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Family Favorites (24 Discs)

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The second of Monogram's "East Side Kids" programmers was directed by Joseph H. Lewis and his deft hand is easily detectable. No, this quasi-horror comedy is no forgotten masterpiece -- how could it be with those mugging, language-mangling East Side Kids/Bowery Boys? -- but Lewis does employ a couple of interesting camera angles and obviously attempts to compose a scene with a sense of esthetics, a far cry from "one take" Monogram hacks like William Beaudine or Phil Rosen. Lewis cannot do much with the Kids themselves, of course, and they are mainly left to fend for themselves, but Minerva Urecal makes a creepy housekeeper (she even has a dead "Rebecca" to moon about) and ingénues Inna Gest and Dave O'Brien both perform up to their potential, minor as it may have been. Screenwriter William Lively should perhaps be forgiven for not only plagiarizing Daphne DuMaurier but also, in one or two instances, James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) --plagiarism, after all, being the sincerest form of flattery -- and with a little help from the casting department, the identity of the killer comes at least somewhat as a surprise. As for the East Side Kids themselves, they remain purely a matter of taste. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

The plot for Road to Bali is pretty thin stuff, even for one of the "Road" pictures. This does, however, place more of a burden on our trio of stars and on the quality of the jokes and songs; while there's nothing really wrong with any of these elements, things still don't really come together to make Bali the boffo fun that it wants to be. Even moreso than in previous entries in the series, there's an abundance of self-referential humor and light genre parodies -- and comic cameo appearances are taken to a bit of a ridiculous extreme. But even so, Bali is amiable and undemanding fun, and if Bob Hope and Bing Crosby don't have the inspired lunacy that they had in Road to Morocco, they still work like a well-oiled machine (with Dorothy Lamour as the lever that often gets them started). Bali also benefits from being shot in Technicolor. There aren't any real location shots, just studio sets, but they positively drip with rich, savory color. Lamour gets the best song, "Moonflowers," and Crosby does quite nicely with the mediocre "To See You." Not the best "Road" show, Bali nonetheless is enjoyable and occasionally very funny. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Reportedly seven years in the making, this silent adventure based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic 1912 novel was a watershed mark in special effects filmmaking. Willis H. O'Brien's stop-motion work, which would reach near-perfection in King Kong (1933), was much admired in its day and although primitive by modern standards remains visually engaging. So does Wallace Beery, complete with a theatrical beard, as Professor Challenger, whose theory of prehistoric dinosaurs surviving on a secluded plateau in the Amazonian jungle has made him the target of ridicule. Intrepid reporter Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes) offers the professor a chance to redeem himself, and with Big Game hunter Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone) and pretty Paula White (Bessie Love) in tow, they are off on a perilous expedition to South America. Paula, who is returning to the jungle in search of her missing scientist father, falls in love with the handsome reporter, much to the chagrin of Sir John. This triangle drama continues up the perilous climb to the plateau where Professor Challenger's theories are terrifyingly substantiated by all kinds of prehistoric fauna. Soon, a flesh-eating Tyranosaurus is attacking a family of more benign Triceratopses right in front of the astounded humans, who also have to contend with an erupting volcano, the dried-up bones of Paula's poor father, and the bizarre spectacle of stunt-man Bull Montana in a gorilla suit. But with the able assistance of a lovesick pet monkey, the expedition not only makes it safely down from the plateau but returns to England complete with a captured brontosaurus. Unfortunately, the beast is soon loose on Piccadilly Circus (where a theater marquee is advertising The Sea Hawk, 1924, also produced by First National), on Tower Bridge, and in sundry other picturesque London locations before apparently drowning in the River Thames. Originally released in 10 reels, The Lost World was cut to the bone in 1930 and it is this 62 minute version that exists today, beautifully restored by the George Eastman House. Missing, however, are subplots involving Alma Bennett as Lloyd Hughes' demanding London fiancé, Virginia Brown Faire as a Brazilian half-caste tempting Lewis Stone and a rendezvous with a tribe of cannibals. Left intact, however, are a few uncomfortable sequences with comic actor Jules Cowles appearing in blackface as Stone's pidgin-accented servant. Willis H. O'Brien's monsters may not frighten contemporary kids, with today's high special effects standards, but they certainly hold up well in comparison to some of the tacky creatures let lose in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hans J. Wollstein, All Movie Guide

