Saturday, August 18, 2018

Neptune is the Roman Poseidon

I only did a brief post on The King and Four Queens this morning for two reasons. One is becaus of how long it's been since I watched it; the other is that I was planning on doing a full-length review of a different movie today: The Neptune Factor, which will be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM and 1:20 PM.

A research group has an Oceanlab on the sea floor somewhere out in the mid-Atlantic. (The latitude and longitude the give place it somwhere not too far northeast of Bermuda, I believe.) Dr. Andrews (Walter Pidgeon) is leading the research on the ship up on the surface, while among others, head of the divers MacKay (Ernest Borgnine) starts off in Oceanlab below. But he gets sent up to accompany a fired guy, and this happens just in time. Just before they surface, there's a giant undersea earthquake! Among the effects of the earthquake is to unmoor Oceanlab and send it... somewhere. They can't locate the emergency beacon.

The emergency authorities are overwhelmed, but there's a nuclear sub not too far off, which could help assist in the search. Andrews and company want to get the search on quickly, since it's theoretically possible that the people aboard Oceanlab survived and they've only got seven days' air supply. (I'd think it more likely that they end up like the Kursk submarine, but that would make for a non-commercial story.) Sadly, the folks in the submarine determine that if Oceanlab is intact, it fell into a fissure, and the submarine is too big to enter the fissure.

So the folks on the ship above need a small, maneuverable bathyscaphe, and quickly. There is one, but who knows if it will be able to find Oceanlab in time. That ship is captained by Commander Blake (Ben Gazzara), and he takes along as a crew MacKay, another diver, and scientist Jansen (Yvette Mimieux), who is clearly along because the movie needs eye candy and presumably Raquel Welch wasn't available. Blake and MacKay argue, and in the fissure the crew finds some marine life the likes of which they've theoretically seen before, but never quite like this....

The Neptune Factor is one of those movies that has a reasonably good idea at the base of it. It's reminiscent of Fantastic Voyage or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea thematically. And yet The Neptune Factor winds up failing pretty badly. I think there are multiple reasons for that, but chief among them is the script. It's slow, slow, slow, and just when you think it's not slow enough it gets slower. Nothing really happens much of the time, as the bathyscaphe crew just sit there and look out the portals.

The script also has some serious continuity issues. There's talk early on about divers being too deep while the Oceanlab is still moored, yet one of the divers is able to exit the submersible when it's even deeper in the fissure. There's also talk about who the pressure that deep would have crushed Oceanlab, but that pressure is apparently not too much for the diver. As with most movies underwater and in caves, the lighting is much too light, but there's not much that can done with this most of the time and still have a movie.

The final problem is the special effects. I know that this was still the early 1970s and effects were nowhere near as advanced as they are now, but the creatures seen at the bottom of the fissure made me think that the makers of The Neptune Factor were borrowing ideas from Night of the Lepus on how to do effects. It's terrible and totally defies reality. Wait until you see the eels.

Still, The Neptune Factor is silly enough for one viewing. Watch and judge for yourself.

A brief mention of Clark Gable day

Today in TCM's Summer Under the Stars brings 24 hours of the movies of Clark Gable. I see a movie in the schedule that I don't think has been on in quite some time, The King and Four Queens, at 4:00 PM.

Gable plays Dan Kehoe, a con-man out in the old west who hears about a ranch run by a bunch of women. Ma McDade (Jo Van Fleet, interestingly playing well above her age as she'd do a few short years later in Wild River) runs the place with her four daughters-in-law (Eleanor Parker among them). Apparently the brothers went off and robbed a bank and made off with a huge sum of money. Three of the four brothers were killed, and nobody knows what happened to the fourth.

So Dan shows up saying while he was in prison, he heard from the fourth brother. In fact, it's just a ruse to get on the ranch (for understandable reasons, these women don't like outsiders), so that he can poke around for a while to try to find out where the loot is hidden. But love and other emotions complicate matters....

I think the last time I saw this was in January 2015, which I think was also the last time it showed up on the TCM schedule. I didn't do a post on it then because when I looked to see if it was on DVD, I couldn't find it. It turned out that it already had gotten a release. Anyhow, I enjoyed the movie then, and it's certainly worth a watch.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Coogan's Bluff

One of the movies that I watched off the DVR recently that's on DVD is Coogan's Bluff.

The movie starts off with an odd-looking guy wearing just a loincloth standing on a mountain somewhere in rural Arizona. He's got a gun, and when a jeep starts approaching the mountain, the guy shoots at the jeep! But the driver of the jeep is able to get out and come up on the odd-looking guy from behind. It turns out that the man in the jeep is sheriff's deputy Coogan (Clint Eastwood), and the odd-looking guy is a fugitive.

Coogan takes the fugitive not to the sheriff's office, but to one of his girlfriends who has a place in the middle of nowhere, mostly because Coogan needs a bath. However, the sheriff (Tom Tully getting one scene) finds Coogan and is pissed. To be honest, the sheriff has apparently never liked Coogan. So the sheriff has a job for Coogan, which is to go to New York City and pick up a guy Ringerman (Don Stroud) who is supposed to be extradited back to Arizona.

Once Coogan gets to New York, all of the big-city types treat Coogan like a rube just for being from the middle of nowhere; this including Coogan's two liasons, NYPD Lt. McElroy (Lee J. Cobb) and probation officer/psychology researcher Julie (Susan Clark). They inform Coogan that he's going to have to wait several days to get Ringerman, because he had a bad trip on LSD -- this is 1968, after all -- and he's in Bellevue Hospital. Coogan can't get him until all the T's are crossed and the I's dotted, which is going to take time.

Coogan doesn't have that sort of time, so he bluffs he way into Bellevue to get Ringerman, which more or less succeeds. Unfortunately, somebody's figured out which airport Coogan is going to go through, and they waylay him, clubbing him on the head to get the key to the handcuffs and Coogan's gun. It's up to Coogan to find Ringerman in the big city, without his gun or official sanction from the NYPD.

Coogan's Bluff combines a reasonably good genre: the cop looking for a suspect movie, with one I've never liked: the generation gap movie. Julie has some unorthodox views, and is probably using unethical methods considering the files she's got. And then there's the nightclub Coogan winds up in where he meets Ringerman's girlfriend. It reminded me of the party scene from Midnight Cowboy, another movie about a small-town guy going to the big city. The final chase in Coogan's Bluff worked reasonably well, but the rest seemed a bit muddled to me.

I think the problems with the movie come down to the script, as I can't really fault Eastwood, who is the main focus of the movie. The supporting actors all do reasonably well. Ringerman is pretty much a cipher, but that's not an issue. All in all, I'd recommend Coogan's Bluff to Clint Eastwood completists, but would recommend Brannigan for starters for the "cops seeking an escaped fugitive" movies.

The Fred Zinnemann report

My podcast listening, as I've mentioned on a bunch of occasions, is largely the sort of international broadcaster that used to be on short-wave radio back when that was the way to broadcast rather than the internet. Polish Radio's half-hour broadcast for Wednesday included this story on the famous Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann:

Polish town remembers US film director Fred Zinnemann

Few people know that US film director Fred Zinnemann, whose credits include such movies as High Noon and From Here to Eternity, was born in Poland Рin the south-eastern town of Rzeszów.

Unfortunately, Polish radio doesn't include a transcript of the individual stories the way that Radio Prague's website does, so you're going to have to listen to the report. There's a link at the top to do streaming audio, and if you want to download the MP3, that's available directly here (~3.9MB, a little over 4 minutes).

I couldn't find any link to the actual film festival. If you're interested in more stories from Poland, Radio Poland's English-language site is here, and there's a link to the podcasts in the top right.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #214: Non-English Language Movies

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 "Non English-Language movies", which is an easy one since it's so broad. The only thing I'd have to worry about is not using movies I've already picked before. So, with that in mind, here are three interesting foreign films that as far as I know aren't available on DVD in the States:

Schtonk (1992). German farce about one of the great hoaxes of recent decades, the Hitler Diaries forgery. For those who don't remember, in the early 1980s, a con-artist came out and claimed to have made a startling discovery of a bunch of diaries that were written by Adolf Hitler. The German mass-interest magazine Stern serialized them until the hoax was discovered. It actually got nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar, but the only way I got to see it was ages ago when the college's German Department showed a print.

O Quatrilho (1995). Brazilian movie about Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. One guy is practical and plans to go into the forestry business in the south of the country, but he marries a gorgeous high-maintenance wife. His best friend and business partner is an artist and dreamer who's married a very practical-minded woman. With the four put together in a rural backwater, you can guess that the two dreamers wind up falling in love and eventually running off together, leaving the practical man and practical woman alone together to try to rebuild their lives. Good story with gorgeous cinematography making southern Brazil beautiful.

Louis 19, le roi des ondes (1994). French-Canadian comedy about a boring man who dreams of being on TV and wins a contest that makes him the star of a reality TV show before reality TV was a big thing. Unfortunately, his life makes for a show that would lose in the ratings department, so the producers try to spice up his life. That, needless to say, doesn't make the people around Louis very happy. This one I saw on the old Trio TV channel, which shows how long it's been since it ran anywhere (well, outside Quebec; I have no idea if there are channels showing old French-Canadian movies there).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A few heads up

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Miriam Hopkins, and TCM is spending most of the day with her 1930s movies. I would love to see another airing of The Mating Season, but alas, that's not on the schedule. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with The Stranger's Return, a movie that I blogged about last November and then used again the next month in a Thursday Movie Picks post on small towns. I know it's the sort of movie most of the people who respond to the TMP posts say they've never seen before, so here's another chance.

Surprisingly, it's only been six months since I mentioned Holiday for Lovers, which kicks off the FXM Retro schedule tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM. Also on the FXM Retro schedule tomorrow is a movie that I mentioned another airing of just last September, As Young As You Feel, at 7:40 AM.

I've actually got a few days off work so I'll be able to get through more movies this weekend. The only problem is that I've recorded quite a few movies that aren't in print on DVD and don't seem to be available via streaming routes either. Or, at least, outlets other than the Watch TCM app, where they're only up temporarily. I was rather surprised and disappointed to find out that Tension at Table Rock is one of the movies not on DVD after I recorded it during Dorothy Malone's Day in Summer Under the Stars.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thoughts on Uncle Tom's Cabin

I recorded the 1927 version of Uncle Tom's Cabin last month when TCM ran it was part of the spotlight on slavery in the movies presented by Ben Mankiewicz and Prof. Donald Bogle. Apparently, this was the ninth version of the story filmed, and focuses more on the relationshpi between Eliza and George than on Uncle Tom, with Simon Legree only coming in the last third. Oh, and with the exception of Tom, all the main characters (notably slaves Eliza and George) are played by white people.

Well, the last third of what I watched. I don't know what if anything was missing from this version. IMDb lists the movie as being 144 minutes, but the print TCM ran was about 115 minutes. Some of that could be down to frame rate or intertitles, but I'm not certain about a whole half hour of the movie. Plus, the print TCM ran had a card about it being a Realart release, and not the Universal logo. That card also looked rather more recent, like this was from a TV print from when movies first started showing up on TV. The Kino Video DVD is also listed as 144 minutes.

Then again, there's also a discrepancy in the running time of some of the other silent versions. IMDb lists the first version, from 1903, as running 13 minutes, but Youtube has a buch of prints (since it's public domain) running from about 12 minutes up to about 19. Not having watched all the prints, I'd assume some of that is down to extra title credits added by the uploader.

I didn't realize until now that there was a 1965 European version with Herbert Lom as Simon Legree. Ooh, there's Vilma Degischer from the Sissi movies as Mrs. Shelby, Eliza's owner from the opening of the movie (at least the beginning of the 1927 version). I don't know that that one is on DVD.

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.