Sunday, November 23, 2014

Film Review: Le Boucher

"Le Boucher"  *** (out of ****)

Claude Chabrol's "Le Boucher" ( The Butcher; 1972) is often considered by sheep (er movie critics) as the best film the great French filmmaker ever made.

I first saw this often called classic several years ago when I was in my early twenties. I had just discovered the work of this brilliant and sometimes neglected filmmaker, referred to as "the French Hitchcock", and at the time I admired the movie. If I am honest with myself, I think I enjoyed it because I felt "pressured" to do so. The American movie critics throw a lot of praise at this film and you will find some in the general public praise it as well, so, I felt a certain "obligation" to like the movie as strongly as others have as well. But, as I watched "Le Boucher" again and being older and less concerned with how my opinions correlate with that of the general public, I find the movie to be lacking.

Claude Chabrol was known for making films which involved murder. His films mainly focused on the bourgeois and tried to expose the friendly, respectable facade they have created for themselves as family secrets were exposed and psychological conflicts were revealed and it usually ended in murder.

He directed what is generally considered the first film in the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave) movement, "Le Beau Serge" (1958). He, along with Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette, wrote for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinema. With time, as I have already mentioned, he earned the nickname, "the French Hitchcock", though Chabrol felt it was not an apt comparison.

"Le Boucher", like a few of Chabrol's early films ("Le Beau Serge" among them) focuses on the working class. Here we follow a school teacher, Helene (Stephane Audran, whom at one time was married to Chabrol) and a butcher, Paul (Jean Yanne). They both live in a small, quiet town, and as in other Chabrol films, things aren't what they seem. The small town will turn out not to be the idyllic, gentle place its surroundings would have you believe. For that matter, the characters are not as innocent as they appear either.

The movie begins by showing us the good times, a wedding, as we see Helene and Paul meet and strike up a conversation. We learn Paul has been in the army. He has not been back to this small town since his mother died seven years ago. He didn't get along with his father, who was also the town's butcher, now Paul has filled those shoes. We learn very little about Helene. All we know is she has been living in this town for three years and knew Paul's father.

At first "Le Boucher" doesn't seem to be about much. We just follow these characters and suspect perhaps a romance will develop between them. But, this is a Claude Chabrol film. Something has to happen. And that's my problem with "Le Boucher". Not enough happens and it takes too long for something to begin to happen.

We slowly learn one of the townspeople has been murdered. The police have no suspects. The victim was a young woman. The same woman who was married at the beginning of the movie. Next we learn of another murder. The police suspect it was done by the same killer since the deaths were similar.

But, there are only two main characters in "Le Boucher", so, it must be one of them. Paul talks about death a lot. He saw a lot of dead bodies in the army. That has an effect on a man. Helene may be a bit "too good". Is anyone really that perfect and innocent? But, our main suspect is the butcher if for no other good reason then the movie is named after him.

"Le Boucher" is not like your conventional mystery/thriller though. It doesn't slowly build suspense. There isn't a group of suspects. The movie doesn't earn our interest. It is too subtle. It doesn't develop a strong relationship between the audience and the characters. I never felt Chabrol, as a director, was guiding the audience in a certain direction. The movie seems to be about atmosphere and giving the town a sense of personality. There are also undertones of repression. But, it wasn't enough to make me care much about the characters and the situations unfolding.

I have read some claim the strength of the film is Helene. Does she know Paul is the murderer? Is she protecting him? It is an interesting concept but an unwarranted one. This is someone trying to make the movie more important than it is. I feel that way because, at no point is this a "woman in peril" movie. At no point do we feel Helene is in any danger. At no point is this idea suggested that Helene is protecting Paul. I simply look at the movie and take it at face value. There are no "clues" being dropped. The movie spells things out in the last 15 minutes or so of the movie. Prior to that, any evidence that Helene knows more than she is letting on is purely in your mind and was not put there by Chabrol.

It seems to me Chabrol works at his best when he is looking and the rich and powerful and attacks them. When he takes the same approach with the working class, it is not as interesting to me. Working class people aren't hiding as much as the rich. The rich are a better target because they are in a position where they have more to lose because I doubt they became rich by being honest, decent, hard working citizens. Save the fairy tale for someone dumb enough to believe it.

"Le Boucher" is not a bad movie. The ingredients for a great Chabrol film are here but they are not used properly. The performances by Audran and Yanne are effective, I especially like Audran, she was one of Chabrol's great muses. She had a wonderful look for Chabrol's films. She always had a "poker face". You never knew what she was thinking.

For as great as Claude Chabrol was, "Le Boucher" doesn't deserve the reputation it has gained over the years. I firmly believe Chabrol made better films; "The Unfaithful Wife" (1969), "Les Biches" (1968), "Merci Pour Le Chocolat" (2002) and "Wedding in Blood" (1974) among them. "Le Boucher" is kind of a let down after you have seen those movies. "Le Boucher" should be seen. You should see all of the movies directed by Claude Chabrol but "Le Boucher" should not be seen as Chabrol's definitive work. It is a popular minor effort.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Film Review: Scenes From A Marriage

"Scenes From A Marriage"  **** (out of ****)

When we first meet Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) they are being interviewed for a magazine article. We learn they have been married for 10 years and have two children. The interviewer starts off by asking a simple enough question - describe yourself in a few words. Johan answers first and mentions he is bright, a good son, a good father, jokingly he says he is a fantastic lover, he enjoys sports and considers himself a good friend. Then Marianne must answer the question. She responds by saying she has been married for 10 years to Johan and they have two children.

This comments on an old cliche about married life. The husband has a life beyond the family. Men have an identity as more than a father and husband, they have a job, they get out of the house and have a social life, meeting interesting people. The woman on the other hand is identified as a mother and a wife. Her identity is defined by her family. Her children and married life consume her and make her who she is.

The movie was written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and was originally conceived as a mini-series on Swedish television divided into six episodes and was five hours long. In 1974 it was released theatrically in the U.S. in a shorter three hour version.

The movie is filled with insightful observations on human behavior like the one mentioned. Bergman had always been known for his keen insight into the human condition, for his ability to make audiences face the grim truths of their existence, to hold a mirror to society and make us face our reflection.

Though Bergman was best known for directing films which had characters confront themselves with questions such as what is the meaning of life? Does God exist? What is our purpose? He also made films which examined the relationships between men and women. He was known as one of the few male directors to be able to write realistic portrayals of women. Many times the female characters are far more interesting than the male characters and it was not unusual for him to write a movie from a female perspective.