One of W.C. Fields' funniest short works, The Dentist delivers sly, antisocial laughs that are just as funny generations later as when they were first filmed. The picture was considered risqué at the time and still raises eyebrows, especially during an infamous bit with Elise Cavanna. The patient straddles the dentist and hangs from his torso as the drill bores deep into her molar, a hilarious and sinister scene rife with barely disguised sexual innuendos. The Dentist is full of wickedly bawdy humor like this, as well as Fields pouring out both physical and verbal abuse at the entire cast. Modern viewers who know W.C. Fields as little more than a familiar cultural archetype will be shocked by the magnitude of political incorrectness that the man was capable of, but what's more appealing is his razor-sharp timing and a riotous sense of the surreal. The Dentist is a thinking man's slapstick which celebrates rebellious spirit and a man's God-given right to bulldoze his way through life. Though he never takes a single drink onscreen, it's one of the purest distillations of Fields' distinctive comedy. Fred Beldin, All Movie Guide

For the first animated feature by the Fleischer studio, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels seemed a natural fit. Oversimplification of the story aside, Gulliver's Travels is lively entertainment that retains a great deal of charm. It is also filled with some genuinely enjoyable moments, especially the Lilliputians' initial encounter with Gulliver, and their subsequent attempt to tie him up. The film is further aided by the scenery which evokes the magical appeal of an ancient, tiny kingdom. Unfortunately, in most other areas it becomes obvious that Gulliver's Travels was made in a rush. The songs, including the Oscar-nominated "Faithful Forever," are far from memorable, the writing is sloppy and creates the impression that the first draft was the final draft, and worst of all, the animation is wildly inconsistent. For instance, the Lilliputians and their Blefuscu counterparts are the closest to the Fleischer tradition and the most cartoonish, drawn in a very fluid manner as absurdly shaped humans with exaggerated features. But for some unknown reason, Prince David, Princess Glory, and Gulliver himself are drawn in a much more "natural" fashion and as a result look as if they are from an entirely different movie. On the plus side, there are some slight gags tossed in to bring humor to the story. For example, when the hideout of Sneak, Snoop, and Snitch is burning, one of the spies takes the opportunity to make shadow puppets; and earlier, as the Lilliputians are panicking when they think Gulliver is going to invade, one villager seen fainting in her window bears an unmistakable resemblance to Snow White. Gulliver's Travels falls far short of its potential, and despite its worthwhile moments, probably just served to solidify Disney's domination of the animated-feature market. Bob Mastrangelo, All Movie Guide

Even in 1937, Swing High, Swing Low's story was in need of a new coat of paint. The filmmakers made an effort, resetting the first part of the story in Panama, and that actually gets things off to a promising start. Stars Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray "meet cute" as Lombard's ship passes through a lock of the canal that soon-to-be-discharged soldier MacMurray is guarding. The sequence is charming and well staged, and it promises the film will have a certain degree of invention. That promise holds true for the first 20 minutes or so; even though the plot follows traditional lines, the Panamanian setting and a few tricks here and there keep it lively. Soon, however, the screenplay starts to sink down to the predictable, and as the plot machinations kick in, it becomes creaky and unconvincing. By the time the finale arrives, they audience feels they have all been there before and know exactly what is going to happen. Fortunately, Lombard and MacMurray are on hand to keep our interest, which they do to an amazing degree. They can't make the film any better than average, but they do a great job of holding our attention. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

By all rights, The Time of Your Life really shouldn't work as a film. Almost the entire action of the play occurs on one set, which usually is an anathema to the cinema. It's filled with dialogue that is heightened and artificial, which is difficult to pull off onscreen, and the plotless character study features a cipher at its center, which often leaves a big hole in the middle of a film. Yet, in Time, the limited setting doesn't feel stodgy and confined, thanks to subtle little tricks by master cinematographer James Wong Howe; the unrealistic dialogue comes across as flavorful, thanks to the expert cast that handles it with commitment and care; and James Cagney projects such warmth and overflowing humanity that most viewers won't realize -- or care -- that they know essentially nothing about the character that holds the entire movie together. "Warm" and "human" also apply to the movie as a whole, which is one of the most joyous expressions of life one is likely to encounter; joyous, but not cloyingly sentimental. While the work finds the good, the brave, and the admirable in its characters, there's still a thin vein of melancholy running underneath that enriches it considerably. As noted, James Cagney's performance is crucial, but the entire cast is splendid, with exemplary work from William Bendix, Jeanne Cagney, James Barton, and Wayne Morris, among others. The ending, altered from William Saroyan's original, is a bit out of place, but this doesn't keep Time from being a delightful, engaging, and thoroughly appealing film experience. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

At 62 minutes in running time, and with lots of room for comic relief vignettes and portrayals, even as it tells a story of murder, suicide, espionage, and sabotage, Let's Get Tough is brisk entertainment. It contains myriad characterizations that reflect some of the ethnicity, and script elements that do recall the texture of life in New York's poorer neighborhoods on the eve of World War II, particularly as embodied by Glimpy (Huntz Hall) and his long-suffering mother, and Robert Armstrong's brusk yet friendly portrayal of the veteran police officer. Even more important, it's briskly entertaining and has a message that's relevant 60 years later, as the United States faces a new national emergency, a war overseas, and the aftermath of another Pearl Harbor-type sneak attack. The first half of the movie captures the basic feelings of patriotism that motivated millions of people in the days after Pearl Harbor, as well as some of the changing racial sensibilities of the time -- Sammy "Sunshine" Morrison's Scruno, the black member of the East Side Kids, is treated with far more dignity and care than he would have been just a couple of years earlier. Additionally, the gang's attempted assault on Kino, whom they erroneously believe to be Japanese, is depicted as intrinsically wrong even if he were Japanese (which, as they discover, he is not). The film's messages about race and national heritage are somewhat mixed; the gang discovers that people who appear to be Japanese, or of Japanese ancestry, may well not be, and could even be friends, allies, and heroes. They also learn that as unfriendly as one group of Asians (the Japanese) might be, there are others (the Chinese) who are our allies; but there is no German-American character to balance the presence of Fritz Heinbach (Gabriel Dell) and his father (Sam Bernard) as spies and saboteurs. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

Although this film version of Thornton Wilder's classic (and, for its time, innovative) stage play tacks on a dreadful happy ending, the rest of the film is a faithful and moving adaptation of this American classic. Wisely dispensing with any attempt to "cinematize" the play's physical conceit (i.e., that it be performed with essentially no scenery and with props mimed), the movie, by necessity, has a more naturalistic tone to it. Since Wilder's masterwork is about the small moments that make up our lives, however, this is in no way damaging and, in some ways, adds more impact to the proceedings. Simplicity is the key to a successful Our Town, and Sam Wood directs with an appropriate delicacy and warmth. He's helped by a solid cast, headed by Martha Scott's incandescent Emily. The actress is vibrant without becoming overpowering, and her performance in the climactic scene evokes the honest emotion of the script without straying into weepy manipulation. A very young William Holden is not up to the task of matching her portrayal -- he's a little forced and lacks sufficient variety -- but he doesn't damage the film. The rest of the cast -- especially narrator Frank Craven and mothers Beulah Bondi and Fay Bainter -- are top notch. A further bonus is Aaron Copland's magnificent score, which, though it becomes slightly intrusive in one or two instances, possesses such beauty that one easily forgives it for making its presence felt. It has a few flaws, but, overall, this Our Town is a captivating experience. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Although the ending was altered, this A Farewell to Arms is one of the best cinematic adaptations of an Ernest Hemingway work. True, the film doesn't quite capture the unique Hemingway voice and style, but it does have some of his flavor; more importantly, it translates the story into "Hollywood" terms that make it more cinematically appealing. If the film lacks the depth of the novel, it still packs an emotional wallop. Certainly a great deal of the credit must go to stars Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper, who make an odd physical pair but who have a genuine, affecting chemistry. Hayes is radiant in one of her finest screen performances, playing suffering, nobility, and heartbreak in an outsized style that still rings true. Cooper utilizes his considerable charm to good effect, helped by his truly impressive good looks; while he's not as comfortable as Hayes with some of the heightened emotion, he still pulls it off. Director Frank Borzage skillfully blends the romance with the war-themed story, creating both impressive battle vistas and intimate, softly lit duets -- all with the inestimable help of cinematographer Charles B. Lang. Modern audiences will undoubtedly find portions of the film (and its style) dated and over the top, but those willing to meet it on its own terms will be rewarded. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Although the cynical Nikolai Gogol stage play on which it is based would seem an unlikely vehicle for a musical comedy, The Inspector General is one of Danny Kaye's best and most energetic films. The production is held together by the steady work of veteran director Henry Koster, who was probably happy to be working on a Warner Bros.-sized budget rather than at his usual cash-strapped Universal. In his lesser work, Kaye often veered his buffoon act into self-parody. Here, he benefits from Koster's control, from the solid supporting work of such character actors as Walter Catlett and Walter Slezak, and from the songs of Johnny Mercer. Russian literature purists will likely object to the liberties taken with the source story, but fans of Kaye won't notice. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

