Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Apparently, I didn't come up with a special post for the previous February 29 back in 2008. It's not as if there's a whole lot to post about it. I can't think of any classic movies where February 29 comes into play. The closest I can think of is the 1932 movie I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. In order to show the passage of time, the filmmakers used a montage shot of small pages from a month-a-page calendar falling off. They obviously came up with just one 1932 calendar for the shot, as one year doesn't follow the next, and the Februaries have 29 days. (Yes, I'm a geek; that's the kind of thing I look for in the movies. But that's also a subject I know I've discussed in the past.)

As for February 29 birthdays, IMDb suggests that the best-known for fans of classic cinema would probably be director William Wellman, who was born on February 29, 1896. TCM correctly doesn't list any birthdays for February 29, 1900, as that's one of those years ending in -00 that was not a leap year. Surprisingly, though, they list two people as having been born on February 29, 1918. No, I can't figure that one out either.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

It's not exactly my sort of film, but TCM is showing Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing tonight at 8:00 PM. Those of you who like the sort of romantic melodrama that today would probably be made for the Lifetime Channel instead of the big screen will probably love this stuff.

The scene is Hong Kong, during the latter stages of the Chinese Civil War, which would be won by the Communists in October 1949. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is a doctor working at one of the hospitals. She's had a difficult life. She's of mixed Chinese and British descent, which causes problems, and her husband recently died in the war. So to deal with that she's thrown herself into her career Into this walks Mark Elliot (William Holden), an American newspaper correspondent. It's fairly obvious what's going to happen next: the two are going to fall in love! (Would that all doctors look as radiant as Jennifer Jones.) And you know that it's not going to be a bed of roses, either, because if it were there wouldn't be a movie! Ah, but it's not just because of Ms. Han's being a widow that there are problems. Nor is the racial and cultural difference al there is to it. Mark is trapped in a loveless marriage, and he's found that his wife just won't give him a divorce.

Still, the two try to carry on a love affair while having all sorts of realities intrude upon their lives. Ms. Han has to deal with matters involving the ancestral estate back on the mainland; the Communists have taken it over having won the civil war. And then there's Mark's job, which is about to involve events a bit further away. If you noticed the date above, we're not that far away from June, 1950, which is when the North Korean Communists would invade the South and start what would become the Korean War, something that clearly Mark was going to have to cover, which leads to our two romantic leads being separated. When will they get to see each other again, and will their love be able to survive the separation? And can I keep my dinner down while watching this treacle?

I'm sorry, but I just can't bring myself to like Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Sure, it's competently made, but this is a movie I would put in a class with Dark Victory or the even more irritating Random Harvest: It screams "Chick flick!", and won't shut the hell up. Even the music gets in on the obnoxious act, with the strings swelling up to play the title tune which was a big hit back in the day, but nowadays is as bad as elevator music. I know there was a market for this sort of stuff, or else it wouldn't have been made. (That, and it was based on a book which was apparently quite popular when it was published.) If you're part of what would have been that target demographic, I bet you'll love Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I wrote the same post last year

Two Arabian Knights is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM as part of TCM's trip to the Arabian peninsula in 31 Days of Oscar. Everything I wrote in that post in February 2011 holds true, other than the time the movie is on the schedule, so I need not repeat any of it. The one thing I would add is that Two Arabian Knights is still not available on DVD.

Come to think of it, with a relatively limited number of movies available for 31 Days of Oscar compared to what TCM can show the rest of the year, it's not a surprise that there are some movies I might like to blog about, only to find that I've already blogged about them during a previous 31 Days of Oscar. Such is the case with Torture Money, an MGM Crime Does Not Pay short that will be airing at about 9:40 PM tomorrow, just before Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. I blogged about Torture Money at the end of February 2011 as well. At any rate, both movies are interesting enough to watch a second time and, since they're not on DVD, it's worth mentioning them again when they show up for people who missed hte previous airings.

Does anybody speak Icelandic?

Along with having been a listener of short-wave radio back in the days when countries were still using the medium, I like to read interesting news from all over the world. One of yesterday's stories came from Iceland: New Icelandic Film Database Opens

Now, the article is from an English-language publication based in Iceland, since Icelandic is not one of the languages I speak. But for the hell of it, I clicked over to the databse anyway, which is located at, if you can pronounce that lovely Icelandic tongue twister. For those very few of us who don't speak Icelandic, they've helpfully provided an English-language version of the site, located at I think I can pronounce that one.

A little bit of arbitrary clicking on links seems to suggest there's not quite as much information on the English version, notably no details about the plot. And neither version provides the dates of birth or death of the people in the database. One feature that might be interesting is that the search for person is by given name. That's largely because people get their surnames in Iceland from the name of their father; the famous Icelandic singer (and actress in Dancer in the Dark) Björk Guðmundsdóttir would have been born to a man named Guðmund; if she had a brother he'd have the surname Guðmundsson. Apparently it's much easier to search by given names.

As I said earlier, I don't speak Icelandic, but I would be very curious to see an Icelandic film show up in TCM's Imports slot in the wee hours of Monday morning sometime. And no, I'm not talking about Sonja Henie in Iceland, thank you very much.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fun with Hollywood on Hollywood

Most of TCM's Sunday lineup wasn't just set in California, it consisted of movies about the movie-making industry and its darker side. Some, like The Bad and The Beautiful, I've recommended before, but there were a few I hadn't seen in a long time and enjoyed having the chance to watch again. There were also some interesting references (or, at least, interesting to me).

First was What Price Hollywood?, from RKO-Pathé in 1932. Yes, it's not just an RKO movie; RKO had merged with Pathé some time earlier and for about a year used a different logo than what we're used to seeing on RKO movies. Instead of the radio tower on the North Pole broadcasting to the rest of the world, there was the Pathé rooster crowing to the world, and a diagonal mention of the company's name. RKO got rid of this late in 1932, although the RKO-Pathé combination would be used for shorts later in the studio's existence. More interesting were references to things definitely not from RKO: both Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery (called Wally) were mentioned, even though they were MGM stars; I don't think Dressler ever made a movie at RKO.

Then, on Sunday night, we had Bette Davis as The Star. Oh what a riot. Bette gets some of the best histrionics she had since In This Our Life. And she's paired romantically with Sterling Hayden, playing a character she had tried to turn into an actor years earlier, giving him the name "Barry Lester" -- something I think has to have been a reference to Vicki Lester from A Star Is Born. Bette Davis also makes references to movies her character had been in, which are also interesting. The movie she made with Hayden's character was called "Faithless". In fact, there was a 1932 movie called Faithless, but it was an MGM film and Davis was at Warner Bros. When the Davis character is in jail, she mentions a movie she was in called "Night Court". Again, there was a real movie from 20 years earlier called Night Court, but again it was an MGM film. I wonder if there was some rights problem preventing the writers from using names of any of Davis' actual movies, or whether they wanted to avoid her movies for fear of confusing viewers. It could just be coincidence that these two titles were picked, as both sound like plausibly fake titles you'd select if you were trying to make up a phony title.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cavalcade of Academy Awards

Oscar statuetteI got up for a few minutes after the end of What Price Hollywood? this morning, and missed the beginning of the next short, which is a shame because it's a bit of a mystery. TCM's schedule lists it as Cavalcade of Academy Awards, from 1940, looking at the first 12 years of the Oscars. The first half looks back at the first 11 years, showing a lot of clips from award winners, while the second half is a recap of the awards for 1939; that is, the Oscars ceremony for which Gone With the Wind was the big winner.

Unfortunately, TCM's database lists little information on this 30-minute short, while IMDb lists nothing with the title Cavalcade of Academy Awards, and surprisingly, nothing with the title "Academy Awards" made between 1939 and 1941. Then again, it's not as though there was television to broadcast the awards ceremony.

It's too bad that there's so little information on this since there are some questions I wish I could answer. First goes back to the very first Oscars, for which Lewis Milestone won an award for the Best Director of a Comedy. This short actually showed a clip from that film, Two Arabian Knights, which surprised me since the film had been considered lost for many years until a copy wsa discovered in the Howard Hughes archives and a restoration was completed in 2004. This short also has a clip of Emil Jannings in The Way of All Flesh, another film which is considered mostly lost, except for a scene at the end which shows up here and in a documentary called Fragments which I mentioned last December.

When they get to 1937, one of the Oscars for A Star Is Born is mentioned (presumably the screenplay Oscar, but I wasn't paying attention). It's one of the movies famous for being an early Technicolor movie, with David O. Selznick wanting the movie in color to make it look more glitzy, like people's fantasies of Hollywood. However, the clip shown here is in black-and-white. That wouldn't be too surprising, except that when they get to Gone With the Wind, the clips are in color, albeit with color nowhere near as brilliant as you'll see in the original movie. (I mentioned this back in March 2008.) And once they start showing the color clips from Gone With the Wind, we get a finale in not particularly good color including a lineup of Oscar statuettes.

Anybody know anything more about this film?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why I am not a programmer for a cable TV channel

I'm pretty certain that today's showing of The House of Telegraph Hill, which I mentioned in yesterday's post, is a TCM premiere. Or, at least, I don't think it's shown up in several years, although before about 2004 I wasn't paying quite as close attention to the schedule as I do now. I don't think it's the only premiere in tonight's lineup; Harry and Tonto is coming up at 1:00 AM as part of a night of movies looking at migrating across the country.

Now, if I had any say I think I'd be trying to put the premieres in prime time; witness the premiere of Robinson Crusoe this past week. I suppose you can argue that Harry and Tonto is in prime time for those out on the Pacific coast, where it begins at 10:00 PM. But I'd think Saturday afternoons (or afternoons in general) are a relatively unwatched time for anything but sports. And then, there are movies like The Firemen's Ball which had its TCM premiere at 9:15 AM ET, which most definitely isn't prime time.

To be fair, there are times when you might not be able to help putting premiers on at odd times. A couple of years back TCM had a salute to the 100th birth anniversary of director Akira Kurosawa, and ran an entire 24-hour marathon of his films on the actual 100th birthday. Obviously, a few of those would have been premieres, and would have aired at odd times. Plus, as I've argued quite a bit, TCM has to balance when to show premieres with showing movies that are more likely to bring in new viewers: if we don't have new people becoming fans of classic cinema, what's going to happen when the older ones begin to die off?

I guess this is why I'll never be getting a job programming at TCM, and certainly not at any other cable channel, where my tastes definitely don't fit with the demographics that TV executives are looking for.

Friday, February 24, 2012

They were nominated?

There are a lot of movies I've already blogged about before, so from time to time I'm stuck just posting to mention something I posted about a long time ago is going to be back on TCM. At least in February, I can look up to see what Oscars these repeats were nominated for, as it can sometimes be surprising that a movie was nominated. (Then again, considering the song and score categories, maybe it's not such a surprise.) With that in mind, there are a few films coming up in the next 24 hours that deserve being mentioned again. I first blogged about Them! back in May 2008; it received on Oscar nomination, for its special effects. (Back then, the category was called "Special Effects", while it's now "Visual Effects".) Them! lost to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which certainly does have pretty good special effects. I'm mildly surprised that the Academy didn't have separate categories for black-and-white and color effects, the way they had with set design and costumes. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in fact, won the Oscar for its color sets; technically the category is Art Direction. It's probably a well deserved Oscar, too, considering the sets on the Nautilus. Unfortunately, I don't think that TCM currently has the broadcast rights to the Disney live-action films, so it won't be showing up on TCM any time soon. As for Them!, it's showing up overnight at 2:30 AM.

TCM moves to San Francisco on Saturday morning and afternoon, with several very famous movies, and the lesser-seen The House on Telegraph Hill, which I blogged about back in April 2008, at 2:15 PM tomorrow. This one received only one nomination, for its black-and-white art direction, losing to A Streetcar Named Desire -- I suppose recreating New Orleans is more Oscar-worthy. Another interesting nominee from that year is Fourteen Hours, a movie I don't recall having too much in the way of sets largely because a good portion of it is set on the ledge of a hotel and in the hotel room.

The Oscar silly season

This is the weekend when some organization out in Los Angeles gives out some gold-plated statuettes that look like the uncle of somebody who was giving out those awards 80+ years ago. I have to be honest, and admit that I don't care about the Oscar telecast all that much. Actually, to be more honest, I've already admitted that, back when they awarded the stannous globes in 2009.

But for the people who do care about watching the awards shows, apparently the viewership for the biggest one of them all has been going down, at least in the United States. With that in mind, columnist Virginia Postrel presents some ideas about how to get the viewing numbers back up. Her first point mentions that the Grammy Awards had record viewership this year because it came one day after a prominent singer's death. But I don't think that killing off a prominent actor would be a good idea, even if there are some actors out there who are prominent but lousy.

However, I don't think Postrel's ideas would ever be taken seriously, even if they were good, and I'm not so sure I agree with them. Two categories of Oscars based on how successful movies were? The one thing I found most interesting about that is just how few movies sold more than 10 million tickets in the US, when you consider that 10 million is well under 5% of the number of people who can see an R-rated movie without parental consent. Even if you add in people aged 75 and above as too old to drive themselves to a movie theater, you're apparently under 10% of people seeing most movies.

And looking back on awards from 30 years ago? I don't think the sort of people who vote on the Academy Awards are going to be in step with the tastes of the rest of America, even 30 years on. And even there I disagree with Postrel's slagging of Chariots of Fire. Still, the article is an interesting enough time-waster for those of you interested in the Oscar telecast.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Speak of the Devil

Or, at least, speak of Australia and the movies, the subject of yesterday's blog post. It wasn't intentional, but I just noticed that TCM's Oscar Around the World format will be going to Oscar-nominated movies set in Australia tomorrow morning, with a trio of films:

First, at 7:15 AM, is Captain Fury, about a prison escape back in the days when Australia was the place for Britain to send its worst convicts.
That's followed at 9:00 AM by Sister Kenny, in which Rosalind Russell plays an Australian nurse who comes up with an unorthodox treatment for polio.
Finally, at 11:00 AM you can see The Sundowners, starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as Irish sheepherders in 1920s Australia.

