Seven movies

There are so many good movies out there — a hundred years of old movies, plus thousands of odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten or DIY movies made just for the joy of making 'em — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.  

All these films are streaming for free on YouTube, and without commercials if you have a good adblocker.

American Empire (1942)  — MAYBE — Never heard of this movie, and the title made me think it might be offensively over-patriotic.

Nah, it’s a mild western, set shortly after the Civil War. Two friends work their way up from cattle rustlers to respectable ranchers, and then have to deal with cattle rustlers.

The first half is harmless fluff, and the second half is an interesting political drama, climaxing with a long gunfight that was marred by weird blue glitches in the black-and-white print. Beware of light racism and singing cowboys.

D.O.A. (1950) — YES — Edmund O’Brien plays a small town businessman who’s been fatally poisoned by “luminous toxin.” There’s no cure and he’ll soon be dead, but it’s a very slow-acting poison so he has the whole movie to figure out who killed him and why. In the famous opening scene, O'Brien walks dramatically into a police station to report a murder, and the cop asks, “Who was murdered?” O'Brien answers, “I was.”

It’s a great beginning, and the near-unanimous critical consensus is that D.O.A. is among the best noir movies, but it's not. It has its charms, though, and it's worth watching.

O’Brien’s character is an unlikable lout, and it's hard to take the noir aspects seriously when the soundtrack features a wolf-whistle every time an attractive woman is on-screen.

And the story is a bit of a mess. I’ve seen D.O.A. three times now, and untangling the plot twists would be like putting cooked spaghetti back into the box — can’t be done, ain’t worth trying.

Trivia: If you’ve ever seen Blade Runner, you’ll instantly recognize that D.O.A.’s climax was filmed in the same building.

Memorable moments:
• Visit to a San Francisco jazz club.
• O’Brien’s panic on the streets of San Francisco after the diagnosis.
• Shootout at the industrial facility.
• Neville Brand as Chester the maniac.
• Shootout in the drug store.

Impact (1949) — YES — Brian Donlevy plays one of those conceited executives who love themselves and are never wrong about anything. We’re supposed to like this schmuck, but I hate him, and so does his wife. She wants him dead.

The movie starts strong, first as a detective story, then something more personal, and finally as an overly complicated and implausible courtroom drama. It's a good movie — just, not as good as I was hoping about half-way through. And I still don’t understand why Donlevy’s character lies to the cops (if you’ve seen this movie, please explain that to me). Beware of light racism and sexism.

Memorable moments:
• “How can one little woman be so big?”
• “Doing the right thing never works out. I know. In this world if you turn the other cheek, you’ll get hit with a lug wrench.”

The Killer Shrews (1959) — NO — I saw this many years ago, and my only recollection was “too much talking, not enough killer shrews.” Watching it again, I’ll stand by that assessment.

The monsters are dogs with big teeth, and it's fun and occasionally goose bumpy. There’s a black best friend and it's a movie, so it’s no spoiler to say that he’s doomed.

The Manster (1959) — MAYBE — In Japan, a mild-mannered American reporter becomes a not-so-mild-mannered monster — a 'manster', if you will.

You got your unethical scientific experiments, gruesome humanoid beasts, convenient volcano, minimal but well-done effects, a few genuine scares, and a corny ending. Add two points for casting an Asian actor in a role deeper than mere stereotypes, but subtract one point for making him the mad scientist. Also, expect sexism.

Parole, Inc. (1948) — MAYBE — The Mafia is purchasing paroles for mobsters who’ve been imprisoned, making conviction “little more than an inconvenience.” Let's go undercover, and see if we can buy a parole.

A Republican’s wet dream, this is propaganda designed to inflame fear of crime and parole. The leading actor is awful, and often sounds like he’s reading his lines out loud. Mildly amusing, despite all the above.

The Screaming Skull (1958) — BIG NO — Opens with a promise of free burial services for anyone who dies of fright while watching the movie.

Newlyweds come to their abandoned mansion, where the groom’s first wife had died years earlier. Soon we meet an odd gardener, and the minister and his wife are invited for dinner, because who wouldn’t want company on their wedding night?

It's a little spooky at first, but quickly devolves to nonsense, with an absolutely expected twist toward the end. I didn’t die of fright.


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