Movie and Book Reviews. Find c. 400 reviews from category list for film-noir, horror, sci-fi, drama (melodrama and romance included), mystery/crime, titles; a few book reviews in book category. (All reviews have spoilers.)

I approach the film reviews with a mostly narrative and literary slant. I’m interested in characters, scripts, plots, setting, atmosphere, and tone. Not so much the technical aspects of film-making.

In particular, I like to focus on character motivation, psychology, and the performance/interpretation of a role by the actor/actress. The genres themselves are discussed, especially when a movie straddles genres (e.g., horror/ sci-fi, mystery/crime and film noir) or fits a genre variant (a chiller/thriller can elements of horror, mystery, etc.).

For info on my psueodonym character Farmermouse, please look under the Prose/Poetry/Essay category, you’ll find some bits and pieces on Farmermouse and his (alternative fantasy) world.

Good-Time Girl, 1948. 8/10

Pretty salacious title, huh? This early postwar British drama concerns a rebellious teen, Gwen (Jean Kent). To escape her abusive father (George Carney), she leaves home, gets involved with all sorts of folks and has some adventures, including hitting a cop while driving drunk.

Gwen has so many people in her life that we have a huge cast: Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Bonar Colleano, Peter Glenville, Flora Robson, Beatrice Varley, Hugh McDermott, John Blythe, Zena Marshall, Diana Dors, Amy Veness) Elwyn Brooks-Jones, Jill Bacon, Harry Ross, Jack Raine, Danny Green, and Griffith Jones.

We start out in juvenile court with a Miss Thorpe (Robson), who has to deal with wayward runaway Lyla (Dors). Thorpe brings up the example of Gwen, who had similsr circumstances, and made a mess of it. So, the frame story segues into the main plot concerning Gwen.

In the pawnbroker’s shop where Gwen works, we see her put back a purse she’s ‘borrowed’; her boss, the creepy Pottinger (Brooks-Jones) , accosts her. Then he insinuates if she is “good” he’ll overlook her indiscretion. She rebuffs his moves, so he threatens to get the police; the alternative is merely that she’s fired.

When she gets home, her sister warns her that Pottinger’s already told their dad. He (Carney) immediately sets about smacking her. Next day, she tells her mom she’s leaving. She finds an apartment from a fusty landlady, Mrs. Chalk (Veness); also she meets the dapper Jimmy Rosso (Glenville).

Jimmy is on the make with Gwen; but he reads her well, figuring why she’s left home. He thinks he can get her a job as a hat-check girl in the club where he works as a waiter. There she gets hired by the creepy Max (Lom). Like Jimmy, Max is openly disgusting, but immediately accepts her.

Anyway, she hits it off with the customers right away. Art (Blythe) and Red (Price) are with the club band. “youre in the middle of a spider’s web.” Red sees her after work, but Jimmy takes her home. of course he puts the moves on her too. Her mom comes to see her; the whole family’s messed up because dad lost his job. Basically, she’s being ordered home to provide for the family.

Now Max is going to promote her. Red says she’s a born cybarite,” liking fancy stuff and such. But he seems to care for her, implying by his playful tone that he knows he’s full of it. Someone’s lurking in the shadows…Jimmy, probably jealous of Red, looks in on her; based on what we see in the next scene, he’s hit her. Max stands up for her, and fires Jimmy. As a parting blast Jimmy threatens both of them.

Red tells her, aptly “you have strong men fight over you…but you’re the one that gets hurt.” Jimmy apologizes to her; and with no end to his swagger, he asks her to pawn some of his mom’s (translation, stolen) jewelry. She does it, but gets a promissary note or something instead of cash. “I’m not finished with you” he says, evasively, reiterating his threat to Max into the bargain.

Sure enough, Max gets jumped by two guys on a dark street. The doorman and Gwen pick him up and bring him back to the club, where a doctor fixes him up. She tells Red that she knows Jimmy’s behind it; not to mention that he’s still up to something with her. He says that she can stay with him.

