Monday, May 31, 2010

How many Fox docudramas can I mention?

One of the first posts I made about the docudramas that Fox produced starting after World War II was in January 2009, regarding the story of Soviet defector Igor Gouzenko, whose story was turned into the movie The Iron Curtain. I mentioned at the time that it wasn't available on DVD; in fact, it still hasn't been released to DVD.

I've also commented in the past about how the Fox Movie Channel seems to be programmed: they take a few of their old movies out of the vault, run them over and over for a relatively short time, and then return them to the vault, not to be seen for quite a few years. The Iron Curtain is such a movie, having shown up quite a bit back in 2006 or 2007, only to go missing for a long time. Well, tomorrow being the first day of a new month, it seems a time to introduce a few movies back to the FMC lineup, with The Iron Curtain being one of them, at 1:00 PM ET.

It's followed by another movie I don't think has been on the Fox Movie Channel for quite some time: Pickup on South Street, at 2:30 PM June 1. Indeed, Pickup on South Street is scheduled for a good half-dozen airings on FMC in June and July.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

By now you've probably heard about the death of actor Dennis Hopper, who died of prostate cancer yesterday at the age of 74. I was somewhat surprised to see just how many movies he appeared in. Sure, I knew about the early appearance in Rebel Without a Cause, the famous portrayal in Easy Rider, and even later works like Hoosiers. But I had forgotten that he was in True Grit and Cool Hand Luke. On the other hand, I'm glad I didn't even know before now about the existence of a Super Mario Bros. movie.

I don't know if TCM have planned a tribute for him. However, Hoosiers was already on the schedule, for 8:00 PM Tuesday. And the Fox Movie Channel often runs Speed.

Fox docudramas go European!

I've recommended several of the Fox docudramas before. Most of them were filmed in part at the actual locations of the events in the movie. 13 Rue Madeleine, however, didn't get to film in Europe despite a good portion of the movie being set there. It would take a few more years for Fox to make a docudrama about World War II that could use European settings. That movie is Decision Before Dawn, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET.

Gary Merrill stars as an American commander at that point of World War II when the Americans are just about to enter Germany proper. They need more information about German troop strength and positions, but how to get it? Well, there are a lot of German POWs that the Americans have captured, and somebody gets the bright idea of seeing if any of them would be willing to engage in counterespionage, on the hopes that there are some who were only dragooned into fighting by the Nazis. Naturally, it's a risky proposition, since anybody showing willingness to be a double agent may in fact only be expressing such interest as a way of getting out of the POW camp and getting back to Germany. Eventually, Merrill comes up with two men -- Oskar Werner and Hans Christian Blech -- and gives Richard Basehart the task of being their minders. The three men (the two Germans and Basehart) proceed to train for their mission.

The movie really picks up when the three go off to Germany to try to gather the vital information. The movie was made in the American sector of West Germany at a time when a lot of the rubble from all that Allied bombing had still not been cleaned up, creating a very authentic image of a country in chaos. Every able-bodied man would have been needed for the front, and for two German soldiers to be traipsing across the country against the flow of troops amidst the disruptions in rail services is difficult enough, even more so when the Nazis might realize your papers are forgeries. On top of that there's keeping Basehart from getting caught out, and the possibility that one or both of the German POWs might be phonies who will defect back to the Nazis. True, the spy stuff is fairly standard, but done quite well and ably assisted by the accurate locations.

Even though we know the Allies won the war, a good movie like Decision Before Dawn will keep you in suspense right up to the end. It's also been released to DVD, both on its own, and as part of an inexpensive box set.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gregg Toland, 1904-1948

I mentioned yesterday that The Best Years of Our Lives is this week's TCM Essential, airing at 8:00 PM ET tonight. Interestingly, one of the important members of the crew, Gregg Toland, is also a birthday boy today, having been born on this day in 1904.

Gregg Toland, if you haven't heard the name before, is one of the great cinematographers of the 1930s and 1940s. Probably his most famous work is that on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, where Toland used shadow to help enhance the depth of field. It's a matter of some debate just how much of the unique look of Citizen Kane is due to Welles' direction and how much to Toland's photography, but Toland clearly had quite a bit to do with it.

As for The Best Years of Our Lives, one of the Toland shots to watch for comes when Fredric March has to tell Dana Andrews to stop seeing March's daughter (Teresa Wright). The two are sitting in the bar owned by the uncle of their fellow friend Harold Russell. March and Andrews are sitting toward the back of the place, and March tells Andrews to call Wright, prompting Wright to get up and go to the pay phone, which is in the front of the bar. While Andrews is on the phone, Harold Russell walks in, sees March, and comes to the back of the bar to talk to March. All the time, you can see Andrews in clear focus, talking on the phone to Wright.

Toland was nominated for an Oscar for Citizen Kane (but, surprisingly, not for The Best Years of Our Lives). However, he didn't win; his only Oscar was for Wuthering Heights.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day weekend

This being the Memorial Day weekend, TCM is showing three full days of war related movies, which started at 6:00 AM ET this morning. (Normally, they show movies through Memorial Day itself, but this year, Memorial Day happens to fall on Clint Eastwood's 80th birthday, so TCM are honoring that instead.)

There are quite a few good movies being shown this weekend, many of which I've already recommended at some point in the past. Tonight, for example, you can watch Stalag 17 at 8:00 PM, followed by The Great Escape at 10:15 PM. Tomorrow evening's TCM Essential, at 8:00 PM, is The Best Years of Our Lives, a movie I could recommend over and over.

If you don't like war movies, you might want to switch over to the Fox Movie Channel. This week's Fox Legacy is All About Eve, introduced by Fox executive Tom Rothman at 8:00 PM, and repeated at 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The House on 92nd Street

A few weeks back, I mentioned actor Reed Hadley as having provided the voiceover in Fox docudramas such as The House on 92nd Street. That particular docudrama is airing again, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The setting is sometime not terribly long before the US entered World War II. Although the Nazis weren't officially at war with us, they used front organizations such as the Bund to get information, including intelligence, about America back to Nazi Germany. The Americans knew this was going on, and to try to stop it, the FBI recruited German-Americans loyal to their new country to go back to Germany, take Nazi training, and then work in counterespionage.

Here, all-American boy Bill Dietrich (William Eythe) gets recruited by FBI agent Briggs (Lloyd Nolan). On Dietrich's return from Germany, he's supposed to work as a low-level drone for a Nazi cell being run out of a fashion house in New York. However, the FBI, being Dietrich's real masters, have gotten Dietrich's instructions, and changed them to make Dietrich out to be a much higher-level man. They've given him the task of figuring out who the real, normally unseen head of the cell is, and who in America outside the cell is supporting them. (One of those supporters happens to be Leo G. Carroll.)

The House on 92nd Street is relatively standard for the police/FBI docudrama genre, but that doesn't mean it's bad by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it's one of the first movies in the genre, and that fact alone makes it interesting. There are also some looks at the old-fashioned technology of intelligence gathering, such as the punch card computers, and an early use of the two-way mirror for clandestine recording. (In the movie, it's actually referred to as an X-ray mirror.) The acting is acceptable, and the story will keep you in suspense until the end. The only real problem might be the voiceovers, with a rah-rah style that might seem clichéd today. But then, this was one of the originals, so the whole technique of using voiceovers and a "now it can be told" style was new.

The House on 92nd Street has been released to DVD, and is well worth watching.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saturday's Heroes

I briefly mentioned the movie Saturday's Heroes when TCM was showing a day of football-themed movies. It's still not available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive collection that TCM advertises. Not only that, but the link from TCM's schedule doesn't even give a full synopsis of the movie! What this means is that you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showings, such as the one tomorrow at 2:30 PM ET.

Another rarity showing is the Traveltalks short Mighty Manhattan, New York's Wonder City, at about 5:09 PM, just before Sunday in New York.

John Wayne and Donna Reed

Today marks the birth anniversary of John Wayne, and TCM are showing a bunch of his movies from the 1930s all morning and afternoon, up until Donna Reed gets her final night as Star of the Month. It's slightly interesting to see that TCM scheduled Trouble Along the Way last week, since it stars both Wayne and Reed, and TCM could have killed two birds with one stone, so to say, by putting it on tonight. Instead, the night kicks off with From Here to Eternity at 8:00 PM. That having been said, Trouble Along the Way isn't the only movie Wayne and Reed made together; their other picture, They Were Expendable, is on tonight at 10:15 PM. They Were Expendable also stars Robert Montgomery (on the left in the photo above), who not only starred, but also handled some of the directing duties when John Ford took ill.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

To the gal with the hoe

Jeanne Crain (1925-2003) in the conclduing scene to Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Today marks what would have been the 85th birthday of actress Jeanne Crain, who died in 2003. Crain doesn't get too much love on TCM, largely because most of her movies were made over at Fox. I've recommmended quite a few of Crain's movies before, although I see that I've never actually included one of her photos yet. Leave Her to Heaven got two photos, but both of those were of the female lead, the wonderful Gene Tierney. Crain appears as Tierney's half-sister, who falls in love with Tierney's husband and who, because of her green thumb, gets called "the gal with the hoe".

Perhaps the high point of Crain's career came when she got a Best Actress nomination for Pinky, which I just mentioned a month ago.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Again with the literary references

I don't mean to harp on Hollywood's making movies from famous works of literature. It's just that TCM is showing a night of films tonight based on the works of Ernest Hemingway. The night kicks off with the 1940s verson of For Whom the Bell Tolls at 8:00 PM ET, followed by the Spencer Tracy version of The Old Man and the Sea at 11:00 PM, and the 1930s version of A Farewell to Arms at 12:30 AM.

I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work, but I'm sure there are people out there who do like it. As for Hollywood, it doesn't seem at all surprising to me that they rely so heavily on works of literature to make their movies. I get the impression that there's been a lot of either laziness or cautiousness (or both) in Hollywood. If, back in the studio era, you had to churn out a movie a week, and you were spending substantial sums of money, you would naturally want to be sure that the movies you were making would be things that people would like. Successful books are, by nature of their success, proof that you've got a story a good number of people like, so adapting it into a movie should be a better bet of a successful movie. Plus, if it's a work of literature that was written a long time ago, you don't have to pay any rights to the author to be able to make a movie out of it, something I'm sure was a consideration at least some of the time in Hollywood. Also, being able to do Shakespeare adaptations, for wxample, could esily be passed off as being high-minded and contributing to the arts. When most of your other movies are geared to the lowest common denominator, being able to produce something based on a classic writer would be another plus.

I guess one of the things I'm saying is that we'll probably always have literary adaptations. True, many of today's summer blockbusters are based on the "literature" of comic books. But they're still based on successful written works. And it's still not uncommon when a "real" novel becomes wildly popular, that there's a fight in Hollywood for the movie rights. I'm looking on IMDb at some of the upcoming releases, and scheduled for December are the latest entry in the Narnia chronicles (based on a series of books by CS Lewis), another version of Gulliver's Travels, and, shockingly, a remake of True Grit which, although probably better remembered as a John Wayne movie, was in fact based on a novel that came out only a year earlier. (Indeed, the author, Charles Portis, is still alive at the age of 75.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Les Misérables

Since I mentioned a few of Laurence Olivier's literary adaptations yesterday, I should note that TCM is showing the Victor Hugo classic Les Misérables overnight tonight.

Actually, they're showing two versions. First, at 4:00 AM, is the 1935 version, in which Fredric March plays Jean Valjean, and Charles Laughton plays Javert. It's followed at 6:00 AM by the 1952 version, starring Michael Rennies as Valjean, and Robert Newton as Javert. Personally, I prefer the 1930s version, in large part because I love Charles Laughton in almost anything he did. That, and the fact that I don't think Rennie is properly cast as Valjean.

I don't know if the 1935 version is the best version of the movie though. That would because there are one or two versions I haven't seen. More like one or two dozen, to be exact, including a lot of versions I'd never even heard of. The earliest seems to be from 1909. The first sound version, a partial telling of the tale, is a 1929 short called The Bishop's Candlesticks, in which Valjean is played by Walter Huston.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Laurence Olivier, 1907-1989

Laurence Olivier in 49th Parallel

Today marks the birth anniversary of Laurence Olivier. I note that I haven't recommended all that many of Olivier's movies, and I'm not quite certain why. I briefly recommended Alfred Hitchcok's Rebecca in a post on Daphne du Maurier back in 2008. Also, his smaller parts in 49th Parallel and Bunny Lake is Missing have been subjects of posts. But that's about it.

To be honest, part of the problem is that his greatest movies are ones that I don't particularly care for. Not that it's his fault, of course. But I just in general find Shakespeare movies a bit tough to get into, for the most part. Olivier made quite a few of those that are generally highly praised; they're just not up my alley.

Then, there's Wuthering Heights. Olivier does a perfectly good job as Heathcliff, but I find the story almost nausea-inducing. And Merle Oberon's death scene at the end is over the top and even more obnoxious than Bette Davis' similar scene from Dark Victory the same year.

Still, it's not Olivier's doing that explains why I don't care for the movies, so he shouldn't be overlooked. And, I'm sure, there are a lot of people who highly enjoy the Shakespeare movies or even the chick-flick romances.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TCM's Lena Horne Tribute

TCM is setting aside its previously-schedule programming tonight in order to honor the late Lena Horne, who died a week and a half ago at the age of 92. TCM is showing three of her movies in prime time:
The Duke is Tops at 8:00;
Cabin in the Sky at 9:30 PM; and
Panama Hattie at 11:15 PM.

I have of course recommended Cabin in the Sky before; perhaps more interesting anyway is The Duke is Tops. It's Horne's first movie, and it's one of the "race movies" of the 1930s that had almost entirely black casts and crews, made for the segregated black audiences of the day. As such, they often have a very different feel from the studio movies, and are always worth watching even when they're not very good.

The only unfortunate thing is that TCM had to preempt a night of comedies from the great British studio Ealing, including such classics as Kind Hearts and Coronets, in order to put on tonight's Horne tribute. But to be honest, there weren't too many places in the scheulde for TCM to put a tribute to her. Tuesdays and Thursdays are taken by the Native Americans on Film series, while Wednesdays go to Star of the Month Donna Reed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Montgomery's Warden

May 21 marks the birth anniversary of Robert Montgomery, and TCM is marking the day with a morning and afternoon of Montgomery's movies. First up, at 6:30 AM ET tomorrow, is The Big House.

Montgomery only gets fourth billing, as Kent Marlowe, a young man who's been sent to prison on a vehicular homicide charge. Montgomery would of course go on to play much more elegant figures for the most part, but his gentlemanly look is used to great effect here, as Kent is clearly the young naïf who knows little about the brutality of prison life. Kent is put in a cell with two much more hardened men: conman John Morgan (top billed Chester Morris), and vicious murderer Butch (Wallace Beery).

Much of what happens next is stuff that would become standard in prison movies, but was new to viewers of The Big House, as it was released in 1930. Butch doesn't want to eat the ghastly prison food, and starts a riot over it; Butch and Morgan get sent to solitary; the warden with a heart of gold (Lewis Stone) tries to get Kent to become a stool pigeon; Morgan breaks out of prison and falls in love with Kent's sister, before getting caught and being sent back to prison; and there's the climax, the attempted mass breakout.

As I said, a lot of this is familiar to us. The Big House, however, stands up because of very strong performances, and an extremely strong script. Robert Montgomery doesn't normally get the credit he deserves for being a more than capable actor. Perhaps it's because those more gentlemanly characters look as though they're easier to portray. In The Big House, though, he has to play something much more difficult, and does quite a good job as the playboy who has to grow up quickly behind bars. Morris is quite good; he had not long before played another gangster in the not-often-seen Alibi, but could also play higher-class people easily, falling somewhere between James Cagney's gangsters and Robert Montgomery's gentlemen. Beery steals the show, though, as the vicious, conniving murderer; indeed, this is the one that made him a star of talking pictures. Not yet mentioned is Leila Hyams as Kent's sister. Hers is a well-played performance of a strong female character who, despite falling for an escaped convict, is nobody's fool. (Perhaps the fact that the script is by female writer Frances Marion has a lot to do with there being such a strong female character.)

All in all, The Big House is a movie that wrote the rules for a genre, and does so in excellent fashion. About its only flaw is that, having been made in 1930, it has some technological kinks, such as a long opening sequence of Montgomery being processed as a new prisoner that looks as though it could have been produced originally for a silent movie, and then had sound dubbed in. But such minor flaws don't take much away from a movie as good as this.

The Big House is one of the titles that's been released to the Warner Archive Collection, albeit at a higher price than normally-released DVDs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eve Harrington and a face

It doesn't show up too often, but the Fox Movie Channel is showing The Great Profile tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET.

John Barrymore stars as Evans Garrick, a character who is essentially a parody of Barrymore himself: an actor who's become a drunk whose drunkenness threatens to ruin any production he appears in, and who's about to lose his wife in the process. One night after a three-day bender, he's back home thinking he's been working on a Shakespeare film when aspiring young playwright Mary Maxwell (Anne Baxter around age 18) visits him with a play she wants somebody to stage. It's crap, but Evans' agent (Gregory Ratoff) needs the money a new production could bring in, and Mary's fiancé (John Payne) is willing to put up the money. And the play would be a huge disaster if it weren't for one thing -- Evans' drunkenness. In theory, his showing up drunk for the premiere should ruin things, but the material is so bad that Evans' drunken improvisations turn the dreck into sparkling comedy. Indeed, it's successful enough that the estranged Mrs. Garrick returns looking for a piece of the action.

Unfortunately, Mary has bigger ideas. She's deluded into thinking that it's actually her play that's good, and not a drunk Evans pulling it off. She has dreams of getting the play produced in New York, which would also mean a comeback for Evans. However, she doesn't want Evans' ad-libbing to "ruin" the play, and she tries to sober him up along the way, getting him to take the play as the serious, high-minded drama she intended. Of course, she doesn't realize that this would turn the play into a complete flop. Meanwhile, this also causes some romantic tension as a sober Evans thinks about dumping his wife in favor of Mary!

The Great Profile is an interesting little movie, in part because much of it mirrors what actually happened to Barrymore late in his stage career. It's not just the alcoholism, but also being abandoned by his wife, only for her to return when the play he was in turned out to be a success. The movie is highly uneven, in no small part because of Barrymore's real-life alcoholism; apparently he read all his lines off of cue cards. Still, the movie is well worth watching, even if Barrymore gave much better screen performances earlier in his career (Dinner at Eight, in which John Barrymore also played an alcoholic actor, comes immediately to mind). Unfortunately, The Great Profile hasn't made its way to DVD, and the Fox Movie Channel's website lists tomorrow's showing as the only one for a while.

Not one of Eve's faces

Coming up this afternoon is the fun, if flawed, movie Angel Face, at 4:00 PM ET on TCM.

Robert Mitchum stars as Frank Jessup, a paramedic who is only working the job until he can make enough money to open up a garage. One night, he gets called to the home of wealthy Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil), who has been overcome by gas from a heater in an apparent suicide attempt. There he meets Catherine's husband Charles (Herbert Marshall), a writer who's living off of his wife's financial support; and Charles' daughter (and Catherine's stepdaughter) Diane (Jean Simmons). Diane quickly arranges for Frank to get a better job, working as a chauffeur for the Tremaynes. Frank also begins to fall for Diane, despite the fact that he's already got a girlfriend in Mary (Mona Freeman).

By now, you've probably seen enough noirs to know that falling for Diane like this is a Big Mistake for Frank to make. Diane sabotages Frank's relationship with Mary, and gives Frank good reason to suspect the stepmother's "suicide attempt" was in fact an attempted murder. Unfortunately for him, however, he can't get out of the situtation: Diane has been asking innocent questions about car mechanics, and using the information she's learned to rig up an "accident" that will kill her father and stepmother. Nobody but Frank knows about her newfound mechanical expertise and, since he was the one whose duty it was to keep the car in working order, he's the obvious suspect for the murder charges that come once the cops investigate and find the car has been sabotaged. What's a man to do? Apparently, the only thing he can do in this case it to marry Diane, which gives them both spousal immunity and keeps them from having to testify at the trial. There goes the evidence.

But how can Frank get out of a marriage to Diane when he's learned about her true nature, and doesn't love her? There's that great line in Double Indemnity about the two murderers being tied together in perpetuity, "straight down the line" -- and so it is here. There really is no way out. And yet, that's one of the things that makes the movie not as good as it could be. By the time it was made in the early 1950s, much of the noir genre had already been done to death (no pun intended), and the plot here seems trite. The ending, in particular, seems more laugh-inducing than anything else. Still a cast like Mitchum, Simmons, and Marshall is more than worth watching. It's been released to DVD, but the only one apparently available right now is part of a Robert Mitchum box set. Not that Mitchum isn't worth watching, of course; but if you just want to watch Angel Face, you might want to stick to the TCM airing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jane Russell's assets in 3D

Today's selection is the frothy little musical comedy The French Line, airing at 4:00 PM ET on TCM.

Jane Russell stars as Mary Carson, heiress to a Texas oil fortune. Inexplicably, her wealth seems to have the effect of ultimately driving men away from her, as she's just had another fiancé break off an engagement. To get away from it all, she decids to take a boat trip to France, hoping that perhaps people there won't know who she is. Waiting for the boat in New York, she meets old friend Annie (Mary McCarty), a fashion designer going to France for a show. Mary gets the idea that she and anothe of Annie's designer friends also on the trip should switch identities for the duration of the trip, so that anybody on board who does know that Mary's fabulously wealthy won't fall in love with the real Mary; and, if anybody does fall in love with the real Mary, they'll be doing it for who she is, and not her money. Sure enough, along the way the real Mary falls for Pierre (Gilbert Roland), a playboy with little money. The typical romantic and comedic complications ensue....

There really isn't that much to the plot of The French Line; it's all been done quite a few times before. What makes it interesting is that it came in the early 1950s, at a time when one of the gimmicks that Hollywood was using to try to draw people away from their TV screens and back into the theaters was 3D. Here, the producers had just the thing to have protrude from the screen: Jane Russell's bust! Russell had burst onto the scene a decade earlier when her bust line was used to create scandal in The Outlaw, and for The French Line, the producers have Jane singing several numbers dressed either in swimsuits or the dresses designed by the fashion designer characters, with certain camera shots strategically arranged to show off Russell's chest. It must be quite the sight in 3D, but alas, TCM is only showing a 2D print (understandably, they wouldn't want to spring for all those glasses for the viewers). The outfits are quite tame by 2010 standards, but back in the 1950s, the outfits, combined with the 3D, created quite a stir, with the Catholic League being aghast.

To be honest, The French Line is one of those movies that's not particularly good, but a heck of a lot of fun. Sadly, it hasn't made its way to DVD.

Monday, May 17, 2010

More widescreen scenery

When I mentioned Boy on a Dolphin, I mentioned that one of the things it has going for it is some lovely scenery in widescreen and color. Another middling movie with a similar visual advantage is Light in the Piazza, airing overnight tonight at 2:15 AM ET on TCM.

Olivia de Havilland stars as Meg Johnson, who is in Florence, Italy with her adult daughter Clara (Yvette Mimieux). Despite being physically an adult, Clara has diminished mental capabilities due to a brain injury she suffered as a child. She's grown up to be beautiful, somebody the men would love to have, but Meg is worried that the men might take advantage of Clara. And then, they meet Fabrizio (George Hamilton). He sees Clara, and fairly quickly falls in love with her, seemingly not minding Clara's childlike impulsiveness one bit. Will Fabrizio and Clara live happily ever after, or will her mental impairment ultimately separate them?

Complicating matters is Clara's father (Barry Sullivan). He and Meg have been disagreeing pretty substantially on what the best course of action is for Clara. He's over in the States working, and thinks that Meg's been taking Clara abroad not just to shelter her from American men, but to shelter her from the wide world in general. He and Meg aren't getting young, and eventually they won't be able to take care of Clara any longer. So it's better to expect that there's no hope for further improvement from Clara, and put her in a facility where they can look after her better. So, it's no surprise that, once Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, her Daddy shows up to try to bring her back to America, away from Fabrizio.

Light in the Piazza is a movie that has a relatively pedestrian storyline, in that the plot conflicts were predictable, and I didn't care much for what happened to the characters. The acting is adequate, but nothing special. However, the movie does have location shooting going for it. The movie was filmed in Florence and Rome, two highly photogenic cities. (The young Mimieux and Hamilton were also photogenic, but that's another story.) It's tough to go wrong photographing either location, and that along makes Light in the Piazza worth watching at least once. Unfortunately, it's not currently available on DVD, so you'll have to catch a TCM showing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two eras ended this week

There are a couple of obituaries from earlier this week that I've been remiss in mentioning:

Doris Eaton Travis died on Tuesday at the age of 106. Travis was the last surviving member of the Ziegfeld Girls, and left Ziegfeld in the mid-1920s to go to Hollywood and appear in movies. She didn't make too many movies, and eventually used her dancing skills to become a franchise owner for the Arthur Miller dance schools. In later years, Travis danced for charity, making her last public appearance in April as part of an AIDS benefit.

