Monday, August 3, 2015

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

I was looking at the movies in Adolphe Menjou's day in Summer Under the Stars today, and realized that the ones I was thinking of blogging about, I already had. Either that, or as with A Woman of Paris, it's been long enough since I last saw it that I'd want to see it again before doing a full-length post on the movie.

So instead, I'll embed the Mary Pickford version of Poor Little Rich Girl:

It's from 1917, so it's in the public domain. I think this last showed up on TCM last November when TCM made silent stars the "Star" of the Month. The movie was remade rather loosely in the 1930s with Shirley Temple in the title role. At least Temple was age appropriate. However, the Temple movie rather opens up the action while much of the Pickford movie is set in her house or on the grounds. It also has a rather darker turn and an extended dream sequence.

It's an interesting movie, but when it comes to Pickford, I'd still recommend Sparrows first.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Proud Rebel

A few months back, I got the chance to see The Proud Rebel for the first time when TCM showed it. TCM is running it again at 10:00 PM tonight as part of 24 hours of Olivia de Havilland films, so now would be a good time to do a full-length blog post on the film.

The movie opens up with John Chandler (Alan Ladd) approaching a town somewhere in southern Illinois together with his son David (real-life son David Ladd) and the best sheepdog in the world. It turns out that the elder Chandler is a southerner who fought for the Confederacy in the recently-concluded Civil War. But he's going north looking for doctors. Apparently his young son saw his mother die when the Union Army burned down the farm, and ever since then David has been either unwilling or unable to speak. Since it's probably some sort of mental block instead of a physical block, there's a chance that David might be able to speak again, and John is going to do anything he can to see that his son does speak again. This particular town has a doctor, Enos Davis (Cecil Kellaway), who might be able to help in that regard.

He's not able to help directly, but he does have an acquaintance at the Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota who might be able to help. Of course, there's the issue of getting the money to make a trip all the way up to Minnesota. And to complicate matters, John and David get waylaid in town. The Burleighs -- father Harry (Dean Jagger) and sons Jeb (Harry Dean Stanton) and Tom (Tom Pittman) ride into town, and their entrance spooks a flock of sheep. However, the Chandlers' dog is able to herd them back into some sense of normalcy. The Burleighs want that dog, although it's absolutely not for sale. Things get heated, and Harry's sons wind up getting in a fight with John, and lying about what really happened at the resulting trial. The only other witness is David, and he's not talking.

So John has to either go to jail or pay a fine with money that he doesn't have. Ah, but who does have it? The widow farmer Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland; after all, it is her day on TCM). She can use a man around the farm, especially since the Burleighs are trying to drive her off her land. Unsurprisingly, despite the fact that both John and Linnett intend for their relationship to be all business, you know that some sort of emotional bond is going to develop between the two, as well as between Linett and David, since he's now got a sort of foster mother. Not that it will help him to talk.

I mentioned earlier the problem of getting David up to Minnesota, and John can't just save up for it because the doctor at the Mayo Clinic who could help is going to be leaving in a month's time. It seems increasingly certain that the only way John can get the money is to sell the dog, but that will just devastate poor little David. John eventually does sell the dog without telling David, and the Burleighs find out which gives them a chance to get back at John....

The Proud Rebel a movie that I found squarely in the camp of your typical Hollywood studio era output, this time in the same sort of area that Friendly Persuasion falls into: it looks like it could be a western, but it's not really set out west now, is it? The ranchers, the conflict between the two farms, and a lot of other western tropes are there. But I really think of The Proud Rebel as more of a straight drama that just happens to be set in the post-Civil War era. The cast does well, including young David, who has a difficult part since he's not allowed to speak during the film. The cinematography is nice, and the film has a satisfying ending. I think it's also good for adults and kids alike.

The Proud Rebel is also available on DVD.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

White Feather

I only noticed this morning that White Feather is airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on FXM Retro. It's airing again at 4:00 AM Monday, but there's another movie I was intending to do a full-length post on tomorrow. And it turns out that I hadn't done a post on White Feather before; I thought I had after the last time it got a couple of airings on FXM in quick succession.

Robert Wagner stars as Josh Tanner, who at the beginning of the movie is seen riding alone somewhere out in the old West. He comes across the victim of a Cheyenne attack at a river, and the Cheyenne watch him to see if he's got courage. It turns out that Tanner is making his way to the nearby fort. The river is the de facto boundary between the US forces and the native tribe, but the US are currently in negotiations with the various tribes to put them on reservations so that the US can take the land without annihilating the tribes.

Tanner is a surveyor, and his bosses are waiting for that treaty to be signed so that they can get their hands on some of that new land; Josh is being sent out in advance as a surveyor to survey the land for the land company. Not that the folks at the fort like him. The commander, Col. Lindsay (John Lund), is wary of him, while the only place he can find lodging is in the storeroom of the store run by Magruder (Emile Meyer). Magruder has a daughter Ann (Virginia Leith), but apparently she has a past, because her father thinks she's fit for no man and she makes cryptic comments about her past.

Apparently, however, the Cheyenne respect Tanner. They're the only tribe that hasn't signed the treaty to give up hostilities against the Americans, and the Americans are trying to get them to sign the treaty which all the other tribes are going to sign. Chief Broken Hand (Eduard Franz) is beginning to think that perhaps the fight against the Americans with their superior forces is futile, but his son Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) is not willing to give up the old ways. Tanner goes into all of this to talk to the Cheyenne.

While there, he meets not only the men in the Indian tribe, but also the chief's daughter Appearing Day (Debra Paget). She falls for him, and the feeling winds up being mutual. Needless to say, this presents all sorts of complications.

White Feather treads over some of the same territory that Fox had covered a couple of years earlier with Broken Arrow. There are also the themes of tradition versus modernity that appear in a whole bunch of movies in all sorts of genres. In White Feather, it all amounts to something that's capable, but which also feels as though we've seen it all before. Still, it's not bad, with the one exception that I wished I could have learned more about Ann, the white woman we kind of expect Tanner to wind up with when the story opens. She clearly has a past, but it's never really gone into. Oh, there's also the other problem of a bunch of white actors playing Indians, but really, there weren't enough prominent Indian actors to play these characters. On the plus side, the cinematography is quite nice if you can catch this in widescreen. I have a distinct memory that when it showed up on FXM a few weeks back, it was in fact in widescreen and not panned-and-scanned like a lot of their Cinemascope movies.

White Feather did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but I think it's out of print based on Amazon's not having new copies regularly available.

Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014

Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die (1973)

Today marks the birth anniversary of dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder spent the better part of his career dancing, and on the stage, winning a Tony award for The Wiz. When it comes to the movies, Holder didn't make all that many, but will likely be best remembered for playing Baron Samedi, a voodoo priest, in Live and Let Die.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Never Let Me Go

Tomorrow is August 1, which means the start of another month of Summer Under the Stars on TCM. As usual, every day brings 24 hours of movies starring a different person. This first day of August will feature somebody who did much of her work over at Fox, but who made enough movies elsewhere that TCM can get enough things to make a day of it: Gene Tierney. One of the Tierney movies that I haven't blogged about before is Never Let Me Go, kicking off the day at 6:00 AM.

Top billing goes to Clark Gable, who plays Philip Sutherland. Philip is a newspaper correspondent, working the Soviet beat. He had been stationed in Moscow for some time, going back to the days when the US and the USSR were uneasy allies since they were both fighting the Nazis. Of course we know who won that fight, and when victory was achieved Philip got the chance to take in a celebratory ballet. There, Philip saw ballerina Marya Lamarkina (Tierney), whom he had fallen for, at least from a distance. But to his surprise, Marya apparently noticed him, as she was trying to learn the language so she could meet him. They have a whirlwind romance and get married.

But there's a problem: getting an exit visa for Marya. State artists are a national treasure, and the Soviet government wants to keep a tight leash on them. If they let Marya go off with Philip, there's a high likelihood that she'll never return. Indeed, one of Philip's colleagues, Christopher (Richard Haydn), is in the same boat. He married a Soviet woman (Belita) and the government won't let her go to to England with Christopher despite the fact that she's pregnant. To make matters worse, the spirit of comity that the US, UK, and USSR had during the war is rapidly evaporating as an iron curtain is descending across the continent from Stettin to Trieste. Eventually Philip's visa runs out, and he's forced to leave the country without his wife. And there's no way the Soviets are going to give him another visa to enter the country.

Philip gets an assignment in London, which at least allows him to be a bit closer to Marya. But it also allows him to be closer to Christopher, and eventually he gets an idea: the two of them can sail to the coast of the USSR and arrange to pick up their wives there. Highly illegally, of course. It's another of those daft ideas that you could only think of in a movie, and which would never work in real life. After all, letters from the western husbands to their Soviet wives would be censored. And could either side in the marriage even get close to the coast? Well, since this is a Hollywood movie you can assume that the answer is yes, they actually can do it. Marya and the ballet go to Tallinn (remember that Estonia was part of the USSR at the time), which just happens to be on the coast. And Philip arranges to pick her up there....

