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Wildcat (1942)
Entertaining B-Feature With A Good Cast
6 April 2006
The good cast is one of the main pluses in this entertaining B-feature. It features a good role for Richard Arlen as the main character, and he is given good support by the likes of Elisha Cook, Jr., Buster Crabbe, and William Frawley. The story is rather formulaic, but the oilfield setting is used for some action and suspense sequences that work pretty well.

Arlen plays an ambitious would-be oilman who hopes to use a combination of leadership, hard work, and financial trickery to come out ahead in his rivalry with another driller played by Crabbe. Cook is quite good (and well cast) as Arlen's jittery but loyal partner, while Frawley and Arline Judge play a couple of confidence operators who get tangled up in the oil rivalry, making the plot a little more interesting.

The finale is an extended firefighting scene that works all right considering the low production values. Along the way, Arthur Hunnicutt and Ralph Sanford provide some comic relief that includes an occasional thoughtful moment. It's a solid combination, and while there's nothing that special about it, it provides some solid entertainment for a little over an hour or so.
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A Fine Cast Makes It a Good Melodrama
4 April 2006
The fine cast makes this melodrama work, and turns a rather routine plot idea into a good and sometimes memorable movie. John Gilbert and Lars Hanson are a good combination as the male leads, and Greta Garbo is convincing as always, as the woman at the center of everything. Clarence Brown's direction also contains some good touches.

Gilbert and Hanson work well as the two lifelong friends who fall in love with the same woman. Gilbert's more passionate, hot-blooded character forms a believable and interesting contrast to Hanson's innocently earnest portrayal of his loyal, unsuspecting friend. Garbo's character is treated roughly at times by the story and by some of the other characters, but she more than rises to the occasion, and as she often does, she makes what could have been a stereotyped love interest into a complex and sometimes tormented character.

Barbara Kent also does well in a smaller role, and her character (the younger sister of Hanson's character) is used effectively at some important moments that help develop the main characters. Brown adds a lighter tone to a couple of sequences when suitable, and he provides a good pace. Given the fairly simple story, it might run a bit long, but otherwise it is well-crafted and effective.
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Jack London (1943)
OK For the First Hour Or So
4 April 2006
For the first hour or so, this fictionalized biography of "Jack London" is not bad. Michael O'Shea brings some energy to the role, and in general it conveys some of the basic characteristics of its subject's life reasonably well. The last part of it was heavily tailored to the time in which it was filmed, and unfortunately it is now only of interest as an example of how badly a movie can become dated when it tries to do that.

Most of the movie is a collection of distinct experiences in London's life, tied loosely together. It works all right, and it effectively conveys the irregular nature of his lifestyle, with some courageous acts being mixed in with his involvement in disreputable and even illegal activities. The low budget nature of the production occasionally keeps some of these sequences from being more effective, but it's not bad, though it would have benefited from giving Susan Hayward and some of the other supporting cast members a little more to do.

In the last half hour or so, the story shifts its focus to a lengthy sequence that has London in Japan, reporting on the war between Japan and Russia in the early 20th century. The overt and sometimes forced condemnations of Japan make the sequence now look labored and a bit frantic, though in its time the message may have seemed to be appropriate.

There was surely a middle ground that would have allowed for brief wartime message to be inserted without getting things completely off-track. Many movies of the first half of the 1940s, in fact, do just that, and are able to hold up perfectly well today even when there are a handful of scenes or quotes that were clearly intended to have wartime significance. Jack London was a fine writer and an interesting person, but this movie ends up taking the focus too far away from him and from his life.
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Mata Hari (1931)
Garbo Makes the Role & the Character Her Own
29 March 2006
As the notorious "Mata Hari", Greta Garbo makes both the role and the character her own, providing a portrayal that is much deeper and more complex than the historical character probably was. The rest of the cast and production work well enough, but they are mostly there only to provide Garbo the backdrop and the foils that she uses to develop the main character.