Rosa Rio died on Thursday three weeks shy of her 108th birthday. Rio worked as an organist, providing music for silent movies in the days when they weren't played at revival houses, but when they were the only movies out there because talkies hadn't yet been created. After the demise of silent cinema, Rio got work as an organist with the NBC orchestra, and went on to play for live soap operas. In the 1990s, she and her husband moved to Florida for the weather, and she went back to her first career, performing on the organ at the Tampa Theater for revivals of silent movies. She's survived by her husband of 63 years.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Edward G. Robinson, florist

The hook connecting all of tonight's TCM movies is the fact that they've got flowers in their titles. This includes the comedy/drama Brother Orchid, airing overnight at 3:30 AM ET.

Edward G. Robinson stars as gangster Johnny Sarto. Although he's a gangster, what he really wants is class, so he leaves behind his girlfriend (Ann Sothern) and leaves the racket to second in command Jack Buck (Humphrey Bogart), going off to Europe. Unfortunately, he finds that you can't just buy class, and, having been unable to obtain class in Europe, he returns to the States having spent all of his money and wanting control of the racket back.

Of course, Buck is in no mood to give up the racket, and he uses Johnny's old girlfriend and her new suitor (Ralph Bellamy) to try to set up Johnny. The plan is to get Johnny out in the middle of nowhere one night, and shoot him where it will take the authorities quite some time to find the body. Johnny naturally has no intentions of dying, and tries to run away from his pursuers, eventually escaping wounded when he winds up in... a monastery!

This being a monastery, they're all isolated from the world, and don't know about Johnny's past. Instead, they spend their time raising flowers, which allows them to make a living, as well as beautify the world around them. And it's good for Johnny, too; not only does it afford him a place to hide, but he finds that he's got a green thumb as well, causing the monks to call him "Brother Orchid". All good things can't last, though, and soon enough Buck comes along looking for protection money. The monks don't know what to do, but they also don't know they've got a gangster in their midst who does know what to do....

Brother Orchid is an interesting movie that constantly veers back and forth between comedy and drama, and that is ultimately the thing that keeps it from being a great movie. Robinson and Bogart are both pretty good, as they always are, but the material doesn't really allow them to shine. That's not to say that Brother Orchid is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It helps, of course, that the studios back in those days were able to call upon a great range of character actors to fill out the supporting roles. Here, that includes Allen Jenkins as one of the gangsters, Donald Crisp as the head of the monastery, and Cecil Kellaway as another of the monks.

Brother Orchid has been released to DVD, as part of the same Warner Gangsters box set that gave us Picture Snatcher.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Price Hollywood again

I've briefly mentioned the 1932 movie What Price Hollywood? a couple of times before, most because of the fact that the story is pretty much the same story used in several versions of the A Star is Born movie. That is, a would-be actress (played here by Constance Bennett) meets a drunken director (Lowell Sherman). They fall in love, and her acting career takes off while his directing career goes down the tubes thanks to his heavy drinking.

In the past when I've mentioned it, it's been as a lead in to a discussion of A Star is Born, or some other movie about Hollywood. This time, it's nice to see that What Price Hollywood? is back on the TCM schedule again, overnight tonight at 12:15 AM ET. (That, of course, is still late Friday evening in the more westerly parts of the country.) It's part of a night of movies about people aspiring to become famous, and includes It Should Happen To You!, which aired last month and which I wrote about in detail back in February 2008. It Should Happen to You! airs at 9:30 PM.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rachel and the Stranger

I'm somewhat surprised to see that I have not yet recommended the movie Rachel and the Stranger before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM ET on TCM, which is a good time to catch it.

William Holden plays David Harvey, a pioneer farmer who is widowed, and living with his young son. David's old hunter friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) comes along, and makes David realize that he could really use a woman around the house to raise the son right. So, David goes to the nearest fort town and finds Rachel (Loretta Young), a bondswoman working off her indentured servitude. David buys the contract, takes Rachel back to the wilderness, and marries her.

It's really just a marriage of convenience, though. Rachel tries to raise the son as best she can, but the son doesn't really respect her. Respect is all David and Rachel have for each other, as they haven't fallen in love at all. This causes big problems the next time Jim comes back. Rachel immediately falls for Jim, the way girls always fall for the "bad boy". Even though David hasn't really loved Rachel, he gets jealous, which leads to a lot of romantic tension.

What's the best way to deal with such tension in the old pioneer days? Have an Indian attack! All will be resolved as the three members of the love triangle, and the son, try to save the farm from the marauding Indians.

Reading over the plot, I see that the actors of the old days brought a lot to the movies they appeared in, and could often lift a movie just by their presence. Rachel and the Stranger is one such case. The plot is fairly standard stuff, and the Indians are foreshadowed; you know they're going to come back some day. Heck, you know when David and Rachel only have a businesslike relationship that Jim is going to be back, and that this would be the case even if he weren't being played by somebody with the stature of Robert Mitchum. Still, the three leads take what looks on the page like pedestrian, formulaic material, and turn it into something eminently entertaining.

Despite the presence of three reasonably big stars, Rachel and the Stranger has never been released to DVD. So, you'll have to tune in to one of the infrequent TCM showings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What if they colorized Execuitve Suite?

I've mentioned the 1954 movie Execuite Suite before, about the boardroom shenanigans that go on when a business has to replace its deceased CEO. Fox made a similar movie the same year, only in Technicolor; that movie, Woman's World, airs on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET.

In Woman's World, Ernest Gifford (played by Clifton Webb) is the head of the Gifford car company. He's looking for a new #2, who can possibly replace him after he retires. However, he's also got the belief that behind the right man for the job, you also need the right wife. Therefore, Gifford plans to bring the three candidates for the job to the New York headquarters, along with their wives. Of course, the wives have their own flaw, in addition to those the husbands have. Those couples are:

Cornel Wilde and June Allyson. Wilde is devoted to his wife, and isn't certain if he wants to sacrifice the nice midwestern life he has in favor of a higher position. Allyson seems to feel the same way, and besides, she's incredibly klutzy and socially ungraceful, which give the movie its few chances at humor.

Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall. MacMurray really wants the job, to the extent that he's become a workaholic, and made the sacrifice that Wilde doesn't really want to. This has come at the cost of an impending divorce; Bacall is really only willing to go in on the charade of being a happily married couple until MacMurray can get the job.

Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl. Heflin wants the job too, but the one in this family who really wants it is Dahl, who is willing to go to much further lengths than either of the other wives. But is she willing to go too far?

Woman's World is a movie that deserves to be described with a lot of positive adjectives. And yet, there's something about it that's not quite as good as Executive Suite. Sure, the acting is competent. The characterizations are accurate, with the possible exception of the Allyson character, who seems just a bit too lacking in the social graces. The cinematography is very pretty; Woman's World was one of the Fox Technicolor and Cinemascope features made to try to draw TV viewers back into the movie theaters. As a result, the depictions of New York in the 1950s are lovely to look at, especially those 50s cars and fashions. The plot is sound if nothing groundbreaking, resulting in the ensemble finale which plays out much like a Thin Man movies, only with Webb fingering each husband as the winner of the job until naming the real winner. The plot does nothing to make any of the three men's winning the job seem unrealistic, yet at the same time provides a suitably happy ending.

And perhaps, that's the problem with Woman's World. It's suitable and competent, but not special. Still, there's nothing wrong with it, and it's certainly entertaining -- and, as I said, easy on the eyes. Despite have an all-star cast, Woman's World never made it to DVD, so you're going to have to catch one of the Fox Movie Channel showings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back to the beginning

The very first movie that I blogged about, back in January of 2008, was The Strawberry Blonde. It's back on the TCM schedule, tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM ET. Considering who the other three stars are (James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, and Rita Hayworth), it's surprising that The Strawberry Blonde doesn't show up more often on TCM.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne, 1917-2010

From left: Ethel Waters, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Lena Horne in Cabin in the Sky (1943)

The death has been announced of singer/actress Lena Horne. Horne started out on Broadway in the late 1930s, which earned her a chance to make musicals at MGM in the 1940s. Horne refused to play the black stereotypes of the time, and that sadly meant that her film opportunities were limited, often to just a musical number or two in some of the great MGM musicals -- numbers that weren't critical to the plot and which could be easily snipped for the markets in the South, where white movie goers might not want to see a black person in such a role.

One of the few really good opportunities Horne got in those days was as the Devil's temptress to Eddie "Rochester" Anderson in Cabin in the Sky, a role in which Horne shines.

Lena Horne was 92.

TCM Guest Programmer: Shirley Jones

Shirley Jones and Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry (1960)

Academy Award-winning actress Shirley Jones sits down with TCM host Robert Osborne tonight to select four of her favorite movies and discuss why she likes them. First up happens to be Jones' Oscar performance in Elmer Gantry, at 8:00 PM ET. It might perhaps be a bit egotistical of her to select one of her own movies, but it also wouldn't be the first time a Guest Programmer did that. When Jack Klugman was one of the invitees during the Guest Programmers' Month in November 2007, he picked 12 Angry Men for one of his choices. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker didn't select her own work; instead, she picked three movies directed by her late husband, Michael Powell. I suppose that if you really enjoyed working on a movie and the result was a very good movie indeed, why wouldn't it be one of your favorites?

Jones' other three selections are:

For Me and My Gal, the movie that marks Gene Kelly's Hollywood debut, at 10:30 PM;
Love Me or Leave Me, Doris Day's attempt to escape from James Cagney, at 12:30 AM; and
Random Harvest, a movie I personally consider one of the more retch-inducing love stories, at 2:45 AM.

Please note that although Elmer Gantry is in a 150-minute slot, its running time is right around 147 minutes. By the time you get Robert Osborne's opening interview with Jones and the closing one, it's liable to run over the allotted time. Either that, or the opening theme might start several seconds before 8:00 PM.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Dark Corner

I very briefly mentioned a movie The Dark Corner about a year ago when it showed up on TCM, but not having seen it at the time, I figured it would be better to write about a related movie, Lured, instead, as both of them are noirs in which Lucille Ball has a starring role. The Dark Corner is back on the Fox Movie Channel schedule, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET, and now that I've seen it, I can highly recommend it.

Ball plays Kathleen, the secretary to private eye Brad (Mark Stevens). Brad recently spent a two-year stretch in jail, having been framed by his former partner Tony (Kurt Kreuger). It seems as though Tony has learned Brad is now in New York, as Brad's got somebody (William Bendix) following him. As part of trying to find Tony, Brad finds wealthy art dealer Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb), who also knows Tony; after all, Tony seems to have a thing for Mrs. Cathcart. Everything comes together in an even more convoluted way when Brad returns to his apartment one night to find Tony dead on the floor, obviously having been murdered. It's clear to Brad that, dammit, he's been framed again!

Thankfully, Brad has Kathleen to help him on the case. By this time, she's fallen in love with him, and is certain of his innocence. Bill Bendix is the only lead in the case, which leads Brad and Kathleen on a frantic search to find him, before the real killer or the police does. Unfortunately, Brad's too late, as he finds Bendix thrown out of a high-rise window. Certainly, Hardy must have something to do with all this, but what? I can't really tell you that, because that would give the story away.

The Dark Corner is a nicely-photographed and well-acted noir, presenting Manhattan as at least some people saw it back in the 1940s: the el trains, the less glamorous side of life, and a lot of dark alleys. Lucille Ball shows once again that she was more than just a scatterbrained comedienne. As in Lured, she's quite good as the woman who provides the glue to the whole story. The two younger men, Stevens and Kreuger, don't particularly distinguish themselves in their performances. Webb, however, plays much the same sort of character he did in Laura a few years earlier: urbane and supremely arrogant, with a dark side to boot. Also appearing, as a police detecive watching over Brad, is Reed Hadley, who provided his voiceover to several of Fox's docudramas from the same era, including The House on 92nd Street, which is also showing up on FMC on Monday morning (at 9:30 AM).

The Dark Corner is entertaining and well worth watching. Fortunately, Fox released quite a lot of its noirs on DVD, including this one.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

TCM's Mothers' Day schedule

Tomorrow is the second Sunday in May, which as always means Mothers' Day. TCM is showing an entire day of movies about mothers, and some of the movies are ones I've recommended in the past, such as Mildred Pierce at 1:15 PM ET, and To Each His Own at 3:15 PM. The first movie of the day, however, is one I haven't recommended before: Bachelor Mother, at 6:30 AM ET.

Ginger Rogers stars as Polly Parrish, a temporary sales assistant at a department store hired as extra help for the Christmas rush. Management doesn't keep her on after Christmas, so, having been fired, she starts walking the streets of town. As she's passing an orphanage, she meets a mother who's leaving her child there. But, the infant is in danger of falling down the front steps, so Polly props it up -- just as the orphanage's employees are opening the front door. They obviously believe Polly is the mother, and do everything they can to convince her not to give up the child. Eventually, Polly winds up taking the child, and giving the department store as her last known place of work.

The administrators of the orphanage naturally send word back to the department store that one of their employees had tried to deposit a baby there, and the son of the president, David Merlin (played by David Niven) is given the task of dealing with Polly. Naturally, he doesn't believe Polly's story about how she got the child. Worse, thanks to a series of misunderstandings, other people start to believe Merlin is the father of the baby. This includes Merlin's own father (Charles Coburn), who's been tipped off by Polly's fellow worker and would-be suitor Freddie (Frank Albertson), who is angling for a promotion. Dad's wanted a grandson all along, so he encourages David to take a more active role in the baby's upbringing....

You have to expect in a romantic comedy like this that Polly and David are going to wind up together, with the baby as well. What makes a movie like Bachelor Mother worth watching, however, is the way they get there. Ginger Rogers was adept at almost anything, and handles the material easily. Niven is charming, which is just the right note his character needs to hit. Charles Coburn does a fine job as well; he was closer to the beginning of his career in playing ultimately kind-hearted rich old men.

It's very surprising, but Bachelor Mother has yet to receive a DVD release.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ursa horribilis

I'm not quite certain what to say about the movie The Two Little Bears, which is airing tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

Eddie Albert stars as Harry Davis, an elementary school principal with some problems. He's angling to get a higher-up job within the school district, but he's got two young sons who have a rich fantasy life. They're obsessed with bears, to the point of wearing bear costumes when it's not appropriate, and wanting to become bears. One day, they visit the town's local gypsy, who tells the two boys there's a magic cream out there that can turn them into bears, if only they rub it all over themselves, chant a certain spell, and believe they'll become bears. The kids respond by finding their older sister's (Brenda Lee; more on her later) freckle remover and thinking that's the cream. Amazingly enough, the boys do turn into bears, although nobody believes them, even after they go missing. Eventually, Dad thinks they might be telling the truth, even if this may cost him his job.

I can't help but wonder what anybody was thinking when this project was given the green light. The story is worse than any B movie from the 1930s that I can think of, and the production values look like a bad television sitcom. The two young boys aren't very interesting, and as for Brenda Lee, she wasn't there for her acting ability. There were quite a few male teen singing idols in the late 1950s and early 1960s who got movie roles from studios who thought casting them would bring in the younger viewers: Fabian and Frankie Avalon come to mind; never mind Elvis Presley, who was actually a better actor than he's normally given credit for. Brenda Lee was one of the young female singing stars of the day, and you have to think that she got cast because of her popularity from the world of music. Indeed, she gets a song to sing here. Not that she could act very well, though, but at least she's not that big of a character.

There are some movies that are so bad they're funny, but The Two Little Bears isn't one of them. It's the sort of movie that might interest a six-year-old, but will probably make adults groan. On top of all this, the version the Fox Movie Channel they showed the last time it was on was a pan-and-scan version, making the image even worse. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that The Two Little Bears isn't on DVD: who would buy it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

MGM does anthologies too

I've blogged a couple of times about some of the anthology movies from the late 1940s and early 1950s that have shown up on the Fox Movie Channel. MGM made one around that time, too, and that movie -- It's a Big Country -- is on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM.

The movie opens on a train, where James Whitmore is talking about how proud he is to be a part of America. That is, until he's floored by a question from Professor William Powell: Which America? The good professor suggests that there are lots and lots of different aspects of America. And so, we get an anthology of quite a few different aspects of the American experience.

First up is Ethel Barrymore. She reads an article in the local newspaper that distresses her: apparently, the census counted everybody in America, but she was never counted. Won't the newspaper do something about that?
Next, in by far the weakest segment, stock footage is used to show the contributions blacks have made to American society.
This is followed by a sketch of Hungarian-American farmer S. Z. Sakall trying to raise his girls. The only thing he doesn't like is Greeks, and wouldn't you know, one of his daughters falls in love with Greek ice cream parlor owner... Gene Kelly (as if we don't get the point already, his character is named Icarus Xenophon)!
In another sketch about overcoming prejudice, Keefe Brasselle, whom MGM was presumably grooming for stardom, plays a Jewish veteran of the Korean War visiting the mother of a deceased friend (Marjorie Main).
Gary Cooper gets the funniest sketch, playing a typical Texan who's trying to dispel all of the stereotypes about Texas, while the whole time he's talking, those stereotypes are playing out right behind him.
Van Johnson is up next as a new minister who has the daunting task of giving a sermon at which the President will be in attendance.
Finally, Fredric March plays an Italian immigrant father who thinks his son will be seen as a weakling if he has to get glasses, despite the son's teacher (Nancy Davis) insisting upon the necessity of it.

It's a Big Country is an interesting, if uneven movie. The scenes range from the lousy -- it's pretty shocking that in trying to show how we should be more tolerant of black people, MGM couldn't actually be bothered to cast any black actors. The story with Keefe Brasselle isn't too good, either, and this is where the racial angle should have been explored: the military had been integrated by President Truman only a few years earlier, and having a black soldier talk about his dead white friend to the friend's mother would probably have been much better. However, prejudice is very well skewered in the Sakall/Kelly story. Everybody recognizes that Hungarian/Greek ethnic tension is silly; doesn't it logically follow that we shouldn't be prejudiced against those more obviously different from us? Gary Cooper once again reminds us that he really could do deadpan humor, and Ethel Barrymore gives her usual quite good performance. The movie is also helped by the fact that each segment was directed by a different one of MGM's better-known directors.

It's a Big Country is also a bit of a time capsule. The social upheaval of the 1960s makes a movie like this, with its almost boundless childlike optimism, one that would never get made today; it would be seen as even more maudlin, schmaltzy, and propagandistic than It's a Big Country was when it was released. The movie has been put out on DVD, but only as part of the TCM Vault Collection.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

TCM Star of the Month: Donna Reed

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, TCM has a new Star of the Month. If you've been watching TCM, you will undoubtedly have seen the promos for Donna Reed, voiced by her daughter. Reed's movies are airing every Wednesday in prime time, making tonight the first night of the salute.

Tonight kicks off with a bunch of Reed's earlier movies, before she really became a star. These include Shadow of the Thin Man at 8:00 PM ET, in which the urbane detectives Nick and Nora Charles solve a murder at a race track. Reed plays a secretary here; typical of the supporting roles she had early on. It's nothing but useless trivia, but I note that another future star who shows up as a supporting role in a Thin Man movies is James Stewart, who would later star opposite Reed in It's a Wonderful Life. However, Stewart's appearance is not in tonight's movie, but in the earlier Return of the Thin Man. And, of course, It's a Wonderful Life isn't airing as part of the TCM salute; you don't think NBC/Universal would let TCM get the broadcast rights for even one airing, do you?

Reed would later go on to make a few movies in another series, that of the Dr. Gillespie medical dramas, opposite wheelchair-bound doctor Lionel Barrymore. Those movies air at 11:30 PM and 1:00 AM, right after yet another series, one of the Andy Hardy movies at 9:45 PM.

They don't make movies like they used to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Race and Hollywood returns

Tonight marks the start of TCM's fifth year of the "Race and Hollywood" series, looking at Hollywood's portrayal of various minority groups. This year, the focus is on Native Americans; TCM will be showing movies looking at the Native American experience every Tuesday and Thursday this month. This first night has four movies directed by John Ford, the man who is largely reponsible for making the western the genre we know it as today.

Stagecoach, the 1939 movie that changed the way we look at westerns, kicks off the night at 8:00 PM ET, and is an appropriate choice for the first movie of the series.
It's followed at 10:00 PM by The Searchers;
At 12:15 AM is Cheyenne Autumn;
Concluding the night, at 3:00 AM you can see Fort Apache.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lynn Redgrave, 1943-2010

The death has been announced of actress Lynn Redgrave, who had a lengthy career in film, on stage, and on television. Redgrave started on stage, but quickly began to work in movies as well, with her first movie appearance coming in a small role in the 1963 Best Picture Oscar winner, Tom Jones. Redgrave herself was nominated for two Oscars. The first came for playing the title role in one of the quintessentially mod 1960s looks at London, Georgy Girl, while the second came over 30 years later, a supporting nomination for playing housekeeper to dying director James Whale in the film Gods and Monsters. Redgrave was 67, and is survived by her older sister Vanessa.

Moon Over Miami

TCM is showing several bright color musicals from the 40s tonight. Among them, they got the rights to broadcast one from Fox: Moon Over Miami, at 9:45 PM ET.

Betty Grable and Carole Landis play a pair of sisters working at a drive-in diner in Texas when they learn of the passing of a wealthy relative, who has left them $55,000, a fairly substantial sum for the early 1940s. Unfortunately, they quickly discover that's the amount he left them before tax. Estate tax, probate fees, and the lawyers' cut take the vast majority of that money, leaving the two sisters and their aunt with just over $4,000. It's not really enough to live on, so Grable gets an idea: the three of them should go to Miami, where she'll pretend to be wealthy, all the while playing golddigger to look for a wealthy man. So, off the three women head, Grable playing the rich one, Landis her secretary, and Aunt Charlotte Greenwood her maid.

Once in Miami, they quickly get a bottle of champagne from wealthy Bob Cummings, who invites Grable over to his bungalow for what looks like the remnants of a wild party. Cummings proceeds to pursue Grable, but isn't alone in this, as fellow wealthy businessman Don Ameche is also in town looking for a woman, and has his eyes on Grable. The result is a fairly standard story, with the two men each trying to outdo the other, secondary romances for Landis and Greenwood, everybody trying to cover up their lies, the requisite amount of music, and the obligatory happy ending.

Moon Over Miami is nothing groundbreaking. What it does have is Betty Grable in spades; she was quite popular back in the 1940s and Fox made musical after musical with her in an attempt to cash in on that popularity. The music may not be up to the standard of a Johnny Mercer, but is passable enough. Perhaps best, though, is the location shooting. There's quite a lot of outdoor scenes, and many of these were filmed at various places in Florida. That opportunity to see at least a bit of Florida as it was in 1941 is by itself worth watching the movie at least once. (There is a Traveltalks short made around the same time on Florida, but TCM doesn't have that listed on the schedule, despite having a 90-minute movie start at 8:00 PM, and a good 10 minutes after Moon Over Miami before the next movie.

Moon Over Miami has been released to DVD, both on its own and as part of a box set of Betty Grable movies.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Garbo spricht!

Overnight between Sunday and Monday, TCM has its weekly Silent Sunday Night movie, followed by TCM Imports. This week's import is Anna Christie, at 2:00 AM ET. The thing is, it's not really an import, but a German-language version of MGM's earlier English-language Anna Christie, famous for being the first talkie for Greta Garbo.

What MGM did isn't unheard of. At the beginning of the sound era, studios would sometimes save money by making the same movie in more than one language. They'd make the English version first, and then keep the same sets for use by the crew making a movie in, say, French or German. Alfred Hitchcock did this, for example, when he made the "German" movie Mary, which is really just a remake of Murder!. And if you want to see Adolphe Menjou acting in French, you can try to find one of a couple of movies he made, such as the drawing-room comedy Soyons Gais, a remake of Let Us Be Gay. The latter has been shown on TCM; I don't know about the French version. Also Menjou made two foreign-language versions of the early Paramount talkie Slightly Scarlet, one in French and one in Spanish!

That having been said, this German-language version of Anna Christie also stars Garbo in the title role, but the rest of the actors are different.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Billy Wilder speaks again!

I mentioned the documentary Billy Wilder Speaks about 18 months ago, when it aired as part of a night of Billy Wilder's movies. TCM is showing another night of Wilder's movies; this time, Billy Wilder Speaks concludes the night, at 4:30 AM ET. It's a testament to Wilder's output that there's only one repeat among the films showing tonight compared to those that were aired 18 months ago:

A Foreign Affair is this week's TCM Essential, and kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
Some Like It Hot follows at 10:15 PM;
The Fortune Cookie (which was one of last year's Essentials) is third, at 12:30 AM; and last is
The Major and the Minor, airing at 2:45 AM.