Saturday, March 28, 2015

Perhaps I should give Cat Ballou a second chance

TCM is running a night of movies tonight in which one actor plays two roles, with one of the movies being Cat Ballou at 10:00 PM. I thought I hadn't done a full-length post on the film, and to some extent that's true. The post I've linked to above is really more of a half-length post. Still, the things I was thinking about writing about Cat Ballou this morning more or less show up in the post.

Probably the biggest problem I have with the movie is Stubby Kaye, as his musical interludes with Nat King Cole are supposed to be funny but fall flat, and wind up being almost irritating, or at least intrusive. I shouldn't necessarily have a problem with the comedy in the rest of the movie, as I've given a fairly positive review to a comic western like Support Your Local Sheriff before. There's also films like Alias Jesse James, which isn't bad, although it is a Bob Hope vehicle, which might be problematic for some who find Hope's later movies an acquired taste.

So Cat Ballou may be one of htose movies that deserves a second chance. If only it could have been released without the Stubby Kaye sequences. That having been said, there are probably going to be a lot of you readers who will like the movie, even with the Kaye scenes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Accuse! on again

I've briefly mentioned the film I Accuse! before, in conjuntion with its star Jose Ferrer, and with its screenwriter Gore Vidal. It's airing again tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM on TCM if you haven't seen it any of the other times I've mentioned it.

Those who know history will recognize the title as the English translation of Émile Zola's open letter "J'accuse!" which was published in response to the injustice of the case of Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, played here by Jose Ferrer, was a man of Jewish and German descent who served as a colonel in the French army in the early 1890s. However, it transpired that somebody was passing secrets, and Dryfus was accused and convicted, for which he was sent ot the infamous prison on Devil's Island, a location that's served for quite a few other films such as Papillon. In fact, the real traitor was Major Esterhazy (Anton Walbrook in this movie).

Of course, this is stuff most people will know. It's also been done in the movies quite a bit, with probably the most famous film being The Life of Émile Zola. The biggest difference in terms of story between the two movies is that the Zola biopic focusses on his whole life, although the Dreyfus affair was one of the most important bits. But Zola was already a famous writer before Dreyfus came on the scene. I Accuse! looks specifically on Dreyfus and his family; his wife Lucie is played by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Both movies are good, and would make a worthy double feature.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

TCM's prime time lineup: March 26, 2015

TCM's schedule lists tonight's lineup as "More Hammer Noir". I have to admit that I haven't seen any of the features in tonight's lineup, but one or another of them sounds as thought there could be something interesting. I'm usualy mildly intrigued when I see any of these non-presitge British movies on the lineup. I watched Obsession when it was on a few weeks back, which was a lot of fun, and think I mentioned THe Secret Partner briefly; that one aired at the end of January. Made between those two was stuff like Twist of Fate. There are several other movies from the 50s from Britian that would broadly fit the noir/thriller/crime-tinged drama genres, but I can't remember the names of all of them.

There are also quite a few shorts in among the features tonight. Life in the Andes, for example, at 12:20 AM, sees James Fitzpatrick going to Peru in 1952, which mildly surprised me, because even though I've looked at Fitzpatrick's page on IMDb quite a few times, I thought that by the end of his time at MGM making those Traveltalks shorts he was reduced to making a bucnh about Europe. Perhaps equally interesting is Operation Dirty Dozen, a making-of about the 1967 film, at 1:49 AM. This one shows Lee Marvin doing his thing around London in his off time, and those scenes make the featurette worth watching. At 3:38 AM, there's a featureet on Lady Sings the Blues. Any time I see one of these featurettes pop up I wonder if the movie it's promoting is going to be on TCM soon, which in the case of Lady Sings the Blues would be a treat since it shows up so rarely. But, the TCM database seems to imply that it's not going to be on through June.