Going back to the first scene in the movie and the all important question of describing yourself, Marianne's answer will also provide another observation about herself. While society may view her as a "mother" and a "wife" what does it say about how Marianne views herself? It is true, when most people are asked to describe themselves, they can't. We are unsure of ourselves. We feel put on the spot, mostly because, we aren't used to expressing ourselves and spending time on internal reflection and critical thinking. I mean, stuff like that will interfere with our watching "Dancing with the Stars" and other important daily activities.

Still, as Marianne answers the question we sense something else about her. She is discontented with her life. Her inability to answer the question makes her realize, what is her life all about? Yes, she is a mother and a wife, but what does/did she want out of life? Does she feel fulfilled? In fact, what does a fulfilling life mean? What must we gain to accomplish that?

Contrast that with Johan. He is relaxed and confident during the interview. He may even be flirting a little with the female interviewer. Marianne is tense and awkward. Johan is in control of the moment. He is putting on a performance. Revealing only what he wants to and what he feels is important. Marianne is caught off guard.

Next we meet Johan and Marianne's best friends; another married couple, Peter (Jan Malmsjo) and Katarina (Bibi Andersson) as the four are having dinner. If Johan and Marianne seem to have to perfect marriage, which all of their friends tell them and even the two agree, Peter and Katarina are presented as the exact opposite. Johan and Marianne say they are best friends and according to Marianne they "speak the same language" and have an understanding between them. Peter and Katarine do nothing but argue with one another and make nasty remarks towards each other.

As we watch this scene we think to ourselves, which couple really has the better marriage? Sure, Johan and Marianne may not make a spectacle in front of others and may put on a good face however are Johan and Marianne really better off? Their friends may hate each other but their problems are real. Johan and Marianne lead an anti-septic life. Peter and Katarina communicate with one another. Where is life's complexities and quarrels in Johan and Marianne's marriage? These may not be the pleasant aspects of a relationship but they are a reality.

The movie lives up to its title. The movie is presented in chapters. It covers the course of 10 years into the life of Johan and Marianne. Not following, in the traditional sense, a linear narrative. We see them as husband and wife, later they contemplate divorce, we see them struggle with the meaning of that and the effect it will have on their lives and their children and finally a reconciliation. We see all the stages of a relationship. But because it is an Ingmar Bergman film, it feels real. These are characters we can relate to. The difficulties of married life are honestly presented. The pain of letting someone go and moving on are accurately reflected. The film hits on emotional truths.

The hardest aspect of any relationship or marriage is the most obvious, it involves being with another person. People are difficult to deal with. It is difficult to deal with another person's mood swings, their quirks and mannerisms. Especially when confronted with this person on a day to day basis. And soon we think of all we have given up for the other person. What could our life have amounted to if we hadn't met "this person". Marianne thinks that and in one of the movie's several powerful moments she is talking to an elderly woman. Marianne is a divorce lawyer and the woman has come to her office because she wants a divorce.

The woman has been married for many years. She and her husband have raised three children. They have all grown up and left the house. Now, the woman feels she has met her obligation, she has raised her children and now she wants out of her marriage. She says it is a loveless marriage. She and her husband are nice to each other. He was a good husband and a loving father but the love is not there. As Marianne listens to the woman, we can tell she is afraid, one day, this will be her. Yes, Johan is a good husband and a loving father. Johan and Marianne seem like a perfect couple on paper but, do they really love each other or did they get married out of convenience? Because it made sense.

Bergman films the movie, at times, in an almost documentary style. Their is a natural quality to some of the scenes. The acting has a relaxed quality to it. We don't sense Josephson and Ullmann are putting on a performance. We are eavesdropping on a couple. We are voyeurs looking at private, intimate moments in a relationship. We are seeing it destruct right before our eyes.

Part of me wants to compare the movie to John Cassavetes "Faces" (1968), another movie about a married couple. That movies focused on an American couple. Cassavetes wanted to show the lack of communication in marriage. Johan and Marianne only seem to talk when it is too late. When words no longer matter because the damage has been done. "Scenes From A Marriage" though is more poetic than "Faces". Cassavetes' movie has an improvised feeling to it.

What I love most about "Scenes From A Marriage" is its honesty. It doesn't feel cliche. It feels accurate. I have seen the movie a few times. I own it on DVD (where both the mini-series and the theatrical version are included). I have always liked the movie but having watched it at various points in my life, at different ages, I pick up on certain things. The characters speak to me in ways they hadn't before. As a teenager, when I first saw the movie, I felt it was an intense drama in the typical Bergman tradition. When I watched the movie in my 20s, again I felt it was an intense drama but a realistic portrait of marriage. Now, in my 30s the movie seems smart and observant. I see more of myself in these characters. As I watched it again, I thought of my own relationships.

Bergman revisited some of these characters in other movies. He followed up on Peter and Katarina in "From the Life of the Marionettes" (1980) and made an official sequel to "Scenes From A Marriage" called "Saraband" (2005) which was his last movie as a director. It also originally aired on Swedish television.

We tend to think of the 1950s as Bergman's peak as a writer and director with films such as 'The Seventh Seal" (1957), "Wild Strawberries" (1959) and "The Magician" (1958) but the 1970s was also an important time for him with the release of titles such as "Cries & Whispers" (1973), "The Touch" (1971), "Face to Face" (1976) and this movie. It seems Bergman was always making great movies.

"Scenes From A Marriage" is a powerful, honest account of marriage and love and the lasting bond two people can share between them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Film Review: The Godfather Part III

"The Godfather Part III"  *** (out of ****)

Director Francis Ford Coppola concludes one of the greatest American film trilogies in cinema history with "The Godfather Part III" (1990).

"The Godfather Part III" was released 16 years after "The Godfather Part II" (1974) and was eagerly awaited by the public, though director Coppola hesitated to revisit the world of the Corleone family. Coppola had very bad memories of his time working on the first "The Godfather" (1972) film because he clashed with the studio and producers over casting decisions and control of the film.

I remember when "The Godfather Part III" was released. As a child I felt I was witness to something historical and epic. A "Godfather" film was going to be released during my lifetime. I wasn't born when the first two films were released in the 1970s but now I would have an opportunity to see a "Godfather" movie in a theatre.

Unfortunately "The Godfather Part III" was not able to live up to the expectations audiences had for the movie. Some consider the movie a complete failure. That is too strong a position in my opinion. It is true this is a minor effort. It is the weakest of the three films but it is not a disaster. It is not an embarrassment for Coppola or the actors involved in the movie.

