Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The part of Robin Hood is now being played by Burt Lancaster

Another of the movies that I recently watched and is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is The Flame and the Arrow.

The movie opens with some text informing us that in the late 12th century, Friedrich Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire has invaded northern Italy and is subjugating the people of Lombardy, although they're a hardy mountain people who are not going to be easy to dominate. Cut to some villagers such as Papa and Nonna Bartoli (Francis Pierlot and Aline MacMahon respectively) who are vowing not to submit to Barbarossa's overlord for the region, Count Ulrich, also known as the Hawk (Frank Allenby).

Into all of this comes Dardo Bartoli (Burt Lancaster), together with his young son Rudi. Dardo had been married to Francesca (Lynne Baggett), but she left him and is living in the Count's palace. Dardo is a sort of hero to the locals, nephew to Nonna and Papa, and someone who would fight against the Hawk just because it would give him something to fight. He's going to be fighting the Hawk soon enough.

The Count and some of his men have come down to the village because somebody shot one of the Count's hawks, something that locals had always considered fair game out in the wild because hawks would kill their pigeons and other small livestock. But as with the deer in Sherwood Forest being the King's Deer, the Count is absolutely pissed that somebody shot one of his hawks used in falconry. The Count retalites by taking Rudi and bringing him back to the palace to raise as a civilized kid and so Mom can have custody of him.

Meanwhile, Barbarossa is trying to create an alliance between the Holy Roman Empire and Lombardy. To that end, he's brought a noblewoman down from the German lands, Anne of Hesse (Virginia Mayo). The Count has found a suitable noble for her to marry and cement an alliance between the two regions, that being the Marchese Alessandro de Granazia (Robert Douglas). The Marchese is having trouble paying the Count's confiscatory taxes, so he's taken to the palace with marriage being an enticement to get out of tax evasion. Along the way, however, Dardo and his men capture the Marchese and his troubadour (Nolan Lloyd) and taken them to Dardo's hideout at the abandoned temple of Apollo.

There, Dardo and his men, including his right-hand man, the mute Piccolo (Nick Cravat) plot their revenge. Dardo invades the palace to try to rescue his son, but instead of getting Rudi, he winds up with Anne of Hesse, taking her hostage. Now, it should be pretty clear that they're going to fall in love along the way, but that is also unsurprisingly something that takes a little while, since the two are enemies when first they meet.

The idea of a prisoner exchange is floated, but the Count tortures Piccolo and threatens to kill Dardo's uncle. Dardo's men save Papa, but the Count threatens to kill more men. At first the locals think about giving in, but ultimately they decide to fight alongside Dardo. The Marchese, meanwhile, sees his chance to get back what he thinks is rightfully his, even if it means betraying Dardo.

The Flame and the Arrow is a formulaic swashbuckler that in many ways made me think of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It's not exactly bad, and with its action and Technicolor photography, it's certainly worth a watch on any rainy night. But there were also things about it that I didn't like. Not just that there's nothing new or particularly noteworthy here, but especially the presence of Nick Cravat, who was Burt Lancaster's friend and circus partner back in the days before Lancaster made the move to movies. Cravat apparently had a thick New York accent, which is why in the historical movies he's in he's turned into a mute so we don't have to hear the inauthentic accent. Unfortunately, both here and in The Crimson Pirate, it turns Cravat into a smarmy, obnoxious jerk who brings down the proceedings every time he's on screen.

But, of course, that may just be me; other people might well enjoy the presence of Cravat. And visually, the movie is more than worth a watch. Just be forewarned that what you're getting is undemanding.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Crime does not pay, but not MGM-style

I've mentioned the MGM Crime Does Not Pay shorts on a couple of occasions. Recently, I watched an odd little movie that shares the message of those shorts, but does it in an entirely different way: You and Me.

The movie starts off with a song about how you need money to get whatever you want, before we wind up in Morris' department store. Helen (Sylvia Sidney) is one of the shop clerks, and she's just found a woman trying to shoplift a satin blouse. The woman begs Helen not to be turned over to the authorities. When another clerk, Joe (George Raft), shows up to ask Helen if there's a problem, she lets the shoplifter off the hook by claiming there's a flaw in the blouse and the department store shouldn't be putting out gods like this.