The story focuses Mata Hari's liaisons with two Russian officers, an older general played by Lionel Barrymore, and a young aviator played by Ramon Novarro, with an implacable Secret Service man (played by C. Henry Gordon) trying to stop her. Each of the three plays his part well, while allowing Garbo to take the spotlight. Lewis Stone also makes good use of his limited screen time, and Karen Morley has some memorable moments as another spy.

The story probably has little in common with the historical facts, and while the historical character is an interesting one, it seems certain that Garbo's character is more so, combining her obvious appeal with a depth of feeling and a complicated set of priorities, as few other actresses could have done. Designing the story and characters with her in mind works well, making for good drama and one of Garbo's many effective performances.
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Pretty Predictable, Does Have A Couple of Good Action Sequences
29 March 2006
This does have a couple of good action sequences, but overall it is too predictable to be anything more than average, at best, for its genre. The Foreign Legion setting is fairly interesting, at least as a reflection of its time, and it provides for a couple of relatively interesting possibilities.

George Raft stars as a Legionnaire who combines a hazardous mission with a romantic involvement with an Emir's daughter. Once things get started, Raft is good enough in the role, but the first several minutes of the movie are wasted trying to portray his character as an incurable skirt-chaser, which doesn't really work. Marie Windsor plays the Emir's daughter, and while there's nothing wrong with her performance, she doesn't really fit the part, and she and Raft never quite seem to click together. The script is straightforward enough, but it could have used some sharper dialogue to pick up these scenes in particular.

Once Raft's character gets his assignment and meets the daughter, the story follows a pretty standard formula. The action sequences are the highlights, which include a good chase scene with Raft trying to elude a palace full of pursuers. Otherwise, there are only occasional moments of good drama to hold your attention.
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Enjoyable Early Holiday Feature
28 March 2006
This early holiday-themed feature is enjoyable to watch, and it is also a good example of Edwin S. Porter's style in filming special effect or fantasy movies. The story, loosely based on the theme of the poem "The Night Before Christmas", is old-fashioned in a good way that works pretty well. It's also one of the earlier movies to feature the use of cross-cutting or parallel editing.

The story alternates between two story lines, with 'Santa Claus' getting everything ready for his December 24 deliveries, while at the same time the children from a large family are having difficulty falling asleep due to their excitement. The 'Santa' portions flesh out the standard legend with Porter's characteristic style, and the family sequences are easy to identify with, for just about anyone who remembers being a child.

As director and cinematographer, Porter takes his usual approach with this kind of material. Rather than striving to make the settings and visual effects seem as lifelike as possible, he instead aims to make them interesting and pleasing to look at in their own right. It works well here, and the images seem to fit in well with the story. It's short (less than ten minutes), yet the length seems just about right, and it makes for an entertaining little movie.
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Good Version For Its Time
28 March 2006
For 1910, this is a good version of the classic Charles Dickens' story. Many of the scenes look quite familiar from the many more recent versions, and most viewers today will have no trouble filling in unexplained details and the like. It covers a lot of ground in only one reel of film, but even then it leaves out some very familiar details, so it really just tries to get across the main point of the story.

Marc McDermott, one of the Edison Studio's best actors, plays Scrooge. He does a good job, although the techniques of the era limit him somewhat, since the story relies on an effective Scrooge to make an impact. The story moves quite quickly, which again is simply a reflection of the time. Quite a few one-reel features of the era squeezed in enough material to fill two or three times their running time.

The story is so well-known and so worthwhile that almost any version of "A Christmas Carol" is worth seeing. This one is a good movie adaptation for its era, and it would have been hard to improve upon it significantly given the techniques and resources available at the time.
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Santa Claus (1925)
Pleasant Fantasy With Some Very Good Visuals
27 March 2006
This pleasant fantasy feature is particularly worth seeing for the very nice visuals it contains, combining outdoor footage from Alaska with interesting depictions of 'Santa Claus' in his workshop. Despite its age, the relatively unchanged nature of the material allows it to hold up rather well, and it could almost work as a holiday feature for today's audiences.

The story starts with two children sneaking out of their bedroom on Christmas Eve, so that they can talk to Santa when he comes. Most of the movie simply shows Santa's descriptions of his home and activities, and most of his leisurely explanations are entertaining to watch.

The main titles prominently call attention to the location footage in Northern Alaska, and with good reason, since these sequences contain some beautiful arctic scenery plus some enjoyable views of arctic animals. The indoor sequences also have some high points, in their depictions of toy-making and toy delivery. These sequences are rather old-fashioned, yet sometimes quite detailed.

By the nature of the material, the feature has a noticeable nostalgic feel, and in this case it works quite well due to the resourceful photography and the interesting settings.
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Fair Overall, With Location Photography As A Plus
27 March 2006
The location photography in Mexico is a noticeable plus in this adventure feature, which is watchable but just fair overall. The story follows a very familiar pattern, yet it opens up some good dramatic possibilities. The cast and characters don't always make full use of the opportunities, but there is enough to make it worth seeing.

William Lundigen stars as a diligent but rather small-minded archaeologist, who is reluctant to take a female photographer on an important and hazardous trip to a remote part of Mexico. Once the expedition is underway, he and the group's guide find themselves rivals for the photographer's attentions, which makes the hazardous situations they face even more difficult.

The combination of a love triangle with a hazardous quest is the kind of setup that can make for a fine movie, and this one gets enough out of the setup to be interesting, but it could have been quite a bit better. The dialogue is too bland to give the actors a lot to work with, and as the lead, Lundigen is believable but one-dimensional. Peggy Castle is attractive enough to make it easy to believe that the two males could make fools of themselves over her, but likewise she and her character remain one-dimensional. Armando Silvestre is somewhat more interesting as the guide.

On the plus side, the settings and the situation are interesting, and they offer a slight change of pace from the usual action film premises. Even with some of the color having faded from the print, the rugged scenery is often well worth seeing just for itself, and the outdoor photography adds considerably to the atmosphere. Overall, though it has some apparent flaws, it's not bad and it has some definite pluses.
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Entertaining Feature, & One of the Better Movies in the Series
22 March 2006
This entertaining feature is one of the better movies in the 'Octavius, Amateur Detective' series. It has an interesting story, and it builds things up to a resourceful chase sequence that combines suspense with humor. It does have some of the technical flaws, mainly in the editing, that were unfortunately common in the series, but otherwise it's pretty good.

As Octavius, Barry O'Moore efficiently defines the energetic, slightly self-satisfied amateur detective, making him likable despite his flaws and blind spots. Here, Octavius is asked to dress up as 'Santa Claus' for the benefit of his friends' children, only to become involved with a burglar who uses a 'Santa' suit for his own purposes. There is also a little romance thrown in on the side.

The best part of the movie is the chase sequence between the two 'Santas', which has some amusing moments and a clever outcome. The pace is a little more even than in other Octavius features, and the editing is also better, with only one or two really significant defects.

For a time, this series must have been relatively popular, given the number of features in it. The lively approach and the simple but well-defined central character also keep it watchable today.
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An Interesting Combination of Story Elements
22 March 2006
This holiday-themed melodrama has an interesting combination of story elements. To some degree, they reflect ideas that were familiar at the time, and in another respect they provide an example of the ways that the era's film-makers were attempting to move beyond the kinds of simple stories characteristic of one-reel features. In this case, the story is a bit too ambitious for the running time, and it would have worked better at about twice the length. But it's an interesting effort.

The story sets up two parallel story lines: first, a romantic rivalry between two well-to-do young men, and second, the increasing despair of a working man over his wife's illness and his family's poverty. These two situations then intersect in a relatively lengthy party sequence that brings everyone together. To a large degree, the settings and subplots simply combine ideas that are familiar from many other movies of the time. What is different is the attempt to take an earnest but light-hearted romantic plot, and interweave it with a serious piece of social commentary.