The film has its defenders however. The late film critic of the Chicago Tribune and television, Gene Siskel, placed the movie on his annual "top ten" list back in 1990. His partner, the late film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, also gave the movie a thumbs up on their TV show. In fact, Ebert even gave the movie a higher star rating than he did "The Godfather Part II".

The movie went on to win a total of seven Academy Award nominations including best picture, best director (Coppola) and best supporting actor (Andy Garcia). Making all three movies Academy Award nominees for best picture Oscars. The first two films won the award and were well deserved. This time around I feel every nomination for this movie was not justified. "The Godfather Part III" was simply not good enough to warrant a best picture nomination. I can only believe the Academy nominated the film out of respect for Coppola and the success of the first two films.

Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, "The Godfather Part III" takes place in  1979. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has retired from the mafia. He has made good on his promise to his now ex-wife, Kay (Diane Keaton) as the Corleone family is now involved in legitimate business. Michael spends his time doing charity work and has started the Corleone Foundation which is run by his daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola).

Besides this we also learn Michael does not have a good relationship with his son, Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio), which was hinted at in the second film. Michael had plans for Anthony to become a lawyer and possibly work for him one day. Anthony however has no interest in law and has decided to drop out of law school and become a singer instead. Afraid to tell his father, Anthony has his mother, Kay, deliver the news to Michael and ask for his permission.

We also learn Tom Hagaen (played by Robert DuVall) has died since the last film (this was due to salary negotiations. DuVall demanded more money to appear in the movie) as a result the character B.J. Harrison (George Hamilton) was created and deals with the legal end of the Corleone Foundation. We are also introduced to Tom's son Andrew (John Savage) who has become a priest.

"The Godfather Part III" now juggles two competing storylines; has Michael Corleone really gone legitimate? And there is a sub-plot dealing with the Corleone family doing backdoor business deals with the Vatican and an international real estate holding company - Immobiliare. Michael makes a deal to help cover up financial problems the church has in exchange for buying their stake in the real estate company.

The over-arching theme in "The Godfather Part III" is redemption, which is fitting since the Catholic church is so prominent in the story. Michael looks back on his life and regrets many of the decisions he has made, especially ordering the death of his brother, Fredo (John Cazale) in "The Godfather Part II".

Viewers could sense these feelings in Michael in the second film as that movie was about how the choices we make in life define us. We could see Michael struggling to do the right things but the wheels have been set in motion and there is no way to stop it.

That continues in part three and leads to the famous line of dialogue delivered by Michael, "just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in". Can Michael ever escape the Mafia? Is it really possible to leave that life behind? Even when he says he tries to, the world around him won't let him. As he deals with the church he finds back-stabbing and manipulation. He may want to follow the straight and narrow path but the world is not comprised of people who want to do the right thing.

What makes "The Godfather Part III" a less interesting film compared to the previous two is, for me, the characters aren't as interesting this time around. There was greater complexity in the first two movies. Michael felt like a developing character, growing and struggling to find his place in the world and how to deal with his power. There is a struggle presented in this movie but it is not as powerful as in the first two movies. You almost get the feeling Puzo and Coppola just wanted to end this series and weren't looking to add any depth. It is as if they decided when writing the screenplay, "lets just really limit our focus here with Michael and have all signs point in one direction and not add any new human or character development. We know where we want this all to end and lets get there fast." That, for me, lessens the experience. The movie has no ambition.

Another thing that hurts the movie - the acting. Within the first two movies we had Pacino, Brando, DuVall, Cazale, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert De Niro, Lee Strasberg and Sterling Hayden. This time around we have George Hamilton, Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola and Joe Mantegna. You could argue they are talented but they are not at that iconic level of those other actors (of course, neither were some of them when those movies were first released). Adding "heft" this time around is Eli Wallach as Don Altobello, an old friend of the family. New movie, new actors, new characters, it all gives the movie a different vibe.

When you mention the acting in the movie, some were and still are quick to criticize Sofia Coppola as being the weak link. I disagree. She is no better or worst then anyone else in this movie, She fits right in this movie because no one impressed me acting wise, so it is silly to only pick on her. Is Sofia Coppola a great actress? No. Did anyone in this movie standout by delivering a truly effective performance? No. Pacino is memorable, I guess, to the degree Michael Corleone has been the focal point in all three movies, but, it is not Pacino's best role, as great an actor he is.

Though, to criticize the actors alone is not fair. Again, we must go back to the screenplay. Nothing new is being attempted here. The movie is getting by on nostalgia for the first two movies. Many clips from those movies are presented here to help show the full spectrum of Michael's life. The screenplay doesn't seem to be very demanding on the actors.

Even with these criticisms I am recommending the movie. Why? The movie only fails when compared to the first two movies. It doesn't reach for a level of greatness. If we were to view this as a stand alone movie, audiences and myself, may not be so tough on it. As a movie fan there is a level of interest to revisit these characters and to see how Coppola wanted to treat them. What did he see in store for them.

"The Godfather Part III" is a technically well made movie. The actors do what they can. The cinematography is adequate. The musical score by Carmine Coppola is nice. A very pretty love theme was composed, "Promise Me You'll Remember" and was nominated for best song. But there is nothing to get excited about and that's the problem. Everyone hits their marks, the actors are in focus but it doesn't amount to much.

Those that love the first two movies will want to see this movie for "closure" but there is a reason it is widely regarded as the weakest of the three films, mostly because it is. "The Godfather Part III" is a well made movie. It is not a complete failure. I am not sorry the movie was made. I just wish Coppola had a little more ambition for the story. The best comparison I can make is, it is like watching a young child play piano. They read the sheet music. They hit the right notes. They play the piece properly at the correct tempo but there is no heart. No passion. That's "The Godfather Part III". Well meaning, adequately made, but no passion.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Budapest Times: 14th Annual Hungarian Film Festival

Here is a link for an article I wrote on the 14th annual Hungarian Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was published by the Budapest Times.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Film Review: The Outlaws Is Coming

"The Outlaws Is Coming"  ** (out of ****)

"The Outlaws Is Coming" (1965) is a comedy western starring the comedy team the Three Stooges, directed by Moe Howard's son-in-law Norman Maurer.

This is the first time I have reviewed a Three Stooges comedy. Previously I wrote about the comedy team in general and my reaction to their work overall. I have never described myself as a fan. Many people have tried to show me what I am missing when it comes to the Three Stooges' work, but, I've just never found them funny. Their comedies are just a battle royale to me. After I see Moe poke Larry in the eyes the first time it might be funny, but, when he does it 36 times in the same two reeler it ceases to be amusing.

