Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Stix nix hick pix

TCM's prime time lineup tonight starts with four of the Ma and Pa Kettle series, beginning at 8:00 PM with the first film in the series, appropriately titled Ma and Pa Kettle.

The Kettles actually showed up on screen before they had their own series. In the movie The Egg and I, Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray play a married couple who leave the rat race of the big city to go live on a farm. Their farm is right next to the Kettles' and the characters of the Kettles turned out to be so popular that Universal decided to put them in a series of their own. Marjorie Main plays Ma Kettle, the mother to 15 (or is it 16?) children, married to Pa (Percy Kilbride) who seems to have the basic desire of getting through life as easily as possible. Along the way they're presented as the stereotypical yokels, even if they, especially Ma, have no less common sense than those city sophisticates. But it's OK to laugh at those backward yokels, don'tcha know. Main's performance even earned her an Oscar nomination.

Anyhow, this first movie in the series involves Pa writing in to a slogan-writing contest run by the compnay of the chewing tobacco that he uses; he does it to win a new pouch for his tobacco. However, he wins the grand prize, which is an ultra-modern automatic house with all the latest conveniences that make the push-button drapes from Joan Crawford's Torch Song a few years later seem quaint. Of course, a lot of the humor involves laughing at the Kettles for not being able to navigate such modern conveniences. Meanwhile, their eldest son Tom (Richard Long) has returned from ag school where he's studying more modern farming techniques. On the way home from school he meets Kim (Meg Randall), a journalist doing a story on the Kettles. He falls for her, but she's horrified by the fact that the Kettles live a lifestyle that she doesn't approve of.

After the four Ma and Pa Kettle movies, TCM will be showing four movies in the Five Little Peppers series from a decade earlier, starting with Five Little Peppers and How they Grew at 2:00 AM. The series involves a family with five children in which the father died and Mom, along with help from the eldest daughter, is trying to raise the family. In this first entry, they've inherited a 50% share in a non-working mine after Dad dies, and the man who owns the other 50% tries to take it off of them for a song. But when he tries to do so and his grandson goes to see the Peppers, all sorts of complications ensue.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Another sign that FXM Retro is still going

Going back to the earliest days of this blog, when there was the Fox Movie Channel that was commercial-free and relatively classic movie oriented 24 hours a day, I pointed out that whoever programs the channel likes to take a small number of movies out of the vaults, run them into the ground, and then take a different set of films out of the vault and run those into the ground. It seems to be the beginning of the month that we see some movies return from out of the vault.

As you'll have noticed if you look at a calendar, tomorrow is December 1, which means the first day of a new month. Once again, we get a couple of movies that haven't been on FXM Retro in some time. The first of them is Swamp Water, coming up at 8:25 AM tomorrow. I blogged about it in June 2010, and then noticed that it was coming back out of the vault in June 2013, something that I have to admit I'd forgotten about.

The other one is Moontide, which I've mentioned on a couple of occasions, most recently in February 2013 which is when I think it had its last batch of airings on what was still the Fox Movie Channel at the time. That immediately follows Swamp Water, at 10:00 AM.

If you don't believe me that FXM Retro likes to run movies into the ground, look at the schedule for Wednesday, December 2. There's Swamp Water at 6:00 AM, followed by Moontide at 7:25 AM.

The Apu Trilogy

TCM is running Indian director Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy tonight in prime time. I have to admit that I've only seen the first of the three movies, back when TCM was doing the Story of Film series and ran a whole bunch of interesting foreign movies around the otherwise bland documentary. So I can't really comment about the trilogy as a whole.

As for the first movie, I'd have to say that for me it was the sort of thing where it was nice to mark it off the list of things I haven't seen before that everybody says is a classic that anybody who claims to be a film buff should have seen. But at the same time, it's also the sort of thing I wouldn't go out of my way to watch a second time. Not that I disliked it; instead, it's more that I found it a bit too slow moving and having the sort of "slice-of-life" theme where you really have to care about the characters presented. Other "slice-of-life" movies have had much more interesting characters from my point of view.

Also note the starting times. Apparently TCM is running a brief piece on the restoration of the films that will run after Robert Osborne's introduction, followed by the first of the three movies. However, both that brief piece and the first movie are listed as starting at 8:00 PM. So if you're looking to record the movies, you're definitely going to have to record the first one manually.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coming up on November 30, 2015

Tomorrow, November 30, marks what would have been the 95th birthday of actress Virginia Mayo, so it's not surprising that TCM is spending a morning and afternoon with her. Mayo might be best known for playing James Cagney's moll in White Heat, but that's not airing. She was also Dana Andrews' wife who enjoyed the good times in The Best Years of Our Lives, but that one is also not airing.

Instead, I'll make brief mentions of a couple of other movies. First, at 11:00 AM is Colorado Territory. This one is a remake of High Sierra, except that the action is moved back a couple of decades to make it a western. Joel McCrea plays the Humphrey Bogart character, that being the criminal who does "one more" robbery that ultimately costs him. Mayo plays his girl, who goes all the way to the end of the line for him.

If you want something lighter, you could try The Girl from Jones Beach at 2:15 PM. Mayo plays that girl, but more on her in a minute. Ronald Reagan is an artist who has come up with a drawing of an ideal girl by drawing the body parts of a bunch of different girlfriends. And then he meets Mayo at the shore, and finds that she looks just like his drawing. How to meet her? Well, she teaches English as a second language at citizenship classes for immigrants, so Reagan tries to pass himself off as a Czech immigrant! Reagan was always reasonably OK at light comedy, and thanks to having Eddie Bracken as a sidekick, the movie does ultimately work.

Over on FXM Retro, you've got one more chance to watch The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, tomorrow at 11:30 AM. I briefly summarized this one at the end of October 2014, and stand by what I said in that post. It's more than pleasant if you like the Fox style of musicals that they were putting out in the Betty Grable era, but if that's not your thing, it's a very trifling, albeit utterly inoffensive, trifle. As I also mentioned in the October 2014 post, the movie was based on an idea from silent movie screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who lived to be 111, but Fox changed Maas' ideas beyond all belief.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Another heads-up for fans of shorts on TCM

Unfortunately, it looks as though there's another glitch with the TCM on-line schedule in that the shorts aren't showing up. I was looking through today's schedule, and noticed that there weren't any shorts scheduled. I was slightly surprised since following Monkey Business there was about a 12-minute gap before the next feature, the first of the Dick Tracy movie started. And then I noticed that there was about 12 or 13 minutes between the end of Dick Tracy and the Bowery Boys movie that was following. I also saw that the Bowery Boys film was just under 70 minutes and put in a 90-minute time slot, which obviously leaves 20 minutes for TCM to film. Surely during at least one of those slots there would be a short scheduled?

My first thought was that there was just a problem with the schedule for today. So I switched to the weekly schedule, and lo and behold, there wasn't one short on the schedule for the entire week! That has to be a misprint, I thought. I know the shorts are scheduled fairly shortly before they air, maybe a week or so, and that often times if you look at the weekly schedule only the first four or five days will have shorts on it because TCM hasn't necessarily decided what short to put in what slot in the last couple of days. But this time, there was nothing at all for any of the seven days.

Anyhow, I decided to stick around for the end of Monkey Business to see if TCM would run a one-reeler. No; we got an interesting piece on George Cukor. Wait an hour and change for the end of Dick Tracy. (Well, I actually watched something off the DVR.) This time there was the promo for the TCM wine club, and a trailer for something. Certainly there was going to be something in that 20-minute slot between the end of the Bowery Boys movie and the start of The Poseidon Adventure at noon. Well, first up was the piece Nancy Sinatra did on her father Frank the last time he was Star of the Month back in 2008 on the 10th anniversary of his death. He's going to be Star of the Month in December since that will be the 100th anniversary of his birth, but this one wasn't branded as a Star of the Month piece. Interestingly, there was what looked like a newly-made Star of the Month piece for Sinatra that came up after either Monkey Business or Dick Tracy, I can't remember which. But then finally, around 11:45 AM, there was the Traveltalks short on Bavaria.

But when I went back online, it still wasn't in either the daily or weekly schedule. So for the time being it looks as though either somebody's forgotten to update the schedule to include the shorts, or we'll no longer be getting them. A shame either way.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dick Tracy redux

Back in 2012, I mentioned the 1937 Dick Tracy serial, something which I had completely forgotten about. I didn't mention back in 2012, but I did know then and would have recalled now that there was a series of B movies about the famous comic strip detective made in the second half of the 1940s.