Joe actually loves Helen, but there's a problem. He's an ex-convict, finishing up his parole. Mr. Morris (Harry Carey), who owns the store, believes in giving ex-cons jobs as a way of rehabilitating them, but the parolees are still under all sorts of restrictions, such as having to report to their parole officer constantly and not being allowed to get married. So Joe hasn't been willing to reveal his love to Helen up until now. Even then, he's decided that he doesn't want to saddle Helen with an ex-con for a wife, he's going to go west to California instead.

Helen is having nothing of it. She loves Joe too, and she decides that she's going to push the issue herself, asking Joe to marry her! Naturally, he accepts, and the two have a quickie wedding before starting off a life of marital bliss in her rooming house run by a very nice older couple who don't know anything about Joe's past.

They, and Joe himself, don't know much about Helen's past. It turns out that she too is a parolee, but her parole isn't up yet. So she's still under the prohibition on marriage, and she'd get in huge trouble if her parole officer or pretty much anybody but her landlords found out about the marriage. So she makes up a lie to Joe about Morris not wanting his employees to get married to each other.

Joe is obviously going to find out about Helen's lie at some point. Meanwhile, he and some of the other parolees working at Morris' (played by, among others, Roscoe Karns, Warren Hymer, and a young Robert Cummings) are getting approached by the big guy, Mickey (Barton MacLane) to do a job stealing from Morris' department store. Joe wasn't certain at first, but once he's learned his wife has been lying to him, he decides to go ahead with the job.

And here is where the story gets really weird. (Naturally, spoilers abound.) Helen decides once she hears about it from Gimpy (Hymer's character) that she's going to inform Morris. Normally, we'd get the police rounding up the bad guys as the Production Code would have retired. In You and Me, however, Morris has his detectives interrupt Joe and the gang in flagrante delicto, and then have Helen give the guys a lecture on the actual financial figures on crime not paying! It's a really bizarre resolution, but since the gang decides not to go ahead with the crime, it must have satisfied the enforcers of the Production Code.

You and Me, despite being a strange film, works and is quite interesting for all its weirdness. The casting is interesting, what with Sidney being an out-and-out con; ditto Karns and even more so Cummings. Nobody stands out as being particularly good or particularly bad, but together and under the direction of Fritz Lang they make a movie that absolutely needs to be seen at least once.

You and Me was released by Paramount; as with almost all of Paramount's talkies from before 1950, the rights were acquired by Universal. Many of these movies have the modern day Universal logo at the beginning, but You and Me had the 1930s vintage logo of a plane flying around the globe! The movie has received a DVD release from Universal's mod scheme, although it might be nicer had it been part of a box set.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

But nobody actually goes naked

The other day, I commented on MGM's smaller movies from the 1950s when I did a post on Cry Terror!. When one of the "bigger" movies is interesting, it's as much because it's a mess as anything else. A good example is Go Naked in the World.

Anthony Franciosa plays Nick Stratton, a man who's just gotten out of the military after a stint, and hasn't decided whether or not he's going to re-enlist. He's in his hometown of San Francisco, but hasn't met his family yet, instead going to a club where he meets Guilietta Cameron (Gina Lollobrigida). She's lovely, and unsurprisingly Nick falls in love with her. Guilietta, however, seems very unsure about taking the relationship anywhere even though she does like Nick.

Eventually, Nick's father Pete (Ernest Borgnine) finds him at the hotel where he's staying. Nick is a Greek immigrant, and a big deal in San Francisco's Greek-American community. He owns a construction firm, and has even offered Pete a job in the firm. Pete isn't so certain he wants it, because it comes with strings attached.

Those strings are that Dad is the head of the family, and dammit, he's going to let everybody know it. The rest of the family sees it as controlling, and they're all beginning to get fed up with it. That is why, for example, Pete might not want to take the job. Pete's younger sister Yvonne (Luana Patten) decides she's going to rebel by staying out all night with a boyfriend, which really pisses Dad off. Mom's been the Edith Bunker type of housewife, but she might finally be beginning to show some independence.

But the story is mostly about Pete, Dad, and Guilietta. Pete keeps seeing her, and gets the brilliant idea of bringing her as his guest to his parents' anniversary party. This turns out to be a big mistake, as we learn that Guilietta is a former "escort" (well, she did more, except that the studios weren't going to go into detail in the early 1960s). That would be bad enough, except that Dad points out that a lot of the people at his party have availed themselves of her services.

