Friday, March 6, 2015

The next several TCM Programming features to return

As I said on Wednesday, with 31 Days of Oscar over, weget back to the regular programming features on TCM. This being the first Friday of the month, we get a new Friday Night Spotlight. This month, Michael Feinstein will be presenting roadshow musicals. I mentioned a couple of months back when Feinstein was the Guest Programmer that I don't particularly care for Hollywood musicals, and those overlong roadshow musicals from the later period of the Hollywood musical are especially not my cup of tea. But Feinstein did a very good job as Guest Programmer, helped by getting to use that piano they keep on the TCM set which allowed him to play some of the themes he was talking about.

The British Carry On movies that were running in the 10:30 AM Saturday time slot return after the hiatus for 31 Days of Oscar. Now, however, they are preceded at 10:00 AM by episodes from the 1943 serial Batman, which I haven't seen before so I can't comment on. While it's nice to get another serial, it's a bit of a commitment to watch the entire thing. One of the things I've noticed about a lot of the old TV shows now that we get them again on the digital subchannels with vintage TV shows is that most of them don't have long story arcs, with the exception of those old prime time soaps. And then there were also the game shows with returning champions.

Finally, tomorrow being the first Saturday after the end of 31 Days of Oscar means that we get a new season of The Essentials. Drew Barrymore is no longer the co-host alongside Robert Osborne; now Osborne will be sitting down with former flying nun and two-time Oscar-winner Sally Field. Their first selection, at 8:00 PM tomorrow, will be Roman Holiday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Guy Kibbee in Central Park


That's Guy Kibbee on the bottom right, although Lady For a Day isn't one of the films airing tomorrow

Tomorrow, March 6, marks the brith anniversary of Guy Kibbee, who showed up in lot of movies in the 1930s. TCM will be spending the morning and afternoon with a bunch of those 1930s movies, such as Central Park, at 7:30 AM.

The various studios made a couple of interesting "day in the life" movies back in the early 1930s, in an attempt to cast as many of their stars as possible. MGM did Grand Hotel, while Warner Bros. rushed Union Depot into production. Central Park is somewhat along those lines, with a bunch of intersecting plots set in Central Park, except that it's much more of a programmer than a prestige movie.

Joan Blondell plays Dot, an out-of-work actress looking for food in Central Park -- remember, there's a depression on. She meets Rick (Wallace Ford), an out-of-work transplant from Texas. Guy Kibbee plays Charlie, one of the cops patrolling the park. As for the plots, you know that Dot and Rick are going to fall for each other; what else could a movie like this have them do? But Dot also gets involved with gangsters, at least unwittingly. Dot enters a beauty pageant not knowing that it's really a front for those gangsters. The prize is taking part in a charity event at the Central Park Casino which the gangsters are going to rob; Dot's presence will alert the gangsters as to where the money is.

Rick, meanwhile, gets a job washing to police motorcycles, and being generally helpful to Charlie. This is good news for Charlie, because he's got a secret. He's a week or so away from the proverbial 20 years you need for a pension, but he's going blind, and if hte police find out they'll fire him and he won't get his pension. So he just wants to last one more week. Charlie's life is about to get more difficult, though, when one of the former keepers from the Central Park zoo, who had gone nuts and wound up in a mental asylum, escapes, and lets one of the lions loose!

As you can see, there's a lot going on here in this little picture. Where Grand Hotel is nearly two hours, Central Park is a breezy one hour. The result is a movie that doesn't have a whole lot of character development, but winds up being reasonably entertaining, just because Warner Bros. seemed to have the formula down already. That, and the presence of Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee.

I don't think Central Park has been released to DVD yet, not even from the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TCM Star of the Month March 2015: Ann Sothern

With 31 Days of Oscar over, we get back to normal things like a Star of the Month on TCM. The films of Ann Sothern will be running on TCM every Wednesday night in prime time. This month sees a bunch of her supporting roles from the 1930s, such as in Trade Winds, airing at 10:30 PM.

Sothern only being the second womna, she understandably doesn't get the opening scene. That belongs to Joan Bennett, who plays Kay Kerrigan, a San Francisco socialite. Her kid sister just committed suicide, and she thinks she knows who's to blame for it. So she goes to the man she considers responsible, who says to her, go ahead and shoot me. She shoots at the lower part of his body, and he drops dead! She's a murderess, she thinks! So she dyes her hair and goes on the run, making it look like she too has committed suicide. Detective Blodgett (Ralph Bellamy) is on the case, and the police figure that Kay is actually on the run when the Hawaiian police report a piece of jewelry he owned has been pawned there; obviously, Kay is in need of money to get somewhere else. The San Francisco police chief doesn't think Blodgett can handle the case alone, so he sends in private investigator Sam Wye (Fredric March).

So Wye and Blodgett both head off for the Far East, ultimately working in a sort of friendly rivalry to find Kay. What Sam doesn't know is that his trusty secretary Jean (Ann Sothern) has also come along. There's a big $100,000 reward (and this is 1938 dollars) available for Kay's return, and that would solve Sam's financial problems and allow Jean to get a regular paycheck, which is a nice little benefit of being a secretary. Blodgett finds Kay, except that it's not Kay, it's Jean. But she can help them find Kay. Kay may be in Japan. Or maybe China or Saigaon or Singapore or anywhere in the Far East, as she's constantly on the run and they're constantly chasing her.

Eventually they do find Kay, and in that most surprising of plot twists, Sam falls in love with her. Ooh, that's going to present a mighty big problem. And to make things more interesting, Blodgett is falling in love with Jean. Jean, meanwhile, is also becoming friendly with Kay to make certain she gets that reward, thinking that if Sam or Blodgett gets it, she won't see a penny of it. How are we going to get the requisite happy ending out of all of this?

That's one of the problems with Trade Winds. The Production Code kind of limits what a movie like this can do, and we know that if the Fredric March and Joan Bennett characters are going to end up together, as the script is leading us to believe, there's going to have to be some twist. The other problem is all those locations. Hollywood couldn't have done location shooting for a movie like this, as it would have been prohibitively expensive and inconvenient to boot. So they used rear-projection scenery, which wouldn't be that big a deal since all the movies did it back then. Except that this time the cast is going all over East and Southeast Asia, so we get a lot of rear projection that's extremely obvious.

Those criticisms having been said, Trade Winds is still pleasant enough, if a bit forgettable after you've watched it, since it seems so much like a bunch of other 1930s movies you've probably watched before. It is worth one watch, however, since the cast is so good. I don't think Trade Winds is available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM airing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

31 Days of Oscar is ending for another year

Today being March 3, we've finally reached Day #31 of this year's 31 Days of Oscar programming block on TCM. That's a fact ath I'm sure will please a lot of the people who whine and shriek about how TCM isn't showing enouhg old movies. Indeed, the TCM boards got two different putatively first-time posters who posted solely to bitch about the movies from the 70s and beyond showing up on TCM. For people like that, I suppose it doesn't help that TCM decided to do prime time this year in roughly chronological order, so that by the beginning of last week we were already into the late 1970s. That having been said, I enjoyed A Little Romance and Absence of Malice amond the movies o fthat era that showed up in prime time; I already did a post on 1975's The Wind and the Lion, and would certainly not be averse to doing full-length posts on My Life as a Dog or The Swarm the next time either shows up on TCM.

With this final night of 31 Days of Oscar looking at movies from the past four years or so, it seems as TCM couldn't get the rights to enough films to make the schedule work out properly. Newer movies tend to be the sort of thing that other channels are going to want the rights to show as well; with the older movies it's only the tent-poles (I think AMC has the rights to The Godfather for another four years) or movies that fit a genre channel like Encore Westerns. So after tonight's last feature, The Queen at 2:45 AM, TCM is running four straight two-reelers:

The Music Box, which I linked to last June on Stan Laurel's birthday, kicks things off at 4:29 AM.

