Monday, February 28, 2011

Crime does not pay

Back in September 2008, I briefly mentioned Crime Does Not Pay, a series of two-reelers made by MGM from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, which look at more or less real crime. One of the shorts actually won an Oscar in the shorts category, and that winner, Torture Money, is airing at approximately 10:08 AM ET tomorrow morning. (It's after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which begins at 8:15 AM and is listed as having a running time of 108 minutes. You do the math.)

The title is unfortunately slightly inaccurate, as the subject isn't really torture (the series got closer to torture with the way the illegal immigrants were treated in Forbidden Passage in 1941), but insurance fraud. A criminal racket is staging automobile accidents, and then ripping off the insurance companies and municipal governments. Warner Bros. actually made a full-length B movie around the same time on the same subject with Ronald Reagan's Accidents Will Happen. The short is good enough; the acting is a bunch of bit players. Instead, these shorts are a great look at America as it was (or as Hollywood thought it was) 70 or more years ago.

Torture Money doesn't seem to be on DVD, but several of the Crime Does Not Pay shorts have made it to DVD, notably on Warner Home Video's Film Noir Collection, Vol. 3.

Awards wrap-up

Perhaps the real winner at last night's Oscars was The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. After all, the Best Picture was won by a movie about a man who worked with someone with a speech impediment. And it beat out a movie about a bunch of inventors who are difficult people to work with.

What are the rules for being a lead actor as opposed to being a supporting actor? I've read a number of people who thought the girl from True Grit should have been nominated in the Best Actress category instead of Best Supporting Actress, and that this is why she lost in the Supporting Actress category. The theory also seems to go that she would have beaten out Natalie Portman for Best Actress, so I'm not quite certain the theory makes sense. Anyhow, in 1944, Barry Fitzgerald got nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in Going My Way, which caused the Academy to change the rules. My understanding is at the time it had something to do with the position in the credits, but that doesn't sound quite right. And especially with the way the credits are nowadays, it really doesn't make sense.

I'm beginning to think more and more that Elia Kazan shouldn't have named Communists; he should have raped girls. Everybody's favorite child rapist won the Best Director award at the Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars), and was widely applauded for it. More interesting (or really more galling) is that much of the commentary seems to be how horrible it is that the Academy overlooked this man in its awards.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A WWII movie much different from Destination Gobi

The movie in question would be The Human Comedy, which is airing at 2:00 PM ET tomorrow on TCM.

The scene is the town of Ithaca, which could be a town almost anywhere in the US. Mickey Rooney gets top billing as Homer, the second son of the Macauley family. Dad died a few years back (which we learn from a voiceover at the very start of the movie), and Homer's older brother Marcus (Van Johnson in one of his earliest roles) has left home to enlist in the Army. There's a war on, after all. So, it's up to Homer to be the father figure of the family as best he can, even though he's just a high school student. To that end, Homer has taken an after-school job delivering telegrams, which is tough in a number of ways. First is the fact that the man who types of the telegrams (Frank Morgan) is a chronic drunk, and needs Homer to be a bit of his keeper: wake him up if he gets into the bottle too much, and ply him with coffee to sober him up. Worse is the content of those telegrams. With the war on, people die, and Homer has the difficult job of delivering one such telegram to a Mexican immigrant who is illiterate, but whose son has just died in the war.

Marcus, meanwhile, seems to be taking well to the army. He writes home telling that he's doing just fine, and has even taken another soldier under his wing, one who was an orphan and doesn't have a family -- and certainly not a family as wonderful as the Macauleys. That having been said, The Human Comedy is much more about Homer and the homefront. And because of that, you can probably see the ending coming from a mile away....

Despite the weakness of the ending, The Human Comedy is still a worthwhile movie. This, as long as you keep in mind that is was released in 1943, at the height of World War II when it was still uncertain that the Americans would be able to win the war. Folks on the homefront wanted something warm and comforting, and that's something The Human Comedy delivers in spades. The movie is also helped by a bunch of good performances from a fine ensemble cast. Mickey Rooney gets unfairly criticized, probably because of all the Andy Hardy movies and musicals with Judy Garland he did. In fact, Rooney was a capable actor, as this and A Midsummer Night's Dream both show. Johnson is good in a smaller role, and Morgan is wonderful. The rest of the cast has a lot of names you might recognize, either as character actors, or as people who would go on to much bigger things: Fay Bainter is Mrs. Macauley; Homer's kid sister is played by Donna Reed; and Homer's actual boss at the telegraph office is James Craig. Watch also for the seen in which Reed winds up going to the movies with a couple of soldiers: one of those soldiers is a young Robert Mitchum in one of his earliest roles.

The Human Comedy has gotten a DVD release as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Oscar questions

By now you probably know that there's some awards show coming up on TV tonight. I don't know how much of it I'm going to watch, if any. In part it's because I'm a fan of The Amazing Race, and in part because I'm not that big on the pageantry of the awards shows. Do we really need performances of all the Oscar-nominated songs? Maybe one of the performances will have a "wardrobe malfunction", but I doubt it.

The folks producing (or should it be directing?) the show never seem to have an idea of how to get the show to end within the allotted time. They've taken to trying to cut down the length of the speeches by having the house orchestra start playing to drown out the speaker, reminiscent of a scene in Glenn Ford's Trial. I'd propose a better way: if the speech gets too long, cut to commercial. That way you get your commercials in; you let the speakers speak longer, and you let the audience get out of hearing the boring parts of the speech. Perhaps industry insider care to hear about some assistant producer thanking his or her manicurist, but the folks at home don't.

Is Natalie Portman in The Black Swan better than Maureen O'Hara in The Black Swan? Is The Black Swan better than The Red Shoes?

How many gratuitous political references will there be?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Somehow I doubt it

If you thought the last Fox war movie I recommended, The Raid, was interesting, wait until you see the next one: Destination Gobi, tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

The scene is World War II. American naval CPO Sam McHale (Richard Widmark) is ordered to go, of all places, to the Gobi Desert! The reason why is that the navy has set up a bunch of weather stations out in the Gobi, where they can forecast the weather that's going to go east to the Pacific a few days later, while hopefully staying far enough away from the Japanese. CPO McHale is none to happy about it, but takes up his post because, hey, orders are orders. While there, he meets a bunch of Mongols who may or may not be friendly, although they've set up camp next to the Americans. But, McHale tries to make friends with them, and asks the Navy to provision him with saddles for the Mongol horses. The Mongols are thankful, but look upon it as a gift, as when the Japanese finally come and try to bomb the Americans, the Mongols flee.

The Americans are left with the thankless task of trying to get somewhere to safety, but where? The only option seems to be to go across the Gobi, with the hope of getting to the sea, where they can finagle their way onto a boat that can take them to Okinawa, which by now has been liberated by the Americans. Now if you think this sounds like a bunch of nonsense, you might be right. The idea of crossing the Gobi sounds more like a Hollywood movie than real life, but we've got a movie to make here. Never mind that the producers couldn't make the movie in the actual Gobi Desert, since China had been taken over by the Communists by the time. Anyhow, the Americans get caught by the Japanese, but helped out by the Mongols just in time....

Destination Gobi is OK as entertainment, but nothing particularly spectacular; in short, it's the sort of movie you'd want to watch with a bowl of popcorn when you want to have a bit of fun as opposed to a serious evening of movies. Perhaps a bit more interesting is the rest of the cast in addition to Widmark. You've got Darryl Hickman in one of his adult roles; future Adam-12 star Martin Milner and future director Don Taylor are also among the Navy folks stuck out in the Gobi. The movie's director is Robert Wise during his earlier days at Fox, before he was able to choose where he worked and make such great movies as West Side Story.

Destination Gobi doesn't seem to be on DVD, so you'll have to record it off of Fox if you want to see it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tom Jones

Blogger's search function claims I haven't blogged about Tom Jones before. It's coming up late tonight at 12:15 AM ET.

Albert Finney stars as Tom Jones, foundling, who is discovered by the Squire Allworthy (George Devine) and raised at the Allworthy estate. Unfortunately, little Tom is a randy bastard, as he finds he likes all the girls, consequences be damned. He loves Sophie (Susannah York), who is the daughter of another Squire (Hugh Griffith), but doesn't get her since he's sleeping with the other women and gets caught out. Fast forward some time, and Jones makes his way to London, where Sophie is set to be betrothed to the legitimate heir of Squire Allworthy (David Warner). Tom rekindles his relationship with Sophie, but the loss of honor that he causes threatens to have him hanged, with only a seeming deus ex machina able to save him.

There's something about Tom Jones in which the plot isn't particularly special, but the telling of the story is. Finney gives a wonderful performance as the almost-hyper Tom, and everybody around him is either suitably enamored or suitably enraged as the situation warrants. The movie is helped as well by lovely cinematography making a country England of the mid-18th century look beautiful; much more so than the back lots that stood in for 1780s England in The Divine Lady a few days back. And then there's the music. It's original music, but composed to sound like the style that whould have been in vogue around 1750 in the UK, and is just as frenetic as good young Tom himself. Everybody looks as though they're having enormous fun making this movie.

And you'll have just as much fun watching it as they must have had making it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It kills bugs, too!

Coming up at 7:00 AM ET tomorrow morning on the Fox Movie Channel is the interesting historical movie The Raid. What's interesting about it is that it's based on a real event.

The movie starts in September 1864 at a POW camp for Confederate soldiers located in northern New York. Confederate Major Benton (Van Heflin) leads his fellow POWs in a breakout which is successful and which enables them to get to neutral Canada where they can meet up with some of their Confederate sympathizers who have a plan hatched. That plan is to cross the border and raid the nearest moderately-sized town, St. Albans, VT. There, they'll rob all the banks to get the money necessary to buy arms for the Confederates still fighting in the South.

To that end, Benton goes to St. Albans with the view of finding a suitable farm where the Confederates can congregate in preparation for the raid. Posing as a Canadian, he puts up at the hotel run by the widow Mrs. Bishop (Anne Bancroft), who has good reason to hate Confederates, and no reason to suspect that her new boarder is one himself. Likewise her son (Tommy Rettig), who begins to look up to the new father figure in his life.

Benton eventually gets a place outside of town and begins to bring in some of the Confederates who will take part in the raid, but it's not so simple. Some of the soldiers, notably Lt. Keating (Lee Marvin), are rather more vocal in their defense of the Confederacy. That just won't do, since this is an operation where subtlety is called for, lest the townsfolk figure out what's going on. Eventually, the day of the raid comes....

The Raid is good enough, but not particularly great. The parts of the story embellished for Hollywood's purposes are fairly pedestrian and predictable, but don't do anything to take away from the real-life story that's quite interesting in its own right. The cast is competent, although you get the feeling at times that they've all been doing these character types for years, particularly Marvin and his mean bastard routine. Still, there are much worse ways to spend an hour and a half. Unfortunately, The Raid isn't available on DVD.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two history points

I note that today is the birth anniversary of director Norman Taurog, who was born February 23, 1899. Taurog won the Best Director Oscar for Skippy -- which interestingly enough was programmed on TCM for yesterday afternoon. Now, I do realize that TCM has been programming 31 Days of Oscar around themes. But it does seem slightly odd to program a film for the day before one of the main crew members' birthdays.

Another of yesterday's movies was The Divine Lady, about the love affair between Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton, who were each married to other people while carrying on the affair. Early in the movie, the Lady Hamilton character, who at that point in the movie was not yet married to Hamilton, attneds a fair at Vauxhall. The scene is set in the early 1780s and the graphic for Vauxhall, which is presumably supposed to be some sort of entryway, is lighted in what look to be sparklers that I would have thought were much too recent for the 1780s. What I thought was even worse, however, was that the two ride what looks like a small Ferris wheel. I knew that George Ferris created the ride that bears his name for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Besides, they didn't have motors to power a Ferris wheel-like device back in the 1780s. But apparently, if Wikipedia is accurate, there were primitive devices resembling Ferris wheels already in the 17th century. You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In the news again

Like me, you probably woke up to news of another earthquake striking Christchurch, New Zealand. For some reason, it made me think of the 1940s MGM movie Green Dolphin Street, which is set in 1840s New Zealand, and which has a climax involving an earthquake. Now, I actually did a post on earthquakes just about a year ago, although Green Dolphin Street wasn't one of the movies I mentioned. It also doesn't seem to be on the TCM schedule anytime soon; nor is it on DVD yet.

A week ago, the Russian space agency made the news because their simulated Mission to Mars reached the point where the cosmonauts were going to get out of their simulated space capsule and walk on a simulated surface of Mars, before getting back into the craft and simulating a return to earth in eight months' time or so. (The mission began last June, and is being simulated so that scientists can determine what problems cosmonauts might face should there be a real mission to Mars.) A lot of people would think about the conspiracy theory that NASA faked the moon landings, but the real connection is Capricorn One, which involves the US government faking a mission to Mars when it's discovered there's a technical fault that would doom the real thing to failure. Unfortunately, they send the spacecraft minus the astronauts on its way, fake the mission, and have problems arise when the spacecraft burns up on the way back to Earth. Oops. What to do with the astronauts who have been sequestered for months at a remote military base? Capricorn One has gotten a DVD release, at least.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Save me!

Today's selection on TCM is a movie that won an Oscar which is no longer awarded: Two Arabian Knights, coming up at 2:45 AM ET.

William Boyd (later Hopalong Cassidy) and Louis Wolheim play a pair of doughboys in World War I who get captured an put in a German POW camp. They escape by disguising themselves in Ottoman costumes, but get captured and sent to an Ottoman prison camp. They escape again, and eventually make their way to a ship heading for the Arabian peninsula, where they meet the lovely princess Mirza (a young Mary Astor in one of her earliest starring roles). She helps them, except that it turns out she has to get off the ship early, as she has been betrothed to a prince in another Arab principality. Meanwhile, our two American heroes jump ship too, partly out of love and partly because they're being chased by half the ship's crew (watch for Boris Karloff as the purser).

Matters don't get any better for them on dry land, as they've got a prince chasing them since it was a big mistake to fall in love with Mirza when she was betrothed and veiled, no less. Meanwhile, they can't get any help from their home country, as the ship's captain has told the American consul what happened aboard ship, and the Consul probably wouldn't want to start a diplomatic incident with the Arabs, either.

Two Arabian Knights won an Oscar for its director, Lewis Milestone. However, back in those days, there were actually two directing Oscars given; one for comedy and one for drama. Two Arabian Knights won for comedy. Despite a lot of the material being culturally inaccurate, if not offensive, the comedy still holds up very well. That's the good news. The bad news is that the movie itself hasn't held up so well. Literally. For many years, Two Arabian Knights was considered to be a lost movie, but a copy was found about a decade ago in the archives of Howard Hughes, who produced the movie back when he was first getting into Hollywood at the end of the silent era. Although a copy was found, parts of the print were in very bad condition, as the nitrate in those scenes had nearly completely disintegrated. It's quite evident in the restored print where those scenes are. Just as the two heroes escape "just in time", so the film escaped its own destruction just in time. The movie hasn't been released to DVD either, so you're going to have to record the overnight TCM showing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Hasty Heart

I very briefly mentioned the movie The Hasty Heart on what I think was its TCM premiere last June. It's coming up again, overnight tonight at 3:30 AM ET, and is well worth watching.

The scene is a British military hospital in Southeast Asia around the end of World War II. Ronald Reagan plays the "Yank", an American who's wound up in the hospital and is recuperating until he can go back home to the US, along with a bunch of British soldiers who are in the same predicament, except that they're waiting to back to Britain. Into all this walks Scottish corporal "Lachie" MacLachlan (Richard Todd), a dour man who wants nothing more than to be left alone so he can recover, and is perfectly willing to leave everybody else alone so they can recover.

The only problem with this is that MacLachlan is terminally ill. This being the 1940s, the medical staff wouldn't dream of telling him, instead letting him die in "peace". However, the staff know, and in the person of sympathetic nurse Margaret Parker (played by Patricia Neal), tell the other soldiers to try to make friends with Lachie to keep up his spirits, but not tell him that he's going to die and will never get to go home. This wouldn't be too difficult if it weren't for the fact that Lachie makes himself so difficult to be around, and doesn't really want any friends. Matters are made worse when he discovers that he's dying, and that all these people have been keeping that fact a secret from him.

Ronald Reagan got top billing here, being one of Warner Bros.' contract players. It's slightly unfair to give him top billing, but equally unfair to pan his acting abilities outright. When he was given the chance to play the eternal optimist in the face of adversity, which is basically what his character here is doing, he's really quite good. That having been said, this is really Richard Todd's movie, and he's excellent as the man who learns how to make friends. Patricia Neal is more than adequate as the nurse.

The Hasty Heart has made it to DVD, but as far as I can tell only as part of box sets. So if you have the other movies that are part of the box sets, or are put off by the price of such sets, you'll have to record this movie on one of its TCM showings.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Louis Calhern, 1895-1956

Wouldn't we all ogle Miss Monroe?
Louis Calhern ogles Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Today marks the birth anniversary of supporting actor Louis Calhern, who made dozens of appearances until his sudden death from a heart attack while in Japan to film Teahouse of the August Moon. Calhern's roles include Cary Grant's boss in Notorious, but he might perhaps be most recognizable as the man financing the plan gone wrong in The Asphalt Jungle; the wealthy "pillar of society" who has a wife in bed and a woman (Marilyn Monroe) on the side.

In looking for a suitable photo of Calhern, I found a French Poster for The Asphalt Jungle, which interestingly has the title Quand la ville dort, which translates to While the City Sleeps. My immediate thought was, "Wasn't While the City Sleeps the name of a famous movie?" It turns out, of course, that there is a movie called While the City Sleeps, but it wasn't made until 1956, several years after The Asphalt Jungle would have been released in France.

Friday, February 18, 2011

More on My Sister Eileen

I did a brief one-paragraph post on the movie My Sister Eileen back in July 2008 when it aired as part of Rosalind Russell's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. It's airing again today at 3:15 PM ET on TCM, and most of what I said about the movie back then still stands. The movie is apparently available on DVD as part of a box set of Columbia comedies, although I'm not certain if i's in print still.

A few things about My Sister Eileen that I didn't mention back in 2008: First, it was remade in the mid-1950s as a musical. Eileen is played in the remake by then-new Columbia star Janet Leigh, while Ruth is played by Betty Garrett, whom I just mentioned yesterday in On the Town and who just passed away recently.

The characters are based on real life; specifically, a life that ended tragically for the title character. Eileen (actual last name McKenney) was the wife of novelist and sometime screenwriter Nathaniel West (writer of the original novel Miss Lonelyhearts), and when they learned of the death of fellow novelist/screenwriter F. Scott Fitzgerald, they rushed to Los Angeles for the funeral, dying in a car accident along the way. Eileen's death was also shortly before the original Broadway play on which the movie was based was to premiere.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Comden and Green and James A. FitzPatrick

Five Star Final isn't airing in a double bill with His Girl Friday, as I mentioned in my previous post. Instead, the movie that's following it is On the Town, at 11:45 AM ET tomorrow.

There's not much of a plot. Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin play three Navy sailors whose boat docks in New York City, giving them 24 hours of leave. The three are determined to see as much of the city as possible in those 24 hours. Along the way, they meet three nice young ladies (Ann Miller, Vera-Ellen, and Betty Garrett), who accompany them on the rest of the day, on what comes across less as a movie with a story and more a James FitzPatrick Traveltalks turned into a musical.

It's based on a Broadway musical by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, although there's really only the one memorable song:
New York, New York
It's a hell of a town
The Bronx is up
And the Battery down

Instead, this is one that should be watched for its dance sequences. Gene Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen, but had creative control over the dances, which, being Gene Kelly, are good as always. That, and the fact that MGM did a surprising amount of location shooting, now that World War II was over and location shooting was easier. One other note is that Betty Garrett, who is nominally the love interest of the Sinatra character, died over the weekend at the age of 91.

Another set of repeats

I am pleased to see that Chariots of Fire is finally showing up on TCM, tonight at 10:00 PM ET. For all the complaining about TCM showing "recent" movies, first, Chariots of Fire is almost 30 years old, and secondly, it doesn't seem to get aired very often on TV. I don't think it's been on TCM for at least the last five years, if it's ever been on TCM. I think I might have seen it show up some time back on one of the commercial channels like Bravo, but on those channels, the movies are invariably panned-and-scanned and cut up for commercials. Chariots of Fire is a movie that deserves the sort of presentation that TCM can give, and not many other channels outside of the higher premium levels.

