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, Feb. 21, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of my favorite French filmmakers is Bertrand Tavernier and one of his loveliest films, ‘A Sunday in the Country,’ has just earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. My review was published on April 26, 1985.

The French director whose previous films “Death Watch,” “Coup de Torchon” and “A Week’s Vacation” are marvelous exercises in thought-provoking entertainment, made with restraint and taste yet filled with passion, has come up with another celebration of life in “A Sunday in the Country.”

As the title suggests, the film takes place during one Sunday at a country estate.

The central figure is an elderly artist, a painter, and the film opens as he rises from his bed early one Sunday morning, anticipating the arrival of his son’s family, including three grandchildren.

As the day progresses, a narrator fills us in on some of his thoughts and background, and from time to time the serene figure of his late wife appears, a presence that is ever with him.

The painter’s son is a rather stiff and stodgy sort, his wife likewise very prim and proper, while their children are quite different. Their two boys are hellions, constantly into mischief, and their younger daughter is a sensitive, artistic youngster, more interested in nature and drawing.


Louis Ducreux, Sabine Azema, 'A Sunday in the Country' (1985)

Later in the day, the painter’s daughter unexpectedly arrives, as well. She explains that a luncheon appointment in the city was cancelled so she thought she’d make one of her rare visits.

A gorgeous woman, dressed to the nines, and driving one of those new-fangled automobiles, she is obviously quite successful in her business and exhibits a real zest for life. It becomes apparent after a time, however, that her zeal is designed to hide an inner unhappiness that is never fully explained.

But this movie is not about details in the lives of the people it presents. It is about relationships — with the people who make up our families and with life itself.

“A Sunday in the Country” is a light little dramatic comedy, if you will, a slice of life that includes bits and pieces of character and lifestyles that will be recognizable in one form or another to just about everyone. And there is quite a bit of humor in the mini-dramas that are presented in these rather ordinary lives.

Loaded with various vignettes, but never losing sight of its narrative thrust, the film is about generalities rather than specifics in these familiar characters.


The performances are all excellent, including the children, but Sabine Azema stands out, partially because hers is the most vibrant character. But also because Azema herself is so strikingly beautiful and full of life. Her performance is wonderful, and she tells us a lot about the character by nuance, and shading.

The film also offers some wonderful visual images that compare youth with old age, and may prove to be rather encouraging for those of us who are aging reluctantly.

“A Sunday in the Country” is Tavernier doing what he does best, distinctively examining people and relationships.

I don’t want to make this picture seem like more than it is, because of its simplicity and slender framework it is not meant to come on with power. But it is most effective in achieving its humble goals.

It is in French with English subtitles and is rated G.

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, Jan. 17, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes a zany premise just works and this one comes together on all levels, and looks even better now than it did 33 years ago — and it looked pretty good back then. If you’ve never seen it on the big screen a trip to Ogden might be worth the drive; it’s showing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Ogden's Egyptian Theater. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 9, 1987.

William Goldman’s popular novel “The Princess Bride” has at last come to the screen, adapted by Goldman himself. And why not? Goldman has two Oscars on his mantle already (for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men”), and he’s given us “Marathon Man,” “Harper” and many others in the past.

And Rob Reiner, whose “Stand By Me” and “The Sure Thing” proved movies about kids don’t have to be stupid, has directed with great affection for the material and a wonderful sense of comedy.

On the surface these two men may seem like odd collaborators for this venture, considering it is very much a movie quite unlike anything either has done before. But consider this: Goldman’s “Princess Bride” is to “Robin Hood” what “Butch Cassidy” was to “The Searchers.” He has somehow managed to affect both an homage to the genre and a spoof of same.


Fred Savage, left, Peter Falk, 'The Princess Bride' (1987)

You may recall that “Butch Cassidy” was a similar accomplishment. His western managed to really be a western in every best sense of that word, yet he had great fun spoofing cowboy conventions. And “The Princess Bride” is very much a fairy tale/adventure that would be great fun on its own but with an added dimension of hilarious comedy.

Reiner’s first was “This Is Spinal Tap!,” both a satire of rock documentaries and at the same time a very real-looking documentary-style homage to rock music and musicians.

This was indeed the perfect match.

“The Princess Bride” also manages to correctly capture Goldman’s story-within-a-story motif. As the film begins, a modern-day young boy (Fred Savage) is sick in bed. When his mother enters his room he switches off his video games but he soon wishes she’d left them on. Grandpa (Peter Falk) comes in and announces he would like to read the boy a fairy tale.

The lad’s reluctance gradually lets down, however, as he interrupts his grandfather, at first complaining that this sounds like “a kissing book,” but eventually because he can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next.

Meanwhile, the story Grandpa is reading unfolds before us as we meet Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her true love Westley (Cary Elwes).


Westley goes off to find his fortune, vowing to return to Buttercup, but word eventually comes back that he has been killed by a pirate. So Buttercup allows herself to be betrothed to the kingdom’s evil prince (Chris Sarandon), who plans to kill her. Then. …

Come to think of it, I don’t want to give too much away — so suffice to say there are kidnappings, giants, magicians, monsters and all sorts of other wonderfully funny and scary things going on here — including the most hilarious fencing match (between Patinkin and Elwes) since Danny Kaye squared off against Basil Rathbone in “The Court Jester” — adding up to completely enchanting entertainment for all ages.

Very young children will doubtless be frightened by the sea serpents and giant rats but for the most part this is one of those rare films that will delight every age group.

“The Princess Bride” isn’t perfect. There are technical glitches, such as edited camera shots that don’t quite match and cardboard mountains and trees that look very much like cardboard mountains and trees — but for me that just added to the zany sense of fun. And it could be argued that Billy Crystal, under tons of makeup, doing a Mel Brooks-style “2000-Year-Old-Man” voice as an aged sorcerer, is out of place — but he’s so funny you won’t care.

Both Goldman and Reiner deserve applause for their accomplishment, and the wonderful cast (did I mention Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Peter Cook and Andre the Giant) is obviously relishing every moment.

This is in some ways a non-vulgar, Americanized version of how Monty Python might do a fairy tale. And it is great fun from start to finish.

“The Princess Bride” is rated PG for violence (there is some blood, several deaths and a couple of torture scenes) and two profanities (one spoken by the young boy in bed, one by Patinkin).

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.