November 27th, 2012

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) *** ½

Orson Welles (sporting a playful Irish brogue) is a seafaring man who gets roped into a murder plot by a sultry lady (Rita Hayworth) and her crippled lawyer husband (Everett Sloane). Of course, Welles’ infatuation with Hayworth clouds his judgment and he agrees. Pretty soon, he finds himself arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. To add insult to injury, he is railroaded into court by Sloane. Before a verdict can be reached, Orson makes a desperate escape and tries to clear his name.

Apparently, there was a lot of behind the scenes meddling with The Lady from Shanghai. The film was ultimately taken away from director Orson Welles (he’s only credited with screenplay and “Production”) and re-edited by the studios. As a result, the plot is kinda murky and some of the pacing is a bit herky-jerky.

Thankfully, the plot doesn’t really take precedent here. The Lady from Shanghai is more about the interaction between Welles’ down and out character and the bizarre love triangle he finds himself in. Like any good film noir, the plot twists are secondary to the mood and atmosphere. And because it was an Orson Welles production, the film looks terrific. There are some shots in a darkened aquarium that are pretty damned sweet and the “Hall of Mirrors” sequence is justifiably famous.

Despite the studio meddling, the film remains rather fascinating. I watched this a few days ago and put off writing about it because I really wanted The Lady from Shanghai to marinate in my mind a bit. If I was to describe the flick in a word, that word would be “effortless”. Welles oozes charm and charisma here and he does so without breaking a sweat. I don’t think he’s looked handsomer on film. And the way he constructed his shots seem natural; and even the most complicated shots never seem showy. Of course, Rita Hayworth looks effortlessly beautiful. Just the shots of her silently smoldering in front of the camera are a joy to watch.

Maybe someday we’ll get to see Orson Welles’ original vision of the film. Maybe not. Until that day, The Lady from Shanghai remains a tantalizing and rewarding notch in the master showman’s belt.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) ****

After the box office failure of the Sean Connery-less On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman lured Connery back to the fold by offering him more money than God on Sunday. I guess they figured this was the best way to win audiences back. But to ensure their success, they went ahead and basically remade Goldfinger. They also brought back Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, hired Goldfinger screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and even got Goldfinger songstress Shirley Bassey to sing the theme song.

To some, this might have seemed like desperation, but I always say, if you have to steal from somebody, steal from the best.

James Bond finally catches up with his arch nemesis Blofeld (played this time by Charles Gray) and tosses him into a bubbling mud bath. Now that Bond’s score has been finally settled, M (Bernard Lee) sends him on a seemingly bland mission to catch some diamond smugglers. Predictably, they are in cahoots with the very much alive Blofeld who plans on using a diamond encrusted satellite death ray to hold the world for ransom.

Diamonds Are Forever is a top notch Bond adventure. It contains a nice balance of the hardnosed action of the Connery era and the gimmicky lightheartedness of the Moore films. Tonally, it’s a veritable blueprint for every Bond film from the 70’s.

Connery is in fine form yet again as James Bond. At the time of release, he was probably the biggest draw. I like him a lot in this one too, but I have to say that it’s the colorful supporting cast that makes the film constantly entertaining. Bruce Glover and Putter Smith steal the film as the gay hitmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They’re pretty hilarious and their final run-in with Bond is awesome. The Bond girl performances (by Jill St. John and Lana Wood) are better than usual and Gray makes for a fun Blofeld. Heck, even the smallest roles are filled by ever-reliable character actors like Sid Haig and Marc Lawrence (who later appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun).

Diamonds Are Forever is a good showcase for Guy Hamilton. He handles the action extremely well and plays up the comedic aspects of the film, without going overboard. Hamilton even manages to work up a fair amount of suspense too, especially in the elevator scene. He also gives us a great look at Las Vegas (the film’s primary location) in the 70’s too. Throw in a terrific John Barry score and you have one of my all-time favorite Bond adventures.

The REAL Bond Review:

The Pre-Opening Title Sequence. I love this sequence. It perfectly sets up the blend of badassness and light humor found throughout the film. It begins with Bond ruthlessly tracking down Blofeld. After shaking down a few individuals, he happens upon a sexy babe in a bikini and strangles her with it. Although they don’t really come out and say it, I imagine Bond’s urgency is due to the fact that Blofeld killed his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If so, then Bond’s nastiness in this sequence is warranted. ****

The Opening Title Sequence. Given the title, the credit sequence is naturally, diamond-centric. It features a lot of hot women undulating around while wearing diamonds. None of it particularly groundbreaking visually, but it’s pretty good. *** ½

The Song. Shirley Bassey once again sings a Bond song. It suffers from comparison to her awesome song from Goldfinger. It lacks that song's sassiness and feels a bit subdued, but it’s still quite enjoyable. ***