A B movie that is low not just on budget but on just about everything, Return to Treasure Island may appeal to the very young or to those who feel that absolutely ANYTHING pirate-related is worth watching, but not really to anyone else. The gender switch with the lead character has some potential interest, but little is done with it. The screenplay in general has far too little imagination. You can pretty accurately predict what the characters are going to say before they say it, and even more accurately predict where the plot is going to go before it gets there. Ewald Andre Dupont's direction is perfunctory, a sad comedown for someone of genuine talent and ability. Dawn Addams is quite lovely, with a fresh face and an innocence that are quite appealing. Unfortunately, she's not a great actress and certainly cannot carry as much of the picture as she is asked to do here. Likewise, Tab Hunter looks great but acts (and narrates) blandly. There are scattered moments of interest here and there, but overall it's a film to pass by. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

A so-so adventure film, The Big Trees is hobbled by a screenplay that seems to think that all it is required to do is introduce a situation and some characters and then put them through some paces. Not unnaturally, this approach leads to inconsistent characterization, which in this case means that the leading character -- as well as several supporting characters -- make some 180 degree turns that come from nowhere and are therefore not in the least credible. The dialogue is also of little help; it's virile where appropriate and syrupy when called for and faux-inspirational in places; but whatever form it takes, it's bland at best and wooden at worst. An imaginative director might have been able to overcome these flaws, but Felix E. Feist is competent when what is needed is someone with at least a bit of vision. The scenery, at least, is magnificent, although this comes with a caveat: there's an over-reliance on stock footage. Trees fortunately does have Kirk Douglas on hand to add some needed star power to the proceedings. Although he reportedly hated doing the film, he turns in a very fine performance, much more detailed than it had to be, and he's the best thing in the film. Edgar Buchanan is also of some interest, as is Patrice Wymore, although Eve Miller cannot do anything with a stiff of a part. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

A send-up of temperence dramas -- a genre for which you know W. C. Fields felt not an ounce of sympathy -- and Northern adventure stories, this W. C. Fields short is one of the stranger, more surreal movies in the comic legend's output (and that's going some, to which anyone familiar with Never Give A Sucker An Even Break can attest). Practically every shot and line is a comedic barb, aimed at the melodramatic sensibilities of the audiences of the time -- and the presence of gawky George Chandler as the wastrel son only adds to the level of absurdity being bounced around the tiny cabin and the 18-minute confines of this picture. It probably helped in appreciating it for one to have come out of the era in which it was made, but the passage of seven decades has only added to the surreal nature of the comedy, all aimed at puncturing a lot of overblown dramatic and philosophical notions of its era. By its description, it might seem like little more than a comedic sketch with a few extra flourishes, but in many ways -- along with The Dentist -- The Fatal Glass of Beer was Fields at his most "out there" and uninhibited. And he is the dominant personality here, even if Clyde Bruckman -- a veteran gagman who worked for another two decades, recycling a lot of the same jokes and gimmicks -- was the director. Fields was not only the star but -- big surprise -- co-authored the screenplay as well. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

The Black Pirate was unpopular with critics on its release, but it is remembered today for its fine production design and innovative use of an early version of Technicolor. The color shoot required larger than usual amounts of lighting, presenting a unique challenge for set designer Carl Oscar Borg; the cumbersome camera limited the types of shots available to director Albert Parker and cinematographer Henry Sharp. Still, Parker and company managed to keep the film visually interesting and the action sequences fast-paced. Pirate is also notable for its point-of-view editing, and its unusually frequent use of intertitles to convey dialogue. Producer-writer-star Douglas Fairbanks hoped that the film would be his comeback vehicle, rescuing him from ponderous epics and lightweight comedies. Despite its brisk pace and persistent good humor, however, Pirate didn't provide Fairbanks with a receptive audience, though critics would grow to appreciate the film as some of his best work. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

