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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Kids (originally published 1/05)

There is an old saying in show business that one should never perform with children or animals. There simply is no way to compete with them for the audience's attention. With the release of this year's "Are We There Yet?," Ice Cube demonstrates his bravery (or foolhardiness) by sharing the screen with not one but two youngsters. If you enjoy watching young thespians at their scene-stealing best, look for these classic performances on home video.

Mary Badham as Scout and Philip Alford as Jem in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962). I'm not sure that anyone has ever gotten better performances out of young actors than director Robert Mulligan did in this outstanding adaptation of Harper Lee's novel. It is Scout, Jem's younger sister, who is the real focal point of the story. She is fascinated with the tales she's heard about Boo Radley, a monstrous presence in the town's folklore. Sadly, when her father, attorney Atticus Finch, defends a black man who has been wrongly charged with raping a white woman, Scout learns that it is the "good" people of the town who are its real monsters.

Brandon de Wilde as Joey in "Shane" (1953). George Stevens's classic western features Alan Ladd as Shane, the last of the great gunslingers. Joey's parents are homesteaders, struggling to carve a living out of the land. When Shane takes a stand with Joey's father against the intimidation tactics of local cattlemen, Joey comes to idolize the noble and capable gunfighter. I've found that viewers sometimes miss the point of this film. Despite the title, it's not really a story about Shane. It's about Joey. That's why Shane is just a bit too simon-pure and upstanding to be believable - because we're seeing him through Joey's worshipful eyes.

Jean-Pierre Leaud as Antoine Doinel in "The 400 Blows" (1959). French director Francois Truffaut's largely autobiographical account of young Antoine's turbulent family life culminates with his parents having him committed to a juvenile detention home. Nearly a half century later, this film remains the yardstick against which movies about troubled youth are measured. Leaud was so good in the role that Truffaut asked him to play the part again and again down through the years. The result was something unique in the history of film: a series of five films spread out over 19 years in which the same actor plays the same role during successive stages of the character's life. If you see all five films, you can watch both Antoine and Leaud grow up.

Hayley Mills and Kathy Bostock in "Whistle Down the Wind" (1961). On a small Lancashire farm, a group of children discover a bearded man hiding in their barn, weak with hunger and fatigue. When asked his name, he is only able to mutter "Jesus." Mistaking his expletive for an answer, they believe that he really is Jesus. After all, they've been taught in Sunday school that Jesus rose from the dead and is with them always. This was screenwriter Bryan Forbes's debut as a director. He does an exceptional job of maintaining a child's point of view as the youngsters conspire to keep "Jesus" out of the clutches of the adults so that he won't have to be sacrificed again. Hayley Mills, daughter of actor John Mills, is excellent in the role of Kathy. Of course, she did have one distinct advantage going in. Her mother, Mary Hayley Bell, wrote the book on which the film was based.

Jackie Coogan as the title character in "The Kid" (1921). With his first feature length comedy, Charlie Chaplin really rolled the dice. In addition to experimenting with long form comedy at a time when comic short subjects were the norm, he mixed the comedy to a daring degree with scenes that were sentimental to the point of being tear-jerking. And on top of that, he shared center stage with a child actor. But what a child actor he was. Coogan lit up the screen as the orphaned child who is found and cared for by Charlie the tramp. As usual, Chaplin knew exactly what he was doing.

And, of course, we can't forget Judy Garland's magnificent performance as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). But you knew that already.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Undying Monster (originally published 10/04)

The world's most famous horror story reportedly began as a contest. George Gordon Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, two of England's most celebrated Romantic poets, had been swapping ghost stories with Dr. John Polidori, Byron's physician, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who was Shelley's lover and later his wife. The foursome agreed that each would write an original ghost story to see who could come up with the most terrifying tale.

The rest, as they say, is history. The ghost story contest culminated with the publication of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus." Today that story is the basis for another, more elaborate competition. Ever since Boris Karloff made the monster his own, filmmakers have compulsively returned to this endlessly fascinating tale, striving to leave their own distinctive mark on it.

