Friday, October 20, 2017

Danielle Darrieux, 1917-2017

French-born actress Danielle Darrieux, who did some acting in Hollywood in the late 1930s, has died aged 100. I have to admit that I'm not too well-versed with her French work, since I don't think I ever recorded any of the famous movies she did with Max Ophüls like The Earrings of Madam de...

Apparently she had quite the complicated personal life, having fallen in love with a diplomat from the Dominican Republic early in World War II and then his getting arrested by the Nazis. She tried to get him freed, and this led to accusations that she collaborated with the Nazis.

I last commented about Darrieux when she turned 100 back in May since TCM ran a night of her films, which is why I knew I had that photo from The Rage of Paris on my computer even though Photobucket turned off third-party viewing.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #171: Body Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in October, which of course ends with Halloween, so the subjects this month are all technically Halloween-related. This third Thursday in October has the theme of "Body Horror", which I'm taking to mean disfigurement or, in particular, losing body parts. I'm actually picking four movies this week, with three firmly in the horror genre:

Mad Love (1935). Colin Clive plays a concert pianist whose hands are mangled in a train crash. He's in luck, however, in that there's a condemned killer about to die, and a helpful made doctor (Peter Lorre) is willing to do a black-market hand transplant. Of course, it turns out that the condmened man was a murderer who threw knives to kill, and those hands continue to want to throw knives instead of playing the piano. One of several versions of the "Hands of Orlac" story.

The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962). A young doctor experimenting with transplants gets in a car accident that unfortunately kills his girlfriend by decapitation. But since he's trying to do transplants, he gets the idea to keep his girlfriend's head alive until he can find a suitable body for her. Of course, "suitable" means cruising the strip joints and rather skeezily looking for a hot young woman. Meanwhile, back at the lab, the girlfriend's head is beginning to develop telepathy with the experiment locked behind a door....

Eyes Without a Face (1960). A French doctor feels responsible for the accident that left his daughter with a mangled face, so he's desperate to make it up to her by doing a face transplant. Of course, nobody is actually willing to be a face donor, and the doctor has to kidnap young women to try to do the transplant. Meanwhile, the daughter's boyfriend was told she died, but he's convinced she's still alive (she is, of course).

Finally, there's Kings Row (1942). Charles Coburn plays the doctor who plays God, deciding who's worthy of keeping their limbs and who isn't. When Ronald Reagan gets in a work accident at the railyard, Coburn decides that Reagan most definitely isn't worthy of those legs. This is the movie in which Reagan utters the immortal line "Where's the rest of me" on finding out that he no longer has legs.

TCM Guest Programmer October 2017: Todd Haynes

After a hiatus of a couple months, TCM is bringing back Guest Programmers. I think one of the commenters on the TCM boards had mentioned this, but I don't pay too much attention to things like that. Anyhow, I was looking on the TCM website about a week ago, and I could swear that I didn't see any link to an article about the Guest Programmer. But then I looked up the weekly schedule and saw that the prime-time lineup for tonight was a Guest Programmer. This morning, sure enough, there was an article on the Guest Programmer.

Todd Haynes is a director who's been making movies for a quarter century or more, and he's clearly been selected in part because he's got a new movie coming out. Apparently, Haynes watched all of his selections because they'd be tangentially related to his movie, which involves children and scenes set in the 1920s. So his four movies are:

The Crowd at 8:00 PM, about a worker in a cube farm in 1920s New York who can't quite make it big;
Sounder at 10:00 PM; about a black family in 1930s Louisiana in which the father winds up in prison;
Night of the Hunter at midnight; in which Robert Mitchum wants the money that two children's father robbed from a bank and stuffed in the girl's doll; and
Walkabout at 2:00 AM, about children stranded in the Australian outback.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Romy Schneider night

TCM is running three Romy Schnedier films about Austrian Empress Elizabeth, nicknamed "Sissi". (Technically four, as somebody edited the three movies down into a fourth, although this one is only listed on Schneider's IMDb page as "Archive footage".) Both women died tragically young, although in different ways and obviously nobody could have known at the time they made the movies that Romy was going to die young.

