent). It should be note that despite being produced in the transition year of 1929, and based on a play, this is a lively production that never gets bogged down with respect to either its performances or its dialogue: some people should have been paying attention…

The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

Based upon the play by Bayard Veiller. In Calcutta, a man called Spencer Lee is stabbed to death. In the aftermath, dissatisfied with the police investigation, Lee’s friend, Edward Wales (John Davidson), breaks into the crime scene to look around for himself. When he is caught, he calls the police himself, effectively turning himself in—but also insisting that he knows who killed Lee, and that it was a woman… At the home of Sir Roscoe (Holmes Herbert) and Lady Crosby (Mary Forbes), as the two chat to their daughter, Helen (Moon Carroll) and her husband, Brandon Trent (Cyril Chadwick), in the gardon their son, Richard (Conrad Nagel), proposes to Nellie O’Neill (Leila Hyams), Lady Crosby’s secretary. Nellie admits that she loves Richard, but resists their engagement, telling him there are things he does not know about her… Richard impatiently overrides this, and wins consent from his parents to the match. However, Edward Wales persuades the Crosbys to hold off announcing the engagement until after a social gathering to which he brings a medium, Madame La Grange (Margaret Wycherly)—revealing that he believes she can help expose Spencer Lee’s murderer. The Crosbys and their guests reluctantly agree to a seance; but before it is over, a second murder has been committed… This was potentially full-review material, but ultimately The Thirteenth Chair is so intent upon being a transition-to-sound movie, and so uninterested in its borderline supernatural elements, that it fell on the other side of the line. The film does retain the play’s suggestion that for all her trickery and play-acting, Madame La Grange has certain powers—but it has little to no interest in pursuing that subplot. This is both an early Hollywood genre film, determined to undermine its already mild horror elements, and a showcase for the worst directorial – and editorial – habits of Tod Browning, who gives us a numbingly static production full of stage tableaux in which people in groups pose for the camera. It is, however, the source material that is responsible for the film being so overcrowded, with unnecessary supporting players added purely to place Wales in that last, cursed chair. (The remaining guests / suspects are played by Helene Millard, Charles Quatermaine and Frank Leigh.) For all that it revolves around the exposure of a double murderer by possibly contacting the spirit of the first victim, what this film wants to do most is talk – and shriek – and all of it in a relentless Hollywood rendering of upper-class Britishness…except for Margaret Wycherly, who is painfully Irish instead…and Bela Lugosi, who is inescapably Bela Lugosi. (William K. Everson was right to highlight his weird handling of the two Helens business.) Lugosi, as improbably cast as he ever was as British-copper-in-India, Inspector Delzante, finds himself with twelve suspects on his hands, after Edward Wales is murdered in a darkened, locked room of the Crosbys’ house. It is obvious that the second murder is linked to the first, and that Wales may have been right about the identity of Spencer Lee’s killer—but who did he suspect? As it turns out, nearly everyone present has secrets; but it is upon Nellie O’Neill that suspicion falls—until one particular secret from her past comes to her rescue…

(The Thirteenth Chair was shot in both sound and silent versions, though the latter is now lost; I can’t help wondering if it was more lively?)

East Of Borneo (1931)

Linda Randolph (Rose Hobart) travels to Borneo seeking her estranged husband. When she reaches his last known whereabouts, she is devastated when the local trade commissioner denies knowing him. However, when Linda produces a photograph, the man identifies Dr Allan Clark (Charles Bickford), court physician to the Prince of Marudu. Against advice, Linda hires a party of men to carry her down the river on a raft. Her approach is telegraphed by native drums, with the prince (Georges Revanent) telling Clark only that “one of your countrywomen” is on the way. Clark, who as usual is no more than half-sober, speaks bitterly of all women. He is astounded when confronted by Linda, who tells him that she did not divorce him; that he was wrong about her; and that she still loves him and wants him back. Clark spurns her—but his old feeling begins to awake when he realises that the prince wants Linda for himself… Universal seems to have invested quite a sum in this jungle film, but in the end it is an absurd bit of exotica with an abundance of stock-footage and hardly any plot; its shortcomings only slightly leavened by shots of Charles Bickford staring solemnly at his rack of test-tubes. We never do find out (i) why Allan started neglecting Linda so soon after their marriage – the only vague explanation offered is SCIENCE!! – or (ii) why he was so willing to believe she was cheating on him; but when we meet him he is the usual white wastrel in a foreign land, generally half-seas-over, and kept on by the prince not as a doctor, but a chess-partner. The central three here are uninteresting and frankly rather unlikeable; and matters are not helped by the casting of Lupita Tovar in the demeaning if familiar role of a native servant who is devoted to Allan for no reason beyond him being white. Noble Johnson does slightly better as the prince’s main man. Meanwhile, Borneo is just an expy for “Darkest Africa”: the stock footage shows us leopards, chimps, toucans and a hyena; and while it eventually produces buffalo, a reticulated python and a few orangutans too, those were probably offered in ignorance. Somehow, in the middle of all this, the “Prince of Marudu” is a turbaned, faux-Indian type—for all that he claims to be “Aryan, a member of the oldest white race” (!!!!). Apparently he’s not white enough to excuse his lech for Linda, though; and Allan must sober up enough to try and flee with her from the prince’s over-dusky grasp—setting up the one touch in East Of Borneo that really lingers in the mind. Granted, they’re all alligators instead of crocodiles; but I promise you will never see more of the beasties in one place than you do in this film, where they swarm in ridiculous numbers.

Tiger Shark (1932)