I have always been a fan of the great comedians and comedy teams of the past. I have tried as best I can to review the work of comedy legends such as Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Bob Hope, Abbott & Costello and Harry Langdon among many, many others. I admit I still have a way to go, and I will correct that in the days and months to come, but my appreciation for comedy hopefully is known to my readers. So, it was a matter of time until I chose to write about the Three Stooges.

"The Outlaws Is Coming" marks the final feature length film the Three Stooges starred in and its setting, the old west, has always been a favorite for comedians. Comedians generally play cowards which creates a nice contrast to the masculine image of the old west with tough bandits, courageous sheriffs and gun fights. Buster Keaton was in "Go West" (1925), Bob Hope was in "The Paleface" (1948), Laurel & Hardy in "Way Out West" (1937) and Jack Benny in "Buck Benny Rides Again" (1940). Even in more recent times you see comedians playing around with the western image as in "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (2014) which was as raunchy as Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974).

This time around the Stooges play photographers for a Boston wildlife magazine, we start the movie off with them trying to take a picture of a skunk and not get sprayed. The editor of the magazine, Kenneth Cabot (Adam West, a year before he would play Batman) has been writing a series of editorials on troubling reports of buffalo killings in Wyoming and is sent there to investigate with his photographers.

The buffalo have been being killed in large numbers as part of Rance Roden's (Don Lamond) plan to start a war between the Indians and the U.S. Cavalry. Rance believes if his outlaws; Wyatt Earp (Bill Camfield), Billy the Kid (Johnny Ginger), Jesse James (Wayne Mack), Wild Bill Hickok (Paul Shannon) and Johnny Ringo (Hal Fryar) among them, kill all of the buffalo this will outrage the Indians and make them go on a war path to kill all the white people and destroy the U.S. Cavalry. Once the law and order of the Cavalry is out of the way, the outlaws can take control of all the cities.

"The Outlaws Is Coming" is essentially a "B" movie with "B" level acting, dialogue and production designs. The only performers that really seem natural on-screen are in fact the Stooges, which should be your first sign the movie is in trouble. When the Three Stooges are out acting everyone in the movie, trust me, that is a problem. That means everyone else is doing something wrong.

It should also be mentioned since this is an older film, this movie does not feature the classic line-up most fans of the Stooges love; Moe, Larry and Curly. Once the Stooges started making feature films, in the late 50s, the line-up was Moe, Larry and Joe DeRita, who is credited as Curly-Joe.

Joe DeRita was a comedian, starting off in burlesque, also at Columbia Pictures, where the Stooges made their famous comedy shorts, but never really caught on with the public by creating a comedy persona audiences could relate to.

Prior to DeRita joining the Stooges, Moe and Larry were working with Joe Besser (who is hated by Stooge fans) when Columbia Pictures stopped making shorts. The three were going to tour together but Besser left the group to take care of a sick wife. The Stooges were about to retire but when they were re-discovered by a younger generation thanks to television, Joe DeRita joined the team.

As had started with the Besser shorts, the Stooges engage in less hitting (Besser had it in his contract not to take too many face hits, one reason Stooge fans hate him so much) in these movies with DeRita. You also have to take into account their age. It just doesn't look right when one senior citizen is poking another senior citizen in the eyes. You are afraid if Moe hits Larry a little too hard there could be serious consequences. I approve of this change however the Stooges didn't make up for it. By that I mean, if the Stooges lessen the physical comedy they don't compensate for it by filling their comedy with more verbal gags. The Three Stooges were never witty. Moe could never deliver a one-liner the way Groucho Marx or Bob Hope could. So, instead the Stooges just become less funny.

One of the many reasons "The Outlaws Is Coming" fails is because the Stooges are not at the top of their game. You cannot honestly watch this movie and tell me it is as funny as the Marx Brothers or Laurel & Hardy comedies. Sure, the 1940 comedies Laurel & Hardy showed the team older and recycle gags, but, there was still something special about them. Their timing was still there, slipping a bit, but, they were watchable. Groucho was always funny. Period. But, watching the Stooges at this age, engage in this behavior just seems strange. And the reaction other characters have when watching them, which is no reaction, is also strange. You would expect someone to intervene.

The other problems with the movie has to do with everyone else's acting. Adam West is too stiff. He does not look comfortable on-screen. Is he embarrassed to be working with the Stooges? The movie makes the mistake of having his character also play a coward. It doesn't work. The Cabot character played by West should have been somewhat brave and the Stooges are the cowards. What is the point of having four cowards together? There is no contrast. This was suppose to feed into the stereotype of all Easterners are sissies.

Nancy Kovack, who plays Annie Oakley, is meant to be a potential love interest for Cabot but the movie doesn't fully establish either character and as a result we don't care about either one of them. The movie also doesn't show us these two being attracted to each other. But devotes no time to setting that aspect of the screenplay up. Both characters are almost throw-a-way characters which don't advance the plot at all.

The movie doesn't take full advantage of the western setting with the Stooges trying to fit in, coming from Boston. One good scene however shows them bullied into drinking a strong drink. This is what the movie needed more of. The cowardly Stooges mixing in with the rough west. This also creates a contrast with the Stooges as contemporary comedians in a historic setting giving them the chance to put in some anachronistic humor. In the process the movie could skewer the western stereotypes and culture but it becomes a missed opportunity. This is how you are going to get laughs though in a western comedy.

As the movie goes on Cabot is named sheriff of the town, after all the previous sheriffs have been killed. The outlaws and Rance want Cabot to be a puppet sheriff. Though he speaks of wanting to stop the buffalo massacre they don't see him as a threat. The problem is, the audience agrees. We never see Cabot as a man of action. What is his plan to stop the killings? We never see him report to Boston. We never see him rile the people of the town up. We never see anyone care about his cause. And this guy is suppose to be Batman!

Of course all of this is not necessarily the fault of the Stooges. You need to place blame at the feet of the screenwriter, Elwood Ullman, who worked at Columbia Pictures as a screenwriter on various shorts. He wrote the Buster Keaton sound comedy, "The Spook Speaks" (1940), which is very disappointing, and wrote Three Stooges shorts like "Yes, We Have No Bonanza" (1939) and would go on to write some of their feature films; "Snow White and the Three Stooges" (1961) and "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" (1962), maybe two of the best known feature films the Stooges were in.

The director, Maurer, directed one other feature film prior to this, also a Stooge comedy, "The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze" (1963), another disappointing but harmless comedy. He had more success as a writer, believe it or not, on Scooby-Doo cartoons. He wasn't much of a director, lacking a visual style, but, since he was a son-in-law of Moe Howard, was protective of the Stooge franchise and served as the team's manager.

"The Outlaws Is Coming" is a failure but a harmless failure. The movie doesn't reach the heights of great comedy, no one will mistake it for a comedy masterpiece, but I've seen worst. The Stooges have about two or three scenes that are good for a smile or two. One scenes involves drinking the strong drink, another scene involves them sneaking into a saloon, in an attempt to prevent the outlaws from killing Cabot in a showdown, at night to tamper with their guns but walk into the wrong room. And in maybe their most classic bit, Moe is accidentally glued to a chair and beats up Larry and Curly-Joe as they try to set him free.

Also funny are the scenes involving the Indians, who don't speak in the silly cliche way we always associate with them, but, instead are hip to modern lingo. The Indian chief's son is played by Henry Gibson known for his work on the classic television show "Laugh-In".

Obviously if you are a fan of the Three Stooges, you are not going to think this is among their best work. If you are a true fan, you will say, while it is not great it is still watchable and sometimes funny. If you have never watched the Three Stooges, this really is not the place to start. If this is your introduction in the comedy of the Three Stooges you will never be able to understand what made them famous. I guess this is for the devoted fans of the comedy team. Everyone else that watches it will be too harsh against it, harsher than I am, and I don't think I've been harsh.

"The Outlaws Is Coming" could have been much better instead it is a weak, borderline boring comedy. There is nothing memorable about this movie.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film Review: Piranha 3-D

"Piranha 3-D"  ** (out of ****)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water comes along "Piranha 3-D" (2010).

You don't expect much from a movie called "Piranha 3-D" (released in theatres in 3-D but is now referred to as "Piranha" since its DVD release), which works in its favor. Because the expectations are so low, all "Piranha 3-D" has to do is not be an embarrassment and a career low point for everyone involved. It is not an embarrassment but it is a career low point for everyone in this movie. This is a movie in 20 years from now people will look back on it (if they even remember it) and say "I can't believe so-and-so was in that movie"!

The most amazing thing about "Piranha 3-D" is the people that were involved in this. The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja, who directed the brilliant French horror film, "High Tension" (2003). He also directed the remake of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes" (2006) and wrote the thriller "P2" (2007). The movie stars Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Jerry O' Connell, Adam Scott, Christopher Lloyd, Jessica Szohr and a cameo by Richard Dreyfuss(!). The Weinstein Brothers produced it, the cinematography was done by John R. Leonetti, who directed the recent "Annabelle" (2014) and was the cinematographer on "The Conjuring" (2013) and "Insidious" (2010). How did this happen?! How were all of these talented people able to combine together and give us a final product like this? It is mystifying. All of these individuals are capable of making a better movie. They must have known this is trashy "B" quality material. Why did they even bother to waste their talents on sub-standard material?

Of course on the other side of the coin, because these talented people were behind this movie it does have its defenders. The sheep (movie critics) actually wrote positive reviews for it. The appearance of Elisabeth Shue and being released by the Weinstein Brothers...ect gave the movie an air of "respectability". The sheep or audiences could say they liked the movie as campy fun and not have a strong backlash against them because they could point to the talent involved and say, how bad could it be with them in it? Their involvement adds to the movie and makes it rise above the material.

"Piranha 3-D" is a remake of a 1978  "B" movie of the same title directed by Joe Dante and starred Kevin McCarthy (best known for his role in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), Keenan Wynn and Richard Deacon (from "The Dick Van Dyke" show) which was an attempt to cash in on the success of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" (1975), hence why Richard Dreyfuss has a cameo in this movie. He starred in "Jaws" and his appearance here is suppose to serve as a reference point and be a movie "in joke".

The movie takes place in Lake Havasu when an earthquake hits splitting the lake floor revealing a lake within a lake. This earthquake has now released prehistoric piranhas which going on a killing spree just in time for spring break, when hundreds of drunk kids will be out in the water.

There is a lot of nudity, with busty young women taking their tops off, scenes with teenagers excessively drinking and lots of mutilation when the piranhas attack, as we see characters losing limbs and having their eyeballs eaten. Basically the movie becomes a blood bath. A slasher movie with piranhas instead of an ax murderer.

And like all slasher movies and horror pictures, it is the sinful young teenagers that get killed for the drinking and sexual behavior and must die gruesome deaths as retaliation. It is an old horror cliche, only the virgin lives, the good girl, the one without sin.

I don't mind the nudity, the silly story or even some of the death scenes, but after a while it becomes too much. It is an onslaught of disgusting mutilating scenes; faces getting ripped off, bodies slashed in two, eyeballs taken out of the sockets and one ridiculous sequences when we see a penis eaten. What's the point? None of this is scary. It is just disgusting. And like the piranhas, the movie doesn't let up. It tries to up the ante, going further and further with the kills. Each one a bit more extreme than the last one. What is pleasurable about seeing this? I'm not going on a moral crusade but I've seen better horror movies with less violence and better story lines. I've seen better campy horror movies. Watch Dario Argento's "Dracula 3-D" (2013) instead. But this movie has nowhere to go. It had one idea, lets show piranhas eating naked girls alive and after that the movie ran out of ideas.

Spring break is a very important time for the locals at Lake Havasu, thanks to all the tourism dollars it brings in but it is also a headache for the town's sheriff, Julie Forester (Shue) who needs to make sure that everything runs smoothly and no unwanted publicity comes to the town. But this year that is especially difficult as Julie and her deputy, Fallon (Ving Rhames) have been called to investigate a local who has gone missing. The remains of his body have been found in the lake. The sheriff and the deputy would like to have the lake closed by the town's council would never allow that when this is their most busy season.

Meanwhile, Julie's children; Jake (Steven R. McQueen), Laura (Brooklynn Proulx) and Zane (Sage Ryan)  do everything possible to get into trouble. Jake, the oldest son and quite possibly one of the most unlikable characters in the movie, because of all the destruction he causes due to his behavior, gets mixed up in a "Girls Gone Wild" type production directed by Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) and Dani (Kelly Brook) one of the models for the shoot.

Jake was supposed to be babysitting his two younger siblings, but, not wanting to take responsibility, prefers to go out and mingle while all the drunk and half naked girls are around for spring break. So, he pays his brother and sister off, leaves them unattended to, but, does make them promise to stay out of trouble, and heads off to meet Derrick.

Jake's behavior upsets his younger brother Zane, who had planned to go fishing. So Zane and Laura decided to leave their home and head into the deeper end of the lake where the fish will be biting. Jake on the other hand, leads Derrick and his crew to a remote area of the lake to do their photo shoot and film the models naked.

