Sunday, November 23, 2014

Broadminded

I briefly mentioned the movie Broadminded a few months back, although it was in error, as I mixed up Boris Karloff with Bela Lugosi. At any rate, TCM is showing it again tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM as part of a salute to actor Joe E. Brown. The movie is well worth watching, if only for how bizarre it is in spots.

Brown plays Ossie, who is the cousin of playboy Jack (William Collier, Jr.). Jack is in love with wealthy Mabel (Margaret Livingston), but Jack's father (Holmes Herbert) doesn't particularly care for Mabel, who seems to have more of a knack for getting in the newspaper than anything else. The current scandal involves a "baby party" that Mabel throws. And when I say "baby party", I don't mean a baby shower, but a party that has all of the adult guests dressing up like infants and acting like babies! When a story like this hits the papers, you can understand why Dad would be displeased. So Dad suggests to cousin Ossie that perhaps Ossie should take Jack on a trip someplace warm and far away, like California. Perhaps at one of the posher resorts out there, Jack will meet a young lady who is more suitable for him and who won't cause scandal for the family.

So Ossie and Jack set off for a cross-country road trip, and this is where Bela Lugosi and not Boris Karloff shows up. The two young men stop at one of those roadside service station/diner places, and the wealthy Latin Pancho (yes, Bela Lugosi is playing a South American) happens to be there too. Due to an accident, Ossie gets pen ink all over Pancho's dessert, which understandably ticks Pancho off, although to be fair this was the days before ball-point pens; Laszlo Biro wouldn't put those on the market for another decade. Now, this should have been no big deal; just apologize and go on your way. Except that Pancho and his traveling companion wind up going to the same resort as Ossie and Jack!

Ossie and Jack get to that resort. You just know that they're going to find women, although the question of whether they'll be able to keep those women is something that will occupy us for the rest of the movie. Especially when you consider that Pancho shows up and threatens to spoil the whole thing. Ona Munson plays Jack's girl, while Ossie is paired with Marjorie White. Antics ensue and eventually the good people live more or less happily ever after.

The second half of the movie, once the characters get to California, is a bit frantic and drags the movie down a bit, as it plays out like the plots of so many other off-kilter playboy meets girl movies that made it to the screen in the early 1930s. But the movie is still worth watching for several reasons. Joe E. Brown's facial expressions and mugging for the camera make all of his films worth one viewing, even if you ultimately realize he's not your thing. And Lugosi looks like he's having the time of his life doing comedy. Once Dracula became a hit, Lugosi didn't get to do too much straight-up comedy without any horror elements. And then there's that baby party at the beginning of the movie. Joe E. Brown in a baby carriage with a bonnet around his head and bottle (presumably liquor-filled) in hand is a truly disturbing image.

I don't think Broadminded has received a DVD release, not even from the Warner Archive.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm sure there's a Fox film I haven't blogged about somewhere

Having done this blog for close to seven years now, it should be unsurprising that I've mentioned a whole lot of movies from 20th Century-Fox over the years. And with FXM's policy of having a fairly limited number of movies on the channel at any one time and showing them a lot, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise either that I've blogged about a lot of them at some point in the past. Indeed, much of tomorrow morning's lineup looks like a rehash of years-old posts from here:

Hangover Square at 7:15 AM, with Laird Cregar as a mentally unstable composer;
The House on Telegraph Hill at 8:35 AM; starring Valentina Cortese as a war refugee;
Richard Widmark dealing with deeply troubled Marilyn Monroe in Don't Bother to Knock at 10:10 AM;
Glynis Johns entering Dan O'Herlihy's office in The Cabinet of Caligari at 11:30 AM and
Stuart Whitman going undercover in a mental institution to discover what Lauren Bacall is doing to Roddy McDowall in Shock Treatment at 1:20 PM.

Shorts report for November 22, 2014

A couple of shorts coming up on TCM in the next day or soe look like they're worth seeing. This time, I have to admit to not having seen either of the shorts I'm going to be mentioning, so I can't honestly say how good they really are or aren't.

First, at about 7:50 PM tonight, or following Five Million Years to Earth (6:00 PM, 98 min), is Tennis Technique. I've mentioned once or twice before that Bobby Jones did a series of golf shorts in the early 1930s called How to Break 90. This time, of course, the subject is tennis, and the instructor is Bill Tilden, who was one of the big names in tennis back in the early 1930s.

Overnight at 1:30 AM, after The Prizefighter and the Lady (11:45 PM, 102 min), is the Vitaphone two reeler Seasoned Greetings. The plot has to do with a greeting card store owner who decides to try to stay in business by creating a line of talking greeting cards. Cue the various Vitaphone musical acts. What makes this one look like it's worth a watch is who's listed in the cast at IMDb. The greeting card store owner is played by Charlie Chaplin's second wife Lita; her hasband is played by Robert Cummings in one of his first roles; and that blck boy as a customer -- IMDB says it's a 7-year-old Sammy Davis Jr!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Yet another film festival

There are so many film festivals around that I've never even heard of, such as the Camerimage festival of cinematography, currently being held in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Actor Alan Rickman, who has apparently directed a film, is being honored with a special award, and apparently 92-year-old Haskell Wexler is on the guest list. I didn't realize he was still alive.

Polish Radio's external service in English had an audio interview with the festival director available for download, but that link is currently redirecting to the main page, so if you want to listen to their report, you'll hvae to go here and click the little microphone icon to listen via streaming audio. It's only a couple of minutes long.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols, 1931-2014


Dustin Hoffman looking at Anne Bancroft's leg in The Graduate (1967)

The death has been announced of director Mike Nichols, who is probably best known for directing the 1967 comedy The Graduate. He was 83.

Nichols had a long career, starting in comedy with professional partner Elaine May, and on Broadway, where he directed frequently with movies coming in between. Among the movies in addition to The Graduate are Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and 1983's Silkwood, with Meryl Streep playing the woman at a nuclear facility who decides to blow the whistle on corrupt practices. Silkwood was the movie that also showed Cher could really act.

I don't think TCM would have announced any programming tribute for Nichols since the news only broke a few hours ago.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

A few weeks ago, FXM Retro showed a movie that was completely new to me, to the point that I had never even heard of it: Where Do We Go From Here? It's on FXM Retro again tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM, and is certainly worth at least one viewing.

Fred MacMurray plays Bill, a man who wants to fight for his country in World War II, but can't because the government has declared him 4F. It's an unhappy situation for him, especially considering that the woman he's got his eye on, Sally (Joan Leslie) sings fot the troops at the local USO place and really prefers a man in uniform. Meanwhile, Lucilla (June Haver) has her eye on Bill. Not being able to fight, Bill does his service in the best way he can, which is dealing in scrap metal that will be recycled to go to military uses. After spending a fruitless night with Sally, Bill goes back to the scrap yard, which is where his life is about to change.

A woman comes and gives him a bunch of stuff that's been sitting in her attic, including an item that looks a lot like an Aladdin's lamp prop. Not only does it look like an Aladdin's lamp, it sounds like there's something inside, just begging to be let out! So Bill rubs the lamp, and sure enough, there's a genie inside (Gene Sheldon). As genies are wont to do, this one offers Bill a wish. Bill, as you can probably guess, wants to serve, so he wishes he can be in the army. The genie grants that wish, but....

Unfortunately for Bill, the genie is a bit out of practice. Like that Geico commercial where the guy wishes for a thousand bucks and gets a thousand male deer in his yard, Bill's wish to be in the army does get fulfilled, but not in the way he had hoped. Instead, the genie has put Bill in George Washington's army at Valley Forge, with the Hessians about to cross the Delaware River at Trenton. Bill knows his American history, so he knows that he can be of service to General Washington as a spy. This gets Bill sent to Trenton, where sadly he gets caught and put before a firing squad. Ah, but there's that genie! Bill wishes he could be in the navy, and once again, the genie grants that wish....

This time, it's by puting Bill in the service of Christopher Columbus (Fortunio Bonanova). It once again goes without saying that this is not what Bill had in mind, and certainly, it's not going to work out either. Bill winds up adrift on the ocean, going to Manhattan Island and the early 1600s, where he gets involved in a fraudulent land scheme with Indian chief Anthony Quinn to buy the island amd then has to prove that he really does own the island in order to get the girl.

Where Do We Go From Here? is a musical fantasy with a large dollop of comic elements. At times, it doesn't quite mesh together, which I think has mostly to do with the fact that Fred MacMurray was not an actor suited for musicals. The story itself isn't bad, although how much you'll like it will probably depend upon your views of the type of humor used in the historical vignettes, which is reminiscent of the parodies that Mel Brooks or the Zucker brothers would do decades later. At times it comes across as dumb; but then there are scenes which are surprisingly funny. It's all done with good intentions, so even when the humor doesn't hit it's still inoffensive.

I don't believe Where Do We Go From Here? is available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare FXM showing.

Allison Hayes day

TCM is spending this afternoon with the films of Allison Hayes. I've mentioned one of those movies before, The Hypnotic Eye at 5:15 PM. For some reason, I thought I had never done a full-length post on Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, at 6:45 PM, but it turns out there is one from September 2011.

I also have to admit that I don't believe I've seen any other of today's Hayes movies. Not that I was going to be blogging about them though, because there's something else coming up that I want to do a full-length post on. Suffice it to say that films like The Hypnotic Eye and Attack of the 50 Foot Womna are wonderful schlock, and it's great that we have a TCM around to show this stuff in addition to all the prestige movies. It's part of our movie heritage, and sometimes the schlock is the stuff that brings us better memories than the quality stuff.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hollywood exercise

I've mentioned several times that I listen to international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio. One of them is China Radio International, and last week there was an interesting report on the program "Postcards", which is a show of human-interest stories from all over the world, usually about five mintues each but with enough put together to fill out a roughly 25-minute time slot.

Hollywood's latest fitness trend is harkening back to glitzy days of films gone by. Synchronized swimming is making a splash on the west coast - old Hollywood style. Before we come to the end of today's show, I would like to share with you an extra postcard from the United States.

The report itself is reasonably interesting, talking about how the exercise program harkens back to all those Esther Williams films, in which the swimming routines certainly would have been very strenuous, just as much as the dancing Gene Kelly would have had people doing, although probably without the stories of bleeding feet. There's a transcript of the whole program here; you'll have to scroll to the bottom since the synchronized swimming story is the last one. There's also an audio file here (~8.3 MB, 24 min), with the link also being at the top of the first page.

The story got me to thinking about all those old Hollywood movies and the vintage gym and exercise equpiment that shows up in them. One thing that comes to mind is that bizarre conveyor belt-like contraption that you were supposed to put around the waist and then run, presumably in the hope that it would jiggle your torso fat enough to burn it off. I'm pretty certain one of those shows up in Reducing, a Marie Dressler comedy in which she goes to the big city and gets a job with her cousin at a day spa for the rich people.

One of the transatlantic cruise movies -- I forget whether it's Gentlemen Prefer Blonds or The French Line, has a musical number with a bunch of members of the US men's Olympic team doing their thing with exercise equipment and a swimming pool. And then there's the exercise equipment in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, especially the servants' perplexity at having to procure such stuff.

A lot of the characters in the old movies also seem to think that doing a bit of aerobics when you get up or just before going to bed was enough for fitness. I have this terrible image of Myrna Loy, William Powell, and whoever played their daughter doing their leg lifts as the road to fitness.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Captain January

Tonight is TCM's third night of silent movies for the "Star of the Month" theme which this month salutes a whole bunch of silent stars and not just one person. This week is a mishmash of themes, with a couple of Oscar-winners, the Talmadge sisters Norma and Constance, and a couple of child stars. One of those child stars is Baby Peggy, who can be seen in the film Captain January, at 1:00 AM.

Baby Peggy actually plays the title character. She's a little girl who, as an infant, was on a cruise with her wealthy family when disaster befell the ship and she was washed overboard. She was fortuitously rescued by lighthouse keeper Jeremiah Judkins (Hobart Bosworth) who, living along at that lighthouse, decided to take care of the little girl as best he could, which he did for several years, christening her "Captain January" presumably for when he found her. She, for her part, grows up to like Jeremiah, because he's the only family she's ever known. At some point she's going to have to go off to school and get a formal education, but at the time of the movie she's still only about five, so they don't have to worry about that quite yet.

Of course, you know things are going to change. That happens when some wealthy people in the form of Isabella (Irene Rich) and her crowd visit the lighthouse. She sees Captain January, puts two and two together, and realizes that she's the little girl who went overboard from that yacht some years back, which would make January... her niece. So now we actually have biological family, although it's somebody who doesn't know January as well as Jeremiah. She could raise the little girl better, though, because she's got more money and more youthful energy. But January doesn't want to leave the only home she's ever known and besides, if she did, it would probably be the death of poor old Jeremiah. So there's a real dilemma here, although one that you know is going to be resolved happily.

A movie like Captain January rises or falls based on how well its child star does, and Bebby Peggy is endlessly charming. It's easy to see why she was such a huge hit in the early 1920s. You can understand her side of the story, how she's learned some independence from being at the lighthouse all those years, and why she loves Jeremiah; her distress at the idea of having to leave him is palpable and sensible. Baby Peggy's monkeyshines are also entertaining. The movie is short and with a formulaic ending, but it's still a winner.

If you like Captain Jnauary, stay tuned for the documentary Baby Peggy: The ELephant in the Room which follows at 2:15 AM. It's a fascinating look into the rise and fall of a six-year-old star who pretty much had no control over what was going on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I missed Norman Lloyd's 100th birthday



I knew that actor Norman Lloyd turned 100 this month, but for some reason, I thought the big day was coming up toward the end of the month, or more specifically this coming week. It was only with the birthday post for Nova Pilbeam yesterday that I finally got around to checking which day would be the exact anniversary for Lloyd. Imagine my surprise and a bit of disappointment when I realized I had missed Lloyd's centenary by a full week. On the bright side, at least Lloyd didn't die in the meantime.

I've mentinoed Saboteur several times, and unsurprisingly decided to use a picture of that for this post. (Actually, it's a picture that I recycled from the post for Lloyd's 98th birthday back in 2012.) So instead I'll re-link to my post on He Ran All the Way. Lloyd only has a small part in the movie, as one of John Garfield's partners in crime at the beginning of the movie, but the rest of the movie is well worth watching for the performances of Garfield and Shelley Winters. Lloyd also has a smallish part in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound as one of the patients.