Friday, November 24, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Days

I recently watched Anne of the Thousand Days off my DVR, since it's available on DVD (in a two-disc set along with the 1971 version of Mary, Queen of Scots).

The story is one that's well-known, since this is a historical drama. The Anne of the title is of course Anne Boleyn. Anne (played by Geneviève Bujold) was educated in France and returned to England where she was noticed by the King, Henry VIII (Richard Burton). The Boleyns were already known to Henry, since he'd been banging Anne's elder sister Mary thanks to their father basically pimping the kids out to the King for financial gain. (At least, that's the way it's presented in the movie.) Of course, at the time, Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas).

The marrige between Henry and Catherine had problems, however. Henry desperately needed a male heir to the throne, and all Catherine had been able to do is bear Henry one living child (she had two stillborn births, a couple of miscarriages, and one son who lived seven weeks), Mary ("Bloody Mary", not Mary, Queen of Scots). Henry feared he'd never have a male heir by Catherine. He wanted Anne, but trying to marry her would present all sorts of problems: Catholic law wouldn't permit it, and Henry had been declared "Defender of the Faith". Further, the Spanish Emperor was Catherine's nephew and he sacked Rome, so there was no way that Henry VIII would get the Pope to annul the marriage to Catherine.

Henry tried to get an ecclesiastical court led by top advisor Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) to annul the marriage, but when that didn't work Henry sacked Wolsey (who was terminally ill) and found a Cardinal who would be more pliant to Henry's claim that Catherine's first marriage (to Henry's brother) was in fact valid so her marriage to Henry wasn't. This ultimately freed Henry to marry Anne, and split the English Church from the Catholic Church.

Anne got pregnant... but she bore Henry another daughter, named Elizabeth. And then she got pregnant again... but gave birth to a stillborn child. Henry began plotting with his new top advisor, Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) on how to get rid of Anne so that he could marry his new squeeze Jane Seymour who obviously would deliver him a son. (She did, although as King Edward VI he didn't outlive Henry by too long.) Eventually Henry accused Anne of adultery, which meant treason, a crime punishable by death.

Anne of the Thousand Days is one of those post-studio system costume dramas that's lovely to look at. No longer tied to the backlots, the studios were able to film in British locations that lend an air of verisimilitude. Burton and especially Bujold are good in their roles; Thomas Cromwell is excellently portrayed as a manipulative schemer, while Wolsey is well-played as someone trying to please two masters while enriching himself on this world. The movie has a longish running time at 145 minutes, but it didn't feel that long as I was watching it.

Obviously, a lot of the material in this movie is related to material in A Man For All Seasons. Personally, I think I preferred A Man For All Seasons which to me looks even more beautiful. But Annd of the Thousand Days is more than worth a watch.

TCM Guest Programmer November 2017: Matthew Modine

It's that time of the month once again on TCM when we get a Guest Programmer; this time it's actor Matthew Modine. He sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss four of his favorite films, and those films are running tonight. I'm mildly surprised that they scheduled the Guest Programmer for a holiday weekend, but Mondays through Wednesdays were already taken. Perhaps they could have done it on a Thursday earlier in the month. Anyhow, Modine's selections are:

The Dirty Dozen at 8:00 PM, in which Lee Marvin leads a group of reprobates on a suicide mission against a Nazi compound in France;
Cool Hand Luke at 10:45 PM, which sees Paul Newman eating 50 hard boiled eggs and George Kennedy ogling a girl washing a car;
Network overnight at 1:15 AM, Paddy Chayefsky's biting satire of a TV network that is a stand-in for [insert favorite channel you love to hate]; and
Grand Illusion at 3:30 AM, the story of a bunch of French POWs in a German camp in World War I.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #176: Origin Stories

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "origin stories", which I assume has to do with all those superhero movies and how the superheroes became heroes in the first place. That's not a genre of movies I know much about, so I came up with a couple of movies that kinda, sorta fit the idea of "origin story" in a different way:

The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966). Dino de Laurentiis produced this oversized look at the Book of Genesis and a cast of stars: Richard Harris, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, and Peter O'Toole show up. Directed by John Huston, who also plays Noah.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Here we learn about how man descended from the apes, and how the apes learned to use tools. The final third, which frankly makes no sense at all, is supposedly about human origins or something. Every time TCM shows this one I watch the last third with the descriptive audio in the second audio channel turned on, and it still makes no sense.

The Story of Mankind (1957). The voice of good (Ronald Colman) is up against evil (Vincent Price) in a heavenly court to determine whether man should be allowed to continue existing in the age of nuclear weapons. We then get a series of vignettes showing various scenes from history including an all-star cast, or should I say an all-star miscast (Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton? Peter Lorre as Nero?) -- this one goes off the rails in an unintentionally hilarious way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving programming

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for those of us in the States, and being a prominent holiday, means that there's all sorts of specials going on out in the TV world. There's been a Thanksgiving Day football game going all the way back to the 1930s, and for decades it was the Lions hosting the Packers after a Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the Dallas Cowboys came into the league in the 1960s, they offered to host a second Thanksgiving game; having to play on Thursday isn't an easy turnaround.

Anyhow, this is all to say that it's not just TCM that changes things up for Thanksgiving. TCM is running a bunch of family movies as usual; mostly stuff I've recommended before except that I don't know if I've ever mentioned Places in the Heart (tomorrow at 1:30 PM) before. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a Fox film, but that's on TCM tomorrow at 3:30 PM.

It doesn't really look as though FXM Retro is doing much for the holiday; I guess we'll have to wait for Christmas to see if they run the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol on an endless loop again. Which brings me to why I really brought up this topic today.

As I was looking through the various schedules, I noticed that StarzEncore Classics had Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on tonight at 10:00 PM. It's a perfect movie to kick off Thanksgiving. But: they're running it on a loop, 15 times in 24 hours, roughly 96 minutes apart. I'd assume they're just trying to get anybody who's channel surfing and runs across the channel, which isn't a bad strategy for a niche channel.

Don't get me started on the Hallmark Channel's running sappy Christmas TV-movies round the clock for about two weeks now, although that must be enough of a success as they do it year after year and it's not the same set of TV-movies every year.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

More Elizabeth I

In last week's Thursday Movie Picks post about strong female characters, I mentioned The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, in which Bette Davis plays Elizabeth I of England. Of course, she would go on to play Elizabeth I again, in The Virgin Queen, which is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:05 AM.

Elizabeth I has shown up in a whole bunch of movies, probably because her story makes for something cinematically interesting. There's her father, the rise to power after Henry VIII's death (Mary of Scotland and Young Bess), the Spanish Armada (Fire over England), and the various men in her life (The Virgin Queen deals with Sir Walter Raleigh).

Try imagining an engaging movie about, say, Benjamin Harrison.

Monday, November 20, 2017

TCM is remembering Ralph Meeker on his birthday again

Last November 21 I wrote a blog post about actor Ralph Meeker, whose birthday it was. (Well, birth anniversary; he died in 1988.) It's one year on from that, and TCM is running some of his movies tomorrow morning. I've mentioned Jeopardy on a number of occasions; that one is airing at 12:45 PM. I thought I had done a full-length post on Shadow in the Sky before, but it turns out I only gave it a one-paragraph synopsis back in May when TCM ran a night of James Whitmore movies.

I've actually mentioned it a couple of times; the first time the mention wasn't quite as positive as last May: I said that it goes hilariously wrong at times. On further reflection, I think both reviews are OK: I always find the early 50s MGM B movies interesting, but they're still MGM movies. MGM always had a lot of glitz, but by the 50s outside of the musicals, that glitz was fading at the edges. There are a lot of smaller movies like Shadow in the Sky that have interesting ideas but for whatever reason -- they have a message to make being one of the big ones -- they don't get things quite right. Those MGM Bs from the 50s are mostly movies I'd recommend to people who are already fans of old movies, but for people just getting into it I'd start elsewhere.

Postponed movies

Over the weekend, the following story from India came to my attention:

Bounty placed on Bollywood actress' head after Hindu-Muslim film outrage

A top Bollywood actress has been given a special police security detail amid ongoing protests over a historical drama.

Deepika Padukone has received violent threats over her lead role in the film Padmavati - the fable of a 14th century Hindu queen of Rajasthan, based on an epic medieval poem.

Cinemas have been vandalised in response, and riot police put on alert for its release on December 1.

Rightwing Hindu groups claim the film besmirches the name of Padmavati by insinuating she had a romance with a Muslim emperor while she was married to a Hindu king - a charge denied by the film's director.

I did a bit of looking around for info on the epic poem and the movie, and discovered that according to Wikipedia, the movie release has been indefinitely postponed, at least in India. Supposedly it was going to get international distribution too. Not that it would have shown up in my neck of the woods, and not that I necessarily would have gone to see it, anyway. I'm not certain if I'd want to see a Bollywood musical version of an epic. But the story itself sounds like it could be made into just as interesting a movie as any of the western medieval historical dramas.

Anyhow, this got me to thinking about movies that got postponed in Hollywood. One I immediately thought of is Arsenic and Old Lace, which is on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 2:00 PM. It was based on a popular Broadway play, and apparently they were contractually bound not to release the movie until after the original Broadway run ended. Who knew that was going to be another two years; that sort of thing just didn't happen on Broadway back then.

RKO had a couple in the 50s I can remember. The Narrow Margin was held back for a year or two. The story, probably apocryphal, is that RKO boss Howard Hughes wanted to watch a copy before release, but forgot about it for a long time. There's also The Whip Hand, which got postponed because Howard Hughes decided the bad guys shouldn't be the Nazis, but Communists. This required a bunch of re-shoots and a plot that looks a bit of a mess.

Jerry Lewis famously shelved The Day the Clown Cried; I don't know if there were any surviving prints or if he had them all destroyed.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Time Table

Unfortunately we had a power outage this morning so my plan to finish watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller was scuppered. Thankfully I had watched Time Table last night off a DVD I bought, so I can do a full-length post on that one instead.

The movie starts off very interestingly. On an overnight train in the Southwest, Dr. Sloane (Wesley Addy) is alerted by the conductor of a sick passenger in one of the sleeping compartments. The good doctor investigates, and determines that the patient is sick with... polio! (The movie was released in early 1956; apparently not everybody had received the polio vaccine yet.) The patient has to get to a hospital as quickly as possible, and Phoenix is too far away, so they're going to have to stop at the next place with a hospital. Oh, and Sloane needs access to his medicine in the baggage car.

Sloane goes to the baggage car, and when he gets his bag... he pulls out a gun! He gives the three attendants in the baggage car a sedative, and when they're knocked out, he robs the safe of the $500,000 that it contains. And of course he has an out since the train is stopping to take the "patient" to the hospital.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) is told that he's going to have to delay his vacation to Mexico with his wife in order to investigate the robbery. There's a bit of luck in that one of the people in the getaway ambulance was shot, which leads to more evidence coming out: they probably got away by helicopter which brings in more suspects, and so it goes. But the biggest shock is Charlie's relationship to the case.

Time Table is a competent, if low-budget crime movie from the mid-1950s. It's definitely not the first thing I'd think of if I were trying to get people interested in crime movies of the era, but for people who have already seen the well-known movies from that era and enjoy the genre, I'd have no qualms recommending this one. The movie is pedestrian in that it's not particularly memorable and there's nothing outstanding about it. But it's more than entertaining enough.

The DVD, courtesy of Alpha Video, has a relatively muddled print, which I'm sure has to do a lot with the fact that they deal in lesser-known public domain movies. The print has an Alpha Video bug over the opening and closing credits, annoyingly in the top right instead of the bottom right. The DVD cover also prominently mentions Jack Klugman, although he only has one scene.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

30 years before Scooby-Doo

Last night I watched The Cat and the Canary since it's available on DVD and since it's short enough I could watch in one sitting in the evening before going to bed. Longer movies will have to wait until the mornings.

The lawyer Crosby is making his way to a house somewhere in the Louisiana bayous; it turns out that a rich, eccentric old man died there ten years ago with his housekeeper, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) staying to maintain the place. According to the terms of the dead man's will, the rest of the will wasn't going to be read until ten years after his death or some nonsense that I don't think would be legal and doesn't need to make much sense for the rest of the movie anyway. Anyhow, the lawyer is here for that will reading; a bunch of relatives who are cousins of each other show up in ones and twos.

Among them are vaudevillean Wally (Bob Hope); the lovely Joyce (Paulette Goddard); the young men Fred (John Beal) and Charlie (Douglass Montgomery); and a couple of older aunt types. The old man's will specifies that one and only one of the assembled is going to inherit the money, but with the caveat that if that person dies or is found insane within a month of the will reading, than a second relative, whose identity is kept secret in a separate codicil, will inherit that money. The first in line to get all the money is... Joyce!

Naturally, everybody tries to start getting Joyce to crack up mentally, except possibly Wally, who seems almost romantically attracted to the lovely Joyce and wants to protect her even though he's a coward at heart. And then word comes that "the Cat" has escaped from a local asylum and there's an officer who's reached the island where the house is looking for the Cat. Strange things start to happen, with eyes looking through the cut out eyes of a painting, and secret passages.

As I was watching The Cat and the Canary, I couldn't help but think of the Scooby Doo cartoons from the 1970s, where there was always a bad guy in a mask trying to scare the bejeezus out of everybody in order to get some financial gain down the line, and things like eyes looking through a painting and secret passages. And, of course, the climax with Fred pulling the mask off the guilty party, who informs us that he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Of course, there are no meddling kids here, and the movie is supposed to be a straight-up comedy with a few horror elements, being a parody of the "old dark house" genre.

The Cat and the Canary does mostly work, although I have to admit that I wouldn't give it quite as high a rating as most other commenters seem to do. Part of that probably has to do with Bob Hope's humor not really being my thing; another part might have to do with my being reminded of Scooby Doo. At least there's no Scrappy here. Still, I'm sure that most people will enjoy this one, and many of you will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Half-watched movies

So TCM is sitting down with the writer behind Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, tonight. Apparently, the movie has stories set in both the 1920s and the 1970s, so Selznick is going to be presenting three movies from those eras and discuss how they influenced Wonderstruck. Or something like that. The night starts off at 8:00 PM with The Wind, a really good Lillian Gish.

Something that I thought was part of the night's programming, but apparently doesn't have Selznick presenting it, is McCabe and Mrs. Miller at 2:30 AM. I had that one on the DVR and with it coming up on the schedule, I made a point to try to watch it so I could do a full-length review on the movie. But I only got part of the way through before something came up -- a live sporting event I had wanted to watch or somesuch. I never got around to watching the rest of it, thanks to my hectic work schedule. The one thing I did notice, however, was the very 1970s cinematography.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller isn't the only movie I only got halfway through. The other one is Looking for Mr. Goodbar, although at least there there's a good excuse. I think I'm most decidedly not in the target demographic for the movie. It's one of those that reminded me of An Unmarried Woman in that it deals with adult topics of the era, but seems targeted at women. Maybe not quite as much as An Unmarried Woman, but definitely not to my taste. And Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as far as I know, is out-of-print on DVD.