Monogram Pictures' Jane Eyre (1934) dates from the short-lived period in which the low-rent Hollywood studio tried its hand at filming literary classics and also reached out beyond the confines of its contract players to engage such stars as Colin Clive. It's about as sincere an effort, if not quite as successful, as William Cowan's version of Oliver Twist (done at the same studio the previous year), though with a short running time, it is rather rushed, with none of the psychological depth of Robert Stevenson's 1944 version of Jane Eyre, starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. After an introductory sequence featuring ex-Our Gang (and future Broadway) star Jean Darling as young Jane and future director Richard Quine as an extremely obnoxious (and totally convincing) John Reed, nine chapters of the book and eight years in the title-character's life pass with the flipping of some pages onscreen at seven minutes in. We then meet the grown-up Jane Eyre, played by Virginia Bruce, who does a surprisingly good job, given the limitations of the production, which, at early moments in the film, seems more like "Scenes from Jane Eyre." The direction is at times very arch and the camera work flat and unimaginative, at least until Edward Rochester is introduced. Few of Colin Clive's movies, apart from the two Frankenstein films that he made at Universal, and perhaps Christopher Strong, are extant today, and it's fascinating to see him in something other than those three movies. He shows greater range here, and more warmth, than one is accustomed to seeing from him in the Frankenstein films -- there's no question that he was a better actor than Christy Cabanne was a director of actors, because he quietly runs circles around the rest of the cast as he reads his lines or moves across the screen. There are some interesting scene transitions in which the camera suddenly becomes mobile and a scene involving a ball that tries hard to look like one of the most expensive in the history of Monogram. Otherwise, there is little here to recommend on artistic grounds, and other than its appeal to Clive's fans or to Charlotte Brontë completists, this Jane Eyre is merely a strange, diverting curio from an extremely unlikely studio. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

Till the Clouds Roll By is useless as biography -- but what else is new where Hollywood and musical biopics are concerned? The problem is that, as with so many other useless musical biographies, it's also of no interest as drama. To fashion the plot of the musical, the creators might as easily have simply written down every clichéd situation they could think of, put them in a fishbowl, and drawn them out to see what order they would put them in. Under the circumstances, it's hard to ask much of the actors; suffice it to say that Robert Walker does the best he can under the circumstances, Lucille Bremer does somewhat less than the best she can, and Van Heflin actually manages to rise above things a bit. Musically, of course, things are much brighter, with some terrific contributions from Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Dinah Shore (and a much-too-short dance from Cyd Charisse and Gower Champion). Some of the other performers do not fare as well, such as Tony Martin and Kathryn Grayson; while Frank Sinatra certainly sounds good, his interpretation of "Ol' Man River" leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it's hard to beat Jerome Kern's music, even when presented in less-than-perfect circumstances. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

The Scarlet Pimpernel is among the screen's most enduring and frequently filmed action/adventure stories, but it is the 1934 version with Leslie Howard in the title role that stands out for most fully re-creating the setting of the French Revolution. Were it not for his role as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind this would likely be the performance for which Howard is best remembered. He dominates the film, though not so much that there is not space for several of the supporting actors to shine, most notably Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey. Most of the credit for the film should be given to British producer Alexander Korda, who produced low-budget films with a look and feel that approached the best Hollywood efforts of the 1930s. Of particular note is the cinematography of Harold Rosson and the fast-paced editing of William Hornbeck. During World War II, Howard would direct a current-day remake of sorts, Pimpernel Smith, though it did not approach the popularity or critical acclaim of its predecessor. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

The Racketeer is an early talkie, and it suffers quite a bit from that. In 1929, the coordination of sound and picture still required limited motion from the camera; so The Racketeer's impact is muffled quite a bit from its stodgy presentation. Essentially, the camera plops down in one place for an extended scene, which would be fine if the dialogue involved were lively or if the picture were a character study requiring a degree of intimacy. Unfortunately, The Racketeer is a gangster film, which demands considerably more action and motion than we get here. For its time, The Racketeer was probably an engaging story line, and it does have some interesting aspects. We've all seen gangsters with soft sides, but Robert Armstrong presents a truly likeable, gentle racketeer, and the cat-and-mouse game the police and gangsters play is amusing. Ultimately, though, there's very little done with the story, and the finale lacks the emotional impact it clearly was intended to have. Of the cast, Armstrong makes a good impression, although he's rarely given the opportunity to display the character's darker side. Carole Lombard is not as sure and secure in this performance as she would be in so many later ones, coming across as forced at times, but when she's "on," she's quite good. As the third corner of the triangle, Roland Drew is lifeless and boring, making one wonder why Lombard cares for him. All in all, The Racketeer is acceptable, but nothing special. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

