The Alphabet Murders (Frank Tashlin, 1965). The primary curiosity of this adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery is the oddity of Tony Randall being positioned as the U.S. answer to Peter Sellers. The Alphabet Murders was released one year after he played multiple roles in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and his take on the Christie’s Belgian detective is marked by misplaced confidence and broad physical bumbling, inevitably calling to mind Inspector Jacques Clouseau, who Sellers first played the prior year. Randall isn’t particular up to the task, but he gamely mugs his way through the slapdash gags. Frank Tashlin directs the material with a boinging lack of subtlety, and the movie generally swoops by in a hyperactive blur. Anita Ekberg plays the requisite femme fatale, making so little impression that it’s as if Tashlin was determined to prove that her bomb blast impact on La Dolce Vita was some weird fluke.
The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann, 1955). This typically tough-as-a-railroad-spike Western from director Anthony Mann casts James Stewart as Will Lockhart, a man leading a supply delivery to the town of Coronado. It quickly emerges that Will has other motivations for venturing to this remote terrain, and it leads to violent skirmishes with a ruthless ranching family and their various henchman. Mann only flinches when the strictures of the production code mandate that he does, leading to a film with a decidedly bleak sensibility, even as it takes in wide vistas with an adoring eye. The Man from Laramie finds Stewart guiding his portrayal with an entertaining hair-trigger crankiness that was basically his default mode at this point in his career.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (Laurent Bouzereau, 2020). Produced and presided over by Natalie Wood’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner, this retrospective is invaluable but also hampered by an obvious motivation to scrub clean certain aspects of Wood’s life, especially the circumstances around her tragic demise. Laurent Bouzereau, a veteran of the sort of promotional featurettes that populate DVD extra menus, is unsurprisingly adept at charting the course of Wood’s film career, from child actress to starlet to woman trying to find her footing in a business that was especially unkind to any woman who’d started showing lines on her face. Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind powerfully and convincingly makes the case for Wood as a great and important cinematic talent. It gets clumsy when it turns to Wood’s drowning death, in 1981. While there’s something admirable about its pushback against the lurid recurring attempts to turn the tragedy into the stuff of tabloid shockers and true crime podcasts, the execution is ham-fisted and glaringly one-sided. Where a dose of journalistic rigor is needed, Bouzereau opts for pat showbiz testifying not that dissimilar to a movie star talking about how great their latest project was.