Saturday, October 10, 2015

More box guide fun

My set-top box guide is showing FXM Retro as airing something called "Secrets of Car Thieves" tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. The guide has no information on the movie, which is of course unsurprising since that's not what's going to be airing. Apparently there was a 2001 TV documentary from New Zealand with that title, but Fox wouldn't have the rights to anything like that, would they?

So I had to go to FXM's online schedule to find out what's running. The movie showing is, it turns out, Seven Thieves, one of those early 1960s heist films that I have to admit to not having seen in quite a few years, not since the last go-round of showings on FXM whenever that was.

But at any rate I'd rather make some comments about FXM's web site. Or, rather, the lack of a web site. FXM is under the FX Networks banner, as Fox is trying to make their channels all be of one brand, I guess. FX is the "regular" channel; FXM is supposed to be for movies, and FXX was conceived as "extreme", with that being marketing-speak for I don't know what since the channel seems to have morphed pretty quickly into FX2. Somehow I don't think Shrek Forever After qualifies as "extreme".

The schedules only run a week in advance, and when you select a different date the schedule immediately defaults to the FX schedule. The mobile version didn't seem to have anyway to find other airings of a selected program, either. So for all the problems I have with TCM's site (I don't have the app on my phone, and they don't have a non-app mobile version), things could always be worse.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Shorts and TCM's schedule pages

I've commented a few times in the recent past how TCM's weekly schedule page seems no longer to be playing nicely with the browsers on my older computer. I have a feeling it's down to one or another of the things from Google that the page is trying to foist upon us. Google, after all, is trying to get everybody to switch to their Chrome browser. However, the daily schedule pages don't seem to be having nearly as much problem.

And so with that, I note a couple of shorts that are coming up on the schedule today and tomorrow. First up is Take a Cue at 9:18 PM, just after Mad Love. TCM's schedule lists it as a man demonstrating how to play billiards, but in fact it's a Pete Smith short, so you can imagine the quality of the billiards we're going to get. Well, actually, it's trick shots, which can be interesting even if they're not real pool or billiards of whatever sort we're used to. Direction is handled by Felix Feist, who never quite made it out of the second tier of directors, except possibly for when he directed Joan Crawford in This Woman is Dangerous.

Tomorrow morning at 8:08 AM, we get something called The Road to Victory, which is one I haven't seen before. The synopsis on TCM's schedule page makes it sound like it's going to be another of those all-star shorts with the stars entertaining us, of the sort the studios made to try to boost people's morale on the homefront during World War II. But the one reviewer on IMDb's page claims that it actually looks at the future, or the perceived bright future we're all going to have after we beat the Nazis and Japanese, if only you at home continue to participate in the war effort. I'm always up for studio era movies looking at the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Man Who Played God (1932)

A few weeks back I had the chance to record The Man Who Played God when it showed up on TCM. It's apparently available from the Warner Archive (more on that later), so I feel OK doing a full-length post on the film.

George Arliss as Montgomery Royle, a prominent pianist who is currently performing in Paris. He's got a lot of adoring fans, to the point that his sister Florence (Louise Closser Hale) has to deal with all the letters and flowers as his secretary. Among his two biggest fans would be the widow Mildred (Violet Heming) who thinks Montgomery should settle down, and somebody like her would be a good woman to do it with; and Grace (Bette Davis). Grace has been Montgomery's student, and she has a crush on him even though he's more than twice her age. Still, he says to her to give the relationship six months and, if she still holds a flame for him, then he'll marry her.

Meanwhile, back to that concert. Montgomery informs everybody that he heard that there's a European king who plans to be in attendance incognito -- and no, he's not going to say which country's king it is. That's a good thing, because it's the king of one of those countries that likes to have revolutions of the sort that took place from time to time in the Hollywood movies of the day. There are, in fact, terrorists waiting for the king to show up at the concert hall so that they can assassinate him. Except it turns out that the king's car develops mechanical problems, leading to his missing the entire concert! But he shows up at the after-show party, and gets Montgomery to play something for him. Unfortunately those terrorists have spotted the king, for they throw a bomb just outside the window of the room where everybody is enjoying themselves. The king is OK, but the shock from the blast destroys Montgomery's eardrums or something, because the result is that he winds up stone deaf.

What's a deaf pianist to do? Well, Montgomery doesn't want to live life any longer even though he's got a lot of money, a nice overlooking Central Park, and a lot of friends. What good is life without music? And why would any God do a thing like this to him? So Montgomery goes out on the balcony and plans to jump off! Thankfully, his butler stops him, and gives him the idea to learn how to read lips.

Montgomery becomes a very adept lip reader. So adept, in fact, that he's able to take a pair of binoculars and look down into the park below and watch the people sitting on the benches there. It's a pretty darn powerful pair of binoculars, because he's able to read the lips of the people in the park which is how he learns about their problems. And Montgomery decides that he's got a new mission in life, which is to help those poor people down there with their problems.

The only thing is, it turns out that one of those people is Grace. She spent the months after the bombing out in California with Harold (Donald Cook) and his smart set friends. Harold has always loved Grace, and thinks that somebody like himself would be more appropriate for Grace than an old man like Montgomery; never mind the fact that Montgomery is now deaf. And during those months out in California, Grace comes to realize that she loves Harold. Oh, she still likes Montgomery since he's such a nice man, but she doesn't have the feelings for him that she used to. But she feels she has to go through with the marriage to Montgomery, because to let him down would break his heart and kill him.

It's all reasonably interesting stuff. George Arliss is fun to watch as always, brightening up pretty much every movie that I've seen him in, even something like this that should be melodramatic piffle but isn't. (Compare it to something like Magnificent Obsession.) This was near the beginning of Bette Davis' career, and the chance to work with Arliss, who was a fairly big star at the time, gave her an opportunity at her first big role. (This even though she's credited behind Heming). Bette hasn't yet become the Bette of Now, Voyager and other histrionic roles, and she shows why she would ultimately become a legendary actress. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but it's Arliss especially, and to a lesser extent Davis, that you watch this movie for.

It's a bit surprising that even with the presence of Bette Davis and an early Best Actor Oscar winner, this movie isn't very well known. It has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but oddly, IMDb suggests you can't get it at Amazon. However, it is available from the TCM Shop, as well as slightly less pricey (for the time being) from the Warner Bros. shop. I wonder if Amazon has lost the rights to Warner Archive DVDs?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Another "FXM Retro still hasn't been killed off" observation

It's coming up on four years since FX launched, taking the 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM part of the schedule away from what had been the Fox Movie Channel. I said at the time that I'd give FMC six months before it, too went and the whole schedule was recent movies with commercial interruptions.

Obviously, my supposition was way off the mark. Whoever programs what is now FXM Retro is still continuing to take old movies out of the vault and put them on the cable channel, and changing the selection of movies from time to time. One movie that's just come back on the schedule after being away for two years or more is Sea Wife, which I blogged about back in April 2013, or almost exactly two and a half years ago. You can catch it tomorrow at 1:25 PM.

Meanwhile, for those of you who can do the streaming thing, you're in luck. Fox, for its 100th anniversary, is releasing 100 mostly studio era movies via digital streaming. It looks like a reasonably broad range of titles from the studio, except that the really prestigious titles aren't included. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it means lesser-known titles have been selected.

Chantal Akerman, 1950-2015

Belgian-born filmmaker Chantal Akerman has died at the age of 65. I have to admit that I don't know much about her, other than once in a while seeing the title of her film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles show up in the TCM Imports slot.

But it just so happens that that film is on the TCM schedule this month as part of the TCM spotlight on women directors. On the night of October 22 the spotlight is looking at non-US directors, and Akerman's film shows up at 3:15 AM on October 23. According to the TCM schedule, it runs 202 minutes, so it sounds like a bit of a slog to me. Well, that, and many of the reviews seem to praise it for having the right political views.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Janet Gaynor, 1906-1984

Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien in Sunrise (1927)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Janet Gaynor, who was born on this day in 1906. Some people might only remember her from the lists of Oscar winners, as she was the winner of the very first Best Actress Oscar. That's normally credited to the film Seventh Heaven, although the Academy rules at the time technically looked at one's body of work throughout the year in question, so Gaynor was also being honored in part for Sunrise and Street Angel.

Sunrise is a gorgeous movie, and shows what silent movies could do, and possibly what they would have been able to do if it hadn't been for the introduction of sound. (To be fair, it's only natural that people would want to hear the actors, and besides, while sound might have taken some things away from the movies, they made others a heck of a lot easier.) Gaynor made Sunrise and many of her other movies at Fox, which is why she doesn't show up all that often on TCM.

One Gaynor movie that does show up more often is the 1937 version of A Star is Born, in which Gaynor stars as Esther Blodgett-turned-Vicki Lester and moves up the ladder of success in Hollywood while her husband, Norman Maine (Fredric March) goes down into a miasma of booze. The story is melodramatic but fun, and also in nice early three-strip Technicolor.

Monday, October 5, 2015

TCM Star of the Month October 2015: David Niven

David Niven and Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death (airing 8:00 PM Oct. 12)

After a slight break due to a calendar quirk, we get back to having another star of the month on TCM. This month it's British actor David Niven, who graced the screen with his suave presence for close to 40 years. Niven won a Best Actor Oscar for Separate Tables, which amazingly doesn't seem to be on the schedule. TCM must have had a rights problem. That having been said, TCM were able to get enough movies that the four nights of Niven films continue well into Tuesday mornings.

As for tonight's schedule, the highlight probably depends upon what sort of movie you like. I'm not a particularly big fan of Wuthering Heights (1:00 AM), in which Niven plays Edgar, the good but unexciting guy in Cathy's (Merle Oberon) life. Partly it's the story; partly it's the ludicrous death scene when Cathy dies, sorry for giving away the plot. But that having been said, a lot of critics and just plain old movie buffs love the movie, so a lot of you probably will, too.