Tomorrow morning sees a whole bunch of movies with the word Spring in the title, including the lousy early musical Spring Is Here at 7:30 AM.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When will FXM Retro disappear

I've commented quite a few times on the morning to 3PM ET programming block that's been around since the old Fox Movie Channel rebranded itself as FXM in the beginning of 2012. At first the FMC part kept its name, although several months back it was changed to FXM Retro. At the time of the change I wrote that I didn't expect the programming block to last six months, and am sonetimes surprised that it's still going. But there are often signs that make me ask whether whoever at Fox is in charge of the cable channels is planning finally to do away with that programming block.

Yesterday at 1:00 PM, I saw that the channel was running Slumdog Millionaire, which I think got another airing to start today's programming block. I didn't stay to see whether it had any commercial interruptions, and I also have to admit that I wasn't paying attention to see whether the bottom right of hte screen had the FXM Retro bug.

And then tomorrow at 3:00 AM and I think again at 1:00 PM. It's a 115-minute movie, so it should just fit into a two-hour block if there aren't any commercials; if they do add commercials it would require quite a bit of cutting. Either way, the movie is less than five years old. While it's possible for something that recent to be classic, I don't know if you could really call it "retro". At least something like Hitchcock, which has been showing up in the prime time block, would fit "retro".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alan Arkin night

Robert Osborne, sadly, is going to be missing this year's TCM Film Festival. That's a big shame, since he was going to be interviewing somebody there -- well, that somebody being Sophia Loren.

As for last yeat, the interviewee was Alan Arkin, and TCM is finally getting around to showing that interview this evening at 8:00 PM. As is usually the case with original premieres, there's going to be a second airing for the benefit of viewers on the west coast. This follows the normal practice of including one feature film (in this case The In-Laws) at 9:00 PM, with the repeat airing of the interview following at 11:00 PM.

Other movies airing in tonight's prime time lineup include:

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at midnight, about a deaf-mute in a southern town and the way his appearance changes the lives of everybody who comes into his life;
Wait Until Dark at 2:15 AM, starring Audrey Hepburn as the best-dressed blind woman around who winds up in possession of a doll stuffed with heroin; and
Hearts of the Weat at 4:15 AM, with Arkin as a producer/director of B-grade westerns in the 1930s who makes a starr out of Jeff Bridges.

Monday, March 23, 2015

TCM's Albert Maysles tribute

I mentioned that documentary film director Albert Maysles died earlier this month. TCM will be running a tribute to Maysles with four of the films that he and his brother David made.

First, at 8:00 PM, is Grey Gardens;
At 10:00 PM you can catch Salesman, a documentary about door-to-door bible salesmen and the pressures faced by them, and the people to whom they're trying to sell the bibles too.
11:45 PM sees Gimme Shelter, a look at the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the United States, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamont, when Hell's Angels members were brought in to provide security and the result was that several people died.
Finally, at 1:30 AM, you can see Meet Marlon Brando, a look at a bunch of journalists interviewing Brando around 1966.

Grey Gardens deserves a full post, and if I had the time to do a full post I would. The story starts off around 1971, when an item hit the news about one of those mansions out in the Hamptons to which all the rich people decamped in the summer as you can see in those old movies from the 1930s. Apparently, the elderly mother and her daughter living their were in conditions so squalid that the house was in serious violation of the building code. That's not particularly a big news story, even if it was one of those big mansions. The only thing was, however, that the mother and daghter were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She helped her relatives out in dealing with the problems at the home, and the notoriety of the story must have come to the attention of the Maysles brothers, because they made this movie about the two, their house, and their relationship.

Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter "Little Edie" have a relationship that's at times surreal, at times symbiotic if far from optimal, and at times extremely difficult for Little Edie. Little Edie feels as though Mom screwed up her chance at love back in the 1930s, and that that has something to do with why she's become a spinster, taking care of an elderly mother. Meanwhile, the house is continuing to fall down around them as there are stray cats constantly coming to eat, and who knows what wildlife in the attic. Mother and daughter generally eat not in the kitchen, but wherever, which is usually the bedroom. The only other person who seems to have remained in their lives is a handyman.