The newest entrants in the contest are the Hallmark Channel and USA Network, each of which premieres this month a made for cable incarnation of Victor Frankenstein's troublesome progeny. Although they'd probably rather I didn't, I thought it might be useful to look back at some of the earlier versions in whose shadow these latecomers have chosen to stand. For a sampling of the many impressions the undying monster has left on world cinema, look for these titles on home video.

"Frankenstein" (1931). Might as well start off with the all-time classic. Along with the Bela Lugosi version of "Dracula" (1931), this film kicked off the Universal Pictures horror movie cycle that kept that studio dominant in the genre up through the forties. Colin Clive is all cockiness and coffee nerves as Frankenstein, while Dwight Frye gives one of his patented eccentric performances as Fritz, the creepy lab assistant. They were great, but they never had a chance. It was Boris Karloff, acting through pounds and pounds of makeup, who clomped off with the picture in his back pocket. The king of horror movies had been coronated.

"The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957). In the late fifties, the dominance of the horror film genre once held by Universal passed to a British studio called Hammer. Interestingly, the Hammer cycle began just as the Universal cycle had, with an adaptation of "Frankenstein" and an adaptation of "Dracula" ("Horror of Dracula" in 1958). They even introduced a pair of actors who would dominate the genre just as Karloff and Lugosi had at Universal: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The interesting thing about the Hammer Frankenstein films is that they shrewdly shifted the emphasis from the monster to Victor Frankenstein himself. Cushing played him as an utterly cold and ruthless megalomaniac, who was nevertheless adept at the social graces, appearing quite civilized on the exterior. Lee appears as the monster in "Curse," but in later films of the series other actors are used as Frankenstein acquires fresh corpses for his experiments. It is he, not his creatures, who carries over from one film to the next because it is he, not his creatures, who is the monster.

"Frankenstein" (1973). When his television series, "Dark Shadows," became successful, producer Dan Curtis decided to become the new Hollywood horror maven. He commissioned remakes of all the warhorses of the genre including, of course, Mary Shelley's classic. I believe he actually started the now common practice of insisting that his version would be the first to be faithful to the novel. It wasn't, of course, but it did come much closer than previous adaptations. Bo Svenson as the monster actually gets to speak in complete, grammatical sentences.

"Young Frankenstein" (1974). Mel Brooks's parody of the Universal Frankenstein series deserves to be mentioned here because it isn't just a mindless spoof. Brooks clearly loves the original films and understands what made them work. His film is all the funnier because he took great pains to echo the visual style of the originals, even to acquiring some of the original laboratory equipment props from Kenneth Strickfaden, who had stored them in his garage since the thirties.

And that's only part of what Hallmark and USA are up against. Since the early thirties, the image of the Frankenstein monster has been used in every way imaginable, from Herman Munster to Frankenberry cereal. Though I wish them luck, I'm afraid they're going to find that it takes more than a little lightning jolt to breathe new life into the old boy nowadays.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Once and Future King (originally published 7/04)

As the November election draws near and we turn our thoughts to selecting our national leadership for the next four years, we hope, as always, for a leader of exceptional merit to emerge from the pack and lead us on to greatness. The paradigm for such leadership must surely be the legend of England's King Arthur, whose story is being told yet again on movie screens across the country. If you've been to see "King Arthur" and found that you didn't like its approach to the story, don't worry. This legend has been filmed so many times and in so many ways that there's bound to be a version that suits your taste. Here's just a sampling of the wide variety of Camelot cinema available on home video.

"Knights of the Round Table" (1953). In the 1950s, no studio was better at big, splashy, colorful spectacles than MGM. This opulent rendering of the Camelot story is a prime example. Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner star as Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, whose forbidden romance behind the back of King Arthur (Mel Ferrer) takes center stage. It's a wide stage, however, with plenty of room for big battle scenes and a hefty sampling of the Arthurian legend's rich cast of characters. From Merlin to Morgan Le Fay to Gawain and the Green Knight, chances are good that your favorite character will turn up at least briefly. Reproduced below, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, is the film's promotional trailer, which is as much a promotion for the new CinemaScope widescreen process as it is for the film itself. (Note that the trailer proudly proclaims that CinemaScope requires no "special glasses," a reference to the contemporaneous 3-D process, which did require the use of annoying plastic spectacles.)

