Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Colorado Territory

I briefly mentioned Colorado Territory back in 2015 when it was airing on TCM in honor of the birthday salute to one of its stars, Virginia Mayo. It ran again last December as part of TCM's spotlight on remakes. I recently got around to watching it, so now we get a review.

While Mayo may be the female lead, the real star is Joel McCrea, playing Wes McQueen. At the start of the movie he's in prison in Missouri in 1871, but he's sprung by friends. The first thing he does is go to the farm where his old flame lived, but he finds that she died while he was in prison. So he goes west, out to Colorado where his old friend Rickard (Basil Ruysdael) has a job for him.

Along the way to Colorado, however, on the stagecoach he meets the Winslows, father Fred (Henry Hull) and daughter Julie (Dorothy Malone), whom Dad is bringing west because they're of too low a social class to marry her beau, and he wants to start a farm. Wes takes a liking to the two of them, and even thwarts a would-be gang of robbers from taking the coach's money box. The Winslows don't know Wes' true identity.

About that job that Rickard had for Wes? It's a criminal matter, of course, involving the robbery of a payroll from the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. While preparing for the robbery, he is to hide out at an abandoned mission, where he's going to meet the two other guys in the robbery, Reno and Duke (John Archer and James Mitchell, respectively). They're bad news, as should be seen by the fact that they've brought a woman with them to the hideout, Colorado Carson (that's Virginia Mayo). They treat her like crap, and fight amongst themselves, so it's unsurprising that Colorado takes a liking to Wes and eschews the other two guys.

The day of the robbery arrives, and it doesn't go off without a hitch. Reno and Duke try to double-cross Wes, even sicking the railroad police on Wes and Colorado; they get away although Wes gets shot in the shoulder during the escape. But there's a Production Code, so you know that Wes isn't really going to be able to get away. (Not that Reno and Duke do; we see their legs dangling after their necks have been stretched.)

Colorado Territory is a remake of High Sierra, and if there's a problem with the movie, I think it's surprisingly in the casting of Joel McCrea. Humphrey Bogart is tough enough to play the part where, while still engendering a bit of sympathy, we know he deserves to die as the Production Code warrants. This is especially true because Bogart had been mostly playing bad guys at the time he made High Sierra; it was only that same year starting with The Maltese Falcon that he really began to play good guys. McCrea comes across as too nice, not having the hardened edges that Bogart's reputation brought. I think the writing doesn't quite help McCrea; nor does his reputation up until that time which involved a lot more good guys.

That doesn't mean that Colorado Territory is at all bad, however. It's a serviceable western, and a solid retelling of High Sierra moved out to the old west. It's more that the movie could have been so much better. Colorado Territory is available on DVD from the Warner Archive should you care to watch for yourself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Narcissus of Color

I had Black Narcissus on my DVR for a while, it being one of those movies that the critics all think everybody should watch. So finally I watched it to do a review here.

The movie is set in India, presumably in the late 1930s since that's when the book on which it's based was published. In Calcutta, there's an order of Anglican nuns known as the Order of the Servants of Mary. They run a school as their missionary work, and the Reverend Mother has a mission for Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr). Apparently there's an old palace up in the Himalayas that the order thinks would be perfect for starting a remote mission, and Clodagh is the perfect one to run it as the Sister Superior.

Sister Clodagh takes four nuns with her, and they go to meet Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the agent for the palace's owner, an old general (Esmond Knight). It's difficult to get to the palace, it being high on a cliff above the village in the valley below, and it's going to be a hard life for the nuns. A group of monks tried to make a go of the place some time back, and they left after a whopping five months. As in the old Lillian Gish movie, the wind is supposedly going to drive everyone crazy.

Still, Clodagh goes up to the palace with confidence, leading the other four nuns: Sister Briony (Judith Furst) is going to run the infirmary; Sister Honey (Judith Furse) for morale and teaching the making of lace to the local girls); Sister Philippa for gardening; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), partly as a teacher and partly because the Reverend Mother thinks getting the already unstable Ruth away from Calcutta will be a good thing for Ruth.

Along the way, the nuns deal with the old caretaker Angu Ayah, and take custody of a young woman Kanchi (Jean Simmons). As Mr. Dean predicted, the location has a somewhat adverse effect on all of the nuns. Clodagh seems the most stable, but she starts remembering an old relationship back in her native Ireland that led her to join the order, one she hadn't thought about in ages. Ruth goes further nuts. Briony tries to help a sick baby, but the baby is beyond saving. So when she gives the baby medicine that's really harmless castor oil, the baby still dies and the locals in the valley below think the nuns caused the death.

Ruth decides she's going to leave the order and marry Mr. Dean, although he has no desire to marry her, and this finally pushes Ruth over the edge, literally and figuratively.

Black Narcissus is a beautiful movie to look at, which is a good thing because it's not exactly beautiful to think about. This is partly because of the dark story line, and partly because as with Camille, it feels as though there's a whole lot of nothing going on. The stunning visuals, however, make up for this to an extent, helped by the cinematography of Jack Cardiff and some extremely impressive matte paintings.

So, I can recommend Black Narcissus if you know going in that it's psychological and less on plot. It's available on a pricey Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Honor Blackman, 1925-2020

Honor Blackman (r.) and Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)

Honor Blackman, who had a long career in film and TV but will probably be best remembered for playing Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger, has died at the age of 94.

In looking through her filmography, I see that she was in Conspirator, Elizabeth Taylor's first real adult role, which I had forgotten about. There's also Quartet, the first of the anthology movies based on the work of Somerset Maugham; A Night to Remember, about the night the Titanic hit the iceberg; and Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion masterpiece Jason and the Argonauts, among others.

Blackman also did a lot of TV work, most notably in the early seasons of The Avengers, although a lot of that work was in British TV and I don't know how much of that made it to this side of the Atlantic since I don't recognize it.

TCM Star of the Month April 2020: Jane Russell

Jane Russell in The Outlaw, tonight at 8:00 PM

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month. This time out it's Jane Russell, and her movies are going to be airing every Monday in prime time. The salute starts off with her debut in The Outlaw, racily bringing Russell and her ample assets to the screen. Russell plays the girlfriend of Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) becoming the girlfriend of Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel), and it's a bit of a mess, since Howard Hughes was using the movie to promote his new discoveries.

I was mildly surprised to see that I didn't have much in the way of Russell pictures to illustrate this post with. One was a lobby card for The French Line (midnight April 21, or late evening April 20 in more westerly time zones), which is undemanding fun but nothing special. That's followed by what I think may be the TCM premiere of The Revolt of Mamie Stover, which I blogged about years ago back when it aired on FXM.

Of course, considering when I was born, the first I learned of Russell and her bustline was when she was hawking the Playtex Cross-Your-Heart Bra:

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Earth Girls Are Easy

Some months back, I mentioned picking up a DVD box set of cheap horror movies, having watched Blood Diner off of it. I had really picked up the set for what's almost certainly the best-known movie in the set, Earth Girls Are Easy, and recently watched that one.

A prologue has three aliens with colorful hair -- one blue, one yellow, and one red -- in a spaceship somewhere in outer space. They complain about not having had love, what with being out in space and all that. But they pick up some TV broadcasts from Earth that have women doing aerobics and other stuff. These women are shapely, and just as interesting to the aliens, relatively hairless. They locate the source of the broadcasts, and set out.

On Earth, Valerie (Geena Davis) is a manicurist at a salon in the Los Angeles suburbs where she works with Candy Pink (Julie Brown). She's engaged to Dr. Ted (Charles Rocket), but their sex life needs some spicing up, she thinks. So she decides she's going to do that spicing by not going to the convention she said she'd be attending, but instead surprising Ted when he gets home from work. What she doesn't realize is that he's been doing some spicing up of his own by seeing another woman. When she does find out, she kicks Ted out.

Thankfully, she's about to get some more spice in her life. Those aliens crash-land in her swimming pool (apparently the aliens have technology that makes the spaceship much bigger on the inside than the outside). The three aliens are blue Mac (Jeff Goldblum), yellow Zeebo (Jim Carrey) and red Wiploc (Damon Wayans). Both sides have the understandable apprehension about meeting their first live humanoid of another species. But the aliens, being intelligent enough to get to Earth, are also smart enough that they pick up the langauge relatively quickly through television. (Of course, they can't pick up everything that quickly, which will lead to the film's many humorous situations.)

Valerie realizes that Ted will probably sic the authorities on the three aliens if he meets them, so she takes them to the salon, where she has Candy do a makeover on them, revealing their very human-looking forms, and humorously turning Zeebo into a surfer dude. She then takes them out for a night on the town, where all the women love them even if they do cause a bit of havoc. Along the way, Valerie and Mac find themselves falling in love with each other, which is a problem in that Valerie is still engaged while Mac is going to have to go back to his home world.

Earth Girls is a really fun movie, largely because it knows that it's just silly little entertainment and doesn't take itself seriously, mostly being in on the joke. It's also a great time capsule of the late 1980s, at least as southern California likely saw itself. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the performances other than to see a very young Jim Carrey; it's the comic material that raises everything. The movie effortlessly bounces from one comic scene to the next, with a couple of musical numbers thrown in that don't even really take away from the proceedings the way they do in a lot of musical movies.

If you want a fun, quirky little comedy that won't tax your brain but leave you smiling, I can absolutely recommend Earth Girls Are Easy.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Lady of the Camellias

Where yesterday's selection Our Time showed a young, naïve love, today's selection shows a rather more craven kind of love: the 1936 version of Camille.

Greta Garbo plays the lady of the camellias, named not Camille but Marguerite. She lives in the Paris of 1847 (just before the revolution of 1848 that brought Napoleon III to power but which isn't mentioned here; I couldn't do a good enough calculation of how long the events in the movie are spaced out to determine when it ended), where women of her sort woo wealthy men. Her matchmaker -- to use a polite term -- Prudence (Laura Hope Crews) is taking her to a theater where it's hoped she'll meet the wealthy Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell).

Unfortunately, she mistakes another man, Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), for de Varville. The two like each other, but he's only a diplomat's son and so of just moderate wealth. Armand falls in love with Marguerite, but he's not going to be able to support her in the manner to which she is accustomed.

The Baron, of course, could, but he's not going to marry her, especially when he knows what kind of woman she really is. In addition to being in love with another man, she's also a spendthrift, constantly owing money because she wants to spend on herself and even more so help others when possible. Armand's father (Lionel Barrymore) knows that Marguerite is financial bad news for Armand, but when he meets Marguerite he realizes that the two are in real, if doomed, love.

That doom isn't just because of Marguerite's profligate ways, but also because she has consumption, which in those days mean an early death, especially if Marguerite is living it up as she is. Armand and the Baron come in and out of Marguerite's life, until the three legs of the love triangle all meet at the opening of a new gambling club in Paris. Armand wins the money to pay Marguerite's debts off of the Baron in a game of baccarat, but it leads to a duel between Armand and the Baron which ultimately forces Armand to leave France. Will he be able to return before the consumption takes Marguerite?

Well, you can probably guess that the answer to that last question is yes, but that Armand sure won't be able to save Marguerite. Camille is the sort of movie that MGM was really good at making during Irving Thalberg's lifetime. It's got excellent production values, and a story and performances that I'm sure audiences of the 1930s loved.

However, watching it 80-plus years later, I realize that it's not exactly my cup of tea, as I felt like a whole lot of nothing was happening. Still, it's easy to see the quality of the movie, so I have no qualms about recommending it for people who know what they're getting into. The movie is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, should you wish to watch for yourself.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Not in the middle of our street

Another of the movies that I recently watched which is available on DVR is Our Time, one that was new to me when I saw it on the schedule.

The movie was made in the 1970s but set in 1955. Penfield is a private girls' school in Springfield MA. Abby (Pamela Sue Martin) and Muffy (Betsy Slade) are among the girls in the senior class, and like a lot of teenagers, among the things they talk about is sex, not that they're necessarily particularly knowledgeable on the subject. St. Anthony's is a nearby boys' school, where some of the girls' would-be boyfriends attend.

Early in the term, Penfield has a mixer with St. Anthony's where the students are supposed to be randomly paired, but of course everybody wants to be with one particular person. Abby wants to be with her boyfriend Michael (Parker Stevenson), who claims to have had sex already; Muffy wants to be with Buzzy (Michael Gray). But Buzzy wants to be with Ann, while it's Malcolm (Elroy Jetson; er, George O'Hanlon Jr.) who is really in love with the plain-looking Muffy and is right for her.

Abby and Michael decide they're going to violate rules and lie about where they're going for a weekend to go to Boston and finally have that sweet sweet sex they've been talking about, although it turns out to be awkward both for them and the viewer. Muffy, on the other hand, has to wait until Christmas. Buzzy shows up for a Christmas party where Muffy is in attendance and immediately makes a beeline for Ann. So Muffy goes outside with Malcolm and manipulates him into having sex with her in the back seat of a car.

This being a movie with a message, you can guess what happens next. Muffy only had sex that one time, but sure enough it's enough to get her pregnant. And this is the 1950s (not spoken in the tone of voice Bette Davis uses in Jezebel about getting with the times because it's the 1850s). So Muffy, Abby, and their boyfriends all go to Boston to get Muffy an abortion, which not only violates school rules but is still highly illegal, the movie being set 17 years before Roe v. Wade. Needless to say the abortion doesn't exactly go well for Muffy.

If you've been reading me putting snarky humor into this post, I think it's because that's a lot the way I was feeling as I watched the movie. It's not so much that the movie is bad (although it's not exactly good, either), although to be honest it does feel a bit off, which I think is because something gave me the vibe of 1970s production values for a movie set in the 1950s. Not only that, but 1970s teen movie. Instead, a lot of the snark is because I found myself laughing at thoroughly inappropriate times throughout the movie, which is not a comedy in any sense of the word. The ending is also emotionally flat, which is extrememly inappropriate for what's come before, as though there was a fair amount edited out.

So if you want to have some fun watching an interesting mess, you could do worse than to watch Our Time.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #299: Greed (The Seven Deadly Sins)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The first Thursday of the month brings another entry in the "Seven Deadly Sins" theme. Having done Lust and Gluttony, now we get to Greed. I had two movies in mind right away, and it took me a little bit of time to come up with a good third movie without using Michael Douglas in Wall Street. But I was able to:

Greed (1924). ZaSu Pitts wins $5,000 (in early 1920s dollars) in the lottery and converts it to gold, becoming obsessive about getting more gold. This ultimately leads to the destruction of her, her husband (Gibson Gowland), and her former lover (Jean Hersholt), both of whom also want the gold. Director Erich von Stroheim famously presented the bosses with a cut of the movie that ran about nine hours, which the producers eventually cut down to about 140 minutes because who was going to sit down to watch a nine-hour movie?

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). New Hampshire farmer James Craig wants more prosperity, so the devil, as Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston), preys upon Craig's greed by offering him wealth in exchange for his soul. The newfound wealth brings all sorts of problems to Craig and his family, and when the time comes for Mr. Scratch to redeem the soul, our farmer turns to the greatest lawyer of the day, Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold). The movie was also known as All That Money Can Buy because, despite being based on a famous short story, it was released shortly after The Devil and Miss Jones, and the producers didn't want the confusion.

Raton Pass (1951). Greedy Patricia Neal marries wealthy rancher Dennis Morgan. But it's really just a ruse to gain control of Morgan's ranch, first with railroad man Scott Forbes and then, when Forbes is horrified by Neal's actions, hired gun Steve Cochran. Morgan fights back with the settlers who have always hated him because rancher/settler conflicts were often a thing in these old westerns.

New York in the 70s

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Klute (1971), airing tonight at midnight

Now that we're into a new month, it's time for new programming features on TCM. The first one up is going to be a look at New York City in the 1970s, which was originally scheduled to air every Thursay night in prime time, although because of the cancellation of the live TCM Film Festival the original schedule for the 16th has been moved to Tuesday, April 28. It doesn't say on TCM's webpage for the spotlight whether anybody is going to be co-hosting, but then now that the channel doesn't have an elderly and ailing Robert Osborne and more regular hosts than they used to they probably don't need to find new hosts for the spotlights.

This first Thursday sees a couple of really good movies, starting at 8:00 PM with The Panic in Needle Park, with Al Pacino playing a small-time heroin dealer and big-time user who, like all the other users, has to deal with the cops' attempt to shut down distribution, making the drug less available.

Then, at 10:00 PM is The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, starring Walter Matthau as a transit cop who has to deal with one of the subway trains being hijacked by Robert Shaw.

I especially want to mention Klute (midnight) again, since this one has received a DVD release from the Criterion Collection since the last time I mentioned it the movie was still not in print on DVD; Criterion release only came out last summer.

The night concludes with a pair of new-to-me movies, Fingers at 2:15 AM and Report to the Commissioner at 4:00 AM.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


During one of the free preview weekends, I recorded Chocolat onto the DVR. It's going to be on tomorrow at 2:45 AM on HBO Family (three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), and again on Friday on HBO 2.

Juliette Binoche plays Vianne, a woman with a young daughter Anouk. The two come to a small town in late-1950s France, and Vianne decides that she's going to settle down for a while. There's an empty storefront across from the church, so Vianne finds the owner Amande (Judi Dench) and asks to rent the store and the apartment above. Amande's plan is to open up a chocolaterie, with homemade fine chocolates. Now, frankly, I found myself wondering how such a business could survive in such a small village considering the prices and that it's not much of a market.

But economics aren't Vianne's problem; instead, she faces cultural difficulties. She had the great bad sense to decide to open the place right at the start of Lent, and as the movie is set before Vatican II, there's still a fair amount of religiosity in parts of France. This particular village is also one of the more conservative villages out there, having been led by the Comte (Alfred Molina), who is the mayor and bosses everybody around, especially the local priest, as well as dullard Serge (Peter Stormare). Serge is a brute too, in that he bets his wife Josephine (Lena Olin).

The sudden presence of a bohemian naturally brings a change to the village; otherwise, we wouldn't have a movie, would we. Amande is the first to warm to Vianne. She turns out to be diabetic and probably dying. She's always been a bit more of a free spirit, enough to attract her grandson to her and the shop too despite the wishes of the boy's mother. There's also Josephine, who decides to run away from Serge and go to Vianne to become Vianne's apprentice.

Still, the Comte doesn't like Vianne's store, and it's about to get worse for Vianne. Into town comes a group of itinerants who travel by boat, doing some sort of labor that apparently pays for their lifestyle. One of them is Roux (Johnny Depp), who offers to fix Vianne's doors. They fall in love pretty quickly, and that really pisses off the Comte for some reason. Disaster happens, and it's nearly enough to make Vianne leave town....

Chocolat is a movie that got a lot of praise when it was released, and it's one that made me think of a couple of other movies. Unfortunately, they were unfavorable comparisons. The first was Antonia's Line, another movie about a quirky postwar village. But where that one was mostly fun, Chocolat felt like it was trying to hit me over the head even more with Vianne's quirkiness and how it makes everybody change. The movie probably should have been more of a light comedy than a drama with some comedy.

The other movie was Darkest Hour, a movie where I had serious problems with the intrusive camera movement. I noticed a fair amount of similar camerawork here, especially when there were establishing shots. One other problem I felt was in continuity, although that's probably going to be less of a problem for other people. The movie is supposed to be set between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but a fair amount of the movie happens in an outdoors that seems much too warm for the season, even if this is southwest France.

Still, the performances are fairly good, and the movie did get a lot of praise from everybody else, so most of you will probably like it more than I did. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but if you don't have the premium channels, you can also watch it on Amazon streaming.