• King Dinosaur

    King Dinosaur

    "Nobody's gonna believe this!" I enjoy cheap fifties sci-fi/horror movies, and I like to think I do so sincerely. I don't want to simply laugh as if the movie was a failed attempt to meet a major studio standard, a standard I regard as inadequate and inappropriate for the evaluation of B pictures. I'm perfectly able to enjoy a movie about four scientists visiting a distant planet that looks indistinguishable from taking a nature walk in California. I'm perfectly able…

  • Thunder Over Texas

    Thunder Over Texas

    Given that Edgar G. Ulmer spent his career in Poverty Row, it's something of a miracle that he only made one B series western, Poverty Row's bread and butter. Of course, this was almost certainly a 'miracle' produced out of conscious choice by Ulmer – he was interested in the greater expressionist visual possibilities of noir and horror, and he didn't want to be tied down to a series. I'm glad that was Ulmer's choice, but this Big Boy Williams…

  • Masks and Memories

    Masks and Memories

    "It's beautiful. Just like stepping into another world." It's impossible for me to feel the same degree of affection for Turner Classic Movies after its alienating rebrand, which dissonantly tries to make the aesthetic of old-time movies emerge naturally out of the visual and musical aesthetic of social media scrolls seen on the smart phones of pulsating dance club patrons. I nevertheless cannot but be endeared to any organization that casts to my airwaves obscure Warner Bros. shorts starring the…

  • The Case of the Howling Dog

    The Case of the Howling Dog

    The first in Warner Bros.'s Perry Mason series. It stars Warren William as an occasionally barking, slightly dirty dog of a private eye, who nevertheless upholds law and order enough to be approved by the Production Code Administration. Allen Jenkins appears in support wearing a moustache! It's directed by Alan Crosland, a safe and staid filmmaker who Warner Bros. tasked with genre pictures important to the studio's institutional growth (such as Don Juan, The Jazz Singer, and Viennese Nights). Lacking…

  • Bubbling Over

    Bubbling Over

    Ethel Waters in a Van Beuren Studios musical short subject for RKO distribution. Features an imitation of Mae West's come-up-and-see-me, a low-key lit crystal ball scene, and Ethel Waters singing. Unfortunately, it's weighed down by distasteful ethnic caricature dialect humour, characteristic of its debt to vaudeville. I can't shake Waters's upsetting song Darkies Never Dream. Its lyrics basically say that the life of the descendants of slaves in America remains so hard that they shouldn't even wish to attain civil…

  • Death on the Diamond

    Death on the Diamond

    A cosy MGM murder mystery on a baseball theme: ace St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Robert Young, in between romancing underrated thirties style queen Madge Evans, tries to catch a serial killer who's bumping off his position players one by one. The result will mean nothing to most viewers, but for me, given my adulation for baseball and my preternatural predilection for '30s B movies, it paints the inside corner of delightful. My defence rests on the film's compelling world –…

  • Outlaws of Stampede Pass

    Outlaws of Stampede Pass

    Happy Birthday, Johnny Mack Brown! The entries in Brown's Universal series directed by Joseph H. Lewis were the first B series westerns I loved, and since then Brown's oaters have been reliable sources of comfort amid life's mingled yarn. As its moniker implies, the series western was chiefly about reiterating formulas with minor variation in details only, and that familiarity and predictability, so often dismissed as an aesthetic vice, is typically regarded as a virtue by their fans: series westerns…

  • Kid Glove Killer

    Kid Glove Killer

    A silly, unremarkable, and entertaining B mystery by MGM starring forensic scientists Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt. One of director Fred Zinnemann's first features, it already exhibits his penchant for a rather tiresome semi-realism, but its modest programmer credentials are far more agreeable to me than the dull pretensions of his umpteen prestige pictures to come. Not without implausible moments. The following dialogue exchange – "Honey, if anything every happened to you, I–" "Just bury me with one of your…

  • The Pirate

    The Pirate

    Chang Cheh's pirate movie. In the opening fight in the South China Sea aboard a European pirate ship, Ti Lung and his company are the victors, because while both parties know sword-fighting, only his side knows martial arts. (This ought to be a lesson to us all – risks are best managed by portfolio diversification.) The movie is not much outside of its pirate genre atmosphere and its lively fight sequences, but these two virtues are enough to make for a minor diversion.

  • Public Ghost # 1

    Public Ghost # 1

    An increasingly rare experience is the pleasure of mysterious discovery that comes from seeing a movie but not knowing its title or any further identifying information about it. Last night, I stumbled into such a experience when I turned on TCM to find one of their time filler short subjects beginning to air, jumping in just after the title cards. It was a fascinatingly daffy tale consisting of comic and spooky set pieces nonsensically linked together by the happenstance criss-crossing…

  • Call Northside 777

    Call Northside 777

    I've never cared for this particular filone: postwar American movies in which a major Hollywood studio tries (in self-described semi-documentary realist style) to make the viewer a fly-on-the-wall while crime-solvers go about the unromanticized, suspense-lite particulars of their work procedure. That said, this one benefits from approaching its crime story through a newspaper angle, and it especially benefits from the happy fortune of James Stewart as the reporter. Solely on the shoulders of Stewart's effervescent likability and familiar mystique, the…

  • Bewitched Bunny

    Bewitched Bunny

    In certain moods, I just want to be a dainty old spinster witch who lives in a lacy pink cottage in a fairytale woods and who devotes herself to roasting alive the children of local heterosexuals, as a figurative expression of roasting alive the locals' desire to reproduce heteronormative values. In such moods, I watch this movie. In other moods, I simply think that, should I ever have a child, I would hope that they would like this movie.