Friday, January 18, 2019

Love-Tails of Morocco

One of the movies I watched off the DVR recently had enough time left over at the end for a short, so TCM ran the Dogville short Love Tails of Morocco.

I hadn't seen this one before, but since it's a Dogville short, you know what to expect. This one is a parody of the foreign legion movies that were popular at the beginning of the sound era. A group of dogs have run off to join the legion, all because of women. (Well, I suppose you could technically get away with calling them bitches, since they are female dogs....) Four brief stories follow of how a female dog got them in trouble and how they had to join the Foreign Legion to get away from the trouble. They all foreswear women, but of course that's not going to happen.

Personally, I've preferred some of the other entries in the series, especially The Dogway Melody and Trader Hound. Love-Tails of Morocco isn't exactly bad; it's just that putting four vignettes into a short doesn't really work here since you've already got the gimmick of having the dogs play human roles.

MGM has released all of the Dogville shorts on their own set.

Bits and pieces

When news of Carol Channing's death hit the other day, somebody mentioned that she had been a celebrity player on multiple versions of both Password and The Hollywood Squares. The Hollywood Squares clips I found look to be in relatively poor condition, but I found this episode of Channing on Password, with a celebrity you wouldn't necessarily think of as doing game shows:



I recall reading that Joan Crawford also did Password at some point early in its run, and unsurprisingly, that episode is also on Youtube:



The thumbnail unwittingly captures such a great expression to go with the password.

And not Youtube but unfortunately GIFs substituting for video (which I hate because they don't work for me on Twitter and because most of them are wastes of bandwidth that are never as funny as the people creating them think they are), somebody came up with the idea of a compliation of old movie clips of women ogling men. Things haven't changed in 80 years, have they?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #236: 2018 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 the movies of 2018, which should be difficult for me since I didn't actually go to the movie theater once in 2018, in part because I'm a cheapskate who's interested in old movies, and in part because the local sixtyplex shut down over the summer. So I took a slightly different tack:

A Star Is Born (1937). Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) goes to Hollywood, meets actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) and marries him, and becomes a success. At the same time, Norman becomes an alcoholic whose career goes down the tubes. Remade multiple times, most recently in 2018 with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Mary Poppins (1964). Julie Andrews becomes umbrella-wielding governess to an Edwardian couple's (David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns) children who captivates the kids through crappy songs; Dick Van Dyke plays her best friend as well as Tomlinson's boss in a dual role. Remade/rebooted in 2018 as Mary Poppins Returns.

Overboard (1987). Handyman Kurt Russell goes to work for nasty Goldie Hawn on her yacht. She suffers an accident and becomes an amnesiac, changing her personality as the two fall in love. Remade in 2018 with the genders switched (ie. a woman employee and a spoiled brat rich guy who gets amnesia). I didn't even know there was a remake until one of the cast members (Fernando Luján, who plays the patriarch from what I understand), died last week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Made for Each Other (1939)

A few weeks back I mentioned the 1971 movie Made for Each Other, and how it shares a title with, but is unrelated to, the 1939 movie Made for Each Other. TCM ran the 1939 movie not long after, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray, so I DVRed it and watched it.

James Stewart plays John Mason, a lawyer for a big New York firm. He had to go to Boston to get a deposition, and while there, he met Jane (Carole Lombard). It was love at first sight, as they got married during his business trip and John returns to the office to everybody's surprised well wishes. Not everybody is so certain the marriage is going to work however, among them John's boss Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn) and John's mother (Lucile Watson).

Still, the newlyweds try to make a go of it despite the obstacles and hardships they're going to face. A lot of them center on money, as John is only earning enough for the couple to scrape by rather than to live in the upper-middle class lifestyle Jane thinks a New York lawyer should be living. They have a dinner party that goes wrong; John loses out on a promotion to partner at the firm; and Jane keeps pestering John to put the marriage ahead of work by getting a continuance so that they can take a honeymoon.

And then the two have a kid, which puts even more of a financial strain on the marriage. If that's not bad enough, the movie veers way off into melodrama when the kid gets sick....

By the time the infant child got sick, I found myself thinking of two other movies, Penny Serenade and Mildred Pierce, the latter because the kid has pneumonia and is in an oxygen tent. When they showed that, I was actually hoping the kid would die (as in Mildred Pierce) so that we'd get the same obstacles for the married couple as in Penny Serenade. Instead, we get a climax of trying to get serum across the country through a snowstorm, which frankly left my eyes rolling.

Carole Lombard is best known for all those screwball comedies she made, but in Made for Each Other she shows that she really was a talented actress who could do more than just comedy, as there is very little comedy here. The supporting cast also does a good job, including Louise Beavers in yet another maid role. The problem is that they're all saddled with a sappy script.

