Saturday, March 14, 2009

George Raft - quicky film reviews

I don't currently have any of the more famous George Raft films handy at the moment, but thanks to Netflix's instant viewing capability, I was still able to indulge my current obsession. I watched a bunch of his later movies that nobody's probably ever heard of and probably doesn't want to! But George aged really well, as far as I'm concerned. He stays a fit, active, and very handsome man all through his life. These roles are, for the most part, quite undemanding, and George gets a lot of criticism for being wooden, but really... there's nothing truly interesting for him to do in these later third-rate films. Just run around dodging trouble and solving mysteries. Nobody else is going to do much with the roles either, and personally, I'd rather watch George over a lot of other actors.

Whistle Stop (1946) -- Okay, if you leave your brain at the door, this movie is rather entertaining. Otherwise, it makes no sense. Ava Gardner returns to her tiny home town where George is wasting his time unemployed, drinking, and playing cards. They had a thang in the past, and both wouldn't mind having a thang now. But George is now an idle layabout, and she wants more out of life, so there's the town rich guy -- but he's a rotten louse. And that's where it devolves into wacky plot land. Victor McLaglen's running around, stirring up trouble. He tries to get George to join him in a plot to steal Rich Guy's money, then there's this whole weird frame up for murder, and they're forced to run. There's also George's other girlfriend who naturally reacts badly to Ava Gardner's return, except her fate is... um... illogical. There's so much plot in this movie that simply doesn't add up. However, George Raft, Victor McLaglen, Ava Gardner -- they're all fun to watch, even if the story's dumb.

Would I watch it again? Probably, just for the cast.

(Oooh, and a personal highlight was watching George and Victor play Casino in this movie! Another card game, (like klaberjass or klobiyash, however the hell you want to spell it) from my youth. I love playing Casino, and I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone ever play it in a movie before! Speaking of klob (which is still the best two-person card game ever)... my parents caught a film with James Cagney where they were playing it! I need to get the name of that film and watch it. It was with great joy that I discovered Dana Andrews LOVED playing klob. Sigh. Oh, to go back in time, put some opera on, and play klobiyash with him. And catch a couple of fifties and set him and beat his pants... mwahhahhah. Sadly, the only people I know who play this game nowadays are my own family. I really am living in the wrong decade.)

The Man From Cairo (1953) -- Best parts of this movie are the bookends. I laughed outloud at the expected, but still delightful last 30 seconds of this movie. In this one, George is visiting Algiers and gets mistaken for an American detective who's being sent there to find out about a missing gold stash from the war. Oddly George doesn't protest this mistaken identity problem. No, instead he runs with it, particularly after getting drugged, accused of murder, and finding out there's a gorgeous dame involved (Gianna Maria Canale, who really is drop-dead gorgeous in this film). Naturally, he goes on to solve the problem of the missing gold. A straightforward, routine, but fast-paced sort of film. Amusing enough.

Would I watch again? If I was really bored and had nothing else to do.

Loan Shark (1952) -- Probably my favorite of the bunch. George gets out of prison (what, again? LOL!), and goes undercover hunting for the leader of a nasty bunch of loan sharks who are preying on the employees of a tire factory after they murder his sister's husband. He joins the bad guys and quickly makes himself indispensable. He has to reject his sister, friends, and a new girlfriend to do it. This one's got a bunch of character actors I like, the kind of guys who show up in everything back then: John Hoyt (I mostly know him from tv: " Star Trek," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "Big Valley," etc.) Paul Stewart (Kiss Me Deadly, King Creole, 12 O'Clock High), and Henry Slate (The Frogmen, Somebody Loves Me, Miss Sadie Thompson). Paul Stewart looks and acts just like he stepped out of Kiss Me Deadly. Same delightfully smirky expression. He should have that look patented. Love them all! This one is more lively than the others. It had a pretty tight script, pretty decent dialog, some nice fist fights (George sure throws a vicious punch), interesting bad guys, and a satisfying (if predictable) ending. Oh, speaking of the ending, I made the mistake of reading a couple reviews before watching the film that claimed there was a twist at the end... they LIE! I spent the movie second-guessing characters and motives, waiting for some kind of cool plot twist to spring up because there was so much room for one or even two... and there was absolutely nothing. Grrr. And this is precisely why I don't read reviews before I see a movie. Nothing worse than setting up false expectations.

Would I watch again? Oh yeah.

I'll Get You (1952) -- Yeah, sure, and who came up with that brilliant title? Not even sure what the title has to do with the movie. This was the worst of the bunch, which is too bad, cuz the basic idea is sound: hunting for bad guys smuggling scientists through the Iron Curtain. It's just that they don't do anything with it and nobody really seems in danger and nothing personal's at stake. Sigh. However, this movie surprised me because it actually featured a capable female character played by Sally Gray. She plays a British Intelligence agent who seemed surprisingly realistic for a film made in the early 50's. She's cool-headed, she gets the drop on George, she's good at what she does, lies her way into wherever she needs to go, her boss trusts her, etc. -- and all without ever turning into some lame "kick-ass superwoman" caricature that she'd probably be nowadays. She's just a girl doing a job to the best of her ability. It was a very welcome surprise. Of course, the script requires she fall in love with George. And they were doing so well with her character up until then. Sigh. Does every story have to have a romantic element??

Would I watch again? Doubtful. Except maybe the part where he vaults over a high railing and lands lightly on his feet. At age 57. I like that part.


  1. Sigh. Does every story have to have a romantic element??

    Yeah, cuz otherwise people like my mom won't watch them. Whenever Dad and I wanted to watch a western, she would vote for one with John Wayne in it because "then at least I know there'll be a love story." Always cracked me up.

  2. ARGH! Dano distracted me and I sent that before I meant to. I wanted to add that what cracked me up was that Mom thinks of John Wayne as a romantic! Not how I usually think of him at all, hee.

  3. Hee! Your mom cracks me up. And that is kind of odd. My mom liked watching John Wayne movies, but for the opposite reason. She knew she was guaranteed some good shoot outs and fights and action when he was around. So opposite, our moms!