Fisherman Mike Mascarenhas (Edward G. Robinson) is wrecked with two of his crew. In a struggle over their little remaining water, one of the men falls overboard and is attacked by the sharks that have been following the small boat. Shortly afterwards, a rescue ship appears. In his relief, Mike collapses—his left hand trailing in the water. His young friend, “Pipes” Boley (Richard Arlen), tries to pull him back but he is not in time… Despite the loss of his hand, Mike gets back to work and, over the following year, pulls in record catches. However, during one trip, as the men are attacking a tiger shark that threatens their catch, Manuel Silva (William Ricciardi) falls into the water and is killed. Onshore, Mike must break the news to Manuel’s daughter, Quita (Zita Johann). Despite his constant bragging and big talk, Mike is a lonely man; and he is quickly smitten by Quita. She, in turn, is being harassed by a hood named Tony (J. Carrol Naish), and finally agrees to marry Mike, to escape her life—though she warns him first that she does not love him. Always self-confident, Mike believes he can make her love him—but Quita’s first meeting with Pipes creates a dangerous situation… Warner Bros. must have filmed this same plot a dozen different times across the years, with different casts and in different settings; though this Howard Hawks-directed drama may be its first iteration. Tiger Shark is a slightly flabby film, lacking Hawks’ usual brisk pacing, and giving far too much time to Edward G. Robinson’s central performance as Portuguese immigrant fisherman, Mike Mascarenhas. Slightly browned up, wearing an earring and doing a teeth-clenching accent, Robinson talks and talks and talks here, as Mike tries to cover up his loneliness and sense of inferiority with braggadocio. (Want to really do your head in? Watch Tiger Shark back to back with Captains Courageous. [ETA: Or see below!]) There’s not much anyone else can do against Robinson’s scene-stealing; though it is interesting to see Zita Johann in a very different context from The Mummy; and she is to be commended for keeping a hard, unflattering edge to Quita’s character, correct for a young woman raising herself in rough surroundings. (When Mike suggests that Quita move in with him, she agrees before she understands he means marriage.) Richard Arlen makes less of an impression as Pipes, but he is adequate as a young man whose loyalties become impossibly torn. Meanwhile, despite their billing, the sharks in this film are really only its diabolus ex machina, rather than what the film is “about”; though Mike’s lingering hatred of the animal that took his hand finally plays its part in the resolution of the plot. Most of the shark scenes here use stock footage, but the scene in which Manuel is killed clearly used a dead shark being towed through the water.

The Whispering Shadow (1933, 12 chapters)

A mysterious criminal called the Whispering Shadow, who controls his gang and commits crimes via television and radio, carries out a series of attacks against the trucks of the Empire Transport and Storage Company. During one of these, the young brother of Empire’s traffic manager, Jack Foster (Malcolm McGregor), is killed; Foster swears vengeance against the Shadow. The President of Empire, J. D. Bradley (Henry B. Walthall), hires criminologist Robert Raymond (Robert Warwick), to track the Shadow down. Meanwhile, learning of the attacks from a newspaper, convict Jasper Slade (Bob Kortman) stages a daring prison break. Foster realises that all the trucks attacked by the Shadow’s men were carrying deliveries intended for the House of Mystery, a waxworks museum operated by Professor Strang (Bela Lugosi). Foster becomes convinced that Strang is the Whispering Shadow and determines to expose him; though his mission is complicated by his attraction to Strang’s daughter, Vera (Viva Tattersall)… The Whispering Shadow is a serial so over-complicated and over-populated, the identity of its mysterious master criminal almost becomes lost in the shuffle. The crux of the matter – we can’t really call it a McGuffin – is “the jewels of the Imperial Czar”, brought to the US by Strang, stolen and hidden by Slade, and sought by the Whispering Shadow; the entire serial devolves into a ridiculously protracted game of pass the parcel, as the jewels are found, lost, stolen, hidden, and found again. Meanwhile, every single male character with the exception of Jack Foster behaves as suspiciously as possible—including Mr Bradley and Detective Raymond, but also Alexis Steinbeck (Roy D’Arcy), an electronics expert, and D. W. Jerome (Lafe McKee), the Vice-President of Empire; while Strang and Slade manoeuvre on the sidelines, Vera runs interference for her father, and Odious Comic Relief “Sparks” (Karl Dane) butts in from time to time with his one unfunny routine. The fact that, also with the exception of Foster, every male character – from company president down to criminal henchman – dresses in a nearly identical dark suit, hat and tie makes it literally impossible sometimes to be sure who anyone is, or who is doing what to whom. Still, the whole thing is lively enough that it doesn’t really matter—plus offering a lot of subsidiary entertainment via the routine undercranking of the fight scenes, so that we get even more wild flailing than usual; the 1930s’ obsession with “rays” and electronics; the helicopter crash that closes the first chapter; and the fact that the makers of The Whispering Shadow apparently had no idea what “television” actually was. Bela Lugosi received the highest payment of his career for his participation in this serial, which was shot in a breakneck twelve days.

Ghost Patrol (1936)

Tim Caverly (Tim McCoy) flies east, over the Shiloh Mountains. He reports back to Los Angeles that he is near the site of a previous crash. His colleagues try to dissuade him from going on, but Caverly replies grimly that he hopes “they” will try something… Almost as he speaks, his engine cuts out; he searches the ground, but there is nowhere to land… Below, a gang led by Dawson (Walter Miller) and Kincaid (Wheeler Oakman) coldly make bets on where the plane will crash. They ride to the wreckage, plundering the machine of its valuable load of bonds, before riding back to the ghost town of Shiloh. They do not see Caverly who, having parachuted to the ground, approaches the wreckage on foot… The stolen bonds are given to a man called Charlie (Dick Curtis), who is sent into town with them. A few days later, he frantically radios the gang that the bonds were taken from him by a man called Tim Toomey—but before he can describe Toomey, shots ring out… Meanwhile, Natalie Brent (Claudia Dell) sets out to find her missing father, a scientist who has invented a radium ray capable of stopping engines… So basically what we have here is your typical science-fiction-western-actioner-romance-comedy…all at the cost of about $1.50, from the brothers Newfield and Neufeld. Ghost Patrol is one of an infinite number of films that continue to sucker me in by advertising themselves as science fiction, but in which the “science” never goes further than a mysterious “ray”, whose applications for good are never obvious but whose evil potential is patent. But though the invention of kidnapped scientist, Professor Brent (Jonathan Brent), is indeed behind the series of fatal crashes of planes carrying valuable cargo, this is basically a western, with the bad guys using a ghost town as their hideout, lots of riding around and gun-play, and Tim McCoy wearing a hat that could accommodate a family of four. And in spite of the grim premise, there’s also some low-key humour and romance (the latter to the point of invisibility). The plot, such as it is, finds Caverly of the Justice Department infiltrating the gang behind the plane crashes by virtue of being called “Tim” by his sidekick, Henry Brownlee (James P. Burtis), and so accidentally acquiring an opportunity to impersonate the notorious Tim Toomey. But having gotten in, there’s a good chance he won’t get out…

(More on this film in Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer – we have another repeat offender!)

The Ghost Of St Michael’s (1941)

During WWII, St Michael’s school is evacuated to Dunblain Castle on the Isle of Skye, where the lugubrious caretaker, Jamie (John Laurie), tells stories about the castle’s haunting and the sound of bagpipes heard before a death. New schoolmaster, William Lamb (Will Hay), quickly finds himself the butt of the precocious Percy Thorne (Charles Hawtrey) and his cronies; though he is more concerned by meeting with an old acquaintance, senior master, Mr Humphries (Raymond Huntley), who knows rather too much about his “qualifications”. When the headmaster, Dr Winter (Felix Aylmer), is found dead, apparently having swallowed some rat poison devised by Lamb, it looks like suicide; but a second death indicates that something far more sinister is afoot… The Ghost Of St Michael’s is essentially an expansion of comedian Will Hay’s famous “schoolmaster” stage-sketch, and therefore by definition very much a matter of taste. While the single joke is certainly dragged out too far, there are nevertheless some enjoyable set-pieces in this film, particularly the inquest at which Lamb keeps indignantly implicating himself in the two deaths, and his, ahem, “science class”. Moreover, Hay is co-cast here with his frequent collaborators, Claude Hulbert (as schoolmaster Hilary Tisdale) and Charles Hawtrey, and the three play off one another with the ease of long practice. Of course, the film was made in 1941; so we are hardly surprised when the “ghost” turns out to be something rather different (any more than we were when the East Side Kids had more or less the same experience). However, the screenplay does manage a surprise or two when it comes to certain characters’ true identities.

