Sunday, July 15, 2018

Where the River Bends

Another of my recent DVD purchases was a six-DVD James Stewart western collection. First up out of that set is Bend of the River.

James Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, who is leading a group of settlers west to new farmland in the Oregon side of the Columbia River. While looking for the trail ahead, Glyn comes across a group of vigilantes hanging a man for stealing a horse, and is able to prevent them from carrying out the hanging. The man whose life was saved, Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy), is grateful, and as the two head back to the settlers, it's revealed that both of them had pasts as border raiders somwhere along the Missouri/Kansas border. (The movie implies that the action was taking place before statehood, which would place it before 1859. I would have thought the border raiders were from the "Bloody Kansas" slavery dispute in the mid-to-late 1850s, but the plot implies both McLyntock and Cole were both real criminals escaping west.)

After some more difficulties with the Shoshone Indians, the settlers make it to Portland, from where they're going to go upriver to get to the land they're homesteading. While in Portland, McLyntock and the leader of the settlers, Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen), contract to have a bunch of supplies delivered to the settlement in early September. This is important because winter comes early, and while they're building the houses and clearing the land, they're going to need foor for the first winter. The settlers head on up the Columbia, while Cole stays behind along with Jeremy's daughter Laura (Julie Adams), who had to stay in Portland to recuperate from getting an arrow near the collarbone in that Indian attack.

Time passes at the settlement, and no supplies come. Eventually it's October, and the womenfolk point out that they're almost out of the stuff they brought west with them, so they damn well better get those supplies soon. McLyntock and Jeremy head out to Portland to see what happened. What happened is that there's been a gold rush, and with all the miners wanting supplies, the man who was provisioning them, Hendricks (Howard Petrie), was able to bump up the price. This even though the settlers had a contract. The law has obviously broken down, what with no statehood. The settlers' supplies are on the dock in Portland, unshipped because Hendricks won't let anybody ship them anywhere. Also in Portland, they run into Laura, who's working as a gold assayer and engaged to Cole.

Jeremy and McLyntock decide that they're going to take the supplies that they already paid for and load them on the boat. In the ensuing scuffle, Cole and Laura also have to flee, along with professional gambler Trey (Rock Hudson). They're on the steamboat, pursued by Hendricks and his men, which means that McLyntock is going to have to disembark everybody well before the normal point and then go overland the rest of the way. McLyntock also has a couple of town drunks on board whom he hired to load the goods, and they given a choice would be just as happy to see the stuff go to the gold camp since they'd rather be miners themselves. And whose side is Cole on, anyway. As Cole reminds McLyntock, once Jeremy finds out about their pasts, he and the settlers are going to reject both of them.

Bend of the River is a very well-made western, one of a bunch that Stewart made with director Anthony Mann. These were from the more "adult" era of westerns when there wasn't just the preternaturally good guy and the over-the-top villain, but men who had rather murkier psychological motivations doing what they did. Stewart is excellent as a man trying to go straight; that time he spent in World War II gave him a much darker edge in his post-war movies. Kennedy was an antagonist in a whole bunch of movies, pulling it off well enough to get multiple Supporting Actor Oscar nominations. Bend of the River isn't one of the nominated roles, but he still does a great job. Rock Hudson has little to do, and Flippen gets a much bigger role than anything else I've seen him in. The cinematography is lovely.

Curiously, the DVD says that the movie has been formatted to fit the TV screen. I was pretty certain before watching that this was made before the advent of Cinemascope in 1953, and sure enough, the copyright says 1951 (although the actual release was in January 1952). At any rate, the movie was pillarboxed on my aging HDTV, which is as it should be. Each movie is on its own DVD in a slim case; the slim cases don't bother me but may bother some others. The only extra on this DVD was the theatrical trailer, but for the low price what can one expect? Overall, I can highly recommend both Bend of the River. Sadly the box set I got it on is out of stuck, but the TCM Shop has the same six movies available on a box set that has two movies per disc.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Belles of St. Trinian's

A few weeks back TCM ran a night of Alastair Sim movies. One that was new to me was The Belles of St. Trinian's. It's available on DVD, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a bit of a prologue about a sheik from one of those oil-producing kingdoms wanting to send one of his daughters off to school in the UK. Apparnetly, the sheik has a bunch of race horses in Britain, and British firms have the extraction contract for the oil, hence the desire to send the girl to the UK. Anyhow, a member of staff from St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies is there to convince him of the benefits of the school, and off she goes.

One wonders what those benefits would be. The school is in a parlous financial state, with headmistress Millicent Fritton (Alastair Sim in drag) constantly post-dating checks, and demanding cash on the barrelhead from the parents of students for tuition. One of those parents is Millicent's brother Clarence (also played by Sim in a dual role), a horse-racing bookie whose kid is probably there because of family reasons. It's discovered that the princess has £100 in spending money in cash, so everybody tries to get at that cash for their own purposes.

We can already see why Millicent would want that cash. As for the students, well that's another matter. The girls are little hell-raisers, but when they discover that the princess' father has a horse running the the Gold Cup (apparently a pretty big race in Britain), they and Clarence want to see how the horse is doing to see whether he should be bet on. This leads to some complications when the horse goes missing (although why the horse wouldn't simply be scratched and the wagers returned is an unanswered question).

The other big plotline involves the people investigating the school's finances. There's the Ministry of Education, who have already seen two of their bureaucrats go missing while investigating the school. Those bureaucrats have gone native, living in an outbuilding on campus. There's also the local police, who have gotten a policewoman Sgt. Gates (Joyce Grenfell) a job on campus to see what exactly is going on at the school.

Sadly, I have to admit that there are a lot of British comedies from the era that I preferred to The Belles of St. Trinian's. Granted Ealing was probably the best in the genre, but some of them, like Sim's earlier Laughter in Paradise, were made at studios (Associated British-Pathé) other than Ealing. As for The Belles of St. Trinian's, it fell a bit flat for me, with Sim not being particularly interesting in drag and the humor consistently being a bit off key. The movie, however, was a big success, engendering several sequels, so obviously a lot of people do like it. Judge for yourself.

As I said before, the movie is available on DVD and you can even get it at the TCM Shop (but this time, not in an in-print Region 1 DVD at Amazon). But the DVD is put out by Reel Vault, a company I've mentioned before as they put out a lot of obscure British stuff that looks like it's all in copyright limbo. The other DVDs I've obtained from them are all bare-bones; I don't have this one so I can't judge.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Her name is neither Eileen nor Walter

Last week TCM ran a quartet of little-seen movies from Republic Pictures. They were all new to me, so I recorded three of them, not having enough room on my DVR to be interested in Trigger Jr. One of them that's available on DVD is That Brennan Girl.

Mona Freeman plays Ziggy Brennan, who at the start of the movie is a twentysomething woman in San Francisco on Mothers' Day, 1946. She passes by a flower shop, sees a young child buy one flower for Mom, and then thinks back to Mother's Day, 1938. On that day Ziggy went into the same florist's shop and bought one flower for her mother Natalie (June Duprez).

However, it didn't turn out to be a fortuitous gift. When Ziggy gets home to give the flower to Mom, Mom has a male visitor in the apartment. And Mom is none too pleased when Ziggy calls her Mom; apparently she's been trying to pass Ziggy off as her kid sister. Mom, you see, is a small-time con artist, grifting men for whatever she can get out of them. And Mom hopes to teach her daughter the tricks of the trade. Some mother.

One of Mom's friends and partners in crime is Denny Regan (James Dunn), an Irish-American with a stereotypical Irish mother with a heart of gold (Dorothy Vaughan), who gets a lot of scenes with her son that are really just a set up for her big scene with Ziggy late in the movie. Anyhow, Denny and Natalie teach Ziggy about the con game, and Denny takes a bit of on older brother attitude toward Ziggy, it seems.

Time passes, and World War II comes. One night, the gang makes the acquaintance of a navy man on leave, Martin Neilson (William Marshall). He's from the small-town Midwest and this is his first chance to be in a big city, so he's taking it. Denny notices Martin's watch with an interesting band, and as the night goes on, Ziggy gets Martin drunk enough to steal the watch with Martin being too drunk to remember. But Ziggy has a conscience, unlike her mother and Denny. Ziggy feels bad about what she did, and besides, she thinks she might be falling in love with Martin. So she goes looking for him to give him back the watch.

