Smarts is ultimately what separates Bogart's Sam Spade as clearly from the rest of the characters in Maltese Falcon just as it separates the film itself from most of its inferior imitators. Spade is the eagle-eyed watcher, a calloused and borderline morally indifferent student of humanity who seems to get his kicks tossing verbal banana peels out for the more dim-witted to trip themselves up on. He has plenty of opportunity for such sparrings, dropped as he is into a mess of scam-artists and treasure hunters violently turning San Francisco upside down as they hunt for a long-lost jewel-studded falcon supposedly once given by the crusading Knights Hospitaller to the Holy Roman Emperor in exchange for the island of Malta. The world around Spade -- a sort of aloof knight errant in fedora and sharp suit -- is one of manipulation and lies, stupidity, and the occasional cleverness dulled by unlimited greed.
Continue reading: The Maltese Falcon Review
Essentially a revision of a dozen or so Bogie movies, all mashed together, Beat the Devil follows a group of miscreant adventurers on a quest to secure a parcel of land in Africa which is rich in uranium. Naturally, events and foes conspire against them, culminating in their arrest.
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How these three men interrelate is the main story line, while the hijinks of the kids stands as a continuous backdrop to the action. Sometimes it's fierce, but just as often it's plodding and uninspiring. The underlying social commentary -- how children can turn good or bad depending on how they are raised, a controversial idea in the 1930s -- doesn't get much of a chance to shine, which may be a problem of too many stars, too many precocious child actors, and not enough legroom for all of them to stretch.
Continue reading: Angels With Dirty Faces Review
The story is the sort of thing that could fuel a whole season or two of one of your better primetime soap operas: Idly wealthy Judith Traherne (Davis) is 23, single, and bereft of any cares besides what trainer to hire for her thoroughbred horses and exactly how many martinis to drink. Having complained of sight problems and headaches, Judith gets browbeaten into seeing Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), a renowned brain surgeon about two hours away from chucking his whole practice to go do medical research on his isolated Vermont farm. Steele takes about five minutes to figure out that Judith has a rare and extremely serious condition that needs to be operated on right away. After the operation, Steele tells Judith's friend Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald) that Judith will feel fine for a while, but in about ten months, her vision will start to go again and then she'll die, quite suddenly and painlessly. The two then do what any sensible people would: agree to keep the truth from Judith while arranging for her to marry Steele, whom she's fallen in love with.
Continue reading: Dark Victory Review
A new double-disc DVD of Casablanca enhances the film for novelists and cineastes alike. I rarely do this, but I listened to Roger Ebert's entire commentary track, which he uses to discuss the film's curious shortcomings (what good would letters of transit signed by Charles de Gaulle be in getting you out of Morocco?), Bogart's past and rise to fame (this being his first starring role), Bergman and her foibles, endless points about the film's dozen or so famous lines, and extended commentary on the lighting, special effects (if you can call them that), and camerawork.
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It's also too bad that one of cinema's great adventures is often forgotten as one of cinema's great tragedies, too.
Continue reading: The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre Review
The proof that some films are simply immune to satire or the wear and tear...
Casablanca director Michael Curtiz turned in this pioneering entry in 1938 -- part of the...