Monday, August 13, 2018

The Frightened Man

In my last set of DVD purchases from Amazon, I splurged and spent a few buck on this DVD set of British B movies, none of which I'd heard of before. Over the weekend, I fired up the DVD player and watched The Frightened Man.

Rosselli (Charles Victor) is an antiques dealer in London, although it seems to be a rather unfashionable part of London. He's scrimped and saved, and then some, to send his son Julius (Dermot Walsh) off to Oxford so that Julius can do better than he did. Among other problems, it seems as though one of Rosselli's employees may have obtained some stolen goods and tried to sell them at the store.

Things are about to get worse for Rosselli, though, as Julius has been expelled from Oxford and returned to London. Rosselli would like for Julius to join him as a partner in the store, but Julius would like an easier life than that. It's not as if good jobs are easy to find, however. And it's going to be more difficult for Julius in that he's fallen in love with one of Dad's boarders Amanda (Barbara Murray) and is planning to marry her, this without having a good job.

A friend offers Julius a job driving a truck, but it's really a job driving the getaway truck after a robbery, which is a problem since that's rather illegal. Bringing things full circle, another of the group of people in on the heist is the guy from Dad's antiques shop who was involved with the stolen goods. But the heist pays the rent, so to speak, and Julius gets involved with more stuff, with the climax coming when Amanda's boss is set to handle a shipment of diamonds. The police have been on the case for some time, too....

I had never heard of this movie, and to be honest, I don't think I'd heard of the main cast members. For some reason I feel like I should recognize director Jack Gilling's The Man Inside, but none of Dermot Walsh's movies look familiar at all. That having been said, I found The Frightened Man to be a surprisingly good B movie. It's not as good as A movies and clearly is lacking in production values, but it's not a bad little movie at all.

As for the box set, it's bare bones. The print of The Frightened Man is probably about the best one can hope for, since it's a B movie, but it looks in the opening title as though a very tiny slice of the bottom might have been cut off. It's not also the crispest print, but it's more than watchable. The packaging is pretty good, with three DVDs (two movies to a disc) each on their own spindle although one is a two-sided spindle. The one odd thing is that after The Frightened Man ended the DVD continued into the other movie on the disc. Still, for the price, if the other movies are anywhere near as good, I'd happily recommend the set.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Things I should have written about earlier this week

Actor Robert Dix, son of early talkie star Richard Dix, died on Monday at the age of 83. The younger Dix was in Forbidden Planet although I don't remember his role; and the fun Barbara Stanwyck western Forty Guns. Looking through the obituary, one role that I do remember him in is as Frank James in Young Jesse James, one of those B movies that Fox was distributing in the years while Cleopatra was eating up their budget.

By now you've probably heard about Robert Redford's decision to retire from acting. The guy turns 82 this month, so really nobody should begrudge him a chance to enjoy his retirement. I've always wondered, however, whether voiceover work (for actors, I'm particularly thinking animation) would be a lower-stress way for actors to cut back on their workload and keep working if they like it.

Also on the obituary front is cinematographer Richard Kline, who died on Tuesday aged 91. I don't pay as close attention to the people working behind the camera, directors excepted. But he was the cinematographer on the interesting composition of The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green and the first Star Trek movie. He was twice nominated for an Oscar, for Camelot and the 1976 Jessica Lange version of King Kong.

Over on the TCM boards, somebody posted a link to an interview with script supervisor Angela Allen. That's the person who makes certain the movie keeps continuity, which can be a difficult thing, as Allen mentions a story about The African Queen. It's another of those behind the camera jobs you don't hear much about, so it's a really interesting interview.

Too Hot to Handle

Another movie available from the Warner Archive that I recently watched off my DVR is Too Hot to Handle.

Clark Gable plays Chris Hunter, a newsreel photographer for the Union Newsreel Co. currently working in China, where there's a war going on because of the Japanese occupation of parts of the country. Chris hasn't been able to get any good footage of bombings in part because it's tough to be in the right place at the riht time, and in part due to the new anti-aircraft guns; all this is much to the consternation of Chris' boss Gabby (Walter Connolly). Actually it's not just Chris who isn't getting any usable footage; all the other newsreel guys (who are stationed in the same place and follow a herd mentality not unlike today) aren't getting any footage either.

Chris has an idea to create some fake news (again, not unlike today) by staging an attack with model planes and a phony crying child, but Chris' main rival Bill (Walter Pidgeon) knows about Chris' penchant for fake news. So Bill and his colleagues cook up a story about a cholera epidemic and a pilot Harding bringing in a critical supply of serum; the hope is that Chris will fall for the story. Chris shows up at the airport and gets in everybody else's way, not realizing this was their intention. And Chris' interference results in the plane running off the runway and catching fire. At this point, Chris rescues Harding and discovers that Harding is actually a woman, Alma Harding (Myrna Loy).

Chris falls in love with Alma, and through a series of subterfuges gets her to work for Union, but eventually she's going to find out about Chris' deception at which point she's going to be very pissed with him. She was only in on the fake news story back in China because she was trying to raise the money necessary to start an expedition to find her brother. Apparently, her brother was also an exploring aviator, except that he went down somewhere in the Brazilian rain forest. Everybody else thinks he's dead, but she's convinced he's alive.

Chris engages in some more deception to raise the money necessary for Alma to get down to South America, mostly because he still wants her love and if he helps her find her brother he can win her back. Well, to be honest there's also the possibility of getting a great newsreel out of the story, and heaven knows Chris will do anything for a story. Now, there wouldn't be much of a climax to the movie is Alma's brother were dead, so you can assume that he's alive and that Chris is going to help Alma save her.

Too Hot to Handle is one of those MGM movies that's entertaining and competently made, but at the same time looks like it's got something wrong with it because of the studio gloss. Hollywood's portrayal of China doesn't look like China at all, and it gets South America even more wrong. The natives that captured Alma's brother practice "voodoo", and yet they speak the mix of Spanish and Portuguese that Chris' sound man Joselito (Leo Carrillo) speaks. Oh, and I thought those newsreel cameras didn't necessarily pick up sound without a real mike hooked up.

With that said, everybody does a good job with their roles, at least insofar as the script lets them. Probably best of the whole lot is Marjorie Main playing Gabby's executive secretary Miss Wayne. Connolly has to play Gabby as too much the dyspeptic; Gable starts to annoy as the smooth operator, Pidgeon has to struggle with his character being written blandly, and Myrna Loy is probably a bit too glamorous to play anybody stuck in a tiny cockpit for hours on end.

Overall, you should be aware that you're going to have to suspend disbelief to watch Too Hot to Handle. If you can do that, it's quite the entertaining little ride.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Great Santini

Last night's viewing was the 1979 movie The Great Santini.

The story opens up with an establishing scene in the skies over Spain in 1962. A bunch of Marine pilots (the US had a military base in Spain at the time), led by Lt. Col. Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) doing a training exercise, in which Meechum shows he's a better pilot than the rest of them. Cut to a going-away party for him, since he's getting transferred back stateside; this particular party shows Meechum, nicknamed "Santini", to be a drunken boor and frankly a character I wouldn't want to be around in my life.

Anyhow, when he returns to the US he's greeted by his wife Lillian (Blythe Danner) and their four children, most notably oldest son Ben (Michael O'Keefe). They've been living with Grandma, but Dad's return home means that they're going to be transferred yet again, to Beaufort, SC. It seems like they move once a year like clockwork, something that particularly bugs the second-oldest child, daughter Mary Anne.

What should bother them even more is the way Dad runs the household. He's a Marine through and through, and it's as though that's the only thing he knows how to be. So while he's a tough SOB on base, he's an even tougher SOB with his family, raising them like a drill instructor instead of a father. Unsurprisingly, the kids, as they get older, start to chafe at all of this, and who can blame them.

Ben, for his part, qualifies for the high school basketball team and becomes friends with Toomer (Stan Shaw), the son of the family's black maid. Toomer's basically a decent guy, but he has a stutter and probably an intellectual disability. That, combined with his being a black guy in early 1960s South Carolina, means that there are going to be a lot of white locals who are going to treat him like shit, which ultimately has tragic consequences when Toomer stands up for himself. On the other hand, it also leads to Ben finally standing up to his father....

As I watched The Great Santini, I couldn't help but think of Wings, a movie I reviewed here last September. Both movies present characters who were good at fighting in the military, but who don't seem to be able to handle peacetime life. Both movies are also more character studies, although The Great Santini has a clearer plot than Wings. In that regard, I found it a bit tough to get into The Great Santini.

I think that was even tougher for me, though, is the fact that Bull Meechum is such an unlikeable character that I wanted to see most of the characters act differently than they do around him -- frankly, I wanted somebody to beat the crap out of him early on. Or even better, multiple somebodies. I can't deny, however, that Duvall gives an excellent performance and the rest of the cast is quite good too. The movie as a whole looks technically well-made. In that regard, it reminded me of another character study with a character I loathed, Under the Volcano.

