Essential: LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

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Timothy Dalton is back for his second and final adventure as James Bond. He seems more comfortable in the role, though he is still playing the character in a slightly detached manner. Dalton seems to understand the connection Bond has with an American friend named Felix (David Hedison) and Felix’s young bride (Priscilla Barnes). This is apparent when Felix’s bride is murdered shortly after she and Felix are wed. It becomes personal for Bond, since he also lost his wife not long after he was married.

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The scene where Bond discovers Felix’s dead wife is a bit graphic. And so is the moment where the killers, rich creeps in the south Florida drug trade, take Felix to a warehouse and toss him into some water with a ferocious shark. Felix doesn’t die, though I didn’t quite understand why they spared him and not his wife. Later Felix is returned to his home where Bond finds him and takes him to the hospital. While Felix recuperates after the near fatal shark bite, it’s up to Bond to track down the men responsible.

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While much of the film’s early action takes place in Florida, the next segment occurs in a fictional Central American country (based on Manuel Noriega’s Panama). The cold war is over, so now Bond is focused on a large scale drug war. In many ways this film plays like an extended episode of Miami Vice, the TV crime drama that was very popular in the late-80s and often focused on the drug trade.

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A word or two about the villains. Robert Davi plays the pockmarked Latin American drug lord Sanchez; and he is in league with two unsavory henchmen. One of them is Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), who operates a marine research center that helps smuggle cocaine into the country. And the other bad guy is Dario, a young assistant played by Benicio del Toro before he became a bonafide movie star. There is a great deal of homoerotic tension between Sanchez and Dario that Davi seems to deliberately add to the scenes by brushing his hand across del Torro’s face when they’re together on camera, as well as all those longing (and apparently meaningful) stares.

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There’s a key scene where Sanchez says loyalty is more important than money; and when Bond tries to infiltrate the Sanchez organization later on, Bond repeats the loyalty oath, which impresses Sanchez. Sanchez knows  more money can always be made, but he wants real loyalty and companionship from his male partners in crime.

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Another pseudo-villain in the story is televangelist Joe Butcher played by Wayne Newton. Newton seems like an odd choice, but apparently he enjoyed the Bond films so much he asked the producers if he could do a cameo. In a way it’s an extended cameo, since there are several scenes with Newton asking for donations to his “church,” which is really a cover for more dope smuggling. And there’s a sequence which occurs at Butcher’s meditation institute (a euphemism if ever there was one) that prominently features Newton, whom I found to be quite charming in a non-sequitur sort of way.

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Much of the picture’s second act concerns Bond trying to set Krest against Sanchez. There’s a particularly gruesome death scene where Sanchez decides Krest has been “unfaithful” and has to be eliminated. Krest’s blood gets all over a pile of money– symbolism for blood money (literally)– and Sanchez’s answer when asked about how to clean the cash is to launder it. While working to get Krest out of the way, Bond receives help from his old pal Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who poses as a chauffeur and supplies necessary gadgets to foil the villains. Also, Bond is aided by two women with whom he naturally falls in love.

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As in the previous Dalton picture, Bond’s bed hopping has been significantly curtailed. The two girlfriends he has in this story are depicted as strong romantic possibilities in a rather impossible triangle. One of them is a chick that has been having a relationship with Sanchez; she’s portrayed by Talisa Soto; and the other is the main Bond girl, Carey Lowell as CIA informant Pam Bouvier. There’s an interesting line where Pam joins up with Bond in Latin America, and she has to pose as 007’s assistant. She asks why he can’t pose as her assistant, and he says women are not that strong or powerful south of the U.S. border. Not sure whether that’s true, or if any feminists in 1989 bought it.

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Overall this is a fast-moving, suspense-filled entry. It might seem formulaic in spots, but there are pleasant moments of creativity. The tanker chase sequence at the end is truly spectacular and fun to watch. Incidentally, the producers included the Surgeon General’s warning in the closing credits, almost apologizing for the use of tobacco in the story. However, they did not apologize for cutting Felix’s honeymoon short. And they did not apologize for putting all those trucks on the road. If they had, their licence to thrill might have been revoked.

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LICENCE TO KILL is directed by John Glen and can be streamed on Dailymotion.

