For, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Harrison Ford movie, ‘The Call of the Wild,’ which opens in theaters this weekend, is a remake of the famous 1903 Jack London novel that has been filmed no less than five times before. The most famous version was the 1935 black-and-white picture that starred Clark Gable. When the Gable film received its first DVD release in 2006, I reviewed it for the Deseret News on Aug. 18, then a week later (Aug. 25) did a column (with a quiz) that was related to it.

THE DVD REVIEW: "Call of the Wild" (1935, b/w). If you want a strong example of Clark Gable's he-man appeal, check out this pre-"Gone With the Wind" adventure, a freewheeling adaptation of Jack London's novel that perfectly casts "the King" as gambler/gold digger Jack Thornton. Gable has great chemistry with Loretta Young and his comic sidekick Jack Oakie — and seems even closer to his dog, Buck, who gets his journey to the Yukon started. This one is lots of fun.

THE COLUMN: If you ever read the newspaper ads for movies, perhaps you, like me, get a kick out of the ludicrous levels of hyperbole used to promote films these days.


A example that just floored me was this line in the ad for "Pulse": "Unlike any horror film you've seen before or will ever see!"


Ahhh, prognosticating publicity.


As wild and weird as such hype can get, however, it's nothing new. Over-the-top declarations designed to get you into theater seats, are as old as the motion-picture industry.


The difference today is that the quotes come from critics. In the olden-golden days, they came from the studio publicity machines.


This occurred to me while watching the DVD of the 1935 Clark Gable-Loretta Young film "Call of the Wild" a few weeks ago. The trailer declares the film as "The mightiest adventure drama of all time." And includes the required "cast of thousands" line, as well.


Another trailer on the same disc, for Gable's 1955 western "The Tall Men," also boasts a "cast of thousands," calling the film "The world's mightiest cavalcade of adventure."


That word "mighty" apparently got a workout for Gable films.


Anyway, this prompted me to go back through some posters of well-known films, to glean a few lines of movie salesmanship.


See if you can guess which vintage movies listed below belong to which of these hyperbolic quotes.


THE HYPE (from poster ads):

1. "Warner Bros. supreme triumph."

2. "The most amazing motion picture of our time."

3. "Gaiety! Glory! Glamour!"

4. "A story as explosive as his blazing automatics."

5. "The entertainment experience of a lifetime!"

6. "Will give you nightmares forever."

7. "Too startling to describe!"

8. "The strangest adventure in history!"

9. "The motion picture with something to offend everyone."

10. "The best picture of any year."


THE MOVIES (alphabetically):

"Ben-Hur" (1959)

"Blood of Dracula" (1957)

"Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939)

"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" (1957)

"The Jazz Singer" (1927)

"The Loved One" (1965)

"The Maltese Falcon" (1941)

"The Outlaw" (1943)

"Stagecoach" (1941)

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)




Trailers often have scenes that are not in the movie, or perhaps show a different camera angle.


When “Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988 a lot of people asked about a quick scene where Bob Hoskins appears to have an animated pig's head, which was in the trailer but not the movie. (It's on the DVD now.)


But that also happened in the old days. The "Call of the Wild" trailer has a 17-second bit with Gable being lectured by Young at a campfire but it's not in the film. Since it's rare for older films to have surviving bonus elements, it almost plays like a deleted scene on the DVD.


I also noticed in the trailer for "Double Indemnity" that a scene at Fred MacMurray's apartment — with Edward G. Robinson in the hallway and Barbara Stanwyck behind a door — plays from a different angle than is shown in the film itself. In the movie, it's shown from MacMurray's point of view; in the trailer, it's Stanwyck's.


Yes, DVDs offer small joys to obsessive movie buffs.


Answers to the quiz

1. "The Jazz Singer"

2. "I Was a Teenage Werewolf"

3. "The Wizard of Oz"

4. "The Maltese Falcon"

5. "Ben-Hur"

6. "Blood of Dracula"

7. "The Outlaw"

8. "Stagecoach"

9. "The Loved One"

10. "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020

A major studio release adapting a popular novel for the umpteenth time leads this week’s new movies, which includes a couple of horror films and an offbeat romantic comedy.

“The Call of the Wild” (PG). In this adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel, Harrison Ford takes on the role of John Thornton, an anti-social loner in the Yukon during the 1890s gold rush who takes up with a dog that’s been mistreated. The pooch is primarily a CGI scan of a dog owned by Chris Sanders, the film’s director (making his live-action debut after helming “Lilo & Stitch” and “How to Train Your Dragon”). With Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan and Bradley Whitford.