I suppose that when I say "Speak of the devil", I could have made a Tasmanian Devil joke, although the Tasmanian Devil character only appeared in five Looney Tunes shorts in the 1950s and 1960s. And though it's unrelated to the movies, what's happening to the real-life Tasmanian devil is no laughing matter either: a facial tumor is threatening the species. Really.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Australian cinema

I was listening to Radio Australia this morning. Every day they have an "On this day" feature, which for the most part is limited to entertainment; ie. singers or film types born on this day, or songs or movies released. Some of the birthdays are for people famous the world over, but they also acknoledge Aussies I'd never heard of, such as Ken G. Hall, who was born on this day in 1901. I'd never heard of him, but apparently he was the first Australian to win an Academy Award, for his documentary short Kokoda Front Line! about the front lines in the fight against the Japanese on the island of New Guinea.

I didn't know much about Australian cinema, because really, how many famous Australian movies are there? Most of the Australian films we could name, not counting Hollywood or British movies set in Australia, would probably be more recent stuff, starting maybe with Crocodile Dundee. But Wikipedia claims that it was the Aussies who made the first feature-length film, a 1906 movie called The Story of the Kelly Gang based on legendary Australian highwayman Ned Kelly. It ran 60 minutes, but as with most old movies, most of the footage has been lost and only about a third survives.

Aussies have made a substantial contribution to world cinema by leaving Australia, of course. Nowadays we've got actors like Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman; back in the studio era it was Errol Flynn. Flynn rarely played Aussies; in a western like Dodge City he was portrayed as an Irish immigrant, and of course played Brits in movies like The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Rod Taylor is also Australian-born, and got to play an Australian in The V.I.P.s. I actually didn't know until now that Peter Finch was born in Australia, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Robinson Crusoe

TCM's schedule lists the 1954 version of Robinson Crusoe as starting the prime time lineup at 8:00PM tonight. Directed by Luis Buñuel, it's one I'm particularly looking forward to as I don't think I've seen it in its entirety before. Dan O'Herlihy stars as the castaway and received a Best Actor nomination for his role. TCM's schedule suggests you can't buy it on DVD; at least, not at TCM's online shop. A DVD version was released for the 50th anniversary back in 2004 and there are copies available at Amazon, but it's presumably one of those now out-of-print titles.

I saw the beginning of the movie several years ago, back when one of the Spanish-language channels (I think Azteca America) was showing movies at lunchtime. I mentioned the interesting selection of movies I came across on Spanish-language TV back in May, 2009. Most of what they showed was Mexican, ranging from Mexico's Silver Age of the 1940s through to some latter-day crime films about narcotraficantes, with a lot mixed in. There were some films from other Spanish-speaking countries; I'm sure I saw stuff set in Argentina and Spain. Buñuel's version of Robinson Crusoe was one of the few English-language films they showed during the lunch hour -- as I understand it they do show a lot of much more recent Hollywood stuff. The only problem is, the movies are all dubbed into Spanish, and not subtitled. Since my Spanish is very limited, it makes it quite difficult for me to figure out what's going on.

TCM had Robinson Crusoe listed on the schedule back in January, but what they actually showed that day was a low-budget movie called Miss Robin Crusoe, which actually sounds quite interesting. The Buñuel version is also currently schedule to air again at the end of April, but that's a middle-of-the-night showing. Miss Robin Crusoe? Not on the schedule.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fontanne and Lunt

Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt were America's preeminent stage couple in the 1920s and 1930s. Unfortunately, nobody was filming the stage back then, so there's almost no record of any of their performances from back in the day. There's one major exception: the couple were wooed by MGM to do a film version of their 1924 play The Guardsman. That film is airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM, and if you haven't seen it before, this is your chance, as it doesn't seem to ever have gotten a DVD release.

Fontanne and Lunt (married in real life) star as The Actress and The Actor, who in the movie are a successful husband-and-wife stage acting team, much as in real life; the only difference in the film being that they're living in Vienna. He's incredibly jealous, and since their success has a lot of people cheering for them, he has a tendency to believe that there are a lot of men flirting with her. She, meanwhile, teases him, and leads him on to believe that perhaps he might not be the only man in her life. To deal with this, he comes up with an idea to figure out once and for all whether or not she's being faithful to him. He'll dress up as a Russian Cossack guardsman and test her fidelity by trying to flirt with her. To his horror, she takes the bait! Or does she? She says she knew all along that the guardsman was just him in disguise, and that she was just teasing him.

Like yesterday's selection, The Last Metro, which also happens to be set in the world of the theater, The Guardsman is a film that to describe it makes it sound as though there's not much going on. But on actually watching it, there's so much more. Lunt's attempts (when he's dressed as the husband) to get away from Vienna so that his wife will think he's away and she can flirt with the guardsman seem to hit a snag, like a constant running joke. And while Lunt and Fontanne play off each other so well, they're also helped by enjoyable supporting performances, from Zasu Pitts as a maid and Roland Young as a critic friend of the couple. Watch also for the beginning; it's a scene at the theater where the couple is performing the final scene of a play. If you've watched enough movies, you'll recognize the scene as being the finale of 1939's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, which was based on an earlier play by Maxwell Anderson. It's too bad we couldn't have a screen record of Lunt and Fontanne doing Elizabeth and Essex.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Le dernier métro

A year ago, I mentioned an upcoming airing of the film The Last Metro, but stated that it had been some time since I had seen it. I got around to watching one of the TCM showings since then, so now I can finally do a fuller-length post on The Last Metro, which is coming up on TCM again, overnight at 3:30.

Catherine Deneuve stars as Marion Steiner, a French actress working in the Paris of 1942, which of course is a time when the city was occupied by the Nazis, which makes life difficult for everybody. It made life particularly difficult for Marion, whose husband Lucas was Jewish. He had to escape to Latin America when the Nazis came to France. Meanwhile, Marion also has to keep the theater she's managing going. Into all of this walks actor Bernard (Gérard Depardieu), auditioning for a part in the new play that will be running at Marion's theater. He's a dashing young man who tries to charm all the women around him, which is also a problem for her.

The reason all of this is a problem for Marion is that Lucas never really escaped. That would have been too dangerous, so instead of having him try to escape, the couple decided to hide him, Anne Frank style, in the relatively unused basement of the theatre for the duration of the occupation. So it's quite important that Marion keep the theater going in that she needs a place to hide her husband. There's one person who can help her, and it's not Bernard; instead it's the theater critic Daxiat, who could make life a lot easier for her (he thinks) by writing a favorable review and taking over the theatre; maybe she could even get enough money to escape to South America and be with her husband. (Not that he knows the truth about Lucas, of course.) The problem here for Marion is that Daxiat is quite the Nazi sympathizer.

To be honest, there's not all that much going on in The Last Metro, at least, not on the surface. (No pun intended.) That actually works in the film's favor, however: it makes the film much easier to follow for those who feel it's work to have to read subtitles. It's almost more of a character study, but all of the characters are quite good, with an especially good job turned in by Deneuve.

