Wednesday, November 30, 2011

George White, 1892-1968

This isn't really a birthday post, since George White was born in March, but tomorrow sees what looks to be the only airing of a movie that the Fox Movie Channel last pulled out of the vault several years ago: George White's 1935 Scandals, tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on FMC.

White wasn't very involved in the movies; in fact, White was a fairly prominent Broadway producer starting back in the late 1910s. He produced a popular revue show unsurprisingly called George White's Scandals, which the year in question also part of the title. The movie which is airing tomorrow morning is a movie version of the revue, with a fairly thin framing story about White (who actually appears as himself in the movie as well as directing it) travelling down south and finding some novelty acts for his revue. They go back north with him to New York, where they become stars. But they let fame go to their heads. Everything ends happily, however, with a bunch of musical numbers thrown in for good measure.

Although it's a film that's not nearly as good as some of the Warner Bros musicals from the early Busby Berkeley era, and doesn't have the polish of the MGM musicals from the late 1930s, George White's 1935 Scandals is still interesting for having one of the earliest screen appearances of Eleanor Powell, who does a "novelty" dancing act. In fact, this is the film which got her her contract over at MGM, where she wen't on to become fairly famous. The female star of the film isn't Powell, but Alice Faye, a Fox contract player whom White had discovered several years earlier when he cast her in the Broadway version Scandals of 1931. As for Faye's film career, it took off when White took his Scandals to Hollywood, but not in 1935; instead, Faye's first movie was the Scandals of 1934, which also starred Rudy Vallee (who was also in the 1931 Scandals with Faye).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When good TV characters go bad

There are some actors out there who are generally best remembered for characters they played on the small screen. Two such actors show up together to conspire to commit murder in the 1949 film Red Light, airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM

George Raft is not one of those actors; he's the star of the movie, however. He plays Johnny Torno, who runs a successful trucking company in San Francisco. He's got a brother Jess (Arthur Franz) who is a Catholic priest who spent the last several years serving as an army chaplain in World War II, and winning a medal for his heroic work in a POW camp. The kid brother is finally coming home to a happy reunion with his brother and an assignment to a parish of his own in northern California.

Meanwhile, back at the prison ranch, you've got Perry Mason. Er, not Perry Mason, but Raymond Burr playing Nick Cherney. Nick was a bookkeeper at the Torno trucking company, until he rather foolishly decided to embezzle a substantial amount of money from Torno. Torno sent Nick to prison, and Nick wants revenge. Fortunately he's got a way of exacting revenge while keeping the perfect alibi: his prison comrade, Col. Sherman Potter from the M*A*S*H unit. Er, actually it's Harry Morgan, back in the days when he was going by "Henry" in screen credits, playing fellow prisoner Rocky. Rocky is gonig to get out on parole a few days before Nick, so Nick has Rocky kill Jess while Nick is still in prison.

Rocky shoots the brother to death in his hotel room, but the brother survives long enough for Johnny to get there. Johnny hears his brother's dying words, which is that the answer he seeks can be found in the Bible. Johnny looks through his brother's bible, but can't find the name of the killer written in it anywhere. Johnny figures that Jess must have written it in the hotel room's Gideon Bible -- but that's been taken from the room! Johnny tries to find that bible, and even enlists the help of one of the people who had the room after his brother was killed (Virginia Mayo) in his attempt to find it. Mayo, meanwhile, becomes a bit frightened of the lengths Johnny is willing to go to to gain revenge....

Red Light is one of those lower-budget noirish movies which is actually quite entertaining. Raymond Burr, to be honest, had played several heavies before becoming Perry Mason (most notably the killer in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window), and is good here as Nick. Harry Morgan, I think, didn't play quite so many heavies, but he's just as good as Burr. George Raft never had much range, but his man looking for revenge character fits into that limited range. The one problem with the movie is that it has any number of plot holes. First off is the question of why Jess is being billeted in a hotel room. He's an army chaplain who has a brother who's thrilled to see him. You'd think that either the military would have room at a army base for him; he'd stay at the rectory of the bishop's cathedral; or he'd stay at his brother's apartment. More importantly, you'd wonder why Jess didn't write anything in his own Bible. It would have been just as easy for him to get his personal bible from his suitcase after being shot as it would have been for him to get the Gideon Bible from the desk drawer. (And how big were Gideon Bibles back then? The last time I was in a hotel room that had a Gideon Bible, the thing was surprisingly small and wouldn't have had enough room to write much of anything.)

Despite its plot flaws, Red Light is a fun movie. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to watch the TCM showing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fox mystery series

I briefly mentioned the Lone Wolf mystery series a few weeks back; the movies are airing on Saturday mornings on TCM for the next several weeks. Mystery series -- that is, B-movies in which an actor played the same detective over the course of several pictures -- were quite popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s. 20th Century-Fox had their own series, the seven Michael Shayne movies. Two of them are airing tomorrow on FMC: Just off Broadway at 7:30 AM, followed by Dressed to Kill at 9:00 AM.

I haven't seen Just Off Broadway, so I can't really comment on it. But Dressed to Kill showed up a few weeks back, and it's a pretty entertaining little mystery. Fox contract player Lloyd Nolan plays detective Michael Shayne, who at the start of this movie is supposed to get married to his long suffereing girlfriend Joanne (Mary Beth Hughes). Suddenly he hears a scream in the apartment hotel where he's staying, and discovers that another of the tenants, a wealthy Broadway producer, has been shot along with a female companion. Just as interestingly, they're both in costume, and the shootings seem to have been particularly ingenious. Michael, of course, begins to investigate and finds a particularly baffling mystery. The producer had gathered together several of the surviving cast members from a show he had done 25 years earlier, and it seems as if everybody at the dinner had a motive to kill him.

To be honest, this is fairly standard stuff for a mystery series. There are the red herrings, the hidden identities, and perhaps most fun in Dressed to Kill, the bumbling police detective, who is played by William Demarest. Demarest was one of the great comedic character actors and is in fine form here as the policeman who is trying to stay one step ahead of Shayne but always seems to be one step behind. The resolution of the mystery isn't perfect, although to be fair, that's the case in a lot of mystery movies. Still, Dressed to Kill provides good entertainment value for its B-movie level.


About three weeks ago I made brief mention of the film The Next Voice You Hear..., and mentioned that it would be airing on Novmeber 28. Today is that day, and it's airing at 2:30 PM on TCM. The Next Voice You Hear... is airing on TCM as part of a day of lesser-known movies from 1950, and is one of those Dory Schary films I would lump in with the "trying to put out a message" films. Even though it's clearly got Christian morals, I'd agree with other commenters who say that it's gentler in putting its message across then the similarly-themed The Day the Earth Stood Still (the early 1950s version; not the recent remake).

Another of the films in this morning's TCM lineup is one that I first mentioned two years ago, and has already gotten a release as part of the Warner Archive Collection: Crisis, starring Cary Grant, which comes on at 11:00 AM. Now if only The Next Voice You Hear... could get the DVD treatment, perhaps with some of the other stuff Nancy Davis (Reagan) did in the early 1950s. One of these days perhaps TCM will get around to showing Talk About a Stranger or Night Into Morning again. I thought I'd blogged about one or the other, but apparently not.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

TV movies

The Fox Movie Channel from time to time shows some TV movies. One of them is coming up this evening: Karl Malden in Word of Honor at 6:00 PM. Malden plays a small-town reporter who gets an anonymous tip about the location of a woman who's disappeared, and it leads to the prosecution of one of the town's more prominent citizens on murder charges. The problem is, the prosecutor needs Malden's tip, and he refuses to reveal his source, who swore him to secrecy. This causes the typical legal problems for Malden, but Word of Honor goes a bit over the top in having it cause all sorts of other problems in Malden's personal life. Specifically, one of Malden's daughters is about to ger married, and the prosecution means that suddenly everybody in town wants not to go to the wedding.

I don't normally recommend TV movies. Partly it's because they don't show up very often, and partly it's because they're on the commercial cable channels nowadays. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, however, when we were pretty much in a three-network world, it was a lot more common for the networks to produce original TV movies and show them with a lot of fanfare. It also wasn't uncommon for past stars to show up in these TV movies, such as Karl Malden in Word of Honor. (To be fair, he had become a TV star by the early 1980s as well after his long stint on Streets of San Francisco.) Word of Honor has some other interesting casting: Rue McClanahan, later of The Golden Girls, plays Malden's wife; Ron Silver (later of Reversal of Fortune) plays a big-city journalist covering the press freedom angle of the case; and a young John Malkovich shows up as the fiancé.

And to be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the other old TV movies from back in the day wind up somewhere on TV. I distinctly recall one from my childhood called White Mama with an elderly Bette Davis supporting a black kid who wants to grow up to become a boxer. (I see it's directed by Jackie Cooper.) Davis would go on to make another TV movie about the right to die called Right of Way, which co-starred James Stewart.

I don't know that TV movies like this necessarily need to be on TCM, however. There are a number of nostalgia channels that you can probably get on the digits subchannels of your local broadcasters. I can get ThisTV and RTV for example; there are others out there too. Since these TV movies were originally conceived as having commercial breaks, these nostalgia channels would be a perfect place for the old TV movies. It's just a question of who has the broadcast rights to all these things.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The name's the same

Back in May, 2008, I mentioned the 1937 comedy Easy Living. There's a movie coming up on TCM overnight tonight at 1:00 AM called Easy Living, but it's a rather different movie.

In tonight's Easy Living, Victor Mature plays a professional football player who's diagnosed with a heart ailment and so should retire, but his greedy wife (Lizabeth Scott) wants him to keep playing so he can remain in the spotlight for her sake. Lucille Ball also appears as the team's secretary. This is one I don't think I've seen before, so I can't go into too much more detail.

The box guides should have it right that tonight's movie is the football-themed Easy Living: TCM's online schedule lists tonight's theme as "Ready to Retire", kicking off at 8:00 PM with this week's Essential, Dodsworth. As such, the Mature Easy Living certainly fits in with the theme, whereas the 1930s version doesn't. Sadly, this 1940s version doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kick 'em when they're down

I've mentioned a couple of times before that I'm a football fan, so I was looking forward to watching the Packers beat the crap out of the Detroit Lions. And then Ndamokung Suh, dirty player that he is, kicked one of the Packer linemen while he was on the ground. That sort of football violence wouldn't get into a classic movie, I don't think. But it's kind of surprising how violent people could be to each other in old movies.

Gangsters roughed each other up quite a bit, as you can see in the ending of the classic gangster film The Public Enemy when rival gangsters deliver James Cagney back to his family. On the other hand, in some movies such as The Big Combo, the gang boss was careful to make certain there wouldn't be any bruises on the cops they roughed up -- you wouldn't want to leave evidence.

I was just watching The Window on TCM the other morning as part of the salute to Ruth Roman. (Sadly, it's not yet on DVD.) The kid at the center of the story escapes from Roman and her husband (Paul Stewart) and when they catch up with him again they put him in a taxi and smack him around quite a bit. You'd think the taxi driver would have a problem with this.

As for actual kicking of people, I'd guess that most of the time it's bratty little kids kicking adults. Kurt Russell, in his piece that he did for TCM on Elvis Presley, mentions that his acting career started as an extra in It Happened At the World's Fair, in a scene where he gets to kick Presley in the ankle. I know I've seen other scenes of kids kicking adults -- there's one of one of the female child stars kicking a butler, but I can't remember either actor or the movie. When it comes to adults kicking adults, all I can think of is Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love, and Bette Davis kicking the crap out of Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Any other good kicking movies?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey

A mentioned at the beginning of November that I had been asked about the short Let's Talk Turkey. At the time I didn't know when it was going to be on. A week or so later, I noticed that TCM wasn't announcing shorts in its online schedule. That fortunately seems to have changed. And unsurprisingly, Let's Talk Turkey is one of the shorts showing up on Thanksgiving. Specifically, it's showing up at 7:42 PM, just after Miracle on 34th Street.

Roman Bohnen, 1894-1949

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actor Roman Bohnen, a name you might have seen pop up in the credits a number of times, even if you don't necessarily recognize which character he's playing. Bohnen had a fairly brief career, having come from the stage to Hollywood in his early 40s, and then dying of a heart attack while doing more stage work. But his ten years in film were productive, much in the same way that Sydney Greenstreet had a brief but productive career. While Greenstreet made about two dozen films, Bohnen appeared in over 30.

I've recommended a couple of those films before, although obviously not for Bohnen's small roles. Bohnen appears as the warden of the brutal prison in Brute Force, for example. He also shows up at the beginning of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, as the father of the boy who grows up to be the character portrayed (as an adult) by Kirk Douglas.

Perhaps Bohnen's best role, however, comes in the film The Best Years of Our Lives. Bohnen plays the father of Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and gets a particularly poignant scene when he reads the commendation report that his son got for one of his medals. I'm sorry to say that I don't have any good video capture software, and couldn't find a good picture of this scene on the web.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not much on

Thanksgiving is tomorrow here in the States, which means that I'm in a bit of a holiday mood and not really excited about writing much. On the bright side, there doesn't seem to be much to write about today. TCM is continuing its Battle of the Blondes tonight, starting off with a pair of Betty Grable movies from the early 1940s: Sweet Rosie O'Grady at 8:00 PM, followed by Down Argentine Way at 9:30 PM. Both of these were made at Fox in Technicolor; one of the things Fox did well was putting Grable in its Technicolor musicals.