“Brahms: The Boy II” (PG-13). A young family moves into the Heelshire Mansion in a remote English village, unaware of the house’s horror history. But when the young son of the family finds an eerie doll it becomes apparent that it’s possessed by something evil. This one’s a sequel to the 2016 film “The Boy.” Katie Holmes stars as the boy’s mother.


“The Lodge” (R). In this horror yarn, an independent effort that made a splash at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, a young woman who is soon to be married finds herself snowed in at a remote holiday village with her new stepchildren-to-be and her past begins to catch up with her. With Riley Keough and Alicia Silverstone.

“Olympic Dreams” (PG-13). Long-distance runner Alexi Pappas (who represented Greece in the 10,000 meters at the 2016 Olympics) stars in this romantic comedy as a cross-country skier who bonds with a volunteer dentist (Nick Kroll). Filmed on location at the Olympic Village of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“The Assistant” (Not Rated). A young woman (Julia Garner) lands her dream job as an assistant at a major New York movie studio but soon learns that her boss is a manipulative, bullying womanizer (apparently patterned after Harvey Weinstein). With Matthew Macfadyen. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (R, in French with English subtitles). In 1760 a young artist is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait, but the subject is reluctant, so the artist surreptitiously observes her during the day and secretly paints the portrait at night, until they begin a lesbian affair. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Las Pildoras de Mi Novio (My Boyfriend’s Meds)/” (R, in Spanish with English subtitles). When a mattress salesman (Jaime Camil) strikes up a romance with an upscale tequila rep (Sandra Echeverria) she invites him to her work retreat on a remote island resort in this broad Mexican comedy. But he hasn’t told her about his variety of medical issues that cause him to demonstrate bizarre symptoms and he forgets to bring his meds.

“Emerald Run” (PG-13). An unemployed family man accepts a job from his mobster father-in-law to smuggle emeralds across the Southern Border but, of course, it goes haywire. Soon he and his devout Catholic guide are in the company of a crazed preacher, or possibly a hallucination. The biggest name in this low-budget faith/crime picture is John Schneider, best known for the 1980s TV show "Dukes of Hazzard."

New DVDS/Blu-rays New DVDS/Blu-rays



For, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Brewster’s Millions’ was a popular novel in 1902 and an equally popular play some four years later. Counting foreign versions, in the ensuing 114 years it has been made into no less than 13 films. The two best-known versions in this country are the 1985 comedy with Richard Pryor and the 1945 version with Dennis O’Keefe. Now the Shout! Factory has given the Pryor version a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ upgrade and has included among the bonus features the rarely seen O’Keefe film (which is worth watching for O'Keefe's over-the-top mugging and especially Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson's scene-stealing wisecracks). My review of the Pryor film was published in the Deseret News on May 22, 1985.

Richard Pryor is back after an absence of a couple of years (“Superman III” was his last film), and it’s good to see him again. But it would be more fun if “Brewster’s Millions” were better.

Not that it’s actually bad, mind you. It’s just not very good.

A rather laid back remake of the oft-filmed yarn about a man who must spend millions within a month and show no assets so he can inherit millions more, “Brewster’s Millions” is pleasant enough … it’s just not funny enough.

Pryor is Montgomery Brewster, a down-on-his-luck baseball player who finds himself the recipient of a $300 million inheritance (it was $10 million back in the ’40s … ah, inflation). The Catch-22 is that he must spend $30 million in 30 days with no assets at the end of that time — just plenty of receipts.


Lonette McKee, last seen in “The Cotton Club,” is the bookkeeper assigned to tag along and make sure Pryor is honest and above-board. But the law firm overseeing the estate is not so honest, and since it stands to inherit the money if Brewster fails, it takes steps to ensure that he will.

The film takes a while to get rolling but once it does the majority of its humor centers around Pryor’s becoming a ridiculous spendthrift, investing in idiotic schemes (most of which make him an unwanted profit) and spending thousands on friends, hangers-on and parties.

His best friend (John Candy), a catcher on their baseball team, at first just joins in the fun, but as he sees Pryor throw his money away, he and McKee try to help him manage it better. They think Pryor’s let it all go to his head but it is a condition of the will that he tells no one why he is spending his entire $30 million so rapidly.

There’s great potential here, and occasionally it moves toward fulfilling it. Pryor hires McKee’s fiancé (Stephen Collins), to decorate his hotel suite, and he in turn hires his own ex-wife (Tovah Feldshuh), an eccentric interior designer, to help him — resulting in some humorous “modern” furnishings. And at one point Pryor decides to oppose New York’s two candidates for mayor by urging voters to vote for no one.


The 1945 version of 'Brewster's Millions' is included among the bonus features on the Richard Pryor Blu-ray.