I have to admit that I don't know much of anything about the Sissi movies, and not all that much about Schneider's movies. But then, looking at her filmography, I see that she made relatively few films in English, and although I'm always up for new things, I tend to watch fewer foreign movies than some people with cult tastes in movies.

I don't know if I'm going to be able to find the space on my DVR for them, either.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thoughts on extras

Saturday during the dinner hour, I was going through the channels to tune to The Rifleman, since it's what Dad and I watch during Saturday dinner. One of the channels in between, GetTV, was running a show I hadn't heard of called Cimarron City. (There's a good reason I hadn't heard of it, which is that it only ran one year.) Anyhow, as I was flipping through, I had to stop because I looked at the screen and thought, "That looks like Carleton Carpenter."

Sure enough, the closing credits revealed that it was Carleton Carpenter. For those who don't remember him, he's the one singing "Abba Dabba Honeymoon" with Debbie Reynolds in Two Weeks With Love. He also has a small role in Father of the Bride getting a bottle of Coke at the wedding reception and showing Spencer Tracy the proper way to open a Coke bottle. Actually, that scene is the subject of a "Word of Mouth" piece that TCM shows often enough. Carpenter says Spencer Tracy told him he takes direction well.

Anyhow, looking at the IMDb cast list for Cimarron City, I was surprised to see how many names I recognized as having appeared in one episode. It got me to thinking about the scene in the 1937 A Star Is Born in which Esther Blodgett goes to the casting office, and the secretary shows her a sign about the ridiculously high number of people trying to become stars. But of course, all of that was before TV. Once TV came along, and then especially with the advent of cable producing their own original scripted series, there's a much higher number of people you'd need just to produce the sheer amount of broadcasting.

On the other hand, I suppose that's why so much of the programming is cheap to produce and of a type (a zillion court shows in broadcast syndication, and multiple cable channels showing pro wrestling come to mind). It's still hard to become a star without sleeping with the right people.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Joe Smith, American

Actress Marsha Hunt is turning 100 tomorrow, as long as she doesn't die in the next 24 hours. Since she was a contract player at MGM, TCM is able to run a bunch of the B movies she made for the studio in the 1940s. Among them is the interesting Joe Smith, American, which kicks off the day at 6:30 AM.

Marcus Welby (er, Robert Young) stars as Joe Smith, who is married to Mary (that's Marsha Hunt) with a young kid (Darryl Hickman). It would be the perfect suburban family, except that this is late 1941, and the suburbs weren't really a thing yet. (The movie was actually released in February 1942, but most of the planning and production was before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, sending America into the war.) Still, Joe works at one of the defense factories, much like Bob Cummings in Saboteur, another movie that started production before Pearl Harbor but was affected by the entry into World War II. Joe is called into the boss' office at the beginning, and asked a bunch of odd questions. It turns out that the company is going to be developing a new bomb sight, and there are foreign agents who would love that sight.

Joe isn't one of those foreigners; in fact, he's the sort of man who would be a poster boy for Mom and apple pie patriotism, somebody who just wants to do the right thing. And it's hard for him, in that he can't tell his wife or his child about the new responsibilities at work. So Mary doesn't know what's going on when one night, Joe just doesn't return home from work.It turns out that the poor guy has been kidnapped by those enemy agents who want the plans for the bomb sight. There was a foreshadowing scene earlier in the movie in which Joe's son is keeping a secret from him, so Joe uses this as motivation to keep things secret from the bad guys, even though they're going to beat him severely.

The bad guys then put him in a car presumably to take him someplace where they'll kill him, but Joe forces his way out of the moving car, something that unsurprisingly causes him injury and lands him in the hospital. At least he should be safe from the bad guys there. And Joe has an ace up his sleeve. That good memory that Joe had for the bomb sight can be used to remember the things he heard while he was in the bad guys' car, enabling him, with any luck, to lead the police to the place he was kidnapped and with that, the bad guys.