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975). If you find that you just can't take the Arthurian legends very seriously, this is the movie for you. The Monty Python troupe, who can't quite take anything very seriously, have an absolute field day with Arthur and his cohorts as they search for the grail. But the real secret behind the lunacy of the Pythons is that there's solid erudition and talent behind all the foolishness. One of the co-directors, Terry Jones, is the author of a scholarly study on knighthood in medieval literature, while the other, Terry Gilliam, has gone on to become one of world cinema's most gifted fantasy film stylists.

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1949). Speaking of comedy versions of the Camelot story, there is also this adaptation of the Mark Twain classic. Admittedly, there's little of Twain's material remaining in the film beyond the basic premise of a modern-day man who is transported back to the days of chivalry. He's a fish out of water, but the matches that he has brought with him from the twentieth century prove to be more than sufficient to earn him a reputation as a sorcerer who is not to be trifled with among the astonished people of Arthur's court. Mostly, this entertaining musical is a vehicle for Bing Crosby, who sings his way through the title role with his usual easygoing charm.

"Camelot" (1967). And speaking of singing, we can't forget the definitive musical version of the romance of Lancelot (Franco Nero) and Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave). Lerner and Loewe's hit Broadway production was given the full Hollywood treatment, with Richard Harris in the role of Arthur.

"Knightriders" (1981). For a really unusual twist on the Camelot theme, try this fascinating George Romero picture. Set in contemporary times, it's about a traveling fair at which the tournaments of Arthur's court are recreated. These modern-day knights, however, joust on motorcycles rather than on horseback. The interesting part is that they actively try to live the chivalrous ideals of Camelot, creating their own society based on courtly ritual. The story line includes a rough parallel of the romantic triangle between Lancelot, Guinevere, and Arthur. Ed Harris, in an early role, stars as the leader of the traveling cyclists.

"The Sword in the Stone" (1963). Walt Disney's animated film draws heavily on T.H. White's tetralogy, "The Once and Future King," focusing on Arthur as a young boy. This allows Merlin to take center stage as we watch his amusing efforts to educate the future monarch. Inexplicably, this film seems to have fallen into disfavor among the Disney animated features and is often overlooked. For me, it has always been a favorite. The characterizations are solid, the gags are funny, and Merlin's lessons about the importance of being an ethical person as well as an educated person remain timely, even for youngsters who aren't going to grow up to be monarchs.

The National Pastime (originally published 4/02)

With basketball's "March madness" behind us and Spring in the air, our liesure-time attention will soon be turning inexorably back to the baseball diamond. Down through the years, filmmakers have regularly paid hommage to their elder recreational sibling by regularly making movies about baseball and baseball players. The recently released "The Rookie" is only the latest in an unbroken string of baseball titles stretching back to the 1930s and beyond. If "The Rookie" has whetted your appetite for screen interpretations of the national pastime, look for these titles on home video.

"Pride of the Yankees" (1942). The classic biography of Lou Gehrig starring Gary Cooper is the obvious first choice. This movie just couldn't help being exceptional. In addition to telling one of baseball's most inspiring stories with one of Hollywood's top talents in the lead role, it benefitted from an outstanding script by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Jo Swerling. Mankiewicz was co-author of "Citizen Kane," which many people believe to be the greatest film ever made, and Swerling contributed to the scripts of some of director Frank Capra's best films. These guys, in other words, knew their craft, and it shows. And if that weren't enough, the film also features Walter Brennan, the first actor to win three Academy Awards, in a supporting role. If you haven't seen this one, you owe it to yourself.

"Fear Strikes Out" (1957). Director Robert Mulligan's grim portrayal of Boston Red Sox fielder Jimmy Piersall's life is emotionally draining to watch, but also rewarding. Anthony Perkins plays Jimmy as a young man who is desperate for his father's approval. Karl Malden plays the father, for whom no achievement is good enough. Watching these two gifted performers playing off each other is tremendously affecting. The scene in which young Piersall loses control and breaks down right on the field during what should have been a moment of triumph will stay with you for a long time.

"Bang the Drum Slowly" (1956). If you recognize the title but the date looks wrong, you're probably thinking of the 1973 film with Robert DeNiro. Not to take anything away from that film, but I like this earlier live television version better. It stars a young and not yet famous Paul Newman as a major league pitcher whose roommate, a third string catcher, contracts a fatal disease. Despite the plot device of a dying friend, much of writer Arnold Shulman's dialogue is genuinely funny. This is a clever, warm, and humane look at the meaning of friendship and the value of loyalty.

"Damn Yankees" (1958). "Field of Dreams" (1989) wasn't even close to being the first film to combine baseball and fantasy. This film adaptation of a hit Broadway musical is a twist on the Faust theme. A rabid fan of the Washington Senators says he'd sell his soul for one good hitter for the team. Satan, in the person of Ray Walston, promptly shows up to close the deal. The choreographer was Bob Fosse, who went on to direct the film versions of "Sweet Charity" and "Cabaret.

There are also lots of films that aren't primarily about baseball but have key scenes involving the game. Two of my favorites are "Woman of the Year" (1942) and "The Naughty Nineties" (1945). In "Woman of the Year," Spencer Tracy takes Katharine Hepburn to her first baseball game and explains the sport to her. This was their first film together, but it's easy to see from scenes like this one why there would be eight more. "The Naughty Nineties," with Abbott and Costello, qualifies as an honorary baseball movie because it contains their classic "Who's on first" routine.

Finally, I can't resist mentioning an old favorite of mine that I wanted to include here until I discovered to my horror that it still hasn't been released on home video. It's called "Rhubarb" (1951), the story of a pet cat whose deceased millionaire owner bequeaths to the lucky feline ownership of a baseball team. Based on a novel by H. Allen Smith, it's one of Hollywood's most endearing comedies of the 1950s. Maybe the studios will shape up and release it on video soon, but until then we'll just have to settle for the occasional sighting on late night cable TV. [2008 UPDATE: At long last, "Rhubarb" is scheduled to be released on DVD in July of this year.]

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Filmmakers' Jackpot (originally published 7/04)

You can hardly blame filmmakers for being endlessly fascinated with Las Vegas as a setting for their movies. There's an unreal quality about this glittering oasis that lends itself perfectly to the playing out of fictional stories. Even for a resort, the place just doesn't look real. Bright as noon in the dead of night, an ocean of neon in the midst of a desert, this absurd locality only makes sense as the landscape of our dreams -- or our nightmares -- which is exactly how filmmakers love to use it. Lately it seems to be the small screen that has renewed its fascination with Las Vegas with a vengeance, from "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" to Fox's "Casino" to NBC's "Las Vegas" to the Discovery Channel's "American Casino." For a sampling of how earlier filmmakers brought Vegas to the screen, look for these titles on home video.

"The Las Vegas Story" (1952). Jane Russell and Vincent Price play Linda and Lloyd Rollins, a married couple spending a few days in Vegas. The plot thickens when it transpires that Lloyd is gambling, and losing, with embezzled money. It thickens even further when Linda encounters Dave Andrews (Victor Mature), a Vegas cop with whom she had been romantically involved years ago when she was a singer at a casino called the Last Chance.

"Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956). You name it, MGM made a musical about it. Las Vegas is certainly no exception. Dan Dailey plays a gambling-obsessed cowboy who strikes it rich at the gaming tables with a little help from a dancer, played by Cyd Charisse. It seems that whenever he holds her hand while betting, he can't lose. Part of the fun is the many celebrity cameos, from Sinatra hitting the jackpot to Peter Lorre at the blackjack table, snarling, "Hit me, you creep!"

"Diamonds Are Forever" (1971). What a concept: James Bond in Las Vegas. Bond's old nemesis Blofeld is involved in diamond smuggling, but not for anything as mundane as fencing the ice for profit. He's using it to build an orbiting laser with which to take over the world. Meanwhile, Bond (played by Sean Connery for the last time until "Never Say Never Again" in 1983) does Vegas as only he can, alternating gambling with high speed car chases.

"The Night Stalker" (1971). When Las Vegas showgirls start turning up dead, their bodies drained of blood, reporter Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) suspects supernatural foul play. This clever blend of a horror plot with comic characterization, written by fantasy master Richard Matheson, takes advantage of the inherent creepiness of Las Vegas to make it the setting for a modern-day vampire story. The success of this TV movie spawned a sequel ("The Night Strangler") and a TV series ("Kolchak").