It's a movie that is sometimes sad, when you think about how lovely the house must have been back in the 1930s. There's also the frustration when mother and daughter start arguing with each other, because those are times when you start to dislike the two women and just want to shake some sense into them or something. And then there are scenes which seem exploitative, as though the Maysles were delibertely trying to make the Beales seem not just odd and dysfunctional, but even beyond freaks.

Grey Gardens gained a renaissance when it was made into a TV movie, and even a Broadway musical. But this is the original documentary, and worth a watch.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ooh, it's Joan Crawford's birthday tomorrow

And thankfully, TCM aren't giving us her MGM movies. Not that those movies are necessarily bad; it's just that Joan Crawford movies were so much more fun once she went to Warner Bros. and started going way over the top. Her first Warner Bros. movie, Mildred Pierce, finishes tomorrow's TCM salute at 6:00 PM. In fact, TCM will be looking at Crawford's post-MGM career in reverse chronological order.

Also under that Warner Bros. contract was Flamingo Road, which TCM will be showing at 2:00 PM. Sure, Joan was too old for the role she's playing, but she gives it everything she's got and makes the movie worth a watch.

Crawford did return to MGM for the hilarious Torch Song, which you can catch tomorrow at 10:30 AM. Of course, the movie is hilarious precisely because it was not intended to be a comedy. I have no idea what anybody making this movie was thinking, but thankfully they made the movie anyway.

The juicy What Ever Happened to Baby Jane sees Crawford going up against the equally volcanic Bette Davis at 8:15 AM. Sparks fly and it's the audience that benefits from this.

Finally, the day kicks off with The Caretakers at 6:30 AM, featuring Crawford as the head nurse at a mental institution. This one starts with a bang, as Polly Bergen suffers a nervous breakdown in an unintentionally humorous way. Robert Stack also shows up as the new head doctor who clashes with Crawford's style; Herbert Marshall near the end of his career plays the boss of both of them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mark Hellinger, 1903-1947

Today marks the birth anniversary of producer Mark Hellinger, who was born on this day in 1903. His is a name that would probably have faded into obscurity along with the names of most producers during the studio era. And indeed, a lot of people, even those who know many of the old directors like Htichcock and Billy Wilder, might not know the name.

I think, however, that one film ultimately made his name, and that would be his final film, The Naked City. Hellinger not only produced it, he narrated it. It's partly the way he narrated the story, partly the story itself, and definitely the large amount of location shooting in New York, that's made The Naked City a movie that's stood the test of time above a lot of other movies of the era. Hellinger, sadly, died before The Naked City was released.

That having been said, Hellinger produced several other movies that are well worth watching. Burt Lancaster shows up twice early in his career in the excellent The Killers< followed the next year by Brute Force. There's also Humphrey Bogart trying to kill his wife in The Two Mrs. Carrolls and, a bit earlier in his career at Fox, you can see Moontide.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The cost of doing business

One of the more baffling shorts out there is one with an overlong title: MGM's March on in 1934-35 with Metro Goldwyn Mayer: Convention of the Century. TCM is running it on March 21 at about 8:35 AM in case you want to see it.

There's very little to this short. Sometime in 1934, MGM held a convention for all of its exhibitors; that is, the people who were in charge of which MGM movies would get shown in the local theaters. That's no big deal; the bigger question is why MGM would make a short out of it. Well, there is a fairly obvious reason, which is good relations with their exhibitors. Of course, it's not as if anybody who went to the movies would actually care about any of these exhibitors. They might have cared about the upcoming movies; after all, MGM made any number of shorts promoting upcoming movies. This short, however, is mostly people nobody had ever heard of standing around not doing much of anything. At least when MGM did the same thing in their 1925 studio tour, there was the value of seeing the MGM lot as it was in its early days, and many of the directors and silent stars either were famous, or would go on to become famous. The only person here you might recognize by name is Felix Feist, who would go on to direct movies such as This Woman Is Dangerous.

Liv Ullmann interview

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Ideas program recently interviewed actress Liv Ullmann. I haven't gotten around to listening to the interview yet, but you can download it here. It's a 49MB file, so about 50 minutes. I have no idea how long it's going to be available online.