Well, that series is starting this Saturday on TCM, what with the Batman and Robin serial having ended last Saturday. Of course, since these are full-length movies, and not a serial, the start time is a bit earlier, at 9:15 AM, so that it'll end in time for the next of the Bowery Boys movies to begin at 10:30 AM.

I know I saw at least one of these the last time TCM ran all of them, but I can't remember which one and would probably blur all the plots anyhow since it's been several years I think since TCM ran them.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving night with Tracy and Hepburn

After you've finished your Thanksgiving turkey, if you don't like football you can always spend the evening with TCM, who are counterprogramming with five of the nine movies to pair Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Desk Set, one that I've never actually blogged about in full and would do so if today weren't Thanksgiving and I didn't have a bunch of other things to do. The movie stars Hepburn as the head of a TV network's research library; into that library comes computer expert (for 1957 computers) Tracy, who's trying to sell the network a computer that will help in research. Unsurprisingly, the research librarians think the computer is going to replace them. Complicating matters is that Tracy and Hepburn's characters fall in love along the way. Pay special attention to the computer. It's the same one that would be recycled by Fox several years later in the Dick Van Dyke section of What a Way to Go! which was just on TCM earlier this week. I suppose that vintage computer could be the subject for a post of its own if I had good screencaps of it.

Coming up at 10:00 PM is Woman of the Year, which I blogged about four years ago. Political columnist Hepburn meets sportswriter Tracy; the two fall in love despite their differences.

At midnight is State of the Union, which has Tracy running for the presidency with his wife Hepburn as support; unfortunately the campaign threatens to take his humanity away from him.

You can catch Pat and Mike at 2:15 AM; here Hepburn plays a female athlete who is discovered by Tracy who becomes her manager; again the two fall in love along the way.

Finally, at 4:00 AM is Adam's Rib, with Tracy and Hepbrn playing married lawyers who wind up on opposite sides of a criminal trial when Hepburn takes the defense of Judy Holliday, who is on trial for shooting her husband.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Imagine this happening to you at Thanksgiving

If you've got the Encore package and can get Encore Classics, you'll have a couple of chances to catch Seems Like Old Times, at 2:35 PM Thursday and 5:50 AM Friday.

Chevy Chase stars as Nicholas Gardenia, who at the start of the movie is at a mildly isolated beach house some place in Northern California. He's a writer, and looking for some solitude for his next project. A couple of guys come knocking at his door, and they make it known in no uncertain terms that they need Nicholas' help for their next project. Of course, they do it in those "no uncertain terms" because their project is bank robbery! They've got their eyes on one of the bank branches in another of those seaside towns, and they expect Nicholas to pass the hold-up note and drive the getaway car for them. It sounds like a daft idea, but it is their plan. The robbery goes about as well as can be expected, in that it goes according to plan, nobody gets hurt, and the bankers get away with the money. They don't even show up on any of the security cameras; the only one who does is poor Nicholas. And the only getaway he can make involves getting pushed out of his own car at high speed by the two bank robbers, which leaves Nicholas stranded in the middle of nowhere and injured.

Meanwhile, down in the Los Angeles area, getting news about this is District Attorney Ira Parks (Charles Grodin). He's in the running to be his party's nominee for Attorney General, and this bank robbery could cause some problems for him, even though he's several counties away. The thing is, Ira Parks' wife, a public defender named Glenda (Goldie Hawn), just happens to be the ex-wife of one Nicholas Gardenia -- yes, the very same man who was seen on that bank security camera footage. Even though Ira is clearly innocent of any wrongdoing, having a wife with a former husband who is a bank robber is obviously going to cause a problem in trying to run for higher office., as his right-hand man Fred (Robert Guillaume) points out.

Getting back to Nicholas, he's been trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities, while dealing with his other problems, namely that injury and the fact that he's hungry. So he's desperate for help. Desperate enough, in fact, that there's one place he decides he can turn to: his ex-wife Glenda! Oh, that's bad, but making matters worse is that Nicholas shows up at the Parks place just as they're holding a party for a bunch of political hot-shots. Having an alleged bank robber be seen there would be disastrous for everybody, especially the Parkses.