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Recommended musicals part 2

Some more great classic Hollywood musicals:

GOOD NEWS (1947). Incredibly dated, even when it was first released. The studio (MGM) was certainly going retro with this one. But the dancing is fun; and I think June Allyson & Peter Lawford were always an appealing on-screen team. Plus I love Connie Gilchrist in this picture.

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THE PAJAMA GAME (1957). Another dated musical (most classic musicals are). But there’s so much exuberance. I developed a new appreciation for Doris Day watching this film recently. It should be better known.

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RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951). Honestly, Jane Powell musicals tend to be formulaic and sleep-inducing. But she’s quite charming in this one, and Danielle Darrieux is fantastic as her exiled mother. I think the story about xenophobia is a little deeper than most musicals and I give Dore Schary’s MGM credit.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952). It usually tops critics’ lists. It’s certainly at the top of my list. Except for an overly long dance number with Gene Kelly & Cyd Charisse near the end, which really gets in the way of the story, this musical can do no wrong. Jean Hagen steals the show and should have had a supporting actress Oscar for her performance.

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SWEET ROSIE O’GRADY (1943). My favorite Betty Grable musical. A lot of her stuff kind of blends together. The stories were never thought-provoking or meaningful. But this picture has some good dialogue; and I think Grable works better with Robert Young than with any other leading man she had.

TEA FOR TWO (1950). Like GOOD NEWS, this was another retro musical. Very dated by 1950, but Warners cast it well. Not only is Doris superb in her first top-billed musical, but the wisecracking supporting players are just as fabulous– Eve Arden and S.Z. Sakall are both in scene-stealing mode.

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TWO SISTERS FROM BOSTON (1946). I think this is my favorite June Allyson picture. I love everything about it. Her chemistry with Peter Lawford; the sisterly relationship she has with Kathryn Grayson; Jimmy Durante’s fun style of comedy; Lauritz Melchior bringing a bit of class and sophistication to the proceedings; and the songs are very well produced. Plus, unlike other musicals, this one has a strong storyline.

TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950). Ricardo Montalban is great in this film. He’s another one people overlook for some reason. Plus I enjoy the pairing of Louis Calhern & Ann Harding as Jane Powell’s parents. They also played a married couple in THE MAGNIFICENT YANKEE.

Recommended musicals part 1

I decided to put together a list of musicals that are worth seeing:

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950). It features one of Howard Keel’s best roles; and also one of Betty Hutton’s best roles. The MGM production values are spectacular and so is Irving Berlin’s music. I do have an issue with the writing of some scenes, especially where Annie has to learn her place in a man’s world. But overall, it’s a winner.

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ATLANTIC CITY (1944). My favorite Republic musical. Republic was the little studio that could do it all. The songs are fun and the performances are energetic. Constance Moore is so talented and I love watching her sing. There are some very good specialty numbers with ethnic performers. Dorothy Dandridge has a show-stopping moment. And so does Louis Armstrong.

THE BAND WAGON (1953). Probably Fred Astaire’s best musical of the 50s, or at least it’s what I believe. I always think of Nanette Fabray when this movie comes to mind, since she’s a very talented lady and should have been in more motion pictures.

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BRAZIL (1944). Another excellent musical from Republic. The war years gave us the ‘good neighbor policy,’ so studios were making musicals that reached out to South American audiences. Tito Guizar, a Mexican, plays the main role. It also features beautiful Virginia Bruce as the female lead; and Edward Everett Horton has some good comic relief bits. It’s an extravaganza with something for everyone.

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CALAMITY JANE (1953). Doris Day considered this her favorite. It’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.

CARMEN JONES (1954). The film is a bit uneven in spots; I think some of the dubbing is off. But Dandridge and Belafonte were never better. Otto Preminger had guts and I can’t think of any other director during the repressed production code 50s who could have guided this passionate story as well as he did.

EASTER PARADE (1948). Pure perfection. Ann Miller nearly steals the show from Fred & Judy.

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42ND STREET (1933). My favorite of the precode musicals. I think the earlier Busby Berkeley pictures at Warners are not quite as smooth. And this film just seems a little easier for modern audiences to enjoy, meaning it’s dated but in a good way.

GIGI (1958). Certainly one of MGM’s most successful films at the Academy Awards. I don’t like the overall theme, but the performances are charming. And Louis Jourdan does not get enough credit.

