Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thin Man comedy

TCM is running The Thin Man tonight at 8:00 PM as this week's Essential. It's a movie that I've never done a full-length posting on, although I've mentioned it quite a bit when talking about William Powell or Myrna Loy. I'm not certain, but I think the reason I've never done a full-length post on the film comes down to a couple of things. First, I can't help but think it's a bit better known that a lot of other old movies. Not that I want to deal in obscurities, but I've always felt a bit uncomfortable about doing posts on the tent-pole titles since, as I've been known to write about some movies, it's a story you all know.

The other reason is the plot, such as it is. As wonderful as the movie is, The Thin Man is one of those mysteries that you watch not for the mystery, but for all the comic elements that go on around Nick and Nora's attempts to solve the mystery. Some good examples:

Early on, before we get Nora's comedic entrance including a pratfall, we see Nick drinking one martini after another. If Nick is going to have that many, so is Nora, so she orders six martinis lined up. Needless to say, the next morning she wakes up with a hangover. "What hit me?" she asks Nick. "The last martini."

Gil (William Henry), one of Wynant's sons, if in the movie in large part for comic relief, claiming to have studied crime and trying to put on airs that he knows as much about how to solve a case like this as everybody else, although when push comes to shove you know he's not going to have the stomach for it. But perhaps his best line is when he tells the police that his missing father is a "sexagenarian". Perfectly accurate, but it's one of those words like "titillate" that sounds racier than it is.

Asta gets a couple of good scenes too, afraid of the popping balloons and afraid of the gunam who comes into Nick and Nora's bedroom. Oh to have a dog like that.

What's your favorite part of The Thin Man?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Technical difficulties

Last month, I mentioned how the TCM high definition feed is now apparerently the default one. For those of us haven't gone through the rigmarole of converting all our equipment to HD -- I'd have to get a new dish, install it on the roof and aim it properly -- there's still the SD feed. Sometimes, though, things get a little wonky.

Cary Grant is on at least his third go-round as TCM's Star of the Month, and instead of finding a new celebrity to do a new Star of the Month piece on him, TCM has been re-running thw pieces from the previous two times, by Tony Curtis and Michael Caine. The Caine piece looks to have been cropped on top and bottom to go from 4:3 to 16:9, with the result that in many of the clips Cary Grant's head is cut off somewhere in his forehead, while at the bottom, half of the movie titles are cut off. I don't think I noticed anything wrong with the Tony Curtis piece, however.

A bit more distressingly was yesterday's showing of Never on Sunday. The movie was apparently filmed in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, while the 16:9 aspect ratio for HD TV is 1.78:1. As with the Michael Caine piece, it looked as though the bottom and top must have been cropped, albeit not quite as much. But it was obvious because the bottom line of the subtitles when people were speaking Greek was partially cut off. This suddenly changed about 40 minutes into the movie when the showing switched to the proper aspect ratio and you could see the subtitles in their entirety.

I imagine it must be a pain for cable channels to have to worry about all those old TVs and cablt/satellite boxes out there. And at least TCM's problems haven't been anywhere near as bad as when FMC/FXM ran A High Wind in Jamaica. Still, it's a shame.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

About that interview

By now you've probably heard about how Sony Pictures shelved its movie The Interview because of the hacking kerfuffle and the purported threats of violence from... somebody: the hackers? North Koreans? Who knows. It is one of the more interesting reasons for a studio to shelve a movie, although there is in fact a fairly long list of movies that were either shelved completely, or just delayed by years in getting their release.

First up would be those movies whose principal production was never finished. Probably the best example I can think of would be Something's Gotta Give, the movie that Marilyn Monroe was making just before she died. Although her death definitively ended production on the movie, she had actually been fired from the production two months earlier and the movie probably wasn't going to get done, at least not in any way close to what the footage filmed to that point might have indicated.