It must have been some whirlwind romance, because Ziggy and Martin get married before Martin can go back to the war in the Pacific. We see a brief shot of Martin being killed in action, drowning when his ship is hit. (That watch is a dead giveaway.) But wouldn't you know it, in the one night that Ziggy and Martin were married before he went back to war, that was enough to get her knocked up.

At this point, the movie becomes a melodrama of whether Ziggy will be able to take care of her child -- it's not as if Mom wants anything to do with her, because having a baby this young will only crimp the con game. You could always hire a baby-sitter, but what happens if you hire one who's negligent? That's exactly what happens to poor Ziggy....

That Brennan Girl isn't a bad movie, but it's another one that I wouldn't consider something special. If you're a fan of movies like Barbara Stanwyck's Stella Dallas, then That Brennan Girl is one I think you'll really like. For people who aren't necessarily fans of older movies, I'd start with a lot of other things first.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #209: Characters magically aging up or down

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is characters magically aging up (or down). I have to admit that this one was difficult for me, trying to think of three movies that fit the theme well. In the end, I don't quite think I succeeded, because it's not all magic and some of the characters didn't necessarily change in age at all. But I'm putting these three movies out there:

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Hurd Hatfield plays the Oscar Wilde character, who keeps a portrait in his attic that does his aging for him, while he gets to live a dissolute life and look none the worse for it. Angela Lansbury plays the East End actress Dorian meets, and George Sanders the man who gives Dorian the suggestion to live a life of pleasure.

Monkey Business (1952). Absent-minded chemist Cary Grant is doing research with chimpanzees, when one of them accidentally knocks one vial into another. The resulting mixture creates a fountain of youth, and when Cary tries it, he starts acting 18 again. His wife (Ginger Rogers) tries it too, and she also acts like a teenager again. Charles Coburn plays Grant's boss, and Marilyn Monroe Coburn's secretary.

Planet of the Apes (1968). Charlton Heston plays the leader of a group of scientists who put themselves in stasis for 18 months, while they hurtle at near-light speed while the rest of the universe ages around them, as per Einstein's theory of relativity. So technically it's science, not magic, although mankind can't get to the sort of speed necessary to make a noticeable difference in time.

I told you I was having trouble coming up with three movies to fit the theme.

Another overnight train

For those of you with FXM, you'll have a chance to catch Night Train to Paris, tomorrow (July 13) at 4:50 AM.

The movie starts of with a prologue that's standard-issue B spy movie stuff. A nervous older guy transfers a small package, and then stupidly gets into a phone booth to call his boss to tell said boss that he's delivered the package. Another older guy chases down the first guy and garrottes him!

But to an office somewhere in London. This is the office of an airline back in those days when air traffic was heavily regulated, and Alan Holiday (Leslie Nielsen) is manning the office as a public relations man. It's New Year's Eve, so everybody and his brother is trying to get out of England over to the Continent to try to celebrate the holiday. This also means that everything is booked solid and there isn't a ticket to be had. Until Catherine Carrel (Alizia Gur) comes in. She hands Alan an old coin that he's supposed to recognize....

Alan may be doing PR now, but back during the Korean War he had a past in military intelligence. There, he worked with Lemoine (Hugh Latimer), who is still working as a spy. Apparently, he's in charge of getting the package from the prologue out of the country. It's a tape containing information about western defense plans or something. (Really, it's a macguffin; it could be almost anything small enough and nontoxic.) After a bit of wangling, the plan is to get some tickets on the overnight boat train with a group of models going to the French Alps for a photo shoot. But that second older guy who garrotted the first older guy is still around killing people, up to getting Lemoine, in Alan's apartment! Poor Alan has to continue Lemoine's scheme, if only to avoid the murder rap.

So Alan and Catherine get on that train, Alan impersonating a photographer, with a bunch of models; the group running the shoot has the word "bear" in its name, so with that and the holiday the guy running the shoot is dressed in a bear costume, head and all so that normally nobody can see his head. The old strangler also gets on the train, and it's a race against time as everybody tries to get that tape and stay alive. Oh, and there are the authorities, too.

I mentioned at the beginning that the prologue is standard-issue B spy movei stuff, and the rest of the movie proceeds along those lines. There's nothing particularly wrong with the material, but there's nothing particularly memorable either, above and beyond the fact that it's Leslie Nielsen as the male lead. Audiences of tody will remember him from Airplane! and the following spoofs, but before that he actually had a serious acting career. It's fun to watch him play things straight. The other worthwhile thing Night Train to Paris is the look at vintage London.

In the end, Night Train to Paris is one of those movies that will entertain you for the hour or so that it's on, and then fade into obscurity. But at least it does entertain.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Hawk and/or the Eagle

Some time back I DVRed a double feature of World War I airplane movies off of TCM. I already blogged about Hell's Angels; the other movie was The Eagle and the Hawk.

Jerry (Fredric March) and Henry (Cary Grant) are a pair of trainees in the British air corps, or whatever it was called before the RAF. On one of their training flights together, Henry crash-lands their plane, much to Jerry's consternation. The result is that when the rota is prepared for the next round of reconnaissance flights, Jerry is one of the pilots, but Henry's name is nowhere to be found. Henry blames Jerry for this. Anyhow, Jerry flies his first mission, and it's successful, except that as part of the dogfighting with a German airplane, Jerry's observer (the man with his eyes to the ground doing the actual reconnaissance work) gets hit and during a loop-de-loop, falls out of the plane to his death. Jerry is none too pleased about it.

Jerry keeps flying missions, and he keeps having the terrible luck of losing observers, to the point that he loses five in two months. Attrition among the air corps is so high that pretty much any available hand is brought it, and that eventually means that Henry is back with the reconnaissance team. And he gets paired with Jerry, something which makes neither of them happy.

To be honest, I found The Eagle and the Hawk to be less of an action movie and a bit closer to a character study of two men who are turned cynical by the violence of war. Fredric March, unsurprisingly, is excellent in his role, as he had had more than enough opportunities over the course of his career to play men with hardened hearts. Grant, on the other hand, is usually remembered for much lighter fare, so it's easy to forget that he had a couple of hard-boiled men like his Henry. This is one of the movies that shows just how good of an actor Cary Grant was.

Adding to the cast is Jack Oakie as another pilot whose role in the movie is to provide the lighter moments. Carole Lombard gets fourth billing although she only has a few scenes when Jerry has leave in London. Even thouse scenes are well-handled, as Jerry has to face a kid who wants to see one of those pilots that people back home are putting on a pedestal. Jerry knows he's no hero.

The Eagle and the Hawk is available at the TCM shop both as a standalone, and in a couple of box sets.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Two things that got me thinking

This is Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon at the end of Some Like it Hot, right after Jack has taken off the wig and revealed that he is in fact a man. This time, however, after seeing the still, I immediately thought, where are Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe? The got in the boat along with Brown and Lemmon and should be in the back seat. And yet, there's nothing. So I went to Youtube and looked for the clip, which has been posted multiple times. Just before Brown and Lemmon start talking, there's an exchange between Curtis and Monroe that ends up with them kissing and going down, cutting to Lemmon looking back. Presumably, Curtis and Lemmon are all the way down on the floor of the back seat or something. But in a boat that size, I can't think there's any way they could both fit there without still being seen in the normal shot we get of Brown and Lemmon.

Somebody over on the TCM boards mentioned just having watched Lullaby of Broadway in a review thread, and posted this lobby card. I saw the card, and my immediate thought was, what's up with Gene Nelson's left foot? It looks as though he's kicking it across his right leg, although you can't see any shoe. The guy who posted the poster said he thinks that Nelson was actually doing a kick out, and that this would likely explain why the perspective looks all off. However, there's also the question of the pants leg. Shouldn't it flare out like the right leg?

Things like this are why you don't want to watch movies with me....

Monday, July 9, 2018

Tab Hunter, 1931-2018

Tab Hunter kissing Diana Lynn in Track of the Cat (1954)

The death has been announced of actor Tab Hunter, three days before what would have been his 87th birthday. Hunter's career in Hollywood began in the 1950s with quite a few westerns. Hunter worked steadily, if not as a lead in the most notable films, for a good 30 years.

