Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Notes on tonight's Jewish Experience in Film selections

Tonight is the fourth of five nights of this year's "Projected Image" series on TCM, looking at the Jewish experience on film. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The House of Rothschild, starring George Arliss as the patriarch of the early 19th century Jewish banking family who helped finance the fight against Napoleon. George Arliss makes any movie worth watching, and this one is no exception. When the movie was made, the finale was in two-strip Technicolor, although I think the last time I saw the movie on TCM, the finale was in black-and-white.

Speaking of Arliss, it's too bad the series couldn't have found room for Disraeli., Also on the missing in action front, TCM apparently didn't think to use the short Sons of Liberty, about Haym Solomon, tonight. It would have fit perfectly with The House of Rothschild.

Second up, at 10:00 PM, is Gentleman's Agreement, which I've mentioned quite a few times in passing, notably when some of the cast members have died. I apparently haven't done a full length post Gregory Peck plays a writer who passes himself and his family off as Jewish for a magazine story he's writing, and finds that the conseqences are at times pretty steep. I wonder if Blogger's search function is acting up, or if it just doesn't like apostrophes, because the first time I did a search on the title this morning, it only yielded one post.

Crossfire follows at 12:15 AM. TCM claims that this one isn't available from the TCM Shop, although it was certainly available on Amazon when I blogged about it back in March 2009.

I don't know much about the more recent (2001) movie Focus, which comes on at 2:00 AM, although the one-sentence synopsis sounds interesting.

Eric Goldman is only presenting four movies each week, although one some of the nights there's enough time left for a fifth movie before the next morning's programming block begins. This is one of those nights, so TCM threw in The Life of Émile Zola at 4:00 AM.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Brigitte Bardot night

I'm sorry to say that I haven't posted any stills of Brigitte Bardot to the blog before, and didn't think to get any from the web in anticipation of tonight's Brigitte Bardot films on TCM. Bardot is turning 80 at the end of the week, but since TCM doesn't really do a birtdhay marathon on the weekend, they had to put it in prime time some weeknight. Perhaps next Monday might have been better, considering it would have been closest to the birthday, but at any rate, we get several of Bardot's films this evening:

And God Created Woman kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
Une Parisienne follows at 9:45 PM;
Plucking the Daisy is third up at 11:30 PM;
The Night Heaven Fell is on at 1:30 AM; and
Contempt concludes the night at 3:15 AM.

TCM's schedule claims that the first, fourth, and fifth films are availalbe from the TCM Shop, but not the second and third. FXM is coincidentally getting in on the Bardot love with a showing of Dear Brigitte tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 AM. Bardot only has a cameo at the end of the movie, and appears in tht title only because she didn't want to be used to promote the movie any other way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Briefs for September 21, 2014

It's been four years since I blogged about The Black Swan. It's coming up again on TCM this afternoon at 4:30 PM.

Apparently not currently in print on DVD is Pather Panchali, which is on early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight depending on what time zone you're in) at 4:15 AM on TCM. This is the first movie in Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy, and is in many ways just a slice of life film about about young Apu living in a poor rural family in Bengal in the early 20th century. There's not too much to the plot, but it's a very well done movie. I have to admit to not having seen the other two movies in the trilogy, and only saw Pather Panchali last year when it aired as part of the Story of Film series. The documentary series itself was rather dire, but we got a lot of good movies on TCM out of it.

I haven't seen the short Envy before, which is airing tomorrow at 7:35 AM on TCM, following The Phantom of the Opera. This short from 1930 is apparently a comic short on the subject of wife-swapping, which sounds interesting. The IMDb comments, however, make it sound like it might not be quite so good.

I've briefly mentoined One Sunday Afternoon before, since it was remade as The Strawberry Blonde. One Sunday Afternoon is back on the TCM schedule, tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Polly Bergen, 1930-2014

Fred MacMurray and Polly Bergen in a promotional still from Kisses For My President (1964)

Actress Polly Bergen died earlier today at the age of 84. Bergen started her career in the early 1950s, making a couple of movies with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and went on to have a long career in movies, TV, and Broadway. Kisses For My President, in which she plays the first female president of the US, which causes quite a bit of upheaval for her husband, played by Fred MacMurray, might be her best-known starring role in a movie.

However, Bergen might be equally famous for what is almost a supporting role, as the wife to lawyer Gregory Peck in the 1962 version of Cape Fear, with Robert Mitchum as a man Peck helped put in jail coming back to make their family's life a living nightmare. The above photo is a bit dark, but comes from the climax, which has Mitchum cracking open an egg on Bergen, who is wearing just a nightgown. It's very erotically frightening.

Two Seconds

So the movie Two Seconds showed up on TCM yesterday as part of the Friday pre-Code marathons that are running all this month. I have to admit to not having heard of the title before, which is a bit of a shame because then I would have been able to recommend it to you without having to direct you to the Warner Archive DVD that's available.

The movie starts off in the execution chamber at a state penitentiary, with the assembled witnesses from the press there to see the execution of murderer John Allen. Also there is a sociology student (William Janney), who was sent there by his college class to get info on an execution for his college class. It's all a framing device though, as he's just there to ask questions for the benefit of the movie audience and have the executioner and warden tell us that the prisoner will actually live for two seconds after the switch is pulled, and that in those two seconds his whole life will flash before his eyes....

So John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) shows up to be strapped to the electric chair for his execution, and sure enough, we get a flashback as to how he wound up being convicted of a capital offense. Some time back, he was working as a riveter on those skyscrapers that were going up in the big city at the time, along with his best friend and roommate Bud (Preston Foster). Bud is somewhat reminiscent of Albert Finney's character in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that being the sort of man who likes to spend his money playing the horses and going out with the ladies; he's engaged, but always with an eye on other women and trying to find a good blind date for John. One night, Bud picks up a particularly ugly blind date, but also flirts with a pair of women who aren't his fiancée and John's date, telling John to come up with some excuse to ditch the original dates. John is understandably ticked off and runs off, winding up in one of those dance halls filled with taxi dancers, where he meets Shirley (Vivienne Osborne) and buys a ticket to dance with her. The other guys treat Shirley like property while John intends to be a perfect gentleman, so when Shirley gets in trouble John takes her out of the joint to a nearby drugstore to get milkshakes for the two of them.

You know it's going to be trouble for John, especially because he's been so over-the-top about how he's not going to let women take him for anything the way Bud does. (Never mind the fact that you know something has to come up to cause John to commit murder.) Still, what happens is shocking. After a couple of dates, Shirley gets John good and liquored up, and takes him to a justice of the peace to have the two of them get married. This even though he's drunk beyond the ability to consent. Bud is understandably furious, and the ultimate result is an argument between the two friends at work, with Bud falling off a girder 20-plus stories to his death.

Still, that's not what gets John sent to the electric chair. John is unable to work after the accident, falling deep in debt to the point that Shirley decides to go back to work at the dance hall and et the money she and John need. That turns out to be what really sets off John, and when Bud's old bookie (Guy Kibbee) shows up with a bunch of money John won playing the ponies, John figures it's enough to pay off all his debts and settle a score or two....

Two Seconds is rather shocking, with some plot points you're going to see coming since the film is told in flashback, and some that you might not. It's Edward G. Robinson's movie all the way, and like Scarlet Street a dozen years later, it's interesting to see his transofmation from the good guy to an utter failure, which he pulls off well. Robinson is always interesting to watch, and he's riveting -- no pun intended -- here. The only real problem is some overacting in the scene when John is sentenced to be executed. William Janney, even though he only shows up in the opening and closing scenes, is also worth mentioning.

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to mention the TCM airing, not having seen the movie, but at least it's available on DVD.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Blonde Venus

TCM's Friday pre-Code marathon for this week includes several movies from Paramount, including a couple from the beginning of Cary Grant's career. One that seems to be coming up tonight and not again soon is Blonde Venus, at 8:00 PM.

Cary Grant only gets third billing, as the star is the woman who's pictured above, Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich plays Helen, who at one time in her life was a showgirl in glamorous nightclubs. But then she met research chemist Ned Faraday (Herbert Marshall) and they fell in love and got married. It wouldn't do for the wife of a respectable chemist to be doing her showgirl thing, so Helen settles down and becomes a respetable housewife and mother.

And then Ned gets sick with radiation poisoning, and needs to go off to Europe for the only treatment possible that will save his life. However, that's going to take money that the Faradays just don't have. Well, Helen could fairly quickly get the money if she went back to being a showgirl, but Ned obviously isn't happy about that. Still, Helen isn't about to let her husband die, so she goes to work at a club, which is where she meets Cary Grant, who this time is another wealthy playboy, named Nick Townsend. Nick gives Helen the money Ned needs for his treatment, and Ned goes off to Europe. Helen, meanwhile, stays home to work, as well as to spend some quality time with Nick.