Some movies get delayed because of the censors; a good example of this, I think, is The Outlaw. Howard Hughes' new discovery, Jane Russell, had a very ample bust, and that bust was used to good effect in the movie. Of course, that really ticked off the people enforcing the Production Code, because how dare anybody know that women have breasts? Production finished sometime in 1941, but the movie didn't get released until 1943. On a slightly different note, apparently 1933's Convention City did get a release, however brief. It was the horrified reaction to the more prudish critics that caused Warner Bros. to pull the movie and destroy all the copies.

Some movies had troubled productions that probably had something to do with the delay in their getting released. Greed had to be edited, becuase there was no way anybody was going to watch a nine-hour movie. The Magnificent Ambersons is another movie famous for being edited heavily after production was finished, much to the disgust of director Orson Welles, who was away from Hollywood when the editing was done. Another movie with a difficult production whose release was delayed is Night Unto Night, although the reasons for the delay were, I think, a bit difficult.

Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella was delayed for a fairly reasonable cause: the studio wanted a summer release, but Lewis thought the movie would work better as a Christmas release. So the release was delayed, and for summer release Lewis made The Bellboy whish was a smashing success.

Amd then there are movies like The Narrow Margin which had a delayed release for reasons I can't divine. Star Jacqueline White had already retired from the movies by the time the movie was actually released.

Any other interesting stories of movies whose release was delayed by a long time?

Virna Lisi, 1936-2014

So I saw on Wikipedia's obituary list page that Italian actress Virna Lisi died this morning at the age of 78. The name looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. It turns out she came to Hollywood in the mid-1960s and made half a dozen or so films, most notably How to Murder Your Wife with Jack Lemmon.

Lisi returned to Italy in the early 1970s and worked steadily thereafter, but that relative lack of a Hollywoof career is probably why I didn't remember her so well, and also why I haven't been able to find an English-language obituary so far. There's on in Italian if you can read that, or one in German.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Coming up in the next 24 hours

Yesterday, I mentioned that TCM's morning and afternoon lineup for today was a bunch of crime movies made in 1950. That programming block ends at 7:00 PM with Experiment Alcatraz. I missed the first 10 minutes or so of this one the last time it showed up on TCM, which means I missed a lot since the movie runs under an hour. The plot involves a doctor who has an experimental radioisotopic medicine that he has to try out on Alcatraz prisoners. One of the prisoners goes insane, stabs another, and escapes; the doctor and his assistant have to solve the case by finding the guy and proving that he really wasn't insane. It's the sort of thing that by the end of the decade would likely have been produced as episodic television, but it's reasonably entertaining.

Speaking of episodic TV, those of you who watch enough of it may recognize this month's Guest Programmer: Jason Lee, from the sitcome My Name Is Earl. He shows up wiht Robert Osborne tonight, although he's only presenting three movies, unlike the four most Guest Programmers normally present.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is The Kid,which has Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp becoming a foster father and having to fight to keep custody of the kid.
At 9:00 PM is another Chaplin film, City Lights, which has the Tramp going to great lengths to try to raise the money for a blind flower seller to get an operation that will presumably restore her eyesight.
Finally, at 10:45 PM, you can see Paris Texas, with Harry Dean Stanton as a man who comes in from the desert and has to try to reunite with his estranged family.

Unrelated to the Guest Programmer, but for those of you who like the Traveltalks shorts, tomorrow at about 7:38 AM, or following The Affairs of Martha (6:30 AM, 67 min), TCM is showing Minnesota, Land of Plenty, showing the state as it was, or as James Fitzpatrick envisioned it, back in 1942.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Destination Murder

TCM is showing a bunch of crime films made in 1950 tomorrow morning and afternoon. Most of them are decidedly B movies, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As an example of how that's not bad, you can watch the interesting movie that opens the day's proceedings, Destination Murder, at 6:00 AM.

The basic plot is simple, but the way it unfolds is rather complex with a bunch of twists and turns. The movie starts off with a bang, almost literally. Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements) is at a movie with his girlfriend. During the intermission, he gets up, presumably to go to the restroom or the concession stand. In fact, he's picked up by a boss of sorts named Armitage (Albert Dekker). Armitage drives Jackie to a house where Jackie, having changed into a uniform worn by telegram delivery boys, rings the doorbell and shoots Mansfield, who answers! It's the perfect crime, except for one thing: during the getaway Mansfield's daughter Laura (Joyce Mackenzie) shows up having returned from boarding school or something. She sees Jackie, and can even identify him from a police lineup, but... nothing else happens!

What's a woman to do? Why, this woman decides that a little ingenuity might be a good thing. She strikes up a relationship with Jackie, who is apparently more than willing enough to dump the girlfriend he had at the movie theater in favor of Laura. Laura eventually learns that Jackie has some dealings at Armitage's nightclub, so Laura goes to the club along, looking for a job! Of course, her real reason is so she can get inside and try to get some inside information on what's going on with Jackie and Amritage so that she can get the people responsible for her father's death. After all, Jackie only pulled the trigger; certainly somebody ordered the hit.

What follows is a twisty plot with blackmail; a double-dealing moll (Myrna Dell); a vicious, scheming assistant (Hurd Hatfield); torture set to classical music; and some plot turns that you you should probably expect to exist because of the genre of film, but the specifics of which you may not see coming. The ending is one that conforms to the Production Code, so you know the bad guys are going to get theirs. And since we know from the beginning who the bad guys are, there's a bit less suspense than there otherwise might be. Overall, though, Destination Murder is a fun little B movie that entertains just fine, even if afterwards it may blend in with all the other B crime movies from the era.

Destination Murder has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Maxwell Anderson, 1888-1959

Today marks the birth anniversary of playwright Maxwell Anderson. Several of his plays have been turned into movies. Probably the best known of those movies would be Key Largo, which I never realized was based on an Anderson play, although to be fair John Huston apparently changed the play almost beyond recognition. I've seen the movie but never seen or read the play, so I wouldn't know.

Perhaps a better example, then, of Anderson's work might be his play Elizabeth the Queen, which was adapted for the screen as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939. The ending of Elizabeth the Queen can also be seen being performed on stage by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in the delightful film The Guardsman; the rest of the play is a Ferenc Molnar work. Anderson actually wrote several plays about that period of English history, including Mary of Scotland which was turned into a movie in 1936, and Anne of the Thousand Days, which didn't become a movie until a decade after Anderson's death.

Anderson did more contemporary work, too, writing the play Saturday's Children, which became a film twice, with the better known version being the early 1940s version starring John Garfield, and The Bad Seed, which in fact was the subject of a post on Anderson's birthday back in 2008.

Anderson also did screenplays from other authors' work too; perhaps the best known among these would be the Joan Crawford version of Somerset Maugham's story Rain, or the Fredric March version of Death Takes a Holiday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


TCM is airing The Camerman overnight tonight at 12:30 AM as part of the regular Silent Sunday Nights feature. I was looking for a good picture to illustrate the post I was going to do on the movie, and found that one of the pictures linked to a post about the film at the blog Silentology. Lea, from the looks of that and the other posts I've read, clearly has a much greater love and knowledge of silents than I do. Not that I dislike silents, mind you; it's just that I'm not particularly well-versed in the topic compared to those who are avid fans. I also have to admit that I've really preferred silent comedies to silent dramas. To me, the physical humor necessitated by having to do comedy without dialog holds up better than the outsized melodrama that the dramas tend to have.

At any rate, I notice that Silentology not only has a bunch of interesting posts about the movies, it's still a going concern. Those two qualities -- especially the latter -- are the two things that make me want to put a blog into my blogroll over on the right side of the screen, so Silentology has been added.

Lea will be running a Buster Keaton blogathon in February; I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to take part. Most likely I'll do what I normally do when I see a blogathon: think it's a neat idea; spend several days coming up with an interesting idea, and then forget about it until after the blogathon has come and gone.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Circle of Deception

A worthwhile little World War II spy movie is showing up on FXM Retro: Circle of Deception, tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

The movie starts off in London in the spring of 1946, as a parade honoring the soldiers who served in the recent war are marching down the street receiving their well-earned heroes' welcome. Up in one of the apartments overlooking the street are a bunch of people who served as well, but not in a combat capacity. Lucy Bowen (Suzy Parker) served under Captain Rawson (Harry Andrews), and it's fairly quickly made clear that Lucy has some issues regarding the time she served with Rawson. Rawon, for his part, doesn't seem concerned at all: there was a war on, after all, and the Nazis would have done stuff far worse than anything Rawson or the rest of the British signed off on. Specifically, Lucy wnoders what happened to one Captain Raine, who was in France the last she knew. Rawson has Raine's post-war address, which is a seedy bar in Tangier, Morocco. Cut to an establishing shot of Tangier....