There are a lot of characters, and one of the drawbacks of packing so much into a mere fifteen minutes or so is that some of the characters are never clearly distinguished from one another, nor are most of them given enough of an identity to make you feel that you know them. The only character who is well-defined is the desperate chauffeur, and that is accomplished by rather overt means. Through the mid-1910s and early 1920s, film-makers learned a great deal more about ways of better developing their characters before plunging them into the events of a complex story.
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An Endearing Little Feature
21 March 2006
This very endearing Lumière feature shows a group of persons competing in a friendly, old-fashioned "Sack Race", and it is quite enjoyable to watch. It is lively, good-natured, and often funny. Whether it was spontaneous or whether it was staged in part for the camera, it works quite well in preserving the fun time had by a group of people from long ago.

The nature of the subject leads you to expect some humorous moments, and it will probably remind many viewers of similar experiences that they have had themselves. What makes the footage work particularly well is not the successful competitors who know what they are doing, but rather those who have to struggle along at the risk of embarrassment. After a short time, the scene becomes rather disorderly, in a humorous way, as the crowd of humans and dogs gets tangled up with the racers.

The best part of the movie is one man who is having a terrible time figuring out how to hop in his sack. As embarrassed as he must have felt, he takes it in stride, and he even seems to be enjoying himself. His facial expressions make it impossible not to like him and root for him. The rest of this short movie likewise is hard not to enjoy.

The usual good quality of Lumière's films is present here, with the composition and other technical aspects being done well. But this is one case in which the technical side is completely upstaged by the enjoyable material.
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An Ambitious Holiday Feature For Its Time
20 March 2006
This holiday-themed movie is, to be honest, neither particularly impressive nor particularly entertaining, but it represents an ambitious effort for 1901. The story-telling technique is just not polished enough to tell the story, and as a result things don't fit together especially well in most places. But with four distinct scenes, related only by the broad story line, it was an enterprising attempt to move beyond the limits of the average movie of its day.

The story follows a fairly large family as they put together a private stage show for the holiday season. Their 'performance' is framed by two domestic scenes that are actually the best parts of the movie. The actual play sequences don't really come together, which in large part is probably due to limited experience with communicating a story's details in a motion picture. Overall, it does give a pleasant domestic portrait of the family, but that could have been accomplished with simpler and more direct means.

It's mostly worth seeing as a historical example. Before movies could move on to longer features with more involved stories, film-makers had to try things like this, so that they and their successors could learn what worked and what didn't work.
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Interesting Role For Garbo, Plus Some Good Set Pieces
20 March 2006
This silent drama provides an interesting role for Greta Garbo, who was still rather young at the time. It also has some good set pieces created by directors Fred Niblo and/or Mauritz Stiller, which liven up the story considerably. The supporting cast also features a couple of good performances, and all of the strengths help to make up for a rather downbeat story.

As "The Temptress", Garbo is certainly believable as a woman who attracts the attention of every man around. What makes it more interesting than most such scenarios is that both the script and Garbo's performance leave some ambiguity about what the character is really like inside, and in any case she has a lot more depth than the male characters. The best supporting performances come from Lionel Barrymore and Marc McDermott, as two of the many men who desire her.

Several sequences are filmed very nicely. Fontenoy's dinner party is an effective display of the hollow lifestyle it depicts, and there is some real danger and menace in the fight scene between Robledo and Manos Duras. The pace overall is uneven, and it does have some slow stretches that add unnecessarily to the running time, but the good parts make up for this. At least one DVD version includes a variant ending that changes the tone considerably, so there must have been some uncertainty about how it should close.

Garbo's talent and screen presence are both easy to see, and in later features her characters would give her better opportunities to show them. She does a very good job here, and makes her character much more interesting than it would have been with a lesser performer in the role. Overall, it's a movie worth seeing for silent film fans, with some real highlights that make up for the occasional shortcomings.
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Feet First (1930)
Good Low-Key Comedy With a Throwback Finale
20 March 2006
This Harold Lloyd feature provides good low-key comedy, capped off with a lengthy finale that is very much in the style of a throwback to the finale of Lloyd's "Safety Last" and other silent classics. Lloyd has the kind of role that allows him to use most of his range of comic talents, and the story sets up plenty of predicaments for his character to try to wriggle out of.