In short, The Great Santini is a movie where it's easy to understand why so many people would consider it a great movie. I wouldn't say it's bad by any means -- it's really quite good. I just think that people ought to know going in that it's a character study of someone uncomfortable to watch.

Friday, August 10, 2018

About that new Oscar

By now you've probably heard the story about how the Academy Awards are planning to come up with an award that honors "achievement in popular film", whatever that exactly means. I've been thinking about it, not quite certain what to make of it.

The first thought is the the glib rejoinder that the current Best Picture award apparently honors achievement in unpopular film, although it is often the case that the sort of prestige movies that get the Oscar nominations are not the sort of movies that pull in the biggest box office. Although, to be fair, getting nominated, and even more so winning, is often a springboard to getting broader release.

The second thought was that having a "best popular picture" or somesuch isn't quite without precedent. At the very first Academy Awards presentation, there were two movies that could arguably have been called Best Picture. One was "Outstanding Picture", which was awarded to Wings, beating out the silent version of The Racket and Seventh Heaven. But there was a second category, "Unique and Artistic Picture", and (possibly deliberately) none of the nominees overlapped, with Sunrise beating out The Crowd and Chang. There were also two directing categories, one for comedy and one for drama, something that I think is still done at the Golden Globes.

I was also thinking about honorary awards being a reasonable way to honor "popular" pictures. For a quarter century, the Academy awarded an honorary Juvenile Award intermittently, something that I wonder if they ought to start doing again. Having an honorary "popular" Oscar is something that isn't terribly unreasonable.

Finally, and this isn't quite related, but there technically wouldn't even have to be official nominations for a special "popular" film award. The Academy for the second edition of the Academy Awards had a different nominating and awarding process, mentioned on their database if you look up nominees from that year:

[NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL NOMINATION. There were no announcements of nominations, no certificates of nomination or honorable mention, and only the winners (*) were revealed during the awards banquet on April 3, 1930. Though not official nominations, the additional names in each category, according to in-house records, were under consideration by the various boards of judges.]

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #213: A Siege



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is "A Siege". Well, technically, three sieges since we're supposed to select three different movies that fit the theme. I had to think for a bit, but I came up with three movies, each rather different from each other, that I think all fit the theme:

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939). Henry Fonda plays a man in the early 1770s who marries Claudette Colbert (!) and moves west, to what is now western New York. The Revolutionary War comes, and the British attack the settlers, climaxing in the Battle of Oriskany and the siege of Fort Stanwix. It's shot in lovely Technicolor, and earned Edna May Oliver a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, although she's about as much a 1770s settler as Claudette Colbert.

The Big Lift (1950). After Germany was defeated in World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors, as was Berlin. The Soviet sector of Germany surrounded Berlin, so in 1948 they decided they would try to starve the western allies into submission by blockading the land routes to Berlin, which is after all a form of siege. The Americans got the brilliant idea to airlift supplies to Berlin. Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas play a pair of Americans flying supplies to the city, finding out that not all the Germans are as they seem. A lot of real-life US military officers were also used in the filming.

Night of the Living Dead (1968). Something is causing recently deceased people to turn into zombies that need to eat human brains to survive, and a motley group of humans hole up in an isolated house while a bunch of zombies besiege the house trying to get in and eat the brains of the healthy people in the house. The success of this movie spawned the modern zombie film genre we've had since.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Spoilers (1942)

I mentioned over the weekend that I watched the 1942 movie The Spoilers Since it's available on DVD, it's worth doing a full-length post on.

The plot is the sort of thing that's been done in a bunch of movies. It's about 1900, in Nome, Alaska, which as you'll know from my recent review of Klondike Annie, was an era when there was a gold rush going on, so everybody was trying to get to Alaska to strike it rich. Roy Glennister (John Wayne) has been there for a while, to the point that he and is partner Dextry (Harry Carey) have a gold claim that they've been prospecting for some time. However, since the law hasn't quite reached this remote part of the Alaska Territory yet, claim jumpers abound, and people who don't have the means that Glennister and Dextry have had are seeing their claims fraudulently questioned.