That's followed at 4:59 AM by another Laurel and Hardy short, Tit for Tat, which has the two working in an electrical appliance store, and getting in a heated competition with the grocery next door. Ah, the days of overpriced grocers in tiny shops on main streets. I'm reminded of the shop where Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have one of their secret meetings to discuss the killing of her husband in Double Indemnity. Back to Tit For Tat, it happens to be on Youtube:



The night will conclude with two of the shorts from Warner Bros.' series of Technicolor American history shorts. Both of them got the one-paragraph treatment on Independence Day 2013: John Litel plays Patrick Henry in Give Me Liberty at 5:18 AM, while Claude Rains plays Jewish financier Haym Solomon in Sons of Liberty at 5:39 AM.

To get completely away from 31 Days of Oscar, TCM is spending March 4 with a bunch of schlocky horror movies from the early 1960s, such as the hilariously awful The Brain That Wouldn't Die at 8:45 AM.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Mudlark

FXM Retro showed The Mudlark this morning. It's going to be on again early tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM in case you missed any of the previous showings.

The movie starts off by telling us that there's a legend of an event that supposedly had an effect on Britain in the 39th year of Queen Victoria's reign, so that places us at 1875. Cut to a shot of the London waterfront, where there are a lot of docks as well as muddy shorelines. It's those muddy shorelines that give rise to the term "mudlark", referring to orphans who would scroung through the muck, looking for whatever they could trade for food, I suppose. Wheeler (Andrew Ray) is one such mudlark, and he finds a medallion with a nice picture on it. So nice, in fact, that he's willing to dive back into the Thames to find it, that's how interested he is in this thing. Anyhow, one of the older men along the waterfront tells Wheeler that the woman depicted on the medallion is none other than Queen Victoria, and that she is figuratively the mother of the country. So Wheeler wants to see this mothre, since he doesn't have a mother of his own. He's told that Victoria lives in Windsor Castle, which is 20 miles or so upstream from where they all are. Wheeler sets out for Windsor Castle, and almost in the next shot he's outside the gates, looking at one of the palace guards standing at attention in front of the gates.

Wheeler of course doesn't have a way to get in, but Benjamin Disraeli (Alec Guinness) certainly does. Disraeli is, after all, the Prime Minister, and has to see the queen on a regular basis. But it's more than just the regular laws that need royal assent that have brought Disraeli to see Her Majesty on this particular occasion. Victoria (Irene Dunne) has been mourning the death of her husband, Prince Albert. People mourn when they become widows or widowers, but Victoria has been in mourning for something like 15 years, which is thoroughly abnormal. She's decided that because Albert loved Windsor Castle, she's going to honor him by spending the rest of her life there. Her subjects haven't seen her in public, and they're beginning to get restless. You can see why Disraeli would like Victoria to make a public appearance.

But back to the title character. Somehow the gate didn't get properly locked after Disraeli was admitted, and Wheeler just pushes the gate open and walks into the palace grounds! He walks through the grounds on a foggy night, until he falls into a hole that must be the open door of the coal chute, for the next thing we see, Wheeler is in the basement dirty from coal. He makes his way upstairs, amazingly escaping detection for the longest time. Eventually, though, he gets caught under the table in the queen's dining room by an Irish maid and then her boyfriend, who makes jokes about how easy it would be to burn down the castle. The more senior servants show up, so they have to hide the kid quickly, which they do behind a curtain. He falls asleep, and his snoring catches Victoria's attention at dinner, leading to Wheeler's being found. Wheeler mentions an adult man who said something about burning down the castle, and that leads everybody to think that there's n Irish plot about.