That's followed by a pair of Doris Day movies. Day may have been blonde, but I don't know that I'd select her as one of the actresses in a "Battle of the Blondes". First up is Tea For Two at 11:15 PM, followed by That Touch of Mink at 1:00 AM.

I briefly mentioned the film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer when I talked about movies with basketball scenes. It's airing at 4:30 AM tomorrow morning.

Finally, there's a Private Screenings interview with a bunch of child stars that Robert Osborne did back in 2006. It's being shown in honor of Margaret O'Brien, one of my least favorite child stars; she's getting the rest of the morning to herself with several of her films, including Meet Me In St. Louis, one of those movies that really makes me retch.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Programmer programming note

Tonight sees November's TCM Guest Programmer, Ron Pearlman of the series Sons of Anarchy (among other roles) sit down and discuss some of his favorite movies in segments that were taped with Robert Osborne some months ago. If you've seen the spot on TCM, you'll have noted the odd fact that the segments start at 9:45 PM, rather than 8:00 PM. Also, Pearlman is only shown as presenting three films. On the other hand, on the TCM website, Pearlman is listed as having picked four movies.

The reason is presumably that Pearlman selected and taped a segment on something that TCM later discovered it couldn't get the broadcast rights to. Indeed, if you have an older copy of the printable schedule for November, you would see that the 8:00 PM movie for tonight is the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels. They apparently don't have the broadcast rights to Sullivan's Travels at the present time, so Pearlman then selected Sweet Smell of Success. But by this time, Robert Osborne was on his vacation (or perhaps Pearlman himself wasn't available), so TCM would have been unable to film a new segment on Sweet Smell of Success. The odd thing is that TCM decided simply to substitute in Sweet Smell of Success at 8:00; I would have thought it would make more sense to move up the three movies with Osborne and Pearlman and then stick Sweet Smell of Success at the end of the evening.

Anyhow, tonight's four-film lineup is:
Sweet Smell of Success at 8:00 PM;
Red River at 9:45 PM;
Gunga Din at 12:15 AM; and
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at 2:30 AM.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another of those little early 1950s MGM flicks

I don't think I've mentioned Terror on a Train before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM, and unlike Jeopardy, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to watch the TCM showing.

Glenn Ford stars as Major Lyncourt, a Canadian army bomb disposal expert who just happens to be in Birmingham, England. That's good for the authorities, because they get a call telling them that there's been a bomb placed aboard a shipment of sea mines going by train from Birmingham to the naval base in Portsmouth. The authorities know about Maj. Lyncourt's expertise, and know he's available, so it's only natural that they call him in to find the bomb aboard the cargo train and defuse it before it goes off at 7:00 AM the next morning. Lyncourt then spends most of the rest of the movie trying to find that bomb.

In some ways, that's all there is to the movie. But to be fair, there is rather a bit more going on on the side. The train started off in Birmingham, and was going to have to go through some rather populated areas on its journey to Portsmouth. Obviously, it would do no good to have the bomb go off in the middle of a populated area, so the authorities do the best they can and have the train shunted to a suburban siding. But even this suburban location has quite a bit of people, so the police are going to have to do a mass evacuation. There's also a problem for the good major with his wife (Anne Vernon), who's really grown tired of his defusing bombs, and wants him to spend more time with her. Finally, the evacuation goes fairly well, except for one slightly dotty old man who loves trains and wants to be around them whenever he can. The problem, of course, being that this is one train he shouldn't get near.

On the bright side, the authorities catch the would-be bomber. That's good because it soon becomes clear that there's no way short of clear dumb luck that the major is going to find the bomb before the next morning. Perhaps they can impress upon the bomber that he should let the authorities defuse the bomb, and show them exactly where on the train it is so that they can defuse it. And what if he doesn't?

As I sais at the beginning, Terror on the Train is one of those small movies that MGM was making a lot of in the early 1950s. It's got a fairly big star in Ford, and a fairly sparse story, with a brief running time (about 73 minutes) to fit that spare story. That having been said, this is a sort of role that Glenn Ford was well-suited to play: essentially of good character but not too challenging. Ford by himself makes the movie worth watching, even if it's never going to get to the level of his more prestigious work like Gilda or 3:10 to Yuma.

Remember to phrase your cry for help in the form of a question

I should have blogged about this yesterday afternoon or evening, because by the time you read this post, you'll probably have missed the TCM airing of the movie Jeopardy, which is at 10:00 AM today. Fortunately, the movie has gotten a DVD release, so you can still watch it even if you miss the TCM showing.

The scene is your typical post-World War II family: father (Barry Sullivan), mother (Barbara Stanwyck) and a young son. Thanks to the new prosperity America had by the early 1950s, they're able to get in their car and go on a nice little vacation to a relatively deserted beach house on the Baja California coast. There's an old abandoned pier near the house which, having been abandoned, is in a parlous and dilapidated state, which worries Mom when her son wants to go near it. She's right to worry: eventually part of the pier collapses, and Dad gets caught underneath one of the moorings. As if that weren't bad enough, the tide is coming in, so they have to do something quick before Dad gets drowned by the ocean!

There's nobody right by and no phone, so Mom has to get in the car and go looking for help. Eventually, she finds a hitchhiker (Ralph Meeker), who seems willing to offer help, at least at a price. It turns out that Meeker is an escaped convict on the run, and sees this woman in a car as an opportunity to make his escape. So he offers the mother a bargain, but at a fairly high price: he seems to want more than just a chance to escape....

Jeopardy was made at MGM in the early 1950s at a time when they seemed to be making two types of movies. One was the big musical or other spectacle movie: Jeopardy came out only a year after things like Singin' in the Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful. The other sort of film was a small picture that tried to have some sort of message; Dory Schary wanted to make movies that were more socially relevant. While Jeopardy isn't quite "relevant", it certainly fits into this second category. It only runs about 75 minutes, but has a substantial star in Stanwyck, and a couple of people Hollywood was trying to grrom into bigger stars. There's also the high production values that MGM always had. And yet, a lot of these message movies from MGM seem more preachy than any of the social commentary films Warner Bros. had made back in the 1930s, or even the Fox docudramas.

Still, Jeopardy is worth watching if only for Barbara Stanwyck, who is as professional as ever even when having to deal with a plot that doesn't do much.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pilgrims' Progress

Apparently I have never done a full-length blog post on the film Plymouth Adventure before. It's coming on TCM at 8:00 PM tonight, so now would be a good time to give it that full-length post.

As you can probably guess from the title, Plymouth Adventure is a film about the Pilgrims, who fled England fearing religious persecution. They went first to Holland, and then back to England in order to obtain ship passage to the New World. The Jamestown colony had been founded a dozen years earlier, and apparently it was considered to be a good idea to get these people of a different religion leave England proper, while still working for the crown company charged with developing the New World; meanwhile, the Pilgrims could follow their wacky religion to their hearts' content in the Americas. Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) is the captain of the Mayflower, and he's offered a bribe: a substantial sum of money to take the passengers several hundred miles north of Virginia, where they thought they would be going. (Whether or not that happened in real life is questionable.)

Soon enough we get onto the Mayflower, and it sets off on its voyage that we know is going to be successful since this is a historical movie, at least in the basic facts. But they have to make a movie out of this material, so we get a good deal of extra drama. One of the standards is a storm, which is plausible: considering that the voyage took three months and started in late summer, they would likely have had to deal with the outer bands of a former hurricane somewhere along the way. The Pilgrim's religiosity causes a few plot problems deaing with their desire for cleanliness. In reality, fresh water would probably have gone bad over the course of a transatlantic voyage, so passengers, including the children, would have drunk something with a low alcohol content just to kill off all the nasty bacteria. Worst of all is the love story between William Bradford's (Leo Genn) wife Dorothy (Gene Tierney), and Capt. Jones. This almost certainly didn't happen in real life. But again, we wouldn't have a movie without such stuff.

To be fair, Plymouth Adventure is a pretty good movie. MGM made this one, which means we get a lot of very competent stars and high production values, as scene in the storm sequences. (Perhaps the production values are too high; people months into a transatlantic voyage wouldn't look this glamorous.) As for the rest of the cast, Van Johnson plays John Alden, going after Priscilla (Dawn Addams); Lloyd Bridges plays one of the sailors; and rather humorously, there's a line in the credits for the Mayflower as itself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fire Over England

I briefly mentioned the movie Fire Over England back in March on the birth anniversary of Flora Robson, who ably plays Queen Elizabeth I of England in the film. It's airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM, and is an excellent example of a British historical film.

The year is 1587, a year before Spain was to attack England with the Spanish Armada. Spain was the undisputed power of the sea at the time, and England was somewhat of a backwater. Instead of a normal navy, England gained its wealth through the use of what they would call privateers, but what any other country would understandably call pirates. During one of these engagements, young Englishman Michael Ingolsby (Laurence Olivier) and his father get taken prisoner. The Spanish commander has pity on them and lets Michael stay at his estate, but the father eventually gets tried and executed by the Inquisition. Michael escapes to England, where he meets his Queen who discovers that she can put him to use. Apparently, there's a ring of spies among her court, who are sending secrets to Spain where there are some English expat fifth columnists. (Remember that this was only about 50 years after Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, so religious differences made it natural that England's Catholics would head to someplace like Spain to fight for the Catholic cause.)

Michael's task is to go to Spain and pretend to be the head of the English spies so that he can get in good with the Spanish court. There's one problem: Michael had been to spain before, and when he was captured, he was nursed back to health by the daughter of the commander who captured him. She's now the wife of one of the members of the court, so she recognizes him. Thankfully, though, she has to help him get away eventually, as otherwise it will be discovered that she had spent a bunch of time helping a foreign agent. By this time, the plot to build the Spanish Armada is on, and only Michael can stop the Armada....

Fire Over England is actually quite a good movie, although I think at times there's a bit much going on. The one thing I haven't mentioned yet is the obligatory romantic subplot, which involves one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting (Vivien Leigh) and Olivier. In real life, they fell in love making this movie, and eventually got married. There are quite a few famous names in the cast. James Mason plays the spy in Elizabeth's court who gets discovered and whose place Olivier takes, while Raymond Massey plays Philip II of Spain. The production values are also quite good. All in all, Fire Over England is one that's well worth watching.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frances Marion, 1888-1973

Today marks the birth anniversary of Frances Marion, seen on the right of the photo with Mary Pickford. Marion was one of Hollywood's most famous early screenwriters, having written the screenplays to films such as The Champ. If you go to that link for The Champ, you'll see that I mentioned Marion, and how she also wrote the screenplays to The Big House, Min and Bill, and Dinner at Eight; the links to those films are in the September 2010 post. One Marion work I didn't mention there was Emma starring Marie Dressler and a younger Myrna Loy in a supporting role. Marion also did the adaptation for Anna Christie which introduced Greta Garbo to talking pictures.

But it would be a disservice to Marion to discuss just the talking pictures. Marion started her career in the 1910s and did story work and adaptation for a whole host of silents. The best known of these might be Gloria Swanson in The Red Mill and Lillian Gish in The Wind.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A different football scandal

If you're sick of the things coing on in college football in real life, perhaps you might like to reminisce about the days when everything, including college football, was simpler. And wouldn't you know that TCM is going to be showing such a movie. That film, Navy Blue and Gold, is airing tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM.

The movie is about three young men who all join the Naval Academy, become roommates together, and wind up on the football team together as well. Other than that, they come from different backgrounds. First is Roger (Robert Young), who is the sort of person who wants to coast through life, and thinks that being in the Naval Academy will allow him to find a good wife and retire well-off after doing his one hitch. That's clearly different from John (James Stewart), who is obviously from a more hardscrabble background, although we're not given the full details about that at first. Somewhere in the middle is the third guy, Dick (Tom Brown), who feels a sense of duty to his country even though he could live on easy street thanks to his parents (Samuel F. Hinds and Billie Burke). Dick has a pretty sister Pat (Florence Rice), and in one of the many clichés in this movie, you know that two guys are going to fight over her. (And you know those two guys are going to be the other roommates, Roger and John).

Having mentioned clichés, it's time to point out that this movie breaks no real new ground. There were a lot of college football-themed movies back in the 1930s and earlier, and even one, West Point, set against the backdrop of a service academy. The biggest of the clichés deals with the possible loss of the star player (Stewart) for the big game. John's background was tough largely because his father was drummed out of the navy, under circumstances that the navy itself has gotten totally wrong. When one of the instructors tells John's class the example of his father as one of how not to act in the navy, John stands up for his father, at which point we learn nobody at the academy knew of the father/son relationship. And John, having disguised his identity, has probably violated the honor code, which could get him expelled just in time for the big game against Army....

Speaking of that big game, we've got one man who is really looking forward to it: Lionel Barrymore, who has a smallish role as the oldest living alumnus of the Naval Academy, and a starter on Navy's first football team. (Yeah, right.) Just before the big game, he falls ill and winds up in the infirmary. Will the team be able to win for him?

All in all, Navy Blue and Gold is the sort of movie that should get panned as being trite and mawkish. And yet, it works, largely because of James Stewart's acting ability. He was always good at playing the conflicted but ultimately good sort of character that he has here, even though this time it's early in his career. Unfortunately, Navy Blue and Gold doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nothing Sacred

It looks as though I have never blogged about the screwball comedy Nothing Sacred before. It's airing tonight at 8:00 PM, and is one of the funnier movies you'll see.

Carole Lombard stars alongside Fredric March, but more on her in a bit. March plays Wally, a bombastic newspaper reporter somewhat reminiscent of Clark Gable's character in It Happened One Night. He gets taken in by a story about some foreign potentate who is in fact a hoaxster, and gets in trouble with his editor (Walter Connolly, who happened to play Claudette Colbert's father in It Happened One Night) for it. To get out of the doghouse, Wally figures he needs the next big story, which he finds when he hears about Hazel (Lombard). Hazel is a small-town girl from Vermont who gets diagnosed with a rare case of radium poisoning and doesn't have long to live. She's never been to the big city, so she'd like to see it before she dies. This is perfect for Wally, who can get the story.

So Wally brings Hazel and her doctor (Charles Winninger) to New York, at which point a media frenzy erupts. Just like the circus surrounding somebody sympathetic (at least in the eyes of the media) like Amanda Knox, everybody begins to fall over themselves to show how much sympathey they have for her. You've got the high society of New York all the way down to the Girl Scouts, all impressed with Hazel's bravery in the face of death. And then Wally and Hazel learn the stunning news: she's really not sick with radium poisoning, and is not going to die. This presents a rather big problem, since everybody in the country has been following her story waiting for her to die. What to do? The other problem is that along the way, Wally and Hazel have begun to fall in love.

Nothing Sacred is a tremendously funny comedy which lives up to its title: the movie holds nothing in reverence. The small-town Vermonters are lampooned. But so are the allegedly sophisticated big-city people, who are shown to be just as gullible as they would argue the small-town folk are. The media's role in fomenting all of this frenzy -- something which clearly still goes on to this day -- is also lambasted. Viewers of today watching Nothing Sacred might find that some of the material veers into politically incorrect stereotyping. After all, back in the 1930s they didn't have quite the sensitivity towards black people that Hollywood would show today. But the movie is still amazingly funny.

Nothing Sacred is also in very good Technicolor, as you might have guessed from the photo above. (Indeed, it's nice to have the establishing shot of Rockefeller Center as it was back in 1937 in such nice color.) Tonight's TCM showing may or may not be that brilliant. In the past, all the prints have been fairly low-quality, as the movie fell into the public domain somewhere along the way. However, the movie has apparently been restored, and we may be getting the restoration print tonight.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Missing shorts

As I mentioned about two weeks ago, TCM seems to schedule its shorts relatively close to when they actually air, and that one probably ought to check TCM's online schedule for upcoming shorts. Unfortunately, the people responsible for maintaining the online schedule haven't been doing a good job of updating shorts lately. Last night after Smash-Up and before The Blue Angel (ie. about 7:50 PM) they aired a Robert Benchley short, but it never made it to the online schedule. And today, after The Story of Mankind, at about 11:50 AM, there was a short about stars on horseback. That, too, never made it to the online schedule.

One thing you can do to guess when the shorts are most likely to show up is to look for a break of at least 15 minutes between one movie and the next. The Story of Mankind, for example, is a 100-minute film which was put into a two-hour time slot, so it seemed a good guess that there would be rom for a short. Other than that, I'm sorry to say I can't offer much help.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Five Fingers

The Fox Movie Channel is airing the interesting movie Five Fingers tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM. The thing that makes it so interesting is that it's based upon a true story.

James Mason stars as Ulysses, the valet to the British ambassador to Ankara in World War II. Turkey was officially neutral during World War II, with the result that all sorts of people made their way to the country. There were diplomats from both sides, spies from both sides, and even refugees of all stripes impoverished by the war and trying to eke out some sort of existence in a neutral country. One night, at a party, Ulysses meets Polish countess Anna (Danielle Darrieux). She's one of the refugees, and could sure use a good deal of money. Ulysses has really always been in things more for himself, so he comes up with a plan: use his connection as the countess' former butler, make money by selling secrets to the Nazis, and then running off with Anna to South America.

Ulysses approaches the Germans and even sells them some documents. Needless to say, the Germans need to be convinced that the documents are real. After all, it would be easy enough for somebody to try to dupe them. So the Germans wait and see if any of the information in the documents about future events comes to light as predicted. Meanwhile, Anna has second thoughts about her relationship with Ulysses, and the British have discovered that somebody's handing over documents to the Nazis, so they tighten the net on the spy, whoever he may be....

As I mentioned at the beginning, Five Fingers is based on a true story of a chapter in World War II called Operation Cicero. There are changes made, of course, in no small part because a lot of the spy stories aren't quite good enough to be Hollywood movies. One of the big changes is that the Ulysses character (in real life an Albanian named Bazna) didn't wind up in South America in real life. In fact, his usefulness to the Nazis waned as they were losing the war, and they eventually left Turkey, leaving Bazna to fend for himself. Still, the story as told in the movie is quite an interesting one. James Mason was always good at playing not-quite sympathetic people who still looked distinguished, so he's an excellent fit for the role. Fox had been making a bunch of docudramas and biopics during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and Five Fingers fits in well with the rest of them.

Sadly, Five Fingers does not seem to have gotten a DVD release.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Laurel and Harlow

Tonight is the second night of silent Laurel and Hardy shorts in TCM's weekly Silent Sunday Nights feature. Probably the most interesting of tonight's shorts is Double Whoopee, airing at 1:00 AM. Stan and Ollie play a pair of men who get a temporary job working as doormen at a high-class hotel. Thanks to their uniforms, they're mistaken for a European prince and his retinue who are supposed to be chiecking in to the hotel on the same day Stan and Ollie arrive. Needless to say, chaos ensues. However, what really makes this one interesting is the presence in a brief scene of an 18-year-old Jean Harlow, pictured here with the two comedians. Her scene involves her getting out of a taxi, only for Stan to close the door on her dress and for the dress to get ripped off as she walks out of the taxi, making her walk into the hotel wearing just her slip. Oops! That's also some intereting hairdo that Harlow has.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Woman of the Year

Apparently I've never blogged about the film Woman of the Year before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM, so now would be a good time to post on it.

This is the first of nine movies starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Tracy plays Sam, a newspaper sports columnist. One day while at his favorite bar hanging out with the guys, he hears international political newspaper/radio columnist Tess (Hepburn) making derogatory comments about sports and how can you possibly have sports when there's a war going on out there? Sam is horrified, so he writes a column about how wrong-headed Tess is. The disagreement is good for business but bad for the atmosphere in the office, so the editor brings the two of them together to patch things up. And you can guess what happens next: they fall in love, even though they're complete opposites.

After they fall in love, you can probably guess that they're going to spend the rest of the film trying to make their relationship work once they discover that there's more to a relationship than just the emotions at the beginning, and that life isn't a bed of roses when you've got such polar opposites. In that regard, the movie doesn't really tread any new ground. Still, it's ample opportunity for gentle humor, such as Hepburn's trying to understand baseball, or Tracy's having to deal with a gathering of foreign diplomatic types where nobody seems to understand English.

The thing is, there's really no secondary plot to make this movie work the way there is with Adam's Rib or Desk Set. I think that Woman of the Year has quite a bit to say about relationships and understanding the opposite sex, and what it does say it says fairly well. But a lot of the time it feels a bit one-dimensional. Perhaps that has something to do with it being a Katharine Hepburn movie. She's never been one of my favorite actresses, and I can't help but feel a lot of the time as though she's playing an unsympathetic version of herself. It's up to Spencer Tracy to save this movie. While he does a creditable job of that, he's up against a lot more than he is in some of the other movies he made with Hepburn.

Still, I'd bet that those of you who like Katharine Hepburn will really enjoy Woman of the Year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thirty seconds of second-guessing

As you all probably know if you've read this blog long enough, I'm a fan of good game shows. Not that there are many of them left on American TV, but I quite enjoy watching Jeopardy! when I get the chance. The annual Tournament of Champions is currently in progress, and last night's Final Jeopardy! clue is one that shouldn't be too difficult for fans of older films. The category was "Hollywood History", and the clue was something like:

The first two sisters to be nominated for Oscars in the same acting category in the same year


Now, I came up with a response right away, and wasn't terribly surprised to see that I was right. But I spent the rest of the 30 seconds trying to come up with the two movies for which the sisters were nominated, which is rather a more difficult question. Can you figure out the two films?

Answer: (Highlight the text block to see the answer) On the show, the clue was what's called a "Triple Stumper"; that is, none of the three contestants got the right response. The first woman had no clue and so named her two nieces. The second player gave the plausibly wrong answer of Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, while the leader guessed Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor. The right response, of course, was "Who are Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland?" I knew that, but couldn't remember which movies Fontaine and de Havilland were nominated for in the same year. I knew Fontaine was nominated for Rebecca and Suspicion in 1940 and 1941 respectively, and that de Havilland had been nominated several times ni the late 1940s for To Each His Own, The Snake Pit, and The Heiress. But I couldn't think of what movies would have gotten Olivia a nomination in the early 1940s, or what would have gotten Joan nominations in the late 1940s. The answer to that, it turns out, is that Olivia was nominated for Hold Back the Dawn in 1941 up against Fontaine's Oscar-winning performance in Suspicion.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TCM's monthly programming

I should have noticed last Thursday that TCM is doing a month-long look at boat travel and romance on boats every Thursday night this month. One of the movies airing tonight that I've blogged about before is One Way Passage, which comes up at 9:30 PM. (Note that it may be a minute or two late; the previous film, Love Affair, is an 87-minute movie in a 90-minute time slot. By the time you add Eva Marie Saint's introduction and the upcoming movies bit, you may just hit over 90 minutes. At least with Robert Osborne's vacation, there aren't closing remarks after the movie as well.)

There's another programming block I should have noticed earlier. Last Wednesday I mentioned the Battle of the Blondes that's substituting for this month's TCM Star of the Month. What I didn't notice is that the blondes are getting movies not only on Wednesday nights, but on Mondays as well. I find it mildly odd that TCM would start a salute in the second half of a week, but there you go.

Note as well that tomorrow is the Veterans' Day holiday here in the US, and so TCM is marking the occasion with a bunch of war movies. (I should probably check what TCM Canada is doing. The day is called Remembrance Day, in memory of the end of World War I. But there aren't quite as many World War I movies out there as there are World War II movies.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Doris Day, international woman of mystery

One of Doris Day's odder movies is Caprice, which is airing tomorrow at noon ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

Day stars as Patricia, who develops cosmetics for a company owned by Sir Jason (Edward Mulhare) At the start of the movie she's caught in Paris trying to sell industrial secrets to another company. Jason wants to punish her, but it's impressed upon him that this would be bad for business, and just firing her would be better. So she gets fired and banished from working in Europe. But she immediately gets offered a job by Christopher White (Richard Harris), who is the agent for competing cosmetics firm owner Matthew Cutter (Jack Kruschen).

The whole thing is actually a ruse, however: Patricia is actually plotting with Sir Jason to steal a formula from Cutter's company for a waterproof hairspray developed by Stuart (Ray Walston). Cutter quickly figures this out, and spends most of the rest of the movie trying to get Patricia to admit on tape that she's really still working for Sir Jason, as this would basically bankrupt Sir Jason's company. Christopher, meanwhile, seems a bit diffident, with it being unclear whether he's working for Cutter or trying to put the moves on Patricia. And Stuart really only seems to be working for himself.

This is part of the problem with Caprice: Everybody seems to be working two or more sides. As for Doris Day's Patricia, she's not only spying on Cutter for Sir Jason, she's working for herself on the side. It turns out that her father was a spy out in the real world, investigating a narcotics ring when he was killed in the Swiss Alps. She's trying to avenge her father's death, and the clues have apparently led her somewhere in the cosmetics world. Much of Caprice is supposed to be a comedic spy caper, and the complexity of the spy plot is really much too much for the film. I have to admit that I find it a bit difficult to care about what happens to the characters.

That having been said, some of the scenes are funny, such as one at an outdoor restaurant when Patricia has realized that she's being recorded in the attempt to get her to admit she's really still working for Sir Jason. She tells Christopher, all right, but she does it in a way that constantly has sound effects drowning out anything the bug could pick up. And then there's Patricia trying to get a lock of hair from the woman who's testing the hairspray.

But what Caprice is really worth watching for is the look at the 1960s as they more or less were, or how people at the time dreamed it could be. (This as opposed to how people of today look back on the 1960s, something I don't particularly care for.) There's a lot of trippy 1960s set design: the suspended bed in Richard Harris' apartment, or the faux stone facing are two good examples. Doris Day gets to wear a lot of mod 1960s fashions that are kind of frightening today. But this was stylish 45 years ago. And then there's the groovy music by DeVol. If only the movie weren't so busy.

Caprice is OK as background entertainment, and acceptable if you're a fan of Doris Day. But to be honest, it's really nothing great other than for a look back at the 1960s.

Emergency Alert System nationwide test

By now, you've probably seen public service announcments that the Emergency Alert System will be running a coordinated nationwide test at 2:00 PM ET (11:00 AM PT) today. Apparently, it's going to affect every channel in the country, including cable/satellite channels. TCM will be about 15 minutes into Politics at that time, so the movie may be interrupted for 60 seconds or so. Surprisingly, TCM doesn't seem to have anything up on its website about whether or not there will be an interruption.

When it comes to this sort of interruption, I can't help but think of the 1950 movie The Next Voice You Hear..., which is sadly unavailable on DVD. The premise is that at 8:30 PM every evening, the voice of God broadcasts on all the radio frequencies in the free world, and that this naturally has an effect on the people who hear the voice. The focus, of course, is on one stereotypically average American family, played by James Whitmore and Nancy Davis, with one young son and a second child on the way. It's scheduled for November 28 on TCM.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Marie Dressler Day tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the birth anniversary of Marie Dressler, and TCM is showing a bunch of her movies all morning and afternon. Dressler won an Academy Award for her performance in Min and Bill, which is on the schedule at 11:00 AM. Dressler received another Oscar nomination for Emma, which is also on the schedule at 3:00 PM tomorrow. A more comedic role is in Dinner at Eight, which concludes the day of Dressler films at 6:00 PM tomorrow.

The first two of those movies are straight up dramas, while Dinner at Eight combines both drama and comedy. Dressler was adept at both, and TCM is showing a number of true comedys as part of tomorrow's salute. There are drawing-room comedies like Let Us Be Gay at 9:30 AM, which is really not a favorite of mine, as I mentioned back in August 2008. A better Dressler comedy would be Reducing at 12:15 PM. Here, Dressler plays the matriarch of a Midwestern family in which the husband has lost his job in the Depression. So, her sister (Polly Moran), who is the well-to-do owner of a New York City day spa/beauty salon, invites the family to New York to try to get back on its feet. Moran even offers Dressler a job at the salon. Dressler's well-intentioned attempts to help out, however, all backfire rather spectacularly.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grace Stafford, 1903-1992

This is actually a photo of Grace StaffordToday marks the birth anniversary of actress Grace Stafford. It's a name you might not recognize from movies, since the first decade of her career was spent playing a bunch of bit parts, many of which weren't even credited. I've mentioned her, though, in movies like Confessions of a Nazi Spy before. Stafford spent 20 years married to actor Tom Keene, whom you might recall from Our Daily Bread, until being divorced in 1940. As for those movies, IMDb lists her as having a part in Warner Bros. mid-1930s costume epic Anthony Adverse, which will be coming up at 6:00 AM Thursday on TCM.

It was Stafford's second husband who made Stafford remembered as she is today. That husband was Walter Lantz, who created the Woody Woodpecker character for whom Grace provided the voice from 1950 until the 1980s, both in short films and on TV. Grace's name shows up in the credits for most of them, as Stafford and not Lantz. The two remained married until her death in 1992. My birthday post for Walter Lantz has a typo in the title, suggesting that he died in 1984; he actually died in 1994. I should have caught the typo back then, as I remember seeing the obit come across the AP wire back when I was in college working at the college radio station. The actual noisy newswire printer is a story in itself, and much louder than any of the news tickers you see in Hollywood movies.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Early Laurel and Hardy

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights on TCM is slightly different from the normal. Instead of a feature, we get four two-reelers starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, starting with Do Detectives Think? at midnight. This first one is interesting in that Stan and Ollie don't have their eventual style down. In most of the later films, the two played characters with the imaginative names of "Stan" and "Ollie" or "Oliver". But not in some of these earlier movies. Do Detectives Think? has Laurel and Hardy playing a pair of bodyguards to a judge who is subjected to death threats from an escaped convict he sent to prison years ago.

That's followed at 12:30 AM by Putting the Pants on Philip which, despite its slightly racy title, doesn't deal with what you think it does. Stan plays a young Scotsman named Philip visiting his American uncle (named J. Piedmont Mumblethunder; no Ollie there!). Stan visits wearing a kilt, which for whatever reason mkes everybody else ill at ease, so they try to get Philip to wear pants!

The last two, You're Darn Tootin' at 1:00 AM and especially Two Tars at 1:30 AM, are closer to what we expect from a Laurel and Hardy short, where the two are generally long-term friends and not some other relationship.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Laurence Olivier does comedy!

Who knew that Laurence Olivier was actually a reasonably good acter when given comic material? The movie that shows this is The Divorce of Lady X, which is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM.

Olivier plays Everard Logan, a prominent barrister who is spending the night at a London hotel. There's a costume ball going on in the ballroom downstairs, and due to the stereotypical London fog, the people running the ball decide it's best if everybody stays over at the hotel. The problem is that there aren't really enough rooms for everybody. Not that this matters to socialite Leslie Steele (Merle Oberon). She goes up to Logan's suite, and doesn't mind that it's taken. She finagles herself into taking Logan's bed and making him sleep on the sofa in the other room. To compound matters, she never tells him her name, all the while eating his breakfast and taking his bathrobe before leaving. He's fallen in love with her, though.

All this presents a problem when Logan is at his office later in the day. Lord Mere (Ralph Richardson) comes in to tell Logan he wants a divorce from his wife. The reason is that Mere had a private investigator following his wife, and the investigator determined that Lady Mere had spent the night at a hotel with another man, although they didn't discover who the man was! Logan's inference is obvious and natural: the woman who came up to his room must have been Lady Mere, and all this is going to come out in the divorce trial.

Except, of course, that we viewers know that Logan is completely innocent of any involvement with Lady Mere. In fact, Leslie is the granddaughter of the equally prominent Lord Steele, a judge at the high court who would be likely to preside over the divorce proceedings. Leslie, meanwhile, has decided that she's not going to let Logan off lightly. In fact, she's going to pretend to be Lady Mere and let Logan continue to believe that he's the man engaging in adultery with his wife's client. In fact, the real Lady Mere (Binnie Barnes) seems to be OK with all this. After all, she has good reason to want to get back at men.

The script isn't perfect, as The Divorce of Lady X is one of those "comedies of lies" that I'm normally predisposed against. However, Olivier and Oberon both do quite well playing off each other, and show a surprisingly adept touch at comedy (at least, at elegant comedy). The movie is also one of the earliest British films made in three-strip Technicolor. It's a movie that's not without its flaws, but is still entertaning and worth watching.

Check your local box guide

Tonight is the end of Daylight Savings Time. Outside of Arizona, Hawaii, and parts of Saskatchewan, we all have to set our clocks back an hour at 2:00 AM local time, meaning that the 1:00 AM-2:00 AM hour repeats twice, for a 25-hour broadcast day. This always seems to present a problem for broadcasters, who don't seem to program the proper amount of material. TCM is a case in point. Their printed schedule for the last half of the night reads as follows:

Member of the Wedding at 12:15 AM ET;
Requiem for a Heavyweight at 2:00 AM; and
The Haunting at 4:00 AM.

