Wednesday, 22 February 2012


How’s this for a fun bad movie premise: queen of fluff Lana Turner plays an unhappy married woman who along with her suave but intense lover—portrayed by the ever one dimensional Anthony Quinn —want to get rid of Lana’s terminally-ill but abusive wealthy husband so they can live happily ever after. Of course their plan goes horridly wrong, and before you can even chuckle at the absurdity of it all—in comes Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee Sandra Dee who would love nothing more than to expose her step-mom’s true colors. You see, she never really warmed to her, and while aware that something fishy is going on, she still has a hard time proving it. Even to her hunky beau John Saxon, whom she has been courting for quite some time. Following me so far? Good.

The fun really kicks in when the greedy business associate of the late husband—played with aplomb by Richard Basehart who’s another evil man in poor little Lana’s life—discovers what’s actually going on. How? Simple: a near bullet hit to his head (by Quinn) and the realization of foolishly having fell for Turner’s little white lies. What results is a bad movie moment you have to see to believe. Turner is hair-pulled, slapped, thrown across the room while looking both pained and demure, when not pushing back her curls nervously to compensate from some serious acting. Then trying desperately to hold her suffering in check (while still looking great in a Jean Louis creation), she is almost hit by a poker but is saved just in time by Quinn who finally shoots Basehart dead. And thank goodness for that, for what ensues is even more insane.

To dispose of the body, Turner is asked to drive a car, but since she doesn’t know how, Quinn has to cajole her into doing it—a kinder gesture than shattering her reflection in a mirror with a candlestick, which he does later on. Of course she accepts. Does she really have a choice? Then, horror on wheels: everything from poor visibility to a sudden thunderstorm to cops showing up occurs in this overlong but outrageous scene. That, plus a Turner fit of all fits in front a precipice (Devil Slide in California) makes PORTRAIT IN BLACK a definite must in bad cinema magic.

Based loosely on a ‘40s Broadway play once associated to Joan Crawford as a film project (!), PORTRAIT IN BLACK only saw the light of day when producer and ultra glam king Ross Hunter got involved some 15 years later. Shot all around San Francisco and using a Vaseline-covered lens whenever aging Lana’s around, PORTRAIT IN BLACK is, indeed, pure guilty pleasure. What Hunter seems to fervently want with this gem, however, is to captivate us with such a fast moving plot and serious situations that even bad movie experts like yours truly will overlook (or feel stunned by) the film’s true identity (nice try, though). But pay him no mind. Because what you get behind this big Technicolor production thriller. penned by original "Charlie's Angels" co-creator Ivan Goff and directed by PILLOW TALK fame Michael Gordon, is one wacky melodrama that will definitely leave some scarring tissues to the eyes and mind. Enjoy.

Until next post—Martin

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Picture it, May 2011, I’m in a bookstore doing—what else—shopping, when I glimpse at this fetching cover of a young woman seated on what looks like a slightly rumpled bed. Her face is half-hidden, à la SHOWGIRLS. The title LUXURY is printed across her perky breasts clad in a silver-beaded sheath. I immediately pick it up and, right then and there, know that I have found my summer read. Yes, I can be that shallow sometimes. Of course I turn it over and glimpse at the back cover teaser. I am furthermore intrigued. Hotels, wealth, revenge; right up my alley. I turn it over again. Hmm. Jessica Ruston; never heard of her. I buy it anyway. And I plunge right in. I read the first 50 pages and I’m sold.

LUXURY revolves around a family who owns lavish hotels all over the world but just can’t seem to hold on to each other. There’s debonair Logan Barnes who’d rather work himself to the bone than take care of his anxiety-ridden wife and his two spoiled children (well, actually one: the daughter is the real trouble maker). There’s handsome Nicolo Flores who a long time ago got dissed by Barnes on a multi-million dollar project and now seeks vengeance—big time. And there’s a slew of secondary characters who fit in just at the right spot. The novel has an ‘80s feel to it, with many scenes of great opulence, stunning settings, beautiful people. There’s also booze, pills, skin, debauchery... The plot is well-constructed and intricate once you get into the scheme of things. The characterization is top notch, and Ms. Ruston knows how to keep her readers’ interest perked up. The novel reminds me of Judith Krantz; the best of Judith Krantz, that is; anything before I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN.

got to admit, though the climax rocks big time and makes me want to return to the Barnes ASAP (say it’ll happen, Jessica; say it.), the novel looses some steam near the end. Perhaps it’s due to the plot that starts to feel a little stretched out once the dust settles; or maybe the handling is not as sharp as it should be. Who knows. But, one thing’s for sure, for a debut novel, LUXURY is quite grand. You should definitely pick it up if you happen to see it. Ms. Ruston already has a second book out (in the UK, in the US and in Canada) and another is soon under way. They’ll most definitely be reviewed here. I don’t have a choice now, I got myself another great author to brag about.

Until next post—Martin