From here on out we get Nicholas trying to figure out a plan of escape, while Glenda is piling one lie on top of another trying to keep Nicholas from being caught, since that would cause bigger problems for Ira than just allowing Nicholas to go about his merry business. Now, as you may know from reading my earlier blog posts, I tend to have a problem with the comedy-of-lies in that I find the non-stop lying grating. Won't anybody see through these obvious lies? And to be perfectly honest, there are points during Seems Like Old Times where I get incredibly irritated with Goldie Hawn's character. And yet, ultimately, the movie does work for me. Glenda is part daffy in a screwball way, what with all those dogs and with trying to reform the people she's defending, and that helps the movie. Nicholas is basically honest, if just dumb enough to get himself into some bad situations. And Ira, well, you have to wonder what made him decide to marry Glenda. But thanks to the writing of Neil Simon, everything comes together well enough. Not as well as several of his other movies; if I were going to recommend one of his films I'd start off with The Sunshine Boys, followed by The Odd Couple. Still, if you like Neil Simon, I think you'll like this. Especially if you don't have the problems with the comedy-of-lies that I do.

Seems Like Old Times does seem to be available on DVD at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The final night of Norma Shearer

Today sees the final night of TCM's Star of the Month treatment for Norma Shearer, looking at the movies Shearer made after the death of her husband, MGM producer Irving Thalberg.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Marie Antoinette, a movie that I've briefly mentioned a couple of times. MGM spared no expense in trying to make a movie that would give Shearer a triumphant comback, and that shows. The movie runs over two and a half hours and is filled with all the gloss that MGM was known for back then compared to the other studios. Who ever knew the French Revolution could look that good. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of the movie, mostly because I find it bloated. It's one of those two and a half hour films that could really use some cutting down to get it under two hours, I think.

That's followed at 10:30 PM by The Women, which is unsurprisingly another movie I don't particularly care for. But then again, as a man I'm clearly not in the target demographic for this movie. There's a reason I've never particularly cared for movies like Random Harvest, either, or laughed at inappropriate times during Dark Victory.

I'm going to have to cop to never having seen Idiot's Delight before. That one comes on at 1:00 AM. Not having seen it, there's obviously not much I can say about it.

The only one of the night's movies I've blogged about before is Escape, at 3:00 AM. It's another movie that's interesting, but does show the MGM gloss on the issues of the day, in this case being that the Nazis were putting dissidents in concentration camps. It's the same issue I have with The Mortal Storm.

Norma Shearer's time as Star of the Month concludes with Her Cardboard Lover at 4:45 AM, and We Were Dancing at 6:30 AM.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Annie, Are You OK?

One of the movies currently being rotated through the FXM Retro lineup that I haven't blogged about before is Anne of the Indies. It's on tomorrow at 11:50 AM and again at 9:35 AM Wednesday.

The movie opens with a ship making the Atlantic crossing circa 1700, which is a dangerous undertaking considering that there are pirates afoot. Sure enough, the ship gets waylaid by a pirate ship, specifically one captained by the notorious Captain Providence, whom the autorities have never seen. It turns out that Captain Providence is a woman! (The role is played by Jean Peters.) Captain Providence takes a prisoner, Captain Pierre LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan). However, she takes a liking to him, and he's willing to gain a small measure of freedom by working in her crew. After all, he's French, and his ship was impounded by the English in Jamaica.

Except that it turns out that he's not quite working for Captain Providence. That's just a ruse so that he can get information on the pirate captain for the English authorities, in exchange for which they will release his ship. And that's not the only lie he's keeping from Providence. When he goes ashore in Jamaica to talk to the English authorities, he also goes to see Mrs. LaRochelle (Debra Paget). Wait until Providence finds out about that!

And don't say she wasn't warned. Her first officer is wary of LaRochelle, while her mentor Blackbeard also wonders whether she's falling too much in love with LaRochelle and whether that will ultimately be to the detriment of her and her crew. The answer is that of course it will; Providence isn't a privateer, the sort of pirate who was actually working for a government. In that case, the Production Code could have forgiven her "crimes" which would be presented as part of a war between various countries.

But along the way we get nice Technicolor and a surprisingly harsh climax. When Providence learns the truth about LaRochelle, she decides to take him and his wife, and leave the two of them on an island that has no water or shade. They'll die of thirst, but they're more likely to go mad first. How will LaRochelle get out of that?

Anne of the Indies is a fairly pedestrian movie. It's one that entertains, but it doesn't do anything special. It's nice to look at, but probably won't be particularly memorable that long after you've watched it. But if you do like pirate movies, I think you'll like Anne of the Indies.