Overall, I think I'd marginally recommend Made for Each Other for people to see Lombard's against-type performance. But in that case, I'd also recommend Penny Serenade more heartily for Cary Grant's against-type performance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Carol Channing, 1921-2019


Carol Channing romantically paired with a young Clint Eastwood in The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)


Channing trying to woo Frankie Avalon in Skidoo (1968)

Of course, Channing, who died today aged 97, is better known for her roles on Broadway and her singing, so I'll include a couple of musical numbers. First, from the aforementioned The First Traveling Saleslady, there's "A Corset Can Do a Lot for a Lady":



She also sang the title song from Skidoo in a bizarre finale:

Monday, January 14, 2019

James Stewart vs. Robert Mitchum

Tonight at 8:00 PM, TCM is running a documentary that I hadn't heard of before: James Stewart, Robert Mitchum: The Two Faces of America.

James Stewart and Robert Mitchum died one day apart in July 1997, and they made one movie together, the 1970s version of The Big Sleep. According to the synopses of the documentary I've read, the man who made it claims that the different images of the two actors: Stewart as the all-American good guy and Mitchum as the bad-boy image of traditional masculinity (at least, those are my impressions of the two actors' images; I of course haven't seen the documentary) are a metaphor for the two faces of America.

I was wondering if the documentary was being distributed by the same people who distributed the Frankenstein documentary that TCM ran back in October. A brief internet search brings up this site distributing it; a search doesn't bring up the Frankenstein documentary from last October.

The rest of the night's TCM lineup is a mix of Stewart and Mitchum films, not including The Big Sleep.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Hombre

A movie that FXM pulled out of its vault to show for the first time in years is Hombre. It's going to be on FXM tomorrow at 11:15 AM, again on Tuesday, and a couple more times next week.

The movie starts off in the mountains of Arizona, where some Apache who aren't living on the reservation are making a living rounding up horses for the stage company to use. Except that the stage line, run by Mendez (Martin Balsam), is going to be shutting down since the railroad is coming to town. Mendez wanted to see one of the Apache, too, except that this is actually a white man who was raised by the Apache. John Russell (Paul Newman) had a foster father in town, and Mendez informs him that Dad died and left him an inheritance. Perhaps this would be a good time to rejoin white society.

Russell learns that he's inherited a boarding house managed by Jessie (Diane Cilento) who lives there with her lover, the town sheriff Braden (Cameron Mitchell). It's not anything you'll get rich off of, but it'll provide a living. Except that Russell doesn't want to be burdened by it, so he plans to sell, and since the will made no provisions for Jessie, she's out of luck too.

Meanwhile, the Favors (Fredric March and Barbara Rush) show up at the stage line, looking for the next stage to Bisbee. Mendez informs them that the stage is closed, and nothing is available, but Mrs. Favor keeps insisting that she'll go to great lengths to make certain they get a stage and they're on it, even buying it and the horses if necessary. Eventually, Mendez relents. He and his assistant Billy are on the stage, along with Billy's wife, Russell, Jessie, the Favors, and Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone), who has wangled his way onto the coach by being a complete jerk.

Of course, Grimes has good reason for wanting to be on that stage, which is that he plans to rob it with the help of some men on the outside. He knows that Favor has a bunch of money on him. Favor, it turns out, is the Interior Department Indian agent who administered the Apache reservation, and has a whole bunch of money that he embezzled from underdelivering on the Apache's meat rations. He's planning to abscond to Mexico with that money. Russell, having been raised by the Apache and having seen what federal mismanagement did to the Apache, really doesn't like Favor.

But once the stage has been held up and the passengers are left there stranded, Russell is pretty much the only one who has any competence in getting everybody out of the situation alive. He's willing to set off alone, but the others at least have the sense to realize they need his help and thus follow him.

There's really nothing wrong with Hombre, although because of my predisposition against westerns, I'm sure that other people will rate it even higher than I would. I find it good, if not great, with a relatively slow build up: it runs 110 minutes and probably could have been done in 90. Newman is quite good, even if he in now way could pass as anything but white. Cilento also does well as a woman whose life experiences have inured her to the hardship of life in the old west: it's just the way things are that you're going to have to scratch and claw to make your way in life. Balsam is even more miscast as a Mexican but does the best he can, and Boone is thoroughly slimy and nasty.

Hombre is out of print on DVD as far as I can tell, so you're going to have to catch the cable showings. I recorded it off of StarzEncore Westerns, and their print had an oddity. The credits were in something close to the Cinemascope aspect ratio, although this one was filmed in Panavision. After the credits, however, the print is slightly less rectangular, but with an aspect ratio greater than the 16:9 (about 1.78:1) of today's TVs, since the print is still letterboxed. It just that the top and bottom bars are narrower than during the credits. The picture looked slightly less crisp on my TV, but I've also got a 10-year-old TV. I have no idea what the print FXM is using will look like.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winter Light

I've mentioned before that there are people who reflexively mark down foreign films on the grounds that they tend to be pretentious. I don't think that's necessarily the case as much as the fact that the foreign films we get are a small portion of other countries' output, and the critics and arthouse owners whose opinions drive what foreign films get screened tend to have a rather different point of vew from the average viewer. A good example of this is Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light.

Gunnar Björndtstand plays Tomas Ericsson, a Lutheran paster in a small rural parish in western Sweden. He's got a small and dwindling congregation, and for the most part he seems to be going through the motions. After the current Sunday service, he talks about celebrating the liturgy at the other church in the parish. But first he has to deal with a couple of people coming to see him.

One is Märta (Ingrid Thulin). She's a teacher at the local school, and ever since Tomas' wife died some years back, she's had the hots for him, somehow thinking he needs a woman to take care of him and love him. The other is a couple, fisherman Jonas (Max von Sydow) and his wife Karin (Gunnel Lindblom). Karin is worried about her husband because he's become discouraged after seeing what the modern world has become, specifically with China's push to acquire nuclear weapons.

Tomas tries to comfort Jonas, but he realizes that God is silent and that he doesn't have the words to comfort anybody any more. It's a distressing fact for Tomas, and it certainly doesn't help Jonas and Karin. So Jonas responds by shooting himself in the head. Märta now feels more than ever that Tomas needs her smothering love.

I hope you can tell by my synopsis that I didn't particularly care for this movie. The big thing is that I found all of the characters to be people whom I at best didn't care about, and at worse actively hated, and not in the hissable way a good movie villain can be hated. Winter Light is the sort of movie that doesn't have any villains. Märta is the worst, though, in that I found her clingy and controlling to the point that I wanted Tomas to push her aside.

Still, Winter Light is the sort of movie that all the people who write reviews for IMDB and other places just love. It's available on a pricey Criterion Collection DVD (actually, I think part of a box set), so if you want to judge for yourself, you can.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Brass Target

On December 21, 1945, General George Patton died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash. The 1970s were a period when conspiracy theory books and movies were a big thing, so it is perhaps not surprising that somebody would revisit Patton's death and suggest that it was not a car accident, but an assassination. After all, Patton did have quite a few political opponents. Anyhow, that novel was adapted into the movie Brass Target.

George Kennedy plays General Patton, who at the beginning of the movie is dealing with a pretty substantial problem. A train of Reichsbank gold that was being transported for safekeeping to Frankfurt was waylaid in a tunnel, and the $250 million in gold (quite a sum for 1945) stolen. Worse, the US Army soldiers guarding the train were all killed. So you can see why Patton would want to find out who did it. Plus, the Soviets aren't happy with him.

The first suspect is Maj. Joe De Lucca (John Cassavetes). De Lucca was a former member of US military intelligence, and he came up with the plan for stealing Nazi gold from the Nazis that was used by somebody else to steal the Nazi gold from the Americans. Since military justice doesn't work quite like the innocent until proven guilty of the American system, especially in an occupation zone, De Lucca decides that he'd better investigate the case himself and figure out who did it in order to prove that he didn't.

We learn fairly early that it's an inside job, as a group of OSS men led by Col. Rogers (Robert Vaughn) is behind the heist. Worse, when Maj. De Lucca meets his old girlfriend Mara (Sophia Loren). She discovers that another former boyfriend, Shelley Webber (Max von Sydow), now of a refugee resettlement organization in Switzerland, is really a professional assassin and is being hired by Rogers to kill Patton! Now she and De Lucca have to stop that.

Of course, we know from history that they don't prevent Patton's death, although whether or not he was assassinated is a different question. But Webber leaves a lot of carnage in his wake before the end of the movie.

Brass Target is an interesting idea, but one that doesn't quite succeed in the execution. It's slow, and has a difficult plot to follow. Kennedy has the difficult task of playing Patton when George C. Scott's bravura portrayal of the general was still fresh in the moviegoing public's memory. Kennedy does the best he can, and thankfully it's not the biggest role in the movie. Everybody else tries, but it hamstrung by the poor script.

Brass Target is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, if you want to watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #235: The Cold



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 The Cold, which is appropriate since I'm trying to get over a particularly irritating cold. But I'm assuming that's not what was meant by the theme, and besides, I found it a lot easier to think of movies set in cold places than movies where characters are suffering from the sniffles. As is usually the case, this week's selections are pretty old:

Trail of '98 (1928). Silent about the Klondike gold rush and the people who try to make their fortune in gold. Ralph Forbes plays the main prospector; Dolores Del Rio is his love interest. Some of the scenes of the characters trying to get to the Klondike from where they disembark from the boats are surprisingly harrowing.

Island in the Sky (1953). John Wayne plays the pilot of a cargo transport plane which is forced to land in the cold of northern Labador. Search planes are sent out to try to find the plane, but it's a big and cold wilderness, a fact that both the men on the ground and the pilots searching for them know all too well. Will they be able to find the crew before the crew freeze to death? The movie also has a disturbing scene of Andy Devine doing a cannonball into a swimming pool.

Ice Station Zebra (1968). Rock Hudson plays the commander of a submarine who is given the orders to take a crew to the North Pole and rescue the crew of an Arctic weather station. The Soviets are going there too, and Hudson realizes there's more to the mission, although he doesn't quite know what that more is. Meanwhile, he's got a disparate bunch in his submarine crew, and fears one of them could be a double agent.