Coming up: More must-see musicals…

Essential: THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)

In THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS Timothy Dalton makes his first appearance as James Bond. With any actor new to the role there are going to be sight adjustments– ones the producers have to make to accommodate the replacement star, and ones the audience has to make in order to accept him as 007. In this case Dalton has the unenviable task of following Roger Moore who put his indelible stamp on the character.

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Dalton doesn’t convey Moore’s brand of humor or on-screen style. But the screenplay was finished before Dalton signed on, so the material was not exactly written to his strengths as a performer. Also, I don’t think the humorless stretches in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS can be blamed on Dalton; he has been tasked with a more serious adventure and cold war drama. This installment gives viewers political intrigue and realism. And I would say Dalton is a good choice in presenting a harder edged, grittier side of the character.

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In fact it feels like 007 is more mysterious. Dalton’s sexuality differs from Moore and the other predecessors. His Bond isn’t direct with women like we’ve seen in the previous films. Dalton is not necessarily reserved but he comes across as a private person. And actually, it makes sense for this type of character who should be cautious about the kinds of women he can trust and be intimate with.

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Dalton brings stage experience to his acting; and his performance is more theatrically constructed than the other Bonds. He keeps the character coolly detached from the situations and a bit sharper, which in a story about tensions with the Russians would be appropriate. Yet there are still vulnerable touches the actor adds, which I believe are Dalton’s own traits coming through once the defenses are down.

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The Bond girl is British actress Maryam d’Abo, playing a cellist named Kara. Despite her introduction as a sniper, it is soon revealed that she is only pretending to shoot someone. She is not a killer, but a musician trying to help her boyfriend escape the KGB. She is a loving woman, which Bond can see despite the coldness in his heart. In the next part of the story, they get to know each other and he warms up to her. He realizes he can rely on her when they are trying to escape some Russians– they go on the run through the Czech wilderness and across the border into Austria.

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It is just the two of them, plus a cello she’s brought along for her next concert, in Bond’s all-purpose Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Eventually they have to ditch the vehicle and “sled” down a mountain on her cello case. It’s a fun breathtaking sequence, and we begin to root for them as a couple, even though she still has a dangerous boyfriend who will complicate things.

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Jeroen Krabbe plays the boyfriend, a creep named Koskov. He’s in cahoots with a rogue arms dealer portrayed by Joe Don Baker. Baker seems to be giving his best Brando imitation as a self-appointed Napoleonic warrior who calls himself a general– though we might question how legitimate those credentials are. Koskov is his ally and is a renegade Soviet who finds Kara disposable after a certain point, which of course clears the way for Kara to enjoy a more meaningful romance with Bond. Ultimately Kara and Bond come face to face with Koskov during a game of cat-and-mouse in Afghanistan. There’s a thrilling airplane sequence which seems to have been inspired by Indiana Jones.

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As things come full circle, the emphasis is on espionage. It all leads to the general’s gruesome death in a standoff with Bond that takes place in a dimly lit war room. Though the action in Afghanistan occurs during the daytime, many of the film’s key scenes occur at night. Visually and thematically, the picture has an overall dark tone. I’d say it is a spy-noir. Of course, you can either agree or disagree. But if you disagree too much, I might have someone knock the living daylights out of you.

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THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is directed by John Glen and can be streamed on Dailymotion.

Thelma Jordon’s file

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On YouTube someone recently uploaded THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON. It’s a great looking print, and I hadn’t seen the film since TCM broadcast it several years ago. It’s better than I remembered. It’s almost like a do-over of THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, where we have Stanwyck involved in the death of an older aunt, and the resulting fall-out.

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I kind of wonder how this picture would have been if Fred MacMurray had played Wendell Corey’s part. Think about DOUBLE INDEMNITY or REMEMBER THE NIGHT where he had previously prosecuted Stanwyck. But Corey is fine.

I really like the subplot– Corey’s wife (Joan Tetzel) has a father who hired a detective; and she asks probing questions about her husband’s mistress, but she never comes out and just asks who it is. Also, we have the mystery of “Mr. X” (meaning Corey) which allows Thelma to evade justice and be found not guilty.

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My favorite sequence is the part where the verdict comes in and we see her being marched over from the women’s holding area across the street, past the reporters, up the courthouse steps and back into the courtroom. Siodmak’s direction is strong, and this brief semi-documentary feel he tries works very well.