Never Let Me Go is one of those movies where you really have to suspend your disbelief to watch it. That having been said, the movie just about works. Tierney had already played a Soviet wife in The Iron Curtain, and she does reasonably well doing that again here, even if she isn't that realistic as a ballerina. Clark Gable was never less than professional, and gives a solid performance that only pales if you consider all the other great movies he did earlier in his career. Again, if there's any problem with the movie, it's with the plot. But overall, it's entertaining enough.

Never Let Me Go did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, although there's a more recent film with the same title, so be careful if you look for the DVD online.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Apparently the AFI honored Steve Martin

I have to admit that I don't pay too much attention to what the AFI does. I mean, I know they give out a lifetime achievement award every year, but I don't pay attention to who gets the award until TCM shows the ceremony thta the AFI produces. And to be honest, I have no idea either when the award is given out. How embarrassing it would be if the recipient died between the time AFI gave them the award and TCM showed the program. I don't think any guest programmers or, more recently, the Friday Night Spotlight presenters, have died in between the time the recording was done and when the segments were supposed to air. (Richard D. Zanuck died shortly after the rough cut of the documentary on his life was finished. The documentary in its final form ends with a note saying that Zanuck had seen the rough cut and sent a letter to the filmmakers thanking them and telling them what a good job they had done, and then died a few days after that.)

All of this is just an elliptical way of pointing out that TCM is showing the latest installment of AFI's Lifetime Achievement Awards tonight. The 2015 recipient was Steve Martin, and TCM will be running the award show at 8:00 PM. As is generally the case with a new-to-TCM program like this, it will get a second airing for the benefit of the folks on the west coast, following one feature film. The film is the 1991 version of Father of the Bride, which comes on at 9:30 PM, with the second airing of the AFI show being at 11:30 PM.

Interestingly, Steve Martin is only getting two movies, as the film that comes on at 3:15 AM (Protocol) doesn't seem to have Martin in the cast. The other film is Pennies From Heaven at 1:00 AM.

You'll also have two opportunites to catch another airing of Martin's 1979 appearance on The Tonight Show when TCM reruns the Carson on TCM piece on Steve Martin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shorts for July 29-30, 2015

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks", where Robert Osborne selects the movies for the night, much as if he were a Guest Programmer, except that he does it pretty much every month with the exception of 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars.

Perhaps more interesting are a couple of tonight's shorts. First, at about 9:45 PM, after I Know Where I'm Going!, is The House in the Middle, which looks at how to make certain one's home will be more likely to survive a nuclear attack. (Hint: Live where the nuclear attack won't be.) For some reason, I can't help but think of the nuclear test at the climax of Split Second.

Rounding out the night, at 5:15 AM, or following The Mouse That Roared, is The Relaxed Wife, about how to deal with the stress of workaday life.

There are some more conventional shorts in between.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Les Blank night

Tonight is one of those nights that makes TCM worth having. As much as some people like to complain about TCM and think they only show the same stuff over and over, I find that even after seven and a half years of blogging that there are still new things to be learned about the movies.

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies directed by Les Blank. Never heard of him? I have to admit that I hadn't heard of him either before seeing this night's movies on the TCM schedule. Blank was a documentary filmmaker whose films included quite a few looks at traditional musicians of various genres. Much of the first half of the evening will be looking at Cajun music and culture, while the second half of the evening has what looks to be a fairly broad range of documentaries on music from the blues to polka.

Unfortunately, Blank died a few years ago so TCM won't be able to sit down with him for an interview. Blank's son is also a director, but the TCM page on tonight's movies doesn't say anything about anybody sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss Les Blank.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Sorcerers

A few months ago TCM showed a new-to-me movie called The Sorcerers. It's on again tonight at 6:30 PM on TCM, and is definitely worth a watch.

Boris Karloff stars as Prof. Monserrat, an elderly, down on his luck hypnotist/pyschologist. It's to the point that he has to advertise at corner shops, and can barely pay for those advertisements. But he's been working with his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) on a new invention, one that's sure to revolutionize society! The only problem is, to prove that the machine will work, they need to find a young, healthy person on whom they can experiment without the person being aware as to what's going one and what the experiment will entail. Sounds highly unethical, but I suppose if the elderly couple were ethical, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we?