The story has Lloyd as an ambitious but rather hapless shoe salesman, who tries to pass himself off as someone important in order to impress a young woman. It's familiar territory for Lloyd, but the story adds plenty of good material that makes the character again and again scramble for ways out of a continual series of problems.

The finale has Lloyd's character getting caught on the outside of a tall building, and desperately trying to get to safety. It contains a number of imaginative details and obstacles to add to the suspense and humor. The only drawback is the heavily stereotyped character played by Willie Best, which distracts your attention away from the good comedy material. That's nothing at all against Best, who was a talented comedic actor who simply took the roles that were available to him, and who would have succeeded if he'd been given the chance to do more.

Overall, though, it's a solid comedy, and one that allows Lloyd to do many of the things that made him so popular.
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An Early Holiday Feature That Still Works Very Well
20 March 2006
This is one of the earliest holiday-themed movies that still work well today, and for its time it works very well. The story's theme is quite similar to the more familiar "A Christmas Carol", but in a completely different and more contemporary setting that in some respects allows the story to hit even closer to home.

The story follows and contrasts two neighboring families, an unhappy well-to-do couple and a large, impoverished family. The affluent husband is an incurable grouch, who constantly fusses at and blames the neighbors for the most trivial of things, and who then is transformed by the 'Accident' of the title.

Most of it is straightforward, but believable. The setting is simple, but it works because the homes still don't look too out of date, and because the domestic concerns and disagreements are the familiar types of things that often arise between neighbors if there happen to be underlying tensions.

Probably the best aspect of the movie is Edna Hamel, as one of the poor children. She has a good screen presence and is quite sympathetic. Her few moments in the spotlight really give the whole movie a big boost.
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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Belfry (1956)
Season 1, Episode 33
An Excellent Short Thriller Filled With Suspense
20 March 2006
This episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is an excellent short thriller filled with suspense. The direction by Herschel Daugherty, who went on to direct a good number of episodes in the series, is worthy of Hitchcock himself, and Allan Vaughan Elston's story is adapted very nicely to the half-hour television format by one of the show's regular scriptwriters.

Pat Hitchcock is well-cast as a country schoolteacher, but Jack Mullaney is the star of the episode, as her violently disappointed suitor. The story follows Mullaney's character as he flees from justice by hiding in a bell tower, and Mullaney really makes the character come alive, giving him a childlike personality combined with a vengeful anger and a certain animal cunning. His mannerisms and facial expressions help to create an unusual and unsettling character.

There are a lot of nice touches that build up the tension, and it works very well in combining anxiety for the schoolteacher with an interest in whether or not the fugitive will be discovered. There are a lot of small details with props or minor actions that are used resourcefully to add to the suspense. The sets, particularly Mullaney's tiny hideout, are straightforward, but they are nicely designed and quite effective. The whole episode is of high quality.
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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Legacy (1956)
Season 1, Episode 35
An Interesting Story of Psychology & Relationships
20 March 2006
Something of a change-of-pace for the series, this episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" primarily concentrates on psychology and relationships instead of suspense and fear. Gina Kaus's story takes several unexpected turns, as did so many episodes in the series, but this time with a rather different style. It has some of the show's familiar elements, plus an interesting psychological angle (in his closing remarks, Hitchcock adds some amusing satirical remarks to keep you from taking the psychology too seriously).

Set in a high-class Palm Beach resort, the story has Jacques Bergerac as a renowned playboy who takes a romantic interest in a seemingly plain, shy married woman whose husband is neglecting her. The script effectively blends in the story developments with sequences of the other characters marveling over this odd development. It creates a believable atmosphere of life among the 'idle rich' while also arousing the viewer's own curiosity about what is going on. The story is narrated by one of the characters who is writing a book about the playboy, and this device works well.

Bergerac is well-suited to his role, and Leora Dana gives quite a good performance in an unusual kind of leading role, as the plain-Jane housewife. Her make-up artist(s) also deserves praise for the effective change in her appearance between the beginning and the end, which also helps to make the story believable.