All's well, more or less, until Ned gets cured early and comes home before everybody expects him, which is how he finds out what Helen's been doing with Nick. As the wronged husband, Ned is unsurprisingly unhappy, and wants to divorce Helen and take custody of the kid. It also shouldn't be a surprise that he wins the custody case, considering that he did nothing wrong here. But Helen doesn't want to give up her son, so she runs off with the kids, performing in less glamorous joints across the country until the law finally catches up with her, and she's forced to go off to Paris to work, which is where she becomes a true sensation. It's in Paris that she meets Nick again....

As I wrote the plot down, I noticed that it's all a bit nuts. And yet, the movie works well beyond the point that you'd notice that there's something not quite right with the plot. That, of course, is down to Marlene Dietrich, who is in her charismatic form here, helped out in part by a couple of riveting outfits. One, pictured above, is a dazzling sequined suit with leotard and tights that she wears in Paris and must have been even more dazzling on the big screen. The other is a more absurd gorilla number. But hey, it's Marlene Dietrich. She alone would be worth watching. But you've got a young and dashing Cary Grant showing up, as well as Herbert Marshall to provide the serious groiunding for the movie. The ultimate effect is a movie that's quite a bit better than it probably ought to be.

TCM lists Blonde Venus as being available from the TCM Shop.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Frankie Avalon turns 75

Frankie Avalon holding Annette Funicello

Singer-turned-actor Frankie Avalon turns 75 years old today. Although Avalon is nowadays best remembered for those beach movies he mae with Annette Funicello, that's not how he started off in Hollywood, and the beach movie phase really only lasted a couple of years for him. Avalon was brought into the cast of John Wayne's The Alamo back in 1960, presumably to bring in teen viewers the way Fabian had, or Elvis Presley before them. Other movies that were intended to be serious followed, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Panic in Year Zero!, before the first of the beach movies in 1963.

Like the other teen idols of the late 50s, Avalon didn't have a terribly successful Hollywood career, if you consider success to be good roles and staying power. Avalon's career more or less petered out after Skidoo in 1968, until the nostalgia craze came around in the mid-1970s, allowing him to more or less play himself in a scene in Grease, and then reunite with Annette for a couple of TV movies until Annette's multiple sclerosis cut her career short.

If you like authentic 60s movies instead of the recent-day stuff that looks back at the 60s, then one or another of the beach movies is worth a watch, although I wouldn't watch them all together, the way TCM sometimes programs them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Postmark for Danger

I briefly mentioned Postmark for Danger just about two years ago, when it aired on TCM instead of the previously-schedule The Secret Fury. Postmark for Danger is back on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 2:30, so you have another chance to catch it.

The plot is a mess, although that isn't apparent at first. Tim Forrester (Robert Beatty) is an artist living in London, who gets the news that his brother Lewis died in a car crash in Italy, with an actress friend in the car with him. That's a shame, but matters get worse when Scotland Yard informs him the case was likely murder. Lewis was an investigative journalist, and was working on a case of international jewel smugglers, so it would make sense to think that they killed him. And then Tim hears that just before he died, Lewis sent him a postcard that's bound to be a vital clue in the case.

It's about here that the movie starts to get convoluted. Lots of movies have Macguffins, and if that's all the postcard were, a plot about Tim trying to get the postcard and people trying to keep the postcard from him could be a moderately enjoyable movie. But in all of this, Tim gets a call from a strange guy who wants him to do a portrait of the guy's daughter. And then a model whom Tim had been wortking with at the beginning of the movie winds up dead in his apartment! And to make things even more complicated, another woman shows up, claiming to be Alison Ford (Terry Moore), who was the woman named as the charred-beyond-recognition body in the car with Lewis back in Italy! Together, the two try to solve the mystery.

It's an interesting premise, but I have to admit that I found the movie less than exciitng. The moviemakers put too much into the movie in too short a time, with the result that the plot it a bit too much of a mess. I also didn't find the characters particularly interesting. Still, being an American, it's nice to see something authentically British and not so well-knwon show up on TCM. I think Postmark for Danger still isn't on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing to judge for yourself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Purple Hills

Earlier this year, when I blogged about Big Jim McLain, I suggested that it played out more like a TV episode than a movie. Some of the later B movies from after TV got up and going in a big way also play out that way, such as the western The Purple Hills, which is getting another airing on FXM tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM.

