and a few more films

#235  [archive]
DEC. 12, 2023

Crack-Up (1946)
Streaming free

Pat O'Brien is an art expert, lecturing at a museum, who thinks art is art if you like it, and if you don't that's OK too. Then he shows the crowd a Piccaso-esque painting, for laughs, and everyone laughs. "I'm not condemning modern painting. I just think this is nonsense. If you like it, fine. I don't."

But we only see the lecture in a flashback. Later or earlier, he's arrested for making a ruckus at the museum, after a train wreck, which he vividly remembers but which didn't happen.

It's an intriguing mystery that pulled me along for about an hour. I wanted to like it, especially since it's based on a short story by Fredric Brown, and I love me some Freddy Brown, but… 

Eventually it gets so convoluted, with cross and double-cross, noises in the dark, art forgeries and forgeries of forgeries, and outsmarting the cops at every turn, that I just couldn't keep my disbelief in suspense any longer.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940)
Streaming free

Paul Ehrlich was a smart guy, who figured out staining techniques for microscopic slides, that made it possible to identify different kinds of cells and diseases. He led the team that effectively cured syphilis, and won the 1909 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research into immunology. He also won perhaps the highest honor, a Hollywood biopic.

I came in knowing next to nothing of Doc Ehrlich or his research, and the movie's version is probably polished up as the movies tend to do. In our new dark ages, though, we need some hero-worship for scientists, and Ehrlich's eureka moments of discovery here gave me goose bumps.

Edward G. Robinson plays the doctor, unrecognizable behind a fake beard, and using none of the familiar mannerisms or even the voice you know from his gangster and cop roles. Ruth Gordon plays his wife, and plays a piano in several scenes, which reminds me I need to see Harold and Maude again.

Overall, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet is quite well-written and made, and definitely recommended by me.

It was a delicate project for the studio — Ehrlich was German and Jewish, and the movie was made as the world worried about early reports of Hitler's murderous ways. Ehrlich's Jewishness is never mentioned, and Warner Bros needed special permission from the Hays Office to have the word 'syphilis' in the script.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Legend of Tarzan,
Lord of the Apes

You can tell this flick is classy right from the start, cuz it opens with an overture. Can't remember a movie doing that since Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Then comes half an hour of wordless simian grunts. This is not your granddaddy's Tarzan movie, and that's a good thing.

It's a serious character study of this fictional man, Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) — lost in the jungles of Africa as a baby, adopted by apes, becoming one of them and eventually their leader. As an adult he's found and 'rescued' by an explorer named D'Arnot (Ian Holm), who pieces together the evidence to conclude that this savage white apeman is actually heir to a famed Scottish estate. D'Arnot teaches Tarzan to speak English, and brings him to Scotland, but he remains a primate at heart, even among the tuxedo crowd.

Having never read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I can't say whether this is more true to his books or less than other adaptations, but it sure feels smarter, and it dispenses with the Johnny Weismuller movies' overt racism.

It was filmed on location in Africa and Scotland, and you will believe a man swings from vines and laughs with apes. Lambert is remarkable, Ralph Richardson sparkles, and the apes (by Rick Baker) are more realistic than in Planet of the Apes.

The movie makes some strange mistakes, though.

Why are we given a five-minute scene with D'Arnot teaching Tarzan to shave, when the full-grown Tarzan was already clean-shaven?

Also, no-one ever calls him Tarzan — those two syllables are not uttered at any point here.

In her first film role, Andie MacDowell plays Jane, and in a bizarre indignity, the moviemakers decided that her slight Southern accent was a distraction, so they had every line of her dialogue dubbed. It's simply strange to see MacDowell but hear Glenn Close's voice.

They dubbed Lambert, too, but only by adding animal roars when he's angry. The actor's French accent is left intact, which makes lots less sense than MacDowell's drawling lilt.

And jeez, I yearned to see Tarzan kick the hell out of at least a few people at the Scottish mansion — there are two characters who certainly deserve violence, but Tarzan was in his trying-to-be-civilized phase, so all he really does is glower and growl.

It's a damned good movie, though. Greystoke is thoroughly engrossing, and somehow never seems ridiculous even when Tarzan is bonding with his simian adoptive parents, or leaping like Baryshnikov from trees and roofs.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Lawyer (1970)
Not of This Earth (1957)
The Saint in New York (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Andre Braugher, one of the many featured actors in the best show that's ever been on American television, Homicide, Life on the Street, died last night or this morning at age 61. I know he was also in a subsequent series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but I didn't have cable by then.

    Homicide ran for seven seasons and 122 episodes and demonstrated, for almost the first time since the 50s that "quality television" wasn't an oxymoron. With a lineup of terrific actors who had mostly had small character parts in movies and on other TV shows, there wasn't a lousy episode in the series, and there were some brilliant ones. Mr Braugher managed to steal the show more times than not, and after a couple of seasons the producers and the writers just gave up and featured him in most of the plotlines.

    If you're interested you can read the details of his life and death all over the web. He left with at least 15 years of wonderful performances locked inside him, where they will now remain.


    1. Mr Braugher was my beloved Stphanie's favorite actor. He was why we watched Homicide, and some of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She'd seen him do Shakespeare-in-the-Park in New York before we met, so he was why we saw Shakespeare-in-the-Park in Kansas City, without him.

      He was good at what he did.

  2. It's been ten years since I saw Greystoke so my memory isn't as fresh as yours,but I have a head start because I read the book.

    The only 'people' who called him Tarzan were the other apes. They had an ape language in the book or books, which the movie didn't want to mess with, so I think that's why nobody calls him Tarzan.

    I remember the shaving scene and yeah it made no sense. If I remember right Tarzan had access to the stuff from his parental units shipwreck, taught himself to read, and taught himself to shave so he would look like a photo he had of his father.

    Grain of salt, it's been forever since I read Burroughs, but that's what I remember.

    I liked the movie pretty good but hated the ending. He runs off into the jungle alone, and leaves Jane behind. Stupid. Nobody fucks Andie MacDowell and then goes back to fucking apes.

    1. Andie MacDowell is repugnant. Inexplicable that she's been foisted on the American male as if we're supposed to like her. Never met a man in my 52 years who finds her attractive - yet every woman I've met wants to look like her. There must be a name for this kind of woman. Usually horse-faced, gross "wild" curled hair, hysterical smile like the Hoover Dam, etc. Julia Roberts, Tori Amos, Kim Basinger... all stomach turning. Wouldn't touch these wimmenz with any length of pole. Glenn Close as well - so laughable in Fatal Attraction - really, you'd risk your marriage to ANN ARCHER for a go at that leather-faced lesbian? NO THANKS!

    2. "Andie MacDowell is repugnant."

      But her daughter is one hot piece of ass. . .

    3. Thanks, Jordan, for the Tarzan biographical info.

      Maybe I'm just not that picky about women's appearance. AM is, to me, an attractive woman. I don't know her daughter, but she'd be too young. I can't even fantasize about women under about 40 any more — can't imagine a non-ridiculous scenario.

      Julia Roberts, though, yeah, agreed about Hoover Dam. Her teeth always looked dangerous to me, much more than sexy.

    4. They say it was the southern accent, but MacDowell had only been a model before this. Probably they dubbed her voice because she was a bad actress.

    5. It's all stupidity, though. If she'd never acted before, couldn't act, why frickin' hire her? They should've cast an actress.


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