But on the whole, “Brewster’s Millions” just never catches fire. It fails to reach any zenith of zaniness that might bring forth the promised big yuks. I kept expecting to laugh out loud and never did.

Pryor is good, and he has some funny lines and asides during all the madness that surrounds him, but Candy is rather wasted as the best friend, with very little to do. Likewise McKee, Collins, Feldshuh, Pat Hingle and many other familiar faces seem to be merely window-dressing. (There is a funny cameo with unbilled Rick Moranis as an obnoxious mimic, however.)

Part of the problem is apparently director Walter Hill, better known for his violent melodramas laced with humor (“The Long Riders,” “The Warriors,” “48 HRS.”). Perhaps he was uncomfortable with a flat-out comedy. But some of the blame must also go to screenwriters Herschel, Weingrod and Timothy Harris, who also gave us the equally uneven “Trading Places.” “Brewster’s Millions” just seems loaded with setups that never pay off.

Pryor fans, and those just looking for a nice little comedy-fantasy escape, may be pleasantly entertained. But considering the talent involved, “Brewster’s Millions” should have been a lot funnier.

It is rated PG for profanity.

Welcome Welcome

Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.

But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.

I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).

This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.

My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.

The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned (with permission) from my 40 years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.

I'm no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.

Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.

Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism


Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Click here for Amazon store.

Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen



For, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’ve never seen Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Color Purple’ in a movie theater … or if you’ve never seen ‘The Color Purple’ … now’s your chance, as Fathom Events brings it to local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters for one day only, Sunday, Feb. 23, at 1 and 5 p.m. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 20, 1985.

Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple” hardly seems like the kind of story that Steven Spielberg, of all moviemakers, could faithfully turn into a film.

But never underestimate the talent of a popular filmmaker. There was a time when Hitchcock suffered from being too popular with the public, as many critics felt movies that appealed to the masses could not possibly be artistic. And I suspect there will be those who also tear down Spielberg’s “Purple,” complaining that it is too slick and looks very Spielbergian, if you will, and therefore cannot be taken seriously.

And after watching the film, I must admit that his stamp is obvious, that there are somewhat self-conscious artful strains in certain scenes, and there may indeed be a surrealistic edge to it all, especially the end. But none of that bothered me.

Whatever else he is, Spielberg is a master storyteller, and if he’s made “The Color Purple” more accessible to a wide audience by making it his own, well, what’s wrong with that?

The raw material here is powerful to begin with, but add to that superb performances from an incredible ensemble cast, gorgeous photography, a fabulous score by co-producer Quincy Jones and Spielberg’s own storytelling expertise, and you have the makings of a great film.

Whether Spielberg has actually achieved that greatness may be debatable — but if he’s missed, it isn’t by much.


Steven Spielberg gives direction to Whoopi Goldberg on the set of 'The Color Purple' (1985).

Alice Walker’s story, set shortly after the turn of the century, has to do with two sisters: Celie goes from an incestuous relationship with her father (during which she bore two children that he sold) to an abusive, repressive marriage — at age 14 — and Nettie goes to Africa with a missionary family, writing letters of encouragement to her sister, only to have them hidden for years by Celie’s husband.

Though the book offers a fairly equal split, telling the stories in full of both sisters, Spielberg has chosen to focus on Celie, a rather brave choice since that means he must take on the story that offers the most cinematic pitfalls, that of a young girl who becomes a miserable, repressed woman and eventually blossoms into an independent, free-spirited individual.

Had this film been made by another filmmaker, perhaps any other filmmaker, it could easily have been an R-rated foray into all kinds of graphic exploitation. But Spielberg is more discreet than that. And true to his word to the ratings board some years ago when “Poltergeist” was under dispute, at which time he said, “Steven Spielberg doesn’t make R-rated movies,” Spielberg has given us all the information we need to know about the tragedy in Celie’s life — that her father takes advantage of her, that her husband’s sexual advances are extremely brutal, that he beats her, that she eventually has a lesbian encounter that proves to be the first time she realizes love can be tender instead of violent. Yet Spielberg shows none of this explicitly on the screen.

It is perhaps a choice that will be complained about by critics who feel it is too old-fashioned an approach. But I suspect movie audiences will appreciate this over the usual — and easier — more literal approach so many other directors take.

There may also be complaints that the story is female chauvinistic, putting all the men in the film in an extremely unfavorable light. But with all the anti-women cinematic tracts these days, it’s probably about time.