One of the things that made the series so interesting was that you were never quite sure what tone an episode would take. This one holds onto the strengths of the show, and makes things interesting by adding a slightly new mood of its own.
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Simple, Pleasant Feature With Good Photography
16 March 2006
This short feature is quite simple, but it's pleasant and fun to watch, and it includes some good outdoors photography by Edwin S. Porter. It has plenty of energy, and the actors all look as if they had a good time making the movie.

The story starts out with two groups of young women going on a 'straw ride' in the snow, with things gradually becoming increasingly boisterous as numerous other persons join in. Except perhaps for the clothing styles and the horse-drawn vehicles, it could have been filmed today, since these kinds of antics in the snow are common in pretty much any time and place that has a cold winter.

In fact, it has the spontaneous feel of a home movie, except that the photography is generally of such good quality that at least some of the action must have been planned. Porter does a good job in catching almost all of the activity, and in setting up a good contrast between the bright snow and the dark clothes worn by most of the cast. To be sure, there's nothing especially new or challenging about the production, but it's an enjoyable little feature that's certainly worth spending a few minutes to watch.
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Packs Quite a Bit Into a Short Running Time
16 March 2006
D.W. Griffith packed quite a bit of material into just a reel or so of film in this holiday-themed short feature. With scenes of domestic strife, domestic comedy, social commentary, melodrama, plus more, there is enough material here for a much longer movie. As a result, it's pretty interesting, although from a technical viewpoint there are a couple of weaknesses.

The setup depicts a financially troubled family, with the father's despair driving him to drunkenness and other problems. The story that follows depends on some rather forced developments, but eventually things come together in an ending that contrasts the father's predicament with the light-hearted antics of his children as they plan "A Trap For Santa". The resolution is upbeat enough to help make up for the more heavy material in the middle.

Like many of the movies from the late 1900s and early 1910s, this feature is a good example of the way that not just Griffith, but many film-makers of the era, were becoming more ambitious in the stories they wanted to tell, putting more and more material into a couple of reels of film, and soon gradually learning how to make longer features. It's also an interesting, if imperfect, movie in itself.
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Entertaining Parody Feature
15 March 2006
This two-reel parody of "Grand Hotel" has a number of clever touches, and it is entertaining to watch as long as you are familiar with the original feature. Like many parodies, much of its effectiveness depends on the audience remembering the characters and the plot of its source, since otherwise many of the details lose significance.

The main cast members of "Nothing Ever Happens" are made up to resemble the characters whom they are parodying, and in a couple of cases they are outwardly quite similar. While none of these performers come close to the stature of the all-star cast of "Grand Hotel", most of them are able to create, in a slightly exaggerated fashion, reasonably good impressions of the original actors.

The story covers a handful of the key incidents from "Grand Hotel", with some musical sequences added in, plus frequent humorous references to the classic line that is quoted in the title. "Grand Hotel" is one of the fine classics of its era, with a cast and characters that remain vivid well after watching it. This good-natured parody pays it a number of compliments, and it serves as a pleasant reminder of the original movie.
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Peter Pan (1924)
Very Entertaining Adaptation, & A Rather Impressive Production For Its Time
14 March 2006
This is a very entertaining adaptation of the story of "Peter Pan", and the production, particularly in the visual effects, is rather impressive for its time. The cast is a good one, with a lot of enthusiasm for their roles, and the whole movie has a lively pace to go along with the interesting story and plenty of good visuals.

Betty Bronson delivers everything that you could expect as Peter, and it's easy to see why J.M. Barrie himself chose her for the role. She has plenty of energy and a believably boyish appearance. The rest of the cast is also good, and in some cases (Virginia Browne Faire and Anna May Wong) you wish you could have seen more of them. It would be hard to think of a better Captain Hook than Ernest Torrance, who gives the role just the right degree of exaggerated villainy. In what seems to have been her first screen role, Mary Brian is appealing as Wendy.

It sticks mostly to the essentials of the familiar story, which is usually appealing to children while potentially quite interesting to adults, for different reasons. Peter's desire to remain a boy, and the offbeat nature of the fantasy world, make the story much more than a whimsical daydream.