Back at the club, Max calls on his henchman, Billy (Green). Retaliation for the attack is brewing…Sure enough, Billy the goon finds Jimmy in a pub, and jabs him with a broken bottle. At Red’s though, all is quietly domestic; she takes a bath, he plays the piano. He tells her she can stay the night, but then has to look out for another situation. He continues to be polite and caring.

However, the police come looking for her in the morning. Jimmy has set her up; his jewelry she pawned for him was stolen from the landlady (didn’t we figure some such). So we flip back to the Lyla/Miss Thorpe frame story briefly. Then, good old juvenile court for Gwen’s case. How did Jimmy survive the attack? Anyway, he tells the court a different story, of course. He even has the nerve to blame her for injuries inflicted by Max’s goon.

Red stands up for her, and backs her story. She’s still found guilty. Lecture-city from Thorpe. So, “we’re going to send you somewhere else…an approved (reform) school.” First she gets framed, then railroaded, and literally sent-up. At least she gets to talk to Red; he’s the only one who cares about her. She says she loves him.

Man, the school is pretty much a gothic castle. First thing is hazing from the other girls. There’s Roberta (Bacon), the bully. Gwen gets some points for chewing out the matron. Now she’s going to see the shrink. Gwen’s affected a survivalist form of politeness. The big deal now for the girls is getting mail. What’s interesting is how Gwen can be such a hard case, which is off-putting, but she’s pushed into defensiveness.

Anyway, thanks to a huge free-for-all in the cafeteria, Gwen has a chance to escape. What’s going to happen? Which is one of the best aspects of this movie, that, despite the constraints of the social commentary theme, Gwen’s life is completely unpredictable. It’s sort of a film noir in a strange parallel universe alongside a cautionary tale.

Well, she gets away, wisely changing clothes. Of course, the guy who picks her up has designs on her; she gets rid of him. Problem is, when she goes to call Red, his wife (Marshall) answers. When she finds her way back to the club, she gets the doorman’s attention. It seems that Max has a club in Brighton.

He’s hardly glad to see her; “this is a respectable club,” meaning, ok, but hide upstairs. She doesn’t. Instead he has to introduce her to some of his respectable mates, Danny (Griffith Jones), Billy (Green), and Fruity (Ross). Bad timing, as a detective (Raine) is passing through the club. They take off in Danny’s car, ending up at a party. She’s getting a bit tipsy.

Danny’s ‘turn’ to put the moves on her. “I’m a rough boy,” he says, lamely. More party action, and more, this time at the club. They’re up for a ride; Max doesn’t want her to go, but Danny gets her in the car; not only that but she’s driving. Whang! She runs over a policeman who’s on a bike.

They drive away. Danny knows they’re toast. Back at the club, he takes charge “there’s nothing to worry about as long as you keep your traps shut!” Except that the nosy detective notices bits of damage on Danny’s car. He knows about the cop who was killed. Gwen acts up, telling off the detective.

Time for her to leave town again; well, looks like Danny trailed her aboard the train. He threatens her–more than that–he slugs her, and then pushes her into the corridor. Two U.S. soldiers see her lying there; she’s ok, but her luggage is gone. She goes off with the soldiers, as she’s got no plan.

Apparently, they’re a couple of deserters, Al and Mickey (McDermott and Colleano). They overwhelm some M.P.s and split. Now, the three of them are basically running the streets, rolling easy marks. Mickey figures that they should split up, and get to Manchester. So, they get her to flag down a car (but it’s Red). She tries to warn him off, but they attack him.

She tries to get away; but they shoot Red, and stuff Gwen in the car. Well, the jig’s up. Everyone’s caught. Back to Thorpe wrapping up the story for Lyla. That girl, convinced both that the stodgy lady is decent, and Gwen’s story is so nightmarish (Gwen got fifteen years), that she agrees to go home. The end.