This causes Guilietta to break things off with Pete, but he's insistent on continuing to see her again. So he finds out what her new address is, and meets her at a hotel. But Dad finds out what Pete is up to, and sends the vice squad after Guilietta! No wonder everybody thinks he's controlling! Pete figures that the only way he can get out from under Dad's thumb is to elope with Guilietta. They go off to Acapulco, but everywhere they go Pete finds people who had been Guilietta's clients back in San Francisco....

Oh boy is Go Naked in the World a stinker. The one redeeming quality is that it's a stinker in a really fun way. The movie is clearly trying to be lurid and test the constraints of the Production Code, but it's too glossy to be anything other than phony. The dialog is roundly horrible and overripe, and Borgnine is given free rein to overract, which he unsurprisingly takes. His Fred Sanford-style heart palpitations are hilarious.

As I implied in the title of the post, nobody really goes naked either, with the closest being distance shots of Franciosa water-skiing in one of those early 60s square-cut pair of swimming trunks. OK, I think Lollobrigida might have a scene in a negligee or something too. But it's not as if you should have expected any nudity. One other interesting thing was with the set of the Stratton's house. That staircase made me think of a nother equally "lurid" and silly movie that MGM put out around the same time, All Fall Down. I wouldn't be surprised if the set pieces were reused, even though All Fall Down was released a full year after Go Naked in the World.

Go Naked in the World got a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive. But it's one I'd only watch the next time it shows up on TCM.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Charles Coburn makes anything worth a watch

I think I've mentioned on multiple occasions in the past my belief that early sound era actor George Arliss could take any sort of trifling material given him and make it worth watching based pretty much on his performance alone. A later actor who has a similar effect on me is Charles Coburn. Coburn's watchability is very much on display in Unexpected Uncle.

Anne Shirley plays Kathleen Brown, a shop girl at some sort of hoity-toity shop in Palm Beach, FL, where all the rich people go for the winter. One of those wealthy people is Johnny Kerrigan (James Craig), who tried flirting with Kathleen while she was on the job, something which got her fired. Passing by is Seton Mansley (Charles Coburn). He hears Kathleen's sob story and marches her straight back into the store to see the manager, telling the manager that he's a big shareholder in the store and the manager will never hear the end of it if Kathleen, his niece isn't rehired. The gambit works.

Seton then tells Kathleen that if she needs him again, she can find him at the Seminole Trailer Park, these being the days when the trailers were still mobile as in The Long, Long, Trailer and not like the latter-day stereotype of a trailer park. But still, it's a sign that Seton is likely not what he was claiming to be back in the store. He's probably living off his savings, whatever they are, as well as making some extra money betting on horseshoes, at which he is a whiz (and which is some foreshadowing that horseshoes are going to come into play as a plot point later in the movie).

Sure enough, Kathleen comes looking for Seton when Johnny invites her out to dinner. "Uncle" Seton comes along, meeting some of Johnny's rich friends, including his former fiancée Carol (Renee Haal). Although she and Johnny are still friends, Carol broke off the engagement because every time push came to shove, Johnny was more married to his business than he could ever be to any woman. Carol warns Kathleen that the same is going to happen to her if she gets into a relationship with Johnny.

But Kathleen is in love. Johnny has come down to Palm Beach to try to get away from that business up north, even drinking himself into a stupor and getting into a DUI crash. Kathleen tries to extricate him from the situation, but it blows up B-movie style into an alleged kidnapping, with Johnny, Kathleen, "Uncle" Seton, and Carol attempting to resolve matters. Johnny has been called home on business, but Seton's smart enough to get himself and Kathleen on Johnny's plane, where Johnny proposes to Kathleen!

So when they get back to Johnny's palatial home, they're married, which is a big deal. But it also turns out that Carol knew what she was talking about, and Johnny, now home again, shows just how much more he cares about his business than any woman. Can Kathleen make Johnny love her? Can he balance his interests like a normal businessman? With Seton there, I think you can figure out the answer.

Unexpected Uncle runs about 67 minutes, so there's not a whole lot here in terms of plot. It's pretty easy to figure out where things are going to go, and when those horseshoes are going to come back into play. But it turns out to be an appealing little B movie, mostly because Coburn brings so much energy to the proceedings that you just can't help but like the characters, even Johnny, who like James Stewart's stuffy family in You Can't Take It With You, just needs to learn how to relax. The movie's theme that it's either work or pleasure and that ultimately you can't balance both, doesn't quite ring true, but the movie as a whole works for what it is, which is a B movie that never had any pretentions of being remembered 80 years later.

Unexpected Uncle was released by RKO; as such it wound up in the library of films to which Ted Turner acquired the rights and which form the backbone of the Warner Archive collection. Unexpected Uncle is one of the many movies that has gotten a DVD release this way.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Cry Terror!

I've suggested on quite a few occasions that MGM's B movies and programmers from the 1950s are a lot more interesting than most of the prestige movies they were putting out. Despite the cast, I don't think that I would consider Cry Terror! an A movie. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so the last time it aired I recorded it, and recently watched it to do a post here.

With passenger airplane travel becoming increasingly popular in the prosperous post-war US, the government was having to deal with the odd problem of crank callers putting in bomb threats to the various airlines. In one case that makes the live TV news, a plane had to make an emergency landing so that bomb disposal experts could find the bomb and detonate it, it being a device made from a super powerful explosive. However, the caller suggests that there are more bombs up in the air.

Watching this unfold on TV is New York electronics expert Jim Molner (James Mason). When he gets an up close look at the unexploded detonator, he's shocked: he designed it! Not that he was planning on putting bombs in airplanes himself, of course; he was approached by an old acquaintance from his military days named Paul (Rod Steiger) who fed Jim the lie that Paul was trying to get a contract with the government and that if Jim designed this detonator he'd be in line for a big payday.

Jim doesn't inform the cops of any of this, most likely because he suspects he'd be considered the real guilty party, although if he were on the phone long enough with them another call would come in while he was talking. Instead, Jim goes home to his wife Joan (Inger Stevens) out in the suburbs, to figure out what to do next. Unfortunately for him, Paul also figured Jim would do that, and Paul shows up to take Jim and Joan hostage, as well as their daughter when she gets home from school.

Paul takes them to another home somewhere in the suburbs where we meet the rest of the gang. Eileen (Angie Dickinson) is the woman who actually left the bomb in the plane and then took a different flight to New York; Vince (Jack Klugman) is in this probably just for the money; and Steve (Neville Brand), who has a problem with bennies, not only could use his share of the money but probably gets a thrill out of being violent too.

Paul separates Joan from the rest of the family after taking everybody to a separate unknown location where Eileen's apartment is. Jim tries to find a way to get out of the apartment, while Joan is the one responsible for getting the ransom money and delivering it to its desired location, with her husband and child being used as hostages if any funny business happens. Eventually, she gets left alone with Steve, which is a huge problem....

If there's one problem with Cry Terror!, it's that the movie was made under the Production Code, so we know that all of the baddies are going to get what's coming to them. The fact that Paul's otherwise meticulous plan depends somewhat on the competence of strangers (specifically Joan) is also a bit of a plot hole. But both of these can be fairly easily overlooked.

The cast is uniformly good. Steiger, surprisingly, isn't overacting one bit, which is somewhat unusual for him. But then, he's got Neville Brand to play another of his psycho thug roles, and Brand is quite good at it. Dickinson and Klugman are playing against type and do a more than adequate job of it. Mason, surprisingly, despite getting top billing, has less to do than it seems, while Stevens gets the most demanding role. It all works quite well and, while being nothing earth-shattering, will certainly entertain you for a good 90 minutes. There's also the big plus of all the location shooting, seeing Manhattan and the Bronx as they were in the late 1950s.

If you don't want to pay the price for a standalone Warner Archive DVD, Cry Terror! is still definitely worth looking out for the next time it shows up on TCM.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #328: Holiday Horror

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We've got today and one more Thursday in October, meaning two more horror-themed editions of the blogathon. This week, the theme is Holiday Horror. I had one movie right in mind since I just watched it recently, and had to think of two others. Eventually, I came up with some less common holidays:

My Bloody Valentine (1981). Holiday: Valentine's Day. A mining town in Nova Scotia suffered a disaster 20 years ago on Valentine's Day, with one of the miners resorting to cannibalism to survive and vowing to kill people if they tried to hold another Valentine's Day dance. After all those years pass, the town does try, and wouldn't you know, people start getting murdered in grisly ways. Young adults also start doing incredibly stupid things, as is par for the course for slasher movies, but this one is actually pretty fun.

Black Orpheus (1958). Holiday: Carneval/Shrove Tuesday. Lovely retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus set in modern-day Rio de Janeiro against the backdrop of Carneval. Bruno Mello plays Orpheus, a streetcar conductor who is planning in participating in Carneval. He meets Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), who has come from the sticks to escape somebody, who turns out to be Death, stalking and killing her. Orpheus descends into the underworld to see Eurydice, with tragic results.

Hangover Square (1945). Holiday: Guy Fawkes Day. Laird Cregar plays a Victorian-era composer who suffers from some sort of mental illness that causes memory lapses during which he kills people. Cregar meets music-hall singer Linda Darnell and kills her during another of these memory lapses, using a Guy Fawkes bonfire to dispose of her body when everybody else would think it was just an effigy. The tragic last movie for Cregar, who, being known for his weight, went on a crash diet to try to slim down in order to be able to get better roles. It caused stomach problems and ultimately a heart attack that killed him before the release of Hangover Square.

Something happened some time or another

Another of the movies that's been in the FXM rotation lately and that I haven't blogged about before is Everything Happens at Night. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 4:40 AM, so I recently watched it to post about here.

Robert Cummings plays Ken Morgan, Paris correspondent for a New York paper. He's about to escape a club where his boss is, but his boss has urgent news for him. Remember the story about the peace advocate Dr. Norden and how he was assassinated by the Nazis last year? Well, somebody's been sending unsigned letters that sound suspiciously like the same exact style Norden would use, meaning Norden might still be alive and moving from one location to another to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. The lastest information implies that this person, if it is Norden, is in a small village in Switzerland. Morgan is to go there and find out whether that really is Norden.

Now, you'd think this would really be putting Norden at risk if it is him, but as in a movie like Five Star Final, you've got editors and reporters who don't care about the damage they do to their subjects. So Morgan heads off to San Palo and gets the last available hotel room, this being a a small town during ski season. And just after Morgan arrives, who should show up but Geoffrey Thompson (Ray Milland), claiming to be a British botanist but obviously a journalist also on the trail of Norden to get the story.

Eventually they meet Louise (Sonja Henie), a lovely young woman who is playing nursemaid to a guy in town to get the mountain air for his health. Both journalists presume that this is Norden, but Louise isn't about to tell. Still, the obvious thing to do is to gain her confidence, although both journalists fall in love with her along the way, complicating matters. But since Morgan is the one who gets the ice skating fantasy sequence, it's a good guess that he's the one who's going to wind up with Louise in the last reel.

You can probably guess that Louise is in fact taking care of Norden, but the movie takes a really dark turn after that. Morgan files the story and Thompson tricks the telegraphist to send it to Thompson's editor in London; when the story breaks the Nazis now know precisely where Norden is. The chagrined journalists try to spirit Norden out of France, but the Nazis show up for a little covert action. How they lost track of him and didn't already have a bunch of spies in town, I'll never know.

Generally, you know what to expect when you see that Sonja Henie is the star of a movie. Surprisingly, however, Everything Happens at Night is much darker than the other of her movies I've seen. Henie wasn't much of a serious actress, but she's nice to look at and passable as a romantic lead. But she only gets the one ice skating number here, and not a finale. All along the way, Everything Happens at Night feels like a movie that can't decide what exactly what it wants to be, and never really gets the two sides together in a satisfying way.

Yet, because of this failure, Everything Happens at Night might still be more interesting than the Henie movies that are a higher overall quality or have the better ice skating numbers. The movie did get a DVD release courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme, in case you're unable to catch it on FXM.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Sinful Davey

Some months back, TCM ran a new-to-me movie with a synopsis that sounded interesting, so I recorded it to watch and do a blog post on here. That movie is John Huston's Sinful Davey.

John Hurt plays David Haggart, a young man who at the start of the movie is set to be executed, and dictating his memoirs, much like the start of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Flash back to some time in the past....

Haggart is somewhere in the Scottish highlands as a drummer for a Scottish regiment into which he was drafted, circa 1820. Haggart is absolutely not cut out for the military, so at the first opportunity he jumps off a bridge to desert. He escapes in part because they didn't have photographs back in those days to show what David looked like, so he could disguise himself more easily. But when he runs into MacNab (Ronald Fraser), MacNab knows David's true identity.

MacNab is a pickpocket, while David's father happened to be a thief too, albeit a rather more grandiose thief who was eventually hanged for his thievery. David claims he grew up in a workhouse near the prison where his father was hanged, and even built a cairn to memorialize his father although he has no real idea where Dad was buried. All David knows is that he wants to follow in Dad's footsteps, and do the one thing Dad couldn't, which is to carry off a big heist.

But that's going to have to wait a while, because David gets caught, sent to a jail, breaks out, and starts another series of small-scale robberies. All along the way, he's constantly interfered with by his old childhood friend Annie (Pamela Franklin), who love him and claims she's really trying to save David.

Eventually, David steals some aristocratic clothes which enables him to pass himself off as someone of more means when he meets the Duke of Argyll (Robert Morley). The Duke and Duchess are holding a big party, and David sees this as his chance to make a name for himself by robbing the party guests blind with the help of MacNab and MacNab's ladyfriend Carlisle. Now to stay clear of Annie and the police....

Sinful Davey is an amiable little movie that was conceived as a comedy, and I can see John Huston going for a vibe that's part Kind Hearts and Coronets and part Tom Jones. But for whatever reason, Sinful Davey doesn't work anywhere near as well as the other two movies. It feels plodding even though it's got a relatively short running time, and although it's certainly not a heavy drama, it feels like much of the comedy has been sucked out of it. Apparently there were disastrous previews, and when Huston wouldn't edit it into something that might work better, the producers decided to do it for him, with the result that we see. Considering the problems I've had with some of Huston's other movies, such as The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, this really doesn't surprise me.

As for what works, Hurt tries hard, and there's a lot of lovely cinematography, with Ireland (a place Huston loved) substituting for Scotland. The latter scenes, once Morley shows up, also start to breath some life into the movie, but damn if it doesn't take a long time getting there. Sinful Davey is a movie I really wanted to like, but had a lot of trouble doing so. Still, it's available on DVD, so you may want to track down a copy to judge for yourself.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Champ is Back

Wallace Beery memorably won an Oscar for playing the father to Jackie Cooper in The Champ. Beery had a similar role, also opposite Cooper, in O'Shaughnessy's Boy.

Beery plays Michael O'Shaughnessy, nicknamed Windy. He's a big-cat tamer in a traveling circus, and he's got a bizarre idea for a trick in which a tiger will climb up on the back of an elephant and the two animals will go together through a ring of fire. But in the meantime, he's got a wife Cora (Leona Miracle) who is a trapeze artist with some emotional problems of their own. Together, the two have a son Joseph (played in the first half by Spanky McFarland), whom Windy has nicknamed Stubby.

Stubby loves his father, who at heart is trying to be a good person. But this being the circus, there's a lot of drinking and carousing going on, and this results in Windy returning to the family's trailer drunk on more than one occasion. Cora is growing tired of this, and has brought in her thoroughly nasty sister Martha (Sara Haden) to deal with it. Martha hates windy, and keeps putting ideas into Cora's head that she should take the kid and leave her husband.

Eventually Cora does, also clearing out the couple's joint bank account with the circus. Windy is despondent to the point that he loses his confidence, and when he tries to train one of the tigers to get on top of that elephant, he fails, with the tiger mauling him Siegfried and Roy style and costing Windy one of his arms. He leaves the circus and turns further to drink, trying to find his wife and kid.

Eventually, his old cirus comes back to town, and the boss, Dan Hastings (Willard Robertson) offers to help Windy find his son. It turns out that Cora kept up with the trapeze act but died in an accident during a performance. So Aunt Martha got custody of Joseph, and put the kid in a military academy. It's all Windy can do to get temporary custody of the kid for three months as a sort of trial to see whether he should get permanent custody of Joseph.

Joseph doesn't really remember his father, instead only knowing what Aunt Martha has told him about Dad. That, needless to say, is about as negative as you can imagine, so Joseph (now played by Cooper) hates his father too and doesn't really want to spend a summer with the circus. Windy tries evrything he can to earn his son's respect and love, but it doesn't seem to be working well.

With Windy also being back with the Hastings circus, Hastings wants Windy to do that tiger and elephant act, but Windy finds that every time he tries to get near the tiger, he loses his confidence, and the tiger knows it. Amazingly enough, however, Joseph has a beatific smile that seems to have a calming effect on the tiger and might enable Windy to do the act after all. But on the night they're supposed to go live with it, Aunt Martha shows up again....