The visual effects, particularly the 'flying' sequences, work very well for their time, and they must have been very exciting for the movie's original audiences. The Tinkerbell effect also works well despite its simple means. The fantasy story is combined with just enough reality (back at the Darling home) for it to fit together nicely.

"Peter Pan" is a movie and stage perennial, so there is no shortage of versions to choose from. But this one is very enjoyable, and it is certainly recommended for anyone interested in seeing a silent movie version of the story.
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The Usual Solid Combination
14 March 2006
One of the earlier features in the 'East Side Kids' series, "Pride of the Bowery" has the usual solid combination of youthful antics, rivalries, and action, with a few more serious moments along the way. Like a number of the features, it can be interesting to take note of the ways that the characters and the overall approach were developing.

The setup has Leo Gorcey as Muggs letting Danny (Bobby Jordan) trick him into entering a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, to get in shape. The story that follows has Muggs in a running battle of words with the camp captain, in a running battle of fists with another camper, and getting involved in trying to help a desperate pal. Much of the plot is predictable, at least for anyone familiar with the series, but there are some good sequences.

As this was still relatively early in the 'East Side Kids' series, the camaraderie among the gang members is still developing, and Muggs is really the only character with more than one side to him. It's interesting that, contrary to what is often the convention in movies about such characters, he makes quite a few mistakes and is at times pretty unlikable and small-minded, which tends to make him also a little more believable.

It can also be interesting to watch the various movies in the series to see how the group of generally sympathetic roughnecks is viewed by the adult characters. Here the script calls for the captain to make repeated statements to the effect that 'Muggs is a good kid who just needs a lot of discipline', probably to make sure that viewers don't take all of his behavior as a model to follow. As the series progressed, this kind of commentary became less commonplace, and the characters more often spoke for themselves.
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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Whodunit (1956)
Season 1, Episode 26
Entertaining Mini-Mystery With Some Dry British Humor
14 March 2006
This entertaining mini-mystery is characterized by its dry British sense of humor, and by the occasional friendly witticisms about the murder mystery genre. John Williams, with his quintessentially British screen persona, was a good choice for the leading role. The script (by two of the show's regular screenwriters) efficiently adapts the original story into the program's format.

Williams plays a recently-deceased mystery writer who bargains with the recording angel, wanting to return to earth to find out who murdered him. The main story is patterned after the classic style of so many popular British-style detective novels, with some lighter touches that fit in with the premise. Williams does a good job of playing the amateur detective, gently parodying the way that such a character might appear in a book.

The main plot is framed by the two scenes in heaven, with Williams and Alan Napier (as the angel). In these scenes, as in the rest of the episode, the humor is understated and ironic, rather than openly funny. The tone is consistent throughout the story, and it works well if you enjoy the style.
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Camille (1921)
Good Adaptation of the Story With Numerous Interesting Features
13 March 2006
This is a good adaptation of the familiar story of "Camille", with a fair number of interesting features that make it worth seeing. In its time, it was a vehicle for Alla Nazimova's distinctive style, and her approach gives the whole story a tone different from most other versions. It's also of interest for its (then) contemporary setting and for having Rudolph Valentino in the role of Armand.

Once you have seen Greta Garbo's outstanding 1936 performance in the role, it becomes very difficult afterwards to look at any other actress objectively as Camille, and indeed no one else has ever come close to Garbo's standard. But Nazimova's approach works fine in itself, and she gives the character a different but interesting personality.

Nazimova gives Camille a decidedly world-weary nature, and she makes the character seem about to go over the edge at any moment. Her sudden transformation due to the influence of the innocent Armand makes the character sympathetic, while accentuating her instability. It's interesting to see Valentino as Armand, since the role calls for him to allow himself to be completely dominated by Camille and his feelings for her. He does rather well in making the character believable.

By replacing the usual period background with what was then a contemporary setting, the movie also emphasizes the emptiness of Camille's world before meeting Armand. The story also makes regular use of the parallel with the 'Manon Lescaut' story that provides a parallel to the main story. All of these things make this silent screen version quite interesting, and it is well worth seeing as a somewhat different take on the story.
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