That's about to happen to Glennister and Dextry too. Their operation has been financed in part by saloonkeeper Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich), who has been looking forward to Glennister's return from Seattle. Also on the boat from Seattle is the new Judge Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds), who is supposed to bring law to this part of Alaska. But he's accompanied by his niece Helen (Margaret Lindsay), to whom Glennister has taken a shine, much to Cherry's consternation. Rounding out the leads is new claims commissioner Alex McNamara (Randolph Scott). He sees Cherry trying to get Glennister's claim from the current records office; she's worried that the new claim jumpers are going to try to destroy the evidence.

Cherry has good reason to be fearful, as soon enough, there are people trying to dispute Glennister and Dextry's claim. They know they're in the right because they've been mining for years when there was almost nobody prospecting in Alaska, but good luck proving that to the judge. Dextry, for his part, isn't so certain he wants to trust the judge. And for once, his judgment and not Glennister's is more on the mark here. We eventually discover that Glennister and McNamara are in cahoots, perverting the course of justice to try to take Glennister and Dextry's claim away from them.

This sort of thing has been done before both in the guise of a gold rush -- indeed, this is the fourth version of The Spoilers and there was still one more to come in the mid-1950s -- as well as other sorts of westerns. But it's done quite entertainingly here. Wayne is suitably studly; Scott is suitably ambiguous as to whose side he's ultimately on; Dietrich is suitably feisty and sexually charged. There's also Richard Barthelmess at the end of his career as Cherry's second-in-command at the saloon. The romantic story line and the mining story line mesh well, and the movie climaxes with a big extended fight scene between Wayne and Scott.

Even though The Spoilers is treading really old ground, it's still an enormously fun movie, and one that is more than worth the watch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Faithless



Just before the start of Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran a morning and afternoon of pre-Codes. One of them was Faithless, which sounded awfully familiar although I'd never done a full-length post on it before, at least according to a search of the site.

Tallulah Bankhead plays Carol Morgan, a trust fund baby in 1932, which for those of you who know your history you know is deep in the heart of the Depression. Don't worry if you don't know your history; the film makes very clear there's a depression on in the opening montage. Carol, having that trust fund, believes herself immune to the Depression and spends profligately because she wants to have an enjoyable time in life.

One day, Carol meets Bill Wade (Robert Montgomery), who isn't quite in Carol's social class although he earns the princely sum of $20,000 a year in the advertising business, which was quite a bit in the early 1930s when you consider that Jim Blandings in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 15 years later was upper-middle class and only pulling down $15,000 a year. But Bill still knows he's got a lot less money than Carol, and he's insistent about living on his money, not hers, which is why they have an on-again, off-again relationship.

But Carol keeps spending like there's no tomorrow, and sure enough, tomorrow comes. The administrators of her trust tell her that her father put the money in the trust in stocks instead of government bonds back in 1929, so she's wiped out too, and she's borrowed to the hilt against the her assets. She decides that now would be a good time to go marry Bill and live on his money, since she doesn't have any money of her own to live on. But she waited too long, because just as she's about to tell him she's ready to marry him, Bill informs her that the ad firm has gone under, so he's without a job too.

Bill goes off to Chicago to find a new job, while Carol starts mooching off all her old society friends, but eventually one after the other realizes what's going on and dump her from their social circle, to the point that she's left in Chicago with no money and seemingly no hope. Finally, when all hope is lost, she runs into Bill again, who by now is working in trucking. Or was, for the very day the two meet again, the trucking company for which he was driving goes bankrupt, leaving him without a job.

Bill does get one more job, but he realizes too late it's as a scab, and the unionized workers are willing to resort to violent means to keep the scabs from working. Bill winds up injured and unable to work, and poor Carol doesn't have the money for any medical bills....

Faithless is an interesting movie, albeit one that's not without its flaws. Tallulah Bankhead is, I think, not quite the right person for the part of Carol. She comes across as too stupid and spoiled before going broke, to the point of being unsympathetic. She also doesn't look unglamorous after the fall. Montgomery fares better, although his role is a bit less demanding. The bigger problem both face is that they're at MGM, a studio where the gloss always shines through, even if it's in a movie that probably shouldn't have any gloss. I mentioned that recently with East Side, West Side, and it's even more evident here. This is supposed to be a tough Depression movie, and where Warner Bros. could do it well with its social commentary films, it's not something that ever came naturally to MGM.

Still, Faithless is more than worth a watch. It's available on a Robert Montgomery box set at both Amazon and the TCM Shop, although when I searched for it at Amazon, I had to search on "Robert Montgomery Collection" instead of the title Faithless.

Monday, August 6, 2018

City That Never Sleeps

Last month, TCM ran a night of "prestige" movies from Republic Pictures that aren't very well known. One of the night's offerings that's available on DVD is City that Never Sleeps, so I DVRed it and watched.

Chill Wills, who shows up later as an actual character, gives us an opening monologue about Chicago and everything that goes on in the city at night, also introducing us to the main characters. Among the things going on are the sorts of nightclubs where you get dancers like "Angel Face" (Mala Powers) as part of the stage show. She's the girlfriend of cop Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), except that Johnny actually has a wife in Kathy. Kathy makes more money than Johnny, which puts a strain on their relationship, especially because her mom reminds him of that fact. And Johnny never really wanted to be a cop anyway.

When he stops off at home between going to the club and to roll call for the night shift, Johnny gets a call from prominent lawyer Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold). Apparently Biddel isn't completely on the up-and-up, as he keeps important documents that he can use to blackmail people, aided in obtaining those documents by failed magician Hayes Stewart (William Talman). Biddel thinks Stewart is getting too big for his britches, so Biddel wants Johnny to catch Stewart in flagrante delicto and "extradite" him to Indiana, since if he goes straight to the police station he'll reveal what information he has on Biddel.

Johnny, for his part, is going to be willing to do this because Penrod has a lot of money for him for doing this job. Johnny wants the money because he's planning on leaving his wife, marrying Angel Face, and moving out to California to start a new wife. Yeah, that sort of plan seems real good, doesn't it.

Anyhow, before Johnny can get to Penrod to find that this is the plan, he has to go through roll call, where he finds out his regular partner is sick, and he's going to work with an old guy he doesn't know called Sgt. Joe (that's Chill Wills). This Sgt. Joe seems reminiscent of Spencer Tracy's Joe in A Guy Named Joe, in that he winds up being almost a sort of guardian angel for Johnny in that he's impossibly virtuous.

Things take a twist, however, when Stewart decides to rob Biddel's safe earlier than Biddel was expecting it, so while Johnny and Sgt. Joe are the ones who get the call to go to the office building, they're not going to be able to catch Stewart. Worse is that Johnny doesn't know Stewart has a protégé in the form of Johnny's kid brother Stubby.

Ah, but there are more twists, in that Stewart cracks the office safe, only to find out that the document he's looking for isn't there, and that Biddel has hidden it somewhere else. This is only one more in a series of twists that's ultimately going to involve murder, another boyfriend for Angel Face, and Johnny's decision of whether he wants to remain a cop after all.

City That Never Sleeps has a pretty good story at the heart of it, although I have to admit that I didn't care for the Sgt. Joe character or the general cop worship that was such a common theme for movies of the time thanks to the Production Code. I've rarely found Gig Young to be particularly noticeable in the movies he's in, and he does a capable job here but nothing spectacular. Edward Arnold is also quite workmanlike, while Talman is probably the most interesting character. Marie Windsor gets one scene as Mrs. Biddel. The one thing that really does help the movie is that it was shot on location and not a backlot, which gives the whole thing much more vitality.

On the whole, City That Never Sleeps is a worthwhile watch, although it feels like a whole bunch of movies that are good, but not quite great.

For those who miss Silent Sunday Nights

One of the bad things about TCM's Summer Under the Stars is that the regular programming features mostly go missing. Now, in the case of Noir Alley it's not such a big deal, as there's a fair amount of noir in the schedule outside of Eddie Muller's regularly scheduled spot. Audrey Totter is today's star, and Muller has already presented her film Tension (on tonight at 8:00 PM) before.

In the case of Silent Sunday Nights and the TCM Import, it's different. Maybe one day during the month there will be a day dedicated to an actor who made mostly foreign-language films, and one day dedicated to somebody who made a bunch of silents. Marcello Mastroianni will be coming up at the end of the month, but tomorrow is given over to the films of Harold Lloyd. There are a few talkies from the end of his days as a star, the feature favorites like Safety Last! (8:00 PM tomorrow), and at the start of the day, some even older shorts. I'm not certain if I'd heard of Ask Father, which kicks off the day at 6:00 AM, before. It's from 1919, so the print should be in the public domain. The music? Well, fortunately I was able to find a print on Youtube that was uploaded by the people who commissioned the new score, so it probably shouldn't be facing copyright issues. and get taken down:



Enjoy the Harold Lloyd silents, because they're the only ones on TCM this month.