More up my alley is a nice comedy like Bachelor Mother, at 9:30 PM. This one stars Ginger Rogers as the woman who has a foundling come into her life, and David Niven as her boss having to deal with the mess caused by all of this. Needless to say the two leads wind up falling in love too as the story goes along....

Niven has a small part in Dodsworth (6:15 AM tomorrow) as Capt. Lockert, although I don't remember him showing up. That only says more about the size of the part; I'm not saying IMDb is wrong. But this is another well-made drama, and one I do like a lot more than Wuthering Heights.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera (1925/1929)

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature on TCM is The Phantom of the Opera, a movie I actually haven't done a full-length post on before. It comes up overnight at 12:45 AM.

Lon Chaney Sr. plays the phantom, but more on that in a bit. The opera here is the Paris Opera, where there are rumors of a ghost. Young Christine (Mary Philbin), however, doesn't seem to care. She's an understudy trying to make her way up the ladder of success, with the help of a masked singing tutor. She's also got a boyfriend in Raoul (Norman Kerry). Eventually, Christine does become a success, and wants to learn more aboutg her tutor. So she follows him, discovering that he goes to the depths beneath the opera house, eventually following him to his lair several stories underground. It's at this point that she removes the mask and discovers he's horribly disfigured! Her tutor is the phantom!

Now, the Phantom doesn't want his secret revealed for obvious reasons, but he makes a deal with Christine: he'll release her if she vows never to see Raoul again. Stupid move on both their parts. He should know that Christine is going to want to see Raoul, and Christine should probably have figured that based on the Phantom's insane lodgings, she needs to be more careful than she's going to be. She meets Raoul again (naturally) at the Masked Ball and plans to run away with him -- but only after one more performance. That's the stupid move. The Phantom has overheard them, and needless to say he's pissed. So he kidnaps Christine in the middle of the performance!

I don't think a brief synopsis like the above can really do a movie like The Phantom of the Opera justice. The story is well done, especially Chaney's acting, since he was good at all these horror types. The cinematography is excellent. Some of the scenes were tinted, as was not uncommon during the silent era. Also, the Masked Ball sequence was done in two-strip Technicolor, which gives it a slightly eerie feel since the film stock always looks different to me from the standard black-and-white film used in movies of the day and because the colors aren't particularly accurate.

There have also been various prints of this movie out there. Apparently there was more than one cut done before the movie went into wide release at the end of 1925. But then talkies came about, and some scenes were re-shot to turn the film into a partial talkie; it's with these new scenes that TCM has generally shown the movie -- that's probably the print most commonly available, and the version I've seen. There are also a lot of different scores, since many silent movies didn't have specific music associated with them. That probably shouldn't be the case with The Phantom of the Opera since there is supposed to be opera music at the heart of the film, but no, there are various scores out there. But whatever version you see, it's a film that's well worth watching for the story, and because it's surprisingly lovely to look at.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Moguls and Movie Stars redux

For those who missed it back in 2010, TCM is going to be rerunning the Moguls and Movie Stars series this month. There are going to be two episodes each Sunday at 10:00 AM, starting tomorrow and running through the 25th, which only has one episode since the miniseries only had seven episodes. My impression back when it premiered was that for anybody who didn't know much about the movies, it was a good introduction, but on a channel like TCM where a lot of the viewers are extremely avid movie buffs, it's mostly the sort of thing we know already. I'd say this is especially the case with the folks over at the TCM discussion boards.

The first episode in the series looks at the dawn of film, even more so than the recent first night of the Trailblazing Women spotlight did on Thursday night. If you didn't get to record any of the Alice Guy shorts that ran on Thursday night, here's Guy's La Fée aux Choux, or The Cabbage Fairy, all one minute of it:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Oh, that's right, it's October again

So I was looking at the TCM schedule to see if there was anything interesting worth blogging about. There don't seem to be too many shorts on the schedule right now, which was the first thing that struck my eye. The second was tonight's prime time lineup: Haunted Houses.

And that's when it hit me. Now that we're in October, we've got Halloween rapidly approaching, which means that all sorts of channels are going to be bringing out their horror-themed stuff. Why should TCM be any different? Indeed, it looks as though every Friday in prime time this October is going to be given over to nights chock full of horror films. In addition to this first Friday's theme of haunted houses, the other themes as best I can tell:

October 9: Disfigurement
October 16: Children playing a large part
October 23: Literary adaptations
October 30: Val Lewton

Also, much of the morning and afternoon schedule will be horror films on the 29th and 30th, with all day Halloween also being given over to horror.

A few of the Friday night selections might not be traditional horror, especially The Hunchback of Notre Dame on the 23d, but there's still some moderately frightening visuals or characters in these films, I think.

I just hope you all like horror films or female directors since those are taking up so much of this month's TCM schedule.