State Secret (1950)

Based upon the novel by Roy Huggins; also known as: The Great Manhunt. Dr John Marlowe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), an American surgeon based in London, is surprised and pleased to learn that he has received an award for his pioneering heart operation from the small Balkan nation of Vosnia; he is invited there to receive it, and to demonstrate his technique to local doctors. Marlowe hopes to see something of the country, but under the supervision of Colonel Galcon (Jack Hawkins), his movements are carefully controlled. Marlowe is performing his operation on an elderly patient when the odd behaviour of his medical team – and of Galcon, also present – alerts him to the fact that something is wrong. To his horror, Marlowe discovers that he is actually operating on General Nivo (Walter Rilla), the country’s dictator. Afterwards, Galcon tells Marlowe that the country’s election – or “election” – is only days away, and that Nivo’s health issues have been kept a strict secret; he, Marlowe, will leave when the General has recovered. Left with little choice, Marlowe puts up with ten days more in Vosnia under watch, sharing the General’s care with Doctor Revo (Karl Stepanek), and forming an odd, antagonistic friendship with Galcon, who tells him frankly that, had the General died during the operation, he would never have left Vosnia. As Marlowe is packing for his flight, he is summoned urgently to Nivo, who has collapsed; Marlowe diagnoses a post-surgery embolism. The doctors fight, but Nivo dies—and Marlowe finds himself running for his life… I had a few weird moments as I began to watch State Secret, as the film has exactly the same premise as Crisis, an American production starring Cary Grant and Jose Ferrer: I assumed that one was a remake of the other, only to find out they were made almost simultaneously; and as it turns out, they part company (dramatically and politically) soon enough. Written and directed by Sidney Gilliat, this is a well-mounted chase-thriller which, though familiar enough in some ways, separates itself from the pack with a couple of remarkable touches—not least that Marlowe’s isolation is emphasised by the rest of the cast speaking a specially designed “foreign language”, a mixture of Slav and Latin, constructed for the production by a linguistics expert. This goes with the story being set in the mythical Soviet satellite state of “Vosnia”, though much of it was shot in location in Italy (where it found itself under attack simultaneously as pro- and anti-Communist!). The experienced Gilliat handles his suspense scenes with ease, with the relentless Galcon cutting off Marlowe’s attempts to either escape the country or reach the American Legation and slowly tightening the net about him as he tries desperately to evade the state police. State Secret is told in flashback, so the viewer knows that, sooner or later, Marlowe will fall into Galcon’s hands; the question remains, how and when—and what will happen to him when he does…? Douglas Fairbanks Jr was getting a little long in the tooth for this sort of action role, but he is effective as an Everyman caught up in a nightmare; his casting was also, obviously, intended as a British / American bit of compromise. Jack Hawkins manages to be both terrifying and weirdly likable as the ruthless Galcon, Vosnia’s Minister for Everything; Glynis Johns is the half-English stage performer who shelters Marlowe in a compassionate moment and then finds herself on the run with him; and Herbert Lom almost steals the film as a black marketeer and smuggler who is blackmailed into helping the two escape. Eric Pohlmann and Anton Diffring appear in small supporting roles.

The World In His Arms (1952)

Based upon the novel by Rex Beach. Captain Jonathan Clark (Gregory Peck) arrives in San Francisco with the Russians on his heels and an outrageous scheme in his head: to raise enough money to purchase Alaska. Making his trade by illegal seal-hunting in the Russian territory, Clark is nevertheless disturbed by the reckless and greedy policies of the Russians, which he fears will destroy the seal colonies. He organises a lavish party, to which he invites many wealthy and prominent locals, hoping to interest them in his scheme. Meanwhile, having fled a forced marriage to the nephew of the Czar, the Countess Marina Selanova (Ann Blyth) waits impatiently while her courier, Colonel Paul Shushaldin (Gregory Gaye), tries to arrange for her passage to Alaska, where she intends to take refuge with her uncle, the Governor-General, General Ivan Vorashilov (Sig Ruman). Colonel Shushaldin arranges passage with “Portugee” (Anthony Quinn), but when Clark rescues his crewmen, shanghaied by his rival captain for the Alaskan trip, the Russian party is left stranded. Learning that Clark is the one man who might be able to help her, but that he hates Russians – and the nobility even more – Marina infiltrates Clark’s party and strikes acquaintance with him, posing first as a saloon-girl, then as her own maid. The two are caught up in a whirlwind romance—but Marina’s jilted fiancé, Prince Semyon (Carl Esmond), is hot on her heels… Directed by Raoul Walsh, The World In His Arms is a film that tries way too hard—possibly because it was originally intended as a vehicle for John Wayne, and had to be reworked to accommodate Gregory Peck during that weird, mid-career stretch when they were trying to turn him into an action hero. Consequently, this film takes forever over its set-up, intended to convince viewers that Clark is the greatest captain, the toughest hombre, the most successful womaniser, the most popular man and the maddest individual in San Francisco, all at the same time; the over-emphasis rings very hollow. It’s a relief when Clark and Marina get their – eventual – cute-meet, but even this detours into an overlong romance. The plot finally gets moving when Prince Semyon turns up in his sparkly new, steam-powered gunboat and carries Marina off to Alaska—leaving it to look as though she has gone voluntarily. An embittered Clark (for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense) ends up racing Portugee to Alaska, each man wagering his ship, and there embarks upon another dangerous seal-poaching expedition—only to push his luck too far, and fall into the prince’s vengeful grasp… The main strengths of The World In His Arms are its colour cinematography, its production design and its location shooting in the Pacific Northwest; although since the latter turns into a lecture on seal-hunting and how Americans kill as Nature intended (!), it ends up undermining itself. But at least we don’t have to watch the hunting. I may say, too, that given this background, the fact that Clark has a comedy-relief pet seal is queasily out of place. Meanwhile, poor Anthony Quinn is stuck playing yet another ethnic minority, and doing yet another accent—though my feelings of sympathy for him dissipated in the face of the fact that Portugee will not shut up. Goodness me, did I really complain about Edward G. Robinson talking too much in a put-on accent in Tiger Shark? I owe him an apology! (It has not been a good week for the Portuguese.) Gregory Peck and Ann Blyth are adequate as the romantic leads, though the screenplay undermines them. Carl Esmond comes off best as the cool but relentlessly nasty Prince Semyon.

(My sympathy ended up transferring itself to William Seward, who apparently had nothing to do with the Alaska purchase, “folly” or not!)

The Night My Number Came Up (1955)

A small military aircraft carrying, among others, Air Marshall Sir John Hardie (Michael Redgrave) goes missing, presumed crashed, over Japan. Commander Lindsay (Michael Hordern) urges the Wing Commander (Hugh Moxey) in charge of the search to direct his efforts to the north-west coast of the country; although he declines to say why he believes the plane to have come down in that area. Because of Lindsay’s reputation, and because of an unconfirmed report of a stray plane over the coast, the Wing Commander agrees… A week before, Lindsay and Hardie fly into Hong Kong together, in company with the latter’s assistant, Flight Lieutenant McKenzie (Denholm Elliott). The men accept an invitation to dine the following evening at the home of Owen Robertson (Alexander Knox), a senior civil servant. There, a discussion of the Chinese belief in dreams as portents leads to Lindsay recounting a strangely detailed and ominous dream about a plane crash that he experienced the night before… When Robertson, who has never flown before, is pressed into joining the party travelling on to Tokyo, he is horrified —particularly when Lindsay’s dream seems to be coming true: the plane is a Dakota transport; the passengers include “an important civilian”, Lord Wainwright (Ralph Truman), “a girl”, Miss Campbell (Sylvia Sims), the latter’s stenographer, and “a loud, flashy individual”, military salvage operator, Bennett (George Rose); bringing the number of those onboard up to thirteen… Directed by Leslie Norman from a screenplay by R. C. Sherriff, and based upon a supposedly true incident in the career of British Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard, The Night My Number Came Up is an amusing and suspenseful examination of human beliefs and the dangers of self-fulfilling prophecies: one that appeals to me particularly for supporting my own belief that real people are not nearly so sceptical about the paranormal as movies tend to make out. Despite a properly patronising British attitude towards the Chinese belief in dreams, and despite going so far as to write a debunking book upon the subject, Robertson has the wind up from the very start, so that his own fears begin to infect the others on the plane—not least McKenzie who, we learn, had a complete breakdown after going above and beyond during the Battle of Britain, and now suffers an unacknowledged nervous condition. He, too, is more influenced by Lindsay’s dream than he cares to admit—though this is no excuse whatsoever for him telling the pilot about it… Though it is by no means a disaster movie, The Night My Number Came Up has a number of elements that added to my enjoyment of it—not least that, since it is told chiefly in flashback, it offers another example of my dictum, Crash it in the first twenty minutes… I was also amused by the presence in the cast of George Rose who, between this and Jet Stormreally ought to stay away from planes, if only for the sake of the other passengers. The supporting cast also includes Ursula Jeans as Mrs Robertson, Australian actor Bill Kerr as one of the soldiers who hitches a ride to Okinawa, and Stratford Johns in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him bit as an army sergeant.

The Giant Of Marathon (1959)

Original title: La battaglia di Maratona (The Battle Of Marathon). After triumphing at the Olympic Games for Athens, Phillipedes (Steve Reeves) is rewarded by appointment to the Sacred Guard, a one-hundred-man-strong force that defends the new liberties of the city-state, following the expulsion of the tyrant, Hippias. Secretly, the ruthless and unscrupulous Theocritus (Sergio Fantoni), along with Creuso (Ivo Garrani), leader of the Athenian council, is involved in a plot to restore Hippias to power in Athens; while he, in turn, is conspiring with Darius (Daniele Vargas), ruler of the Persians. While they were only children, a marriage was arranged between Theocritus and Andromeda (Mylène Demongeot), Creuso’s daughter. However, Andromeda views her engagement with a reluctance that becomes distaste, after she meets a handsome stranger… Alarmed by what the growing popularity of Phillipedes might mean for Hippias, Theocritus orders his frequent conspirator, Karis (Daniela Rocca), to seduce him into compliance with his schemes, but Phillipedes is proof against her wiles. When word comes that Darius’ forces are approaching Athens, Theocritus and Creuso counsel surrender; but Miltiades (Alberto Lupo), captain of Athens’ armed forces, argues that not Athens alone is threatened, and that the best hope for both is an alliance with Sparta… Directed by Jacques Tourneur, and with cinematography and special effects by Mario Bava – as well as some film-rescuing, post-production magic, it seems – The Giant Of Marathon is actually a pretty good blending of history and action. A clean-shaven Steve Reeves makes an interesting hero: Phillipedes is a peasant, a farmer, elevated above his station via his athletic prowess and turned into a reluctant soldier by way of “reward”. He even resists weapons training at first (though, ahem, he gets over it), and gives up public life to return to his plow when he is tricked into believing Andromeda is party to Theocritus’ schemes. The film’s best moment comes when Phillipedes is sent to Sparta to plead for an alliance: Athens and Sparta have long been enemies, and the Spartans do not trust the Athenian politicians an inch…but they’ll trust a wrestler. Meanwhile, Andromeda is mostly just a pawn, in fact her most significant relationship is with her father, as Creuso realises too late he has been fooled into turning traitor. Much more interesting is – surprise! – “bad girl” Karis who, though often before Theocritus’ willing tool, is a good Athenian and draws a line in the sand when she learns of his latest plans. The fight scenes in The Giant Of Marathon are surprisingly violent and bloody (including eye violence: dammit, Bava!); the main battle fought on the Plain of Marathon also features a horrifying amount of horse-tripping. The Athenians alone manage to hold off the first Persian attack, but know that they are doomed unless the Spartan forces arrive as promised. However, Phillipedes and Miltiades become aware of a planned sneak attack led by Theocritus—forcing Phillipedes to run from Marathon to Athens, to alert the Sacred Guard…

Exodus (1960)

Written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Otto Preminger, this is – for all its length – a slightly shallow and rather wary adaptation of Leon Uris’s best-selling novel about the founding of the State of Israel: its attitude summed up by the casting of Paul Newman as Jewish freedom-fighter, Ari Ben Canaan; his fairness standing out like a sore thumb amongst a supporting cast consisting of the usual Hollywood ethnic mix of people presumed to “look Jewish”. The film opens, however, as does the book, with a focus upon Ari’s daring scheme to bring to the world’s attention the plight of Jewish refugees, particularly those held in British detention camps on Cyprus. As the time draws near for the United Nations vote upon the partitioning of Palestine, Ari buys and outfits a cargo ship and, using British military procedure against the occupying forces, smuggles onboard hundreds of Jewish people, chiefly children. A stand-off ensues, with first a hunger-strike then the threat of regular suicides bringing intolerable pressure to bear upon the British—and finally winning the lifting of their blockade. The cargo ship, renamed the Exodus, sails triumphantly for Palestine; but even as they celebrate, the new settlers know that their fight for a homeland is only just beginning… After this strong opening, Exodus becomes increasingly episodic, foregrounding dramatic incidents such as a daring prison-break while steering a careful course through the novel’s politics. Though it was criticised as anti-Arab (people who say that can’t have read the book!), as far as it can the film avoids dealing with the Arabs at all—foregrounding its “one good Arab”, John Derek as the local muhktar and Ari’s foster-brother, Taha, and placing the weight of anti-Jewish feeling upon the influence of a group of ex-Nazis. At the same time, the film is happy to demonise the British, with Peter Lawford bearing the brunt of this as the openly antisemitic Major Caldwell. (Like Lawrence Of ArabiaExodus serves as a reminder that, whatever we think of American policy in the Middle East, the British were there first.) Meanwhile, the violent activities of the Irgun against the British are used chiefly to highlight the schism between Barak Ben Canaan (Lee J. Cobb), who works by peaceful means for the founding of the Jewish state, and his brother, Akiva (David Opatoshu), who believes in opposing violence with violence. In between, a lot of Exodus consists of speech-making, with the screenplay spelling out the historical, cultural and emotional justification for the actions of its Jewish characters—while, like the novel – and presumably to avoid offending the middle-American audience it was trying to influence – never engaging with Judaism as a religion. The results are not without interest, yet the viewer is always conscious of both the propaganda and the compromises. However, what was evidently some difficult and even dangerous location shooting in Israel and Cyprus anchors the film in a way that all the talk in the world (which we very nearly get) cannot. The supporting cast of Exodus includes Eva Marie Saint as Kitty Fremont, the American nurse / token Gentile / outsider eye who gets drawn into the fight for Israel; Jill Haworth as Karen Hansen, a young partisan; Ralph Richardson as General Sutherland, the sympathetic head of the British forces in Cyprus; Sal Mineo as Dov Landau, a damaged young survivor of Auschwitz; and Marius Goring as the head of the German faction in Palestine.

Giants Of Rome (1964)

Original title: I giganti di Roma. Though summoned back to Rome in the wake of his defeat by the rebel forces in Gaul, Julius Caesar (Alessandro Sperli) is determined to stay and crush his opposition. He plans to attack from the rear, through the mountains, but learns that the Druids have a new super-weapon defending the pass. Four of his strongest and bravest soldiers – Claudius (Richard Harrison), Castor (Ettore Manni), Germanicus (Ralph Hudson) and Varus (Goffredo Unger) – are selected for the mission of infiltrating the Druid forces and destroying the weapon. They are given only three days to achieve their goal, with Caesar planning his attack for the morning of the fourth… Directed by “Anthony Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti), Giants Of Rome covers some of the same ground as 1962’s Caesar The Conqueror, and suffers from some of the same issues—namely, you have to keep reminding yourself that the Romans are the good guys, and not the people defending their territory against invasion. (It may be for this reason that the Druids are made the film’s bad guys, rather than the rebel forces led by Vercingetorix.) The central quartet are a charmless bunch, and the film tries to redress the balance by making the Druids even worse. Consequently, even for a film of this type, Giants Of Rome has an appalling body-count; in fact, most of it is just scene after scene of people killing each other and/or being tortured. Along the way, the four pick up Valerius (Alberto Dell’Acqua), a boy who wants to prove himself a man and a soldier; Livilla (Wandisa Guida), a patrician captured by the Druids, who falls in love with Claudius; and Drusus (Philippe Hersent), a soldier whose only thought is survival at any cost. The band captures a pair of young Druids, brother and sister; but the former is killed when he tries to escape; while the latter, Edua (Nicole Tessier), begins an uneasy relationship with Castor. With time running out, and their attempt to delay Caesar’s planned attack failing, the four decide upon one last desperate effort to discover and destroy the Druid’s weapon, a huge catapult—even though they know they will almost certainly lose their lives in the process…

Fortress Of The Dead (1965)

Frank Mason (John Hackett) is met at Manila Airport by Joe Rodriguez (Conrad Parham); though they have kept in touch since the days of their war service, the friends have not seen each other in twenty years. Stopping by the waterfront, the men gaze across the bay at Corregidor; Joe comments wryly that, these days, it is a tourist attraction… Frank and Joe have a night out, but their quiet drinking session is interrupted by another ex-serviceman (Jennings Sturgeon), who will not stop talking about the horrors of the war. In particular he brings up a notorious incident in which a battery unit was subjected to a Japanese barrage that caved in an underground bunker and buried alive every man but one… Suddenly, Frank bolts for the exit; as he tries to recover himself, he moans that it isn’t that he was the only survivor: it’s that he could have saved the others… Persuaded by Joe to face his demons, Frank agrees to visit once again the scene of his ongoing torment… Written and directed by Ferde Grofé Jr, Fortress Of The Dead is a film not without some virtues—but one requiring a certain amount of patience on the part of the viewer. This is in all respects – except its overarching theme – a little film: made cheaply and independently, with a small cast, it is extremely rough in patches, struggling with its pacing and dialogue, and also some of its acting. At the same time, it is uncompromising in the handling of its subject matter; while the location filming on Corregidor, among the ruins of the island’s war installations, is powerful and disturbing. Fortress Of The Dead may easily enough be classified as “a horror movie”; the real question is, what kind of a horror movie is it? – something that it is left up to the viewer to decide, until the film tips its hand at the very last moment. Frank’s war-time trauma is horror enough: the only one of his unit not trapped by the cave-in; able to hear the other men’s voices as they cried out for his help; knowing that going for help would certainly get him killed; not able to bring himself to try; eventually found and rescued, still talking to the dead men in the tunnel… Confronting his demons as Joe recommends, and with the help of the officer in charge on Corregidor, Major Francisco (Eddie Infante), Frank goes through a series of disorienting experiences that call into question everything he thought he knew about the incident at the battery—and which prompt him to make a solitary, midnight pilgrimage to the scene of his trauma…

Rosebud (1975)

Fifteen years after Exodus, Otto Preminger returned to the political and religious struggles of the Middle East in this filming of the novel by Joan Hemingway and Paul Bonnecarrère, which was adapted for the screen by Preminger’s son, Erik Lee. Much more has since been said and written about the disastrous shoot than about the film itself which, if not the unmitigated failure its reputation would suggest, is uncomfortable in a variety of ways. There is a sense here that, as with Exodus, Preminger was more interested in making a “controversial” movie than in really getting to grips with the issues inherent in his story; and that, in fact (rather like Hitchcock in Topaz), he may not have fully understood those issues in the first place. The result is a film whose emphasis always seems to be in the wrong place, and which repeatedly raises questions that it makes no effort at all to answer. Rosebud opens with five young women, all of different nationalities but from backgrounds of wealth and privilege, planning a Mediterranean cruise on a motor yacht borrowed from the grandfather of one, French tycoon Charles-Andre Fargeau (Claude Dauphin). However, the girls’ plans become known to the Palestine Liberation Army: a small squadron infiltrates the vessel, kills the crew, and forces the girls to be filmed, naked, while one of them, Helene Nikolaos (Isabelle Huppert), reads a prepared statement—including a demand that the film be shown on television networks in the UK, France, Germany and the US. The girls are then carried, hooded and bound, to a secret location in Corsica… As the governments involved weigh their options, and the girls’ families bring the weight of their wealth and power to bear, the responsibility for hunting those behind the kidnapping and freeing the abductees falls to CIA operative, Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole), and his Israeli counterpart, Yafet Hamlekh (Cliff Gorman)… Hindsight has been kind to Rosebud: our decades of perspective on the violence and terrorism of the 1970s and our awareness of how the situations depicted here played out and evolved gives the film a sense of capturing a particularly chaotic moment in time. This is a world where values are twisted (the TV networks are more concerned about the girls’ nudity than about cooperating with terrorists), and where everyone is using everyone else. Even the PLO is being used—having been made the tool of a fundamentalist sect which fully intends to dispose of its members, too, once they have served their purpose, as part of a jihad led by the former Edward Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a British convert to Islam who is more Arab than the Arabs. Meanwhile, the hands of the girls’ families are hardly clean (Fargeau, it turns out, ran guns to King Hussein in September of 1970); and though the terrorists may be terrorists, they keep their word; a girl is released unharmed each time one of their demands is met; but as the demands escalate, how much can be sacrificed for the lives of the rest? – particularly when the final demand is, in effect, Israel itself… But though it raises many legitimate points, this is not to say that Rosebud is a good film. It isn’t—and its problems began from the first days of its production when, in a strange choice all around, a heavily-drinking Robert Mitchum was replaced by a heavily-drinking Peter O’Toole, giving us the world’s most British CIA agent. O’Toole’s lackadaisical performance was probably a measure of his contempt for the production, but it gives an air of detachment to Martin’s mission that is weirdly convincing: international espionage as a job like any other, if dirtier than most. The rest of the cast ranges from the interesting to the bizarre, including a dazed Peter Lawford as the father of abductee, Margaret Carter, played by Lalla Ward; Adrienne Corri as the latter’s mother; and former New York mayor and presidential candidate, John V. Lindsay, as the father of Joyce Donnovan, played by Kim Cattrall in her screen debut.

The Disappeared (2008)

After his eight-year-old brother disappears from a local playground, teenager Matthew Ryan (Harry Treadaway) suffers a breakdown and is hospitalised. When released into the care of his father, Jake (Greg Wise), Matt returns to the small council flat they share; however, each is so consumed with guilt over Tom’s uncertain fate that they can barely communicate. Matt also neglects the doctor’s appointments which were a condition of his release from hospital, spending many hours alone in the flat, brooding; though he does find a new friend in girl-next-door Amy Tyler (Ros Leeming), who he knows – the walls are very thin – is being abused by her father. Finally, Matt is driven to dig out the newspaper clippings of Tom’s disappearance and even a video recording of a press conference in which Jake begged for the boy’s return. As he watches the latter, Matt suddenly hears a soft voice speaking his name; he replays the tape, and each time, at the same point, he hears the voice… Matt’s attempt to confide in his father only infuriates Jake and pushes him into disposing of the tape and clippings. When Matt tells his best friend, Simon Pryor (Tom Felton), about what he heard, he is sceptical but mentions Electronic Voice Phenomenon. With only a tape recorder to work with, Matt sits in the playground and makes an impassioned plea to his brother; and again, when he plays it back he is sure he can hear another voice. But this is not all: almost everywhere he goes, Matt begins catching glimpses of Tom… The Disappeared is a low-key but ambitious British horror movie. It is certainly not without flaws, in particular a tendency to fall back on clichés and contrivances a bit too often (for example, dreams-within-dreams, and an inexplicable Death Exemption). There are some points in it that remain frustratingly obscure, and it could have been tightened up in editing; but these are minor shortcomings in a brave narrative that, while remaining an effective horror movie featuring both the – apparently – genuinely supernatural and a serial killer, also deals forthrightly with mental illness, social isolation, guilt and grieving, and the emotional and physical toll taken by poverty and violence—and which, furthermore, manages to blend these disparate elements together almost seamlessly. For all his self-destructiveness, Matt is a sympathetic protagonist, battling a nightmarish array of demons in his effort to get to the truth about Tom, and with only his equally disaffected friends to turn to. Harry Treadaway’s central performance as Matt dominates the film, but good support comes from Greg Wise, Ros Leeming and Tom Felton. In addition, Alex Jennings appears as Adrian Ballin, a church counsellor, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as Shelley Cartwright, a local medium consulted by Matt. The Disappeared was the feature-film debut of director Johnny Kevorkian, who co-wrote the screenplay with Neil Murphy.

Mirrors (2008)