Lucy goes to the address given, and at first the proprietor of the bar claims that he hasn't seen Raine in some time, as he goes in an out keeping odd hours. Soon enough, though, it's revealed that Raine is in fact there, and he has good reasons for not wanting to see Lucy. They talk a bit, and we're about to get a flashback to what happened with Raine, Rawson, and Lucy that made Raine so sour on Lucy.

But first, we get a flashback to occupied France, in 1944. In the town of Marignan somewhere not far from the English Channel, the Maquis are operating as apparently they were in lots of little French towns. The Nazis are onto this particular Maquis cell, however, and capture most of the members of the cell. This is bad news for the English, who were looking to use the Marignan-area Maquis as a diversion from where the real invasion of Normandy was going to be. They still want to do that, but to do so, they're going to have to get new instructions to the Maquis, which involves sending a British spy. Or at least, that's what they want the Nazis to think they're doing. More specifically, the English want the Nazis to find the British spy and break him through torture so that he'll reveal the information that Marignan is important when, unbeknownst to the spy, Marignan is only a diversion. But if the spy believes in the importance of Marignan, so will the Nazis, and they'll move some troops away from the areas that are really important to the allies. (They couldn't use a dead body for this purpose, because they had already done that in Operation Mincemeat, as told more or less in The Man Who Never Was.) But, paradoxically, the British need a spy who is likely to break when of course they've been training their spies not to break for obvious reasons. Raine's psychological profile suggests that he's the right man for the job.

Raine gets parachuted into France and fairly quickly gets caught by the Gestapo, who unsurprisingly begin to apply totrure on him. Exactly what happens next forms the climax of the film, so I won't give it away, other than to say what because the movie is told in flashback, we know Raine is going to survive the war. As for the movie as a whole, the acting is nothing special, but the story makes this movie. Parker is relatively wooden, while Andrews does a reasonably good job of coming off like a jerk who rationalies he has to be like this because of the war. The torture scenes are surprisingly brutal, depicting several rounds of waterboarding and attaching electrodes to Raine's ears (I'd assume in real life the Nazis would have attached the electrodes to his testicles, but obviously they couldn't show that on screen back then). There's also the standard issue beatings. The final scene is one I found a bit implausible, but other than that the movie is well worth a watch.

Unfortunately, Circle of Deception doesn's seem to be on DVD at all. And the print FXM showed is panned and scanned.

TCM Remembers 2014

So I finally got a chance to see this year's parade of the dead, better known as TCM Remembers on TCM, yesterday evening. It's as well down as it alays is, which means it's a heck of a lot better than anything I would have been able to think up, even if there are a few omissions. Although, with as many people as TCM is remembering, how far down the list of fame is somebody if TCM isn't remembering them? Errol Flynn's widow Patrice Wymore is not in the salute, even though she did make some Hollywood movies. I also remember the death of Tatyana Samoilova from The Cranes Are Flying this spring, although she didn't make so many movies and with her being foreign it's not a surprise that TCM might have overlooked her. But they did remember people like Menahem Golan and Alain Resnais, which is nice to see.

One name that threw me for a loop was Dickie Jones. When I saw that I thought to myself that if he had died, I certainly would have seen the news either on Wikipedia or on the TCM Forums. It turned out that Dickie Jones was the voice of Pinocchio, and yes, I did remember seeing that obituary over the summer. The reason I had some confusion is that I was getting the name Dickie Jones mixed up with Dickie Moore, who is still alive at the age of 89.

TCM have put the video up on Youtube and allowed embedding, so I've put it up here for you to watch. It's probably better to watch the embed than to read the whining from the Youtube commenters.