Sunday, October 31, 2010

Strange Bargain

A little B-mystery from the 1940s that got plucked from obscurity in the 1980s is showing up on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET: Strange Bargain.

Jeffrey Lynn plays Sam Wilson, a typical post-War father with a lovely wife Georgia (Martha Scott) and two kids. That, and a growing debt problem: he's been trying to keep up with the Joneses, and his job at a financial services company doesn't pay enough to allow his family to do all the things a family should be able to do. But, he's worthy of a raise (at least his wife thinks so), so he's determined to go in and ask the boss for a raise. Unfortunately for him, he finds that the boss is just as deeply in debt as he is, and that the business might go under. However, the boss has a plan. He's going to commit suicide, but make it look like a murder! This will be enough to keep his wife and kids afloat, and maybe keep the business going. All he needs is somebody to dispose of the gun, who will get paid handsomely for it. Wilson, the boss thinks, is just the man.

Wilson is naturally horrified, and when the boss calls with the code phrase that the suicide is going to go ahead, he heads for the boss' house to try to stop him. He arrives too late, however, and finds the boss quite dead. There's nothing to do but go through with the plan, which at least has the benefit of allowing him to take the money the boss left for him. Enter police detective Webb (Harry Morgan of M*A*S*H, billed here as he often was early in his career as Henry Morgan). He investigates and quickly realizes that things aren't quite what they seem. Poor Sam Wilson understands this means the police are going to come for him, and that he could well face trial on insurance fraud charges, even though he certainly had nothing to do with the boss' death.

Strange Bargain holds up quite well as a mystery movie, and moves fast enough through its 70 or so minutes that it won't bore you. What's probably even more interesting, though, is how it got re-used in the 1980s. Fellow 1940s movie star Angela Lansbury would of course go on to star in the TV series Murder, She Wrote in the 1980s. As a star from the 1940s, she liked to bring back many of the people she had worked with and been friends with back in the day for guest appearances on her show. In the case of Strange Bargain, three of them (Lynn, Scott, and Morgan) were still alive in the 1980s, and Lansbury reunited them for an episode based on the murder in Strange Bargain, with the three now much older stars telling their stories in flashbacks that were depicted using clips from the original movie. The original movie doesn't seem to be on DVD, but the Murder, She Wrote episode is.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seminal movies: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

It's not quite horror, at least, not in the traditional sense; and yet, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an excellent choice for the Halloween week edition of TCM's Essentials, airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET.

(Edit: I misread the schedule. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? isn't the Essential; that would be the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane follows at 10:15 PM ET.)

Baby Jane is played by Bette Davis. At least, the grown-up version is; at the very beginning of the movie we see the original "Baby Jane", a child star of the late teens and early 20s. Unfortunately, as happens to so many child stars, they grow up to be unappealing adolescents and adults, and are no longer stars. To make matters worse, Jane has a sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), who became a Hollywood star when she reached adulthood, a turn of events that must of ticked off Jane to no end. Blanche's career in Hollywood was all too brief, however, having been ended by a car accident that left her in a wheelchair.

You dirty rat!Fast-forward to the present, or at least the present as it was when the movie was released in 1962. Jane and Blanche are living together, with Jane taking care of Blanche with some help from a nurse. If you can call it "taking care of". Jane has become somewhat like Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd., retreating into her past career and expecting that someday in the future, she'll be popular again, if only she doesn't have the anchor of her sister tied to her. Blanche isn't just a physical anchor, stuck in that wheelchair; her films are still quite popular, showing up on the late-late show. The natural effect of all this is that Jane is insanely jealous of Blanche, who for her part thinks Jane deliberately caused the car accident that required all this "care". Indeed, Jane is treating Blanche terribly, not allowing her any freedom, and even physically abusing her when she tries to call for help and escape.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is fun on a lot of levels. Davis and Crawford both give performances that are seen today as over the top, but to be honest, they're not that far removed from Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond. The way Davis and Crawford treat each other is dated 50 years on, in part because a permissive Hollywood is able to show us so much more without our having to draw our own conclusions. That doesn't stop the movie from being an excellent character study, though. It's also helped by all the legend that's grown up around it. Jane and Blanche look as though they hate each other, and the rumor has it that Davis and Crawford really hated each other -- to the point that some of the violence we see on screen might have been real! Although it's dated, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is somewhat of a landmark in that it revived Davis' career, and its box office success set off a whole string of movies in the 60s for older actresses. Indeed, Davis and Crawford were set to be reunited for Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. But as I mentioned back in January 2009, the story goes that Davis hated Crawford so much that in order to tick off Crawford, she brought a Coca-Cola vending machine to the set. Crawford, at the time, was still on the board of Pepsico, being the widow of the former CEO. True or not, Crawford wound up not playing in Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. Crawford got to extract her own pound of flesh, too. Davis was nominated for a tenth time as Best Actress for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and was disappointed to lose to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. Bancroft wasn't able to be at the ceremony. Who accepted the award in Bancroft's absence? None other than Joan Crawford.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has made it to DVD, and is well worth watching by anybody who has an interest in older movies.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Zombies have more fun

As part of its 72-hour salute to Halloween, TCM is showing a couple of zombie movies today: Bela Lugosi in White Zombie at 3:30 PM ET, followed by Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie at 4:45 PM. Both of them are available on DVD. A more interesting zombie movie that also has Bela Lugosi in it, which isn't on TCM's schedule, is Zombies on Broadway.

Sheldon Leonard, back when he was acting and before he became a TV director and producer, plays Ace, a gangster who's planning to open a new nightclub, which he wants to call "The Zombie Hut". (Nightclubs had just as odd themes back then as they do today, apparently.) To promote the club, he hires a couple of press agents, played by Z-level comedy team Wally Brown and Alan Carney. What would make the club a hit is if they can get an act involving a real live (er, technically undead) zombie. So, Ace sends our two publicity agents to the Caribbean island of San Sebastian, where they're supposed to find, and bring back, an actual zombie. There, they meet the requisite damsel in distress (Anne Jeffreys), who wants to get back to the mainland. Together, the three wind up getting mixed up first in a native zombie ceremony, and then in Bela Lugosi's zombie experiments, before eventually making their way back to New York.

Zombies on Broadway is a comedy; at least, that's how it's billed. It's not particularly good, in that it's decidedly a B-movie if it aims that high. And yet, it's one of those movies that's just so damn dumb that it winds up being entertaining. And even if you don't agree with that assessment, the movie only runs 70 minutes, so you haven't wasted too much time. Also, thanks to the presence in the cast of Bela Lugosi, the movie has gotten a release to DVD, so you don't have to wait for one of its rare TCM showings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three days of horror: Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray

Halloween is this Sunday, and TCM is marking the occasion by showing 72 straight hours of horror movies, starting at 6:00 AM ET Friday with three movies featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. First up are two two-strip Technicolor movies made at Warner Bros.: Doctor X at 6:00 AM, followed at 7:30 AM by The Mystery of the Wax Museum. The last is The Vampire Bat, at 9:00 AM.

Atwill plays a doctor in a small German town where a serial killer seems to be on the loose. The mayor suspects vampires, since all the victims have a pair of puncture wounds consistent with fangs, Police chief Melvyn Douglas, however, has a different view, which is that one of the town dullards, who has a thing for bats, is actually responsible. And the town's citizens respond by hounding him and effectively lynching him. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the killings, which leads to the obvious conclusion that someone -- or something -- else is responsible.

The Vampire Bat was an low-budget production, made at little-known Majestic Pictures. The result is that the production values aren't very good. But, as with the inaccurate color of movies like Mystery of the Wax Museum, the production values actually help the movie, giving it a creepier atmosphere. To be honest, it's not a particularly good movie, but it's enjoyable enough, and not too frightening for the children.

Having been made at a Poverty Row studio, The Vampire Bat fell into the public domain at some point, which means it's now available on DVD from a bunch of different places. (That, of course, also means that the quality of the DVD may not be so good.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vickie Lester again

I should have posted this yesterday, but as part of a birthday salute to Jack Carson, TCM is showing one of his earliest movies, This Marriage Business, at 10:00 AM. What I find interesting about it is that the female lead is played by Vickie Lester, who, as I mentioned, was unfortunate enough to share a name with the heroine of a famous movie.

Vicke Lester wouldn't go on to much in Hollywood, but Jack Carson of course did, playing lots of second men who never get the credit they deserve for making the movies as good as they are. In fact, Carson was the subject of my very first blog post. As for today's Carson movies, probably the best of the roles is in Mildred Pierce, which airs at 6:00 PM.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stop calling us It Happened One Night!

Tonight is the last night for Fredric March to get his place in the spotlight as TCM's Star of the Month. One of his lesser movies is There Goes My Heart, which airs at 10:15 PM ET.

Fredric March plays Bill Spencer, a newspaper reporter (sound familiar?) given the job of finding a runaway heiress and getting her story (sound even more familiar?). The heiress, Joan Butterfield (played by Virginia Bruce) has run off to New York City where, not having any money, she's taken in by a kindly woman (Patsy Kelly). She's a clerk at a department store, and gets Joan a job there, not knowing that the store is owned by Joan's grandfather! As for our intrepid reporter, he finds Joan and begins to write the story, but hits a snag: he finds himself beginning to fall in love with her. (I told you this all sounded familiar.)

As you could probably have guessed without reading the title of the post, this isn't a remake of It Happened One Night, but it sounds awfully close, which is to the movie's detriment. That's a bit of a shame, since the movie has a fairly good cast. Alan Mowbray plays Patsy Kelly's boyfriend living in the next apartment, who is studying to be a chiropractor. Eugene Pallette plays March's editor, and is the sort of actor who is well-suited to the role. And as March's photographer is Arthur Lake, who would go on to play Dagwood Bumstead in all those Blondie movies in the 1940s.

There Goes My Heart hasn't gotten a DVD release, probably in part because it was made by Hal Roach, which would also explain why the movie doesn't sparkle the way It Happened One Night does: he didn't quite have the resources a major studio would have, and was too busy making two-reelers. Still, There Goes My Heart is entertaining enough.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Programming note

If you use TCM's Critics' Choice article as a guide, you'll see that one of tonight's critics, Susan Granger, has selected The Fuller Brush Man and The Magnificent Yankee. Well, not quite. TCM's on on-line schedule, the printable copy I downloaded at the end of September, and my box guide all mention the 8:00 PM ET movie as Lust For Gold, a movie that I haven't seen before but certainly sounds interesting, if I'm feeling well enough not to fall asleep during the movie. The Magnificent Yankee is still scheduled, for 9:45 PM.

The Fuller Brush Man is a Red Skelton comedy, and not to be confused with The Fuller Brush Girl.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another pair of repeats

This being a Sunday and with me feeling a bit under the weather, I'm just going to re-recommend a pair of movies I've blogged about before, which are coming up on TCM tomorrow afternoon:

The Americanization of Emily is airing at 12:15 PM ET. It's followed at 2:15 PM by One, Two, Three

I can't even do a birthday thread because the one really famous Hollywood name who has a birthday today, Merian C. Cooper, was the subject of a birthday thread last year.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Better than The Ladykillers

A month ago, I mentioned my thought that I didn't find The Ladykillers to be as good as it's cracked up to be. You can judge for yourself, though, as it's airing as part of a night of Alec Guinness movies, early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM ET. In the post last month, I also mentioned The Lavender Hill Mob, which precedes it at 3:15 AM. As I've already blogged about it before, today's post will be on the other of the three movies I listed in the September post: Kind Hearts and Coronets, which is tonight's TCM Essential at 8:00 PM.

The movie starts off with Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) in prison, awaiting his execution, as the Duke of D'Ascoyne. He wasn't born to be the Duke, however, and therein lies quite a tale. His connection to the family is through his mother, who would have been the rightful heir, except that she fell in love with an Italian opera singer and ran off to marry him, which caused the noble line of the family to disown her and make all of her children ineligible for the peerage. Mother instills in her son a sense of having been wronged, and he keeps a family tree of the D'Ascoynes, tracking where he would be in the line of succession if he were eligibile.

It turns out there are eight candidates ahead of him, and worse, some of them insist on reproducing, making it even less likely that Louis could ever inherit the dukedom he believes is rightly his. However, one day he gets a brilliant idea! If only there were some way for all those other heirs to die, they'd have to give the dukedom to him. And so, Louis sets out to murder the heirs, one by one. The conceit of the movie is that all eight of the heirs are played by Alec Guinness -- including a lady suffragette! Eventually, all of the legitimate D'Ascoynes die, and Louis becomes the Duke, but along the way, he's gotten himself into a love triangle involving one of the D'Ascoyne widows (Valerie Hobson) and his girlfriend from his lower-class upbringing (Joan Greenwood).