"The Gambler" (1974). James Caan stars as a college professor whose obsession with gambling drags him inexorably down into the gutter. He wins big in Vegas, but for a compulsive gambler winnings are always transient because there's always another bet to be made. Debt, on the other hand, can be very permanent indeed, as Caan's character learns when his family writes him off and the loan shark's agent comes to collect.

"One From the Heart" (1982). This is Francis Ford Coppola at his most stylistically florid, creating his own Las Vegas on a sound stage with the help of his talented production designer Dean Tavoularis. Who but Coppola, I ask you, would have the guts to assume that he could create a counterfeit Vegas that would improve on the real thing? There's a story in there somewhere about a couple who cheat on each other and then reunite, but it's almost incidental. The intense, ravishing visuals are the real stars of the picture.

By the way, lest you think that TV's fascination with Vegas is on the wane, be advised that the upcoming season will feature "Dr. Vegas," with Rob Lowe as a Vegas physician and "Father of the Pride," an animated show about Siegfried and Roy's lions. As long as we are beguiled by glitter and neon and the spectacle of fortunes won and lost between sunset and dawn, our storytellers will continue to weave dreams for us out of Las Vegas's endless ribbon of neon enchantment.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Next Stop, Toontown (originally published 11/03)

Ever since the release of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in 1988, the firewall between the live action world and the cartoon world has seemed more like a sieve. These days, 'toons and people interact on the screen as effortlessly as Bogart and Bacall, in everything from "Cool World" (1992) to the recently released "Looney Tunes: Back in Action."

The truth, however, is that there never was a firewall. The combination of animation with live action has been going on since almost the very beginning. In the 1920's, Max Fleischer created a series of cartoons called "Out of the Inkwell." Each one began with live action footage of Fleischer dipping his pen into an inkwell and drawing a character called Ko-Ko the Clown. Ko-Ko would then come to life by means of animation, getting into more and more mischief until the exasperated Fleischer would send him back into the inkwell. You can find these groundbreaking "inkwell" cartoons on home video on a collection called "Max Fleischer's Famous Out of the Inkwell, Vol. 1 & 2." But beyond that, there are plenty of other notable examples of live action combined with animation that are also available on home video. Here are a few to look for.

"The Three Caballeros" (1945). During World War II, the European market for American movies largely dried up, for obvious reasons. That prompted Hollywood to court movie audiences south of the border. This lively Disney offering was one of the resulting films. Essentially it is a travelogue, extolling the wonders of the southern half of the Americas, from Mexico to Brazil. The proceedings are spiced up, however, by the presence of none other than Donald Duck. We see Donald interacting with all sorts of live action footage, including a bevy of real-life bathing beauties for him to swoon over.

"Anchors Aweigh" (1945). Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra play a couple of sailors on shore leave, looking for romance. In one scene, a young boy nags Kelly's character into recounting his adventures at sea for some school chums. Instead of a real story, however, the imaginative sailor makes up a fanciful tale of entering a magic kingdom ruled by a grumpy king who forbids singing and dancing. The part of the king is played by Jerry the mouse from the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons. Kelly saves the day by teaching the unhappy king how to dance in one of the most curious and entertaining dance duets ever filmed.

"Dangerous When Wet" (1953). Swimming star Esther Williams picked up on Kelly's idea in this aquatic musical. Her character plans to swim the English Channel to raise money for her family's farm. In one delightful sequence she indulges in a bit of water ballet with Kelly's old dancing partner, Jerry the mouse. Since Kelly, Williams, and Jerry were all under contract to M-G-M, you see, it was all in the family.

"Invitation to the Dance" (1956). On the strength of his box office popularity, Gene Kelly managed to convince M-G-M to allow him to do this fascinating but decidedly noncommercial little art film. It consists entirely of ballet, with no dialogue, not even singing. The film tells three separate stories, the first a circus tale, the second a sort of domestic comedy, and the third a retelling of the story of "Sinbad the Sailor." The Sinbad sequence stands alone in that it is set in a cartoon environment through which the live action Kelly dances.

"Mary Poppins" (1964). One of the most entertaining scenes in Walt Disney's famous tale of the perfect nanny is an animated sequence into which the live action characters are integrated. Mary and the children in her charge leap into a chalk drawing made by Bert the chimney sweep and become part of its fanciful world. Just like everyone else, the animated animals are charmed by the magical Mary.

"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971). After Walt's death, the Disney people tried repeating the "Mary Poppins" formula with this story of an apprentice witch (Angela Lansbury) and three children in search of a book of spells. Their travels take them to a magical island ruled by animals, and from which people are banned. As in the "Mary Poppins" chalk drawing adventure, this sequence is entirely animated except for Lansbury and the children.

Stormy Weather (originally published 9/03)

People used to say that everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. More recently, it seems that people have stopped talking about the weather and started watching it for entertainment. Most especially, it is weather in its most violent and catastrophic aspect that has captured our collective attention. The Weather Channel, for example, offers a whole line of documentary videotapes featuring violent weather. Sales are apparently brisk, because video stores have begun stocking similar items.

As I write this, the storm du jour is Hurricane Isabel, which is bearing down ominously on the East Coast. If you're fascinated by horrendous weather, and if coverage of Isabel on the Weather Channel hasn't been able to satisfy your curiosity, don't go out chasing real storms. Instead, look for these titles on home video. Each one tells a story in which some form of spectacularly bad weather is prominently featured.

"The Wind" (1928). The astonishing visual imagination of director Victor Seastrom runs gloriously wild in this silent classic. Lillian Gish stars as a young woman who leaves her home in Virginia to live with relatives out west, where the wind never seems to stop blowing. The climax of the film is built around a spectacular desert sandstorm. It is one of the great sequences in American cinema, using the fury of nature to externalize the hysteria of the main character. Once seen, it is not easily forgotten.

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928). Silent comic Buster Keaton stars as the dandified, milksop son of a grizzled old riverboat pilot. Home from college, Buster visits his father, "Steamboat" Bill Canfield, from whom he has been estranged for years. Dismayed by the foppish behavior of his son, the elder Canfield disowns him and sends him away. Before he can leave, however, a massive windstorm blows through the town. As buildings collapse and boats sink, young Canfield proves himself worthy of his father's name after all.

"San Francisco" (1936). This story of San Francisco around the turn of the century would be entertaining enough if it only had colorful characters portrayed by an outstanding cast. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy each have a field day, Gable as a reprobate gambler and Tracy as the tough talking priest who hopes to reform him. But director W.S. Van Dyke and his special effects team have a big finish up their sleeve, topping off the film with the climax to end all climaxes - the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

"The Hurricane" (1937). On a beautiful South Sea island, the lives of the natives are disrupted by a cruel and corrupt European governor, played by Raymond Massey. When the heavy hand of his "justice" blights the lives of a young native married couple, it seems as if he has brought divine retribution down on the island in the form of a raging hurricane. Interestingly, this film was directed by John Ford, who is best remembered as a director of westerns.

"I Know Where I'm Going" (1945). The renowned British filmmaking team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell gave us this lyrical little Scottish tale. Joan Webster (played by Wendy Hiller) is a headstrong young woman with only one goal in life: to marry into money. She's on her way to a small Scottish island to do just that, but a fierce gale prevents her from crossing over to meet her wealthy fiancee. As the days pass and the gale refuses to abate, she becomes acquainted with the locals and inconveniently falls in love. The most spectacular sequence in the film finds her battling the gale in a small boat with a young man whom she has bribed to attempt the crossing against all good judgment.

"Key Largo" (1948). Director John Huston's adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's play is blessed with a dream cast: Lionel Barrymore as the owner of the Key Largo Hotel, Lauren Bacall as his daughter, Humphrey Bogart as a disillusioned veteran, and Edward G. Robinson as the gangster who holds them all hostage. As tensions run high in the little hotel, a harrowing tropical storm thunders its way through the Keys outside.

By the time you read this, Isabel will have blown herself out and passed into meteorological history. The cinematic storms described here, on the other hand, will continue to rage as long as there are movie fans and video stores.