Joe Smith, American is a fairly obvious, quick-moving picture, although that's in no small part because it's a B movie with a short (63 minutes) running time. I tend to prefer Warner Bros.' B movies, but this one is an example of how MGM could make good B movies, too. Sure, it has the obvious propaganda message at the end, but the story as a whole really goes light on the propaganda, leaving the viewer to figure out the fairly simple ideas of why it's important not to let war secrets out, and to beware of saboteurs. Young and Hunt both do fine with routine material.

I don't think that Joe Smith, American is on DVD, and it's one that would really need to be on a box set to be worth picking up.

Heads-up, doc

I note that tonight's TCM lineup of "Trailblazing Women" includes What's Up, Doc? overnight at 2:45 AM. Barbra Streisand plays an homage to the Katharine Hepburn character in Bringing Up Baby, that being an obnoxious self-centered jerk who makes life difficult for a man. In this case, that man is a professor of musicology played by Ryan O'Neal. The plot hook for all of this is that the two of them, as well as two other people, wind up at a hotel all carrying identical-looking overnight bags. The bags get mixed up, and you can guess what happens next.

Even though Streisand is playing an irritating character, the movie still works, much for the same reasons Bringing Up Baby does; for that reason I highly recommend it. I can't stand Streisand's singing, but she certainly did have acting ability.

I'll admit I'm not really paying attention to who the "trailblazing women" have been for each of the movies in this year's lineup. Certainly some of them are going to be behind the scenes, since immediately preceding What's Up, Doc? is the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. An outstanding movie, but certainly not trailblazing for any of the women on the screen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Briefs for October 15-16, 2017

So I watched Sadie Thompson off my DVR. This is the 1928 silent version of the Somerset Maugham story, starring Gloria Swanson in the title role; you might know the story from the Joan Crawford movie Rain a few years later. I'm not certain that the movie is in print on DVD. You can't get it at the TCM Shop, and the print they ran was from Kino, an old print that said Kino International even though the company is now Kino Lorber. I looked it up on their site, and they don't seem to have a DVD available. But Amazon claims there is one.

As for the movie itself, Gloria Swanson is good for the first two thirds, before the movie really devolves into melodrama. Lionel Barrymore plays the moralizer, and he's an even bigger jerk than in the other versions, and you wonder why anybody would listen to him. Director Raoul Walsh also stars as the marine, and it's nice to see him on screen a year before the car crash that cost him an eye and left him in an eyepatch which is probably how you see him in most pictures.

I was watching TV today and see that somebody's doing another adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I had to laugh, however, when the commercial promoted the movie by saying "Everyone is a suspect". Of course everybody is a suspect. Part of the point of an Agatha Christie movie is that it seems everybody except for Poirot or Miss Marple is a suspect. But if you know either the original novel or have seen the 1974 film (with Albert Finney as Poirot and an all-star cast), then you'd understand why everybody is a suspect.

I mentioned yesterday watching Cast a Giant Shadow off my DVR. There was enough time following the end of the movie for a fair amount of filler, and one of the things was a trailer for On the Town. It started off with James A. FitzPatrick doing a Traveltalks-style narration, but clearly written to go with the plot of On the Town. Unfortunately, that trailer doesn't seem to be on Youtube.

The only comment I can make about Harvey Weinstein is "Why now?" The whole trope of the casting couch has been around for decades, and nobody should be surprised that people (both male and female) are using sex either to advance their own careers or as a carrot for other people who want to advance their careers.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cast a Giant Shadow

I noticed that Cast a Giant Shadow is available on DVD, so I finally got around to watching it off my DVR to do a full-length post on it here.

Kirk Douglas plays David "Mickey" Marcus, who at the start of the movie is a lawyer living in New York and shopping in Macy's at Christmas 1947. He's actually Jewish, at least by birth; he says he hasn't been to temple since his bar mitzvah. Anyhow, he's being followed through Macy's for a reason we'll soon learn. The man following him is Major Safir (James Donald), a representative from the would-be Israeli army. Israel wasn't an independent state yet, but the United Nations had already decided that the British mandate over Palestine was going to end in May 1948 and there would be a partition of the region, giving the Jews a state of their own, even if the planned territory was tiny and not at all contiguous. However, the nascent government knows that as soon as the British mandate ends, the various Arab armies are going to attack and try to take over the whole of Palestine, pushing the Jews who knows where.