O'Shaughnessy's Boy looks like little more than a programmer for Wallace Beery, pairing him with Cooper again because of the success of their previous movies together. The story is somewhat implausible but does mostly hold together, thanks in part to competent acting by both of the leads. Haden is also quite good as the really nasty aunt. Although O'Shaughnessy's Boy is nothing special, it's certainly worth checking out whenever the next time is that it shows up on TCM.

As one of the MGM movies that's part of the old Turner Library, O'Shaughnessy's Boy has also unsurprisingly received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Traffic

Another of the movies that I had the chance to DVR during one of the free preview weekends is Traffic. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 4:01 AM ET on Starz, or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed.

Traffic is a complicated story spreading out over multiple plot lines which ultimately interconnect, so I'll mention the plotlines individually. First up is one set in Baja California in Mexico, not too far from Tijuana which is just across the border from San Diego. A pair of local cops, Javier (Benicio Del Toro) and Manolo (Jacob Vargas), have been tipped off about a drug shipment being passed through a remote part of the area, and they've shown up to interdict it. The operation more or less works, but it is ultimately commandeered by General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is the head of Mexico's nationalized operation in the War on Drugs. Javier and Manolo start working for Salazar the national anti-drug operation.

The drug running that Javier and Manolo stopped was being run by the Obregón outfit, based in Tijuana They're one of two rival cartels in the Mexican drugs trade, the other being the Juárez cartel. You might think that there's room enough for both cartels, but as we've seen from one 1930s gangland movie after another, that's a load of crap, and both cartels are bringing every measure they can think of to try to strike a mortal blow to the other cartel.

As for that shipment in the beginning of the movie, it was supposed to go across the border to San Diego and a dealer named Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer). A couple of DEA agents, Montel Gordon (Don Cheadel) and Ray Castro (Luis Guzmán), have been undertaking surveillance on Ruiz, and they're able to interrupt a drug shipment, getting involved in a shootout that injures Ruiz in the process. While Ruiz is in the hospital, he decides to turn state's evidence and name his superior, Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer). He's arrested, putting a major hurt on his wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who finds that she's facing liens from the IRS, as well as demands from the Obregón people in Mexico. Helena is understandably pissed at her husband, but over time, she learns that she's going to have to take matters into her own hands to defend herself.

Well away from San Diego, judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is judging a client quite harshly in a drugs case in Ohio. It's going to be his last case as a judge, as he's been nominated by the President to be the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He's happy to take the new job, although it's going to take him away from his family as he goes first to Washington, and then to Mexico to try to get the Mexicans to create something similar to the ONDCP. Gen. Salazar gets named the rough equivalent to Wakefield's position.

While Wakefield is away from his family, he has no idea what's going on with his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen). She's a high schoo student, and she and her friends do many of the typical things they do on weekends, like a more juvenile version of the recent college graduates from Metropolitan. There's a lot of BSing going on and some drinking, but also some drug use, which I'm sure would infuriate Dad. Caroline's boyfriend Seth (Topher Grace) teaches her how to freebase cocaine, while another friend overdoses, which brings the teens into the purview of the police. This probably ought to disqualify Dad from holding an anti-drug job, but he being a right-thinking person with the right connections inside the Beltway, everyone's able to get the police to sweep it under the rug.

All of the subplots come together, more or less, although Caroline's addiction isn't really tied to what's going on with Ruiz and Ayala out in San Diego (not that it needs to be). Although the story is quite a complex one, it's still easy to follow, and a compelling, well-told story. The acting is good, benefited by the fact that the scenes with Mexicans only are all done in Spanish with subtitles which, considering how much of the movie is set in Mexico, means a lot of subtitles.

If there's one big flaw, however, it's director Steven Soderbergh's use of color. The Mexican scenes, especially those in the seedier and more outlying areas, are generally brown and oversaturated, while a lot of the scenes with the Wakefields are given an extreme blue filter. I think the use of the filters was way overdone to the point of being intrusive, as if that's more a part of the story than the events happening on screen.

A small amount of mention is made of the demand side of the drugs question, a side which doomed alcohol prohibition 70 years earlier and which probably ought to doom the War on Drugs, except that the War on Drugs has been an excuse to give the government all sorts of powers that it can use in non-drug-related areas and doesn't want to give up. Hell, they've expanded it into the even more pernicious War on Opioids, something Soderbergh probably couldn't have envisioned back in 2000 when the movie was released.

The TCM Shop lists Traffic as being available on a Criterion Collection DVD, while Amazon has it on Prime Video.