The Queen has problems, Wheeler has problems, and Disraeli has problems. And yet there are even more characters with problems. The script tacks on a story about Emily, one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting (Beatrice Campbell), and her military boyfriend (Anthony Steel) who isn't appropriate for a daughter of the nobility. Rounding out the cast is Finlay Currie as John Brown, Prince Albert's old manservant who is still in service of the Queen. (He's the Mr. Brown who is referred to in the title of the Judi Dench movie Mrs. Brown, about Victoria's relatoinship with Brown.)

There's a lot going on in The Mudlark, and none of it really gets resolved satisfyingly. Emily and her boyfriend presumably elope as she tries to do that on multiple occasions, and then Victoria drops a hint about Emily's mother sometimes being a handful herself. Currie's John Brown is a lovable Scottish drunk, as opposed to the stereotypical lovable Irish drunk that somebody like Barry Fitzgerald might have played in movies set in America. Victoria is a frigid jerk for most of the movie, and then suddenly has a change of heart when she meets Wheeler? Disreali makes a speech in the House of Commons, but we don't really care much about the other events that are going on in Britain. As for Wheeler himself, it's ludictous to believe that he could have gotten as far as he did. Everybody tries, and the movie is mildly entertaining, but it's nowhere near greatness.

I'm not certain whether The Mudlark has ever received a DVD release, so you'll have to catch the FXM Retro showings.

Who wants Dolores Del Rio's Town Car?

The past couple of autumns, TCM has been running stuff from Bonhams auction house about auctions of movie memorabilia to be held that November. I presume TCM get money or other considerations for running these promos; it's not as if TCM is truly commercial-free. What did you think all those promos for Midnight Lace were for, if not to prise more films from Universal (and the Paramount titles they own) to show on TCM?

Well, Bonhams runs other auctions throughout the year, and there's a car auction coming up next week at Amelia Island, FL. Among the cars up for auction is a 1930 Cord L-29 Town Car supposedly owned by Dolores Del Rio. Unfortunately, this seems to be the one car in the auction that doesn't have a reserve price listed, although one of the other cars if I read correctly is expected to fetch a seven-figure fee. Sadly, I don't have that kind of money lying around. I also don't have a place to put a fine car like that. You wouldn't want to see what the winters here would do to such an automobile.

I can't help but think of Norma Desmond's car in Sunset Blvd. that she claims cost her $25,000 in 1920s dollars. That car, an Isotto Fraschini Tiop 8A. is apparently at the Italian National Automobile Museum; the English-language pages are apparently not working just now. That car, or a certain yellow Rolls-Royce....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Richard Bakalyan, 1931-2015

Wikipedia's obituaries page is announcing the death of actor Richard Bakalyan at the age of 84, although it hasn't reached the major news outlets yet as the only mention so far seems to be a local newspaper obituary reposted to legacy.com.

Bakalyan is one of those actors where I saw the name and though, "That name sure sounds familiar, although I can't think of anything he was in offhand." But Bakalyan had a long career playing supporting characters in all sorts of films from the late 50s onward. One of his first films was The Delinquents, which had him playing an underling in the gang that terrorizes the good guy who just made a dumb mistake because society doesn't care about teens enough.

IMDb lists a credit for Panic in Year Zero!, but since he wasn't in the main family I couldn't tell you exactly where to look for Bakalyan. As I said, he spent his career doing supporting work.

That same year, Bakalyan appeared alongside Bobby Darin in Pressure Point, which led to a friendship that lasted for the rest of Darin's life until his early death in 1973.

For a change of pace, try Von Ryan's Express; if memory serves, Bakalyan plays the US Army man translating with the Italians.

A different sort of Italian-American would be in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a docudrama about the Chicago gangland massacre on February 14, 1929.

Bakalyan's career really took a turn in the late 1960s when he started working at Disney, making stuff like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The Strongest Man in the World, interspersed with more serious work elsewhere like a role in Chinatown. There was also a large body of TV work.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

New month, new old movies

Tomorrow is March 1 already. Let's hope spring isn't far behind, although that's not quite the point of this blog. A new month normally means new features on TCM, but we're not going to get them until after March 3, since we're stillin 31 Days of Oscar. The Star of the Month, Silent Sunday Nights and Imports, and Friday Night spotlight will have to wait until later next week. The only thing coming up on the TCM schedule before Sunday prime time that I really care about is Gold Diggers of 1933, which I've apparently never done a full-length post on. That's because early on when I started the blog, I did that long paragraph that you an read in the link above. Ever since then, I've been thinking that I actually did a fell-length post on the movie, when that's the most there is.

A new month on FXM, however, means that movies that have been stuck in the vault for a while will be coming out for a bit. The Quiller Memorandum. It will be getting two airings in the near future, tomorrow morning at 11:05 AM, and then Monday, March 2 at 7:25 AM. It's not particularly special for the "serious" 1960s spy movie, but I like seeing the Berlin style as it really was back in the day. If you haven't seen it before, it's worth a watch, although I don't know whether FXM will have it in the correct aspect ratio.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Apparently I haven't blogged about "Kind Lady" before

The 1951 version of Kind Lady is showing up tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM on TCM. A search of the blog claims that I haven't blogged about it before (I probably should have kept a running database of movies I've blogged about), and the TCM schedule and IMDb pages both agree it's still not available on DVD, so you'll have to catch this infrequent TCM showing.

Ethel Barrymore plays Mary Herries, the titular "kind lady". She's an older, well-to-do widow living alone with her servants in one of those lovely late Victorian townhouses of the sort that look like they could have come off the same part of the backlot MGM used to make Gaslight seven years earlier. Mary is an art collector, and has a whole bunch of nice pieces in her house. Fortunately, though, this is the Victorian era when crime was lower and people didn't have to go to the ridiculous lengths to ptotect their art that we saw in yesterday's How to Steal a Million.

Well, maybe you can strike that last sentence. The beginning of the film shows off Mary's art collection to the point that you know somebody is going to try to steal something, and that happens fairly quickly. Just outside Mary's house, doing a painting of it, is starving artist Henry Elcott (Maurice Evans). Elcott knows that Mary likes nice things and is an art collector, so eventually he comes over to the house to try to sell a painting, which is actually a ruse for him to try to steal something, as he takes a cigarette case and leaves his paintings behind. That, of course, was quite intentional.

The next time Elcott and Mary meet, we get to see just how starving an artist he actually is. He's got a sickly wife Ada (Betsy Blair) and young son he's trying to support. Mary takes pity on him and sends him some money, and when Elcott comes over to thank her for it, he brings the whole family, as well as a portrait of Ada. Ada faints and is taken to a spare bedroom upstairs, where a doctor says that Ada likely has pneumonia, and says that Ada shouldn't be moved. It's another ruse, of course, for Elcott to get into the Herries home.

Mary eventually figures out that if it's not all a ruse, it's at least monstrously irritating to have these people she barely knows in her house. But by the time she tries to protest, it's too late. Elcott and some of his rriends tie up Mary and begin to hold her hostage. Not only her, but her maid Rose (Doris Lloyd), who is taking her boss' side in this whole thing and not the interlopers'.

So Elcott and his gang of con artists try to get Mary to sign over a power of attorney that would let them sell all the stuff and pocket the money, and if she fights, they'll try to get everybody to believe that she's gone insane. Mary, for her part, is a crafty old lady, and she's not about to go down meekly....

Kind Lady is surprisingly dark for an MGM movie, I think, but the MGM quality is there for all to see. Ethel Barrymore is quite good in the lead role, important because hers is the role that ties together the whole film and without a good performance there, the movie would fall apart. But Barrymore is helped by the fact that MGM was able to get together a bunch of top-tier supporting talent. I still haven't mentioned Angela Lansbury and Keenan Wynn as the partners in crime to Evans' character. John Williams, a name you might not recognize but whose roles you may recall (the chief inspector from Dial M For Murder and supporting roles in several other well-known films of the 1950s), plays Mary's banker.

All in all, Kind Lady is well worth a watch, and it's a shame that the movie seens never to have gotten a DVD release considering the cast.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Steal a Million

FXM Retro showed How to Steal a Million this afternoon. It's on again tomorrow morning at 3:30 AM if you didn't get a chance to se today's airing. The movie doesn't really break any new ground, but it's more than entertaining enough.

The movie starts off at an auction house in Paris where they're auctioning off a bunch of paintings, including a C├ęzanne that's from the Bonnet collection. Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) hears about this, and is greatly distressed. The thing is, she still lives with her father (Hugh Griffith) in a stylish mansion in Paris, and she knows the truth about the Bonnet collection. That truth is that the works are forgeries; Dad is currently working on a Van Gogh. Nicole doesn't want Dad to do any more forging. Quit while you're ahead, for the love of God. Dad, for his part, has no such plans for retiring. Indeed, he plans to use one of the family's best forgeries, a statue purporting to be by the Renaissance sculptor Cellini of the goddess Venus done by his father, and lend that out to a Paris museum for their latest exhibition.

Meanwhile, Nicole's night is disturbed when she thinks she hears something in the house. Oh, she does, all right. That something is a man, and it looks like he's trying to steal one of the Van Goghs that's hanging on the wall! So she confronts him, and eventually gets him to put the painting back on the wall. After all, he convinces her that if she calls the police, there will be a lot of bad publicity. He would be right about that. The thing is, this man isn't really a burglar, as is telegraphed in these scene. His name is Simon Dermott (Peter O'Toole), and he's in the house to get a bit of paint from the Van Gogh, not steal it. The plan is to anallyze the paint and determine once and for all whether the Bonnet father is a forger. We clearly see Simon remove paint flecks with a pair of tweezers, so we know he's not the burgler that he's portraying himself as to Nicole.

Their paths are going to cross again, though. We get a scene of the Venus at the museum, with all the security measures in place to keep the statue from being stolen. And that's all well and good. But there's the matter of insurance. Bonnet doesn't have any insurance on the statue since it's a forgery, although ostensibly he can say what's the point of insuring it since it's one of a kind? The museum, however, has to indemnify themselves against the possibility of damage during the transfer or theft, at no cost to Bonnet. All he has to do is sign the insurance form. But there's a catch: once he signs the contract, there's going to be an inspection of the statue, and it's this inspection that's certain to show the statue to be a forgery!

What's a family to do? Well, Nicole just happens to know a high-class burglar in Simon, and so she asks him for help, although she doesn't want to tell him exactly why she wants toe Venus to be stolen from the museum. (Simon, of course, has an inkling.) So the two try to devise a heist to get around all the security issues, and take the Venus, theoretically solving all of the Bonnets' problems. Of course, along the way, Nicole falls in love with Simon.

That's one of the many ways in which How to Steal a Million treads ground we've seen in several other comedic heist films from the 1960s, although at least in this case it also causes another complication. There's a businesman art collector named Davis Leland (Eli Wallach) who sees the Venus, and just has to have it. And he sees Nicole, and just has to have her, too. As for the "we've eeen this stuff before" aspects of the film, there were a number of times when it felt as though I was watching Gambit, from the relationship between the male and female leads down to the electric eyes protecting the statue to be stolen. Even though the genre is familiar, the movie is entertaining after a slow start. Hepburn and O'Toole play off each other well; the planning of the heist is clever enough, and Eli Wallach is a treat although he's only in a small number of scenes. Showing up in an even smaller number of scenes is Charles Boyer as O'Toole's boss.

How to Steal a Million seems to be out of print on DVD. A TCM Shop search doesn't yield any hits, while there are only a limited number of DVDs available at Amazon.