Thankfully, the couple lives in London during the swingin' 60s, so there are a lot of young people around who like to experience life. They find Mike (Ian Ogilvy), a guy who likes to go out to the clubs with his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy) butalways seems to find himself winding up bored with the whole thing. So when he leaves the club to take a walk by himself and Monserrat approaches him, Mike decides to take Monserrat up up on the offer of having the wildest experience he's ever had, although Mike is understandably skeptical about the whole thing and is really only doing it on a lark.

And so they set out on the experiment, which involves strapping Mike into some ghastly machine while he watches, well, something that looks like an abstract video of lights, colors, and shapes. In fact, this mind-blowing contraption is supposed to put Mike into some sort of super hypnotic trance through which the Professor and his wife will be able to control Mike. But what makes the device revolutionary is not that they'll be able to control Mike, but the fact that they will be able to feel Mike's experiences. And in fact, the experiment seems to be a success as the elderly couple can feel when Mike cracks an egg open on his hand, and then washes his hand.

Think of the good that this contraption could be used for! Professor Monserrat believes it will be a boon to seniors and other shut-ins who will have a better ability to experience the world around him. Yeah right. If that were what the device were going to be used for, we once again wouldn't have much of a movie. Instead, Estelle gets ideas of her own. She's always wanted a fur coat, and with the device giving her the ability to control Mike, perhaps she can get him to break into a furrier and steal a coat for her! And Estelle wants more than that, much more. The Professor wants to stop her, of course, but does he have to will to do it? And won't everybody around Mike figure out that something bizarre is going on?

The Sorcerers is one of those movies that probably shouldn't be thought of as very good, but boy is it entertaining. Boris Karloff for the most part, and Catherine Lacey especially, are confined to one set of their tiny London flat for the entire movie. The hypnotic induction sequence was frankly laughable, albeit reminiscent of The Ipcress File, which is supposed to be a much more serious movie. Poor Ian Ogilvy has to act like an automaton for much of the movie. And yet, The Sorcerers is a heck of a lot of fun. Put it on when you just want to be entertained, and don't have to think too hard.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Long Hot Summer

Coming up at 4:00 PM today on TCM is The Long, Hot Summer.

The film opens up with young Ben Quick (Paul Newman) walking along a road in rural Mississippi, trying to hitch a ride. He eventually gets picked up by a convertible with two young ladies in the front seat: Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) and her sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick). They take him to town, which is also where they happen to live. Ben discovers that their father is the richest man in town and pretty much owns everything there is worth owning in the town, so Ben plans to approach the Varner father to ask about getting a job.

The only thing is, Dad isn't home just now because he's recuperating in hospital. So Ben has to ask the son, Jody (Tony Franciosa) about getting a job. Jody manages the general store for Dad, but it's not exactly a great relationship that father and son have. Dad Will (Orson Welles) thinks that his son isn't enough of a man, evidenced in part by the fact that Eula seems quite interested in sex, but Jody hasn't been able to get her pregnant an produce an heir to the Varner fortune yet. As for Clara, she's the local schoolteacher. She's got a bit of a man in her life in the form of Alan (Richard Anderson), but he isn't enough of a man for Will, either. He's under the thumb of his mother, afraid to ask for Clara's hand in marriage.

So you can probably guess that Will begins to take a shining to Ben, since Ben is a take charge sort of guy and exactly the sort of strong man that Will thinks the family needs to produce a strong heir. And you can also tell from the opening scene that eventually the sparks are going to fly in one way or another between Ben and Clara. Will begins to give Ben more responsibilities, which understandably irks Jody to no end. But Ben also has a past, which is another thing you probably should have been able to tell from that opening scene. As with Montgomery Clift's character in the opening of A Place in the Sun or John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice, seeing somebody hitchhiking into town at the beginning of a movie implies that there's something the character is trying to get away from. In the case of Ben Quick, it's accusations that he burns barns, and had to make a quick escape (no pun intended) from the last town he was in when another barn burned down. And sure enough, once you learn that, you can guess that there's going to be a barn burning in this town too, although it's made quite clear who started the fire.

It goes on like this for close to two hours, being overheated and never quite going anywhere, thanks to the fact that it's based on material by William Faulkner. I think I've stated before that I've never been the biggest Faulkner fan, probably going back to the days when I had to read As I Lay Dying for a high school English class. He's not as much of a slog as Tennessee Williams, although the screenplay here comes across almost as though it could have been from Williams' material as much as Faulkner's. Still, it's physically a well-made movie. Everybody acts well, and there's lovely cinematography and sets. It's just that the story made me want to reach through the screen and smack some sense into these people.

The Long, Hot Summer is available on DVD, so if my relatively short notice in mentioning this film made you miss today's TCM airing, you've still got a chance to see it.