This is an interesting movie for a couple of reasons. Gwen is an enigmatic character; she always seems to make the wrong choice. On the other hand, she’s at the mercy of others (mostly creepy guys) for the whole time. Only Red is consistently good to her. It’s really hard to determine if her malleable personality is meant to show how she has to adapt to her situation, or if we’re to think that she has no conscience and is truly ‘delinquent’.

The other odd thing about her character is Kent’s age; she’s been described as a young-looking twenty-seven, but that hardly helps her pass as a sixteen-year-old. She’s simply too self-assured and savvy for the average teen. Kent does a lot with a complex role, but it’s too bad that Dors, a genuine teen at the time, couldn’t have played Gwen.

The supporting cast really fills out the multitude of major and minor players whom Gwen has to manuver around. Some are just sort of stock hood types; all except Red are compromised or flawed in some way.

Like the plot, the tone shifts from the preachy to the poignant, and back to the merely wreckless and hedonistic. Especially sad is the scene at Gwen’s apartment when her mom visits. It’s nothing but bad news, along with a terrible sense of hopelessnes; likewise when she’s sentenced to the reform school.

The reckless and the poignant themes intersect with tragic results when Red’s murdered. Ultimately, this shows a very pessimistic view of society, and the difficulty of even beginning to participate in it. Gwen’s destroyed bit by bit; the only consolation remains Lyla’s second chance.

Different, well-worth watching. 8/10.

Johnny Cool, 1963. 9.5/10

Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery star in this intense crime drama. Silva is Johnny/Salvatore Giordano, a Sicilian hit man who’s sent to the U.S. by crime boss Colini (Marc Lawrence) to take care of some loose ends–bump off recalcitrant mafioso. To provide a smokescreen, Johnny Cool’s death is faked. .

Also with Telly Savalas, Mort Saul, Jim Backus, and even Elisha Cook, Jr. (unsurprisingly, he’s an undertaker). Montgomery is Johnny Cool’s girlfriend, Darien/Dare. Thanks to some cameos, more cool’s provided by Ratpackers Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop.

In any case the opening song ‘Johnny Cool’ is uncool faux hipster-style. There’s some good background stuff to establish Colini’s mentoring of the young Salvatore in wartime Sicily. He saves his mom by pulling the pin on a German soldier’s hand grenade. Still, she’s killed by another soldier; he joins partisans headed up by Colini.

Wow, quite a segue, as we’re twenty years on, at a wedding. Some swells drive by in a Dual-Ghia; a Ratpack carriage, no doubt. Salvatore is a wanted man. An American correspondent is introduced. Reflecting on the war, Salvatore says “In war, you fight for yourself.” As if punctuating that statement, there’s an attack, apparently by the police, supported by the army.

Salvatore gets away, buf the other guy’s blasted. Strangely, it’s Salvatore who’s reported dead. It sas a set up–“the world thinks Giordano is dead.” That’s Colini, affecting to be a monk. He’s got something in mind. “You will be my son” if Salvatore will do Colini’s business. Not just for money, but Salvatore will “inherit my kingdom.”

Shazam! Salvatore is making the scene in America; he’s Johnny Cool in New York. And he meets Dare–in a bar, of course. She’s with her boss; Johnny meanwhile is busy dispatching some hoods. That gets Dare’s attention, but he’s “not buying” her. Among the skyscrapers, in a fancy office, the mobsters are convening with their boss, Vince Satangelo (Savalas), who is worried about Johnny popping up.

Now, we’re at the races with Johnny, and so is Dare. “What do you do for kicks?” she asks. Winning jillions on a horse. Later, at her place, he gets a call to meet up in a hotel room–sounds fishy. Well, a gambling den, actually. Complete with Sammy Davis, Joey Bishop, and a craps table. Johnny loses a few (thousand), and wins some, but hey, it’s just money . Uh oh, cops come to bug Dare about Johnny.

But they’re not cops, they’re hoods from the guys running the table games. Well, there’s mayhem–at the table and at Dare’s. Johnny’s pretty good with the karate. Davis has some magic in those dice. Johnny: “lets see an eleven.” Davis: “you wouldn’t settle for a seven, wouldja?” Johnny: “No baby.” When Johnny returns and finds that Dare’s been beat up by the goons he goes after them. Both get stabbed with a kitchen knife.