Bond. Connery gives a great performance in this film. He’s pretty ruthless in the early going, but plays things with a light touch in the Las Vegas scenes. I think it’s funny that he pretends to be someone else for half the movie. And whether he’s sporting a terrible Dutch accent or wandering around in a lab coat, he’s pretty damned funny. These scenes show he can play the lighter aspects of the character as well as anyone. People may claim him to be a bit of a misogynist because of the scene where he slaps Tiffany Case. To me though, his actions are justified because the fate of the world is at hand. If millions of people’s lives depend on some broad getting belted, I say it’s worth a smack in the face. ****

The Gadgets. Bond has a mousetrap in his pocket, fake fingerprints, a grappling hook, a machine that can alter his voice, and Q has a magnetic, contraption that allows him to clean up at the slot machines. *** ½

Bond Girls. As Tiffany Case, Jill St. John is one of my favorite Bond girls. She’s feisty, spunky, and most of all, sexy. Some of Bond’s best quips in the whole series are directed at Case. From her ever-changing hairstyles (“Providing the collars and cuffs match…”) to her diminishing wardrobe (“That’s a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing.”), Bond certainly takes notice of her hotness. And Lana Wood (who plays Plenty O’Toole) is equally fine. Plus, if you’re sharp-eyed, you can get a glimpse of plenty O’Plenty. ****

Action. The elevator fight is one of the most brutal in the entire series. It’s reminiscent of the Red Grant fight in From Russia with Love. But while the final shootout on Blofeld’s oil rig is good, it’s not as much fun as the other set pieces in the film (like the moon buggy chase or the car chase through the Vegas strip). ****

M. Diamonds Are Forever contains one of the best M briefings of all time. Bond and M’s verbal sparring about everything from diamonds to sherry is sharp and funny. There’s some great interaction between Bernard Lee and Connery in this scene. I also liked the way they cut back and forth between the briefing with M and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd killing people. And Bond’s brief chat with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) is great too. ****

Villain. Charles Gray is probably my favorite Blofeld. I always found Donald Pleasence to be a bit weak in You Only Live Twice and I thought Telly Savalas was good, but miscast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Here, Gray gives us a Blofeld that is a good mix of sophistication and camp. I could’ve done without the part where he dressed in drag though. (Gray also appeared in You Only Live Twice as an ill-fated spy named Henderson.) ****

Villain’s Plot. It’s your standard issue shoot a death ray satellite into orbit and threaten the world with it scenario. It worked for me. There’s also a cool gimmick where Blofeld kidnaps a Howard Hughes-like reclusive billionaire (Jimmy Dean) and takes over his operation. *** ½

Villain’s Lair. Because Blofeld is in Las Vegas, he lives in a casino, which is badass if you ask me. ****

Villain’s Henchmen. In this case, it’s henchwomen; Bambi and Thumper. They’re two karate kicking babes who give Bond a whooping. And the aforementioned gay hitmen, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kid are pretty damn funny too. ****

Martinis. Bond only drinks sherry in this one. ***

Bond Movies Ripped Off. From the personnel behind the camera, to the plotline about a villain hoarding a precious substance, to the mostly all-American settings, it’s easy to see that the main inspiration here was Goldfinger. ****

Diamonds Are Forever is the seventh best Bond movie ever made, putting it right in between Dr. No and From Russia with Love.

ONE MISSED CALL (2008) ** ½

Here’s another remake of an Asian horror movie (unseen by me). Unlike most of these bad boys, this one was actually kinda entertaining. I’m not saying it was “good” or anything, but I definitely got some laughs out of it. Chalk this one up under the “Almost, But Not Quite a Camp Classic” category.

You’ve all seen The Ring, right? Well, basically this is the same shit. Instead of a ghost girl killing people via a videotape, she kills people when they answer their cellphone. You know; I never understood why they didn’t make The Ring 2 about DVDs and part 3 about Blu-Rays, but never mind.

The usual shit you’d expect to happen in a movie like this happens (unfortunately), but there was a couple of things that made me laugh out loud. First was the scene where the ghost girl killed a chick by pulling her into a koi pond. That wasn’t too great, but the part where it pulled her CAT into the pond was fucking hysterical.

The other big scene that had me in stitches was the part where one girl hired a priest to perform an exorcism… on her PHONE! Folks, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. Of course, the only way this scene could’ve been better is if the phone puked pea soup, but what can you do?

One thing that surprised me about the film was the people in the movie were actually smart. They know a phone call will kill them, so they take the batteries out of their phone or smash it into a hundred pieces or throw it down a sewer grate or something. Of course, the phone still finds a way to kill them, but I liked that they at least TRIED to protect themselves.

One Missed Call falls apart in the third act once it tries to explain the whos and hows of the ghost’s origins. If it had kept up the goofy goodness of the first hour, the film could’ve been a real contender. Plus, the kills are kinda weak too (it was one of those PG-13 deals), except for the one Final Destination inspired moment. The good news is; Shannyn Sossamon was looking fine, so there are definitely worse ways to kill 85 minutes.