They need military help, and it turns out that Marcus was a colonel in the US Army during World War II. Plus, he wrote a bunch of training manuals, so he'd be just the right person to provide the technical support the various Israeli military factions -- who aren't particularly united themselves -- desperately need. So they'd like Marcus to come over to Israel and provide them that support. Marcus isn't so certain he wants to do it, in part because he's got a wife Emma (Angie Dickinson) in New York, but eventually he does decide to take an advisory position.

It turns out that the Israelis really do need help. They're badly underarmed, and undermanned, ultimately being forced into using whatever refugees they can smuggle in (think Exodus) to do work and if possible fight despite the fact that they've had no training. Commander Asher (Yul Brynner) does ultimately respect Marcus, although he also knows that Marcus has no real knowledge of the situation on the ground in Palestine and is almost naïve about it. The two are often at loggerheads over both tactics and strategy. But the Defense Minister standing in for David Ben-Gurion (quite a few names were changed although a fair amount of the story is as it happened; the minister renamed Zion is played by Luther Adler) consistently tries to convince Marcus to stay on. And Marcus is provided with a love interest in the form of Magda (Senta Berger).

Eventually we get to the Israeli declaration of independence, and the action picks up with the Arabs predictably declaring war against the Jews. There are a bunch of Jews in Jerusalem, but they're cut off because the Arabs own all the land around the city and control the high points overlooking the one road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Until, that is, a Bedouin leader (Topol) reminds everybody of a wadi that could be the starting point for a road around the Arab positions. Building that road, however, is going to be a big challenge. And they have to get it done before the cease fire and positions are frozen; without that the Jews can't claim any part of Jerusalem.

Cast a Giant Shadow is a well-made movie that tells an interesting story, but there's something about it that has a rather perfunctory feel about it. There's a lot that feels contrived, especially regarding the two female leads. Magda is apparently the one character who was closest to being made up from whole cloth to make a more palatable movie, while Emma is generally an afterthought. There are also a couple of weird cameos. Yul Brynner is listed at the end of the cast in the closing credits as one of those cameos although he's quite good and very necessary to the plot. The other two are John Wayne as a stand-in for General Patton (Patton was Marcus' commander, but had died before the action in the story), and Frank Sinatra as a pilot who actually winds up taking part in the battle by creating fake explosions. Couldn't they have gotten Jewish Rat Packer Sammy Davis at least? Pluses besides Brynner are Luther Adler; Kirk Douglas to a lesser extent; and the cinematography to a greater extent.

Overall, I think Cast a Giant Shadow is a movie it's certainly good to have seen once, but one that I don't think I'm going to be watching multiple times.

Friday, October 13, 2017

More fun with critics

When I was a kid, I saw promo ads for movies on TV. A lot of the time they would quote critics' rave reviews. I always wondered what the bad movies did, noticing the ellipses that cut the reviews down for blurb length suitable for a 30-second TV spot. I would joke to myself that the ellipses cut out all the bad stuff, so that you could get a blurb reading "This film is ... good!" when the critic really wrote "This film is no good!" That, or showing a critic's four-star rating, not pointing out that the critic rates on a scale of 1-10.

I was reminded of that this morning when somebody elsewhere linked to a possibly apocryphal story in which precisely these sort of shenanigans happened. This one happens to come from the stage, but it would be just as easy to see the same thing happening in the movie industry. From a UK fringe theater:

A fringe theatre company has apologised after misquoting a review of one of its plays in promotional material to make it appear more favourable.

Craft Theatre quoted Andrew Haydon’s review of A Nazi Comparison for theatre news website The Stage as saying: “Spectacular… intellectual rigour… wacky physical humour.”

In fact the original copy reads: “This spectacular lack of intellectual rigour is however dwarfed by the wild unevenness of the production itself, which veers between wacky physical humour to unwatchable overheated melodrama.”

Haydon gave the play one star out of five and declared it “unwatchable”.

I must admit, however, that the makers of a big-budget movie would probably find it much harder to get away with this nonsense, since people would be paying more attention.