Time for Johnny to meet up with Vince. “I’m not here for a job. I’m here to take it all.” They talk about drugs, sources, etc. Oh, but Santanegelo, is a “legitimate” businessman. Right. Anyway, Johnny wants Dare to come with him. None too soon, as another bunch of thugs would’ve broke in on her again, if the lovebirds hadn’t just skipped out.

She’s made it to L.A. Now we see a board meeting, and a lobbyist or frontman for Santangelo. Looks like Johnny’s setting up Mr. Big at the train station. Santangelo, meanwhile, is busy huddling with assorted mafia dons. Johnny drives to Vegas–been a while since we’ve had the roulette wheel in action. He calls this guy Hinds (John McGiver); then we see Johnny cruising and schoomzing the tables and gamblers.

Undoubtedly, they’re cover for something. Well, actually, it’s Hinds that’s up to something. He holds a shotgun to Johnny. Mr. Cool shows his coolness by overwhelming the pudgy Hines. Then he has to blast an underling who offers that Colini called him a ‘brother’, and that the Sicilian don is using Johnny. He’s right.

Time to go back to Sicily and get even with Colini. Dare tells him, aptly, that “Johnny is a name. Giordano is a man!” Santangelo calls Colini, who disclaims all knowledge of and responsibility for Johnny. The cops huddle in Vegas, trying to finger both Santangelo and Johnny. Meanwhile, Johnny’s rigging a dynamite bomb for a guy named Crandall (Brad Dexter).

Hey, what a crazy poolside explosion! Anyway, the cool couple plans to rendevous in New York. To kill time, Dare goes to a hair salon, but inconveniently runs into a friend. Well, the friend’s party that night gives Dare an out, and she takes it. A swinging deal, with the twist the dance of the moment. Johnny is literally up to something now, taking a construction rig up the side of a skyscraper to visit Santangelo. (The ambush from the window thing was used to good effect in 1972’s Shaft.)

Who else is left for Johnny to kill? Well, he goes to a cathedral to see the grieving mafioso. He pays his respects to Satangelo (!); he wants, as usual, everything. And he now claims that he’s set up Colini into the bargain. So, is this something can’t be fixed?

Back on the West Coast, Dare wakes up from the party…and spills a few too many beans to Suzy. She “wants him so badly, that I’d grovel to him.” Despite knowing he’s a murderer. She calls one of the victim’s families to give up Johnny’s location there.

Unsuspecting, he comes to his supposed rendevous with Dare, only to find the widow instead. And tons of henchman. In captivity, his tormentors tell him how he’s going to be treated in Edgar Allan Poe terms After a scuffle, he finally gets stabbed. It’s up to Dare to tell the cops in L.A. that Johnny’s dead. “I killed him” she says, histrionically. An agonizing bit of the ‘Johnny Cool’ song, and we’re done with these dons.

This is much better than I thought if would be; the performances, the plot and pacing, the atmosphere and tone, were all of a piece and contributed to a great presentation. Usually, background scenes are awkward or unnecessary, but here they set up the main story without intruding on it. (the only detail they didn’t get right was ths German troops using an U.S. Jeep). Likewise, the segue to the ’60s in America was as quick as it was smooth.

Silva make a convincing hitman; and Savalas a sleazy but wary antagonist. Montgomery has the beguiling flair that works so well with her deceptive innocence. It’s just a bit hard to swallow her taking up with Silva’s character, though. I could see their mutual attraction, and the lure of living it up with a guy who basically lights a smoke with a thousand dollar bill. But, not being so easily duped, she quickly figures out that not only is her boyfriend a hood, but an integral part of an organized crime syndicate. She does stand up to him. And, most significantly, she leaves him.

Let’s just say she’s adventurous. The settings, obviously on location, are just what we need for an immersion in this outwardly glittery, but essentially tawdry lifestyle. The Sicilan backdrop does manage to establish the original purpose of the mafia as a sort of Robin Hood outfit: protecting and supporting the locals from invaders and occupiers.

This is the sort of movie that doesn’t seem as long as it is (1 hour, 43 minutes). That’s the script deftly moving things along; we meet hoods, Johnny mows them down. In this sense the plot is very simple. But there’s considerable variation in each guy’s demise, and therefore plenty of tension. And, although Johnny is definitely cool, he’s not superman, and his death is certainly not an easy way out.

The romance complicates things (the guys going after Dare to get at Johnny, her overall complicity, etc.), but it also adds considerable depth to the story. After all, without Dare, Johnny is more or less just a sociopath, even though an iconic member of a legendary group of them. His fidelity to her mirrors his first brush with violence–killing to save his mom.

This would just about be perfect if they’d ditched that wretched title song. The folks at the boat party doing the twist was cool; as it was genuine early ’60s pop culture. That tid bit is enough reason to watch Johnny Cool. 9.5/10

City Streets, 1931. 8/10

Crime drama with an interesting premise. A gangster, Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbie) hangs a murder rap on his daughter, Nan (Slyvia Sidney). She goes to prison; meanwhile, her boyfriend, known as The Kid (Gary Cooper), infiltrates the gang to avenge Nan. Maybe he gets too far in, because when Man gets out of the slammer, it’s no simple thing getting Kid back on track.

A real treat are the cutesy names for some of the supporting cast: there’s Big Fellow Maskel (Paul Lukas), Blackie (Stanley Fields), Pansy (Betty Sinclair), and Baldy (Bert Hanlon). Somewhat more in the mainstream, we have McCoy (William Boyd), the Police Inspector (Robert Homans) Esther (Barabara Leonard), and Agnes (Wynne Gibson). City Streets is based on a Dashiell Hammett story.

We start with Prohibition pipe line: beer trucks rolling, a bottling/ distillery, and, a payoff. Two groups of gangsters face off; look at all that beer in the barrel! Not only that, but the parting line, “no hard feelings” becomes a bit ironic, as one gangleader’s hat flows first in the barrel, and then in the Atlantic, where, no doubt, its owner ‘sleeps with the fishes’.

Pop Cooley comes out swimmingly on that deal; he glances in on Nan, who scoots out to a car and drives away. At the shooting gallery, she meets up with Kid, who can’t resist showing off. They amble around, as he can’t help winning various prizes for her.

At the beach, they cuddle “gosh, it’s great!” She muses. She wants Kid to get into her dad’s bootlegging business. Otherwise, they’d “have to live in a tent” if they got married. He’d rather be poor and honest. They argue, but make up.

When she gets home, Pops chides her for hanging out with the likes of the Kid. At a hotel, Pops sees Blackie tell off Big Fellow for hanging out with Agnes. Big Fellow asks Pops “If anything happens to Blackie, could you hold his mob together?” No problem for Pops.

So, Pops calls on Agnes and Blackie. Then he phones home, telling Nan to meet around the corner; he and Blackie are going to Joe’s. Hmm, the game is afoot. Dramatically, we see Blackie followed down the corridor by Pops’ enormous shadow.

Jan waits in an alcove, while the two guys pull up. Pops shoots Blackie, then hands the murder weapon to Nan for her to get rid of. She walks away from the scene as cops converge toward it. Unfortunately, an officer stops her. Meanwhile, Pops is at Agnes’s, going over his alibi with the cops.

Nan got caught anyway, and gets the business at police headquarters. They bring in Pops to ‘talk sense’ to her. But he tells to not give up the ghost “no one in the beer racket ever squawked on a pal yet”; he figures to trust her attorney to get her off.

So, she doesn’t talk. Pops shows up at the shooting gallery to recruit Kid. He tells Kid that the cops framed Nan; that’s not entirely made up, but leaves out the simple fact that Pops set her up in the first place. Anyway, she’s locked up for the murder, where she befriends Esther. Well, Pops convinced Kid to drive trucks for the racket.

Esther gets out, only to find that her Johnny has been killed in his own car. Ironically, Nan takes solace in her (mistaken) belief that Kid’s still clean. He visits her in prison; she’s chagrined to learn that he’s turned crooked. Not only that, but he admits “beer, I love it!” Then it’s her turn to get out of the ‘big house’.

At least Kid doesn’t get shot. Back home, she greeted by Big Fellow and good ol Pops. Dad’s disgustingly unrepenitent; possibly he was able to wangle an early release for her. She meets her new stepmom, Pansy. Kid calls Big Fellow ‘chief’. They plan a mob “coming out party” for her.

She wants to skip the party, and the mob in general; while he’s pretty much all-in. Swanky party anyway. They’ve effectively switched roles as far as mob stuff’s concerned. She tries to talk Big Fellow into laying off on Kid; Big’s basically trying to pick up on her. Agnes is not amused. But, Pops short changes his daughter again, encouraging Big to hit on her.

Kid isn’t any cool with that, but Nan warns him that Blackie was killed for less. “How about those two guys from Detroit?” Goes the idle men’s room chatter between Big and McCoy. Well, the wary couple has left already. The ‘bad’ bad guys roll up at Nans; stupidly, Kid goes to the door.

Ah, but it’s Kid who gets the drop on them. So much for the torpedoes from Detroit. Kid tells her he’s going to see to see the Big Fellow. She hesitates, but then calls Big. Looks like she’s planning an ambush of her own.

Yep, as Big takes Agnes around, Nan goes out on the street packing a pistol. Meanwhile, Kid searches for Nan at the club. Big kicks Agnes out; Nan closes in. He finds her gun. Agnes, lurking outside, sees him nuzzle up to her. Kid speeds across town, sensing trouble. Agnes peeps in the door just enough to grab the loose gun. Nan is framed again, as Agnes pops Big twice–then shuts the door, crying for help.

Kid gets there, believing Nan when she says that she didn’t do it. McCoy doesn’t agree; but when he asks who’s running the mob now, the guys guys agree that Kid does. He says that he’ll handle the situation. Calling Nan, he makes an arrangement with her; the gugs think he’s going to ‘take care of her’, permanently, that is.

McCoy confronts Agnes with evidence that Big was “giving her the air”. A packed suitcase is the tell-tale sign. Well, looks like a thrilling denouement in store. Kid and Nan, with a clump of gangsters in the back seat, chases a train at high speed. They barely make the crossing ahead of the train. He’s scaring the heck out of them; it works because he has Nan cover them while he tells them to tbrow their guns out the windows.

That accomplished, he stops. He tells them they’re gonna walk home. Plus, by the way, guys, it was Agnes, not Nan who pulled the trigger on Big, and he’s out of the beer racket. Take that. The end.

This works fine, because the Nan/Kid romance is very compelling, and the gangster stuff is equally powerful, in its way. The authenticity was spot on, as, of course, as City Streets was made during Prohibition. Although we see little actual racketeering, except at the beginning, and in bits here and there, the criminals are convincingly dangerous and deadly.

Big Fellow would seem to be the evilest guy here, but actually, Pops is worse. Not only does he allow his daughter to be framed more than once, he’s got this smug debonair attitude about it. So, we get the nervous henchmen, ths out-and-out thugs, and the gentleman sociopath. On the other hand, there’s the powerless victims, Pansey, Esther, and Agnes (who turns victimizer).

This leaves Nan and Kid, who are definitely worth rooting for. Both of them are flawed, but each finds redemption; they find that their love is what’s worth having. Cooper and Sidney’s performances are excellent, and the supporting cast shows a variety of interesting personalities.

The pacing moves the plot along without dwelling on distractions. There’s plenty of space for tension and suspense to build, as these folks manuver around each other, leaving some bodies to step over. Entertaining and involving, City Streets is well worth a look. 8/10.