As this goes on as the sheriff with the help of a team of seismologist, headed by Novak (Adam Scott), who have come to study the earthquake, slowly begin to discover the piranhas are behind the attacks and need to evacuate the lake and figure out how to kill all of the piranhas.

At this point the movie becomes a blood bath and engages in graphic death scenes involving bodily mutilation and becomes an excuse to see half naked girls in something other than soft-core pornography.

"Piranha" is neither scary or suspenseful and instead becomes a by the numbers production. We know who will survive this massacre and who won't. We know when the movie is trying to play on our emotions in an attempt to create suspense.

Watching "Piranha" you have to ask yourself, why? Why was this movie made? Why did people go and see it, it grossed more than 86 million dollars. Why are audiences so attracted to graphic violence? It is not campy enough where is it playful and harmless. It is not really what I would call a midnight movie. We are dealing with a level of filmmaking which is in the same league as "Lake Placid" (1999) and "Anaconda" (1997). If that sounds interesting to you, enjoy, the fish are biting.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Film Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street

"A Nightmare On Elm Street"  ** 1\2 (out of ****)

Your dreams will be the death of you in Wes Craven's popular horror movie, "A Nightmare On Elm Street" (1984).

A group of teenagers discover they are all being haunted by the same man in their nightmares; a man with a burnt face and knives for fingers named Fred Krueger (Robert Englund).

Celebrating its 30th anniversary "A Nightmare On Elm Street" spawned several sequels, seven by my count, and a remake in 2010.

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" is a movie centered on an interesting premise, the power of our dreams. The scariest things in life are probably the things we imagine to be true. The often repeated tidbit by the sheep (movie critics) is Craven was inspired to make this movie after reading an article in the LA Times about a group of Cambodian refugees who died in their sleep after experiencing nightmares.

Unfortunately for however interesting the idea maybe the biggest problem I had with the movie lies with the villain. Looking back on "A Nightmare On Elm Street" I'm struck by how terrible a movie villain Fred Krueger is. The ultimate failure of the picture is the make-up used to create the character. Fred Krueger simply doesn't look scary. There is nothing to fear looking at this individual. All we can do when we see him is sit and wonder to ourselves, why didn't anyone notice this character doesn't look scary. This person haunting their dreams isn't much of a threat visually.

Now, this wasn't always the case. When I was a child and first saw this character, I was four years old, I did find the image of Fred Krueger's face scary but watching this movie again and being confronted by this character again, the effect and suspense was gone. The simple image of the white mask worn by Michael Myers in "Halloween" (1978) is much more frightening and intimidating, even after repeated viewings. "A Nightmare On Elm Street" now looks like a low budget, cheesy slasher movie.

And that leads to my second problem with "A Nightmare On Elm Street", there is too much screen time for Fred Krueger. Within the first 40 minutes of this picture we constantly see his face, chasing after these teenagers. I would have preferred the approach Steven Spielberg used in "Jaws" (1975). Use the villain sparingly. We see a hand now and then, a foot, the glove with knives, maybe even the sound of his voice, instead Craven shows us Fred Krueger face to face with his victims even when he doesn't kill them. For me this lessened the effect of the movie and the character. Now Fred Krueger didn't seem like some supernatural figure or some ominous being, instead he now seemed no different than your run of the mill mad man. Just a guy with an ugly face. And that's not scary.

The best scenes in "A Nightmare On Elm Street" are when we don't see Krueger or when characters aren't dying. The most intriguing element of the movie for me was when our hero, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) slowly discovers who Krueger is, how he is able to attack her and what she must do to fight him. Everything else in the picture is your standard, by the numbers, horror routine.

Some. who enjoy this movie, will say, I am completely off. Don't I understand "A Nightmare On Elm Street" revolutionized the horror genre? Don't I understand the inventiveness of this movie? All I can say is, don't you understand it does nothing new and you're wrong? "Halloween" existed before this movie. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) existed before this movie. "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) all existed before this movie. The formula had been established long before and done much better. The interesting thing about "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is everything happens in dreams, that sets it apart, but, everything else it does, had been done already.

The final thing which bothers me about "A Nightmare On Elm Street" is its ending. It doesn't answer any questions. In fact all it does is raise some. Is what we watched a dream? Was the entire movie a dream? Was it real? Were parts of it real? Supposedly four alternate ending were filmed due to clash between the director and the producer. The ending we see now was suppose to be the compromise. It may be a compromise but it is also a disappointment. It almost makes the viewer they just watched this movie for absolutely no reason at all. What was resolved? How could anyone say this is a satisfactory ending?

Filmmaker Wes Craven was a humanities professor before turning to movies, by the time this movie has been made Craven was not a box-office name. He made made his directorial debut with "The Last House On the Left" (1972), which is extremely disappointing with it amateurish qualities and poor acting and dialogue. He also directed "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977). He would re-introduce himself to audiences with "Scream" (1996) which started off as a low budget horror movie and turned into a box-office smash and three sequels. It changed the direction of horror films adding in more pop culture references and featured characters that knew the horror cliches and had actually watched movies.

The movie has it defenders and at its time of release grossed more than $25 million, making it a commercial success. Some believe it is the best of the series.

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" plays around with an interesting concept unfortunately the execution is off. The villain is not scary, he has too much screen time and a confusing ending hurts the movie.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Film Review: Annabelle

"Annabelle"  **** (out of ****)

To make a truly effective horror film seems so difficult nowadays. Audiences have seen it all before. We know the horror movie cliches; scary music, POV shots of the killer, as suspiciously no one sees them, figures appearing in the background, loud noises at night. Audiences have become so jaded most horror movies feel like they are playing it by the numbers.

Some of that changed last year with the release of "The Conjuring" (2013) which proved to be a box-office and critical success. I enjoyed the movie so much I even placed it on my "top ten films of 2013" list. It was a throw back to classic horror films of the 1970s.

It was in "The Conjuring", which was based on a true story, we first learned of a doll named Annabelle. Annabelle we are told is possessed by a powerful demonic force, a force which still remains inside the doll. To contain it, a priest blesses the doll on a regular basis.

"Annabelle" is something of a semi-prequel giving us the background story of how the doll became possessed and how it eventually ended up in the hands of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators in "The Conjuring".

It would seem "Annabelle" was just an attempt to cash in on the success of the previous movie. People enjoyed that movie, thought it was scary, they will hear about this movie, associate with "The Conjuring" and go see it. Not a new marketing ploy but an obvious one.

Walking into "Annabelle" I thought the same thing however, I am happy to say I was wrong. "Annabelle" is just as effective as "The Conjuring". Although this movie uses some tie-ins to "The Conjuring" by showing clips of that movie, it could have existed on its own without any reference to any other movie.

My opinion though is a minority opinion. The critics (sheep) have all decided to unite against the movie, feeling it doesn't compare to the "The Conjuring" and isn't scary. The movie has done well at the box-office, so far, I would assume largely because it has been released in October and because of Halloween, audiences are in the mood for a good scare.

"Annabelle", which in part is based on a true story, strangely the movie is not marketing itself as such, takes place in 1968 and centers around a young married couple; John and Mia Gordon (played by Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis). Some have suggested the reason for the names of these characters has to do with John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow, who starred in the classic Roman Polanski film "Rosemary's Baby" (1968).

The young couple is about to expect their first child when one night Mia notices, through her bedroom window, her neighbors are attacked by a cult gang, a la Charles Manson. The cultist find their way in John and Mia's home as one of them takes hold of a doll John bought Mia. The police kill the cultist and when a drop of blood lands on the doll, an evil spirit possesses it.

The reason I feel "Annabelle" works so well is because the movie takes its time setting up this story and keeps the audience in anticipation of the frights. It is the exact reason the movie has quite a few detractors. They say the movie doesn't offer enough scares. I will confess the movie does not have a scare per minute. Long periods of time go between scares, but, the anticipation of something about to happen grips you. You pay attention to what is going on on-screen. And because the suspension is building, when a scare doesn't happen you aren't disappointed, you are almost relieved because you say to yourself, thank goodness something didn't happen, I don't know if I could have taken a scare.

I like horror movies that take their time telling their story. That are deliberate in their scares. I like horror films that work on a psychological level. And I like horror movies that are about characters first and frights second. The older I get, I am no longer interested in slasher, blood and guts movies. Seeing characters mutilated on-screen by a serial killer are not scary to me, they are just disgusting. "Annabelle" is not a disgusting blood and guts movie and I appreciate that.

As the picture goes on the intensity builds. It is in the last act of the movie when "Annabelle" goes for broke and goes into full fright mode. When "Annabelle" goes for a scare the scares hit their mark. It is careful to make sure their is no missed opportunity. Some feel the missed opportunity is that Annabelle the doll is not active enough. Again, I go back to my statement, it is the anticipation of something about to happen, the gradually build up of tension which makes the movie work.

If you require a great deal of violence to scare you, "Annabelle" is not a movie for you. But, if bumps in the night scare you, if you believe the mind can play tricks on you then "Annabelle" is a movie for you.

"Annabelle" also feature some very good performances. Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis are presented as real people. We can relate to them. They are a little slow to realize the dangers of the doll, but, they respond to it the way others would.

The movie also does a good job establishing the time period. The filmmaker, John R. Leonetti, has a good eye for detail, which shouldn't be a surprise since he is also a cinematographer. He shoot "The Conjuring", "Insidious" (2010), which I also thought was very effective, and "Child's Play 3" (1991).

This Halloween "Annabelle" delivers a good amount of scares. It is a carefully crafted story with some very good performances and a wonderful visual eye. I wish we would get more horror films like "Annabelle" and "The Conjuring" in the future.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Film Review: Sleepless

"Sleepless"  *** 1\2 (out of ****)

Italian horror maestro Dario Argento proves he still has a few tricks up his sleeve in "Sleepless" (2001), the last truly effective movie he has made, so far.

"Sleepless", upon its initial release was something of a comeback for Dario Argento. His previous film was "Phantom of the Opera" (1998), a movie in which even the most ardent Argento fan will find it difficult to sing the praises of. Some have even gone as far as to call that movie an "embarrassment". It was the beginning of a new, campy direction his work would begin to take. So it was a welcome return when Argento released "Sleepless". Here was a movie which seemed worthy of this great filmmaker's talents.

Dario Argento is often credited as one of the greatest Italian horror filmmakers of all time. He is counted among the most influential, some would say the most influential filmmaker in a sub-genre of horror films known as "giallo" (which means yellow in Italian, and is pronounced the same way).

Giallo describes mystery novels that had yellow covers, which Italians would read. The stories would have horror and supernatural elements to them. They were cheap, in price, and easily accessible to the public.

Argento's films are known for their lavish and devilish death scenes of pretty young women, many have called his work misogynistic. He has an almost fetish for blood. The movies are considered gory and brutally violent, though I never feel that is a fitting description of his work. His movies are made on such a limited budget, the blood in the movies never looks real. I find an "unreal" quality in the fatal death scenes of his movies. I am much more bothered by the American slasher films made which are all blood and guts.

"Sleepless" stars Max von Sydow, the great Swedish actor best known for his collaborations with Ingmar Bergman, as Detective Moretti. Seventeen years ago he believes he solved the Dwarf Murders, a rampant string of murders which plagued the street of Turin. The murderer was suspected to be a dwarf novelist named Vincenzo Fabritiis, who turns up dead during the investigation. For Detective Moretti the case is closed and he has fulfilled a promise he made to the son of one of the victims, Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), who saw his mother died right before his eyes.

Jump to 17 years later and the murders are starting again. It is in the same style of the Dwarf Murders. Was Detective Moretti, now retired, wrong? Did he let the killer escape and now after all these years is at it again? Moretti and Giacomo slowly get brought back into investigating these murders once again.

"Sleepless" isn't exactly an original story. It has elements which link it to previous Argento films such as "The Stendhal Syndrome" (1996) also a police procedural picture, "Deep Red" (1975) about an amateur trying to solve a murder he witnessed and even one of his more recent movies, "Giallo" (2009) also about a cop chasing after a serial killer. But it is not the story which makes "Sleepless" so entertaining, it is the way Argento tells the story, his visuals and his energy. It is a throwback to his earlier films like "Deep Red" or "Suspiria" (1977).

One of the best sequences in the film takes place at the beginning of the movie on a train. A woman is afraid the killer is after her. It is late at night. The train is empty. She receives a threatening phone call. There is no place to run. Argento shoots the scene in darkness, an effective musical score plays in the background by the Goblins (a band Argento discovered and used in "Suspiria"), the audience is kept on edge. We can't see clearly. We are in anticipation. What will happen next? Is the killer after her? Is he on the train? Will anyone help her?