The Paleface was one of the transitional films in Buster Keaton's career, made just before he switched from two-reel comedies to features. It displays Keaton's trademark intricate physical comedy -- for example, Keaton's hopping around while tied to a stake. From a cultural standpoint, it's notable among films of the early 1920s for presenting its Indian characters with some sympathy; the white oil barons are clearly the bad guys. Everyone, however, gets treated as a comic foil, sometimes in ways that might not appeal to current-day audiences. This is one of several highly regarded comedy collaborations between Keaton and writer/director Eddie Cline. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, when Keaton's career was in decline, Cline would go on to direct W. C. Fields in some of his best films, including The Bank Dick. Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

Royal Wedding is an excellent example of a film the strengths of which are so strong as to make its considerable weaknesses almost irrelevant. Among those weaknesses, the most problematic is the screenplay. Alan Jay Lerner's story is commonplace, even if set against the backdrop of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The dialogue is generally good, but the plot offers little in the way of suspense or surprise. The real sizzle and fire come from elsewhere: the cast, the score, and the dancing. Fred Astaire is marvelous, demonstrating in his musical numbers that no other male performer -- even those with technically superior voices -- was better at interpreting a song. His dance numbers here include two of his best: the "Sunday Jumps" gym sequence with the classic hat rack duet and the much heralded "You're All the World to Me," in which he dances up the walls and across the ceiling of his room. Jane Powell is not his equal as a dance partner, but she comes off very well in the amusing "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life." Powell also gets to handle the beautiful and unfortunately overlooked ballad "Too Late Now," which contains a melody of admirable purity. Stanley Donen's direction is assured, glossing over the film's shortcomings and knowing how to showcase its assets. Royal Wedding may fall just shy of being a classic, but its highlights are among the best the musical film has to offer. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Rudolph Valentino is at his most natural and appealing in this swashbuckler. He wears the period costumes, from the Cossack uniforms to the formal French jacket and trousers, as if they were his second skin, moving in them with a dancer's grace and casual sexuality. His Vladimir Dubrovsky is played with wit, humor, and humanity -- a revelation when compared to the stiff posturing of much of his earlier work. In addition, the star is helped at every angle: The story is action-packed and entertaining, the direction intelligent, and the cinematography (courtesy of George Barnes) is some of the most poetic of the silent era (in addition, the banquet scene contains one of the most impressive tracking shots of the 1920s). The delicately beautiful Vilma Banky is a fetching co-star, and the support (especially Louise Dresser as the worldly Czarina) is excellent. The Eagle was under-appreciated in its day and made only a fair amount of money. Nowadays it is recognized as a great example of film making in the 1920s, although it's also not revived often enough. Those who have seen the beautiful restoration with the Carl Davis score can consider themselves fortunate, indeed. Janiss Garza, All Movie Guide

My Dear Secretary is an engaging little screwball comedy that, while far from a classic, promises a very decent amount of merriment. Secretary can be seen as a precursor to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson style of sex comedies that would become popular a decade or so later. Indeed, much of Secretarycould be taken and re-filmed with those stars and fit perfectly into their own films. However, Secretary doesn't have Doris and Rock, it has Laraine Day and Kirk Douglas -- and this is one of the reasons why it isn't quite as good a film as it could be. Neither star is bad, mind you, but they don't have the natural flair for this material that is required. Douglas tries too hard, and the effortless charm that is needed is sorely missed. Laraine Day gives off with one note and doesn't vary it sufficiently, becoming annoying in sections. Worse, without providing any greater character depth, she throws the story a bit off balance. Fortunately, the supporting cast is first rate and goes a long way to making up for the deficiencies of the star. Special praise is due Keenan Wynn's expert comic account of the best pal of Douglas, stealing scenes with ease and aplomb. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Kid Dynamite is one of the most thematically complex of all the East Side Kids movies. In addition to the usual rough-house antics and verbal comedy, there are plot lines involving patriotism and a symbolic "sibling" rivalry between Leo Gorcey's and Bobby Jordan's characters, all interwoven very carefully. The key story arc hooks around Gorcey's character slow realization that it's time to outgrow his petty jealousies and rages and worry about bigger concerns, such as fighting World War II. The movie even gives a short refresher course to younger viewers on why the war was so important, and what the Allies were fighting for. Wallace W. Fox's direction is a little more subtle than usual in the East Side Kids films, as he has these various important elements to work with, which also allow him and Leo Gorcey to impart a nasty, more interesting side to the character of Muggs McGinniss. The whole cast of regulars stretch their acting muscles a bit here, in addition to getting a good workout (that is Bobby Jordan in the boxing ring scenes), and the result is one of the more entertaining and enduring movies of the series, and one laced with an interesting nostalgia and honest sentimentality over a subject that's forgotten today -- the interaction between Henry Hall's Mr. Gendig and Margaret Padula's Mrs. Lyons are a reminder that a lot of people who were older adults during the years 1942-45 had to cope with strong memories of the First World War. And, yet, even amid the movie's serious messages and topical focus, Kid Dynamite has more than its share of laughs, most of them provided by Morey Amsterdam, then an up-and-coming comic, who was hired to write special comedy material for the script (most of which ends up being spoken by Huntz Hall). Other highlights (besides the fighting) include a dance contest featuring singer Marion Miller and Mike Riley's Orchestra, run by political candidate Klinkhamer (Vince Barnett, who is very funny throughout the movie); Dudley Dickerson serious performance as Mr. Scruno, the father of Sammy "Sunshine" Morrison's Scruno; Minerva Urecal as a disapproving court judge; and Kay Mavis, soon to be Mrs. Leo Gorcey, in a delightful jitterbug sequence with Gorcey's Muggs McGinniss. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

