Thursday, May 27, 2021

Diamonds on Wheels ( 1973 )

Buckle up for danger in this delightfully entertaining children's adventure film from Walt Disney Studios! 

Three teenagers embark on a 24-hour road rally but the fun turns into danger when they discover that a group of criminals is chasing after them!

Peter Firth stars as young mechanic/racer Bobby Stewart. He is restoring a 1948 MG roadster and is eager to enter it in his very first road rally, the 310-mile Hampshire Rally. He built the car using parts from various other MGs, most of which he obtained from junkyards. His most recent acquisition was a black leather driver's seat. Little does he realize that a thief hid a stash of diamonds in the stuffing of that seat and a gang of diamond smugglers is desperate to get their hands on it!

A failed attempt at stealing the seat on the eve of the race leads the diamond thieves to steal the map outlining the rally course and its various checkpoints. The rally organizers discover the theft and, to make it fair for all participants, re-route the course turning it into a "treasure rally". Each driver and his team is given a puzzle to solve that will lead them to the next checkpoint. 

Joining Bobby on the rally is his friend Charlie ( Spencer Banks ) and his little sister Susan ( Cynthia Lund ), who is acting as their chief puzzle-solver. Scotland Yard is hot on the heels of the criminals but is unable to apprehend them before the rally begins and so Inspector Cook ( Patrick Allen ) races to warn the youngsters of the danger they are in. Danger, indeed! With guns in hand, the thieves have no qualms about murdering three children to get their diamonds back. 

Diamonds on Wheels was one of many productions that Walt Disney Studios made in England in the 1970s. It is a particular favorite of mine not only because of its treasure rally theme but because of its great cast and the location filming around Buckinghamshire.  

Treasure rallies were quite popular from the 1960s-2000s. Unlike regular road rallies where driving speed and time are of the utmost importance, winning a treasure rally relied upon your thinking and problem-solving skills. Rebuses, riddles, anagrams, and math problems were just a few of the puzzles you would likely encounter during the race, which could stretch on for hours, sometimes days. 

An episode of the British spy series The Avengers ( "Dead Man's Treasure", 1967 ) featured Steed and Mrs. Peel embarking on a treasure rally, but they are rarely shown on films so Diamonds on Wheels is a particular treat because the entire plot centers around the rally. 

Peter Firth is excellent in the lead role as our crime-busting hero. Spencer Banks and Cynthia Lund are also excellent as his sidekicks. It would have been nice to see a television series develop with these three juveniles driving around in their sporty MG solving capers each week. 

Christopher Malcolm, Barry Jackson, Derek Newark, and Dudley Sutton portray the "thugs" with Allan Cuthbertson taking the role of their leader, Mr. Ashley. Also in the cast are familiar British character actors George Sewell, Richard Wattis ( Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ), George Innes, Edwin Richfield ( The Odd Man ), Patrick Holt, and Ambrosine Phillpotts. 

If you are looking for an exciting adventure to watch with your children then Diamonds on Wheels is a little film well worth taking a gander at....that is, if you can track down a copy. That is a treasure hunt in itself and it is a puzzle as to why Walt Disney has not released this as part of their print-on-demand Generations DVD series. 

Check out the International Movie Car Database to see images of the other great cars that appear in this film. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Black Orchid ( 1958 )

The Classic Movie Blog Association is hosting the Hidden Classics Blogathon giving film bloggers a chance to share a little-known or underrated gem with other film buffs. As some of you already know, underrated classics are what I love to write about most. There are hundreds of little-known treasures that deserve to be shared, one of which is The Black Orchid

The Black Orchid stars Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn as a middle-aged widow and widower who fall in love and want to get married. The first half of the film follows happy-go-lucky Frank ( Quinn ) as he attempts to woo "the Black Orchid" Mrs.Rose Bianco ( Loren ). Some people in their Brooklyn neighborhood label her "no good" because she drove her first husband into a life of crime, an activity that eventually led him to be fished out of a river dead. Her neighbor Mrs.Gallo ( Naomi Stevens ) knows this isn't true and she encourages Rose to pay more attention to Frank. 

When he finally wins her affection, they encounter two roadblocks to the alter: Rose's son Ralphie ( Jimmy Baird ) who is spending time at a state work farm/juvenile center and Frank's daughter Mary ( Ina Balin, making her film debut ). Mary is about to wed her sweetheart Noble ( Peter Richman ) and move away into a house of her own but when she discovers that her father plans to wed, jealousy and bitterness consume her. Ralphie likes the idea of Rose remarrying but when he hears the wedding plans may be canceled, he runs away. 

Like most Hollywood films, The Black Orchid has a happy ending and if tears flow easily for you, you will probably need a handkerchief or two to dab your eyes when you see the sweet reconciliation between everyone. 

The Black Orchid was released by Paramount Pictures in 1958 and over the years has gotten some poor reviews for a very simple reason - the film is often misclassified as a comedy when it isn't. It is a drama. It has some humorous moments but it is far from being comedic. If you know you are about to watch a drama rich with emotion then The Black Orchid won't disappoint. 

The film was beautifully shot in black-and-white by Robert Burks ( Vertigo, North by Northwest ) who is best known as being Alfred Hitchcock's favorite cinematographer. It also features a good score by Alessando Cicognini and costumes by Edith Head, but what makes it stand out is its script. This was Joseph Stefano's first script. He would later become famous for penning the screenplay to Psycho ( 1960 ). Stefano created characters with depth and even though his dialogue is common-place, it is the natural-sounding tone of the lines that make this story seem so believable. Frank's first wife was mentally ill and so when Mary begins showing signs of bitterness, a dark underlayer begins showing through the story turning the romance into a psychological drama. 

Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren give excellent portrayals of two tough Brooklyners from "the old country". Such a beautiful romance blossoms between them that it is painful to see how close their children came to breaking it up. Ina Balin gives an especially good performance as Mary, displaying her sweet gentle side in one moment and jealously and stubbornness in the next. 

Also in the cast is Virginia Vincent as Mary's friend Alma, Whit Bissell as the sympathetic director of the juvenile center, Joe Di Reda, and Frank Puglia. 

The Black Orchid is available on DVD and through streaming via Youtube and Amazon Prime. 

Click on the link here to read more reviews of little-known gems from the Hidden Classics Blogathon. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon

It's National Classic Movie Day and to celebrate the occasion Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting the 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon. Participants are asked to list six favorite films spanning six decades. Quite a difficult task to do! My sister Diana wanted to join in on the fun, too, so she added her favorites as well...without the commentary.  

We're just going with personal favorites here. If one was to choose a favorite film from each decade that represented the best of the best, this would be an altogether different list! 


The Adventures of Robin Hood ( 1938 ) 

There were so many great films made in the 1930s, from the Universal horror classics to the MGM costume dramas to the Paramount comedies, it was a decade rich in variety! This was the era that launched a number of excellent series too ( Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildare, The Thin Man, Sherlock Holmes ) so what a tough choice to make. The Adventures of Robin Hood stands out even among such classics as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Who can resist Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 )

A childhood favorite. This film has such a wonderful atmosphere! The turn-of-the-century seaside setting is great in itself but when you add in a handsome ghost ( Rex Harrison ) and the beautiful Gene Tierney, yum! Also of note is the music score - the fantastic composer Bernard Herrmann penned one of his greatest movie themes for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.


Gigi ( 1958 ) 

The 1950s featured some of the best films ever made, epics such as Ben-Hur, dramas like Imitation of Life, and great comedies like Harvey. But the 1950s was also the golden age of musicals, and when I think of musicals, Gigi always ranks top. This film captures the spirit of France and the carefree days of summer. The musical score is scrumptious and Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron are adorable. 


The Chalk Garden ( 1964 )

Undoubtedly, the hardest decade to pick a favorite film from! The Pink Panther, Good Neighbor Sam, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were all vying for the top-spot, but I ended up choosing the little known dramatic thriller The Chalk Garden. Why? It was shot in beautiful Technicolor, was set in England, features a great script with a cat-and-mouse theme, and stars two favorite actresses ( Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills ). 


The London Connection ( 1979 )

Most of the films from the 1970s I find uninteresting so, when it comes to this decade, Walt Disney pictures always win out. The studio made a lot of really fun ones, too including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Snowball Express, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, Freaky Friday, and The Strongest Man in the World. But once again, I went with an underdog here. The London Connection is one that I never tire of. It features a young James Bond-style agent who teams up with a friend to rescue a Soviet defector and capture the dangerous Mr. Minton. 


A View to a Kill ( 1985 ) 

Roger Moore had made seven James Bond films since he took over the role of the dapper secret service agent in 1973. A View to a Kill was the last in his series and Bond was showing his age, but I always thought this film packed quite a punch. It boasted great location shooting in Paris and at the Ch√Ęteau de Chantilly and was one of the rare films where Bond got to spend some time in the States. It was a childhood favorite and remains so after numerous viewings. 

Diana's Picks

1920s - Safety Last! ( 1923 )

1930s - Paradise for Three ( 1937 )

1940s - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 )

1950s - To Catch a Thief ( 1955 ) 

1960s - Charade ( 1963 ) 

1970s - North Avenue Irregulars ( 1978 ) 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

SPLAT! These two fellows got a load of mud sprayed in their face. Most of you can surmise that this is from a comedy, but which comedy is the question! Put on your thinking caps or give a wild guess and see if you can name the film this screenshot is from.

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules of the game or the prize, simply click here.


Congratulations to Phyl for correctly identifying this screenshot from "Son of Paleface" ( 1952 ). Peter Potter Jr. ( Bob Hope ) - the idiot son of Peter Potter - just arrived in town with his antique roadster and made quite an impression on the townsfolk by splattering them all with mud from his car. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Check It Out! - The Definitive Guide to "Murder, She Wrote" Website

Are you a "Murder, She Wrote" fan? If you're not yet, then a visit to the website The Definitive Guide to "Murder, She Wrote" will make you one! 

The highly addictive mystery series premiered in 1984 with a star-studded pilot episode and went on to become one of the longest-running drama series in television history, lasting 12 seasons. Series star Angela Lansbury portrayed Mrs. Jessica Fletcher, a retired New England schoolteacher turned author who takes time out from writing to solve crimes...many of which take place in the not-so-sleepy village of Cabot Cove, Maine. 

Dr. Anne Del Borgo, a veterinarian living in Maine, put together this great website covering every episode of the series, trivia, an image gallery, interviews ( including one with series co-creator Peter S. Fischer ), and a really neat scrapbook chock full of clippings from newspapers, magazines, and press reports. There are also sections on the history of the series, statistics, and a bio of Angela Lansbury. 

For fans of the Murder, She Wrote book series there is a treasure-trove of material as well. You can find reviews of every book MSW-themed and plenty of stories submitted by fans just like yourself. 

Check it out and see for yourself! 

Click here to visit The Definitive Guide to "Murder, She Wrote"

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

From the Archives: Nancy Goes to Rio ( 1950 )

The lovely Ann Sothern had completed her 10-film run as the tough-talking Maisie and was cast as Frances in Nancy Goes to Rio, MGM's colorful remake of the 1940 Universal Deanna Durbin film It's a Date. Here she is seen posing within a giant lifebuoy. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :