Friday, August 27, 2010

De Havilland's second

Today's TCM star in Summer Under the Stars is Olivia de Havilland, who won a brace of acting Oscars in her career. Both of those performances are airing in prime time tonight, although in reverse order. Her first Oscar performance, for To Each His Own is second at 10:00 PM ET; kicking the night off at 8:00 PM is the movie that won Olivia her second Academy Award: The Heiress.

De Havilland plays the title role, that of heiress Catherine Sloper. It's the 1850s, and Catherine is a young woman on the verge of becoming a spinster because her widowed father (Ralph Richardson) has been at best overprotective, at worst manipulative. Things change when Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). He's an heir himself, but he's fallen on hard times, having squandered all of his inheritance in Europe. The two fall in love, but father thinks that Morris isn't a good match for Catherine, and that he's in it only for the money. To that extent, he changes his will to disinherit Catherine if she marries Morris. Catherine will still have a nice inheritance from her mother, but what her father could leave her is even more. Still, Morris and Catherine plan to elope, but at the last minute, Morris gets cold feet....

Several years pass, during which Catherine's father dies. All of a sudden, Morris returns, claiming to have worked his way out west and then worked his way back. The implication is that he wanted to prove to Catherine that her father was wrong about him, and that he wasn't a fortune hunter in it for Catherine's money. Catherine still hasn't married, and is now faced with the difficult question of whether or not Morris is honest in his intentions....

The Heiress is an excellent, yet underrated movie. I think that's partly because it's one of the many Paramount movies for which the TV ended up being controlled by Universal; as such, it doesn't show up on TV as much as movies from MGM or Warner Bros. Secondly, the movie doesn't have anything obviously memorable. Unlike a disturbing movie like The Snake Pit or a great comedy or historical movies with lots of action, The Heiress depends upon its dialogue and portrayals, not really providing easily noticeable visuals. That, and it's the sort of movie that requires the viewer to think and be engaged. Having said that, the performances are quite good, not only from de Havilland, but from Richardson, Miriam Hopkins (playing Catherine's aunt), and even Clift; the last despite the fact that he really wasn't the best casting decision for a movie set in the 1850s. He's much better than John Lund in To Each His Own, however.

The Heiress has been released to DVD.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Anatomy of a Murder

TCM's Summer Under the Stars honors Lee Remick today with 24 hours of her movies. Unfortunately, The Omen was made over at Fox, so TCM apparently couldn't obtain the broadcast rights to it. Instead, we have to content ourselves with other good movies, such as Anatomy of a Murder, which airs tonight at 10:30 PM ET.

The movie has a plot that on the surface is extremely simple. Struggling small-town attorney Paul Biegler (James Stewart) is asked to defend Army Lieutenant Fred Manion (Ben Gazzara) on a charge of murder. The defense is justifiable homicide through temporary incapacity: the defendant claims his wife Laura (Lee Remick) was raped, and that he was just defending his honor against the rapist. Unfortunately, the defense isn't quite that simple. First, the defendant waited some time before killing the other man, much too long for any sort of temporary insanity plea. Second, his wife was quite the flirt, and may not have been raped after all; or, she may have been willing to go at least part of the way but balked at going all the way. Date rape, thirty years before the term became fashionable. As such, the details of the case are quite murky, and we see our lawyer hero spending quite a bit of time before we get to trial trying to untangle the whole thing. And it doesn't help that he's struggling, and really needs to win this case for the sake of his career. Biegler decides, for example, that the best way to make his defendant look sympathetic is to have the wife not look like a flirt -- even though at trial, it will require her to act quite out of character.

All this is before we get to trial, which is one of the better trials you'll see on film. That's in no small part because the movie is based on a real case, which was turned into a book by a Michigan judge (the movie is set in Michigan). When it came time to make the movie, Director Otto Preminger hired a judge to provide technical assitance with the trial scenes. It turned out, though, that Preminger didn't like the actor originally hired to play the judge, so Preminger put the real judge in to play a judge on screen, with a result that works quite well. Also at trial is George C. Scott, playing a State Attorney who is sent from downstate to the Upper Peninsula to prosecute this by now prominent case. He sees this as a chance to make his career, ethics be damned.

Authenticity is on display not only in the trial scenes. The movie is set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and was in fact filmed mostly on location, although several towns were used for filming, making the final product a composite of any town in the U.P., or more broadly, any place anywhere in small-town America. That's the sort of thing that makes Anatomy of a Murder much greater than the sum of its parts. Despite having a lot of great names in the cast, the movie is really more about the story and the themes presented than the actors presenting that story. And together, they make for quite a good film.

One more note involves the score, which uses jazz music, possibly to juxtapose the jarring nature of the crimes committed with what is stereotypically placid small-town America. The music is courtesy of Duke Ellington, who actually shows up performing some of the music, although not under his own name. The movie has also made its way to DVD, so even though tonight's TCM showing will end around 1:20 AM ET, you don't have to stay up that late to see it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Silent prints

I hadn't seen The Big Parade before last night on TCM. Frankly, I think it's overrated, but that's not what I want to write about today. What intrigued me were Robert Osborne's opening comments, which implied that he expected a different print to be shown than what actually wound up on air.

Osborne made a comment about the roadshow version, and how it had tinted scenes, and that this is what we would e seeing last night. Unless all the tinting was done in sepia -- and the closest I saw to that was in the night scenes -- I saw little if any tinting. At least, there was nothing approaching what you can see in TCM's print of Ben-Hur which, in addition to the limited scenes in two-strip Technicolor, has several scenes tinted in purple (and red and green, if memory serves).

I immediately recognized something odd about the opening credits, which that that the title card wasn't the standard for the MGM silent era, which traditionally had the movie's title and some other information in a big ellipse on a gray background. Instead, this print of The Big Parade was more typical of MGM opening cards from the early talkie period, with the credits against some sort of scenery backgound. Even more interesting was that, in the opening credits, there was a credit given to a score by William Axt, who did the scores, limited as they are, for a lot of movies at MGM in the early 1930s. That, and the "Western Electric Noiseless Recording" logo. This was an obvious clue to a reissue print: Warner Bros. first put a synchronized score to a movie with Don Juan in 1926, but Vitaphone at the time was a sound-on-disc system, as opposed to the sound-on-film system that the other studios would use, and Warner Bros. would later adopt. That card was kept in even though this wasn't the Axt score, but one done by Carl Davis for British TV in the late 1980s.

IMDb didn't list a suitable reissue in the "release dates" for The Big Parade, but then, that's one of the parts of IMDb that generally seems to be badly organized, with lots of release dates for foreign markets and even release dates for video, but not the original US release date, which is what one would usually want for a Hollywood picture. Wikipedia, however, claims that The Big Parade was re-released in 1931, which would fit with the opening credits and the Axt score.

The other interesting thing with silent movies is that not all of the intertitles are original, as some of them are clearly in a different and more modern-looking typeface than what you see in most MGM silents. This was definitely the case with The Show which aired earlier on Tuesday; I wasn't paying quite as close attention to the intertitles on The Big Parade.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Herbert Yates, 1880-1966

Today marks the birthday of Herbert Yates, another one of those old Hollywood names that sounds familiar, but you can't quite remember where you came across it. It turns out the man had quite an interesting life.

Before getting involved with movies, he apparently became reasonably wealthy in the tobacco wholesale business, enough so to get into Hollywood. He wanted to produce movies, but found that it was more profitable to do the film processing and development, in the process making quite a bit of money with his Consolidated Film Industries. At this point, Yates became a bit of a Jonathan Shields, in that he got a bunch of the Poverty Row studios in hock to CFI, allowing them to pay off their debts to the studio with stock in the company. Eventually, in the mid-1930s, Yates would cash in on all those debts, foreclosing on a bunch of studios, and consolidating them into Republic Pictures.

Republic was somewhere between Poverty Row and the respectability of the major studios, producing a lot of cheap westerns that could be churned out quickly -- making first Gene Autry, and then Roy Rogers into stars. However, Republic also put out a few movies that could pretty well be considered "prestige" movies, such as The Quiet Man and Orson Welles' version of Macbeth.

Yates' career took a turn for the worse when, like Welles' Charles Foster Kane, he married an "actress" (Vera Ralston) and tried to turn her into a real actress, casting her in several Republic pictures that didn't do well probably in part because of Mrs. Yates' inability to act. That, and the failure to embrace television would eventually doom Republic as an actual producer of motion pictures. Yates still died wealthy, though, thanks to all the CFI money and the fact that, with the changes in motion picture production, studios didn't need their back lots and all the Los Angeles land was better for real estate. Republic Pictures' studios wound up as TV production facilities that are still in use today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

He Who Gets Slapped

I don't recommend too many silent movies, mostly because TCM generally only airs them as part of Silent Sunday Nights. However, tomorrow's featured actor in Summer Under the Stars is John Gilbert, who made quite a few silent movies, which TCM are airing at better hours. One that's quite interesting is He Who Gets Slapped, at 7:00 AM ET.

Gilbert doesn't get the title role; that honor goes to Lon Chaney (Senior). Chaney plays French scientist Paul Beaumont, who has come up with a new invention. The only problem is, the evil Baron Regnard has stolen the invention, and when Beaumont tries to defend himself in front of a committee of scientists, nobody believes him. So Beaumont changes his identity to the titular HE, and runs off to join the circus. (Sounds silly, but follow me here.) HE becomes a clown, with the act being that of the movie's title, namely that HE gets slapped by all the other clowns.

At the circus, HE meets Consuela, the bareback rider (a young Norma Shearer), and falls in love with her, although he has to keep his love for her secret. That's because she's in love with another member of the circus, Bezano (John Gilbert). Matters come to a head, however, when the Baron shows up at the circus, with the intention of marrying Consuela.

He Who Gets Slapped is a strange little movie, and to be honest, not the first silent I'd recommend for those who aren't well versed in the genre. That's not because it isn't a good movie, though. (In fact, when it comes to silents I'd start by recommding comedies over dramas in general.) Chaney is the star of the show here, and is excellent; it's fun to see both Shearer and Gilbert on their way up in Hollywood.

One interesting bit of trivia about the movie is that it's the first one to feature Leo the Lion as MGM's logo. The studio was formed in 1924 from merger of three smaller studios and, as they say, the rest became history. Sadly, however, the movie has not been released to DVD, so you'll have to watch TCM's showing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Darker than Mr. Chips

Although Robert Donat was the star of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, TCM included it in today's lineup as part of a 24-hour salute to British actor John Mills. A lot of Mills' movies airing today have him in supporting roles, including The Rocking Horse Winner, which comes up at 10:15 PM ET.

The stars are Valerie Hobson and Hugh Sinclair, who play a married couple living well above their means in post-war Britain. She, like any wife, spends and spends almost compulsively; he, meanwhile, wagers on the ponies and consistently loses. They're far enough in debt that they're forced to be supported by their aristocratic uncle (Ronald Squire). Into all of this walks John Mills as a combination gardener/handyman. Mills has an odd effect. The combination of his presence, and a toy rocking horse the family's son received, gives the boy the power to predict the winners of horse races if only he rides the horse hard enough. Winning money on the horses could provide a way out of the family's financial predicament, but riding the horse that hard seems to have a negative effect on the boy....

The Rocking Horse Winner is a strange and dark movie in a whole host of ways. There's a lot of Freudian subtext: first, the boy seems at times to be entirely too close to his mother, almost like an Oedipus complex. Secondly, the way the boy rides the horse, and the emotional state he reaches when he finally gets the name of the winner, is like -- well, I think you can figure out what it's supposed to be like.

The movie has one of those ensemble casts that British movies of the early post-war era tended to have, and they work well together with no one performance really overshadowing any of the others. That's a good thing here, since the movie is more about the disturbing atmosphere, which is allowed to come to the fore in spades.

The Rocking Horse Winner has also been released to DVD.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You say goodbye, and I say hello

Coming up early tomorrow morning on TCM, at 6:00 AM ET, is the great, and family-friendly 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Robert Donat stars as the title role, a teacher at a British boys' school whose real name is Chipping, but who got the natural nickname "Mr. Chips". It's the early 1930s, and Chips is by now an old man whom the other teachers would love to pension off, if only because he's too stodgy and won't accept new methods of teaching. The students, however, love him, as he's become an institution. It's also the first day of a new school year, and Chips is under the weather and unable to attend the opening assembly, so we see him curled up by a fireplace, where it's obvious what's going to happen next: the inevitable flashback....

Chips started his career in the middle of the Victorian era, unsure of himself. But, as we see, he learns that you need the right mix of kindliness and discipline to become a great teacher. Along the way, he's at first overlooked for headmaster, takes a trip to the Continent where he meets the love of his life (Greer Garson), only to lose her eventually. And, he goes on teaching, and teaching, for decades on end, through all sorts of historical changes. Those changes are deftly handled through an interesting technique: scenes are shown of boys on the opening day of a new school term, talking about one or another big historical event of the day. "It will be funny to have a King", for example, is the way the death of Queen Victoria is handled. But, it's always the same boy actors in these scenes, indicating a timeless quality to Chips' teaching.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is Donat's movie all the way and, with a bit of help from the make-up department, he does a brilliant job aging from the young new teacher to an octogenarian. Despite being up against serious competition at Oscar time (after all, 1939 is generally considered Hollywood's greatest year), Donat walked off with the Oscar and richly deserves it. The story is, for the most part, warm, but without the Margaret O'Brien level of treacle. As such, it's good for the whole family.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips has been released to DVD, but make certain you're getting the 1939 movie: it was remade in the late 1960s as a musical, and that's a movie that pales badly in comparison.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fritz Lang's best?

I was somewhat surprised last night by Robert Osborne's opening comments to Man Hunt, saying something to the effect that Man Hunt was definitely Lang's best work in America. Now, I happen to like Man Hunt, but there are several movies that Lang directed in the US that are equally as good.

Right at the top of that list would be his first American movie, Fury. I've also recommended The Big Heat and Hangmen Also Die. In addition to these, Lang made about another 20 movies in America over a 20-year period.

The ones I've mentioned, and a couple of others (Ministry of Fear springs to mind) are all quite good, although they also do have their flaws. I don't think it's particularly obvious which of Lang's American movies is his best.

What's your favorite of Fritz Lang's Hollywood movies?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speaking of Man Hunt

I briefly mentioned Man Hunt back on Tuesday since it's got George Sanders in costume just like The Black Rose. However, I can't believe I failed to mention the fact that Man Hunt is on the TCM schedule for tonight at 8:00 PM ET, as part of Walter Pidgeon's day in Summer Under the Stars.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The rest of you is over there someplace

As part of TCM's day of Ann Sheridan movies in Summer Under the Stars, TCM is showing a prestige movie that gets aired surprisingly infrequently: King's Row, at 9:45 PM ET.

Nominally Ann Sheridan is the star, as she gets top billing, but King's Row is a movie with more of an ensemble cast. Bob Cummings plays Paris, who is being raised by his grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya) in a wealthy home on the outskirts of the Anywhere, USA town of King's Row at the turn of the previous century. His best friend is Drake (Ronald Reagan), a young man who has an inheritance waiting for him at the local bank and has nice girl Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman) pining for him. Meanwhile, Paris is studying medicine from local doctor Tower (Claude Rains), and loves the doctor's daughter (Betty Field), although the doctor thinks this is a bad idea: apparently, the doctor realizes that insanity runs in the family on the mother's side, and that his daughter is bound to go insane. Eventually, the Towers wind up dead in a murder-suicide, and Drake loses his inheritance when the bank manager is found to have embezzled it.

Fast forward a few years. Paris is now studying psychology under Dr. Freud in Vienna, while Drake is working on the "wrong" side of the tracks, literally: this is one of those towns where the railroad line divides the good side of town from the bad, and Reagan is working at the railway stockyard and living with one of his older coworkers and his daughter (that's Ann Sheridan who, despite top billing, doesn't show up in the first part of the movie). Meanwhile, Louise still loves him, even though her father, the local surgeon (Charles Coburn) has definite class ideas that a relationship between his daughter and Drake would be a horrible thing. So, when Drake gets in an accident at the railyard, Dr. Gordon is presented the perfect opportunity to do something about the relationship.

Drake loses his legs as a result of the accident, sending him into a profound depression from which only his old friend Paris, by now a Freudian head shrinker, can save him. Well, that, and the love of Ann Sheridan. Meanwhile, Paris' grandmother has died, but Paris is sure to find love with the new occupants of her house....

King's Row is a sprawling movie, and one that is not without its faults. But, it's still a lot of fun. Bob Cummings was excellent in a movie like Saboteur where he played the everyman, but he's rather miscast in King's Row. Reagan is often criticized because of his later political career, but to be fair, when given the right material, he was certainly better than Cummings. Reagan does quite a good job as the happy-go-lucky heir and, when he's lost the inheritance, does fine as the spunky optimist who will still make a good life for himself despite having to work at the railyard. It's a bit more problematic though, once his character becomes an amputee: Reagan's on screen characters exuded eternal optimism, and the amputee Drake is supposed to be decidedly not an optimist. (I've argued elsewhere that this is the same problem that dooms his performance in Night Unto Night.) Rains and Coburn are both fine as the doctors, and Maria Ouspenskaya is ever the grande dame, for good and bad.

Ultimately, I think that King's Row has obtained is less-than-stellar reputation in part because of the lack of real star power in its cast, and the fact that a lot of people want to criticize Reagan. King's Row, however, is much better than Night Unto Night, effectively combining melodrama and interesting characters into an absorbing story. The movie has also been released to DVD, so you don't have to stay up late tonight to watch the ending.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

George Sanders in costume again

Back in January, I blogged about the movie Man Hunt, in which George Sanders gets to go around wearing a Nazi costume. There's another movie coming up on TCM tonight in which Sanders gets to wear an entirely different cosutme: The Black Swan airing overnight at 12:15 AM ET.

Tyrone Power is the star here, as late 17th century pirate Jamie Waring. His piracy gets him in trouble until it's realized that imprisoning the old pirates hasn't solved the pirate problem in the Caribbean. The way to stop it is apparently to have the old pirates figure out who's getting the inside information that's enabling them to keep plundering, and then come back with the new pirates. So, the old pirates are pardoned, with Captain Morgan (Laird Cregar) being named governor of Jamaica and Jamie Waring going along.

In Jamaica, Waring finds love and danger. Love, in the form of lovely Lady Denby (Maureen O'Hara). The only problem is, she's betrothed to a proper gentleman, and has no desire to love a brutish pirate. We know Jamie will sweep her off her feet in the final reel, but we have to get there first. Danger comes in the form of the aforementioned George Sanders. He's Captain Leech, the one who's getting the inside information -- apparently from Denby's fiancé!

As is the case, the story is really in service of the swashbuckling scenes, and in The Black Swan, there's never a lack of action. Tyrone Power was well-suited to this sort of role, and is just as good for Fox as Errol Flynn was for Warner Bros. O'Hara plays the Olivia de Havilland role, and she is just as resplendent as de Havilland was in movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood. One thing that makes The Black Swan better than many of the Warner Bros. pirate movies is that it's got gorgeous Technicolor, that visually puts it right up there with Robin Hood. If there was a genre that benefitted from Technicolor, it would be the historical adventure.

As for the rest of the cast, Cregar is in fine form as Morgan, and Sanders shows his range by the good job he does as the villian. Other regular names that show up here are Thomas Mitchell (Oscar winner for Stagecoach) as Power's first mate, and Anthony Quinn as Sanders' first mate. The Black Swan has been released to DVD, and is a movie that will entertain you whenever you decide to watch it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mae Clarke, 1910-1992

It was 100 years ago today that actress Mae Clarke was born. She had substantial roles through the 1930s, but never really became a big star. Ironically, her most iconic moment in film came in a picture where she didn't even get billing: The Public Enemy, where she plays the girlfriend who gets a grapefruit pushed in her face.

You probably know The Public Enemy is the movie about a man who shoots his way to the top, but there's actually quite a bit more interesting trivia about it. First, regarding the famous grapefruit scene, it was apparently not in the script; instead, it was either a practical joke by Cagney and Clarke, or ad-libbing. Director William Wellman liked the scene so much, however, that he decided to keep it in the final cut of the movie. To be fair, it does effectively show just how capricious Cagney's violent streak is.

As for Cagney, it's also thanks to Wellman that he's playing the lead. When Warner Bros. originally cast the movie, they had Cagney as the second man, with actor Edward Woods getting the lead. However, Wellman saw the early footage and realized that Cagney was by far the more charismatic actor, and knew that putting Cagney in the lead role would make it a much more forceful movie.

Jean Harlow gets second billing as one of Cagney's girlfriends, although the character of his wife is actually played by Joan Blondell. And in addition to Clarke being uncredited, the child star who plays the Woods character as a boy is also uncredited: Frankie Darro.

Summer Under the Stars: Robert Stack

A lot of the time when I watch movies on TCM I want to watch things that I haven't seen before. The one problem with this is that it sometimes makes it difficult to find a movie to blog about. Today, for example, being Robert Stack's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, there are a few movies that I wouldn't mind recommending. Except, of course, for the fact that I've already blogged about them. I blogged about The Caretakers way back in March 2008, (that's Stack on the left in the photo, along with Herbert Marshall and Joan Crawford); that's airing at 6:15 PM ET. It's followed by The Mortal Storm, which kicks off prime time at 8:00 PM. (On the bright side, The Mortal Storm has gotten a DVD release by the Warner Archive Collection since the last time I wrote about it in November.)

The movie I'm most interested in seeing this evening is The Tarnished Angels, which I haven't seen before.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's now on DVD!

I've mentioned the movie Our Vines Have Tender Grapes a few times in the past. TCM is showing it tonight at 10:00 PM ET as part of the channel's Summer Under the Stars tribute to child star Margaret O'Brien. To be honest, I'm not such a big fan of O'Brien, since I find her insufferably treacly, but this movie as a whole is a pretty good one. In the past, I've lamented that it's not available on DVD, but the Warner Archive Collection has seen fit to include Our Vines Have Tneder Grapes as one of its titles. Granted, as part of the Archive Collection, it's a more expensive DVD, and it's not listed on Amazon (or, as a consequence, IMDb).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Last of Mrs. Tierney

TCM's Summer Under the Stars salute to Gene Tierney concludes overnight at 3:30 AM ET with the 1962 political drama Advise and Consent. Tierney is one of many members of an all-star cast.

The story concerns a dying president (Franchot Tone), who is trying to get his nominee for Secretary of State (Henry Fonda) confirmed. There's a problem, though, and it's a big one: Fonda had some dalliances with Communism when he was younger. So, it's obvious that senators like South Carolina's Seabright Cooley (Charles Laughton) are going to be strenuously opposed, while others, such as the Majority Leader (Walter Pidgeon), try to get the nomination through.

Advise and Consent is from a time where the Republicans and Democrats didn't have nearly as rigid ideologies as they do today; the Senate committee that was going to investigate Hollywood just before World War II was supported by Senators of both parties and opposed by Senators of both parties. Indeed, in Advise and Consent, any mention of what political party most of the senators belong to is assiduously avoided. Instead, what the movie is about is the high-stakes poker that people on all sides go through to try to get their viewpoint to be the one that carries the day. As such, all matter of blackmail is considered acceptable, as we see when young hotshot Senator Brig Anderson (Don Murray) is confronted with a secret from his past as a World War II hero.

As I mentioned at the start, Advise and Consent has an all-star cast, consisting of people who were stars in the 30s (Tone) to people who were to become new stars. Among the names I haven't mentioned are future TV star Betty White who gets a small number of lines as a Senator from Kansas; Peter Lawford playing a Kennedy-like Senator (ironic, since he was a Kennedy in-law at the time); Lew Ayres (Johnny Belinda) as the Vice-President; Burgess Meredith as one of the witnesses who appears before the Senate committee; and future Benson cast member Inga Swenson (also of The Miracle Worker) as Senator Anderson's wife. Gene Tierney fits into all this as the doyenne of the Washington social scene.

Advise and Consent is quite good, although a few parts of it have become dated, such as Sen. Anderson's war secret. Still, it's more than satisfying, as you get to see a whole bunch of people you'll recognize from other movies and TV shows working together and pulling it off marvelously. The ending, with a roll call vote on whether to confirm the nominee or not, winds up having a surprising outcome as well. And even if you miss this overnight showing, don't worry: Advise and Consent has been released to DVD.

Gene Tierney, part 2

I've recommended quite a few of Gene Tierney's movies in the past, and now that it's Gene Tierney's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, it's unsurprising that quite a few of those movies are showing up on TCM today. The highlight might well be Leave Her to Heaven, which is the TCM Essential this week, airing at 8:00 PM ET tonight. As I understand it, Leave Her to Heaven underwent restoration, with the restored print being shown at the TCM Film Festival back in the spring. I haven't noticed anything wrong with the print I've seen on the Fox Movie Channel in the past, but then, I haven't been watching on a super-sized HD television or a movie theater screen.

I've recommended the movie immediately preceeding Leave Her to Heaven as well: the sparkling comedy The Mating Season, airing at 6:15 PM. It's really Thelma Ritter's movie, even if Tierney is billed above her. I've also briefly mentioned the movie airing after Leave Her to Heaven: Dragonwyck, which airs at 10:00 PM. To be honest, though, it's not nearly as good as the previous two.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Gene Tierney in Summer Under the Stars, Part 1

I've recommended quite a few Gene Tierney movies before, but a lot of them don't air all that frequently simply because they're Fox films: the Fox Movie Channel keeps most of them in the vaults, and TCM doesn't often get the rights to them. With August 14 being Gene Tierney's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, however, TCM was able to get the rights to quite a few of Tierney's movies at Fox. One that I haven't recommended before is Where the Sidewalk Ends, which airs at 11:15 AM.

Where the Sidewalk Ends isn't Tierney's movie, but Dana Andrews'. Andrews plays Det. Mark Dixon, a New York police detective who, like Kirk Douglas' character in Detective Story, has a mean streak in him a mile wide. It's reached the point where Dixon's superiors have given him an ultimatum -- stop being so violent, or we'll get you off the force. (Reminiscent of Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground, I suppose, although Where the Sidewalk Ends came out earlier.) Dixon is the detective investigating the crime of an apparent murder at a craps game. Gangster Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill) has been targeting rich businessmen visiting town. One of them takes offense to getting so bilked, but when he tries to protest, Scalise's heavy, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) punches him, which results in fatal injuries to the rich old man.

Dixon, as part of the investigation, meets Paine's girlfriend, Morgan Taylor (Tierney), and immediately falls in love with her. This is a problem in a whole bunch of ways, and gets a hell of a lot worse when Dixon, in trying to question Paine, roughs him up so badly that he accidentally kills Paine! Not only that, but Morgan's father will be left as one of the prime suspects in the death of Paine. Not only didn't he like his daughter cavorting with Paine, but he's a taxi driver who drove Dixon to the place where Paine was killed.

Complicated, isn't it? To be fair, Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of those movies that's more complicated when it's described on paper than it is when you actually watch it. In fact, it's a pretty darn good movie, thanks to a hugely professional crew. Andrews and Tierney are re-teamed with director Otto Preminger, who had worked with them six years earlier on the classic Laura. In addition to the cast members mentioned above, don't miss Karl Malden in a brief role as a police lieutenant. (You can't miss his nose, of course.)

Several years back, Fox went through a phase of releasing a lot of their noirs to DVD; Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of the many noirs that got such a DVD release.

Prolific Robert Ryan

Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground

TCM's Summer Under the Stars is honoring Robert Ryan today with 24 hours of his movies. To be honest, I'm not all that excited about today's lineup. It's not anything against Robert Ryan; it's more that most of the movies that TCM selected in his honor aren't among my favorites. Perhaps Crossfire, which is airing at 1:00 PM ET, but even that is marred by the heavy-handed speech about the Irish as a way of opposing bigotry. That having been said, what today's lineup shows is that Ryan had a surprisingly large amound of work, having made over five dozen movies from 1947, when he really became an established actor after World War II, to his death in 1973. There are the movies that TCM is showing, such as God's Little Acre at 4:00 PM, or playing Captain Nemo in Captain Nemo and the Underwater City at 6:00 PM, or even the adaptation of Herman Melville's Billy Budd at 11:00 PM.

But just as important, and broad, is the set of movies TCM didn't have the time to include in a 24-hour salute. Some of them the probably couldn't get the rights to; Inferno having been made at Fox is one good example. But there's the noir classic On Dangerous Ground; the bad but funny anti-communist movie The Woman on Pier 13 (originally titled I Married a Communist), or even the war movie The Dirty Dozen, where Ryan has a small role as a general observing military exercises. Worse, Inferno and The Woman on Pier 13 still don't seem to have been released to DVD.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's not just loose lips

Not having done a "real" post on a movie in some time, I note that the Fox Movie Channel is airing Sink the Bismarck! at 6:00 AM ET tomorrow morning.

The movie tells, with some embellishments, the World War II story of the Nazi German battleship Bismarck, and the British Navy's desperate attempts to find the ship on the open sea and sink it. Kenneth More stars as Cpt. Shepard, the no-nonsense head of naval operations back in London, whose job it is to head the operation, and it's not an easy job. There's a lot of ocean out there, and several different straits the Bismarck could pass through on its way from port in the Baltic to the Atlantic Ocean. Worse, this was thought the biggest and most powerful battleship known to date, and the British don't have enough ships, and certainly not the right kind of ships, to deal with the Bismarck. Indeed, one of the ships was so fresh out of port that it still had some of the civilian shipbuilders still on board! We see the negative effects of this when a British cruiser engages with the Nazi battleship and promptly gets sunk.

What's a commander to do? Bring more ships into action seems the least bad option, so ships are called in from the Mediterranean. The only problem is, Shepard's son is a gunner on an aircraft on one of the carriers that gets called northward, so Shepard is putting his own son into harm's way. He also lost his wife in an air raid, as if we need more emotional manipulation. Still, Shepard is supremely emotionless, making life tough for everybody back at HQ, who had grown accustomed to the previous commander, who thought that allowing some casualness would be good for morale.

At any rate, the ships head north from the Mediterranean, and since this is a movie based on a true story, we know how it's going to end. The Bismarck isn't quite as fearsome as originally thought, and more capable British ships should eventually be able to destroy it. With a movie like Sink the Bismarck!, however, more important than the acting or the story is the portrayal of the battle scenes, and they're fairly well done here, at least looking at them cinematically. (I'm not an expert on naval warfare.)

Sink the Bismarck! is well worth watching, and has been released to DVD, too.

Norma Shearer Day

From left to right: Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, and Leslie Howard in A Free Soul (1931)

Today is TCM's day for 24 hours of movies starring Norma Shearer, the wife of Irving Thalberg and one of the original queens of the MGM lot in the early days of the studio. I probably should have posted last night, since there's a documentary on women in pre-Code movies that shows up at 10:00 AM ET, and The Divorcee, which deserves a post of its own, follows at 11:00 AM.

A Free Soul, one of Shearer's Oscar-nominated performances, is not among the movies airing today, even though it's the one for which I've already got photos. That having been said, there are two of Shearer's movies coming up this evening that I haven't seen before, and am looking forward to: the silent The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg at 8:00 PM, followed by Noël Coward's Private Lives at 10:00 PM. And, for fun, watch the beginning of Romeo and Juliet at 11:30 PM. The movie used many of MGM's contract players, and the opening scenes have Edna May Oliver and Andy Devine doing Shakespeare!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Anna Massey

Anna Massey (l.) with Karlheinz Böhm in Peeping Tom (1960)

Today is the 73d birthday of actress Anna Massey, who shot to fame in Michael Powell's controversial movie Peeping Tom. It was actually her second movie; her first was as the teenage daughter of the main character in Gideon of Scotland Yard (also known as Gideon's Day). Massey has been extremely active in her career, although that's included more British TV than movies. Among the movies she appeared in after Peeping Tom are Bunny Lake is Missing, and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy. With the exception of Gideon of Scotland Yard, the above movies are all available on DVD -- and the Gideon movie could use either a DVD release or another showing on TCM.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Four Jills in a Jeep

I can't belive that it's been two years since Kay Francis was TCM's Star of the Month, in September 2008. One of the Francis movies that TCM didn't show is Four Jills in a Jeep, which was made at Fox in 1944. Being a Fox film, it's subject to the Fox Movie Channel's wonderful programming strategy of keeping films in the vault for a long time, and them taking them out for a whole bunch of showings in a short period. Four Jills in a Jeep has just come out of the vault: it's scheduled to air tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET on FMC. And if you miss tomorrow's showing, it's got another airing in August, and two in September.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal, 1926-2010

Patricia Neal and Paul Newman in Hud (1963)

Patricia Neal, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a ranch family's maid in the 1963 movie Hud, has died at the age of 84. Neal's career started out in the late 1940s, when she played opposite Ronald Reagan in John Loves Mary in 1949, but it was another movie from the same year, The Fountainhead, that really got her noticed, even if it wasn't a very good movie. By all accounts she and co-star Gary Cooper fell in love, although he was already married and wouldn't leave his wife.