Though Argento keeps the violence on screen, he never shows the murderer. By doing that, the audience never knows when the killer will attack. There is no such thing as a insignificant character in this movie or an important character. Each and every one of them is a possible victim. Argento plays around with this concept by introducing characters to the story, characters we think we be the focal point, and then he kills them off. No one is safe. When you do that, the audience doesn't know what to expect. We are on constant alert. It is a thrilling roller coaster ride.

Usually Argento does not get an actor the caliber of Max von Sydow in one of his movies. He is truly one of the great actors in cinema. His range of films include Bergman's "Seventh Seal" (1957), where he plays a knight that has returned from the crusades and now learns Death has come for him, "A Passion of Anna" (1970), another Bergman classic to American films such as "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965) where he played Jesus, "The Exorcist" (1973) as an aging priest, and Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" (2010).

One would imagine the appearance of Sydow adds respectability to "Sleepless". I can see how it worked in Argento's favor, to say such a great actor was in his movie, but, what did Sydow get in return? They couldn't have paid him that much money. That is not to say "Sleepless" is a bad movie, is it great entertainment, but, Sydow is an awarding winning actor, he is not in these type of movies.

Sydow does what the movie asks of him and he does it well, though, it doesn't require that much of him. For Argento the value of his movies is not in individual performances but, the mood and tone of his stories and how creative he can get with his death scenes. We don't watch Argento movies looking for Academy Award winning acting.

Watching "Sleepless" is sad in a sense, sad because Dario Argento no longer makes movies like this. He makes pure camp now. The movies are no longer suspenseful, energetic, skillful or interesting. He lives on his reputation. We remember what was. He used to be compared to Alfred Hitcock when he began. Critics said he was a filmmaker that understood horror. Back in those days his movies weren't graphic. All the violence was off screen. Later on with "Deep Red" his films changed and became more gory, but there was art to it. Like Sam Peckinpah he was accused for glorifying violence. Making beauty out it.

"Sleepless" should be able to rattle audiences. It should be able to give you a good scare or two. It is Argento near the top of his game and the best movie he has made in the last ten years.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Film Review: Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla

"Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla"
** (out of ****)

"Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla" (1952) has achieved something along the lines of cult classic status. Some say it is the king of "B" pictures, in a class with the work of Ed Wood. I say the movie is an insult to Bela Lugosi and it isn't too kind to gorillas either.

The movie stars Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo (in their only screen appearance together). They were an imitation Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis team with Mitchell in the Martin role and Petrillo as Lewis. While Duke Mitchell is a talent less, lifeless performer and a lousy singer, most would admit Petrillo does a spot on Jerry Lewis impression. The impersonation is so good, some say, even though the movie is acknowledged as a less than stellar picture, it is worth watching if only to see Petrillo's performance.

The story goes Mitchell and Petrillo were a nightclub act, both aware of their similarity to Martin and Lewis. Younger audiences must remember in the 1950s Martin and Lewis were the comedy team. The act was a huge success. Their popularity matched The Beatles or Elvis. It might seem hard to believe for some, that a comedy team could enjoy such fame, but, it was true. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that there were some that would try to capitalize on their success and imitate them.

Mitchell and Petrillo's manager wanted to further exploit his team and cash in on the Martin and Lewis craze, so he pitched around the idea of his team starring in a comedy. None of the major studios would bite. It wasn't until Realart Pictures came along that a deal was made.

The concept was to create a comedy-horror film, which had a hint of the "Road to" pictures Bob Hope and Bing Crosby starred in a decade earlier. Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo would play a variation of themselves. To reinforce the "horror" angle it was suggested to cast Bela Lugosi, who was best known to movie audiences as Dracula. Lugosi had fallen on hard times and was no longer a box-office draw. He accepted the role. In order to get people to see their picture a goofy title was created, "Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla". You hear a title like that and you think to yourself, what could a movie with a title like that be about?

Mitchell and Petrillo are nightclub performers who get lost from an entertainment troupe, after falling out of a parachute, and are stranded on an island called "Kola Kola". They meet natives who take a liking to them, especially the tribal chief's daughter, Nola (Charlita, who looks a lot like Dorothy Lamour) to Mitchell.

Still, Mitchell and Petrillo want to get off the island and back to civilization. Nola informs the boys there is a doctor on the island named Dr. Zabor (Lugosi) who may be able to help them. The doctor is in love with Nola and becomes jealous of Mitchell when he begins to realize the two love each other. In order to prevent Mitchell and Nola from seeing each other Dr. Zabor wants to turn Mitchell into a gorilla.

"Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla" suffers from the problems you'd expect a "B" movie to suffer from. The acting is weak, the dialogue is poor, the jokes don't work, the production design is cheap, the directing is uninspired and the plot is lacking development. The only reason to watch the movie is for curiosity's sake. You expect one of those movies that is so bad its good. It's not. It's just bad. Not offensively bad. Just boring and dull bad. Uninspired bad. Corny bad. It lives up (or down) to its reputation. How good could a movie with this title be? You walk into it not expecting much.

The movie creates no suspense. There is never an element of danger. We never fear the natives will harm Mitchell and Petrillo. We never fear Dr. Zabor. He doesn't project a mad scientist. He doesn't seem evil.

Any movie can be made well. Even a movie such as this. And, who knows, it could have even starred Sammy Petrillo. The problem is the movie doesn't take advantage of its setting. Why not create atmosphere? Why not do something creative with the jungle setting? Why not film the movie in shadows? Use an effective musical score. Create more believable characters. Make the science halfheartedly realistic. Make us fear the doctor. Make us believe the love story. You could have even gotten a semi-serious horror story from this material. But, it would take imagination. Something this movie doesn't have.

A movie such as "Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla" should make audiences appreciate just how difficult it is to create a good comedy-horror picture. This is no "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948) or even the Ritz Brothers in "The Gorilla" (1939). This movie is in a class with "Zombies on Broadway" (1945) with the team Brown & Carney, which also had Bela Lugosi in the cast.

It is said when Jerry Lewis heard of this movie he was going to sue the producers. He did not want Sammy Petrillo stealing his act. From Lewis' perspective you can understand why he would do that. Why have another him roaming around, stealing his thunder? But from a public relations stand point, it sure puts Lewis in a bad light. It makes it seem like he saw Petrillo as a threat. It seems like Lewis "killed" this young man's career. That's too bad. Petrillo could have been a great impersonator, if he could imitate other people. His Jerry Lewis is quite striking.

"Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla" is a movie without any ideas. They couldn't even come up with a way to end the picture and give us a cop out ending instead. There was nowhere to go with this material. The background story involving the lives of the people in the movie and the aftermath of this picture on their careers is much, much more interesting than anything you will see in the 74 minutes of this movie.