The movie starts off intriguingly. Out somewhere in the old west, a guy with dirty blond hair arrives at a bridge, which he uses to stalk another, dark-haird man, who is down in the dry riverbed below. The two get in a gun fight, with the blondish man killing the dark-haired guy, putting the dead man on his horse to take him back to town. But the horse winds up lame, so the man has to shoot the horse and bury the man. Cut to two other men, Barnes (Kent Taylor) and Chito (Danny Zapien). They're watching a figure coming toward them, thinking it's a man they're supposed to meet, named Beaumont. But they spot vultures, come up on a grave, and find that it's Beaumont who's been killed, at which point the Apaches, who were friends of Beaumont, arrive. Barnes tells them that the other guy killed Beaumont, and they'll go fetch him so that the Apaches can mete out justice.

Cut to town, where the blondish man arrives and goes to the marshal's (Russ Bender) office. There, we find out that the man is named Gil Shepard (played by Gene Nelson), and he's looking for the reward on Beaumont's head, which amounts to somthing a bit over $8,000, which was a substantial sum back in the 1870s. The only thing is, Shepard doesn't have the body, which you really need to claim the reward. However, he has the next best thing, which is Beaumont's holster and bandolier. Or, it would be the next best thing if Barnes hadn't beaten Shepard back to town to try to claim the reward for himself, providing Beaumont's belt buckle as evidence of having killed him. And since he saw the dead body and dead horse, he knows just as much about Beaumont as Shepard does. The marshal has a bright idea: since Shepard only uses a rifle and Barnes only uses a six-shooter, they'll go out to Beaumont's grave together, exhume the body, and find out what kind of bullets killed Beaumont, and therefore who gets the reward.

Into all of this walks Beaumont's long-lost brother Martin (Jerry Summers). He's an orphan, and since they couldn't find big brother when the parents died, Martin was sent to live with the closest thing to relatives, that being one Amy Carter (Joanna Barnes). The two of them have come out to this God-forsaken little town to identify the dead body. Marin, meanwhile, has come with another motive: he plans to kill whoever killed his brother! So all five of these souls make their way out the grave, which provides the drama for the second half of the movie. However, it's in Apache country, so they're also going to have to deal with the Apaches eventually, after a twist or two. It all leads to an ending that at least resolves everything, if it doesn't quite feel like everybody is in character.

It's fairly unoriginal material, although there's nothing particularly wrong with it. It's just that the acting, writing, and direction make the movie look more like it would have been suited to one of those TV westers: either cut it down from the hour to the 45 minutes or so that a one-hour TV western would be minus the commercials, or pad it a bit to fit into a 90-minute TV slot. The cinematography looks like it wouldn't be bad if FXM could be bothered to find a print in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio instead of 4:3. If you like westerns, The Purple Hills fits in reasonably well with all those other B westerns made over the years, entertaining for the 60 minutes that it's on but providing no particular staying power. If you're not necessarily a fan of westerns, I'd start with some of the more well-known stuff.

Tonight's Israeli cinema

The "Jewish Experience in Film" series of The Projected Image continues with a couple of movies that are completely new to me, in the sense that I hadn't heard of them before seeing the month's schedule. The night deals more or less with the founding of Israel in 1947/8, although of course it was more of a process than one day there not being a state of Israel, and the next day the partitioning of the British mandate in Palestine being complete. Before that there were the migrations of Jews from Europe back to Israel, which we saw earlier in the Dolores Hart movie Lisa, which is unfortunately not on this month's schedule. Instead, the European migration to Palestine is dealt with in Exodus, which is coming up overnight at 2:15 AM (and is not among the new-to-me movies, of course).

It's the movies made in Israel that look interesting, and that I didn't know about before. First up, at 8:00, is Hill 24 Doesn't Answer, which according to the blurb is about several people who fought in the Israeli war of independence that followed the partitioning of the mandate, and how the members of unit that's focussed on came to be fighting the war.

The other of the Israeli movies is Sallah, at 10:00, which is listed as a comic movie about an immigrant to Israeli in 1948 and the difficulties he faces supporting his family. The title character is played by Haym Topol, who is the same Topol who would go on to play Tevye in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof several years later. Topol turned 79 last week.

For the record, the other movie, at 12:15 AM, is the Hollywood film Sword in the Desert, a Universal-International feature starring Dana Andrews as a ship's captain smuggling Jews into Palestine who winds up getting more involved in the independence struggle.