Neal appeared in quite a few critically acclaimed movies in the 1950s, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and A Face in the Crowd, but her career nearly came to an end when she suffered a series of strokes in 1964. She returned to acting in the 1968 movie The Subject Was Roses and earned another Oscar nomination for her work.

This being Summer Under the Stars on TCM, I doubt they're going to have any time to do a tribute until after the month is over.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bob Hope for kids

TCM is showing one of Bob Hope's "Road" movies as tonight's Essentials, Jr. selection. I think I'd pick a different Hope film instead: Alias Jesse James, which is on TCM overnight tonight at 12:45 AM ET.

Hope plays Milford Farnsworth, an incompetent insurance salesman in 19th century New York. He's on the verge of getting fired until he sells a large policy to notorious outlaw Jesse James (Wendell Corey). It turns out, though, that the company is never going to be able to pay off on the policy, and sends Farnsworth west to explain the situation to James until the company can figure out a way to cancel the policy to both sides' mutual satisfaction. Jesse James, however, has other plans. He realizes that there's a chance he can use this policy to get some good money and escape the authorities for a while. All he has to do is come up with a way to get Farnsworth to be taken for James, and then get Farnsworth-as-James killed.

To be honest, it's fairly insipid stuff, but the sort of lousy humor that's more likely to appeal to kids. The other thing that the kids might well enjoy is the movie's climax, which like any good movie about the old West, is a shoot-out scene. The difference here is that Hope is just as incompetent with a gun as he is selling insurance, but gets saved by a lot of TV western stars of the day, each of whom pops up for a very brief cameo. This deus ex machina gives the finale the feel of a cartoon, while those of an older generation may enjoy trying to figure out all the cames.

As for the movie as a whole? Bob Hope is in his older Bob Hope stage, which is as typically behind the times as he would be in later movies. Wendell Corey is completely miscast as Jesse James. Rhonda Fleming provides the eye candy, and there's nothing wrong with that. As I said earlier, it's passable entertainment for the younger set, but grown-ups will probably wind up thinking that this isn't as funny as we remember it having been in our youth.

Apparently, Alias Jesse James got released as part of a DVD box set that includes several of Hope's later movies, including the previously mentioned I'll Take Sweden. If you're a masochist, you're in luck.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

TCM is finally showing...

I'll Take Sweden, tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM ET as part of the Summer Under the Stars salute to Bob Hope. Why I'll Take Sweden? I'm not sure. Hope spent the early part of his career at Paramount, and the rights to those movies are for the most part held by the Universal conglomerate today. TCM hasn't been as fortunate at getting the rights to the Paramount movies held by Universal, or even more so, the Universal movies from the 30s and 40s themselves, which is why a lot of them don't show up at all on TCM. They seem to have gotten the "Road" movies with Bing Crosby, and TCM are showing us five of them all in a row; but outside of that, most of Hope's day focuses on the stuff he did in the 1960s when he was already quite stodgy and behind the times.

Still, this is your chance to see a phenomenon and the ever present "what were they thinking" school of Hollywood studio decisionmaking. I do like to suggest that people judge movies for themselves, though, so perhaps some of you might actually like a movie such as I'll Take Sweden.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gratuitous Ingrid Bergman photos

I've blogged about quite a few Ingrid Bergman movies in the past, and with today being her day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, I figured I'd look for a photo or two I haven't posted before, or posted in some time. First up is Spellbound, which airs at 4:00PM ET. When I blogged about it for Bergman's day in Summer Under the Stars back in 2008, I used a picture of the Dali dream sequence. That dream takes place in the house of Dr. Brulov (played by Michael Chekhov), who is seen in the background here, with Bergman in the middle, and Gregory Peck in the foreground.

Prime time kicks off with Ingrid Bergman's first American movie, Intermezzo: A Love Story, at 8:00 PM. Bergman plays a pianist who falls for a married violinist (Leslie Howard) whom she knows she can never have. It's surprisingly quick for a prestige picture, running just 70 minutes or so.

I don't think I've ever done a full post on Casablanca before, but then, certainly everybody knows the story. It's an obvious selection for Ingrid Bergman day, and follows Intermezzo at 9:30 PM. Still, if TCM is going to show it, why not post a photo of Humphrey Bogart looking at Ingrid Bergman, kid?

Notorious is on at 11:30 PM, after Casablanca. I blogged about it back in June 2008, and used two photos then. One is from the famous climax on the staircase, with Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, and Madame Konstantin. However, I've used that photo repeatedly when referring to Notorious, so I'll reuse the other one, which has Grant and Bergman from a scene at the racetrack in Rio de Janeiro.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reginald Owen, 1887-1972

Today marks the birth anniversary of British-born actor Reginald Owen, who was born on this day in 1887. Owen appeared in a few silents, but started working in earnest at MGM in the 1930s where, being under contract, he worked constantly, appearing in something like 60 movies in the 1930s. Rarely was Owen the star, however; he usually played second roles as in Petticoat Fever, from which the photo at left is taken; there, he loses Myrna Loy to Robert Montgomery. (I briefly mentioned Petticoat Fever some time back, but not a full post, and it's still not on DVD even at the Warner Archive collection. It's scheduled for early September on TCM, though.)

It is for one of Owen's starring roles that he's probably best known, that of Ebenezer Scrooge in MGM's 1938 adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And as a point of interesting trivia, Owen played Dr. Watson in the 1932 version of Sherlock Holmes. A year later, in A Study in Scarlet, Owen would play Holmes himself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ethel Barrymore day

Today's actress on TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Ethel Barrymore, whose Hollywood career really got going when she was in her 60s, when she appeared as Cary Grant's mother in None But the Lonely Heart, a movie which won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress. That movie kicks off prime time at 8:00 PM ET, although it's not the first movie she made. A dozen years earlier, she appeared in the historically interesting Rasputin and hte Empress, which TCM is showing at midnight. (In between those two movies, at 10:00 PM, you can watch Pinky, which I recommended back in April.) Ethel plays the Empress Alexandra, and one of the interesing things is that this is the only movie to feature all three of the Barrymores. The other interesting thing is that, despite the TCM schedule's plot description:

True story of the mad monk who plotted to rule Russia.

the movie is thoroughly inaccurate. Or, to put it another way, about as accurate as any other Hollywood historical drama. Rasputin is played by Lionel, while John plays one of the princes who was responsible for ultimately kiling Rasputin. TCM aired this back in January when they did their look at movies dealing with Russia and the Red Menace as Hollywood portrayed it through the decades, and it's more interesting than good.

I've recommended a couple of Ethel's appearances in the past, and two more of them are airing during the afternoon hours. First, at 2:00 PM, you can see her towards the beginning of the anthology movie It's a Big Country. It's followed at 4:00 PM by Ethel's portrayal of the widow of a newspaper publisher who tries to save editor Humphrey Bogart in Deadline, U.S.A..

Unfortunately, it seems as though TCM couldn't get the rights to air Portrait of Jennie this time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Not necessarily 24 hours of movies

TCM's Summer Under the Stars honors a different actor every day in August, with roughly 24 hours of their work, minus the time between movies, of course. Sometimes, though, when TCM honor an actor, part of the salute is to include a documentary about the star's life. Such is the case today, with Steve McQueen, as TCM is reairing the documentary Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool, at 1:15 PM ET.

I'm not a huge fan of McQueen, but I recall watching this when it first came out in 2005 and finding it more than competent for those of us who aren't too familiar with McQueen's life. It discusses not only his movie career, but also his life and TV career before becoming a big actor; and some of his personal life -- the marriages, and notably, his interesting in racing cars and motorcycles -- that he maintained even after becoming a star. I don't know how much new there will be for people who are already big fans of Steve McQueen, but I certainly think it's worthwhile.

To be honest, I generally find most of TCM's documentaries worth watching, especially when it's a topic I'm not so familiar with. There's another one coming up on Saturday afternoon about the life of Errol Flynn, which contains a fair bit of footage from his sailing hobby and discusses his early days in Australia; that one is highly recommendable, too.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cheap administrative post

Has anybody else been having problems with the search function? I tried searching for Johnny Eager the other day and it didn't bring up the article I wrote back in April when Robert Taylor was Star of the Month.

Myrna Loy elsewhere

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of Myrna Loy, who was born August 2, 1905. TCM isn't honoring her today in Summer Under the Stars; today's star is Julie Christie. I've posted several of the posters from Loy movies recently, but those are from the movies of 1934 and beyond when she had become not only a star, but one of everybody's favorite wives (and later, mother). Loy's earlier career is interesting.

For some reason, Loy was the one actress in pre-Code Hollywood who kept getting cast in exotic ethnic roles. There are movies like Stamboul Quest where she played a Mata Hari-like character, or the 1929 movie The Squall, where Loy plays a Gypsy. One of her most frequent ethnic mismatches was being cast as an East Asian. I was looking for a picture of her in the movie Thirteen Women, where she plays one such character, and found an interesting blog post from 2006 that's got several pictures of Loy in yellowface.

Hollywood has thankfully moved on from yellowface, but Loy's pre-code movies are almost always worth watching.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swiss National Day

Today happens to be the Swiss national holiday, commemorating a day back in 1291 when three of the Swiss cantons signed a confederation treaty. As for Switzerland and the movies, it's a natural location for movies because of its Alpine scenery that's useful for mountain sequences and vacation resort sequences. The British had pioneered the tourist trade to the Swiss Alps back in the late 19th century, as can be seen in such movies like the 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, where Robert Donat meets Greer Garson on a trip to the Continent and helps her climb the Alps. Or, there's the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which opens at a ski resort. A lot of those Sonja Henie movies had her getting discovered in Switzerland, despite the fact that she was Norwegian. (Of course, much of what passed for Switzerland in those days was done on the backlots.)

As for movies that have Swiss setting having nothing to do with the Alps or tourism? Those are rather more uncommon. A few come to mind, though; first is Walter Huston's Mission to Moscow, which has its opening scenes at the League of Nations, which had its headquarters in Geneva. Another movie with an international organization in Geneva is The Cassandra Crossing, with an international health organization, and a train carring a deadly virus departing from Geneva.