As he struggles to put his life back together after a fatal shooting, suspended cop Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) takes a job as a night-time security guard at what remains of the Mayflower, once New York’s most beautiful and luxurious department store. As the daytime guard, Lorenzo Sapelli (John Shrapnel), explains, though it is some fifteen years since the building was gutted by fire in an arson attack by an employee which left many dead or injured, the legal fallout has yet to be settled. As Sapelli shows him around by torchlight, Carson notices that everything is in ruinous condition except for the store’s many mirrors, which are both intact and perfectly clean; Sapelli remarks that Carson’s predecessor, a man called Gary Lewis (Josh Cole), was almost obsessive about keeping them polished. As he patrols the dark, deserted building, Carson begins to experience strange occurrences associated with the mirrors: several times, he seems to see things reflected which are different in reality; while in a certain light, it can be seen that they are covered with handprints which will not wipe off. After a particularly unnerving incident, Carson finds Gary Lewis’s wallet: inside it he discovers a piece of paper bearing the name ‘Esseker’. Soon afterwards, Carson’s sister, Angela (Amy Smart), is grotesquely killed; and in the wake of this, Carson learns that Gary Lewis, too, is dead—having cut his own throat with a shard of broken mirror glass… Based – although loosely, I gather – upon Kim Sung-ho’s Geoul Sokeuro (Into The Mirror), Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors is ultimately a disappointing jumble of a horror movie, one which wavers uncertainly between spooky, K-influenced scare scenes and the bloody mayhem that Aja was, at this time, better known for. This is one of those films that puts more emphasis upon its setting and set-up than its narrative can well support; and if the Mayflower – somehow converted from a mental hospital into a luxury department store – isn’t quite as silly as the house in The Haunting, the fact that I found myself thinking of the latter at all was a distinct warning bell. (Worse was to follow: there’s a production design choice here that made me think of The Heretic!) Though the film is punctuated by two over-the-top gore-scenes – one of them concluding its pre-credits sequence – for most of its running-time it is content to go the jump-scare route, as Carson finds himself the latest victim of the mirrors’ determined quest for the mysterious ‘Esseker’. There are some effective moments here, but unfortunately Mirrors gets less scary and disturbing as it goes along, apparently making up its “rules” on the run, and finally becoming both tiresome and silly; though its punchline (which I gather many people don’t like) is nicely executed. There are also too many general absurdities, like an NYC homicide cop having nothing better to do than run Carson’s errands, and my personal favourite, the fact that Carson has supposedly taken this shitty job to help support his estranged wife and their two kids—who turn out to be living in a ridiculously huge suburban mansion, one so big they can easily lose track of one another in it, and which (it turns out) contains an even more ridiculous number of mirrors: “They’re EVERYWHERE!” moans Carson as he tries unavailingly to de-glaze the house. (As for the completely ignored gun-play-on-the-front-lawn, I assume that’s just Alexandre Aja’s view of America.) If Keifer Sutherland was trying to shake off Jack Bauer here, Mirrors was determined not to let him, with the story finally devolving into a race against time that finds Carson abducting a nun at gunpoint (no, really) and going hand-to-hand with a bloody-faced demon (ibid.). The supporting cast includes Paula Patton as Carson’s wife, Amy; Cameron Boyce and Arika Gluck as their kids; Jason Flemyng as Detective Larry Byrne; and Amy Smart as the unfortunate Angela.

(Question: what happened to the Carsons’ cat? As things turn out, I’m glad it wasn’t there for the third act; but still, where did it go??)

The Perfect Assistant (2008)

Also known as: Secretary 2 (but don’t get your hopes up). Rachel Partson (Josie Davis) is a first-rate executive assistant to businessman David Wescott (Chris Potter); she is also dangerously obsessed with him… When David’s wife, Carol (Jennifer Marcil), collapses and is rushed to hospital, Rachel comes into her own—managing David’s business responsibilities, caring for his young daughter, Isabelle (Veronique-Natale Szalankiewicz), and even cooking his favourite dinner for him in his own house. In fact, Rachel finally decides that she would be much better for David than Carol is—and takes steps to remove her from his life… As David deals with his bereavement, Rachel continues to organise his life and business. She removes the competitor for an important contract via blackmail and, when David plans to take Isabelle with him on a short trip to New York, ensures that she and only she will accompany them. Rachel is certain that this trip will mark the start of a new life for herself and David—but a terrible shock is in store for her… This Lifetime movie fails for a very unusual reason: it’s too realistic. Rachel’s delusional obsession with David, her manipulative efforts to force her way into his life, and her escalation into hysteria and then violence when he rejects her are, sadly, all too familiar. Only Rachel’s almost casual disposal of Carol – unnoticed by the hospital staff and unquestioned by anyone, including David – hits the right note of absurdity. We know where we are with The Perfect Assistant from the moment we see that the back wall of Rachel’s wardrobe is covered with pictures of David; and from there we just twiddle our thumbs until the moment when something inevitably pushes her off the deep end. Though only 94 minutes long, this film feels interminable as it goes over and over the same ground. In fact—it might have worked better from an outside perspective, showing how people like Rachel can fly under the radar until a moment of crisis sets them off. Josie Davis does a pretty good job with the material she’s given, but her character gets boring when she should be frightening; while the over-bright baby-talk voice she uses while Rachel is interacting with Isabelle is intolerable. (I don’t believe any kid would be fooled by it.) Chris Potter is effective as David, believably oblivious to the powder-keg under his nose as he deals with business crises and grieves for the wife he sincerely loved. However, Sophie Gendron has an odd affect as Carol’s cousin, Mary-Beth; while—well, I don’t know if it’s the character as the actress, but Deborah Pollitt as Rachel’s cousin, Nora, is just plain weird.

The Wife He Met Online (2012)

On the eve of their wedding, Bryant Meyers (Cameron Mathison) and Georgia Marisette (Sydney Penny) do a promotional video for the dating site that brought them together, describing their online dating, eventual meeting, and the courtship that is to end in marriage. Bryant’s ex-wife, Virginia (Cynthia Preston), now happily re-married to Nick (James Thomas), worries that Bryant is rushing into things; but she is relieved that their young daughter, Megan (Emily Burley), seems to like Georgia. Less happy about things is Bryant’s colleague, Zenya Ivanski (Krista Bridges), with whom he had a brief fling after his break-up with Virginia, and who has carried a torch for him ever since, though he now considers her just a friend. At the reception, Bryant stops to have a drink with Zenya; across the room, Georgia watches the two of them in growing rage before sweeping off to the powder-room—where she cries hysterically that it cannot be happening again… She is interrupted by her mother, Alma (Barbara Niven), who tells her sneeringly that she was stupid to think she could ever hold a man like Bryant—particularly after what happened last time… Virginia discovers that Georgia has neither family nor friends at the wedding, which reawakens her concerns. Bryant shrugs this off, pointing out that it is a cross-country wedding; and as for Georgia’s family, her father walked out when she was a baby, and her mother died when she was ten…  The tone of The Wife He Met Online is all over the place, which makes it both less fun and less successful than it might have been had it picked and sticked. Stuck. On one hand, Sydney Penny is completely over the top as Georgia – off her meds and proud of it, as it were – as she goes from fit to fit of screaming jealousy and rage every time Bryant so much as looks at another woman, and inventing, or hallucinating, reasons to do so even if he isn’t; her furious departure from a funeral, prompted by Bryant’s delivery of the eulogy, is perhaps the film’s highlight. Penny’s performance even comes accessorised with its own wonderfully unsubtle soundtrack, as if her flaring nostrils, clenched fists and death-glares weren’t enough to get the job done. Yet some attempt is made to give Georgia substance, if not quite sympathy: Penny is effective as Georgia pleads for Bryant’s understanding of her mental health problems and trust issues; while her terror that she is going to be abandoned again – just like the late Mrs Marisette always said – is also believable. The Wife He Met Online finally throws substance to the wind, however, and Penny is allowed to cut loose as Georgia sets about removing what she believes to the main obstacles to hers and Bryant’s happiness—namely, Zenya and Virginia… Sydney Penny dominates the action to such a degree here that there isn’t much anyone else can do. Cameron Mathison has a few good moments, but Bryant is the usual whitebread bore that Lifetime serves up whenever it needs “a nice guy” (that is, a guy who isn’t secretly a psycho). Cynthia Preston gives a solid supporting performance—and in fact one of this film’s most interesting touches is Virginia finding happiness with cuddly, self-effacing Nick as she could not do with male-model-ish executive Bryant. Barbara Niven, meanwhile, is hilariously nasty as Alma: really, it’s no wonder that Georgia—well, let’s just say that Mama Marisette’s accidental death might not have been entirely accidental…

His Perfect Obsession (2018)

The trouble with too many Lifetime movies is their inability to live up to their synopses. Case in point: Blind teen Abigail must use her other senses to protect her family from her recently-deceased aunt’s psychotic accountant and his terrifying agenda. While that’s true enough in outline, His Perfect Obsession turns out to be an overly familiar story of romantic fixation, stalking and murder—and not, as we may have hoped, a terrifying tale of tax evasion gone horribly wrong. A year after seventeen-year-old Abigail Jones (Ali Skovbye) loses her eyesight, she suffers another tragedy when her great-aunt Charlotte (Heather Tod Mitchell) is hit by a car and killed. Abigail and her mother, Allison (Arianne Zucker), travel from Philadelphia to the latter’s small home-town to settle Charlotte’s estate. The move also gives Allison distance from her crumbling second marriage to Wyatt Haler (Tomas Chovanec). After the funeral, Allison is approached by Bart McGregor (Brendan Murray), who was Charlotte’s accountant. She readily agrees to meet with him to go over her aunt’s finances, unaware that Bart has been obsessed with her since they went to school together, and that her return to town has inspired in him a determination to win her at all cost… As already indicated, the problem with His Perfect Obsession is that the aspects of it that make us grin and sit up are only tangential to the central story of fixation and escalating violence. True enough it is that in the time since losing her sight, Abigail has developed the ears and nose of a bloodhound, such that she can tell all sorts of things about all sorts of people, in the most unnerving way (although not, as it turns out, that her mother’s stalker is lurking nearby with a chloroform-soaked cloth). However, my favourite touch here is that Bart’s idea of a fun time, a visit to “Mike’s Sugar Shack” now that “tree-tapping season has started”, is apparently not something we’re supposed to laugh at—given that it becomes the site of Allison’s one date with hunky real-estate agent, Lance Lancaster (no, really). The bottom line is, though, that neither Allison nor Abigail is particularly interesting or even sympathetic, so that the viewer, and the film itself, is thrown back upon Bart, and his determined campaign to remove all obstacles from between himself and Allison—in spite of what his mother says, in the flesh and in his head… When two murders and a character assassination don’t get him what he wants, Bart abducts both Allison and Abigail, carrying them to an isolated farmhouse where Allison is going to learn to love him—or else. Meanwhile, back in town, bartender Ben Sullivan (Scott Gibson) is the only one to notice that people are disappearing at an alarming rate…

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11 Responses to Et Al. Oct20

  1. therevdd says:

    The title Giant of Marathon has floated across my radar but I never bothered to look into it. I’ve put it on The List since Reeves was in it (hey, I love the lug), but if it’s actually pretty good that is just a bonus that’ll move it up a bit.

    The idea of a movie having almost nothing in common with The Secretary (I mean, there’s a secretary…yeah, good enough I guess) marketing itself as its sequel is odd enough, but a Lifetime movie which would surely not tread the original’s ground in any meaningful way? I don’t even know what to make of that.


    • lyzmadness says:

      I liked it; I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

      (Noting that you’ve had plenty of time to watch it by now, but that’s on me!)

      I know! – not really pitching to the same audiences, you’d think…


  2. Jim says:

    Lifetime movies are my current guilty pleasure. You can count on a theme, much like the way B movie directors named their 1980’s era offerings. All movies with Cheerleaders. All movies with Grannies. All movies with psycho in the title. And the repeats when they overlap – you can show Psycho Granny Cheerleader all three days.

    The plots are mostly the same. The killer is a female. It’s not a random attack; there’s always a reason to target the victim. Which is usually a man. The man’s significant other is instantly creeped out by the female killer, yet he insists she’s overreacting. And the weapon of choice is a knife.

    And now we know what happened to Vivica Fox’s career.


    • lyzmadness says:

      “WRONG”. We have the entire series of “The Wrong—” movies running here at the moment.

      Be fair, though, there’s a pretty even male / female split there; though most of them do play out the same way once the call has been made. 🙂


  3. KeithB says:

    “Granted, they’re all alligators instead of crocodiles; but I promise you will never see more of the beasties in one place than you do in this film, where they swarm in ridiculous numbers.”

    At Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, on the Kilimanjaro Safari, they have a pond with 20 *large* Nile crocodiles. It is a pretty impressive sight.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Oooh! 🙂

      Our Reptile Park (where, alas, I have not managed a visit in far too long) has an alligator lagoon as well as a saltwater crocodile exhibit; though the former star attraction, 5-metre-long Eric, died some time ago.


  4. DennisMM says:

    Mz. Lyz, a small correction. The vehicle that crashes in episode one of “The Whispering Shadow” is not a helicopter but an autogyro, a helicopter precursor. Gyros were topped by an unpowered rotor airfoil that only generated lift after it turned at sufficient speed. Because of this, gyros could not take off or land vertically; the vehicle had to reach a critical velocity before the rotor spun fast enough to generate the needed vertical lift and lost that lift if the rotor for some reason slowed. However, it was a short-take-off-and-landing vehicle type that required less runway that a small, fixed-wing aircraft.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. RogerBW says:

    Tiger Shark: I suppose one might say “shark gonna shark”. I mean, if you carelessly leave your limbs trailing into their home, while being made of meat…

    Oh, those 1930s films where every man is wearing an identical uniform right down to the visible parts of his hairstyle! They can be downright hard work at times.

    Mirrors: the cat saw what was coming and decided to go and complain to a neighbour that it hadn’t been fed in weeks

    The Perfect Assistant: the thing that gets me here is the message to men that you just can’t trust women as workmates. And I know people who genuinely believe that there is no such thing as a friendship between m and f that doesn’t involve at least one of them being desperate to get the other into bed/marriage. I suppose one could say this about The Wife He Met Online too.


    • lyzmadness says:

      Well, yeah, does seem a bit unreasonable… 😀

      Honestly, so many of these make distinguishing the characters nearly impossible, though I guess they were never meant to be watched on a small screen.

      Proving once again that cats are smarter than—I’ll be generous and say 99% of humans.

      The person in both those films holding that opinion is psychotic, so that’s something.


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