François Truffaut directed. I'm not a huge fan of the French New Wave and films like Truffaut's The 400 Blows or Jules et Jim. But if you want to learn about the work of a director like Truffaut, a little movie like The Last Metro is an excellent place to start, and is highly recommended

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Biopic after biopic after biopic

TCM is spending this weekend in France as part of its Oscar Around the World format of 31 Days of Oscar. It's possible that they could have spent at least one entire day out of the weekend doing nothing but biopics. There are a lot of movies they could have shown which did get nominated for Oscars, but which aren't on the lineup. Lust For Life probably spends more time in the south of France than any place else since Vincent van Gogh painted in Arles at the end of his life. But TCM already used that when it spent some time on movies set in van Gogh's native Netherlands last Monday. Another movie they could have used is Madame Curie, in which Greer Garson plays the Nobel-winning scientist Marie Curie, with Walter Pidgeon playing her husband Pierre. Both were nominated for Oscars, although the film lost in all seven categories in which it was nominated.

As it is, TCM is showing three consecutive biopics early tomorrow morning. That starts at 7:45 AM with Marie Antoinette, the first picture Norma Shearer made after the death of her husband Irving Thalberg. Shearer stars as the Austrian-born princess who marries French King Louis XIV, and loses her head for it when the French people revolt. She probably should have stayed in Vienna and eaten cake instead.

That's followed by The Story of Louis Pasteur at 10:30 AM, about the French scientist who promulgated the germ theory of disease, and worked to find a vaccine for anthrax and a cure for rabies, among other research. Paul Muni plays Pasteur and wins an Oscar for doing so. Surprisingly, TCM's schedule page suggests this isn't available on DVD, so you'll have to watch tomorrow's airing.

Muni would return the next year in The Story of Émile Zola, which I blogged about last February. That's airing at noon tomorrow. Muni didn't win this time, but the film won the Best Picture Oscar, which the studio was certainly more happy about.

And if that's not enough, there are more on Sunday night.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Are you happy, west coasters?

TCM is showing Gone With the Wind tonight... at 10:30 PM ET. Now, I wasn't planning on watching it anyway. As you well know, it's nearly a four-hour movie, and one that I have on DVD somewhere, and I've already seen. A four-hour movie starting at 10:30 would, of course, not end until 2:30 AM, and I have no idea when the last time is I stayed up that late for something. I've gotten up in the middle of the night a few times to watch sporting events, but I think it's been quite a few years since I've stayed up even past 12:30 AM to watch a movie. Probably back in 2008 when TCM had what I think is its only showing so far of Atlantic City, which I believe started at 11:00 AM. That having been said, even if the movie had begun at 8:00 PM ET, kicking off TCM's prime time lineup, I wouldn't have been watching Gone With the Wind.

However, I think it's important to note that Gone With the Wind is starting at 10:30 PM. Not because I'm particularly irritated; to be honest the paragraph above is mock irritation if there's any irritation at all. The larger point is that in the past, it seems as though almost every time TCM has shown Gone With the Wind, it's been on at 8:00 PM ET. Most times when TCM schedules a movie they'll have various showings at various times of the day; Gone With the Wind is one of the big exceptions. It's not because of its being a four-hour film; other extremely long films such as the 1959 version of Ben-Hur have aired at various times of the day; it's coming up again on Monday at 2:15 PM ET. (And frankly, I get the heebie-jeebies thinking about Ben-Hur starting at 10:30 PM.

Instead, it's because Gone With the Wind is starting at 7:30 PM Pacific Time. I know there are posters who live out in Hollywoodland who have always kind of grumbled at the fact Gone With the Wind has been on the schedule at what for them is 5:00 PM, which isn't the greatest time for people just getting out of work. So for them, tonight's showing is actually at a reasonably good time for them, if they don't mind staying up until 11:30 PM.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Judging those evil commies again

Back in October of last year, I talked about how to judge anti-Communist movies in a way that I think might be more fair. It's a comparison that I think is worth bringing up again since TCM is airing the fairly dreadful Mission to Moscow early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM.

Walter Huston stars as Joseph E. Davies, who was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. The real life Davies wrote a memoir about his experiences, and at the urging of Franklin Roosevelt, Warner Bros. turned it into this 1943 movie; 1943 being a time when the US and the Soviet Union were both fighting the Nazis. I don't know if Davies was just a naïf, or if he was a mendacious bastard. But either way, the movie whitewashes Stalin's atrocities. The really irritating thing, however, is that there are bound to be anti-anti-Communists who will stand up and suggest that we have to look at the movie in the context of the time it was made. Hogwash, I say. Suppose we had movies from Hollywood in the late 1930s that were whitewashing what the Nazis were doing. Do you think anybody would suggest that we had to look at such films with an eye to the fact that there were people who didn't want to get into another world war? Hell, there are a lot of people who have critical words for Hollywood studios of the day for still marketing their films to Nazi Germany.

Or, fast forward several decades and move the scene to Latin America. There were quite a lor of military dictatorships and relatively few democracies. Successive US governments supported certain of the dictators on the grounds that they were also standing up against Communist expansion. But to what extent do we excuse people who suggest that we have to look at it as realpolitik in the context of the time? Certainly not the people making movies. Movies like Missing, set against the 1973 coup that deposed Chilean President Salvador Allende and brought Agusto Pinochet to power; or Salvador, documenting death squads in early-1980s El Salvador are widely praised in no small part because of their political views.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hugo Haas

If Hugo Haas is a name you don't recognize, don't worry: I had never heard of him either. One of my other interests besides classic cinema is short-wave radio, or more accurately nowadays, international broadcasting. It's something I got into back in the days when a lot of countries were still brodacsting via shortwave; this was before the internet, which has made short-wave obsolete for much of the developed world as it's a hell of a lot easier to listen to programs from other countries by either downloading MP3s from the broadcasters' websites, or listening to streaming audio.

Why am I mentioning this on a movie blog? One of the stations I've always enjoyed is Radio Prague, from the Czech Republic. Yesterday's program included their "Czechs in History" series, which this week was a rebroadcast of a 2006 piece on the aforementioned Hugo Haas. Haas was an actor in the Czechoslovak cinema of the interwar period who, like many people in Central Europe and Germany, fled to the United States when it was clear the Nazi takeover would mean terrible things for them. As Radio Prague introduces their program on Haas:

Hugo Haas was one of the stars of Czechoslovak cinema's golden age of the 1930s. This versatile actor and director was hugely popular in the First Republic and he appeared in a number of classic films from that era. Despite his success, however, Haas's life and career - like that of so many other Czechs who lived during this period - was blighted by the tide of history that swept through Czechoslovakia in the 20th century.

The rest of the program is quite interesting. If you want to read a transcript, you can find it here, with the title, "Hugh Haas -- More than just a 'foreign Ed Wood'". A roughly 2MB audio file of the program is currently available for download here; I'm not certain how long the audio files are available.

As for Haas himself, you can seem him on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM in King Solomon's Mines.

Dory Previn, 1925-2012

Dionne Warwick singing the theme to Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Lyricist and singer Dory Previn (née Langdon; sometimes using the professional name Shannon) has died at the age of 86. I didn't know too much about her as a singer, since I'm more interested in movies than in the songs of her day. The first time I noticed her was having written the lyrics to the songs in Valley of the Dolls, that delightfully bad 1967 film about how three actresses learn fame comes at a high price. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a good Youtube version of Susan Hayward singing "I'll Plant My Own Tree" in front of that ghastly mobile.

Previn didn't actually do too much work in Hollywood; most of what she did was during the decade she was married to André Previn at the time when he was composing film scores before he became much more prominent as a conductor. However, her lyrics did get her nominated for three Oscars, two with André writing the music and the third (for The Sterile Cuckoo in 1969) with music by Fred Karlin. Valley of the Dolls was not one of the three.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Last Voyage

A full decade before the all-star disaster epics of the 1970s, MGM produced the entertaining The Last Voyage. It's airing tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM on TCM.

The movie starts off in the boiler room of an old luxury liner that's outlived its usefulnes and is going to be retired soon. Sooner than everybody expects, in fact, but we'll get to that in a bit. Down in the boiler room, the crew is having trouble with a fire that's broken out in the engine room. The captain (George Sanders) doesn't want to bother the passenges, for obvious reasons: why panic them until you absolutely need to get them off the ship? Besides, he thinks the fire can be put out. Still, some of the passengers have noticed that there seems to be something up. There's a bigger problem, though, which is that the fire has melted some of the valves, such that too much fuel is flowing into the engines, and the pressure is rising. If they're not careful, there's going to be an explosion!

Well, this is a Hollywood movie, so you know that despite their best efforts, that explosion is going to happen, and it's going to have catastrophic consequences. It cripples the ship, but more importantly, it rips a giant hole through several decks, affecting some of the cabins. Specifically, that's the cabin of the Henderson family. Dad (Robert Stack) was in a different part of the ship from Mom (Dorothy Malone) and their daughter, who were in the cabin. The result is that Dad winds up on the right side of the gaping hole, that being the side from which escaping the ship is going to be relatively easy. The kid is on the wrong side of the hole, but with a little help should be able to make her way to safety. Mom, however, is trapped under a steel beam! Hooray for cheap plot devices that introduce suspense!

What's a father to do? He goes to the crew for help, but unsurprisingly, they have bigger problems. They have to worry about the entire ship and all the passengers, and not just poor little Robert Stack. And among the officers there's still some debate as to whether the ship can be saved. The second officer (Edmond O'Brien) wants to abandon the ship and start getting the passengers off and to safety now; the aging captain still seems to think the ship can be saved. Neither of them has much time for the the problems of a single passenger. Thankfully, there are other crew members working to get all the passengers off. Stack finds one of the stokers, Woody Strode, and he's willing to help Stack.

The Last Voyage is fairly predictable stuff, especially if you've seen the more epic movies of the 1970s. And to be honest, it's only moderately good. Robert Stack shouts his way through his role (although in his defense, what else is a man who's got a wife trapped under a girder to do?); Dorothy Malone is trapped under the aforementioned beam; the kid is annoying; George Sanders isn't given much more to do than Malone; and Woody Strode only seems to be there for the purpose of running around half-naked and tittilating the ladies in the same way that a Mamie Van Doren or Jane Russell would tittilate the men. Still, dammit, The Last Voyage is entertaining. Which means that, despite all its flaws, it's a good movie that does precisely what it set out to do. And there's one big positive, too, which is that the filmmakers got an actual old ship about to be decommissioned on which to film, so that many of the sets are authentic. That ship is the Île de France, which is famous for being the first ship to come to the rescue of the Andrea Doria when it had its collision back in the mid-1950s.

Monday, February 13, 2012

He's alive, he's alive!

TCM is going to Greece tonight, although the first movie never explicity mentions being set in Greece. That film is Z, airing at 8:00 PM.

Z is based on events that happened in Greece in the early 1960s. A rightist government supported by the military was faced with leftist opposition, and one of the opposition leaders was killed in a traffic incident that was presumably premeditated vehicular homicide, but wsa just plausible enough for the authorities to claim it was an accident. Eventually, it led to the military taking control directly, and a military junta led Greece from 1967 to 1974 before democracy was restored. Z was released in 1969, at a time when the junta obviously wouldn't have cared for a story about this incident.

As for the movie itself, Z refers to the opposition leader, played by Yves Montand, who only goes by that letter. He's coming to the second-largest city in his Mediterranean country to speak to his supporters on the issue of nuclear disarmament. (As I mentioned before, the country is never actually mentioned; although it's obviously a reference to Greece the movie was filmed in Algeria.) Z and his supporters face problems. The first problem for everybody is that although they had booked a meeting hall for his speech, the owners of the hall have backed out. One can guess it's because the government doesn't like the idea of this speech going on and they've pressured the hall's owner into not allowing it. Indeed, it's clear that the military doesn't like the opposition, as we see a long lecture among the military and intelligence community comparing the opposition to a disease.

Anyhow, there's a bigger problem for Z, which is that there are rumors of an attempt on his life. Z feels he can't allow that to prevent him from standing up to the government, so he plans to go ahead with his speech, although he eventually gets hit by a speeding truck and left to die. Or, at least, that's the government's official version. The prosecutor given the task of coming to this conclusion (Jean-Louis Trintignant) starts his whitewash, but finds that perhaps what the government has been telling him might not be the truth. And he's not the only one. There's a photojournalist (Jacques Perrin) who has been covering the case because he's conluded the truth will make for a dynamite story. This becomes much more apparent when people who originally claimed to have known something about the case either clam up or go missing or get found dead.

Z is a movie that clearly has political points to make, but it's also the sort of movie that shows it's possible to have an obvious point of view and still make something that's entertaining and artistic. This is something that the people at Warner Bros. making many of the social commentary movies of the early 1930s (eg. I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang) knew, as did Michael Powell when he made 49th Parallel. It's also something you wish the filmmakers of today could know.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cimarron (1960)

I've blogged about Oscar's Best Picture of 1931, Cimarron, before, and mentioned that it was remade in 1960. Since it's one of those films that's been remade with the same title, you have to be careful looking at the listings when it shows up on the schedule. Monday at 11:00 AM, TCM is scheduled to air the 1960 version of Cimarron, in which Glenn Ford plays the part of Yancey Cravat, played by Richard Dix in the original. Thankfully, everybody seems to agree on tomorrow's schedule: TCM's original printable schedule, their online schedule, and the box guide all have the same thing. And with this being 31 Days of Oscar, it's of note that the 1960 version of Cimarron did receive two Oscar nominations (for sound and art direction).

Actually, I should have heeded my own warnings about looking at the schedule last week. I had noticed in the printable schedule that TCM was showing State Fair. I didn't look carefully enough, and figured this was the 1945 musical, starring Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews, which doesn't particularly interest me; I'm not a huge fan of Fox musicals. I'm certainly not interested interested in the 1962 version starring Pat Boone, either, although that one wasn't worthy enough to be nominated for any Oscars. However, what TCM really aired was the 1933 non-musical pre-Code version, starring Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers, which sounds much more interesting. And it doesn't seem to be on the TCM schedule again any time soon.

Why am I mentioning Whitney Houston

Well, I suppose it's partly because, thanks to TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, TCM is showing a lot of movies I've already blogged about in the past. But it has to be mentioned as well that she did act (or at least play characters) in some pretty well-known movies. The two most notable would be The Bodyguard, for which she also famously provided the music; and The Preacher's Wife, which is a remake of the classic The Bishop's Wife. Two of the songs from The Bodyguard received Oscar nominations, butnot "I Will Always Love You", as that was not an original song. However, Houston didn't write the lyrics or compose the music to either, so she didn't get the nomination, which is standard operating procedure: the nomination and award go to the composer and lyricist. Anybody could sing the songs; if you saw the documentary TCM ran on Johnny Mercer a few years back in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, you'll see some fun footage of Mercer on TV singing his own songs, not particularly well, but looking like he's having a blast performing.

Anyhow, Whitney Houston's death at a relatively young age and her history of drug abuse sounds reminiscent of any number of Hollywood movies. Whenever I think of a female singer abusing drugs and getting into legal trouble as a result, my first thought is of Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. Heck, I've already used that theme back when Amy Winehouse (remember her?) died last summer. A movie about a drug-using singer in which the singer actually dies might be The Rose starring Bette Midler as the singer. For drug-addled actresses, I mentioned Jeanne Eagles when I wrote about Winehouse, but I could just as easily have mentioned Valley of the Dolls, a movie I really need to write a full-length post about sometime, since it's one of those movies that's an unintentional laugh riot.

There are apparently reports that Houston might have drowned in her bathtub. That, I suppose, would make her like Jim Morrison, about whom there is also speculation as to whether he really overdosed or drowned in a bathtub. They already made a biopic of him, The Doors after the group he fronted, but then, Morrison is one of those 60s counterculture era icons. Houston is firmly of the 1980s, and I wonder whether the 60s hangers-on who still seem to be making movies and influencing our culture care to make a movie about a 1980s singer. (Note that The Rose, despite having been released in 1979, was actually set in 1969 and is supposedly loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, another counterculture icon.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Kiss Before Dying

Robert Wagner's 82d birthday was yesterday, so I probably should have blogged about it yesterday. But if you want to see an entertaining movie starring Robert Wagner, try the 1956 film A Kiss Before Dying

The opening titles make this look as though it's going to be either light entertainment or, from the title, a bit of a Love Story-style tragedy, but A Kiss Before Dying isn't like that at all. Wagner stars as Bud, a college student who comes from not much money, and so wants to make certain he doesn't wind up that way as an adult. One of his college classmates is Dorothy (Joanne Woodward), who is the daughter of a wealthy mine owner (George Macready). Bud knows that Dorothy is in line for an inheritance in the future, so Bud has started a romantic relationship with Dorothy, with the presumed intention of marrying her and, as the boss' son-in-law, eventually taking over the mining business.

Only, things don't quite work out that way. Bud is apparently stupid enough to have sex with Dorothy before they can ever get married, and this unsurprisingly results in Dorothy's getting knocked up! Oh dear, that sure isn't going to look good with Daddy! There goes the inheritance! But Bud is a determined young man and comes up with a brilliant idea: kill her and make it look like suicide! Bud gets Dorothy to write something that could look like a suicide note, and gets a hold of poison which he presents to Dorothy as medicine but which she doesn't take. So it's up to Bud to lure Dorothy to the top of City Hall and push her off, making it look as though she jumped.

Oh, but that's not the end of the story by any means. Dorothy has a sister Ellen (Virginia Leith), who meets Bud after her sister's "suicide". Perhaps Bud can fall in love with her and inherit Daddy's fortune that way. Only in Hollywood, I suppose. That plan is obviously doomed to failure, since the Production Code was still in effect and it's clear Bud is never going to get away with his crimes. Soon enough, Ellen begins to suspect that Dorothy didn't commit suicide, but was in fact murdered. And then she begins to put two and two together and figure out just who did it.

A Kiss Before Dying is entertaining enough, although it's a movie that has pretensions to a higher station in life than it really deserves. The movie was remade in 1991, although now in 2012, it's the sort of material that would likely go straight to one of the women's channels. Still, the producers brought in a lot of quality people to make the film: in addition to the stars mentioned, there's Mary Astor as Bud's mother and Jeffrey Hunter as Leith's boyfriend; also, the movie is based on a popular book of the time by Ira Levin, who wrote the original books The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil as well as the play No Time For Sergeants, all of which were turned into well-known movies. Finally, the movie is in wide-screen and color, giving it a look in many of the outdoor scenes that is really nice.

The problem, however, is the plot. I haven't read Levin's story, but the movie has some pretty bad plot holes, most notably a second murder committed by Bud: Bud finds somebody overhears him and Ellen in a restaurant, and realizes this man is a threat. So Bud manages to get back to the man's dorm and type up a suicide note, all before the student does. Yet there doesn't seem to be any way for there to be enough time for this. There's also an almost amusing sequence where pregnant Dorothy trips and falls down bleachers -- and yet it doesn't result in the baby being miscarried, they way falling down stairs would in almost any other movie (see Leave Her to Heaven, where Gene Tierney deliberately throws herself down the stairs to abort her unborn child).

A Kiss Before Dying is avaliable on DVD, although as I mentioned earlier, it was also remade -- and the 1991 version is on DVD as well. So if you want to enjoy Robert Wagner, make certain you get the correct version.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And the winner is...

...what's left of the Fox Movie Channel. As I mentioned yesterday, there was a discrepancy between what the box guide said was going to air this morning (The Man With One Red Shoe), and what FMC's website was going to air (Emperor of the North). In fact, it was Emperor of the North that aired. Not as if it will do you much good now, since the movie is long since over.

That having been said, it certainly can be important to check the listings. I think I've mentioned before that I usually download TCM's monthly schedule the last full week before the next month begins. So for this month, as an example, I would have downloaded the February 2012 schedule around Thursday, January 26 or Friday, January 27. TCM comes up with its schedules some time further in advance, but when they first put it up on their website it's a work in progress. That's one of the reasons why I try to avoid downloading the schedule until close to the time the next month begins. Even then, I can still get caught out. The printable schedule has Cheynne Autumn in the lineup tonight at 10:30 PM. However, TCM must have had a rights problem, because that's been replaced by The Big Sky. In this case, that's pretty much a certainty, since TCM's own online schedule has The Big Sky listed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who knows what FMC is showing

I was looking through my satellite box guide, and noticed that what's left of FMC is supposed to air Born to Be Bad tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM. The only thing is, the box guide is saying it's in a 60-minute time slot, while I was certain the movie clocked in at about 64 or 65 minutes. Maybe not, at least on the last point: IMDb says the movie is 62 minutes. And the remnants of FMC's web site says that Born to Be Bad is airing at 7:30 AM, followed by Caprice at 8:32 AM -- something that would be consistent with the movie running 62 minutes.

Perhaps what's more interesting is a bit later in the day. Both the box guide and the FMC site have Caprice on the schedule, although obviously the box guide says it's starting at 8:30 AM. The next movie comes up at 10:30 AM, and here the box guide and FMC differ quite a bit. The box guide, as well as one of the online listings services I checked, claim the following movie will be The Man With One Red Shoe. FMC's site, on the other hand, says it will be Emperor of the North. I should point out that the various box guides and online listings sites (and by extensions, the ones in your local newspaper or other print sources) get their information from a low number of companies, so both of these could have received the same wrong information from the same source.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friendly Persuasion

A quick Blogger search claims that I haven't blogged about the film Friendly Persuasion before. Since I only first saw it last April, and I don't recall it airing that much since the TCM showing last April, the search function is probably not acting up for once. At any rate, Friendly Persuasion is airing again tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM on TCM.