I've made a few brief mentions of Five Star Final over the years; it's airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. To be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing a double bill of Five Star Final with the 1931 version of His Girl Friday, both of which were nominated for the Best Picture of 1931. However, that version of His Girl Friday was released by United Artists, so I don't know how difficult it would be for TCM to get the rights to it again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Technical questions

I'm curious to know if anybody else watched Monday morning's TCM showing of Flirtation Walk. I hadn't seen the movie before, and noticed there were several points of the movie where it looked as though there were problems either with their digital transfer, or with sending the signal to people's cable/satellite boxes. The picture wasn't pixellated, and it wasn't exactly in slow motion; instead, it was more like the old cartoon trope of a character about to flee, in that the character sort of stretches before suddenly leaving. I've got DirecTV, and don't know if this was an issue at TCM's end, or in sending the signal from Atlanta to DirecTV's headquarters (in which case the problem would probably have been noticed by users of other satellite and cable servers), or from DirecTV's sending the signal from their end to their own satellite, or in my satellite box. I've noticed the problem from time to time on TCM, but not very often.

Second, I watched the beginning of Mon Oncle yesterday at lunch. I was surprised to see TCM run the "TV 14" rating card before the movie, as I don't remember anything that would warrant a TV 14 rating. I figured it was just a mistake, but was even more surprised to see that TCM's schedule lists Mon Oncle as having a TV 14 rating. Now, I know that different channels have some latitude in determining what rating to give a program, but even if TCM is more conservative in deciding what's suitable for young people, giving Mon Oncle a TV 14 rating seems a bit extreme.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It seems as though I have never done a full-length blog posting on The Life of Émile Zola before. It's airing again tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM ET.

Paul Muni plays the 19th century French writer Émile Zola, who came to prominence during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, but really became a success during the Third Republic with the controversial novel Nana challenging the middle-class sensibilities of the day. This was to put him squarely at odds with the establishment, although the book was wildly successful and Zola became a relatively wealthy man as a result. Zola continues his writing, but things change when the Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut) is brought up on trumped-up court-martial charges simply because he's Jewish. Zola at first doesn't do anything about it, but Mme. Dreyfus (Gale Sondergaard) is insistent that somebody help her get her husband out of Devil's Island.

Seeing just how rampant anti-Semitism is in the French establishment, and how clear it is that Dreyfus has been railroaded, Zola writes the famous tract J'accuse!, in which he puts French prejudice on display for all to see. If he was in trouble with the establishment before, now he really is; Zola is forced into exile in England in order to publish J'accuse! and eventually faces a libel suit back in France where the establishment is perfectly willing ot perjure themselves in order not to be found guilty.

But of course, the facts are more or less well-known. When judging a biopic, one has to look at the performances and the production values. The Life of Émile Zola was made at Warner Bros. in 1937, and while the movie doesn't have the glitz that MGM would have been able to give it, it's still a very-well made movie, thanks in no small part to the performance of Paul Muni. That, and Warners' continued willingness to tackle social issues in the 1930s. The movie does take some liberties with history, putting events closer together than they actually occurred, but the liberties aren't quite as bad as many biopics take.

The Life of Émile Zola has made it to DVD in several editions.

Monday, February 14, 2011

French World War II movies

Well, French movies about the war and the Nazi occupation; obviously, they couldn't make movies on that topic during the war since somebody would have had a problem with it. TCM, as part of its 31 Days of Oscar, has been airing some of the movies nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar on Tuesdays. This week, that includes a couple of movies that I haven't seen in a while:

Au Revoir, Les Enfants at 6:30 AM ET, in which the young students at a French Catholic boarding school welcome a new student, who happens to be a Jew taken in in order to keep the Nazis from finding him. It's been a while since I've seen the movie, but as I remember it, it's actually a semiautobiographical movie about director Louis Malle's experience during the war.

That's followed at 8:15 AM by The Last Metro, in which Catherine Deneuve plays an actress who hides her Jewish husband in the basement of the theater where they work. It's been even longer since I've seen this one than since I've seen Au Revoir, Les Enfants, so if I tried to do a full-length post on the subject, I'd probably get a lot of the details wrong.

Note also that Au Revoir, Les Enfants is listed as a 105-minute film, being fit into a time slot that's exactly one and three-quarters hours long, so if you only want to record that one, you might want to record a few minutes beyond the end of the time slot.

I also wish that they could show Kapo, although it deals with a different aspect of the war.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Have I mentioned how much I hate Going My Way?

Actually, I have, when discussing several movies that were more worthy of winning Oscars that year. At any rate, Going My Way, Oscar's Best Picture of 1944, is airing tonight at 10:00 PM ET, so you can judge for yourself.

Bing Crosby plays a singing priest who revives a failing parish with the help of drunk kiddie-fiddler Barry Fitzgerald, spreading large amounts of treacle along the way. The one thing the movie has going for it is no Margaret O'Brien. Unfortunately, the movie is obnoxiously and unrealistically optimistic and perky, like some of those Doris Day movies. It also engages in all those irritating tropes about Irish-Americans as jolly people given to song. But, as I always say with movies I don't like, you should make up your own mind about the movie. It's also been released to DVD, so you don't have to stay up for tonight's TCM showing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Meanwhile, over on Fox

The Fox Movie Channel actually is trying to come up with some better programming themes. Valentine's Day is on Monday, and FMC has responded to that by programming a weekend of "love stories", if you will, looking at differnt aspects of love. Saturday's schedule looks at love with people in trouble, so I don't know that I would necessarily consider programming all of the movies as part of a Valentine's Day theme. FMC already showed Niagara, a movie that I quite like even if it isn't romantic. Perhaps even odder is the selection of Less Than Zero tonight at 8:00 PM, which could only be considered a love story if you look at the two sober folks as co-dependents to Robert Downey, Jr.

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1939

I may have mentioned once before that in this year's 31 Days of Oscar, TCM is showing Best Picture nominees every evening, and showcasing an actual Best Picture winner at 10:00 PM ET. This weekend, TCM is going one step further, by showing all ten of the Best Picture nominees from 1939 back-to-back, starting with Dark Victory at 8:15 AM this morning. It's mildly surprising for a few reasons. First, The Wizard of Oz is one of the nominees, getting the 8:00 PM time slot. TCM shouldn't have too much difficulty getting the movie, but it seems as though The Wizard of Oz normally only airs around the Fourth of July holiday. Why that should be a tradition, I don't know. But it doesn't seem to show up all that often the rest of the year. Second is that Gone With the Wind gets the 10:00 PM slot. It seems that almost every time Gone With the Wind airs, it gets the 8:00 PM slot, since it's a four-hour movie.

Third, I don't think Fox had any of the Best Picture nominees. That's mildly surprising; you might think that something like The Story of Alexander Graham Bell or Drums Along the Mohawk might be better than, say, Love Affair. The lack of a Paramount movie might be a bit more surprising, but looking through the list of 1939 movies, I'm more surprised at how few movies Paramount released in 1939. Even Hal Roach Studios got a Best Picture nominee with Of Mice and Men.

Less surprising is that the Best Picture nominees of 1939 will probably be remembered long after most of the Best Picture nominees of the past few years.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Oh, Pioneers

Today marks the birth anniversary of Thomas Edison, who was born on this date in 1847. Edison may not have been the first moviemaker, but he was certainly one of the pioneers, and apparently made the earliest surviving copyrighted picture:

Now, since the movie was bade back in 1894, it's in the public domain, and if you go to the page that has the above video (or if the embedded video above doesn't show up), you'll see that a lot of the Edison shorts have made their way onto YouTube. Or, I suppose, you could watch Mickey Rooney as Young Tom Edison or Spencer Tracy is Edison, The Man. Why MGM decided to make two Edison biopics in the same year is beyond me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dorian Gray

I'm somewhat surprised to see that I haven't blogged about The Picture of Dorian Gray before. It's airing overnight at 2:00 AM ET on TCM.

I think one of the reasons I haven't blogged about it before is the fact that it's a cinematic adaptation of a fairly well-known literary work: you're all likely to know the story already. Hurd Hatfield plays Dorian Gray, the Victorian-era playboy who has a portrait of himself made, and discovers that he can remain eternally young and keep acting the playboy, while the portrait takes on the appearance of all the sin he's committing. Along the way, though, it costs him some of his friends and threatens to get him into legal trouble. At the end, of course, there's no way Dorian Gray is going to be able to escape his past, either.

Still, this version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, made with all the glitz that MGM had on offer, is a well-made movie. Hatfield is good to look at; he has a series of lovely girlfriends (notably Angela Lansbury and Donna Reed), and George Sanders gets to deliver all of the good cynical lines that Oscar Wilde wrote in the original novel. The black-and-white cinematography won an Oscar, while there's also a memorable Technicolor shot of the actual portrait, showing just how much sin Dorian has committed.

If you don't feel like staying up until 2;00 AM, you'll be happy to know that The Picture of Dorian Gray has gotten a DVD release. It's well worth watching.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Run, don't walk

Having pointed out a movie that I haven't recommended before, but also haven't seen, I should recommend one I haven't blogged about before, but have seen. That would be Some Came Running, airing overnight tonight at 2:30 AM ET on TCM.

Frank Sinatra stars as Dave Hirsh, a sometime Army man and writer who's through with both, but at least has enough money to live for a while and go back to his home town in Indiana. With him is a manuscript that's really not worth publishing, and the woman who followed him from Chicago, a loose woman named Ginnie (Shirley MacLaine) who has things that she too wants to get away from. We quickly learn that Indiana isn't such a good place for Dave. He left in part to get away from his family, who have become pillars of the community while Dave is more of the black sheep. Now head of the family is Dave's older brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), the proprietor of a jewelery story who is secretly having an affair.

Everybody's past and secrets are about to catch up with them, however. Dave meets the daughter of a local college English professor, and begins to have a relationship with her while she and the father go over the manuscript. Dave meets a gambler, Barna (Dean Martin), who falls in love with Ginnie, but falls ill as a result of his dissolute life. Frank would like Dave out of town, but can't let on too much, or he'll lose face in front of the rest of town. Eventually, Ginnie's past comes back, in the form of the man she jilted in Chicago....

Some Came Running is a movie with nice visuals, having been filmed on location in a small town in southern Indiana. But the story is worthy of one of those 1950s soap opera movies, and is a story that doesn't really go anywhere. It's like the old joke about take-out Chinese food; to wit, it fills you up at the time (thanks to the cinematography and good acting) but leaves you hungry an hour later (thanks to the substandard story which makes it a bit tough to care about the individuals). However, as with all the movies for which I don't necessarily care, it's one that you should watch and judge for yourself.

Although it's airing overnight, you don't have to worry about catching tonight's TCM airing, as Some Came Running has gotten a DVD release.

Another first for me

Would you believe I have yet to see Come Back, Little Sheba? It's airing at 8:00 PM ET this evening on TCM. Not having seen it, I can't really do a full-length post on the movie. It's sandwiched between a pair of movies I have recommended, though: Walter Matthau winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in The Fortune Cookie at 5:30 PM; and Cavalcade at 10:00 PM.

One of the nice things about the airings of Come Back, Little Sheba and Cavalcade is that TCM seems to be continuing to have more luck getting movies that aren't part of the old Turner library. Cavalcade is one of the increasing number of Fox films to reach TCM, while Come Back, Little Sheba was made at Paramount after the movies from the Paramount library that were sold off to MCA, so I would assume that TCM actually had to negotiate with Paramount/Viacom or wheterver the conglomerate is called these days, and not Comcast/Universal. I think both movies are TCM premieres, too.

Also, Cavalcade seems finally to have gotten a DVD release, albeit only as part of a massive box set.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Madelon Claudet

I've briefly mentioned the movie The Sin of Madelon Claudet a couple of times in the past, as it's one of the many movies Hollywood made that's similar to the Madame X story. The Sin of Madelon Claudet airs overnight tonight at 2:30 AM.

Helen Hayes wins the Oscar for her performance of the mother who gives birth to a child out of wedlock when the baby's father doesn't want to get married to her. Mother goes through all sorts of degradations to try to provide for her son: in this case prostitution and being an accessory to larceny. (The larceny is committed by Lewis Stone, who would later play Judge Hardy.) Fast forward a bunch of years, and son meets mother (this time in World War I), not knowing that the woman he's met is in fact Mother. Son (Robert Young) is a doctor, and has been put through medical school thanks to her prostitution....

If the movie sounds creaky and trite, that's because in many ways it is. And yet, it's got an appealing quality about it, watching all of these names you've seen a dozen times before if you're a regular reader of the blog. And to be fair, since this was one of the earlier movie versions of the Madame X story, it's not as trite as a movie like To Each His Own fifteen years later. The Sin of Madelon Claudet hasn't been released to DVD yet as far as I can tell, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Super Bowl and classic movies

Well, not quite. I'm a Packers fan, and so naturally excited over their victory last night. I couldn't sleep, so it will probably take another day or two for sensible posting to resume. However, I noticed several commercials for summer blockbuster movies aired during this year's Super Bowl. Once again, 3D is the rage as it has been for a year or two and was for a few years back in the 50s. I for one wouldn't mind seeing that rage end, which brings me up to my next point. The movies being advertised last night looked to me to be more about the special effects than about the plot, a point that I mentioned way back when when I blogged about Village of the Damned. There's a movie with limited and not very good effects, that's made great by a disturbing and thought-provoking story. I should probably make an exception for the modern-day animation (I think the movie in question was Kung Fu Panda 2), which does look quite good and shouldn't have any bearing on whether the movie has a better story than animated movies of the past. That having been said, the commercial didn't make me want to see Kung Fu Panda 2: didn't they use Matrix-style camera angles for the kung fu kicks?

Third, can we get real color in today's movies? All of the footage in the trailers seemed to be dominated by blues, grays, and browns. About the only red and orange is in the explosions. I just mentioned The Garden Of Allah again the other day, and if you look at the photos, that has gorgeous color, as do a lot of the Technicolor movies from the following 15 years.

I won't criticize the lack of originality in today's movies taking plots from comic books or being part of a series of movies (did I see an ad for 5 Fast 5 Furious?). I've said in various places that Hollywood has never been original. Every time somebody whines about Hollywood's lack of originality, I like to argue that Ricardo Cortez was the ultimate Sam Spade.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tura Satana has died

Tura Satana, who played Varla, the leader of the group of go-go dancers in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, has died. Various sources place her age as either 72 or 75.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of hte great cult films of the 1960s, about three nightclub dancers who get in their sportscar and, in the scrubland of California, find a wheelchair-bound farmer and his two sons. Rumor has it that the farmer has a stash of money somewhere on the land, and the ladies decide that they want it! And they'll use their sexuality to get it! You might think that, because the movie is really designed to show off the women's assets, that there's not much to it. But it's really a better movie than its cult status might lead you to believe. That cult status ensured it a DVD release, but the release it got is apparently an overpriced one.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Schedule change

I usually download the TCM monthly schedule around a week before the new month begins. One of the benefits of waiting is that there aren't too many schedule changes, apart from when stars die and TCM has to pre-empt programming to do a tribute. However, about a week back, I saw somebody on the TCM message boards saying the monthly (and daily) schedule had One Hundred Men and a Girl on the schedule for February 5 at 3:00 PM ET, but that their box guide said TCM was actually showing One Hour With You. It turns out that, for whatever reason, TCM had to make a last-minute schedule change. They've aired One Hundred Men and a Girl before, but it's a Universal movie, and for whatever reason TCM doesn't seem to be able to get the 1930s movies that were actually made by Universal.

What's odd about this is that Universal bought out MCA, which had obtained the TV rights to the Paramount talkies (up to 1949) back in the 1950s, in the days when Hollywood studios needed money and didn't really think that TV rights would amount to much. And TCM has been relatively able to get the rights to those movies in recent months, even though they're owned by the same corporate entity that owns the movies which were made at the actual Universal Studios back in the day. Indeed, One Hour With You is one of those Paramount movies.

Unfortunately, One Hour With You is another Paramount musical with Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. I slogged my way through The Love Parade the other night, and it wasn't my thing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Richard Boleslawski, 1889-1937

Today marks the birth anniversary of 1930s director Richard Boleslawski, who directed about 20 movies in Hollywood before his untimely death from a massive heart attack a month before his 48th birthday. I'm not certain which of his films should be considered his best-known. I think the only one I've got pictures from is The Garden of Allah, from which the picture of Marlene Dietrich at left is taken. It's one of his last works, and the apocryphal story is that the difficulties of outdoor shooting in the desert led to his early death. Of the two movies he made afterwards, I've recommended Theodora Goes Wild, but not The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, a society crime movie starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. Maybe the most famous of his pictures is the original version of Three Godfathers, about three outlaws who find an orphaned baby and debate whether to return it to civilization, which means their death, or to save themselves and let the baby die. The movie was remade in the late 1940s with John Wayne as a star.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The movies of 1930

I'm sorry to say that today is just going to be a lazy list post: that snow storm that his large portions of the Midwest dropped some snow on the Catskills. Not as much, but enough to have to shovel and shovel two straight mornings, plus just enough freezing rain on top of the second storm to make the snow an absolute pain to shovel. I suppose I'll have to dig out the list post I've done on snowstorms. As for real movies, I watched Five Easy Pieces last night for the first time, and found it overrated. Tonight's movies are more promising, although I've blogged about a couple of them before.

The night kicks off with The Love Parade at 8:00 PM, which sounds fun (I haven't seen it before) except for the musical part of it. That's followed at 10:00 PM by
All Quiet on the Western Front, the Oscar-winning adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel. It's quite good, and well worth watching.
The Big House at 12:30 AM; as you can see, I've already blogged about it.
Surprisingly, I have yet to blog about The Divorcee, which won Norma Shearer her Oscar. It, like The Big House, has Robert Montgomery in a supporting role; it's airing at 2:00 AM.
The final early talkie of the night is Disraeli at 3:30 AM, which aired almost exactly one year ago as part of last year's 31 Days of Oscar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dear Montgomery

Today's recommended movie on TCM is the interesting and slightly odd Lonelyhearts, at 4:30 PM ET.

Montgomery Clift plays Adam White, a young man trying to restart his career in the world of journalism. The only editor who will give him a job is William Shrike (Robert Ryan), who's got a mean streak a mile wide, and a loveless marriage to a wife (Myrna Loy) who has decided she'd rather spend her days getting drunk on Cinzano. Shrike's sadistic side leads him to give Adam that job -- but only as the "Miss Lonelyhearts"-style advice columnist!

Montgomery Clift was never a Dear Abby, but still, after a while he takes to his job conscientiously, trying to give the best advice he knows how to the poor saps who write in to the newspaper. Things, however, take a turn when he rather stupidly decides to meet one of the people who's actually written him, a housewife named Fay Doyle (Maureen Stapleton). Like the boss' wife, Mrs. Doyle feels trapped in a crappy marriage and reaches out to poor Adam for love, despite the fact that he's already got a girlfriend (Dolores Hart). Worse, she's got a husband whose jealousy is matched only by our editor's malice! What's a poor advice columnist to do? (Perhaps he should try writing in to the advice column for help.)

Lonelyhearts isn't the greatest movie out there by any stretch of the imagination, but it's enjoyable enough as all of the actors are really professionals. You can't help but think most of them had seen their characters several times in the past: Ryan's meanness in Crossfire; Loy in Wife vs. Secretary; and Clift's brooding in A Place in the Sun. Only Stapleton, making her movie debut, is fresh, and she got a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work.

Lonelyhearts has never made it to DVD as far as I'm aware, so you're going to have to catch the infrequent TCM showing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Henry VIII

TCM began its annual 31 Days of Oscar programming this morning with a bunch of films directed by W.S. Van Dyke, most of which I've already seen, and blogged about. The theme for tonight, however, is movies about England's King Henry VIII and the controversy surrounding his many wives. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM ET with Charles Laughton playing the King in The Private Life of Henry VIII.

That's followed at 10:00 PM by A Man For All Seasons, which has the recently deceased Susannah York in the cast; about the only tribute she's going to get from TCM since she died too close to the start of 31 Days of Oscar for TCM to do a proper night of programming.

I haven't recommended the third film, Anne of the Thousand Days before; that's because I haven't actually seen it. It's airing at 12:15 AM.