The performances here are incredible. In her film debut, Whoopi Goldberg proves herself an enormous talent, and her Celie is one of the most endearing screen heroines to come along in some time. Oprah Winfrey, a Chicago talk-show host in real life, is also a real scene-stealer as Sofia, a woman who knows how to enjoy life but whose spirit is eventually broken in a racial encounter. And Danny Glover, who has already shown what he can do in a variety of roles — the itinerant sharecropper in “Places in the Heart,” the killer cop in “Witness” and the outraged cowboy in “Silverado” — is excellent as Mister, Celie’s husband.

An interesting sidelight here is how all the characters age so believably. There have been recent films (“Back to the Future,” “Once Upon a Time in America”) where makeup and manner have kept young people from projecting age believably but here everyone is utterly convincing.

Despite the makings of fully tragic soap opera stuff, “The Color Purple” ends on an upbeat note, and as with Celie, we are given a feeling of hope about the future. There’s a lot of tearful material here but overall this is a story of courage and stamina, and the need for self-respect.

And as far as this critic is concerned, Spielberg has made a very special film that deserves a wide audience. And thanks to his name, it just may get it.

“The Color Purple” is rated PG-13 for violence, sex, nudity, profanity.

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: In the review above I made an observation about Spielberg vowing to never make an R-rated movie; he would, of course, break that vow in 1993 with ‘Schindler’s List.’ And on a trivia note, the film received 11 Academy Award nominations but, surprisingly, Spielberg as director was not among them, and the film won no Oscars, which gave it the dubious distinction of tying 1977’s ‘The Turning Point’ as the most nominated films to win zero awards.)

Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray



For, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: John Candy was a talented and charming comic actor who achieved movie stardom in the 1980s and died in 1994 of a heart attack at age 43. He starred in some very good films (‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles,’ ‘Cool Runnings,’ ‘Only the Lonely’) but he was also in an awful lot of flops, like this one (something that seemed to plague most late 20th Century movie comics). Still, the folks at Mill Creek Entertainment seem to think there are enough fans-in-waiting to make ‘Who’s Harry Crumb?’ worthy of a Blu-ray upgrade (as part of Mill Creek's repackaging in retro faux-VHS sleeves). My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 5, 1989.

In my review of “Her Alibi,” I compared Tom Selleck’s character to Inspector Clouseau of “The Pink Panther” films. But I had not yet seen “Who’s Harry Crumb?”

So please forgive the analogy again so soon but if ever there was a movie character trying to rip-off Clouseau, it’s Crumb.

John Candy, the comedy star who can’t find a good movie (with the notable exception of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”) is the star of “Who’s Harry Crumb?” and the film ends with a setup that is an obvious plea for a film series, a la the “Panther” films, or perhaps “Fletch,” another movie detective who relishes offbeat disguises.


        John Candy, 'Who's Harry Crumb?' (1989)

The question is, can “Harry Crumb” possibly be successful enough to warrant sequels? Well, the “Police Academy” films manage a yearly outing; anything can happen.

But “Harry Crumb” is consistent with Candy’s tendency to appear in one clunker after another.

Aside from outrageous disguises, how blatant a rip-off is this attempt to create a modern American Clouseau? Well, Crumb is pompous; he thinks he knows karate better than he actually does; he fancies himself a womanizer, though nothing could be further from the truth; and he stumbles, trips and causes accidents — and attempts at physical comedy — everywhere he goes.

The plot doesn’t really matter but for the record it has Crumb looking for a kidnapped young woman who has actually been taken by Crumb’s own boss (Jeffrey Jones). Meanwhile, the wicked stepmother is trying to kill the kidnap victim’s father.

But those are merely hooks on which the filmmakers hang a series of elaborate sight gags, some of which are quite inventive, such as the opener when Crumb is spying on an adulterous couple, he thinks, and the scene where he finds himself on a huge overhead fan in a restaurant and later when … well, you get the idea.


John Candy, left, Shawnee Smith, Barry Corbin, 'Who's Harry Crumb?' (1989)

Unfortunately, however, many more are just cheap jokes that fall flat, some actually becoming embarrassing.

The one thing this picture proves is that Candy, however talented a comic he may be, is no Peter Sellers.

Several questions occurred to me while watching “Harry Crumb.” First, why does Candy comment afterward on so many sight gags? They would work better if he had enough confidence to let them stand alone. And why does a movie that so obviously gears its juvenile humor toward youth audiences include so many vulgar jokes? (I don’t want my kids exposed to some of the gags this film includes.) And how is it that Jim Belushi is persuaded to do a cameo in this picture when he’s given absolutely nothing to do?

Oh, yes. And one more question: How many more chances does John Candy get before audiences start staying away just because he’s in a picture?

“Who’s Harry Crumb?” is rated PG-13, for a single utterance of “the Eddie Murphy Word,” along with other profanities, comic violence and some rather vulgar sexual gags.