A Star is Born showcased Janet Gaynor's last great performance and established one of the screen's most enduring tales of tragic love. A triumph of top-grade production values, writing, and acting, it represented the zenith of efforts from United Artists in the late 1930s, and remains entertaining and relevant when viewed by current-day audiences. This is one of the best films of the 1930s, particularly notable for the acting and the high level of technical work, as director William Wellman adroitly combines a rich visual style with the luminous performances of the film's stars. An honorary Oscar selected by a panel of cinematographers went to Howard Greene's Technicolor work, helping to change Academy rules two years later to recognize color cinematography as a separate category from Black White. The film received seven Oscar nominations overall, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Gaynor, and Best Actor for Fredric March, winning for Wellman and co-scripter Robert Carson as "Best Original Story." Richard Gilliam, All Movie Guide

Woody Allen often stated that Bob Hope was a major influence on his work, and this is especially clear in My Favorite Brunette. Many of the gags and one-liners given to Hope would not seem out of place coming from Allen, with the crucial difference that the former delivers them "sincerely," whereas coming from the latter they would be tinged with irony. Brunette is a send-up of the "private dick" film, with Hope's take on a Phillip Marlowe type, giving him the chance to play his favorite "fish out of water" routine for all it's worth. For most of the film, the gags come fast and furious here, often making no sense but accumulating an irresistible force nonetheless. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through, the tangled plot (an essential feature of the genre being spoofed) takes precedence and slows things down a little; it isn't a fatal change of pace, but it does keep the film from being the full-length laugh-fest it could have been. Hope is right at home with the material, and, of course, he gets good assistance from Dorothy Lamour. What's surprising is how delightfully funny Peter Lorre and (especially) Lon Chaney Jr. are. If My Favorite Brunette just misses being a classic comedy, it still has a great deal to recommend it. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Shirley Temple was at her most engaging in this handsome adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's story, playing plucky Sara Crewe, who finds herself orphaned and reduced to near-indentured servitude at the boarding school where she was formerly a student. Director Walter Lang manages to balance the drama, the little bits of song-and-dance (mostly courtesy of Arthur Treacher), the comedy, the romance (provided by Richard Greene and Anita Louise), and the Technicolor glow of the production, creating one of Temple's most enjoyable movies. Lang's handling of the actors is lively, engaging, and smooth -- he never lets the splendor of the Technicolor shooting, or the lavish sets, stand in the way of moving the story forward or letting his actors do what they're there to do -- the result is a set of highly memorable portrayals in an exquisite screen setting, presenting late Victorian at its most opulent and beautiful (and, at times, cruel). This is the kind of storytelling in which the old Hollywood had no equal, and looking at the pacing, drama, humor, and fantasy elements, one wonders what Lang might have made out of a movie such as Mary Poppins if he'd had the chance to work on that a quarter century later (not that Robert Stevenson did a bad job with the latter...). Additionally, his handling of the dream/fantasy sequence here anticipates his treatment, more than two decades later, of the action through the entire body of Snow White And The Three Stooges (and goes a long way toward explaining the success of that movie). But at the center of this movie's success is Temple, nearing the end of her childhood appeal but able to flex some real acting muscles, especially working in the same scenes with villainous Mary Nash. The only drawback to appreciating The Little Princess is the lapse of its copyright in 1967, which has resulted in a plethora of unauthorized television showings and video releases of the movie, most of them with highly substandard Technicolor, among other problems. The authorized Twentieth Century Fox DVD, released in the late winter of 2007, is the one to watch or to own. Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

