Friday, June 24, 2016

Apologies for the brief posting


Irving Pichel in the trailer to Dracula's Daughter (1936)

I was going to do a birthday post today on actor-director Irving Pichel, who was born on this day in 1891. However, it turns out that I did a post on his birthday just last year! This year, however, I'm including a picture which is something I didn't do last year. (Now that I've got a new computer, posting photos has become a bit easier again.)

As regards Pichel, he was in a couple of movies with Bette Davis, most notably Jezebel and Fog Over Frisco. But trying to find any photos of the two of them together is difficult. I can't recall whether Pichel had any scenes with Davis in either movie (although I can't imagine why not), and an image search on both of them together yielded a lot more Davis photos -- and with other co-stars -- than Pichel photos.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

For those who like old-time clips: Hollywood Without Make-Up

Tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM, TCM is running Hollywood Without Make-Up. It's the first of two documentaries made by Ken Murray. Murray had been an actor at the beginning of the talking-picture era, but not being good enough to cut it as an actor, went into doing the emcee thing, at which he became successful.

This also enabled him to have access to the Hollywood stars, so by the early 1960s he was able to get a lot of stars (or their estates) to donate clips to make this look at the more private lives of the stars, and what they did at their palatial homes. There are a lot of clips from San Simeon, where William Randolph Hearst held court with mistress Marion Davies, and a lot of other actors show up as their guests.

There's also a sequence with Walt Disney taking Murray's daughters on a tour of the Disney studio, just a few years before Walt's death.

I don't think this one is available on DVD; the clearances for all those clips would probably be a nightmare. I'm not certain when the other special, Hollywood, My Hometown will be airing, either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Big Cube

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to watch The Big Cube. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie even though it's not on the TCM schedule any time soon.

Lana Turner plays Adriana, whom we see at the beginning performing in a play, as she's an actress. Well, soon to be a retired actress, since she's met a nice man and tells the audience that this is her final performance. That man is wealthy financier Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy), a widower with an adult daughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg). Lisa isn't particularly happy about the upcoming wedding, but she tries to be an adult about it.

Well, that is until her friend Bibi (Pamela Rodgers) introduces Lisa to some of her friends. This is the late 1960s, and it's the hippie acid scene. Lisa isn't particularly thrilled with Bibi's friends at first, but when her relationship with her stepmother continues to deteriorate, Lisa decides to spend some more time with Bibi and her friends. At least, until they all come over to the Winthrop place and have a "wild" (by the standards of late 1960s movies) party, which Dad and Stepmom walk in on. Dad is none too pleased.

But all of that is about to change. Charles and Adriana go on a vacation that involves going out on the ocean in Charles' yacht, and there's an accident that sends Adriana overboard. Charles jumps overboard to save Adriana; unfortunately, he drowns in so doing. Adriana is now a widow and executrix of a very wealthy man's estate, with the power to assent to his daughter's marriage (at least until she turns 25 and inherits the trust fund). Lisa really doesn't like that.

And she's made a boyfriend among Bibi's friends. Well, it's more that he's gone after her. That boyfriend is Johnny (George Chakiris), a med student dropout who goes after Lisa once he learns that her father was loaded. And when Daddy dies, Johnny comes up with a diabolical plan. He's good enough at chemistry that he can cook up LSD on his own apparently, so he's going to replace some of Stepmom's sedatives with LSD, in the hopes that the freak-out will drive her insane and give Lisa control of the estate!

Now, there are good movies about people who would like to marry against their parents' wishes, and might even be willing to get their parents out of the way to do it. Pretty Poison, for example, is quite entertaining. While The Big Cube has some good ideas, it ultimately begins to go south once the whole idea of driving Adriana crazy through LSD becomes the main plot point. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that the acid trip scenes are just so dopey, as though somebody in the production had just been given a new special-effects too, and was trying to figure out how best to use it. And then there's Karin Mossberg's acting. This was one of her only reasons, and there's a good reason why, which is that her acting is terrible. Lana Turner doesn't do badly, but she's not helped out by the script in the second half of the movie. In fact, the script is another problem; the attempt to drive Adriana crazy and then her playwright's (Richard Egan) attempt to restore her sanity require too much suspension of disbelief and go on too long.

If there's a bright spot, it's George Chakiris, who actually does fairly well playing such a slimy character, whose smugness makes you hate him even more. But even poor George has to suffer through a tacked-on finale that's an utter mess.

The Big Cube is one of those movies that at times hits the heights of "so bad it's good". Unfortunately, there are also a lot of times when it's just tedious.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Millionaire (1931)

TCM is running a bunch of James Cagney movies tomorrow morning and afternoon. Most of them are fairly early in his career, and in some he's only got a small role. A good example of this is The Millionaire, which is on at 8:15 AM.

The star here is George Arliss. He plays James Alden, an industrialist who has been forced into retirement for health reasons. Not that he's happy about it, as he finds retirement frightfully boring. So, being bored silly, he decides to do something about it, and go back into business, only without telling anybody. He finds an ad in the paper to buy a half share of a service station, and takes it. The other half is owned by Bill Merrick (David Manners), an aspiring architect who is running the gas station so he can raise the money to go into business as an architect. While in college, he met Alden's daughter Barbara (Evalyn Knapp) briefly, not knowing that Barbara's father is his business partner in disguise.

As for the business itself, it's not going so well. That's because the man who sold it, Mr. Peterson, had a good reason for selling it. He knew that a new highway was going to be built and that this new bypass road would make the station he sold obsolete. Indeed, Peterson is opening a new service station alongside that bypass road. Poor Bill.

Except of course that Bill's business partner isn't poor. James decides to use some of his fortune to buy a service station across from Peterson's new station, and go into competition with Peterson, helping Bill along the way. James certainly has enough of a fortune to undercut poor Peterson, who doesn't know what's hitting him. But will James be discovered for who he really is before he can succeed in all his plans?

The Millionaire may not be the first thing you think of when you think of George Arliss, but then again, it's a film with a similar tone to something like A Successful Calamity, which coincidentally also has Evalyn Knapp as George Arliss' daughter. (The part of James Alden's wife is played by Arliss' real-life wife Florence.) Anyway, in The Millionaire, Arliss once again looks like he's having a blast as he puts one over on his opponents and does a good deed for those around him. He's marvelously entertaining, to the point that you half expect him to be a bit of an imp or something.

As for James Cagney, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post, he plays an insurance salesman from whom Alden wants to buy some life insurance. It's the agent's suggestion that retired people are a bad insurance risk that gives Alden the idea to go back into business. Cagney is the one person who isn't overshadowed by Arliss, but then Cagney had a way of overshadowing his screen partners himself. It was seeing this and the first days' rushes of The Public Enemy that gave director William Wellman the idea of giving Cagney the starring role in the latter movie instead of the supporting role. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Millionaire is, as far as I know, not available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive. So you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Another night of Bob's Picks, presumably without Bob

I haven't been watching enough TCM in prime time to see if Robert Osborne has been back at all other than the TCM Guest Programmers, and darnit, I forgot to record the one of Candice Bergen's selections I really wanted to see. Oh well. Anyhow, TCM's schedule lists tonight's prime time lineup as a night of "Robert Osborne's Picks", which frankly would be a good way to let him go into retirement: just have him do the one night of picks a month, as well as the Guest Programmers. Supposedly Osborne is finally coming back in July.

Anyhow, Bob's selections are a batch of World War II-era movies, two of which I've recommended and two of which I haven't seen before:

Song of the Islands at 8:00 PM, an early Betty Grable musical;
You Were Never Lovelier at 9:30 PM, in which Fred Astaire falls for spoiled rich girl Rita Hayworth;
Lifeboat at 11:15 PM, Alfred Hitchcock's underrated movie about a group of people from the Allied countries who find they're on a lifeboat with a Nazi; and
Marriage Is a Private Affair at 1:00 AM, with Lana Turner wanting to be a bit of a playgirl.

Monday, June 20, 2016

That really isn't in print on DVD?

I'm mentioned quite a few times how movies get released to DVD but because they're not continually in print, they're not always available to purchase new. I've been looking at the TCM lineup for the next few days, and am surprised at what seems to have gone out of print, if it's ever been released at all.

The morning and afternoon lineup today is a bunch of Errol Flynn movies, including some pretty well-known ones. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, for example, is coming on at 3:30 PM. Despite having two big-name stars in Flynn and Bette Davis, this one has fallen out of print. Amazon lists it as having been released both as a standalone DVD and part of a box set of Flynn movies, but both of them are out of print basd on the limited number left in stock.

Tuesday's morning and afternoon schedule is devoted to Jane Russell. Only one of those movies, The Las Vegas Story at 6:30 AM, seems to be available from the TCM Shop. Of course, this particular day's lineup doesn't have quite so many well-known films as the Errol Flynn lineup. I'm not certain if Macao (11:30 AM) is out of print, but at the TCM Shop they only offer an import, while the Amazon offering is even pricier. The Outlaw (2:30 PM) is apparently available via the streaming download route, but not available at all from the TCM Shop.

But the most surprising omission comes tonight. Marie Dressler is the Star of the Month, and we get four more of her movies. Three of them are listed on the TCM schedule as being available for purchase from the TCM Shop; the one that isn't is Min and Bill at 8:00 PM. If you search for it on the TCM Shop, you find something more surprising. It's listed as being on backorder. This is odd, considering that Min and Bill is one of the movies that has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection. Those are supposed to be MOD, which I always figured meant that you order it, and then they press the DVD and send it to you. This is why it's a bit pricier. And yet the MOD is on backorder? The odder thing is the price is also specifically mentioned as being on sale, and several dollars cheaper than the MOD on Amazon, which does seem to be "in print" if you will.

Those Errol Flynn movies, however, really need to be re-released.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The things you learn

So I spent yesterday at my niece's graduation party. I mentioned to one of my sisters that just before leaving to head over, there was an owl outside my front window and that I had taken a lousy picture of it on my cell phone. (I haven't uploaded the photo from my phone to the Internet. Besides, the camera in my phone isn't really suited to nature photography; the picture is blurry and you'd only recognize it to be an owl if anybody told you in advance.)

The response I got was surprising. My sister told me that she found owls creepy. Apparently there's a movie I havent seen called The Fourth Kind, from 2009. Obviously taking its name by riffing on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the "fourth kind" of encounter deals with being abducted by aliens, which apparently take the form of owls on Earth. So that explains why my sister finds the owls creepy. It' not that they can seemingly rotate their heads close to 360 degrees.

The movie claims to be based on true events, in the style of The Blair Witch Project. That, of course, is a hoax. But if you want to see the trailer and see if it creeps you out (it didn't creep me out, for the record), here you go:

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Actuaries, anybody?

So my niece graduated from college last month with a degree in actuarial science, and the graduation party is today. I was thinking about getting her a classic movie wwith an actuarial theme, before deciding that money (well, a gift card) would be a better idea.

Besides, I couldn't really think of any good movies that actually are about actuaries. There are quite a few movies about insurance. The Apartment is one, although I don't know that the movie really explains what Jack Lemmon's character is doing with that adding machine all day. Certainly Fred MacMurray is just a manager and we don't see him doing any of the real work. And of course Shirley MacLaine is only an elevator operator.

I think a bit more common would be insurance fraud, as we can see in Double Indemnity. There's certainly no actuarial work going on there; just Fred MacMurray selling a policy to Barbara Stanwyck, and then Edward G. Robinson investigating when it's time to cash in on that policy because he just knows there's something wrong.

There's a line at the end of The Killers about how the investigation work is ultimately going to save everybody a penny or two a month on their insurance rates, but that's not particularly actuarial work, I don't think.

And there has to be a Crime Does Not Pay short about insurance fraud, but actuaries themselves aren't exactly criminal. Just because you die when their math says you're supposed to doesn't mean they've killed you.

Any good movies about an actuary?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Criss Cross

Late last summer I had the opportunity to DVR Criss Cross. It's coming up again on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM. If you haven't had the chance to see it, I can strongly recommend it.

Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Thompson. He's an armored-car driver who grew up in one of the blue-collar parts of Los Angeles and whose family still lives there. However, he made the mistake of marrying Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who was much too fast for him. The marriage, predictably, didn't work out, a lot like the marriage between the younger Derrys (Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo) in The Best Years of Our Lives, only without the World War II thing. That having been said, Steve still has a thing for Anna even though they're divorced. He's been wandering around the country for some time following the divorce, but came back to Los Angeles in part to get back in touch with Anna.

Anna is an attraction at one of the local nightclubs, and sured enough, Steve finds her there. There's a mutual physical attraction, although whether they could ever get back together in an ideal world is a good question. This being the world of noir and not an ideal world, the answer is obviously no, they won't get back together. The most obvious reason for this is the fact that Anna has remarried to oh-so-wonderful Slim (Dan Duryea). Slim finds the former married couple passionately kissing, and unsurprisingly, he isn't very happy about it, so he's going to beat the crap out of Steve if he can get the chance.

Steve is bright enough to think on his feet, but not bright enough to come up with a good idea. Steve tells Slim that he was meeting with Anna not so much to meet with her, but because he knew that way he'd be able to find Slim. That's because he's got a proposition for Slim: Slim's gang can rob the armored-car company, with Steve being the inside guy who lets them in on the routine and where and how would be the best way to commit the robbery. Never mind the fact that there's a Production Code; you'd have to be daft to think this is a good idea. But I suppose Steve was thinking that at least he could put off the beating. Because he's got an even dafter idea. He's going to take his share of the loot, and run off with Anna. Or at least, that's his idea.

So we get to the appointed time for the armored car robbery. Some heist movies see the heist itself go wrong; others see things go south only during the aftermath. In the case of Criss Cross, it's the former. Steve didn't want his co-driver to get shot by Slim, but Slim doesn't care, killing the guy while the guy shoots back. The result of all this is that Slim and his gang get away with the money; Anna is in hiding; and Steve is in the hospital where everybody thinks he's a hero. Except for the police detective Ramirez (Stephen McNally), who thinks Steve was in on the robbery. Slim and his men want to get at Steven, while Steven just wants to get at Anna....

Criss Cross is a well-made movie, with excellent noir photography and a pretty good plot to boot, even it many of the plot points will seem familiar to people who have seen a lot of noir. Dan Duryea is his typically good bad-guy; Yvonne De Carlo smoulders as the femme fatale; and Burt Lancaster is good as the idiot who should have known better. Watch also for De Carlo dancing at the nightclub about 20 minutes into the movie. Her dance partner is a very young, uncredited Tony Curtis.

If you haven't seen much noir, Criss Cross wouldn't be a bad place to start. It has been released to DVD, and seems to be in stock at Amazon, although the TCM Shop seems to have it listed on back order.

Forbidden images?

The blogger David Thompson, whose Friday Ephemera I always enjoy, linked this morning to the Open Culture blog, which had posted an old Youtube video claiming to call itself "Forbidden Images".

I have no problem believing that all of the images are from the 1920s, especially since some of the clips have been recognized by film buffs who know more about silent films than I do. The original Youtube video, which you can find here, was uploaded in October 2009 and comes with the following comment from the uploader:

I made this film for the 2007 edition of the 72 Hour Film Fest in Frederick, MD. These scenes come from a reel of 35mm nitrate that was discovered in the projection booth of an old movie theater in Pennsylvania. The projectionist spliced together this reel of banned, censored scenes to meet local moral standards or for late night, "personal" screenings. This is a true reel of Cinema Paradisio.

That's the part I have trouble believing. Anyhow, if you want you can watch for yourself: