Sunday, December 10, 2017

That Man from Rio

Last night I watched That Man from Rio, since it happens to be available on DVD.

The movie doesn't start off in Rio, but in Paris. Prof. Catalan (Jean Servais) is a curator at a museum of anthropology, and during the museum's luch break, two guys go in the building and steal a valuable artifact! It was apparently recovered from a "lost" tribe in Brazil, which is how we're going to end up in Brazil eventually. This was one of three nearly identical statues that were recovered on the expedition; one is still in Brazil and the third was taken to France by a Prof. Villermosa who subsequently died. But the professor had a daughter Agnès (Françoise Dorléac) who might be able to help on the case.

As for Agnès, she's got a boyfriend in Adrien (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Adrien is currently doing his military service, but he's lucky enough that he's got eight days' leave to go see his girlfriend in Paris, not that he knows anything about these statues yet. He gets to the apartment where Agnès lives with her aunts to find out about it. Meanwhile, the folks who stole the statue have kidnapped the professor, and when the police tell Agnès her car is blocking traffic, it turns out to be a ruse from the folks who stole the statue to get her out of the apartment and kidnap her.

Adrien runs after Agnès, but he winds up at the airport with no money and no luggage. Thinking quickly, he's able to commandeer a general's wheelchair and get on the plane that way, which is headed for Brazil. Of course, it's not as if Adrien has thought about what he's going to do once he gets to Brazil. But when he does, it's the start of a long, involved search for Agnès, the professor, and the statues that takes everybody from Rio to Brasilia to the Amazon rain forest.

Ben Mankiewicz, in his introduction to The Man From Rio, called it one of those James Bond spoofs that were a big thing in the 1960s, but also mentioned that it had homages to a lot of other things, like the old heist movies and Alfred Hitchcock. I for one don't think I'd compare it to a Bond spoof. There are some lighter moments, but for the most part I think it's a relatively straightforward chase movie, in the vein of Saboteur or The 39 Steps.

It's also a movie that it took me a while to warm up to. I found that large portions of it were slow and made it difficult for me to care about the characters. And I don't think that was because it's in French and I was reading subtitles. But the movie eventually does succeed. A much bigger plus is the cinematography. The color photography of Paris, Rio, and Brasilia are good. At this point, Brasilia was less than ten years old, having been conceived as a planned city to be in a more central location. Concrete monstrosities and isolating open spaces were the order of the day, and the photography effectively makes Brasilia look like a dystopia, reminiscent of the apartment blocks in Alphaville although they're different dystopias.

That Man from Rio is, as I said at the beginning, available on DVD, as part of a double feature with another Belmondo movie, although it's a bit pricey being a foreign film.

IMDB User Reviews

So yesterday afternoon I was looking up some movies on IMDb. As an example, I went to the page for Scarlet Street, which is going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. Normally, just after the "Did you know" section, there was one user review, which at the end had a link to all the user reviews. But suddenly, yesterday afternoon that was gone. I could swear it was there yesterday morning, and note that I prefer the old format for the movie pages. There's still a link in the sidebar over on the left for User Reviews. But it did get me to wondering whether IMDb is planning on doing anything with the user reviews.

I was wondering if there were just a problem for me, and tried to see if IMDb said anything about the change. IMDb's Facebook and Twitter pages are just fluff, but there was one commenter who pointed out the change and wondered why it happened. There was another one from about a day ago talking about the change to TV listings, something that may or may not be the same thing I noticed back in October.

But since I use the old format for viewing IMDb, I was wondering if the regular format they want people to use had changed. It was actually a bit of work for me to find out, since I keep myself logged in by default, and every time I tried to get rid of the "reference" bit at the end of link, it sent me to the old format. I didn't feel like logging out since I'm not certain where my password is, so I got the idea of trying to open the link in a "private" (for Firefox; I assume it would be incognito in Chrome) window. Interesting, the user comment is there near the bottom, as well as a "User Reviews" link near the top.

So I have no idea what's up with the IMDb user reviews.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Murder Man

Going through my DVR to clear some space, I found another movie that's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive so I can do a full-length post on it: The Murder Man.

Spencer Tracy, not long after moving to MGM from Fox, is the star here, although he doesn't show up until a little ways in. The opening is set in the investment firm of Halford and Mander. This is one of those Depression-era firms that took clients' money and invested it rather too riskily, on inside information or on hot bonds, losing money for a lot of clients who were understandably pissed as a result. Indeed, Halford finds that Mander (Harvey Stephens) has taken a bunch of money out of the firm to buy some bonds, and that's the breaking point. Later that evening, Halford is found shot to death.

Meanwhile, another very brief scene that really only makes sense at the end involves a woman who jumps to her death from a ferry, drowning in the river. It's only after these opening scenes that we get to meet Tracy, who is playing star reporter Steve Grey. However, Steve isn't doing any reporting just now, going on the mother of all benders. His editor (Robert Barrat) is looking for him, though, because of Halford's murder.

You see, Steve is known as "the murder man", a name he's gotten because he seems to be good not only at getting the evidence that convicts people, the way that somebody like Torchy Blane over at Warner Bros. did, but because he's able to get that information to the public before anybody else -- sometimes including the police -- can. It leads to his constantly scooping all the other reporters.

Now, Mander is an obvious suspect in the Halford murder, but so are a host of other people, all those investors who had their money stolen by the firm. But Steve overhears that Mander and Halford had an insurance policy that if one of the two died, the other would get a big payout, and Steve puts two and two together. He figures out the audacious scheme that Mander went to a shooting gallery and used one of the gallery's rifles to kill Halford across the street!

This case caused a strain on Steve, however, because after it's over and Mander is sent to the chair, Mander just wants to go off and drink and write a book. Mander, however, is granted an interview on the day he's supposed to be executed, and Steve's editor is insistent that he do the interview, thereby dragging him back into the case he wanted to forget about, and setting up the interesting ending.

The Murder Man is, despite Tracy's leading the cast, strictly a programmer. As I said at the beginning it was one of his first films at MGM, and it would take another year until San Francisco and Libeled Lady that's he'd become a prestige movie star. Tracy was already quite good, having honed his craft over the previous five years at Fox, and does a fine job here. Virginia Bruce plays an advice columnist for the paper and on-again, off-again girlfriend. James Stewart, at the very beginning of his career, plays another reporter. Overall, however, I think the more notable thing about the movie is the turn the plot takes. And that plot certainly makes the movie watching.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Black Christmas (1974)

Over the weekend, I watched Black Christmas off my DVR. It's available on Blu-ray, although the research I did seems to imply that only the early 2000s remake is in print on DVD.

The movie starts off innocently enough, at a sorority house in one of those stereotypical university towns that seemed to populate studio-era movies. (Black Christmas was actually filmed in Canada although it's set in the US as evidenced by the American flags on police uniforms.) The sisters are getting ready to go home for Christmas, or elsewhere to get away from college, and doing the typical things young, sex-obsessed women do. The phone rings, and Jess (Olivia Hussey) picks it up. Dammit, it's that obscene caller again! (What was the deal with obscene callers in the 1970s?)

Meanwhile, outside, we see somebody trying to get into the sorority house, although we only see it from that unknown person's point of view. Eventually, the person get into the house through an attic window, and eventually makes it down to the second floor, where he hides in a closet in one of the bedrooms. It's Claire's bedroom, the poor thing. She doesn't know what's about to hit her.

The next day, Claire's father is waiting at the university to pick her up, but of course she doesn't show, and we know why. Eventually, Dad goes over to the sorority house to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, Jess has her own personal problems involving her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) who's knocked her up, although he doesn't know because she's planning to get an abortion without his knowledge. If he knew, he'd have a shit fit. Peter, for his part, is studying at the conservatory, although it doesn't look as though he's really going to make it as a concert pianist.

Everybody goes to the police station to report Claire missing. Our mysterious intruder goes back into the sorority house, and kills another woman. And the obscene phone calls keep coming. It goes on like this until....