Gary Cooper stars as Jess Birdwell, the patriarch of a Quaker farming family in southern Indiana in 1862. That year should give you a clue as to what's about to happen; 1862 is smack dab in the middle of the US Civil War. This presents a bit of a problem for the Birdwells, as Quakers are supposed to be devout pacifists, which is more or less currently the case. Then again, they're in Indiana, and it's not as if the war was going on in Indiana -- all the battles were in the South. But back to the Civil War later. Jess has a wife, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire), and two kids who are just about all grown up: son Josh (Anthony Perkins), and daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love). (There's a third, much younger kid as well.) Josh needs a girlfriend, while Mattie is in love with young Gard (Mark Richman), a nice young man who just happens not to be a Quaker -- which means he's also going off to war.

The first half or so of the movie deals mostly with the Birdwells' personal lives, and especially with the fact that Eliza is better at adhering to the Quaker tenets than Jess is. It's a bit sentimental, but also gives the story a good chance to develop some humor and some sympathy for all the characters. This is most notable in a scene where Jess takes Josh with him to visit the widow Hudspeth (Marjorie Main) to propose a business deal. Hudspeth has three daughters, who are all clearly looking for the company of a man, something which makes both Jess and Josh uncomfortable. But as I said at the beginning, you know where the film is going, which is that the war is going to come to the Birdwells.

This happens in the form of a Confederate raiding party. The Birdwells' farm is under threat, as is their farmhand Enoch, a runaway slave. But how to defend themselves? You'd think that self-defense ought not be a problem, but apparently pacifists do have a problem with it, at least as presented in Friendly Persuasion. Then again, if it weren't for this moral conflict, there wouldn't be a story. And even though the story is somewhat predictable, it's still very well executed, making for quite a good film.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Oscar goes to Germany

Oscar Around the World continues tonight on TCM with a bunch of movies set in Germany; the German-set movies continue into tomorrow morning. Now, a lot of Oscars went to Germans in that once Hitler took power, a lot of creative people fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood, and a good number of them won Academy Awards. Amazingly, the AMPAS database claims that Fritz Lang is not among them. Shame, shame shame.

But of course, honoring the birthplaces of people is not what TCM's programming scheme for this month is about; as I mentioned, it's where the movies are set that matters. The night kicks off with Decision Before Dawn was nominated for two Oscars; one for its editing and one for the big prize of Best Picture. It's another Fox film and one that I'm surprised to have blogged about nearly two years ago. Anyhow, you can catch the very good Decision Before Dawn at 8:00 PM.

A movie I've briefly mentioned a number of times, but not for over two years, is Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, which comes up overnight at 1:30 AM. Edward G. Robinson stars as Ehrlich, the man who comes up with a treatment for syphilis, only for his work to cause controversy that lands him in court in a libel trial. The movie itself would have been controversial back in the day, if only for the use of the word "syphilis", which would shock the people enforcing the Production Code. Yes, people had sex back then, and people got venereal diseases.

As for blogging about some movies I haven't done before, well, that's probably going to come up in the near future. That, and hopefully finally getting around to adding some more tags to posts, if only because the Blogger search function is acting up again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ronald Reagan vs. the Oscars

Today marks the birth anniversary of Ronald Reagan, who was born on this day in 1911. TCM has its regular 31 Days of Oscar on February, so people born in February don't get the normal birthday salute that people born in other months of the year do. And as far as Reagan goes, he started his career playing the male lead in B movies which, while entertaining, were never going to be Oscar material

Still, you can catch Reagan later this week in Desperate Journey, which airs at 9:45 AM Wednesday. Reagan plays second fiddle to Errol Flynn in a movie about a World War II bomber crew who get shot down by the Nazis over eastern Germany, and have to make their way back to freedom by going through Germany and the Netherlands. (You'd think it might be easier to make their way across the Baltic to neutral Sweden, although I don't know what sort of agreement Sweden had with Germany regarding Allied figthers. It received an Oscar nomination for its special effects, and not for the acting, and certainly not for the screenplay. If you want to see a better movie in the same vein, you could watch One of Our Aircraft Is Missing overnight tonight at 1:30 AM. This one, made in Britain by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, has a British bomber crew get shot down over the Netherlands, where the Dutch resistance helps them escape. Or, you could have watched 49th Parallel last week, where the stranded folks trying to escape are the crew of a Nazi U-boat.

What else could TCM show on Reagan's birthday? Perhaps his best performance is in Kings Row. Not that he was nominated, but the movie itself received a Best Picture nomination. Reagan received top billing in The Hasty Heart, and does a fairly good job, although the acting nomination here went to Richard Todd. Reagan also had a supporting role in Dark Victory, but again, the acting honors went to somebody else, namely Bette Davis.

Reagan also appeared in Million Dollar Baby, but not the one that won the Best Picture Oscar.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Another pair of repeats

I think I mentioned a few days back that TCM is spending its 31 Days of Oscar this year looking at "Oscar Around the World"; that is, the movies are grouped more or less by the locations where they're set. TCM has been spending most of this weekend in Merrye Olde Englande, or, at least, England in various time periods. Contemporary England finally arrives this afternoon. It stars off with the Ealing comedies The Lavender Hill Mob at 4:45 PM and The Ladykillers at 6:15 PM. But the lesser-seen movie that I've blogged about in the past and would like to mention again is The VIPs, which ends the visit to England in the wee hours of the morning, at 5:15 AM tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning, TCM switches its focus from England to the Continent, starting off with a bunch of movies set in Central Europe, by which I mean the countries in the former Communist bloc west of the defunct Soviet Union. Note that this doesn't mean the movies are all set during the Communist era; there historical movies such as Conquest at 10:30 AM tomorrow and the Chopin biopic A Song To Remember at 7:15 AM. (Interestingly, Madame Curie, which received seven Oscar nominations, is not among the films, although it is disproportionately set in France.) The only one of the films set during the Communist era is a movie I blogged about previously, though -- and by coincidence, only five days after The VIPs: The Firemen's Ball tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM. I'm really pleased to see this one finally show up on TCM, which has much broader coverage than IFC and which doesn't interrupt the films with commercials the way IFC now does.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ben Gazzara, 1930-2012

Ben Gazzara, on the right in the military uniform in Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

You might have come across the news that veteran character actor Ben Gazzara died yesterday at the age of 81. I found it a bit more difficult to find good photos of him from his movies than I would have thought, apparently because the Google Image searching is bringing up more recent photos of him that are being used in all the online obituaries. Gazzara's breakout movie role was as the soldier accused of murdering the man who raped his wife in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder in 1959.

A movie os his for which I have a soft spot is The Young Doctors, where Gazzara plays a young pathologist arguing with veteran Fredric March over whether a patient has cancer and therefore needs a leg amputation, or not. The movie also stars a young Dick Clark, which is why I enjoy the film. Clark isn't that good, but Gazzara is. I was looking for a picture of Gazzara and March from that film, and the best I could find is somebody selling a production still on Ebay. (I don't know how long that link is going to be active.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nowadays, anybody can be a critic

This morning, I came across an interesting article at the reason magazine blog [the lack of capitalization is the way the magazine calls itself] more or less on the auteur theory that film critics seem to love, and how today's technology has allowed those of us who don't agree with that theory to have our own say. The first point that the author, Tim Cavanaugh, brings up is an article written elsewhere on the firing of the film critic for The Village Voice. From that article's author, Tom Carson:

Whether or not he'd care for the title, Hoberman, along with The Nation's Stuart Klawans, is the most honorably anti-yahoo movie critic in the country.

Carson's "anti-yahoo" comment encapsulates a lot of what I think about movie criticism. That is, I don't pay all that much attention to what the "critics" for whom it's a day job for which they get paid by the old-style media have to say about movies. I think I've mentioned someplace that every time I see an old comment by Pauline Kael on a movie, I find that she had quite a different opinion than I did on the movie she's discussing. But above and beyond that, the "anti-yahoo" line says something about how the critics think they're superior, and how dare those regular people not have the tastes they do.

Another of my favorite non-movie bloggers is David Thompson, who blogs about things that interest him aesthetically (have fun with his "Friday Ephemera" link posts) among other posts. However, Thompson also posts his own commentary about the state of the arts today, which is usually to say about the people who would call themselves the "arts community", and how what they consider art tends not to be that which the rest of us consider art. That, and how the "arts community" wants us to pay for their "art". Here's Thompson's most recent post on that theme.

The two have something in common, which is that you have people who want to impose their own tastes on everybody else, and that they're often stridently political about it. I think I've commented more than once on the auteur theory (note that my understanding of it isn't quite the same as Tim Cavanugh's) and how it seems to imply that the non-corporate -- or more accurately the anti-corporate -- is somehow automatically virtuous and better. It's a point I made fairly when I blogged on Greed back in September, 2010. Also, the genesis for the auteur theory seems to come from French critics, and since they're not Hollywood, they're not of the horrid Hollywood, American "suits" culture -- another automatic plus for them. That's partly where notable child rapist Roman Polanski comes in.

One of the commenters to the reason post I mentioned at the beginning (I apologize for any obscenity you'll encounter from the reason readers; we're a rather saucy bunch) says something to the effect that we shouldn't refer to critics as failed movie makers, but instead understand that almost anybody can be a critic. All it really takes is a passion for the subject you're writing about, and an ability to communicate well. That might be the best comment of them all. With the advent of blogs, any idiot such as I can write about the things which make us passionate. Granted, some people may be better writers than others (and I'm probably in that latter group!), but if you're looking for opinions, you can find them all over the place, and don't need to go to your newspaper's film critic for them. Worse, many of us may not share the opinions of the newspaper film critic.

That having been said, I have to admit that I sometimes feel a sense of, "How could the average person like this stuff?" I know that I much prefer a good story to loads of CGI and explosions, and don't particularly get the current trend towards 3D as though it makes the pictures better. If it didn't do that in the 1950s, why should it have that effect today? But that's also why I try to limit my posting to older movies, and even when I don't like a film a lot of other people do, I understand that there are going to be people who do like that genre (women's pictures) or actor (Judy Garland).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Interesting anachronism

So I watched Reap the Wild Wind yesterday; a movie which probably deserves a full-length post of its own sometime down the road. It's a movie set in Key West, Flordia, in the 1840s among the world of salvage boats. But that's not really what I'm posting about, other than to make the point that the film was set in the 1840s. One of the characters -- I think it was the John Wayne character, but since I wasn't expecting this, I wasn't paying close enough attention -- makes a reference to "Mother Carey's Chickens".

This is something I found odd. I already knew about the movie Mother Carey's Chickens, which was released in 1938. Obviously, a reference to a movie would be an anachronism for a film set in the 1840s, when they barely had photography. One would presume that the movie was based on a prior work of fiction, which in fact turns out to be the case. Kate Douglas Wiggin wrote the novel Mother Carey's Chickens... in 1911. Still a pretty obvious anachronism. (The book is in the public domain and free ebook versions are available if you wish to read it.)

What I find more interesting, however, is referring to "Mother Carey's Chickens" at all. Reap the Wild Wind was released a good four years after the movie Mother Carey's Chickens, which makes one wonder whether the movie would still have been in the public consciousness. I thought perhaps there might have been a series based on the movie, but not as far as I can tell. It was remade in the early 1960s, but that's obviously a bit too late for Reap the Wild Wind If not, I wonder whether the moviegoers of the early 1940s would remember a book written three decades earlier. Further, the movie Mother Carey's Chickens was made at RKO, while Reap the Wild Wind is a Paramount production. I always find it a bit hard to believe that one studio would openly mention another studio's movies back in those days. In fact, every time there's a scene in a movie where people go to a movie theater or pass by a theater with movie posters in the lobby, I try to figure out whether the movie in the poster is a real one and contemporaneous to the action in the movie. It's something I briefly mentioned in August, 2008, regarding the movie Should Ladies Behave.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oscar death match: Rocky vs. Network

TCM kicks off its annual 31 Days of Oscar this morning, with the theme for this year being an "around the world" theme of TCM grouping the movies more or less by where they were set. The prime time lineup for tonight has quite a few movies set in Philadelphia, starting at 8:00 PM with Rocky, which won the Best Picture Oscar for 1976. I know a lot of people who think it's almost a travesty that Rocky won the Oscar that year and not Network. After all Network has biting social commentary, and Rocky is supposedly just a feel-good movie. To be honest, though, I'm of two minds as to what should have won Best Picture that year.

For me, the thing is that I find both pictures are worthy of the award. Network certainly does have biting social commentary, and is prescient in the things it was saying about the state of television. I find, however, that a lot of people who talk about these points seem to want to use them to bash one particular broadcaster or another, depending on their particular political point of view. (I think you can guess which channel comes up most often in this regard.) When it comes to politics, or in my case ideology, I'd argue that all of television news i pretty lousy, what with its moral panic of the day and the emotional appeals of "won't somebody think of the children". As for the actual on-screen product in Network, not only is there the biting satire, there are some pretty damn good performances by much of the cast. And it has its iconic moment, with Peter Finch as Howard Beale telling everybody to shout, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!"

Rocky, as I said earlier, often gets dismisses for being a "feel-good" movie, which implies that either it doesn't have any political views, or worse, it has the wrong political views. I think, however, that this does the movie a gross disservice. Rocky certainly has commentary to make, but it does so in a rather more subtle way than many pictures that are trying to make their points in a serious way. (Let's leave satire aside here; my previous comment is to compare Rocky to dreadfully blunt films like Philadelphia.) When Rich Eisen was Guest Programmer back in June 2010, he selected Rocky and commented that it wasn't so much a movie about boxing as it was a love story set against the world of boxing. It's also a social commentary about the state of the lower classes which just happens to be set against the world of boxing. Look at the conditions Rocky is living in, and it's not all wine and roses about the Americn dream. Rocky also has a decidedly ambiguous ending. Also, like Network, there is an iconic image, that of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of Philadelphia's City Hall, set to the music of Bill Conti, which has also stood the test of time more than most Hollywood music. Play "Gonna Fly Now" and everybody gets the reference.

Is Rocky better than Network? I'm not certain which one is better, but both are transcendent movies.