Now, we know this is wrong because Member of the Wedding is only a 90 minute film. Assuming Donald Bogle does an intro, and combined with the opening sequence and the what's on next stuff, you'll definitely need a 105-minute time slot for this. If there were no clock change, then the times above would be accurate. Of course, they're not.

My DirecTV box guide has Member of the Wedding starting at 12:15 AM ET, but lists the next movie as beginning at the second 1:00 AM; that movie being Requiem for a Heavyweight. So far, so good; the box guide lists two 1:00 AM hours (and if you had used the "jump ahead 12 hours" button, you'd have gone from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM to 6:00 AM). The box guide lists Requiem for a Heavyweight in a two-hour time slot, which again matches up with TCM's original printed schedule. However, it has The Haunting, a 112-minute movie, in a three-hour time slot. Something's obviously wrong there too.

Needless to say, I'm not certain exactly what's going to air and when. Requiem for a Heavyweight is a movie that should fit in a 90-minute time slot. TCM's online schedule lists two shorts to fill the last half hour of the two-hour time slot it's been given. If I had to guess, those shorts are going to get deleted and some 90-minute movie is going to get aired, but I have no idea if that would be before or after The Haunting. The upshot is that if you'd like to see any of theses movies, either drink lots of coffee, set your DVR to record the whole night, or just buy the DVDs.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The return of Fox Legacy

The Fox Movie Channel put its Fox Legacy series on hiatus back in July, but it looks as though it's returning starting this week. Tonight FMC will be showing The Grapes of Wrath (oddly enough, I could have sworn I saw The Hustler on the schedule tonight; that's now listed as coming up on November 18) three times in succession, at 8:00 PM, 11:00 PM, and 2:00 AM. That having been said, it looks as though FMC is cycling through repeats, as the Fox Legacy piece on Tyrone Power is supposed to get another airing on November 11.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TCM and scheduling shorts

Somebody just commented on a post I put up over two years ago about the Pete Smith short Let's Talk Turkey, asking if it would be aired again any time soon.

Unfortunately, TCM doesn't schedule its shorts the way it schedules features. The shorts only show up on the schedule a couple of weeks ahead of time, as opposed to the two months or more for the monthly schedules. As it stands, there currently aren't any of the Pete Smith shorts on the schedule for however many days ahead they've programmed shorts. That would be at least a week and a half, since Pete Smith is listed as the narrator of the Dogville short Trader Hound, which is listed at 11:30 AM on November 12. Shorts don't normally begin right on the half hour, but this airing of Trader Hound is different because it's coming right after the last part of the last Zorro serial. (There doesn't seem to be a new serial starting on November 19, either; instead, the "Lone Wolf" movies will be on the schedule.)

In short (no pun intended), I'm sorry to the commenter who's looking for Let's Talk Turkey, but I have no idea if it's going to be airing any time soon.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Battle of the Blondes

TCM doesn't have a traditional Star of the Month this November. Instead, they're taking a look at some of Hollywood's greatest blondes. Tonight sees two brought to us by Fox in the 1950s: Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Each of the two gets the spotlight for two movies. First up is Monroe, whose two movies I've blogged about before:

Niagara, at 8:00, in which Monroe plays the wife of Joseph Cotten; and
Some Like It Hot at 9:45 PM.

Mansfield's two films are

The Girl Can't Help It at midnight, followed by
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? at 2:00 AM

It would be nice if TCM could get the broadcast rights to some of the old Blondie movies of the 1940s, but as I understand it, even though they were produced at Columbia, the rights are held by King Features, the syndicate that distributes the comic strip (or whatever the heir to King Features is).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Gunfighter

I mentioned this morning that there are some movies coming up on the Fox Movie Channel that I wanted to recommend. One of them is The Gunfighter, airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM.

Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, whom we see at the beginning of the movie walking into a bar in some Old West town. We don't know right off the bat that he's the gunfighter of the title, but all the other characters do. He's got a reputation that precedes itself, and there are apparently quite a lot of young men who idolize him for his gunfighting skills. That's kind of unfortunate for Ringo, who would really like to settle down. One of the young bucks at the bar keeps needling Ringo even though it's clear that Ringo would just like to be left alone. Eventually, the young man reaches for his gun, but Ringo is still a faster draw, and shoots the young man dead. That's a big problem, since the young man has three brothers who will want revenge. But again, Ringo is able to outsmart them and disarm them and let their horses free, allowing him to get at least a few hours' head start.

Ringo eventually makes his way to the town of Cayenne, where the marshal (Mallard Mitchell) is a man who used to be in a gang with Ringo. Ringo has specifically selected this town because his wife (Helen Westcott) and kid are living there, and he'd like them to go someplace with him to settle down. But he walks into the bar looking for information on where they might be, and once again, all the men recognize him. In this town, it's worse, as all the young boys look up to him and crowd the sidewalk in front of the bar, trying to peer into the window. On the other hand, you've got a marshal who doesn't want any trouble in his town, and as such would really like nothing better than if Ringo left right away. The boys' mothers also don't want Ringo around. They're puritan bitches of the shrieking "Won't somebody think of the children?" mold that still exists today and exerts too much influence over politics. Worse, though, is that Ringo's wife has tried to start a life of her own as the town's teacher, and the son doesn't know anything about his father.

And then there's the young man (Skip Homeier) who, like in the previous town, wants to challenge Ringo. He apparently thinks that if he can be the man to take down Ringo, he'll be revered like Jimmy Stewart's character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ringo, on the other hand, knows differently, and knows that the only future that would await Homeier is one constantly on the run trying to escape from all the people who would want to take him down.

The Gunfighter is an intelligent, grown-up movie that is not quite a traditional western so much as it is a psychological drama set in the Old West. Peck is as good as ever, and the rest of the cast around him does a good job. One I haven't mentioned yet is Karl Malden, who seems a bit miscast as the barkeeper in Cayenne. I think he's really better in more urban dramas, but he does a fine job here.

Fox and DirecTV reach agreement

I turned on the TV before reading the news, and was pleasantly surprised to see the Fox Movie Channel still airing on DirecTV. It turns out that the two entities reached an 11th-hour agreement last night. Who knows what it's going to do to the bill, of course, as the exact details of the agreement haven't been released. On the bright side, there were a couple of movies on FMC I was looking to blog about this week, and a few I haven't seen before that I was intending to watch sometime.

Update: Did DirecTV really need to run an oversize crawl at the bottom of the screen saying that they had reached an agreement with Fox? Never mind that for a second or two when it first showed up each 30 mintues, it cut out the sound.