However, Hunter became an icon above the status of the movies he was in. Despite his handsome looks that made him a natural for romantic comedies, Tab was gay and it was a fairly open secret in Hollywood. The execs had him go out with Natalie Wood and, as the joke went, "Natalie Wood and Tab wouldn't."

Hunter didn't actually reveal any of this publicly until much later in life, when he found out that somebody else was going to write an unauthorized biography of him, outing all this stuff and distorting it. So Tab decided he'd better put it all out first, in the book and later documentary film Tab Hunter Confidential. Apparently, that included a relationship with Anthony Perkins, which is currently the subject of a movie in development.

As far as I know, TCM hasn't announced whether they're going to do anything to honor Hunter.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

70 years before the Japanese horror movie

Yesterday I decided to watch Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring off the cheap Mill Creek box set I got some time back.

Carl Brisson plays "One-Round" Jack Sander, a boxer who gets his nickname because he works at the carnival taking on all comers, one round at a time. Basically, you pay your entry fee, and if you can last a full round with him, you get a cash prize. (This is the same thing that was a major plot point in the John Garfield film They Made Me a Criminal a dozen years later.) Jack is in love with The Girl, Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis), who handles the tickets for the attraction.

One day, a man comes to the attraction, buys a ticket, and beats the crap out of Jack! It turns out that the man is Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), a rising professional boxer who could have a shot at the title. So of course Bob was going to have a good shot of beating Jack. It looks like the end of Jack's career, except that Bob's promoter (Forrester Harvey) offers Jack a job as Bob's sparring partner. Meanwhile, Bob is trying to put the moves on Jack's girl, and Jack is none too pleased about it.

Eventually, Jack starts rising up the ladder of success in the boxing world, going from the bottom of the card to the top, although it's a strain for Mabel, who is increasingly torn between Jack and Bob. You can probably guess that the plot is ultimately going to require Jack to go up against Bob in the ring in the big fight, with Jack fighting for Mabel's love (although we find out during the big fight that she has made her decision in favor of... well, did you think I was going to say who?).

The Ring is not the sort of movie that one thinks of when one thinks of Alfred Hitchcock, although the whole "master of suspense" thing really didn't kick into high gear until the mid 1930s with The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. The Ring isn't bad, although I personally prefer The Lodger when it comes to Hitchcock's silent movies.. But The Ring is certainly more than worth a watch, and not just because it's one of Alfred Hitchcock's early movies. It would still stand favorably on its own if you didn't know who the director was.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A movie about malt liquor?

Not the original movie posterA few months back TCM ran a night of Randolph Scott westerns. The one I haven't blogged about yet is Colt .45.

Scott plays Steve Farrell who is selling Colt .45 six-shooters to law enforcement in the western territories in the 1840s. His current sales pitch is as a sheriff's office where the sheriff has a wanted man, Jason Brett, in one of the cells. The sheriff is an idiot because he lets Brett out of the cell before the guns have been secured. The predictable result is that Brett steals the guns nd shoots the sheriff. When the rest of the town comes running in, Brett makes a point of saying things that will make the men believe Farrell is part of Brett's gang.

Eventually, Farrell is able to get himself released from custody, and realizes that the way to clear his name is to find Brett himself. Although Farrell isn't part of Brett's gang we find a man who is: PUl Donovan (a young Lloyd Bridges). He's been lying to his wife about what he's been doing, and when his wife Beth (Ruth Roman) finds out the truth, she's none too pleased. Farrell, for his part doesn't realize why the new sheriff Harris (Alan Hale Sr.) has let him out. In fact, Harris is in cahoots with Brett's gang!

Colt .45 is a Technicolor western from Warner Bros., but it feels a lot more like the sort of Saturday matinee stuff you would get from a low-budget studio. What that means is nothing particularly special. You know what you're going to get with cookie-cutter good and bad guys and a fairly standard plot. It's not terrible, but it's not terribly good, either. In fact, it's the sort of movie that ought to be an afterthought on a box set. And that's exactly how the TCM Shop is offering it.