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One can only imagine how many other crimes she committed that would be detailed in her file. They could have added flashbacks, where we see her and her partner Tony pulling the earlier scams. Plus I would like to have known what brought her to live with her aunt, and why the aunt never suspected her of having ulterior motives. Not to mention how she persuaded the aunt to change the will, or if Thelma was telling the truth and didn’t know about the will, why the aunt on her own made Thelma the sole beneficiary. There must have been some good in her.

Essential: A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)

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Roger Moore’s last film as super agent James Bond is a bit of a letdown, though it is still worth watching. I’d say it’s a case where the parts do not really equal a whole. It has one of the most diverse casts, the last half takes place in and around San Francisco, and as we’ve come to expect, there are some great stunts (involving axe-wielding along the Golden Gate bridge). But it seems like there was a better intentioned film than the one that was actually produced.

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First I think the idea Bond would be caught up in technology-related crimes in the Silicon Valley is an inspired one. In the mid-80s, people were looking ahead and wondering what might happen if computerized technologies fell into the wrong hands. A bad guy like Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) sort of represents those fears. But unfortunately Zorin is not crafty enough. He doesn’t come across as smart or resourceful as other Bond villains, especially with so much power and money at his disposal.

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Originally David Bowie was who the producers had in mind when they were devising the villain for A VIEW TO A KILL. It’s a shame Bowie turned them down, because I think he would have had a flair that would not have been upstaged by Grace Jones, who plays May Day, Zorin’s partner in crime. But since we don’t have Bowie, and a lot of the picture’s “charm” relies on Jones, we have to just accept what we’re given. Though we might ask why the writers thought it was a good idea to insert a scene where she and Bond go to bed.

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We know Bond has an appetite for different types of women, but she doesn’t quite seem his type; and more importantly, he doesn’t seem to be her type. It’s kind of far-fetched to expect them to hit it off. What’s even more far-fetched is her weird change of heart near the end, where she agrees to help Bond defeat Zorin. It leads to her death, and she seems too intelligent to sacrifice herself and come to such a foolish end.

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Another female character involved in the story is heiress Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts). She’s the main Bond girl, and Zorin has been after her ass(ets) for a long time. Unfortunately, Roberts doesn’t seem to have a lot of screen chemistry with Moore. In interviews he has given, Moore doesn’t seem to care for this picture as much as his previous turns. He’s made jokes about being too old, and he also does not like the excessive violence. Certainly, there are increased shootings in this installment. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Bond being older, or his being involved in a deadlier, more violent adventure. I don’t even have a major problem with a weak villain or a miscast Bond girl. All those things hurt the picture, but a Bond film can still succeed in spite of them.

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I think the bigger issue is the parts do not seem to fit together like they should. It’s almost like we have standalone sequences torn out of different scripts. Then someone tried to glue them together to create one huge exciting piece of entertainment. A perfect example is the firetruck chase scene, which attempts a bit of Keystone Kops comedy with Bond at the wheel, driving like mad through the city. Those ten minutes feel like they belong in another movie. In a Bond picture we need the parts to connect. Other productions in the franchise have self-indulgent sequences but there is usually a transition or an overall theme to bring it together. Moore deserved a better swan song. Anyone who plays the world’s greatest man 007 times should have a grand sendoff.

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A VIEW TO A KILL is directed by John Glen and can be streamed on Dailymotion.

Movie siblings

From rivalry to affection, we see it all in classic movies:

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HIS BUTLER’S SISTER. The butler is played by Pat O’Brien. His younger half-sister is Deanna Durbin. O’Brien was 44 when the film came out; and Durbin was only 21. Why couldn’t they just call it HIS BUTLER’S DAUGHTER?

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Lee and Lyn Wilde were real-life twins who worked at MGM in the 1940s. They appeared in an Andy Hardy picture, then headlined their own comedy. It was called TWICE BLESSED and was twice the fun. The basic premise, about twins who are separated and live with different parents, is a lot like THE PARENT TRAP. It wouldn’t have been the first time Disney stole a story idea.

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Speaking of twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito found out they were related. You had to be there for that one.

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Some siblings appear on wanted posters. THE YOUNGER BROTHERS (1949), a Warner Brothers western, shows us what happens when three brothers (Wayne Morris, Bruce Bennett and Robert Hutton) commit a robbery and go on the run.

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In THE BROTHERHOOD violence is an everyday way of life. Kirk Douglas and Alex Cord are just trying their best to survive. Meanwhile, they have a very different sort of relationship.

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