Alec Guinness, playing eight characters, is the highlight of the movie, but he's helped enormously by an intelligent and fun script. It's a delight to watch.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hammer verges toward sci-fi

TCM has been running horror movies from Britain's Hammer Studios every Friday night in prime time this Halloween month. This week continues with Hammer films, but the selections are closer to science fiction than horror, in that they're no more horrifying than, say, the classic version ov Village of the Damned (not a Hammer film, but you get the point, I hope). Two of them deserve particular attention:

Five Million Years to Earth, at 9:30 PM ET. While excavating a new tunnel for the London Underground, diggers discover a large, mysterious metallic object. The authorities try to convince everybody it's just Nazi ordnance left over from the last war, but scientists investigating discover that it appears to be a spacecraft of some kind, with insect-like larvae in it. Worse, the craft seems to have an odd and destructive psychic effect on people who have higher levels of the paranormal sixth sense. I won't give away what the final determination is of how this all happens, because that would give away the fun of the movie. Five Million Years to Earth is followed at 11:15 PM by

These Are the Damned. Not to be confused with Village of the Damned, this one actually has a cast of surprisingly recognizable names. Oliver Reed plays the leader of a gang of British bullies who harass Macdonald Carey, an American expat visiting the British coast. He escapes with the bully leader's sister, but the two discover a cave where a bunch of children are hiding... or are they actually prisoners? The two learn the truth with the help of artist Viveca Lindfors. She's a sculptress carrying on a relationship with Alexander Knox (Oscar nominated two decades earlier for Wilson). What are these children doing in the cave? Well, as with Five Million Years to Earth, I can't say, as it would give too much of the plot away. But where Five Million Years to Earth is campy fun, These Are the Damned is closer to serious social commentary and actually quite interesting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good vs. bad nudity

TCM is showing Ecstasy overnight tonight at 4:00 AM ET. The plot of the movie involves Hedy Lamarr as a bored wife who starts an affair with the engineer for a road-building crew that she meets. What's probably better-known about the movie, though, is the scene in which she meets that man. Lamarr decides to go for a swim and gets on her horse to go for a ride to the nearest lake. She disrobes and leaves her clothes on her horse, going skinny-dipping. While she's swimming, the horse walks off. Hollywood would have gone this far, but this movie was made in Germany, so they do something that even Hollywood wouldn't have done in 1933: the show the result, which is that Lamarr is quite naked. As if you've never seen female breasts before. I think Ecstasy is a pedestrian movie, but it gets rave reviews from the critics, probably in part because it's foreign, and in part because it does things Hollywood couldn't -- those breasts again.

Contrast this with the recently-announced death of Bob Guccione. Guccione is best-known for having started the Penthouse, the downscale competitor to Playboy, but he also had an interesting encounter with serious film with his involvement in Caligula. With a name like Gore Vidal in the credits, and "serious" acting names in the cast like John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, and Helen Mirren, this doesn't seem your father's dirty porn movie. (Point of disclosure: I haven't actually seen Caligula.) And yet, reading all the reviews, it seems as though people have a problem with it simply because of Bob Guccione's involvement.

Contrast this with the restored version of Spartacus, with the bathhouse scene that everybody seems to praise for its homosexual overtones. It's no more transgressive than straight-up porn; it's just transgressive in the right way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking of Sam Fuller

When I wrote about Park Row, I can't believe I forgot to mention that another of Sam Fuller's movies is coming up: Pickup on South Street, tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel. Not only that, but it's got the lovely Jean Peters too.

Hazy memories again

One of the critics presenting movies on TCM tonight, the New York Times' A.O. Scott, has selected the 1952 movie Park Row at 9:30 PM. I saw it one of the previous times it aired on TCM, but that was a few years back and my memories on more specific plot details are unfortunately not up to doing a full post on the movie. Still, it was an enjoyable movie about the newspaper wars in New York at the end of the 19th century.

To be honest, though, I'm looking more forward to the night's first movie, Ride Lonesome, at 8:00 PM, a lower-budget western starring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher that I haven't seen before.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tom Bosley, 1927-2010

Tom Bosley administering a physical to Tim Matthieson in Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)

Actor Tom Bosley, who is probably best known for playing the father, Howard Cunningham, on the long-running sitcom Happy Days, has died a few weeks after his 83d birthday. Bosley had a long career, although most of it was on the small screen. One of the movies he appeared in was Yours, Mine, and Ours, in which he plays the family doctor to Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any good pictures with Bosley and either Ball or Fonda, although he gets scenes with both of them. So, the best I could do was the scene toward the end of the movie, after Tim Matthieson's character is drafted and Bosley is performing the physicals, and in which Bosley lets on that Ball is pregnant again.

Love that Paul Douglas

I've mentioned the underrated Paul Douglas before and his comedic ability in a movie like The Solid Gold Cadillac. Another very entertaining comedy he made is Love That Brute, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

Paul Douglas stars as Big Ed, a gangster in 1920s Chicago. There's something missing in his life, though: a family. On day while sitting in the park, he meets Ruth (Jean Peters), a would-be singer who has had to take a job as a governess. Ed, wanting love and seeing that the lovely Ruth is taking care of a kid, offers Ruth a job as a governess paying much more than she could get from her current family. The only catch is that Ed doesn't have a kid, so he has to find one, which he does in the form of Harry the Kid, the orphaned son of a gangster. This presents a problem for Big Ed in some of the film's funnier scenes, as Harry is a would-be gangster himself, with a mouth to prove it. (Not obscene, of course, since the Production Code was in effect; but Harry certainly knows the gangster lingo!)

Big Ed knows that Ruth would leave him if she found out that he was a gangster; not only that, she's not really sure if she loves him, and isn't happy with his romantic advances. Eventually all these threads come together as Ruth learns that Ed is a gangster who stands accused of the murders of several rivals; meanwhile, some of the members of other gangs (led by Cesar Romero) would like to get in a revenge killing on Ed....

Love That Brute is a comedy, though, so you know that the problems are going to be resolved in a fairly happy way. Paul Douglas is good, heading up a nice ensemble cast of people who for whatever reason never quite made it to A-list status. In addition to those mentioned, there's also Keenan Wynn as Big Ed's henchman, and Arthur Treacher, playing yet another butler. Love That Brute isn't quite as sparkling as The Solid Gold Cadillac, but it's still enjoyable. It doesn't seem to have been released to DVD, though, so you're going to have to catch the Fox Movie Channel showings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two more critics

I'm not particularly enamored with tonight's TCM selections, but then, they can't always program just for me. (I suppose they could, but nobody would want to watch TCM then.) The Critics' Choice thing that's been going on this month isn't a bad idea, although not every critic has the same tast I do. Still, you can learn something: tonight's first critic is Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, a publication that I did not know even did movie reviews. Morgenstern's first selection, at 8:00 PM ET. is Oliver!, the Best Picture winner of 1968 which is a musical retelling of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. That's followed at 10:45 PM by The Black Stallion, which has a resonance with National Velvet in that both movies have Mickey Rooney training a youngster to ride a race horse to victory; in this case, however, Rooney is pushing 60.

Morgenstern is followed by Peter Travers of the faux-trendy Rolling Stone magazine. He's selected Almost Famous at 1:00 AM, which, surprise surprise, deals with a writer for Rolling Stone. Travers' second selection is The Lady From Shanghai at 3:15 AM, a Rita Hayworth movie bogged down by direction from then-husband Orson Welles.

On the bright side, TCM is re-airing the documentary Rita, about Hayworth's life, at 5:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Crowded Sky

Back in March, I mentioned that TCM showed a movie I had never seen before, and found quite unintentionally funny: The Crowded Sky. It's airing again today at 4:00 PM ET on TCM.

The main plot is fairly simple. Dana Andrews is a pilot for a commercial airline, flying a plane west. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is a Navy pilot flying from San Diego to Washington DC whose airplane's radio fails, causing him to come dangerously close to the commercial plane. (They didn't have the advanced electronics then that they do now; the radio failure was necessary so that air traffic control couldn't call him to warn him of the problem.) Of course, that's not much of a plot. So, the producers jazzed up the movie by making it an all-star affair, with each cast member having his or her own subplot.

Unfortunately, the stars they got were all just below the A level at best. Keenan Wynn shows up here as a womanizer who is seated next to one of his old flames, but unlike Phone Call From a Stranger, he's not playing off of anybody with the stature of a Shelley Winters. Andrews has his own problem; namely that he's at odds with co-pilot John Kerr. He, meanwhile, is carrying on a relationship with stewardess Anne Francis. As for Zimblaist, he's been neglecting wife Rhonda Fleming, and was earlier responsible for several deaths in a similar type of crash. Zimbalist is carrying with him Troy Donahue, a young naval officer who needs to get to Washington to see his girlfriend because he's knocked her up. As for the passengers on the plane, besides Wynn, there's the stereotypical doctor, with a wife who is also a patient, in that she's got a heart condition which will kill her, and doesn't know it. And then there's old 1930s star Patsy Kelly. She's stuck playing agent to an actor who wants to outdo Marlon Brando in how method-y he is. As she says about her client, "Even his hostilities have hostilities".

As for all these characters, there's just too much to follow. Worse, we're told their stories through the overworked flashback device, as well as closeups where we hear their thoughts. Sounds deliciously bad, doesn't it? In fact, it's as bad as it sounds, and more. Regarding the inoperative radio, it grounds Zimbalist and Donahue. As they're sitting in an airport diner, we hear... the theme to A Summer Place, which had been a hit movie for Donahue a year earlier! Oh God I nearly fell out of my seat laughing when that came up! The whole movie will have you laughing in a similar way.

Amazingly, The Crowded Sky has made it to the Warner Archive Collection ahead of a bunch of movies that are probably artistically better, even if they're not so funny.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Barbara Billingsley, 1915-2010

Oh stewardess, I speak jive

Actress Barbara Billingsley has died at the age of 94. She might be best remembered for playing the matriarch on the sitcom Leave It to Beaver, where her housewife character did everything in high heels and pearls. But she gained a career renaissance in 1980 when she was tapped to play a little old lady passenger on the doomed flight who had an ability to speak "jive", the idiolect spoken by two sick black passengers on the flight, in the movie Airplane!.

Billingsly apparently had bit parts in quite a few movies in the 1940s and early 1950s, before she started doing TV work, but these parts are mostly uncredited. I don't recall her, for example, in the movie Any Number Can Play, but IMDb claims she was a gambler in it.

Marlene Dietrich night

TCM is showing several movies this evening starring the always wonderful Marlene Dietrich. One that I haven't recommended before is this week's TCM Essential, A Foreign Affair, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM ET.

The scene is Berlin, not long after the end of World War II. A delegation from the US House of Representatives, including Representative Phoebe Frost from Iowa (Jean Arthur), has flown to West Berlin to investigate the morale of the American troops stationed there; namely, are they fraternizing too much with some of the Germans? After all, in those days West Berlin was filled not only with Germans who would still have sympathized with the Nazis, but spies for the Communists as well. (Berlin Express, which deserves a post of its own one of these days, is another good period example of this; one that's a straight-up thriller.) Rep. Cates is pretty quickly put in touch with US Army Capt. John Pringle (John Lund), who just happens to be one of Cates' constituents. Together, the two are supposed to determine the real truth about the US soldiers and particularly, their relationship with nightclub singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich), who under the previous regime had had some romantic dalliances with high-ranking Nazis.

The investigation develops some predictable problems at this point. We quickly learn that von Schlütow is a woman who will romance almost anybody for the purpose of survival; now that the Nazis have been defeated, that means cozying up to the occupation forces, specifically in the person of one Capt. John Pringle. It's not the only problem John has; he finds that some sparks are beginning to form between him and Rep. Frost. That's just as big a problem for Frost, who is supposed to be no-nonsense. It, however, is not her only problem; she's getting stonewalled from the military higher-ups and the rest of the congressional delegation.

Billy Wilder directed and as often happened co-wrote the screenplay, so you can see how the plot gets so complex and intertwined. Wilder isn't just telling us a good story; he's also giving us some subtle social commentary. As for the performances, Jean Arthur gets to let her hair down once again, singing an "Iowa Corn Song" in the nightclub where Dietrich's character works. Dietrich probably has the tougher task, playing a woman who is at heart amoral and just trying to survive, but does a good job not only of that, but of entertaining us during her musical numbers. I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of John Lund, and while he's adequate here, that's all he is. Still, with Billy Wilder and the two female leads, it's tough to go wrong.

A Foreign Affair does not seem to have gotten a DVD release yet, which is surprising. So you'll have to catch it on TCM.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mummy Dearest

Joan Crawford can be a horror all by herselfI'm sorry I've been remiss in pointing out this week's Hammer Horror movies, and in not mentionind last week's. The Dracula movies were fun, if really not that frightening. There's nothing wrong with a campy fright, as William Castle could have told you. This Friday evening brings from mummy-themed films from Hammer Studios to TCM:

The imaginatively-named The Mummy at 8:00 PM ET;
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb at 9:45 PM;
The Mummy's Shroud at 11:15 PM; and
Blood From the Mummy's Tomb at 1:00 AM.

You'd think they would have learned by the time of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb to leave the damn things alone....

Jane Darwell, 1879-1967

Jane Darwell (center) in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

"Veteran character actress" is one of those terms I throw around quite a bit, largely because I think the supporting players back in the studio system days really helped make the pictures great. Today marks the birth anniversary of one of them, Jane Darwell, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1940 for her portrayal of Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.

Darwell doesn't show up all that much on TCM, largely because she did a lot of her work over at Fox, including The Grapes of Wrath. I don't remember her as a nurse in Five of a Kind, the wife of the Justice of the Peace in We're Not Married!, or in The Ox-Bow Incident, but watch her and there she is. Surprisingly, I haven't done a full-length post on The Devil and Daniel Webster, in which Darwell plays the protagonist's mother. But all of these performances show once again how the character actors had a broad range and provided all sorts of value to the movies in which they appeared.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

So I can't predict the future

Five Star Final is airing again on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM ET. It's well worth watching, and as I've mentioned a couple of times, it's the original version of a movie that was remade a few years later starring Humphrey Bogart as One Fatal Hour.

I thought I might have done a full-length posting about Five Star Final, but haven't; instead, in looking through previous posts where I mentioned the movie, I found this fun quote from January 2009:

Bogart made another interesting B remake a few years earlier, known under the alternate titles of Two Against the World and One Fatal Hour. (The latter is the title under which it shows up, albeit rarely, on TCM.) It's a remake of a 1931 movie Five Star Final, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (It should be mentioned that there were actually eight Best Picture nominees that year, compared to today's five. Obviously, Hollywood made better pictures then than now.)

How was I to know that the Academy was going to go back to selecting ten nominees for Best Picture in an attempt to make the awards show more relevant?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

He Ran All the Way

I briefly mentioned the Shelley Winters movie He Ran All the Way back in February 2009. I mentioned then that it hadn't been released on DVD and, apparently, it still hasn't gotten a DVD release. It's airing overnight tonight at 1:30 AM ET as part of TCM's critics' selections, and is worth a look.

John Garfield, in his final movie appearance, plays small-time criminal Nick. He and his partner Al (Norman Lloyd) take part in a heist that should net them $10,000. But, the heist goes wrong, Al gets shot and killed, and Nick has to shoot a policeman in order not to get caught himself. Nick takes refuge in a public swimming pool, where he meets Peggy Dobbs (Shelley Winters). The two hit it off, although Peggy is of course unaware that Nick is only hitting on Peggy as a means of escape.

Peggy, young and with her raging female hormones making her stupid, foolisly decides to take this complete stranger home to meet her parents. Nick, naturally, is thankful for this, as it gives him a chance at escape: he pulls his gun on them and holds them hostage while he figures out a way to get out of the city. There are some problems, though, and it's not just that the police are looking for him. These people all have to work, and if they all wind up out sick, somebody's bound to notice and ask questions. On the other hand, if they all go out, they'll tip off the cops as to Nick's whereabouts. So, Nick keeps one of them hostage at all time, until Peggy eventually agrees to help him escape.

Has she really fallen for him, Stockholm syndrome-style, or is this just an elaborate ruse to get the police to capture him? Well, the one bad thing about movies of this era is that, thanks to the Production Code, you know they can never get away with robbery. So, you know something is going to go wrong for Nick. But will it go wrong for Peggy, too?

He Ran All the Way is solid, if unspectacular entertainment. It's certainly no worse than most of the stuff that passes for entertainment on TV nowadays, and probably no more fictitious than most of the "reality" shows out there. A big shame, then, that there's not enough interest to get movies like this out on DVD.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fredric March, Part 2

From left: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March and Adolphe Menjou in A Star Is Born (1937)

TCM is continuing its salute to October Star of the Month Fredric March with six more of his films tonight. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM ET with A Star Is Born. I had to look around for a photo of March in the movie, as the photo I had is from the finale, at which point March's Norman Maine is no longer around

It's followed at 10:00 PM by The Best Years of Our Lives, which won March his second Oscar, although as I posted back in 2008, I think Andrews gives a better performance. If it weren't for the fact that tonight's showing runs until just before 1:00 AM here in the east, I'd strongly recommend another viewing of The Best Years of Our Lives.

The other four movies are:
One Foot in Heaven at 1:00 AM, in which March plays a preacher at the beginning of the 20th century trying to raise a family;
Bedtime Story 3:00 AM, which has March trying to write a play for wife Loretta Young;
Make Me a Star at 4:30 AM, in which March only has a cameo appearance (albeit with a whole bunch of other Hollywod stars of 1932); and
Alexander the Great at 6:00 AM, where March plays Philip of Macedon to Richard Burton's Alexander.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The next round of Critics' Choice

Round three of TCM's Critics' Choice programming continues this evening with a couple of fairly well-known movies mixed in among the selections. First up is David Denby from The New Yorker magazine; he has selected
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep at 8:00 PM ET followed by
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, and the most boring man since Ralph Bellamy in the comedy His Girl Friday at 10:00 PM.

After that is Robert Bianco from USA Today, the newspaper for people who like their news in factoids and colorful charts. His first selection, at midnight, is The Perils of Pauline, a 1940s movie starring Betty Hutton about Pearl White, the women who played Pauline in the silent serials.

At 2:00 AM comes Bianco's second selection, Hail the Conquering Hero. One of the movies from director Preston Sturges' productive period in the mid-1940s, the movie stars Eddie Bracken as Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (you can tell it's a Preston Sturges movie just from the names), a young man who never met his father, the father having died a hero in World War I. It's World War II now, and Woodrow would like nothing more than to servie in the Marines like his father did, so that he too could be a hero. The only problem is that Woodrow couldn't make it in the Marines, as he was drummed out for having terrible hayfever. He couldn't bring himself to tell the folks back home, though, as it would break the heart of his mother and girlfriend (Ella Raines). That is, until he meets a bunch of Marines led by Sgt. Heppelfinger (frequent Sturges cast member William Demarest). Heppelfinger and his men, on hearing Woodrow's predicament, vow to take him home in uniform.

Somebody said honesty is the best policy, and that's a message that should probably have been heeded here. The town, or at least most of it, welcomes Woodrow home as a hero, and one they particularly need. Mayor Noble (Raymond Walburn) and the rest of the town administration has been run by a political machine that has been better for the machine than it has for the town, and only a hero like Woodrow can take on the machine in the upcoming election and defeat it. That, however, requires having an honest-to-goodness hero, which we know Woodrow isn't. Worse, honesty may cause Woodrow to lose his girl, but if she finds out he's been lying to her, that may just make her drop him, too. It doesn't help that Sgt. Heppelfinger and his men are doing everything they can to keep up the ruse.

Hail the Conquering Hero is typical of Preston Sturges' great satires from the 1940s. It takes about as many shots at the establishment as it could for a movie from World War II, and does so without ever letting up on the humor. It helps, of course, that Bracken and Demarest are so good at humor. Personally, I prefer The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, but quite a few critics think Hail the Conquering Hero is better. Either way, they're both worth watching.

Hail the Conquering Hero has been released to DVD, but Amazon only seems to list it as being available as part of a box set.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tony Curtis: The Defiant Ones

If The Vikings doesn't engage in any social consciousness raising, our next Tony Curtis selection certainly does: The Defiant Ones, airing at 9:45 PM ET tonight.

Tony Curtis plays prisoner John Jackson, who is being transported back to jail with the rest of the chain gang. A storm hits, and the prison truck gets in an accident, turning over; this gives Jackon the chance to escape. There's only one problem: he's handcuffed to fellow prisoner Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier), so the two will eithe rhave to escape together, or not at all.

On second thought, that is by no means the only problem. Jackson, if you couldn't tell from the picture above, is white, while Cullen is black. And, this being a Hollywood movie, you just know that there's going to be a whole bunch of racial tension: the white guy is going to be a vicious racist, and the black guy is going to have all sort of (fully logical) justification for not wanting to trust the white guy shackled to him. For example, while trying to escape, Jackson has trouble fording a swift river, and is threatened with being carried away by the current. Cullen pulls him out. Not so much out of any feelings for Jackson, but because if he didn't pull Jackson out, he too would be pulled in.

And so it goes, with the two men looking for a way to break the chain that literally binds them, while trying to keep ahead of sheriff Theodore Bikel and police captain Charles McGraw. Eventually, they wind up at the isolated farmhouse of widowed Cara Williams. Jackson falls in love with her, and this gives the two of them a chance to escape without Cullen: he from the law, she from her miserable existence. Cullen, meanwhile, would be left to try to find the freight train north himself. But, it might not be what it seems....

The Defiant Ones is certainly formulaic in that, once you know you've got a white racist handcuffed to a black guy, you know how the sparks are going to fly over the rest of the movie. That doesn't mean the movie isn't good, however, as Poitier and Curtis both give excellent performances. Even though we know where the story is going to wind up, the journey there is still interesting.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tony Curtis: The Vikings

Kirk Douglas' expression gives you an idea of just how silly the movie is
Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in the climactic fight scene of The Vikings (1958)

I listed the various Tony Curtis movies that will be airing tomorrow as part of TCM's 24-hour long salute to him. Some of them at least deserve a fuller-length blog posting. First up is The Vikings, which will be airing at 9:45 AM ET.

The movie starts off a couple of decades before the main action. The Vikings raid Northumbria, one of the kingdoms on the island of Britain, killing the king. The Viking leader Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) rapes the Northumbrian queen, knocking her up in the process. Fast forward to the main action of the movie. Ragnar is still ruling, now alongside adult son Einar (Kirk Douglas). Meanwhile, there's Eric (Tony Curtis), a slave who was kidnapped from Britain as an infant. What neither of them knows is that he's the child of the old Northumbrian queen, which makes him and Einar half-brothers. Not that this blood relationship would help, as Eric blinded Einar in one eye with one of Einar's falcons.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have also captured the lovely Welsh girl Morgana (Janet Leigh), who was the betrothed to the new Northumbrian king. She's now in the Viking lands, where Einar intends to marry her. Eric, however, sees the presence of Morgana as a way out of the Viking lands and back to Britain, where he feels he really belongs. Besides, his life is in danger amongst the Vikings if anybody learns his true identity. Eric and Morgana flee, with Einar in hot pursuit, until everybody ends up at the Northumbrian castle for the final battle scene....

One has to wonder just what all the actors were thinking when they decided to take this one on. The dialogue is horrid, the plot is kind of silly, and the costumes -- well, I'm sure the women will like those tunics that show most of a man's arms and legs. Perhaps Curtis and Douglas thought they were still sex symbols. To be fair, though, it's not a terrible picture; it's just silly and dumb, although without being an insult to our intelligence. In short, it's a movie for entertaining, and not one with much of anything to say about the human condition; or, the perfect movie to watch with your friends and a giant bowl of popcorn.

Amazon lists The Vikings as being fairly cheaply available on DVD, so you can set up that night with your friends and the popcorn whenever you want.

TCM's Tony Curtis tribute

TCM has so many features on prime time weeknights this month that they couldn't really spare a weeknight to do a tribute to Tony Curtis, who died at the end of September. Instead, they're running a 24-hour salute to him, starting at 6:00 AM ET tomorrow, Sunday, October 10, in which they will air twelve of Curtis' movies:

6:00 AM: Beachhead (1954)
7:45 AM: Kings Go Forth (1958)
9:45 AM: The Vikings (1958)
11:45 AM: Operation Petticoat (1959)
2:00 PM: Who Was That Lady? (1960)
4:15 PM: Sex and the Single Girl (1964)
6:15 PM: You Can't Win 'Em All (1970)
8:00 PM: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
9:45 PM: The Defiant Ones (1958)
11:30 PM: Trapeze (1956)
1:30 AM: The Great Race (1965)
4:15 AM: Don't Make Waves (1967)

The last two, of course, start overnight between Sunday and Monday for those on the east coast.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I didn't want to blog about The Razor's Edge or Nightmare Alley in detail today because I had a different movie in mind. After tonight's Hammer horror films on TCM, TCM Underground is going to show a pair of lesser-seen William Castle movies. The latter of these is the odd Thirteen Frightened Girls, overnight at 4:30 AM ET.

The girls, although there are more than 13 of them and they're not really frightened, are all the daughters of diplomats who are stationed in the same capital; the daughters all live together in the dormitory of an international boarding school. Candy, the American girl (played by unknown Kathy Dunn) admires one of the American agents and sees that her father (Hugh Marlowe) has a problem: his agents aren't able to get any clandestine information from the other countries. So, Cathy has a brilliant idea: use her friends as contacts to get into the other embassies, and since young woman are invariably inveterate gossips, she'll be bound to pick up on some secrets. She duly does, and passes them on anonymously to her father.

This causes a scandal among the diplomatic corps, as they're all trying to figure out who this new super spy is. Eventually, it winds up with poor Cathy getting in way over her head, having to fend off an assassination attempt from a Dutch agent, and getting kidnapped and held in the Chinese embassy (one of the few other recognizable names in the cast, Khigh Dheigh from The Manchurian Candidate, shows up here). Even then, she's not out of danger.

Thirteen Frightened Girls is a bizarre movie, largely because it's so tough to classify. It's certainly not a horror movie like the ones for which Castle is famous -- indeed, there are no gimmicks here. Is it a real spy movie? Is it a spoof on spy movies? Is it supposed to be a teen flick for the drive-in market? I'm not quite certain, and perhaps that uncertainty is a joke that Castle was trying to play on us. It's not terrible, but it's certainly not great, either. Instead, it's just wacky enough in its not fitting convention that it's fun enough to watch once and think, "What was William Castle thinking?" And after that, it's fun to let all your friends in on the secret of what a weird movie this is.

Thirteen Frightened Girls made it to DVD as part of a William Castle box set, but I don't know if it's individually available.

A different Fox Legacy

The Fox Movie Channel's Friday night feature Fox Legacy normally looks at one significant movie from the Fox studio, with an introduction by studio exec Tom Rothman; the film and intro are repeated three times in a row. This week, FMC is doing something slightly different: they're looking at one of Fox's top contract players from the 1940s -- Tyrone Power, and airing two of his movies.

Those two happen to be The Razor's Edge at 8:30 PM, followed at 11:00 PM by Nightmare Alley (from which the picture at left, with Power and Joan Blondell, is taken), both of which are worth watching (although I've got another movie to write a full-length blog post about later today).

There are quite a lot of stars FMC could do a similar Fox Legacy episode on. After World War II, a lot of stars started working at different studios from where they first signed a contract, with many stars making a realtively small number of films at Fox. I've recommended Bette Davis in Phone Call From a Stranger before, never mind that All About Eve has already been given the Fox Legacy treatment. James Stewart made half a dozen movies or so at Fox after the war, from the docudrama Call Northside 777 (worth another showing) to Bandolero!. Cary Grant's An Affair to Remember would be another worthy Fox Legacy selection. And, in addition to Gentleman's Agreement, Gregory Peck was in the equally significant Twelve O'Clock High.

And then there were the people who were under contract to Fox, who would probably be even better choices for Fox Legacy. Fox could have shown Kiss of Death Richard Widmark, for example. Henry Fonda started his career at Fox, although outside of The Grapes of Wrath and The Ox-Bow Incident, he didn't really like the movies he made in those early Fox days. Spencer Tracy was under contract to Fox before going to MGM, making such movies as The Power and the Glory. And, of course, there's Vincent Price's work before he became the king of horror.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

From the Earth to the Moon

TCM is showing a bunch of "lost in space" themed movies tonight, concluding with From the Earth to the Moon at 4:15 AM ET.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon is set in the US not long after the end of the Civil War. Joseph Cotten plays Victor Barbicane, a maker of armaments for the Union who had to keep developing newer and more powerful explosives to deal with the armor developed by Confederate Stuyvesant Nicholl (George Sanders). What to do with these arms now that the war is over? Well, that's a matter of some debate, but Victor and his wealthy friends come up with an idea to send a projectile of some sort to the moon, as it will demonstrate Victor's latest explosive! (They didn't know about rockets back in Jules Verne's day, of course.)

Nicholl doesn't believe in the power of this "Factor X", but a demonstration shows it might just work -- at least, it works against Nicholl's armors -- and Nicholl joins the moon shot. Well, not quite; he's secretly bent on sabotaging it. Along the way, there's a silly love story involving Nicholl's daughter (Debra Paget), who ends up as a stowaway on the space capsule that Daddy and Mr. Barbicane are on.

From the Earth to the Moon suffers from a whole host of problems. The story wasn't well adapted from the Verne novel, instead reading like a mishmash of old Hollywood tropes. Two rivals forced to work together? Pretty daughter? One of the rivals turning on the other? A forced happy ending? We've seen all of these before. Visually, the movie looks terrible, due to the fact that it was being made just as the decision was made at RKO to shut down production. This was one of the very last films produced at RKO, and it shows. That in and of itself makes it worth seeing at least once.

Despite the two well-known actors in the leads, From the Earth to the Moon hasn't received a DVD release.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two more critics

Does anybody read Time or Newsweek any longer? Apparently, some people must, as both of them can still afford to pay movie critics. Those critics: Richard Corliss from Time and David Ansen from Newsweek are responsible for tonight's selections as part of TCM's Critics' Choice. For the most part, the selection of movies is a bit pedestrian.

Corliss goes first, and has chosen:
Citizen Kane at 8:00 PM ET, followed by
The Seventh Seal at 10:15 PM, in which Max von Sydow plays a game of chess against Death as seen in the photo at left.

As for Ansen, he's chosen
The Third Man at midnight; and
The Earrings of Madame De... at 2:00 AM, a French movie about a bunch of people who all wind up owning the same pair of earrings and how this symbolizes their betrayals of one another.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lady By Choice

I said that I wasn't going to do a full post on I Married a Witch because I had already planned to do a post on another movie. TCM is showing several Carole Lombard movies tomorrow, and one of the lesser-known of those movies is Lady By Choice, which is on at noon ET tomorrow.

Carole Lombard plays Alabam Lee, a fan dancer who is constantly getting in trouble with the law because the vice squad considers her act offensive. In court, she meets Patsy Patterson (May Robson), a chronic drunk who's ended up in court as often as Alabam, if not more, for drunk and disorderly behavior. Alabam's manager (Raymond Walburn) has a bright idea to help her image: Mothers' Day is coming up, and Alabam should "adopt" an old woman in order to make her look more serious and conscientious. Patsy has been sent to an old folks' home, and the two women, having already met, seem like perfect candidates for each other.

Alabam takes custody of Patsy, but things quickly turn serious, at least in the sense that what was originally intended as a public relations stunt becomes a real relationship. The two women become friends, and Patsy begins to look after Alabam like a mother, discovering that Alabam's manager is robbing her blind, getting the money back (well not quite; Patsy wins the money gambling), and trying to help Alabam become a serious entertainer by getting her acting and singing lessons. Alabam isn't exactly talented enough for this, though, and problems develop when Alabam falls for Patsy's lawyer Johnny (Roger Pryor). Patsy leaves Alabam and Alabam finds herself forced to return to her burlesque act, but seeing the sacrifice Alabam is willing to make, Patsy tries to devise a scheme to get Alabam and Johnny together after all....

Lady By Choice has a title that sounds like Lady For a Day, and the same actress playing both ladies. Indeed, Robson's Patsy acts a lot like Apple Annie from the earlier movie. And, Alabam is similar to Glenda Farrell's Missouri (and they both are named after states!) Another similarity is that both have Walter Connolly further down the cast list (Lady for a Day as Robson's presumptive in-law; Lady By Choice as the judge). So perhaps it's all those similarities that have caused Lady By Choice to be not so well remembered. After all, it's not the original. Having said that, Lady By Choice doesn't deserve to languish in relative obscurity. It's a pleasant enough movie, if not quite as good as the original. May Robson was good enough at playing these older women that she doesn't miss a beat, while Lombard had a great flair for comedy. Lady By Choice isn't available on DVD, however, so you're going to have to catch the rare TCM showing.

TCM Star of the Month: Fredric March

Now that we're in a new month, TCM has a new Star of the Month, two-time Oscar winner Fredric March. TCM is showing a bunch of his movies every Tuesday in prime time, actually continuing into Wednesday morning as there are about six movies a week. The first of those two Oscars was for the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that happens to be kicking off the whole March festival tonight at 8:00 PM ET. (The second performance is in The Best Years of Our Lives, which is airing next Tuesday.)

As for tonight's offerings, I can't help but think that, in honor of Christine O'Donnell's Senate campaign, I find it interesting that I Married a Witch is airing tonight at 12:45 AM ET. I didn't intend to blog about it, since I thought it was available on DVD. Apparently it isn't, and at TCM's site it's one of the movies most requested for a DVD release. Basically, the story involves political candidate Fredric March getting involved with a witch (Veronica Lake) when he rescues her from a fire; funny complications ensue. (However, there's another less-seen movie coming up tomorrow that's going to get the full-length treatment.)

Also coming up as part of the March salute into tomorrow morning is Executive Suite, at 7:30 AM ET tomorrow morning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Critics' Choice

You've probably seen the promos on TCM; this month they're running a series in which sixteen different movie critics sit down with TCM host Robert Osborne to present two movies. The critics are coming, two a night, on each of the four Mondays and Wednesdays in October, which means that tonight is the first night of the series. Tonight's critics are:

Leonard Maltin, who has selected two pre-code movies:
Penthouse at 8:00 PM ET; followed by
Skyscraper Souls at 9:45 PM.

Maltin is followed by Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who has chosen two more well-known films:
Orson Welles' Touch of Evil at 11:30 PM; and
Paul Muni's I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang at 1:30 AM.

As you can see, I've recommended one of them already. Touch of Evil is well-known enough that I can save it for later. I'm looking forward to Skyscraper Souls, as it's one I haven't seen before. So, the one I'll give a bigger mention to today is Penthouse.

Penthouse is one of those movies, like Brighton Rock, I saw the last time it was on TCM and my memory might be a bit hazy. Warner Baxter stars as Jackson Durant, a high-class New York lawyer at one of the prestigious law firms. On a lark, he decides to take the case of gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton), who has been wrongly brought up on a murder rap. Durant gets him off, but it costs him both his job and his girlfriend. His girlfriend gets anothe boyfriend, but he too is wrongly accused of murder at a swanky New York penthouse. The only person who can get him off is Durant, who uses his Perry Mason-like detective skills more than his courtroom skills to find out what really happened....

Along the way, Durant gets helped by gangster's moll Gertie, played by Myrna Loy in one of the fun roles she had before she became Nora Charles and started becoming the perfect wife to William Powell or other actors. The movie, like The Thin Man is directed by Woody Van Dyke, so you know you're going to get something that zips right along.

Penthouse is available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Repeat Imports

Obviously, there have been a lot of foriegn movies made, but not all of them are worth seeing. As such, it should probably be unsurprising that TCM will repeat its Import selections from time to time. This week, that repeat is Ballad of a Soldier, which is airing overnight at 2:30 AM ET. If you didn't catch it 16 months ago, now would be a good time to watch it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

IMDb title comfusion

TCM is showing the really fun movie Gun Crazy tonight at midnight ET, as part of a night of "lovers on the run".

John Dall plays Bart Tare, a man with a fascination with guns, but before we get to Dall, we have to see how Bart got his fascination. It turns out that Bart had a bit of a chaotic childhood being raised by his sister, spending his time with his friends camping and hunting, with Bart becoming an excellent marksman. Fast forward to Bart as a teenager, when, so interested in a gun behind a shop window, he decides to break the window to steal the gun. This promptly gets him sent to reform school. Fast forward several years. Grown-up Bart returns to town as a war hero, a man with old friends happy to see him. Together, the old crew goes out to the traveling carnival, where they meet the marksman act Annie Starr (played by Peggy Cummins) -- nice play on the names Annie Oakley and Belle Starr. Part of the act's schtick is to challenge the audience to a marksmanship contest. Only this time, she's got her match, as Bart's friends, knowing what a good shot he is, cajole him into challenging Annie. And, he wins.

This gets Bart a job in the carnival, but it doesn't quite work out for the best. Bart and Annie fall in love, which the boss doesn't like, so he fires the two of them. They get married, but Bart finds out that Annie wants a better life than he can provide for her. At least, better than he can honestly provide for her. And so, the pair wind up robbing banks, because that's where the money is. This being made during the Production Code era, you know that it's not going to work out well for them, of course, but how it gets there is the interesting part.

The two things that are interesting here are the fact that it's Annie who's really driving the violence here, and not Bart, who if anything doesn't want to see guns used for killing at all. Secondly is the camera work. One of the more imaginative scenes is of a bank robbery, which starts with Bart and Annie in the car, and a camera mounted in the rear window viewing them from behind. Bart parks the car, goes into the bank, and robs it, all while the rear-window camera is still rolling, filming the scene from its vantage point. After Bart comes out of the bank, the two go on their merry way, with the camera still behind them, making one long scene without a cut. Actually, there's a third interesting thing too. The actor who plays Bart as a teenager, when he gets sent to reform school, is billed as "Rusty Tamblyn"; he would grow up to take the more adult-sounding name Russ. Gun Crazy is surprisingly good, very entertaining, and well worth seeing. It's even available on DVD.

As for the title, at some point along the way (I think in Cummins' native UK), the movie got re-released with the title Deadly Is the Female. The last time I did an IMDb search on Gun Crazy, this movie didn't show up at all. However, when I found the movie under the title Deadly Is the Female and clicked on John Dall's IMDb page, his "upcoming films on TV" list included... Gun Crazy under that title.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hammer Horror films

I mentioned in the Tony Curtis obituary yesterday that TCM is running a bunch of different features in October which is going to make it difficult for them to schedule a good tribute. Fridays in October are the run-up to Halloween, and TCM is spending Fridays in prime time showing British horror movies from the Hammer studios. This evening sees four Dracula-themed movies, starring either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, or both of them. I haven't seen any of them, so I can't say which one is the best, but the four movies are:

Horror of Dracula at 8:00 PM ET;
The Brides of Dracula at 9:30 PM;
Dracula, Prince of Darkness at 11:00 PM; and
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave at 12:45 AM.