I suppose that the title of this post really ought to refer to the way old movies would use made-up newspaper front pages to show a headline that oh-so-conveniently advances the plot. Either that, or a post about movies involving the newspaper business, of which there were a lot during the studio era. (His Girl Friday might be my favorite among them, but that's a topic for another post.) No, not having much to blog about right now, I find myself thinking about classic films that would go well with events in the news. And thankfully, it's not the obituary page.
One of the most wanted generals from the Bosnian civil war, Ratko Mladić, was captured recently. If he had made his way to the west, the obvious film to select would be Orson Welles' The Stranger. He'll get put on trial at the international court in the Netherlands, for which the obvious film analogy is Judgment at Nuremburg.
Yesterday saw the coach of one of the top college football programs resign amidst a slew of corruption allegations that the players were basically receiving in-kind payments. My first thought: John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way, although there are a lot of movies dealing with the corruptitude of college football.
Late last week, the Supreme Court ordered California to deal with its overcrowded prisons. One thing in watching old prison movies is that the cells almost always have two, if not three men in each cell, with the exception of the women's prison movies that have women in the cells. Caged doesn't seem to have cells, but barracks-style prison rooms that hold a few dozen women each. More interesting is that in large part the prisoners sardined into these cells always seem to get along surprisingly well, at least until one of the important characters violates the criminal code.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I suppose that the title of this post really ought to refer to the way old movies would use made-up newspaper front pages to show a headline that oh-so-conveniently advances the plot. Either that, or a post about movies involving the newspaper business, of which there were a lot during the studio era. (His Girl Friday might be my favorite among them, but that's a topic for another post.) No, not having much to blog about right now, I find myself thinking about classic films that would go well with events in the news. And thankfully, it's not the obituary page.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:25 AM
Monday, May 30, 2011
Irving Thalberg (r.) with wife Norma Shearer
Today marks the birth anniversary of one of the more important behind the scenes figures in Hollywood history, MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg started his career at Universal before going to MGM and becoming the chief of production there who seemed to have a knack for what the people wanted. One example (I think taken from TCM's documentary Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood) is that it was Thalberg who had the idea of having Wallace Beery die at the end of The Champ.
A good recounting of MGM's founding in a merger can be found at thefilmstage.com, including a photo of Thalberg not only with Shearer, but Louis B. Mayer as well. As is fairly well known, Thalberg was sickly from youth and had a heart problem which is what ultimately caused his untimely death at the age of 37. Thalberg was known for not having his name put in the credits of the movies he produced. It was only when Thalberg died that MGM dedicated his last film, The Good Earth, to his memory.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:16 AM
Sunday, May 29, 2011
TCM is continuing its Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports features during the Memorial Day weekend. The Import is a Polish movie about World War II, which I haven't seen before. As for the silent, it's obviously not about World War II, since they stopped making silents before that. It's mostly not about war; just a brief military adventure: Tell It to the Marines, airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM.
William Haines plays Skeet Burns, a man from the east who shows up in San Diego looking to get to Mexico, although he winds up in the Marines at Camp Pendleton. Skeet is a brash know-it-all type, which doesn't endear him to his commanding officer, Sgt. O'Hara (Lon Chaney). Making matters worse is the fact that Pvt. Burns falls in love with the unit's nurse, Norma (Eleanor Dale). In and of itself, that wouldn't be so bad, except that Norma is also being pursued by the good sergeant, who, having been there longer, has obviously been going after Norma for quite a bit longer. Eventually the Marines get sent off to China to look after the US diplomatic mission there, and wind up as part of a minor civil war, where Pvt. Burns gets a chance to make a hero out of himself....
Tell It to the Marines is a fairly nice silent comedy, with its one big flaw being that it's typical. William Haines was consistently playing the same type of character: somebody who thinks he's smarter than everybody else, who makes the lives of the people around him a mess because of it, but in the last reel gets the chance to save the day and become the hero. Indeed, Haines would go on to make two similar movies set in other branches of the military; West Point and Navy Blues. The details may change, but the formula stays the same. To be fair, that's in no small part because it was a winning formula. It's something that translates easily to the screen, and was as a result quite popular back in its day. It still translates fairly well 85 years later. William Haines may not be remembered the way that the more slapstick comedians of the silent era are, but he presented a pleasant, likeable acting that deserves to be seen even to this day. Lon Chaney, using his own face instead of being the "Man of 1,000 Faces", is also a treat to watch. Sadly, Tell It to the Marines doesn't seem to be on DVD.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Did anybody else watch Esther Williams in The Unguarded Moment on Thursday night? It seemed to me as though there was something wrong with the print; the color looked partially washed out. I was also wondering whether or not it was partially panned-and-scanned from a Cinemascope-style aspect rating to fit in the new TV standard of 16:9, but the movie was actually filmed in a roughly 5:3 aspect, and based on the placement of the TCM bug in the bottom right corner of the screen, the picture did appear to be 5:3. The Unguarded Moment is one I wish I could have liveblogged, as it's a riot. Unfortunately, it's not on DVD and I don't know when TCM will get the rights to it again, since it's from Universal International (at least, as the studio was known in the 50s). I'd guess TCM got the rights to it in exchange for the ads they run for the Audie Murphy collection.
I've recommended From Here to Eternity on a number of occasions, but it's airing again tomorrow at 8:30 AM, and is always worth watching. However, I don't think I'll be watching it, largely because I'm interested in a movie over on the Fox Movie Channel that I haven't seen before; Seven Cities of Gold (9:30 AM) about Junipero Serra, the founder of a bunch of missions in 18th century California.
One of these days I'll have to do a full-length blog posting of some of the other movies that are airing on TCM tomorrow, such as All Quiet on the Western Front at 10:45 AM, or Sergeant York at 1:00 PM.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 12:57 PM
Friday, May 27, 2011
TCM is beginning its annual Memorial Day lineup of war movies around noon today. The prime time lineup for the first night of the weekend is based around submarine movies, with the first being Run Silent, Run Deep, at 8:00 PM ET.
Clark Gable stars as Commander Richardson, a man who's starting the movie at a desk job. That's because he lost his last submarine to the Japaneseat the beginning of World War II. But one of the submarines in the fleet is up for a new commander. Burt Lancaster plays Lt. Bledsoe, the ship's first officer, who believes that having been in such a position for a while, is due ot get a promotion. But no, there wouldn't be a movie if that happened. You know that Richardson is going to be sent back to sea, and that this is going to be one of the causes of conflict between the two men.
Once Richardson takes command and is given his orders, you can probably guess what the other source of conflict is. Bledsoe believes that Richardson is less intent on carrying out the orders he's been given, and more interested in getting the one specific Japanese sub that got his last command. And Richardson isn't acting to inspire any confidence in Bledsoe. Still, Bledsoe has to follow orders. (Apparently, he's seen The Caine Mutiny, which came out a few years before this one.) Most of the rest of the crew, who have known Bledsoe much longer than Richardson, would side with Bledsoe, but will they get that chance? Thankfully, a Japanese sub comes along, forcing them all into collective action.
The one big problem that Run Silent, Run Deep has is that it really comes across as formulaic. We've seen the plot elements before, taken straight from movies like Twelve O'Clock High (the Gable character is much like Gregory Peck's character in the earlier movie), or The Caine Mutiny minus the strawberries. Still, Run Silent, Run Deep is a pretty good movie, with top-notch performances from the two leads, and a nice supporting cast. Jack Warden plays the man who got assigned to the sub along with Cmdr. Richardson and is his one friend on the ship. Brad Dexter plays one of the confidants of Bledsoe. And Don Rickles, of all people, gets a turn in a dramatic movie as the sub's quartermaster. The movie was filmed in part on a submarine, making the sequences more authentic and more claustrophobic, which is a big plus. The tension is quite palpable.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
For this last night of Esther Williams' turn as TCM's Star of the Month, TCM is showing some of the movies Williams made in which she doesn't have any elaborate musical numbers in the water. This includes one later role; two early movies with supporting roles; and one movie in which she gets second billing just before she started making all those water movies: The Hoodlum Saint, airing overnight at 2:00 AM ET. It's a strange movie in a whole lot of ways, not least for Williams' part in it. But more on that later.
The movie was made in 1946, just after the end of World War II, but the movie is about a veteran returning from World War I, a journalist named Terry O'Neill (played by a quinquagenarian William Powell). In theory, soldiers were supposed to get their old jobs back, but many of them wanted new horizons, and the home front had changed too, and O'Neill finds it difficult to get work. This is until he meets socialite Kay Lorrison (Williams) at a wedding, and she helps him get a job at another newspaper. O'Neill works on exposés of the world of high finance, but to be honest, he was always more comfortable working the crime beat, and when he sees the financiers making money hand over fist, he figures he can too.
O'Neill wants to look respectable, though, and when he's apparently been helped by the intercession of one "St. Dismas", the patron saint of thieves, he decides to build a shrine to them and a charity, which enables him to mix in both the high-class world, and the world of crime and dark nightclubs, which is where he meets singer Dusty Millard (Angela Lansbury). She loves him, but he's not too sure. O'Neill continues to make money, but you know the crash of October 1929 is coming up....
The Hoodlum Saint is one of those movies I watched once years ago, found a bit odd and not quite up to snuff, and haven't stopped to watch any of the other times since that TCM has shown it. For all its odd casting and dated feel, it's well worth at least one viewing. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive Collection.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
TCM is honoring Rosalind Russell's birthday with several of her films today.... Wait a second; today isn't Russell's birthday. Every source I can find has Russell listed as having been born on June 4, 1907. Now this year, June 4 is going to fall on a Saturday, and for whatever reason, TCM doesn't normally do any birthday salutes on the weekend. But it still seems odd to honor Russell ten days before her birthday.
That having been said, today is one of those days when it looks as though TCM doesn't have any good candidates for a birthday to mark. Perhaps the most famous is Jeanne Crain, and as you can see I already did the lazy birthday post for her last year. Crain did a lot of her work at Fox, so TCM doesn't have easy access to those movies. TCM is putting the spotlight on director Archie Mayo tonight in prime time, but TCM's prime time salutes generally aren't birthday salutes either. (That having been said, I am looking forward to some of the Mayo pictures tonight.)
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:18 AM
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I find some of the teen movies from the 1950s so interesting just because they seem so warped, as if there was never this sort of reality. The adults may have thought this was reality, but I have a tough time believing it, in part because I don't remember high school being like this for me or any of my friends. A good example of this is Blue Denim, which is airing tomorrow at 1:00 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.
Brandon de Wilde stars as Arthur, a teenager whom nobody in his family understands. His father, a strict army veteran played by Macdonald Carey, complains about Arthur's grades and just to show how little he understands his son, took the elderly family dog to the vet to have it put to sleep without taking the son. Arthur's sister is getting married, so she and mom have no time for him. It seems as if the only person who does have time for Arthur is his not-so-good-influence friend Ernie, played by Warren Berlinger (in real life five years de Wilde's senior). He drinks, smokes, and gambles with Arthur, and seems to know a bit more about the world.
And then there's Janet, Arthur's girlfriend, played by the lovely Carol Lynley. The two want to be oh-so-adult, and to them this means experimenting with sex. In some ways, they seem not to know the finer points about how to satisfy a partner. But they certainly know how to get a girl knocked up, as we eventually learn that Janet is pregnant. Oops. What's a teenage boy to do, especially one who thinks nobody understands him? Well, Ernie heard that there's somebody on the other side of town who knows where you can get a procedure that will deal with these things. This being the 1950s, they can't say the word "abortion" in a Hollywood movie, but you get the point.
Blue Denim alternates between being an unintenional hoot, and tedious beyond belief. Brandon de Wilde isn't as bad as Julie Harris in Member of the Wedding, and Berlinger is generally just a jerk. Lynley is lovely to look at, and all of the adults are one-dimensional. It's the sort of thing that you might have seen on one of those "After School Specials" that the networks ran back in the 1970s and 1980s. Watch it once just for a laugh, but that's about it.
Monday, May 23, 2011
TCM is saluting director Roy Del Ruth tonight with several of his movies. One of those is Stop, You're Killing Me, which is airing at 1:30 AM. TCM's one-sentence synopsis sounds familiar:
The surprise appearance of four corpses interferes with a beer baron's plans to crash high society.
To be honest, I haven't seen Stop, You're Killing Me before, but when I saw the synopsis, I thought to myself that it sounds a lot like the plot of A Slight Case of Murder, and sure enough, IMDb agrees with me. Broderick Crawford plays the Edward G. Robinson part, while Claire Trevor is his wife.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 1:06 PM
The Fox Movie Channel is running a new series on Monday nights called Unvaulted which, like the Fox Legacy series, brings some older movies to the screen, although this time withough any introduction from a Tom Rothman type. Just before The Incident on Saturday, FMC ran a promo pointing out that this week's selection would be the Sean Connery science-fiction cult movie Zardoz, airing at 8:00 PM and 10:00 PM. Indeed, their web-site mentiones the same thing, and says that Zardoz will be airing a third time, at 2:00 AM.
That third airing seems a bit odd, but then FMC has some odd programming choices. However, both my satellite box guide, and some of the online listing services I've checked tell a different story. They're saying that this week's "unveiled" movie will be the equally deserving Pickup on South Street, at 8:00 PM and 9:30 PM, followed by Zardoz at 11:00 PM. (It should be pointed out that the set-top box guides and the online TV listings services get their info from the same few souces, so it wouldn't be surprising that a lot of places disagree with FMC's website.) FMC's website is saying that Pickup on South Street will be airing later this week, on Thursday morning I think.
I have a feeling that it's going to be Zardoz as at least one listings site also mentoins it, but don't bank on that. Besides, FMC could just as easily have gotten the promo wrong. In the past few weeks alone TCM has run the wrong promo for an upcoming Essential (the promo for Cat People was run a week early), and had a piece for a movie with Star of the Month Esther Williams mentioning that the movie in question would air in prime time Friday, not Thursday.
So it turns out that last night's "Unvaulted" movie on the Fox Movie Channel was in fact Zardoz, and not Pickup on South Street. At least it's good to know whether I should trust the FMC website or the box guide listings.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
It's generally said that Henry Fonda didn't particularly like many of the movies that Darryl F. Zanuck put him in when he was a contract player at Fox. To be fair to Zanuck, the movies aren't particularly bad films, but in Fonda's defense, the movies aren't particularly substantial, the big roles generally going to Tyrone Power or Don Ameche. A good example of the light entertainment in which Fonda was repeatedly cast is Chad Hanna, airing tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.
Fonda plays the title character, who starts the movie as a stable hand for an inn in central New York state in the 1840s. The circus comes to town, and Chad wants to get closer to lovely bareback rider Albany Yates (Dorothy Lamour). But he needs money for an entrance ticket, and the only way to do that is to get the $5 reward a local slave tracker is offering for information about a runaway slave. Chad takes the money but lets the slave know what's about to happen, allowing the slave to escape. This means that the tracker is going to go after Chad, and Chad has to make a quick getaway by joining the circus.
Chad quickly becomes a valued employee of the circus, run by the Huguenines (Guy Kibbee and Jane Darwell). In fact, when Mr. Huguenine falls ill, he askes Chad to take over the role of ringmaster for a time. The circus isn't an easy life, however, as there are lots of travelling circuses which have a cutthroat attitude toward each other, which happens when a rival lures away Albany with a bigger payday. Fortunately, there's another woman to take over the bareback job: The slave tracker's daughter Caroline (played by Linda Darnell) had also run away when he blamed her for giving Chad the $5, and she ran off to escape her father's abusive nature. Despite the fact that Chad was really in love with Albany, he pretends to be in love with Caroline, eventually marrying her. Still circus life isn't so easy, as there are problems with the lion falling ill, and the rivals threatening to get an elephant, which would be a much bigger attraction than anything the Huguenines could get. Chad is able to come up with a plan that just might save the day....
By the end of Chad Hanna, you can see why Fonda didn't care too much for his work at Fox. It's a movie that kind of goes all over the place, leaving plot threads completely unravelled: you'd think the slave tracker would come back for his daughter and Chad, but he just disappears, for example. The love dilemma for Chad ends rather abruptly, too, and Lamour is underused in the second half of the film. And to be honest, the whole thing is a rather frivolous movie. But one shouldn't treat Chad Hanna too harshly. It's nice entertainment for one, and supporting actors -- especially Kibbee, but also fellow circus worker John Carradine -- do a good job. There's also love Technicolor photography. Fox seemed to take up Technicolor in earnest more quickly than the other studios, and Technicolor serves a period piece like this well.
Perhaps sometime Fox will release a box set of Fonda's movies at the studio, and at that point, Chad Hanna will get a DVD release. Until then, you'll have to watch a Fox Movie Channel showing.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
While TCM has its Essentials on Saturday nights (this week's feature is the already-recommended Cat People, the Fox Movie Channel has been running double features at 8:00 PM, and then rerunning both movies around midnight. This week's first film is The Fury
If you're looking for Spencer Tracy or Sylvia Sidney, you're out of luck; this is a completely different film from Fury. Kirk Douglas stars as Peter Sandza, who works for a secret US government agency dealing with psychics. One day while on vacation, his son Robin is kidnapped, and after some investigation he discovers that it's because his son apparently has great psychic powers, and there are nefarious dark forces led by renegade (or is he in cahoots with the government) Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) who want to use Robin's powers for their own evil ends. What's a father to do? The obvious answer is to find another teenaged psychic, who will work together with Peter to find out what happened to Peter's son. This Peter finds in the form of Gillian (Amy Irving), and we're more or less on our way through what is certain to be a stereotypically dangerous journey, trying to find the son while staying out of danger.
The one big problem with The Fury is that there are are so many stereotypes in the thriller genre, especially by the late 1970s, which are difficult not to fall into. There's the conspiracy theory crap; the constantly staying one step ahead of the bad guys; and the constant never knowing whom one can trust. The Fury plays off all of these in spades, leading up to a finale that at least is different, if only because the screenwriters had the plot device of psychic powers to use. With all that, the fact that the movie deals with psychic powers makes it worth watching. Not only for that finale, but for scenes earlier when Gillian is learning to develop those powers.
Please note that, due to the violence, The Fury is not a movie for everybody. (That's putting it mildly.)
Friday, May 20, 2011
TCM is showing a bunch of movies to honor James Stewart on his birthday today. I think I've recommended most of them before, with the possible exception of Bell, Book, and Candle at 5:45 PM. In looking for a particular clip to show here today, I discovered that unsurprisingly, even the folks that run the Oscars have their own Youtube channel. Among the clips there is one of Stewart receiving an honorary Oscar from Cary Grant. Unfortunately, the folks at the Academy have turned off embedding, so you'll have to click the link yourself.
As for the video I really wanted to post:
(OK, I know it's not really movie-related, but it's still worth watching. If you have trouble with the embedding, here's a direct link.)
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the masters of the horror genre in literature, but when it comes to biopics, he's been given short shrift. Fox produced the movie The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, which is airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.
Shepperd Strudwick (billed under the name John Shepperd) plays the writer, who grew up with foster parents (and a foster father who hated him), couldn't abide his father's strict upbringing, fell in love at the University of Virginia, was disowned by his foster father, and eventually married his country cousin; all this while becoming a famous writer who would die in poerty as an alcoholic. If this synopsis seems a bit breezy, that might be because the film version is also quite breezy, glossing over events and quickly running through Poe's life in about 70 minutes.
Poe could be the subject of an interesting biopic, but this isn't it. None of the characters are fleshed out very much, which is a bit of a shame since Fox actually used some of its bigger stars here. Linda Darnell plays the eventual wife; her mother is Jane Darwell. Virginia Gilmore, the later Mrs. Yul Brynner, plays the irst girl. But we don't really get to know any of these people well. If anything, The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe plays more like one of those films a teacher would show class back in the old days of my childhood when they actually had movie projectors in classes.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
For some reason, I thought I had written a full-length blog post on His Kind of Woman, which is airing at 12:30 PM Thursday on TCM. However, a search of the blog claims I only blogged briefly about it back in December 2009.
Robert Mitchum plays Dan, a gambler who's been lured to a Mexican resort with the promise of a big payday. What he doesn't realize is that the man behind the promise is Nick Ferraro, a notorious gangster who is living in exile because he can't get back into the United States. Ferraro has a devious scheme: he plans to use plastic surgery be given a face to look like Dan, and then steal Dan's identity to get back into the United States. Granted, that would also involve killing poor Dan, but who cares about some low-level gambler? He's just a minor detail.
Obviously, that's not a minor detail to Dan, who spends his time wandering aimlessly around the resort while he's trying to figure out what the real deal is. (I think the time is actually spent padding out the movie to a reasonable length.) Along the way Dan meets all the folks staying at the resort. This is a group reminiscent of the folks in M. Hulot's Holiday, including a love interest for him in the form of Lenore (Jane Russell), who is really after actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). The story, to be honest, is more of the popcorn variety in that it's nothing too deep, but it will certainly entertain you.
In fact, the most entertaining thing about the whole movie is Vincent Price. His character isn't just an actor, but a very hammy actor, one who's trying to figure out a way to get his career going again. When he finally learns that Mitchum's Dan is in trouble, it's his chance to shine, as he leads the rescue mission, hamming it up all the way. Now, I'd tend to think that it's tough for an actor to play a ham, but Price goes way, way over the top and makes the movie a lot of fun. At the same time, Price is also responsible for some of the popcorn-worthy shallowness, making His Kind of Woman pure entertainment all the way. It's a bit slow in getting to where it winds up, but boy is it fun when it does get there.
I probably should have written a full-length post on Rififi, which is airing at 2:00 PM ET today on TCM. It's probably a bit too late for a heads-up, but note that TCM has stuck the movie in a two-hour time slot, even though IMDb lists Rififi as having a running time of 122 minutes. If I remember correctly from the last time Rififi showed up on TCM in March for the Employee Guest Programmer month, it ran to just over two hours then as well.
Rififi was directed by Jules Dassin, the same man who brought us Topkapi. Both of them are heist movies, although Rififi is in the traditional mold, resembling movies like The Asphalt Jungle; Topkapi is clearly much more comedic like Ocean's Eleven. There are directors who worked in the same genre a lot, like John Ford with westerns, and directors who actually remade their own films, such as Frank Capra turning Lady For a Day into Pocketful of Miracles. But looking at a sub-genre like the heist film from two radically different perspectives is something rather less common.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
If anybody in Norway is reading this blog, they will know immediately that today is the big national holiday in Norway, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814. Not that this has much to do with classic films. Oh, I suppose I could do a post on Sonja Henie, although it always amazes me that every time I see one of her Fox films (she only made about ten of them), she's not playing a Norwegian. But Henie isn't one of my particular favorites. It's like Esther Williams on ice. I suppose, however, that actually having Esther Williams try to do her prodcution numbers on ice, and Sonja Henie do hers on water skis, would make for some interesting cinema.
Instead, I'd like to note that The Heroes of Telemark, which I blogged about back in June, 2008, has gotten a new release to DVD and is apparently of passable quality. Amazon's commenting system seems to be having a problem differentiating between various DVD/regional releases and lumping comments together, as there was an old DVD of public domain quality (or lack of quality).
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:03 AM
Monday, May 16, 2011
They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except that tonight on TCM you can see everything that happens in Vegas as TCM is showing a bunch of movies set in Las Vegas. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM ET with the original 1960 version of Ocean's Eleven.
Frank Sinatra stars as World War II veteran Danny Ocean, a man with a plan. Specifically, he has a plan for striking it rich by robbing all of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip! Of course, such a plan can't be carried off by one man alone, so Sinatra gathers a bunch of his old army buddies and lets them in on his plan. It involves being in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve and, at the stroke of midnight, shutting down power to the entire Strip. While the power is out, they'll get the money from the safes, put it in trash bags, and have a garbage collector who is actually one of their confidants take the money away.
Now, like any good hesit film, Ocean's Eleven has three elements. First is the set-up, when we learn about the plan. That's followed by the execution. The most interesting, however, is always the last one, the denouement, in which the Production Code requires the plan to fail. In most heist films, the failure comes because a bunch of criminals don't really trust each other, and start turning in on themselves: see The Asphalt Jungle for an outstanding example of this. Ocean's Eleven, however, is more of a comedy heist movie. So, what derails the plan isn't so much the characters themselves, but the fact that somebody gets a heart attack in the middle of the street, disrupting the plan's precision timing. Oh, there's greed too, but that only begins to come in after the plan goes bad.
But what Ocean's Eleven is really best remembered for is the presence of the "Rat Pack", Frank Sinatra and his friends who partied and were known for being famous almost as much as they were known for anything else. In addition to Sinatra, there's Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. And there's a young Angie Dickinson for good measure. Portions of Ocean's Eleven were filmed in Las Vegas while the Rat Pack members were doing their stage shows at the casinos. Since they all knew each other and seemingly were doing this as a side project, they all look like they're having a lot of fun together. And, in fact, "fun" would be a good word to describe Ocean's Eleven. It's nowhere near as serious as The Asphalt Jungle, and frankly doesn't have any pretensions to be serious. It's one of those movies where you can just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and have a lot of fun watching.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
I don't think I've seen Rasputin and the Empress before. (Actually, it aired late one evening when TCM had the month of movies on the Soviet Union, and I couldn't stay up for it.) The subject matter of the movie is obvious, and the film is famous for being the only one to feature all three of the Barrymores. John Barrymore died in 1942, and Ethel wouldn't make another movie until 1944.
Not having seen it, I can't really recommend it. Instead, the thing that I find interesting is that it's one of those prestige films from MGM that doesn't show up very often on TCM. Now, TCM doesn't really have a library of movies it can play any longer. Ted Turner obtained what's often referred to as the "Turner library" back when he bought MGM for the purposes of obtaining the broadcast rights to all those movies. That library ended up with the MGM films, the RKO movies, and the Warner Bros. movies that were made before the TV days. (I don't quite get the details, but as I understand it Warner Bros. was like Paramount in that when TV came along, the broadcast rights to pre-TV movies were treated differently from the rights to more recent movies, although WB didn't actually sell off all the rights to another studio the way Paramount did with Universal.) That library was the bulk of what TCM showed back when it first came on the air in 1994, and remains so to this day, although TCM no longer owns the library, it having been subsumed with Time Warner or whatever the corporate parent is now called after 84378174385 corporate restructurings and mergers.
The upshot is that just because something was made at MGM doesn't mean TCM can automatically air it. The most notable example would be all the animated shorts from MGM (Tom and Jerry and the earlier stuff) and Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts from Warner Bros. Many years back, TCM used to run Cartoon Alley which showed these shorts, but some corporate bigwig apparently decided more money could be made off the animated shorts by packaging them in other ways, and now they're not on TCM. (Not that the Cartoon Network or its siblings, run many of them any longer.) But there are also feature films that don't seem to show up on TCM very often even though you'd think TCM would have fairly easy access to them. With the B movies, it's easy enough to understand why. But there are more prominent movies such as Rasputin and the Empress or the recently aired All this and Heaven Too which seem to show up rather less than other movies with Lionel Barrymore or Bette Davis. I wish I knew the reason.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:53 AM
Saturday, May 14, 2011
TCM has been showing Tarzan movies every Saturday after the Buck Rogers serial. This week's entry is Tarzan Triumphs. The movie might just as well be called Tarzan vs. the Nazis. An odd pairing, to be sure, but it wouldn't be the first or the last that Hollywood ever came up with. Abbott and Costello would meet both Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, for example.
Anna would meet the King of Siam, but to be fair, this was actually based on a true story. And it just doesn't have the fun value of Abbott and Costello getting paired with Frankenstein. No, I'm thinking more of something like the great Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It's one of those "what were they thinking" pairings, even more than, say, I Married a Monster From Outer Space, which sounds more like the title of a Jerry Springer episode.
In looking up odd pairings, I also remember and old movie I saw in the TV listings and have always wanted to see, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, KISS of course referring to the rock band known for its outrageous makeup, but I didn't realize this was actually a TV movie.
What's your favorite oddball pairing?
Friday, May 13, 2011
I'm not a big fan of the movie, but some of you may want to catch Cat Ballou tonight at midnight on TCM.
The title role, Catherine "Cat" Ballou, is played by Jane Fonda, a woman of the old west who's gone east to train to become a schoolteacher, and is now returning home to teach. Home life isn't exactly peaceful, however, as her rancher father is in a dispute with the railroad (one of the western genre's oldest clichés); it's a dispute that eventually leads to his getting shot. Cat vows revenge, and she's going to get it in the form of famous gunfighter Kid Sheleen (Lee Marvin). Unfortunately for her, Kid turns out to be the drunkenest gunfighter you've ever seen. Still, Cat presses on....
If you didn't guess it from the title of this post, you should get the point early on in the movie: Cat Ballou is, if anything, a spoof of the tradiitonal Hollywood western. Marvin not only plays Kid; he plays the bad guy, Tim Strawn, whose most noticeable trait is a silver nose, having lost his original nose in a gunfight years ago. There's also musical accompaniment/exposition provided by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye.
All in all, it adds up to a movie that's very well made and presented from a technical standpoint. All of the pieces fit together, and the movie should be a funny sendup of more traditional Hollywood westerns. And yet, there's something about it that's not quite my cup of tea. I'm not quite certain what that something is, although I must say that musicals and westerns aren't my favorite genres to begin with. Don't let that deter you, however; it would be unfair to call Cat Ballou a bad movie. For anybody who normally likes westerns, Cat Ballou should work very well.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Jackie Cooper died last week, and TCM has decided to preempt its previously scheduled lineup for Friday May 13 to air a nine-film tribute to Cooper. Cutting and pasting directly from the TCM press release, those movies are:
6:00 AM Dinky ('35)
7:15 AM Divorce in the Family ('32)
8:45 AM O'Shaughnessy's Boy ('35)
10:15 AM Boy of the Streets ('37)
11:45 AM Gallant Sons ('40)
1:15 PM Tough Guy ('36)
2:45 PM The Devil is a Sissy ('36)
4:30 PM Treasure Island ('34)
6:30 PM The Champ ('31)
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:37 AM
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
TCM is spending tonight in the company of the lovely Joan Bennett, who started her career in the 1920s, and continued all the way through to starring on the TV soap opera Dark Shadows. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Scarlet Street, which I don't think I've seen before. The last of the Bennett movies is Eleven Men and a Girl, which I recommended last July for Joe E. Brown's birthday. That's coming on at 4:45 AM tomorrow.
The other recommendation is one that's finally back on the Fox Movie Channel: Heaven Can Wait, which shows up at 10:00 AM tomorrow. I mentioned it at least twice regarding movies that ought to come out of the Fox vault, and here it is.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:09 AM
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Today marks the birth anniversary of Max Steiner (1888-1971), a man whose name you've seen in the credits over and over. That's becuase he's the composer responsible for a whole bunch of movie scores. It's tough to get an accurate count, largely because in the early days of sound movies, the composer didn't necessarily get much credit for writing the score, in part because the earliest movies often didn't have particularly memorable scores. Sure, songwriters got credit, but for non-musicals, just as much credit would go to the head of the studio's musical department. Max Steiner, in fact, was the head of RKO's musical department in the early 1930s, and got Oscar nominations in that capacity in the days when the Academy honored the studio's music department and not the individual composer. The other thing that makes it difficult to figure out how many movies Steiner gets credit for is the fact that his music has been used for so many later movies. Steiner wrote the theme to A Summer Place. Steiner also wrote the score for King Kong, which has been used in quite a few later movies as well.
Those two movies only begin to scratch the surface of the dozens of movies for which Steiner provided the score. Which one is his most famous? That's hard to say. Probably Gone With the Wind, although it didn't win him an Oscar. Now, Voyager did, as did The Informer and Since You Went Away. One of my personal favorites would be the score to Mildred Pierce. Also, he wrote the score for Casablanca, although he didn't write the song "As Time Goes By".
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:29 AM
Monday, May 9, 2011
Fox did a lot of docudramas back in the 1940s, many of which I've already recommended, starting with one of the earliest, The House on 92nd Street. This time, however, I'm going to recommend a docudrama from the 1960s: The Boston Strangler, airing at 6:00 PM ET tonight on the Fox Movie Channel.
The "Boston Strangler" is a movie about the real-life serial killer Albert DeSalvo, who terrorized the Boston area in the early 1960s by worming his way into women's apartments and killing ten or so of them. (They of course didn't have DNA evidence back then to make things a bit easier for them.) Police know they have a serial killer on their hands, but lead investigator Detective DiNatale (George Kennedy) is at a loss. The public is clamoring for something to be done, which is unsurprising since I don't think any of us wants to see a serial killer on the loose. To deal with the political pressure, then state Attorney General Edward Brooke (who would go on to become a US Senator) orders underling John Bottomly (Henry Fonda), who'd rather be doing eminent domain law, to help on the Boston Strangler case.
Now, this being a docudrams, we already know from the facts how the case unravels. One of the would be murder victims fights back, surviving the attack and injuring one Albert De Salvo in the process; this enables the police to crack the case. What we're looking for in a movie like The Boston Strangler is how we get there. That's pretty interesting and takes up the first half of the movie. An interesting technique is used: multiple split-screens showing either things going on in two different places at the same time, or the same scene from two different angles. It takes some getting used to, but it actually works fairly well. It probably worked better in an actual movie theater, where the much larger screen mean that scenes with several splits means the various pieces won't be impossibly tiny. This isn't a movie to watch on a smaller TV, to be honest.
The way the story is told also means that we don't even see Albert DeSalvo until about an hour into the movie. He's played by Tony Curtis, and the second half of the movie is his. The movie takes the view that DeSalvo was seriously mentally ill, suffering from multiple personality disorder in which one of the personalities was the killer. As such, much of the second half of the film is set in a mental hospital where DeSalvo is being evaluated by Bottomly and others while it can be determined whether he's fit to stand trial. Curtis is excellent as the tormented man who to people around him seemed like a normal family man. (You'd think they'd have noticed it if he had a split personality.) There's not much here resembling Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit, and certainly not Polly Bergen in The Caretakers.
That having been said, The Boston Strangler is a movie of questionable accuracy. In real life, DeSalvo wasn't thought to have multiple personality disorder. Futhermore, there are now doubts about whether DeSalvo was actually the Boston Strangler. To be fair to the movie, though, you can still have a good movie that isn't quite honest with the truth, and The Boston Strangler certainly fills the bill in that regard. Clearly, it's not a family picture, and it's not one you can sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch, either.
Dana Wynter with Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Dana Wynter, whom you probably best remember from the classic 1950s movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has died at the age of 79. Wynter, who was actually born in Germany with the name Dagmar Winter, did a good deal of work in television over her career; more than the movies where she was never really a leading actress. I've recommended her before in Sink the Bismarck!, while you can see another of her Fox films, In Love and War, this Wednesday morning at 6:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Of all the movies airing on Mothers' Day on TCM, I'm surprised to see that I haven't blogged about I Remember Mama before. It's airing at 8:00 PM ET.
"Mama" is played by Irene Dunne. She's the matriarch of a family of Norwegian immigrants, living in San Francisco in the years just after the great earthquake of 1906. It's not a particularly easy life, as money is always tight, and there are a lot of kids to feed. Among the kids are Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes), an aspiring writer who narrates the movie; apparently she goes on to become a successful writer and these are her stories.
To be fair, that's really what the movie is about. There's no big overarching plot to I Remember Mama. Instead, it's almost a series of vignettes about a woman looking back on her childhood with the fondness that most of us do even if childhood wasn't always a bed of roses. Indeed, even though none of us here grew up in the era in which the story is set (at least, I don't think we have any centenarians here), the movie shares a lot of resonance with almost any era. Katrin has a couple of aunts who seem a bit too proper and don't particularly like Uncle Chris (Oskar Homolka), who is a bit of a free spirit. It's a dynamic that appears in any extended family. There's laughter (see the way Mama gets to see her son after visiting hours when he has to go to hospital), tears when death comes as it must to all families, and some surprises along the way.
I Remember Mama is a bit reminiscent of Ah, Wilderness in that both movies are slice-of-life movies set at the beginning of the 20th century. But there are several key differences: I Remember Mama is from a woman's point of view; it's told over a longer period of time; it's set in a lower social class; and there's even less in the movie that could be objectionable than there is in Ah, Wilderness. Remember that Ah, Wilderness has a scene in which the young adult son meets a woman who is not the sort of women with whom gentlemen cavort. There's nothing of that in I Remember Mama.
In short, I Remember Mama is a wonderful movie for the whole family. The only possible problem is that it runs over two and a quarter hours, but to be honest, it goes by much faster than that.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:31 AM
Saturday, May 7, 2011
TCM trots out several of the same movies on the second Sunday in May to honor the mothers of the world. Sure, they're old chestnuts, but some of them are movies that are worthy of a second (or twenty-second) viewing. Indeed, I've recommended a couple of them before:
Lady For a Day kicks off proceedings at 6:30 AM ET Sunday.
At 6:30 AM last year was Bachelor Mother. That isn't showing up this year. But the movie was remade in the 1950s as a musical, Bundle of Joy, and that remake comes on at 10:30 AM.
Mildred Pierce aired last year on Mothers' Day, and got a mention in my Mothers' Day post last year. This year, it comes on 45 minutes earlier, at 12:30 PM.
I just recommended Stella Dallas a few weeks ago, and now it's on again, at 10:30 PM.
The salute continues into the early hours of Monday with Jimmy Stewart treating his mother Beulah Bondi poorly in Of Human Hearts, at 6:00 AM Monday.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 6:52 AM
Friday, May 6, 2011
45 years before the "epic" movie 300, another movie about the Battle of Thermopylae was made: The 300 Spartans. That earlier movie can be seen tomorrow (Saturday, May 7) afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.
Richard Egan plays Leonidas, King of the Spartans. The Greek city-states are being attacked by the Persians and their giant army, under King Xerxes. Leonidas realizes that the Persians are going to reach a bottle-neck at the mountain pass at Thermopylae, and that it's critical the Greeks get soldiers there before the Persians do. Meanwhile, Athenian King Themistocles (Ralph Richardson) knows that the Athenians have a better navy than army, and that the Persians don't have much of a navy. So if the Persians can be held off at Thermopylae long enough for him to use his navy effectively, the Greeks might just have a chance to defeat the Persians. However, most of the Greek kings are reluctant to join the fight.
If you've seen a later movie like 300 or are a student of ancient history, you should be able to figure out what happens next. Leonidas marches more or less alone with his woefully undermanned army, but manages to hold off the Persians for some time: after all, only so many people can enter the pass at one time, so most of the Persian soldiers are too far back to join the fight. But, the Spartans are betrayed when the Persians are given information about a way around the pass that will allow them to pincer the Spartans, which results in the deaths of Leonidas and his army. Fortunately for Greece, Leonidas was successful in holding off Darius long enough that the Athenians could fight the decisive naval battle at Salamis.
The 300 Spartans is actually fairly well done. They didn't have CGI at the time, but that works to the movie's benefit. Also, the color looks much nicer than the denatured stuff we get in the movies of today. The characters aren't exactly deep, but that wasn't really the point of this particular historical epic. It would kind of be like asking Nero to be deep as he plays the lyre while watching Rome burn. In fact, the one attempt to add depth is a love story between Leonidas' young aide Phylon and his woman (Barry Coe and Diane Baker) is mostly pointless. On the plus side is location shooting in Greece. The movie got a DVD release, which in the wake of the movie 300 wouldn't be too surprising. What is surprising is that the DVD release came a few years before 300.
With as many movies as TCM shows, it shouldn't be surprising that once in a while, a movie comes up not long after one of the members of the cast died; and that with the movie having been programmed several months in advance. Such is the case with Jackie Cooper; his 1934 version of Treasure Island is airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET on TCM.
That won't be your only chance to catech a tribute to Cooper, however, as it looks like TCM has pre-empted its schedule to show a morning and afternoon of Cooper's movies on Friday, May 13.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:52 AM
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery in The Champ (1931)
Jackie Cooper, whose career started as a child star and led to a whole bunch of other things, has died at the age of 88. Cooper became one of the youngest people to be nominated for a competitive Oscar for his performance in the 1931 movie Skippy; he lost to his costar in The Champ, Wallace Beery.
Cooper left Hollywood to fight in World War II, and found that things had changed when he returned from the war. So he went to New York and worked on stage and on the small screen, which among other things led to two Emmys not for acting, but for directing TV episodes. Cooper did do some movies later in his career, most notably playing Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in the four Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve as the "man of steel".
Since Cooper worked at MGM, TCM ought to have relatively easy access to several of his movies for a tribute, but I haven't come across any news yet of a TCM schedule change.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Joining the list of older actresses who got some lousy roles later in their careers, you can watch the normally entertainng Claudette Colbert in the not very good Let's Make It Legal, tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM o nthe Fox Movie Channel.
Colbert plays Miriam, a wife who's about to get a divorce from her husband Hugh (Macdonald Carey), in part because he's a compulsive gambler, and in part because he's an utter drip. If you thought Michael Rennie was boring in Teenage Rebel, he's got nothing on Carey. Miriam lives with her daughter Barbara (Barbara Bates) and son-in-law Jerry (Robert Wagner), who works for... Hugh, at the hotel Hugh managaes. Oh dear. Anyhow, there's only 24 hours until the divorce decree is final, and everybody but Hugh can live happily ever after.
That is, until wealthy Victor (Zachary Scott) comes back to town. He just happened to be Miriam's high-school sweetheart, and when he discovers that Miriam is about to become a divorcée, he begins to put the moves on Miriam again. Jerry would love this, as it means his mother-in-law would move in with a new husband, and Jerry and Barbara would be able to live on their own, as all young couples ought to do. Barbara, on the other hand, loves having Mother do things for her, and would even be OK with Mom and Dad getting back together. Victor, meanwhile, has his status to worry about; he's reminiscent of Wallace Beery's character in Dinner At Eight in that he's made a lot of money and is being asked to go to Washington to work for the government. So, he wants to marry Miriam as soon as possible, before there's any controversy.
You can probably guess where all this is going to end up, and frankly, it's not for the better that the film is so predictable. On top of that, the characters aren't particularly likeable. Finally, the whole thing comes across as contrived and forced, which makes it not so funny.
Let's Make It Legal has gotten a DVD release, however. That's probably because of the presence in the cast of one Marilyn Monroe. As with Love Nest last month, Monroe only has a small part, here playing a woman at the hotel who wants to get introduced to a rich guy like Victor, even though he has no interest in her. Still, her presence makes for an easy way to advertise the movie now.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers didn't always get the best movies to star in as she aged. A good example of this is the movie Teenage Rebel, which is airing tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel
Fortunately, Rogers isn't in the title role of the "teenage rebel", as she was 45 and much too old for something like that. The rebel is Rogers' daughter, played by Betty Lou Keim (more on her later). Rogers plays Mrs. Fallon, living with her second husband (Michael Rennie) and her young son Larry, who is as mischievous as all boys in the 5-7 year old range. The Fallons receive a telegram that Mrs. Fallon's daughter Dorothy from a previous marriage will be coming for the three weeks of visitation that Mrs. Fallon was supposed to have. You see, Mrs. Fallon divorced and lost custody of her daughter because she was in the wrong, having fallen in love with Rennie and having an affair while still married to another man. And Dorothy's father was vindictive in the divorce, taking the daughter to Europe so that the visitation order couldn't be enforced. It turns out, though, that Dad has a reason for bringing his daughter back to the States. He's got a woman he wants to marry, and up to now, Dorothy has been successful in breaking up all of Dad's attempts at remarrying. So packing Dorothy up and sending her across the country to spend time with Mom gives Dad a chance to finalize his remarriage.
As you might have guessed from the comment about Dorothy breaking up her father's relationships, Dorothy has grown up to be a real teenage prize. She has no desire to be out in California with her mother, and is a snotty, stuck-up little bitch to everybody. (Pardon the language, but at the start she really is a piece of work.) It gets to the point where Mr. Fallon pays the neighbor's two kids (Warren Berlinger and Diane Jergens) to make nice to Dorothy. But Dorothy sees through them. At least, she sees through them at first. This is where the film starts to develop big problems. We should probably expect that she's going to warm up a bit over the course of the movie, but she does so almost on a dime. And then she turns back again, and again, going through a series of melodramatic mood swings. That, and a bunch of the tropes of teenage movies of the 1950s. There's even a scene that looks to be stolen from Ninotchka along the way. Teenage Rebel tries to take a serious look at the problems old farts thought teenagers of the mid-1950s were facing, but probably gets them wildly wrong. (I wasn't a teenager in the 1950s, but my teenage years were nothing like any Hollywood teen movie.) Still, the movie is good for some unintended laughs along the way.
As for the cast, Rogers does as well as she can. Rennie's wooden, and you have to wonder what Rogers ever saw in him. Their neighbor is played by Mildred Natwick, and it's nice to see character actors like that show up. Poor Louise Beavers gets to play the Fallons' maid, and is used as stereotypically as she'd been for the previous 20 years. And then there are the teens. Keim, Berlinger, and Jergens are billed as something like "Three Stars of the future", as though the suits at Fox were really trying to push them. Berlinger has a relatively lengthy career playing supporting roles in movies and TV, while Jergens retired relatively young. Keim stopped acting even younger, when she decided to get married -- to Berlinger. They were married in 1960 and married for almost 50 years until Keim's death in early 2010.
Still, you have to feel a bit bad for Rogers. She tries, and it's not her fault that Teenage Rebel isn't very good. It hasn't been released to DVD, either, so you're going to have to catch it on the Fox Movie Channel.
Monday, May 2, 2011
TCM is honoring the birth anniversary of Bing Crosby, who is not one of my favorites, to put it mildly. I figured I'd look to see if anybody else famous shares the birthday, and from looking at IMDb's list, it looks limited to lesser-known actors, although I've always like Roscoe Lee Browne's brief role as a Caribbean spy who infiltrates the Cuban diplomatic mission in Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz.
TCM's Crosby salute ends at 7:00 PM, at which point the first part of the Moguls and Movie Stars series that first aired back in November comes back on. TCM is showing all seven parts every night this week, with each part coming on at 7:00 PM. If memory serves, each part was right around 60 minutes, so by the time they get through the opening animation and the announcement of the movies following, the primetime lineup might actually start a minute or two late. (Or, Moguls and Movie Stars might start a bit early.) The first two or three parts are worth watching, but the series goes downhill a bit after that.
During the prime-time lineup, TCM is showing a short called Redd Foxx Becomes a Movie Star, from 1976. I haven't seen the short, but looking at the date, it should be a promotional short for the warped 1976 film Norman... Is That You?, in which Foxx plays a man who finds out his son is gay.
Apparently Red Dust still hasn't gotten a DVD release, not even to the Warner Archive collection. I mentioned that back in November when TCM aired the remake Mogambo as part of its salute to Star of the Month Ava Gardner. Red Dust is coming on again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM if you want to watch.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:31 AM
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The studios seemingly didn't quite know what to do with James Stewart at the beginning of his career, so he got cast in a few odd roles. One of them is in the 1937 remake of Seventh Heaven, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.
Stewart plays Chico, a man who works in the sewers of Paris in the early 19-teens. He's got dreams of rising up from the sewers and becoming a street cleaner, which eventually becomes the case. This brings him into contact with Diane (Simone Simon). She's a prostitute who is being pimped by her sister Nina (Gale Sondergaard), and she doesn't like it. So she runs off but gets pursued by the police. Chico saves her and takes her to his garret apartment on the seventh floor (hence the title), where the two live as though they were husband and wife.
However, if you watch the opening scene, you know that this "seventh heaven" isn't going to be heaven for long: when you see "Paris 1914", you know that there's a little event called World War I which isn't far behind. Sure enough it comes, and Chico gets drafted to serve in the army, while Diane becomes a nurse who tends to the injured soldiers who get brought back to Paris. The bond between Chico and Diane is unbreakable, however, as each believes the other comes to them, at least spiritually, every day at 11:00. And then one day, Diane fails to see Chico at the appointed hour.... The Germans have been using mustard gas, and everybody who served with Chico on the lines swears up and down to Diane that they saw him be killed in action. Diane, however, refuses to believe it, and knows that Chico is going to return to her someday.
Seventh Heaven is a remake of a silent movie, specifically one that won Janet Gaynor the Best Actress Oscar all the way back at the very first Academy Awards ceremony. Thanks to the relative lack of dialogue in silent movies, they had to be broader, which in the case of dramas means melodramatic. That sort of melodrama shouldn't be needed in a talking version of the story, but it's still there in this one. Still, James Stewart is quite good as always; he already had the same dark side that would really show up after World War II in films like Rope. That darkness shows up as cynicism. Simon is OK, although you have to wonder how comfortable she was as not only as a relative newcomer to Hollywood, but one for whom English was a second language. She's lovely to look at, but not quite up to Stewart's acting level. The rest of the supporting cast is adequate, and full of names that you've seen in the credits of dozens of other movies: John Qualen, Jean Hersholt, Sig Ruman, Gregory Ratoff, and a bunch of others.
This version of Seventh Heaven seems never to have been released to DVD, so you'll have to catch the Fox Movie Channel showings.