Well, I'm not about to give that ending away. I have to say, though, that I found Black Christmas hugely entertaining, and fairly well constructed in that a lot of what happens at the end is hinted at but not made obvious. There are a few minor plot holes (wouldn't there be somebody staying with Jess at the very end?), but nothing nearly enough to cause problems. Sure, Black Christmas is never going to be looked at in the same way prestige movies are, but there are a lot of times when you just want to be entertained, and Black Christmas succeeds spectacularly in that regard.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #178: Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan makeovers



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 makeovers from ugly ducklings to beautiful swans, which is a bit of a difficult theme for me. But I came up with three movies eventually:

Ninotchka (1939). Greta Garbo plays a repressed, by-the-books Soviet functionary sent to Paris to find out why three colleagues are failing to sell some jewelry that would bring in valuable hard currency. They're fascinated by all that the west has to offer, but she isn't -- until she gets finds herself falling for Melvyn Douglas, which brings out a big change in her character. Except that staying in the west would be treasonous and dangerous to her family. Garbo laughs, and shows she was quite adept at comedy.

Now, Voyager (1942). Bette Davis plays a spinster youngest daughter who suffers a nervous breakdown under her mother's wheedling. She gets out of Claude Rains' sanatorium a changed women, taking a cruise to South America where she meets Paul Henried who is unfortunately trapped in a loveless marriage. This is one of those movies that screams chick flick and won't shut the hell up; frankly, the best reason to watch it is for Davis' nervous breakdown. (Much like Rebel Without a Cause, which you watch for James Dean's "You're tearing me apart!" line and then change channels.)

Born Yesterday (1950). Judy Holliday plays the trophy wife of a shady businessman (Broderick Crawford) trying to curry favor with Washington politicians. The only thing is, she's not quite a trophy since she doesn't have the social graces and intellect. So hubby hires a writer (William Holden) to teach her those qualities. He does his job too well, as the wife comes to realize just how shady her husband's business dealings are. Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar in a very strong year for actress' performances.

The Great American Songbook

As with Lana Turner the other day, now that we're in a new month we get a new Spotlight on TCM. This time, it's the "Great American Songbook", a bunch of songs mostly from musicals of an era. Michael Feinstein is presenting the spotlight. He's probably a great choice for this: the couple of times I've seen him on TCM he's clearly had a passion for the movies, and with his career in that sort of music, he probably knows the material well. I distinctly recall when he was a Guest Programmer he actually played the piano that was a prop in Robert Osborne's set. (I always wondered whether they had to bring in a working piano. I figured having to move a working piano every time they put up or struck the set would be too much work.)

Anyhow, as an example of the sort of music we're talking about, there's Hollywood Hotel overnight tonight at 2:15 AM. This is the movie that introduced "Hooray for Hollywood". The following feature, Dames at 4:30 AM, gave us "I Only Have Eyes for You". In between, at 4:15 AM, there's a short featuring Harry Warren, a songwriter performing a couple of his songs, including "42nd Street". The movie 42nd Street will be in the spotlight on the 21st, as well as part of the daytime lineup on December 16.

One movie that doesn't seem to be part of the spotlight is Roberta, which if I'm not mistaken is the one that gave us "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". That, however, will be on this Saturday at 10:00 AM. Roberta was remade as Lovely to Look At, which will be on TCM on Saturday, December 16.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Ladd Company

I mentioned the other day that IMDb seems to have but its production company information behind the paywall. I found it out when I was looking for info on the Ladd Company, the company founded by Alan Ladd, Jr. in the late 1970s, and was doing so because Ladd Jr. is the subject of tonight's TCM lineup.

Ladd (son of the actor, who had already died in the mid-1960s) started off at Fox in the early 70s, bringing such little known stuff as Star Wars to the screen. At the end of the decade, he struck out on his own, and the company would go on to produce the Best Picture Oscar winner Chariots of Fire (overnight at 12:30 AM), as well as The Right Stuff (9:00 PM) among others.

You may notice the odd starting time for The Right Stuff. That's because there's a documentary on at 8:00 PM. It's not a TCM original as far as I know since it's got a 2016 date. The TCM originals tend to show up in that 8:00 PM slot, followed by one feature and then a repeat for the folks on the west coast. In this case, there is a second airing, but it's after Chariots of Fire at 2:45 AM. (The Right Stuff is 193 minutes per the TCM schedule. I know it's long but I haven't seen it since the 80s.)

The night concludes with another new-to-me movie, The Walking Stick, at 4:00 AM.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

TCM Star of the Month December 2017: Lana Turner

So we've got a new Star of the Month on TCM: Lana Turner, who, as I understand it, was selected in a TCM Backlot poll. Ooh, pay big bucks, and if I'm lucky, the person I pick from among TCM's choices may become Star of the Month. (To be fair, I think Charles Boyer is finally going to be Star of the Month in January, and I'm really looking forward to that. And it's not as if I'm not looking forward to Lana Turner.) As you can guess, Lana Turner will be on TCM in prime time into Wednesday morning every Tuesday night in December.

This first night in the salute has several of Turner's early movies; the first of them is in fact her first billed performance, in They Won't Forget at 8:00 PM. I recommended this one at the beginning of the year in the first of the Thursday Movie Picks I took part in, and it's a really good movie. Turner gets bumped off early on, and the movie is about the trial of the man put on trial for that murder, with Claude Rains playing the ambitious DA prosecuting the case. This one is based on the true story of Leo Frank, and is a very good movie.

The photo up at the top of the post is, I believe, from Dancing Co-Ed, which will be on at 11:45 PM tonight. Lana Turner plays a ringer in a college dance contest that is ostensibly supposed to pick a dance partner for a movie studio star, except that the studio already knows who they want (Turner). Turner falls in love with the editor of the campus newspaper (Richard Carlson), and all sorts of complications ensue. This is typical of the sort of B movie MGM made back in the late 30s and early 40s. It's more than good enough and probably better than a lot of MGM's B movies; as I think I've said on a number of occasions I generally prefer Warner's Bs.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Production companies

So I had reason over the weekend to be interested in a lesser-known movie production company. I was curious to see what all movies they produced, so went to IMDb and the main page for one of the movies they made, from which you can go to a company page, something like this one for A Double Life. When I clicked on the link for the company in question, I got... a request to join IMDbPro to get the information!

I wondered if there were a glitch over selecting some obscure movie producer from the past, so when I was on the A Double Life page, I decided to click on the Universal link, since that's a fairly mainstream company. And I got this. The same thing about joining IMDBPro. Just to find out, say, what movies Universal made in the 1940s? Thankfully, there's still the IMDb Advanced title search for at least the well-known studios, although that will also bring up things that studios distributed rather than producing.

I understand that IMDb needs to make money to keep the site running, and I get the point of IMDb Pro, as a way for people "in the business" to get information on stuff that's in production or pre-production. But I can't help but wonder at the decision to move the historical stuff behind the paywall. What's next? Moving the character search there, too? Or worse, actor searches? I'm probably getting a bit paranoid, though. IMDb has too many users to go the Photobucket route.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Stachka

Last night's DVR selection was Sergey Eisenstein's Strike, which is available in multiple DVD releases, if you can filter correctly. (The TCM Shop page only lists one movie under "Foreign - Russian", but three if you search on Strike and Eisenstein.)

Sometime in late Tsarist Russia, there's a factory where the workers aren't particularly happy, although to be fair that's a common thing for workers everywhere. Norman Wisdom was a huge star in Communist Albania for his British workplace movies which the Albanian regime apparently thought were a biting commentary on capitalist exploitation. Anyhow, somebody sets a cat among the pigeons by stealing one of the workers' micrometers, which actually belongs to the company so the worker would have to pay three weeks' wages to replace it. The workers decide to go on strike.

The factory owners, unsurprisingly, are depicted as fat cats: literally fat, but not literally cats. They don't care about the workers' demands, and they certainly don't care about what the strike is doing to the workers. The workers were already in poverty before, but now it's to the point that they don't even have enough to eat.

All that having been said, there's not much of a story here, and the characters are cardboard cutouts, with the strike ringleaders being called by nicknames like "Owl" and "Fox". Strike is a movie you watch for the images, and already at this early stage Eisenstein shows he had a promising talent with the camera. There are a lot of lovely tracking shots and some interesting angles at points. Just don't expect much more than the camerawork. Not that it's a bad movie; it's more of an archetype than anything else.

Strike is a movie that I'd certainly recommend watching once, although it's another one that I wouldn't spend the pricey foreign film DVD prices that we get charged here in the States. Note that one of the DVDs listed at the TCM Shop lists an 82-minute run time while another lists 94 minutes; the Amazon listing is 88 minutes. TCM ran it in a 90-minute slot and I think it was an 82-minute version. I don't know how much of the different running times is due to different frame rates and if any is due to other things; the TCM print included a brief mention that this was Eisenstein's first film and that it was a 1969 restoration.