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Carnival Of Souls Review


Good
Herk Harvey spent nearly his entire directing career toiling in the gratification-free world of corporate industrials and educational movies. (His first credit was a short about grammar titled Why Punctuate - which, you'll notice, needs a question mark.) But in 1962, sometime between making How to Succeed in School and Pork: The Meal With a Squeal, Harvey decided to use some vacation time to make a low-budget horror feature. Just about everything on the surface of Carnival of Souls screams B-movie trash: It has stilted dialogue, cheap special effects, crummy sound editing, and a plot that only just barely hangs together. But there are lots of scenes and shots that reflect real brilliance, and that's earned the movie a cult following, not to mention a Criterion Collection spine number. It's still strictly the stuff of late-night creature features, but it's got an admirable, workmanlike pace, some real scares, and enough smarts to shut up the mouthy robots of MST3K.

That said, the plot's crap. Candice Hilligoss plays Mary, a young blonde who miraculously escapes from a car that's fallen off a bridge and into a river after a drag race. She leaves town shortly after the accident to take a job as a church organist in Utah, but something's wrong: While on the road and in her new city she has visions of a man (played by Harvey himself) with a ghostly face and dark scary eyes. That freaks out Mary quite enough, but she also discovers that she occasionally becomes invisible to those around her, and that she's strangely compelled to visit an abandoned amusement park by a lake, populated by more ghouls. Despite the best efforts of the church priest (Art Ellison) and her would-be hepcat neighbor, John (Sidney Berger), Mary slowly loses it, propelling the film to its way-creepy twist ending - whose logic completely collapses under the weight of two seconds of thought.

Continue reading: Carnival Of Souls Review

The Court Jester Review


Very Good
Pleasant, though not particularly challenging, The Court Jester deconstructs and spoofs the swashbuckler movie with Danny Kaye as a hapless Robin Hood wannabe who stumbles his way into the court of the usurper of the crown. The film has a few classic moments, namely the famous, slapstick bit which begins, "The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle." Ah, what a knave...

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House Review


Good
By the time Cary Grant took on the role of Jim Blandings, the hapless hero of this would-be screwball comedy about the perils of home ownership, he no longer had to prove himself as a great comic actor. His charm-school looks and exacting sense of timing propelled three of the finest comedies from Hollywood's golden age -- Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), and The Philadelphia Story (1940) -- but here he doesn't seem particularly compelled to top himself. The script doesn't light much of a fire under him either. What makes those three earlier movies so enduring is their speed -- the way the jokes keep coming, and the way Grant and his cohorts keep knocking them out of the park -- and Dream House is built out of much weaker material.

Grant plays Blandings, a Manhattan advertising executive who lives in a too-small apartment with his wife Muriel (Myrna Loy), their two children, and a maid. After a clunky opening sequence that oversells just how tightly packed everybody is, the Blandings go house-hunting in Connecticut, where they fall for a large house on an estate of rolling hills. They've rushed into things, though: the broker mischaracterized the size of the property and the state of the home, which is beyond repair and needs to be torn down. The idea of the Blandings setting off to build a brand-new house initially seems like solid comic fodder, but there really aren't too many jokes to tell within the setup - most revolve around the ever-escalating construction tab, and shots of Grant making outraged noises and widening his eyes get old fast. Jim's lawyer friend Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) is a decent straight man, but he's also hooked into a go-nowhere infidelity subplot that drags down an already sluggish film.

Continue reading: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House Review

Road To Utopia Review


Excellent
In the fourth of seven Road to movies, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby turned in what is often thought to be their greatest collaboration. Road to Utopia's title refers to Alaska, where two 1900s vaudevillians decide to pursue their fortune during the Klondike gold rush. They aren't going to mine for it though; they've got a line on an old map to riches -- but they'll have impersonate two rough and tumble bad guys in order to get to it. The story's a wash, but Hope is absolutely on fire throughout the film, zinging some of the best one-liners so fast that if you go to the bathroom you'll miss three laugh-out-loud jokes. Crosby's good too, of course, but Hope owns this film, which richly deserves its reputation.
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