Charles Chaplin's first feature-length film pairs his Tramp character with an orphan boy, forging a life together in a slum reminiscent of Chaplin's childhood London home. Finding humor in the extreme harshness of the Tramp's impoverished existence with his plucky adopted foundling, Chaplin turns the pair's survival into a series of comic set pieces depicting such events as their scheme to sell windows and their daily breakfast rituals. Coordinated in their movements and well-matched in their temperaments, the Tramp and the Kid are the perfect pair, underlining the potential for tragedy when the child welfare authorities step in. Still, having revealed the Tramp's paternal devotion in a bravura chase scene and a whimsical dream sequence, Chaplin reunites the redefined family for a happy ending. Chaplin overcame First National's resistance to his desire to make a dramatic comedy, and he wrote, directed, and starred in a major success. Shot over nine months and accompanied by a score composed by Chaplin himself, The Kid became an critically hailed international hit, launching Jackie Coogan as a major child star. With a blend of social realism and finely tuned physical comedy, Chaplin infuses The Kid with a pathos and sweetness that would later mark one of his greatest features, City Lights (1931). Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

One of W.C. Fields' funniest short works, The Dentist delivers sly, antisocial laughs that are just as funny generations later as when they were first filmed. The picture was considered risqué at the time and still raises eyebrows, especially during an infamous bit with Elise Cavanna. The patient straddles the dentist and hangs from his torso as the drill bores deep into her molar, a hilarious and sinister scene rife with barely disguised ****** innuendos. The Dentist is full of wickedly bawdy humor like this, as well as Fields pouring out both physical and verbal abuse at the entire cast. Modern viewers who know W.C. Fields as little more than a familiar cultural archetype will be shocked by the magnitude of political incorrectness that the man was capable of, but what's more appealing is his razor-sharp timing and a riotous sense of the surreal. The Dentist is a thinking man's slapstick which celebrates rebellious spirit and a man's God-given right to bulldoze his way through life. Though he never takes a single drink onscreen, it's one of the purest distillations of Fields' distinctive comedy. Fred Beldin, All Movie Guide

Were it not for the presence of a luminous Elizabeth Taylor, The Last Time I Saw Paris would be a well-made but instantly forgettable little weepie. Taking an F. Scott Fitzgerald story as its basis but turning it into a full-fledged soap opera, the Epstein brothers fill the screenplay with clichés and ask the actors to deliver dialogue that is sometimes cringe-inducing. Director Richard Brooks, not usually associated with romantic melodramas of this sort, does a very credible job with this material, making sure that the picture has the high-gloss look and feel common to the genre, and giving costumer Helen Rose ample opportunity to strut her stuff. More importantly, he guides Taylor past the more dangerous parts of the script, enabling her to turn in a solid, powerful performance that was her best work since A Place in the Sun. As her paramour, Van Johnson doesn't quite measure up, turning in a performance that is somewhat mechanical and surface-oriented, but Donna Reed does an excellent job as the vile but sympathetic sister. Throw in some sharp set designs and tasty cinematography and the Paris comes out as a fairly decent way to spend the afternoon, especially if you're in the mood to shed a couple of tears. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

This sequel to Father of the Bride cannot really stand up to the original, but on its own terms, Father's Little Dividend is an amusing, lightly enjoyable little film. There's definitely a sense of déjà vu to the film, not only because it's a sequel, but because it is revisiting territory that has been trod many times. Complicating matters is the fact that there's no real plot to the film, merely a series of episodes which, on the surface, fit together but which don't really add up to a satisfying whole. Add to this some overly contrived situations -- including the climactic sequence in which the viewer is asked to believe that Spencer Tracy would leave a baby unprotected in a carriage while he plays with a group of boys -- and it's easy to see why the film falls short of classic status. Fortunately, it does have an expert cast to help it over the rough spots, with Tracy leading the way with his usual gruff-but-lovable routine. Director Vincente Minnelli seems a bit hampered by the script and by the necessity of filming in black-and-white, but he does find a number of arresting shots, and his staging of the sequence in which Elizabeth Taylor comes to feel overwhelmed by those around her is very well-handled. Dividend is not an outstanding comedy, but it is pleasant and diverting. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide