Saturday, March 31, 2012


Hallelujah! is another one of those movies that for some reason, I thought I had already blogged about. I was wrong. It's a movie that shows up all too rarely on TCM, but it's finally showing up again at 10:00 PM tonight. If you haven't seen it before, it's well worth the watch. To be honest, it's amazing that Hallelujah! even got made at all. It's an all-black movie at a major studio (MGM), made in 1929. That, of course, is a time when the studios simply weren't making any such movies and the blacks who did show up in movies were the hired help. Director King Vidor, in fact, had to put up a good deal of the money himself to make the picture. All that historical value by itself would make Hallelujah! more than worthy of viewing.

But, in fact, Hallelujah! isn't a bad movie, despite having some flaws. Although it's got an all-black cast, in many ways it can be seen as a sort of morality play about an everyman, much like Cabin in the Sky. That everyman is Zeke (played by Daniel Haynes). He's the eldest son in a family of sharecroppers, and after the harvest, he's given the job of taking the harvest to the cotton mill to get the family's income for the year. Unfortunately, he meets Chick (Nina Mae McKinney), a temptress who pursues him and eventually leads Zeke to lose all his money in a craps game, and then get in a shooting match that winds up with Zeke's younger brother Spike getting shot accidentally and killed.

The result of all this is that Zeke has a crisis of conscience and decides to turn to God to try to repent for his sins. I've read that converts can be some of the most fervent believers, and Zeke's charismatic preaching leads to his gaining a modicum of fame as well as a revival tour which makes him and his family rather more comfortable than they were as sharecroppers. And then Chick shows up again, claiming to seek salvation and wanting to be "born again". Even men of the cloth suffer from temptation and have human failings. Will things work out for the best for Zeke and Chick's souls?

As I mentioned, Hallelujah! has some flaws. A lot of them are technical: the movie having been made in 1929, sound technology for motion pictures was not as quite high-quality as it would later become. This can make the movie a bit difficult to follow at times. Also, you have to wonder whether some of the scenes, particularly of singing sharecroppers, are realistic or portraying to stereotypes. As with a lot of the race pictures, the acting is uneven, since there was a smaller pool of actors to choose from and many of them had done no screen work prior to this. That having been said, the two leads both do amazing jobs, even if the everyman theme causes them to be exaggerated at times.

Hallelujah! has, thankfully, received a DVD release.

Friday, March 30, 2012

They Won't Believe Me

This afternoon at 5:00 PM, TCM is showing They Won't Believe Me. Unfortunately, it's a movie that's a bit tough to give a synopsis of without giving away key spoiler elements.

Robert Young plays Larry Ballantine, a man who, at the beginning of the movie, is on trial for the killing of his wife. He and his lawyer have decided that the only way he can prove his innocence is to take the stand and tell the story of what really happened. There are a couple of problems, not least among them is the fact that his story is so fantastic that nobody could possibly believe it. Cue the flashback. (Note that, unlike Leave Her to Heaven, where reference is made to the Cornel Wilde character's having spent time in prison, the point at which They Won't Believe Me begins isn't quite that far along the story.)

Larry's claim is that he wasn't with his wife at the time she died. And this is another point against Larry. He's rather a charming playboy, displaying the same sort of charm we might have seen from Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall or Cary Grant in Suspicion, albeit with rather a bit less menace than either of them. His marriage Greta (Rita Johnson) is not working, mostly because Larry doesn't really want to work. So he takes up first with Jane Greer and then with Susan Hayward, while the wife goes off to a ranch that's been in her family. It's at this point that the first unbelivable plot twist occurs....

I really don't want to give away the rest of the story, so I'll only hint at it by suggesting that it contains elements similar to the two deaths in Detour, and a further plot twist that might make you think a bit about The Postman Always Rings Twice. They Won't Believe Me isn't quite original or groundbreaking, but it's certainly entertaining. Even if you too won't believe Larry Ballantine's testimony; to be fair to the moviemakers, however, I don't think it's quite the point of the movie whether or not the testimony is actually the truth. Just sit back and be entertained.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

They Won't Forget

I thought I had blogged about the film They Won't Forget before, but a Blogger search claims I haven't. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM on TCM, and is an effective, underrated movie.

The scene is a small southern city in the (then) present (the movie was released in 1937) celebrating Confederate Memorial Day, with a small number of veterans of the Civil War still around to remember those days. Everybody in town celebrates, with the exception of one teacher at the local business college (Edward Norris), who can't be bothered to celebrate because he's a northern transplant. The day is a half day for everybody, and Norris lets his secretarial students out, only for one of them (a young Lana Turner in one of her earliest roles) to return looking for a compact she accidentally left in the room. Unfortunately, she winds up dead at the bottom of the building's elevator shaft, discovered by the black janitor who is understandably terrified that the cops are going to suspect him. After all, this is the South with all its racist stereotypes of black people unable to get justice, especially not when a pretty girl has been killed. It doesn't help either that you've got a people braying for justice, and a district attorney (Claude Rains) who is politically ambitious and willing to do anything ot get ahead in his career. Thankfully for the janitor, though, there's a better suspect: Norris, the outsider who is also the last person known to have seen Turner alive.

It's only in the past year that we've been through the media frenzy of the Casey Anthony trial and those in the media eager to pronounce the defendant guilty before there's even a trial, which shows that They Won't Forget is still a timely movie 75 years after its original release. And as with the trials of today, there's not only the ambitious prosecutor and a vengeful citizenry, but a media that's just as much out for blood; of course, 75 years earlier there was no live TV coverage of trials because there was pretty much no TV at all. But all the same factors were in place to ensure that it would be exceedingly difficult for the defendant to get justice. All this despite the strictures of the Production Code.

Then again, one of the things helping all this get past the folks in the Code Office is that despite the standard boilerplate about all the characters being fictitious, with any semblance to real people being purely coincidental, They Won't Forget is generally considered by those who know Southern history to be based upon actual events that happened in the Atlanta area back in the early teens, with a few changes. In real life, the murder victim was 12 or 13; here she's supposed to be about 18. Perhaps more interestingly is the hapless defendant's being a northener in the film. You'd think that would make it harder to get good bookings for this film in the south. In the original case, the defendant was Jewish, and the bias was anti-Semitism. Perhaps Hollywood's disproportionately Jewish moguls didn't want any grumblings from a largely Christian viewing public about a prejudice that didn't affect them.

As for the film itself, it's superb, thanks in no small part to Claude Rains' acting. (Well, aside from the southern accent, although Rains was just as good with a phony New York accent in They Made Me a Criminal.) Turner doesn't have much to do here since she gets killed off early; what she does have she does well. The defendant, and especially his wife (Gloria Dickson) are quite good; and then there's Elisha Cook, Jr., playing Turner's boyfriend. For some reason, he always comes across as creepy, even when he's supposed to be a reasonably good guy, as in Don't Bother To Knock. Finally, there are all the Warner Bros. values; they and director Mervyn LeRoy excelled at the sort of social commentary you'll see in this picture.

They Won't Forget has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, although to be honest, it probably deserves even better. Compare and contrast it with MGM's Fury.

Baby It's Cold Outside

TCM is spending tonight at the north and south poles. The lineup includes Dirigible, a movie I blogged about back in May 2009, at 12:45 AM. The night, however, starts off with the more or less true-to-life film Scott of the Antarctic at 8:00 PM.

John Mills stars as Robert Falcon Scott, who in 1910 led an expeidition to Antarctica in an attempt to become the first man to reach the South Pole. He reached the pole in January 1912 -- only to find out that his rival, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, had already reached the pole and planted the Norwegian flag there. Worse, the expedition hadn't been planned properly, and on the way back the team were unable to find one of their caches of provisions, with the result that they all died. At least Scott only died of starvation and exposure. Another failed Antarctic expeidition from around the same time saw the explorers, in an attempt not to starve, kill their dogs and eat the meat, including the livers, which resulted in a severe case of vitamin A poisoning. (In their defense, they didn't know about vitamin A, as it hadn't been discovered yet.)

TCM is also showing Admiral Richard Byrd's documentary of his South Pole expedition, titled With Byrd at the South Pole, at 3:45 AM.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Louis Wolheim, 1880-1931

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Louis Wolheim, who was successful in silents and just beginning to make a name for himself in talkies until his untimely death at the age of 50. I've recommended him in the silent Two Arabian Knights, and one talkie, The Silver Horde. I don't think I've blogged about his most famous work, however, which would be in All Quiet on the Western Front.

I was looking for a good photo to illustrate him, and there are some good ones that show up in a Google Image search. A more interesting one showed up, linking to the George Eastman House archive. Photographer Nickolas Muray apparently took quite a few photos of actors that are in the Eastman House archive. There does, however, seem to be a problem, in that the index of photographers includes a link to his color photographs but not his black and white photographs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A few briefs about today's schedule

I wish I had seen His Greatest Gamble, which aired at 10:15 AM, before. Large parts of it are not particularly good, but these parts have a hilarious earnestness. I could swear I just saw the actor who played the butler (Leonard Carey) in another film in the last week (also as a butler) or two that made me look up who played the butler in that one, but looking at Carey's credits, I can't figure out which one it was. Or, more likely, it was anothe rone of the serial butlers. It definitely wasn't Arthur Treacher, and I don't think it was Eric Blore. This is the sort of thing that's going to bother me for days.

I'm not certain if I've done a full-length post on 1962's Cape Fear, which is airing tonight as part of a night of movies devoted to Robert Mitchum. It's the sort of movie that really deserves a full-length post, but I always find myself a bit uncertain whether I want to do full-length posts on movies that even the more casual movie viewer is likely to know the plot to. I like recommending movies that aren't so well known, and whenever it comes to a more famous movie, I feel as though I need to think of an angle that, if it hasn't been said before (which is highly unlikely), is at least relatively infrequently mentioned.

Cape Fear is being followed at 10:00 PM by River of No Return, which I first blogged about back in August 2008. What's worth mentioning about this one is that it's another Fox film. More and more since the change in the Fox Movie Channel's format, it seems as though TCM has been able to get better access to classic films from the Fox library. At least, films that are either more prestigious today (as in anything with Marilyn Monroe) or significant for some other reason, such as Best Picture nominee Decision Before Dawn, which I think was a TCM premiere when it showed up in prime time back in February. It's good to see that at least if what's left of FMC isn't going to show the films, that at least TCM will show some of them. I don't know if TCM will ever get around to showing much of the stuff that's less well-known today, though.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pair it with Under 18

I don't think I've ever mentioned the movie Over 21 before. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM and is worth a viewing.

First, about the title. There's nothing risqué or even particularly adult about it; it's just a reference to a line one of the characters has about the humban brain not being able to absorb new knowledge when you're "over 21". That new knowledge comes in the form of the US Army's Officer Training School. Over 21, you see, is a World War II movie. The officer-in-training is Max Wharton, played by Alexander Knox. His day job is as a newspaper editor, but he realizes that his editorials about the war will be meaningless unless he can actually experience some of the real thing, he is why he enrolls in OTS. This presents problems for a couple of people. One is his wife Polly (Irene Dunne). She's got a day job as a novelist-turned-screenwriter, but she loves her husband and plans to follow him to the base if at all possible. The other person with a big problem is Max's boss, publisher Robert Gow (Charles Coburn). Max is the one person who can edit the paper well, and if Max is going to leave, well, he'd better sell the paper.

Polly gets a brilliant idea. She wants her husband to be able to dedicate all his time and energy to passing the officer's exams, but also wants him to be able to keep his job. So she decides to write his editorials for him, using his name as the byline and not telling either Max or Mr. Gow. They say honesty is the best policy, so you know that Polly's keeping this a secret is going to cause a problem eventually. But she's got other problems of her own. As a famous novelist in the big city, she was used to a much more glamorous life than that of an army officer's wife. To make matters worse, her accommodations are a crappy bungalow where the appliances doesn't work. And, like Barbara Stanwyck's character in Christmas in Connecticut, Polly isn't much use around the house.

Over 21 is based on a play written by Ruth Gordon, who is responsible for several screenplays to classic films, including Adam's Rib. She based the play on her own experience from when her husband Garson Kanin entered the military during World War II. I don't know quite how accurate the movie is, since I wasn't around for World War II. That having been said, it's intelligent at times, as well as entertaining. Like Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, I would think of it as the sort of movie that doesn't exactly contain material objectionable for children, but one which isn't suitable for children just because I think they'd find it boring. The movie is also available on DVD.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bette Davis meets Joan Crawford ten years early

I've mentioned in the past how Joan Crawford's later movies, starting with Mildred Pierce but definitely continuing to things like Flamingo Road, This Woman Is Dangerous, and Queen Bee, feature a more "strident" Crawford, whose acting seems to be more forced and over-the-top, in a way that's unintentionally hilarious. You can see her and Bette Davis do this routine together in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. But ten years before Baby Jane, you can see the same sort of acting from Davis in The Star, which is airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM.

Bette Davis plays the titular star; really, who else could possibly be the star of a Bette Davis film? This star, named Margaret Elliot, is even more of a former star than the Margot Channing she played in All About Eve. The good roles are no longer coming; and Margaret is in debt, living in an apartment where she's behind on the rent and having a lot of her personal effects auctioned off. It doesn't help, either, that Margaret lost a lot of her money helping out the rest of her family, including her sick mother and a sister used to living the good life. Indeed, the sister still wants her monthly check from Margaret and doesn't believe that Margaret is in fact broke. To top it all off, her daughter (Natalie Wood), now living with her father and step-mother, is still telling everybody how mom is going to get a big role in a prominent movie. After a visit from the sister turns into a raging argument, Margaret decides to go on the mother of all benders, taking her Oscar for a ride with her. (Davis is said to have used one of the two actual Oscars she won as the prop Oscar for this scene.) Davis winds up crashing her car and getting booked for DWI.

Who bails her out? Not her manager; Margaret has already been taking advances from her manager. Instead it's Jim Johannsen (Sterling Hayden) who, it turns out, is a man from Margaret's past. Fifteen years earlier, he had done some work at the Hollywood estate where Margaret was then living. She repaid him by using him as a tool to try to get back at the studio bosses: she had him cast as the male lead in her next picture, which promptly flopped, ending Jim's acting career. He was thankful for this, as he really preferred to do other things anyhow, such as boat building. Jim, in fact, went into business building boats, and has a moderately successful operation going, and after bailing Margaret out, he takes her to the apartment above the shop so she can sober up and get better. And maybe he just has a flame for her, too.... The rest of the movie involves a conflict between Jim, who seems to want Margaret to retire and settle down, preferably with him; and Margaret, who obviously thinks she can still be a star, and not just a character actor.

Bette Davis and Sterling Hayden are an unlikely copule, and that helps to make large portions of The Star an unintentional laugh fest. You have to wonder how much of the stuff going on here might also have been going on in real life. Davis had, if memory serves, ended her contract at Warner Bros. not too long earlier, and was now, post-Eve, in a difficult marriage with Gary Merrill and playing roles that were either not as big (Phone Call From a Stranger or The Virgin Quen), or in pretty dire films (Storm Warning). Davis tries -- good God does she try -- and it makes the movie compelling watching. Like quite a few other movies from the 1950s, The Star is one of those films that's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but is a hell of a lot of fun.

Worthy repeats, and a blogroll

Since TCM has its Silent Sunday Nights feature beginning at about midnight on Sunday nights (ie the midnight between Sunday and Monday), it means they usually don't have much time to do a real salute on Sunday nights, but only a two-film salute. This week, that salute is to director Jules Dassin, with the first film being what I think is the TCM premiere of Night and the City, at 8:00 PM. That's followed at 10:00 PM by Brue Force

Now, I've recommended Brute Force more often, largely because it's shown more on TCM, so I had already had an opportunity to find a good picture to illustrate it. Specifically, that's Hume Cronyn in his undershirt wielding a rubber truncheon with which he's going to flog a prisoner. My only post on Night and the City didn't have any illustration, so I figured I'd go looking for one. The poster above was found over at the group blog James River Film Journal's post on Night and the City, and I hope they don't mind that I've appropriated it. (Mostly, I only copy the images over to a Photobucket account so as not to use other people's bandwidth.) I presume the folks over at James River are all professoinal writers, which is why their blog is so much slicker than my low-traffic thing. But the posts that I looked at all look interesting, so I've also added them to my blogroll.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bette Davis trespasses on Gloria Swanson's territory

In 1929, Gloria Swanson made her first talkie, a movie called The Trespasser. I've mentioned numerous times in the past that Hollywood has always remade its movies, and so it is with The Trespasser; director Edmund Goulding remade it in 1937 as That Certain Woman, with Bette Davis reprising the role originally done by Swanson. You can catch that remake tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM.

Bette Davis' character is a working woman, working as a secretary for lawyer Ian Hunter. However, she's about to retire, as she's been having a relationship with the wealthy Henry Fonda. The only problem is that they're of different social classes, so they have to elope. Fonda's father learns of the marriage and discovers where the couple is honeymooning, and impresses on his son why he should file for an annulment.

Fast forward a few years. If you've seen enough movies of the era, you'll know that being married for even just a few seconds can be enough to get a woman knocked up legitimately, so it's not surprising that the fast fowarding should be so that we can see Davis now having a young child. Because of her pride, and also her fear of losing her child, she never told Fonda about it, instead living a hand-to-mouth existence. She goes back to work for Hunter, who responds by treating her much better than he should have; just giving her a job ought to have been enough. Instead, he keeps her in a better condition, largely because he's in a loveless marriage. And then Hunter up and dies, and leaves quite a bit to Davis in his will. Really, now, can we get any more melodramatic?

Oh yes, yes we can get more melodramatic! Davis realizes that the will is going to be fought, and the wife thinks Davis might actually be responsible for Hunter's death! And this is going to cause controversy that might bring into question her fitness to be a mother. The only person who can help Davis, however, is... Fonda! Oh dear. And to make matters worse, Fonda is also trapped in a loveless marriage, to a woman who can never bear him a child because she's been in a car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair. One who, unsurprisingly, can give the child far more than Davis can.

Did people really take this stuff seriously back in 1937? One thing I haven't even mentioned is that Davis' character has a past that isn't really touched on in The Trespasser, which only serves to make the movie even sappier. Still, the actors really try here. If you need to give your eyes a workout by rolling them for an hour and a half, then That Certain Woman is a film for you. It's also gotten a DVD release via the Warner Archive.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fort Clark Springs

I was looking at the blog stats, and noticed that one of the searches that showed up in the stats was "movies made at fort clark springs". Well, I knew nothing about Fort Clark Springs, but it's easy enough to look these things up on Google. Even if Google isn't your friend, it has the answers to almost anything you could be looking for, and the top link was to Fort Clark Springs, just outside the southwest Texas town of Brackettville. The Brackettvill guide mentions Alamo Village, which is where John Wayne and company set up a replica of San Antonio's Alamo for the 1960 film The Alamo.

All that having been said, it's not too awful difficult to find out what movies were filmed in a certain location. I've mentioned IMDb's advanced title search in the past. Helpfully enough, one of the search fields is "Filming Locations". It turns up nothing on "Fort Clark Springs", but gives two results for Fort Clark: Charlton Heston in Arrowhead, and James Stewart's Two Rode Together; for both of those the Fort Clark is the place in Brackettville. Quite a few other movies are listed as having been filmed in Brackettville or at Alamo Village, almost all of them westerns, with the exception of Uphill All the Way, a comedy about bank robbers in Texas circa World War I which I admit I've never heard of.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

William Travilla, 1920-1990

Today marks the birth anniversary of costume designer William Travilla. I briefly mentioned him in December 2009 in a post on people who only went by one name in the credits. William Travilla, you see, was often credited solely under his surname of Travilla. The most productive part of his movie career was at 20th Century-Fox in the 1950s, where he worked on close to five dozen movies. The most notable of these would be the ones starring Marilyn Monroe, such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch. On some movies, the female star has dresses designed by one famous designer, while the general wardrobe duties are handled by somebody else; a good example of this would be Audrey Hepburn's wearing clothes by (Hubert de) Givenchy. In a movie like Breakfast at Tiffany's, Givenchy was credited for her wardrobe; a second person (Pauline Trigere) received credit for Patricia Neal's wardrobe; and a third (Edith Head) received credit as "costume supervisor". Travilla, hoewver actually did create all those gowns and dress that you see Monroe wearing in her movies, having been a good friend of Monroe at the time.

For reasons I don't quite understand (I'd guess it has something to do with wanting to be a brand name), the use of a one-word name (or more accurately not using both a given name and a surname) seems to be much more common among costume designers than any other part of the moviemaking business. In addition to Travilla, there are such famous designers as Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Jean-Louis, and Irene. Don't ask me their full names; I'd have to look them up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I've briefly mentioned the Fox docudrama Boomerang! a couple of times in the past. It's back on the TCM schedule at 7:15 AM tomorrow, so now is a good time to do the movie justice with a full post.

The scene is Bridgeport, CT, some time in the past. (The movie is based on a real-life incident that happened in Bridgeport in the mid-1920s; to be honest I don't remember if the movie actually mentions the location or the date that it's set.) A popular local priest is walking through the town, where he gets shot in public, in full view of lots of witnesses! However, eyewitness testimony is actually not as accurate as the movies would normally have you believe, so for a while the police are at a loss. This is a problem for party boss Ed Begley. It turns out that he's got a land deal before the local government, and it ties in with the murder only peripherally, but importantly. The public is clamoring for the priest's killer to be brought to justice, and if that doesn't happen, the current adminstration will be voted out of power, scuppering his land deal. So a wide dragnet is thrown out by police chief Lee J. Cobb, which eventually nets a former army veteran, Arthur Kennedy.

The case against Kennedy, however is only circumstantial. He was wearing the same sort of clothing that the eyewitnesses saw the killer wearing, and ballistics claims a gun in his possession matches the one that fired the bullet found in the priest. It doesn't help that Kennedy is a drifter, as a lot of ex-army members at the tim had difficulty finding stable work (see Paul Muni's character in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang), who just happened to be in Connecticut at the time the crime was committed. So the police interrogate him -- and interrogate him -- and interrogate him some more -- until he finally confesses.

The case is then given to the district attorney (Dana Andrews) to prosecute. He investigates the evidence, and comes to a shocking conclusion: Kennedy may not be guilty after all! This is a problem for a lot of people, including the DA's wife (Jane Wyatt), who it is revealed lent Begley money not knowing just how corrupt he was. So the DA is faced with a dilemma, in that he wants to see justice done, but he's got a political establishment and a public who want a different sort of "justice" to be done.

As I said before, this is based on a real case, as hard as that may be to believe: we still have lots of cases where an easy-to-hate defendant is faced with a public braying for "justice", and politically ambitious porsecutors willing to go to great lengths to ensure a conviction. If Boomerang! has a flaw, it's that it comes across as too good to be true and triumphalist, implying that everybody will get justice, just like Arthur Kennedy's character. I don't think we should criticize the cast for this, however, as they're all quite good. In addition to the ones I've mentioned, watch for TCM Star of the Month Karl Malden in a small rold as a police detective. You can't miss his nose.

When I first mentioned Boomerang! several years back, I suggeested it wasn't available on DVD, which waould probably have been based on the lack of a link at IMDb to Amazon selling it on DVD. In fact, there was one available at the time, and it's still available for purchase.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My husband's dirty secret

I was just thinking about how many movies there are in which a wife comes to discover that her husband has been keeping a big secret from her. Not something like a Christmas present, but rather more serious things. Think, for example, about how Ingird Bergman learns in Gaslight that husband Charles Boyer is trying to drive her crazy. Or, how Joan Fontaine comes to suspect that husband Cary Grant is trying to kill her in Suspicion. In Dark Victory, Bette Davis learns a rather different secret that her doctor/husband George Brent has hidden from her. Barbara Stanwyck learns a secret in a rather different way in Sorry, Wrong Number, while Shelley Winters never learns the secret that husband Robert Mitchum has in Night of the Hunter. Another wife who doesn't learn her husband's secret until it's OK for everybody to learn it is Eleanor Parker in Above and Beyond, although in this case it's understandable, since the secret is a matter of national security: the atomic bomb.

Why am I thinking about all these secrets? The answer to that question isn't a secret; it's that I was reminded of all these movies when I noticed that TCM's schedule for tomorrow contains the movie Conspirator, at 8:00 AM. In this case, the wife is a young Elizabeth Taylor, who was only about 18 when she made this movie. She's visiting friends in England (pay attention to Joyce, the adult daughter of the family; that's Honor Blackman, who would go on to play Pussy Galore in Goldfinger). While in England, she goes to a dance, where she meets dancing army major Michael (played by Robert Taylor). She falls in love, and the two soon get married.

Of course, we know that things aren't going to be a bed of roses for the two of them. Indeed, the director lets us in on the major's secret: he's passing secrets to the Communists! This is interesting, in that it's something that makes Conspirator different from a lot of the other secret-keeping films I've mentioned. With the exception of Above and Beyond (and to a lesser extent Dark Victory), the husband keeping the secret is keeping it from everybody, and not just the wife. Here, though, Robert Taylor's army major has people above him who are in on the secret. Unlike Above and Beyond, though, the Communists have feelings about the major's marriage that the army bigwigs wouldn't have had. They would rather have vetted Elizabeth Taylor's character, since they feel an unknown woman could be a threat to their organization. (Indeed, this is much like the Laraine Day character in The Woman on Pier 13.) Anyhow, Elizabeth Taylor eventually finds a piece of intelligence that her husband has been hiding, one which shows that he's a Communist. This naturally causes a conflict for both of them. For her, she wonders first what to do about the man she loves. For him, it's a question of whether the British authorities are going to arrest him because his wife turns him in, or whehter Communists are going to get him first because they discover he's caused a threat to them. One way to solve both these problems would be to kill his wife....

I don't really want to call Conspirator formulaic, even though the plot device of the husband keeping a secret from his wife is one that's been used far too much. Still, this movie does feel a bit like a road we've been down a dozen times already. That having been said, Elizabeth Taylor was really quite a good actress before she became a sort of parody of herself in the 1960s and beyond. Robert Taylor is handsome and menacing enough here, even if he's outshone by Elizabeth. Not that this is much of a surprise; a lot of great actors were outshone by Elizabeth Taylor in her films. Conspirator is sold enough entertainment, if nothing groundbreaking. It's made it to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, which means that you can still catch it if you miss the TCM showing, but it'll be a bit more expensive than a lot of movies.

Guest Programmer: Jules Feiffer

After taking a one-month break for the annual 31 Days of Oscar, TCM sees its Guest Programmer sit down wirh Robert Osborne to present four of his favorite films. This month, that programmer is cartoonist Jules Feiffer. Note the spelling; there's no P on the front for the Gladys Glovers of the world to call him Mr. Puh-Fifer. Feiffer's four selections are as follows:

Gold Diggers of 1933 at 8:00 PM. I can imagine a cartoonist selecting a Busby Berkeley film for all those wonderful geometrical designs Berkeley used in the overhead shots of his dancers. That's followed by
My Man Godfrey at 10:00 PM. A screwball comedy seems like a reasonable selection for a cartoonist.
On the other hand, They Drive By Night, at 11:45 PM, a crime drama about the trucking business starring Humphrey Bogart and George Raft, seems like a bit of a surprise.
The last selection is This Gun For Hire overnight at 1:30 AM, in which Alan Ladd plays a gunman on the run who winds up meeting Veronica Lake, who's working for the government trying to infiltrate a group of Nazi agents. Not what you'd expect from Veronica Lake, but it's a very entertaining movie.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Clue Club

TCM has been showing a bunch of doctor-related movies today, with one of them being The Murder of Dr. Harrigan. It's an interesting if not very good murder mystery, with a lot of only partially-developed characters and red herrings that are never really resolved. Oh, and it's got Mary Astor billed fourth; apparently, she was billed that low as punishment. What I found most interesting is that one of the opening title cards mentioned this as a "Clue Club" film, something I had never heard of before.

My first thought was that perhaps "Clue Club" was in independent production company that made the film which was distributed by Warners, but that was quickly dispelled when another card said it was a Warner Bros.-First National production; First National being the other studio Warners had acquired and which made the B movies. A bit of research found this old thread at Nitrateville which reveals that Warners were planning to make a series of these, but only wound up making four of them -- or, at least, only sticking the "Clue Club" tag on four of them. You learn something new every day.

The Murder of Dr. Harrigan hasn't gotten a DVD release, and I have no idea if it's going to show up on TCM again any time soon, but it is worth one viewing. Not only for Astor in a supporting role, but for a very "nervous" patient and a dipsomaniac who nearly wind up at each other's throats, providing the bizarre comic relief.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dangerously They Live

I made a brief mention of the film Dangerously They Live last August. It's not out on DVD, but is on the schedule tomorrow at 11:45 AM, so this is your chance to watch it.

Nancy Coleman plays Jane, a woman who's been working for the British secret service in the US. One day, she's bundled into a car by a bunch of Nazis, but the car gets into an accident and she winds up in the hospital. Doctors diagnose a case of amnesia when Jane can't seem to remember anything, and this particularly excites young Dr. Michael Lewis (John Garfield), as he's got an interest in amnesia cases. At this point things take a bizarre twist: Jane tells the good doctor that she's faking the amnesia, because she's a secret agent and the Nazis are after her! Who would believe a story like this? Anyhow, while the doctors are trying to figure out what the truth is, the Nazi agents show up. They've found out where she's hospitalized, and claim to be her family. That story of her being chased by Nazis? Well, that's just crazy talk caused by the accident. Dr. Lewis isn't so sure, so he calls up his former professor, Dr. Ingersoll (Raymond Massey) to ask for advice.

What Dr. Lewis doesn't know is that Dr. Ingersoll is also a Nazi agent! Ingersoll comes up with a devious plot to dispose of both of them by having Dr. Lewis accompany Jane to her "family's" house to continue consulting on the case. It's at this point that Dr. Lwis begins to discover the truth. Having a bunch of guards who won't let you leave the house by yourself to go into town will do that to a person, I suppose. Jane, and he, are really in grave danger! Can he stop the Nazis in time? Considering that this was made in 1942, after the US got pulled into World War II, you have to expect that the answer is yes: Hollywood would never let the Nazis win.

Dangerously They Live is in some ways a very predictable movie. Since it's about the Nazis, you have clearly defined bad guys, and clearly defined good guys, and you know the good guys are going to win. That having been said, it's still an interesting movie. John Garfield is not the sort of person you would expect to see cast as a doctor. But Garfield is a good enough actor that he's reasonably believable. The fact that he's a junior doctor also helps. The rest of the cast is serviceable. And while I've said that the film is predictable, it's still reasonably entertaining.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

So that's where it went

I've mentioned in the past that I've been a listener of international broadcasters on short-wave from the days when there were a lot of countries still broadcasting over the air. The broadcasters, as part of their relationship with listeners, would send out QSL cards, which are roughly picture postcards with a message on the reverse confirming that the listener sent in details of programming enough to prove that the listener had actually received the signals of the station. What does this have to do with a movie blog? Well, today in the mail I received a QSL card from the Voice of Turkey, and it's a photo of the same statue that you can see in the photo at left.

Well, that's not exactly a statue. The caption on the back of the card reads, "The wooden Trojan Horse used in the epic war film Troy in Çanakkale". I suppose they had to do something with the giant prop, and why not let the Turks have it? As the Wikipedia article mentions, Çanakkale is the big city closest to where ancient Troy was, and presumably it's a good deal for both sides: public relations for the moviemakers, and a tourist attraction for the city. After all, TCM runs those "Hollywood in your hometown" bits about the times when major Hollywood productions went out to some smaller town back in the days when Hollywood was first going out on location.

I guess I should have blogged about Helen of Troy yesterday, since it was on the TCM schedule and hasn't gotten a DVD release yet.

Oh dear, it's March 17 again

I've commented before rather negatively on Hollywood's doe-eyed view of Irish-Americans, and Ireland in general. But, people insist on trotting these tropes out every March 17, and TCM is no exception. Perhaps the best of the day's films is The Last Hurrah, airing at 3:45 PM. It's a movie I've mentioned briefly a few times, but apparently have never done a full-length post on. In short, Spencer Tracy plays a man who's been mayor of an unspecified city with a bunch of Irish-Americans for a long time (presumably Boston, although if memory serves the city is never mentioned by name), who is trying to run for one more term. It's less romantic in its look at Irish-Americans (really, it could have been any city), and fortunately, it's available on DVD.

Perhaps TCM should do something different and a bit lazier by showing a bunch of movies with the word "Green" in the title. It's not as if there is any lack of such films, many of which are reasonably entertaining and have nothing to do with the Irish. The Corn Is Green is set in Wales, as is How Green Was My Valley. Alternatively, they could go to New Zealand with Green Dolphin Street or South America with Green Fire. That last one, at least, is in color.

And if they really wanted to go to Ireland? Well, there's always Girl With Green Eyes, which aired this past week as part of TCM's look at the British New Wave. (I didn't recommend it largely because it's not my cup of tea.)

If I wanted to be mean, I'd look for movies with the word "Orange" in the title. But it turns out there are a lot fewer of those.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another question about trailers

A few days ago, TCM actually showed a trailer for Drums Along the Mohawk, which aired last night. I found this mildly surprising, largely because Drums Along the Mohawk is a Fox movie. It makes me wonder who owns the rights to the trailers. I would have thought that the studios would make the trailers in-house, which presumably means they'd hold the rights to the trailers. The studios would, my thinking would have been, also have been less likely to hold on to the trailers since they're not so necessary. But then, back in the early days of silents, it was not uncommon for studios to send prints from one place to the next, with the most far-flung places getting to show a movie rather later than in Los Angeles or London; the expectation was that the people showing these movies in the middle of nowhere would dispose of the copies after they were no longer commercially viable, since this would be much more economical than sending prints back to the studio. This explains the discovery of Alfred Hitchcock's The White Shado in New Zealand: the prints weren't destroyed. The upshot of this is that I could imagine trailers not going back to the studio, and possibly not having the same copyright as the original movies. (I also don't know the copyright implications for using clips on the TV movie review shows. I'd think it falls under fair use, but I'm not a copyright lawyer, and I wouldn't be surprised if the suits at Disney tried to make it more difficult for people to use clips in reviews.)

Complicating matters is the re-release. It wasn't that uncommon for a studio's more popular titles to get a second release, and as I understand it, some of the distribution for the re-releases wasn't necessarily handled by the studio that made the original movie, if IMDb is to be believed. Would the distributor have made the trailer for the re-release, and held any rights to it?

Still, it's nice to see trailers from all the studios and not just the trailers for the films Ted Turner acquired the rights to. Even if some of them are strange, like the trailer to Love Affair I mentioned above. The trailer for Drums Along the Mohawk doesn't actually mention the names of the actors, and is in black and white.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Ford night

I'm sure TCM has done it before, but they're spending prime time tonight showing a bunch of films directed by John Ford. First up, at 8:00 PM, is a film that's lovely to look at, although I don't know quite how realistic it is: Drums Along the Mohawk.

The film kicks off in Albany, New York, in the early 1770s. At the time, Albany was a relative backwater, with the commerce all flowing along the Hudson River to New York City. Albany was more the gateway to the underdeveloped areas of the Adirondacks, and what is now western New York, with the Mohawk River being a vital avenue to the western frontier. Gil Martin (Henry Fonda) is one of those frontiersman trying to create a new country out in the "west", and he's in Albany looking for a wife, whom he finds in Lana (Claudette Colbert).

What she doesn't know is just how difficult the life of a wife on the frontier is. This frontier isn't quite as underdeveloped as, say, the frontier Robert Mitchum and William Holden inhabited in Rachel and the Stranger, but it's not far off. As with that later movie, the Indians here are raiding the white settlers; the Indians had fought for the British in the French and Indian Wars 15 years earlier, and were told they'd be allowed to live in relative peace, which these settlers are disturbing. Anyhow, those attacks are about to get worse, because as you would have noticed by the date, New York was about to get caught up in the Revolutionary War along with the rest of the colonies.

For Gil and Lana, this means seeing their farm burned to the ground, and being forced to move in with the strong-minded widow McKlennar (Edna May Oliver). For Gil, it also means making the difficult decision to join with the other settlers and fight against the British, or at least their proxy in the Indians, who are commanded by the British officer Caldwell (John Carradine). History, of course, tells us that the colonists are going to defeat the British. Specifically for western New York, this means the Battle of Oriskany. In the movie, all the settlers gather at the fort for the coming Indian raid, which in typical John Ford style is quite well executed.

As for the movie as a whole, it's entertaining and beautiful. John Ford was using Technicolor for the first time, and as I've said elsewhere, I think the Technicolor of the time worked quite well for historical movies like Drums Along the Mohawk, and it's so much nicer to see these color images than, say, the black-and-white of Hudson's Bay, made at Fox a few years later. Henry Fonda is good, solid as always. Claudette Colbert's left side is certainly pretty, but looks much too modern for the 1770s. Somehow I get the feeling that the real life Claudeet Colbert would have been even more unable to cope with farm life than her character here. Edna May Oliver steals a lot of her scenes with wonderful lines and an attitude that makes you wonder why she never got cast as Glenda Farrell's mother. John Carradine, like Fonda, also fits in quite well in the Revolutionary era and is as good as always at playing a darker character.

I don't know how much of Drums Along the Mohawk represents accurate history, but it's still a movie that's well worth watching.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hellstrom Chronicle

A movie that I've long thought would be good for TCM Underground finally got a DVD release at the beginning of this year: The Hellstrom Chronicle.

The movie claims to be a documentary (and even won the Oscar for Best Documentary), but while it's not entirely fiction, the human documentary parts are not quite honest. Lawrence Pressman plays "Dr. Hellstrom", a scientist who is supposedly a composite of a bunch of scientists in the field, that field being entomology. Hellstrom's basic premise, which he claims is controversial, is that insects have been around on planet Earth far longer than humans, and that if heaven forbid we dumb humans annihilate ourselves through the use of nuclear weapons -- the movie was released in 1971, when there was a greater fear of nuclear war than there is today -- the insects will still survive.

The film then goes on to show us how resourceful insects are. In this regard, it plays out like some of the old nature shows you might have seen on PBS back in the days when there were only four or five channels. There's not much to it in that the film is little more than footage of insects with a running commentary. And yet, what footage there is is at times fascinating, and at times almost frightening. You have to wonder just how much work it was for the photographers to get the footage they did. This is one of those movies that somehow made it to TV decades ago, apparently in a syndication package, as I saw it on a local UHF channel which would have been unaffiliated with any of the networks. One of the things that struck me back then and has always stayed with me was the section of the film dealing with the driver ant; if you want to watch some video, the BBC put some up on Youtube.

Are the scientific theories at all plausible? Who knows? And to be honest, the Wikipedia article doesn't sound nearly as frightening as the footage I remember seeing. Still, the footage is well worth a watch, and might just leave you frightened. At least the footage of the insects, not the humans.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paul Stewart, 1908-1986

Today marks the birth anniversary of supporting actor Paul Stewart, who is pictured here with Kirk Douglas in one breakout movies for both of them, Champion. Kirk Douglas, on the right, plays the boxer who steps on everybody on his way to the top and then finds out life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be. Stewart, on the left, plays Douglas' manager. I don't think I've ever blogged about Champion before; however, it says something about Paul Stewart's career that there are quite a few of his other movies that I have blogged about, including another one starring Kirk Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful. Oh, and there's a third, Top Secret Affair.

The Bad and the Beautiful came out in 1952, along with two others with Stewart about which I've blogged, Deadline USA and We're Not Married. And to continue with the connectoins, We're Not Married is one of those movies where I don't really remember Stewart's presence, something that's true of a few other films I've blogged about; The Cobweb and A Child Is Waiitng. What a broad career.

Carve Her Name With Pride

I have been having problems with my internet connection all day, so this is just a brief post to let everybody know that Carve Her Name With Pride, which I blogged about way back in September, 2008, is finally going to be on the TCM schedule again, tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shanghai Express

I was thinking of recommending The L-Shaped Room from TCM's lineup of British "Kitchen Sink" movies tonight at 10:00 PM. Leslie Caron plays a preganant Frenchwoman who rents the titular room in a run-down London house so she can have her baby. To be honest, though, it's another one of those movies that I saw once and thought was well-made, even if it's not particularly memorable: unlike, say, the recently-recommended Girl Missing, it's the sort of film I find blends in with a lot of others. It's probably worth a watch, though, if you haven't seen it before.

I knew the last (and only) time I had seen The L-Shaped Room was when Leslie Caron was TCM's Star of the Month, but I've been blogging so long that I couldn't remember exactly which month that was. So in looking up when it was (it turns out to be October, 2009), I came across TCM's web-page promoting Caron's turn as Star of the Month. Nothing earth-shattering about Caron or her movies. But on the right-hand side of the page, I saw an advertisement for a two-movie set starring Marlene Dietrich, which was released last month courtesy of the TCM Vault and Universal, which of course now owns the rights to the 1930s and 1940s Paramount features. One is Dishonored, which I don't believe I've seen before. The other is Shanghai Express, which I blogged about back in January 2011. Back when I blogged about Shanghai Express, it still wasn't on DVD. I don't have a copy of the DVD to review the quality of the print, but I am happy to see that it's gotten a DVD release.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tough Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck played a number of tough characters in her career, something that Jennifer Jason Leigh mentions in a piece she did for TCM some years back. One good early movie example of Stanwyck's toughness is Baby Face. One that's even earlier is The Purchase Price, which TCM is showing tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM as part of a salute to director William Wellman.

Stanwyck plays Joan Gordon, a nightclub singer at a club owned by gangster Eddie Fields (Lyle Talbot). Joan is also Eddie's moll, although she doesn't particularly like that, and like Ann Dvorak's Molly Louvain, Joan would like to escape. Her first attempt is to marry another man, but that man's father has investigated Joan and learned the truth about Joan, forcing the son to break off the engagement. So Joan runs off to Montreal and to make ends meet stars working as a nightclub singer again. That's a problem since Eddie learns about it, and comes to Montreal to reclaim Joan, whom he thinks is rightfully his. What's a nightclub singer to do? She learns that the hotel maid is also lookng for a way out of being a lowly maid, and is doing so by becoming a mail-order bride! (Brilliant idea.) Joan pays off the made to take the maid's place, and is soon on her way to North Dakota, where she's destined to become a farmer's wife.

Farming is not a picnic, which is something you'll have learned from Hollywood if you've seen Our Daily Bread. The farmer Jim (George Brent) and Joan wind up sleeping in separate beds; there's all sorts of work to be done around the farmhouse, and in the fields; and Jim is heavily in debt. To make matters worse, another farmer thinks Jim can help pay off those debts by having Joan work for him. And then to cap everything off, Eddie somehow winds up at Jim and Joan's farmhouse.

One of the problems with a movie like The Purchase Price is that there are just too many coincidences for the film to be believable, although to be fair we wouldn't have a movie without the coincidences. And fortunately, an actress like Stanwyck really raises the material above those coincidences. It's tough to imagine a nightclub singer like Joan becoming a farmer's wife, but Joan makes the best of it, putting everything she has into doing her duty, if only because it's the only thing that can be done. You have to wonder whether, before becoming a nightclub singer, Joan had the sort of past that Stanwyck's character in Baby Face had. George Brent isn't exactly my favorite actor, but I don't know if he was ever really meant to shine himself instead of just being there to reflect the shine of the actresses he was paired with, most notably Bette Davis. Brent is more than adequate in that part.

The Purchase Price got a DVD release as part of one of Warners' pre-Code box sets, so you don't have to worry too much if you miss tomorrow's TCM showing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daylight Savings Time

Tonight is the night that most of us in the US and Canada set our clocks one hour forward; this tends to cause chaos with television schedules. Indeed, the printable monthly schedule TCM puts out has just such a problem. TCM is showing The Razor's Edge at 8:00 tonight as part of a night of movies featuring Clifton Webb. The monthly schedule lists all five, but lists them at the wrong time. Mister Scoutmaster is listed as an 87 minute movie beginning overnight at 12:30 AM ET. This would take it right up to the point where the clocks go from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM, at least in the Eastern time zone. The next movie is listed as beginning at 3:15 AM ET. But TCM in printing the monthly schedule, went wrong at this point: they list that movie as being in a half-hour time slot, followed by a movie at 3:45 AM and, to kick off the next morning, Kings Row at 6:00 AM.

In fact, the 3:15 AM movie (following a short after Mister Scoutmaster) is Sitting Pretty, and being 84 minutes, should fit into a 90-minute slot. This means the next movie should begin at 4:45 AM, and that movie, Boy on a Dolphin does in fact start at 4:45. Now, obviously, this means that it's going to run over into the 135-minute time slot that Kings Row was supposed to occupy. So there's going to be another short at approximately 6:40 AM, followed by One-Way Passage at 7:00 AM, a movie that fits into a 75-minute time slot and allows TCM to get back on schedule at 8:15 AM.

Friday, March 9, 2012

No, I don't mean Martha Ivers

Thanks to the Warner Archive, there are movies available on DVD that I can blog about a few days after seeing them for the first time that I otherwise wouldn't like to mention: I only feel comfortable recommending movies if they're either available on DVD or are coming up on TV soon. Tuesday was my first viewing of The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, a really fun little pre-Code.

Molly Louvain is played by Ann Dvorak; she's a young woman working a cigar counter in a small-city hotel who would really like to get more out of life. Fortunately she's got a way out, in the form of a wealthy young man from the right side of the tracks, who is going to tell his mother that they're getting engaged at a party that night. Or maybe not. Molly goes to the "party", only to find out that the son suddenly left, presumably never to be seen again. So, Molly is left with two boyfriends pursuing her: first is Jimmy, a bellboy at the hotel (Richard Cromwell). He's portrayed as obviously the good guy; the one Mother would want you to be with, but who is almost hopelessly in love with Molly since it seems as though he's never going to rise above being a bellboy. The other choice is Nick (Leslie Fenton), a traveling salesman currently selling silk stockings who has a lecherous eye on Molly. He may be a lecher, but at least he goes places, so Molly winds up splitting town with him.

Fast forward three years. Molly's got a kid, which if not explicitly stated is clearly the illegitimate result of the relationship with the rich guy who only appears in the first reel of the film. Molly's also discovered that while Nick goes places, he does so by stealing, and that's not the sort of life she wants for her son. So she leaves the kid with what is effectively a foster mother and runs away from Nick to take a job at a Chicago dance hall playing the same sort of dime-a-dance girl Lucille Ball played in Lured. And who does she meet there? Why, Jimmy, the old bellboy she knew. He's now a college student. Unfortunately, she also meets Nick, who has discovered where she's working. Nick tries to take Molly for a ride, and Jimmy joins her to try to protect her. And then they discover Nick stole the car, and get in a shootout with the police.

So Molly and Jimmy rent a cheap apartment for a week to lie low in, until they can escape. The only problem is who they have for a neighbor. It's journalist Scotty (Lee Tracy), who's a piece of work. Scotty is the sort of fixer who would make some of Jack Carson's characters look like pikers. Scotty knows it all (or thinks he does), and knows he's going to find Molly Louvain, all the while never having a clue that Molly is living right across the hall from him! Scotty does have a good idea, however, that Molly and Jimmy's story about being married is a lie, and Scotty offers to take Molly away with him, since he's either going to write the Great American Novel or go to Hollywood, and he knows she wants to go places.

The Strange Love of Molly Louvain tells a story of a love that isn't all that strange, although the movie itself is a bit odd in that it goes from one part of the plot to the next extremely abruptly, and then ends just as abruptly. Ann Dvorak is the sort of actress who was hard boiled enough to play a character like Molly Louvain in one of these pre-Codes. Molly has the sort of hardness that Aline MacMahon's character in Heat Lightning (where, incidentally, Dvorak played MacMahon's kid sister) has. Fenton is sleazy, and Cromwell is more an ornament in service of Dvorak. The revelation, however, is Tracy. His character as the agent to John Barrymore in Dinner at Eight is tough, if only because he's learned he's got a man who's killing himself and is never going to get any better as a client. Tracy would go on to play some other great roles of hard people, especially in The Best Man. But the character in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain tops them all. It's got the hardness we see in The Best Man, but the life that we see in Dinner at Eight. Dvorak is top-billed and the title character, but this is really Tracy's movie.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

TV vs. movie remakes

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel showed something called Too Good to Be True this morning. Loni Anderson and Patrick Duffy star in this TV movie remake of... Leave Her to Heaven. Oh dear. To be fair, though, the original movie Leave Her to Heaven is adapted from a book. And it's not as though this was the first time TV stole from the movies, something that I've commented on in the past. Quite a few popular TV shows were adapted from movies, something I mentioned just two months ago.

Also, it needs to be mentioned as well if I haven't done so in the past that it's not as if the movie makers are any more original. They aren't now -- look at how many successful TV shows have been turned into movies over the past decade or so, which is what drove the post I linked to above. More interestingly are the movies that were taken from teleplays. Back in the 1950s there were some prominent anthology TV shows that introduced one-hour (or longer) plays which were broadcast live. Rod Serling wrote Requiem For a Heavyweight for one such show, Playhouse 90 in 1956; that was turned into an outstanding movie in 1962. TCM recently aired Charly, which was also broadcast earlier as a teleplay, although that one was based on a short story.

As for Too Good to Be True, it's going to be on again in April, while the original movie Leave Her to Heaven shows up this Sunday at 11:00 AM ET.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ruby Gentry

I've said of some movies before -- I think the first one I said it about was Violent Saturday -- that they're not very good, but they're a hell of a lot of fun. TCM is kicking off its salute to Star of the Month Karl Malden with just such a movie: Ruby Gentry, at 8:00 PM tonight.

Ruby Gentry is played by Jennifer Jones. But we'll get to her in a few minutes, since this is one of those movies that's told in flashback. The movie starts with an outsider, the northerner Dr. Saul (Barney Phillips) showing up in a small town in the tidal region of North Carolina. The doctor has come to take care of the wife of Jim Gentry (Karl Malden), one of the town's richest and most prominent citizens. As for Ruby, she's not the wife; she's a much younger woman from the wrong side of the tracks who spent some time in high school looking after Mrs. Gentry, and who is now living in the backwoods area with "her type" of people. Ruby, though, is a bit of a wild woman who has her eyes on every man out there, or so it seems.

One such man was Boake (Charlton Heston), a young engineer from the right side of the tracks. He had been in love with Ruby, but because of the social difference, he had to marry somebody from his class. Besides, Boake is a big man with big ideas. His family's ancestral land was flooded by brackish tidal waters decades earlier, and he's studied civil engineering so that he can drain the land and make it fit for agriculture again. He spent a few years doing civil engineering in South America, and has returned home to make his dream cume true.

And then Mrs. Gentry dies. What does this have to do with a bunch of flooded land? Well, it turns out that Mr. Gentry holds the loan on the land, and on a lot of the other stuff in town. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, Ruby marries Mr. Gentry, which is how she becomes the titular Ruby Gentry. But the rest of the town doesn't like her horning in on classy society. It's a scene really quite reminiscent of Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman. When Jim dies in a boating accident, the rest of the town naturally accuses Ruby of murder. But she's inherited all the loans Jim had control over, and that gives her a lot of financial power. And Ruby, not wanting to be a woman scorned, has no qualms about using that power....

Oh boy is Ruby Gentry a melodramatic potboiler. Jennifer Jones isn't my favorite actress, and she's almost insanely manic here. The best that can be said about Charlton Heston is that he was a "sturdy" actor. He's not as good as, say, a Glenn Ford, but at least he's better than a John Lund. Karl Malden is the best thing here, but he dies two-thirds of the way through the movie, leaving us with an over-the-top finale. Then again, perhaps that over-the-top presentation might be the best thing about this movie. It was based on a lurid, popular book of the day, much like Mildred Pierce or The Postman Always Rings Twice, but never hits the highs that either of those two do; where those movies sing, Ruby Gentry screams and wails. But like a good Bette Davis rant, it can be fun to watch wailing.

In the final analysis, Ruby Gentry is about as well-presented as a paragrpah full of bad metaphors such as the preceding paragraph of this post. Fun for one viewing, but if you've seen it already you might be frustrated on watching it again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Robert Sherman, 1925-2012

I'll admit that I'd never heard of Robert Sherman, who died yesterday at the age of 86. But then, I think almost all of us have heard his songs. Robert, together with his brother Richard, were hired by Walt Disney to be on the staff of songwriters at the Disney studios aroiund 1960 and would go on to write music for some of the more memorable Disney movies of the next few decades. The Sherman brothers won a pair of Oscars in 1965 for the film Mary Poppins: one for the score, and one for the song "Chim Chim Cheree".

That wasn't Sherman's only work in movies, however; Sherman also wrote a number of screenplays, most notably for Tom Sawyer in 1973. Granted, the Shermans also wrote the music for that version.

And then there are the songs that aren't for movies. I wouldn't have figured that the same person who wrote those songs for Mary Poppins would also have written something like You're Sixteen. On the other hand, something like "It's a Small World", the monstrously irritating song that features on the Disney ride of the same name is something that would fit in more with the same man who wrote the Mary Poppins music.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Girl Missing

It's been five or six years since TCM last showed the movie Girl Missing. At least, I know it hasn't aired since I started this blog since it's a movie I would have wanted to recommend to all of you. It had been on the schedule once for star Glenda Farrell's birthday, but it got pulled at some point after the original monthly schedule. But, it's finally on the schedule for tomorrow afternoon (March 6) at 12:30 PM, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Glenda Farrell plays Kay, one of a pair of show girl/gold diggers, the other being June (played by Mary Brian). They're in ritzy Palm Beach together with their sugar daddy Kenneth, played by Warner Bros.' perpetual dirty old man of the era, Guy Kibbee. Unfortunately for the two women, Kenneth comes to realize that they don't really love him; they're just after him for his money. And so, he dumps them, sticking them with a hotel tab of about $700 in 1933 dollars. What's a showgirl to do? It turns out that they've met an old friend of theirs down in Palm Beach, Daisy (Peggy Shannon). She's also been doing some gold digging, but she's been successful, having snagged a millionaire husband (Ben Lyon). However, she goes missing on her wedding night....

This is actually an opportunity for Kay and June, as there's a reward for her safe return, and that money would pay off their hotel bill. And so begins a comic mystery. It's the sort of genre at which Farrell excelled. She would later go on to play journalist Torchy Blaine, who solved similar mysteries while delivering zesty one-liners. As in those later movies, Glenda's character seems to be the only one with any chutzpah, putting the detectives (led by Edward Ellis) to shame. And boy does she get to deliver some zesty lines. There's one when she discovers she and June have been dumped, reading a letter addressed "to the GD sisters". And later in the film, she shockingly uses the word "jailbait". Yes, I know this is 1933, which means we're still in the pre-Code era, but still it surprised me. As for the mystery, that part of the movie isn't quite as entertaining as, say, The Thin Man. But this movie is more of a second feature, and it seems almost designed to showcase Glenda, who is as always a real treat.

March 2012 spotlight: British New Wave

TCM is putting the spotlight on the British New Wave films of the 1960s. To me, calling the British films "new wave" seems like a bit of a misnomer, as I get a different feel watching them than I do watching the French New Wave films like Breathless. Perhaps something like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner comes closer, especially if you compare it not to Breathless, but to something like The 400 Blows. I could certainly see the kid in Truffaut's film growing up into the Tom Courtenay character.

Then again, there's also the term "kitchen sink" films for the British movies of the time, and that's a term that seems closer to the mark for me, at least as far as my knowledge of Britain as it was in the early 1960s goes. I commented when I blogged about the movie A Hatful of Rain that there's something about the locations, especially the apartment block, that seems so much more realistic than the studio-bound movies that Hollywood had been making a decade earlier. By the same token, I get the sense that a movie like The Entertainer has a more real look to the apartment scenes than, say, the house in The Ladykillers.

Tonight's schedule starts off with Room at the Top at 8;00 PM, followed by the aforementioned The Entertainer at 10:15 PM.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Paula Prentiss turns 74

It's hard to believe that an actress like Paula Prentiss is celebrating her 74th birthday today. Then again, Prentiss did start her Hollywood career back in 1960 with Where the Boys Are. I have vague memories of her being in th1 1962 film The Horizontal Lieutenant, when it showed up decades ago as one of the movies in the SFM Holiday Network, which of course wasn't really a network. I'm trying to remember some of the other films that I would have seen as part of that movie package. I think they had Danny Kaye's Hans Christian Andersen, but it's a long time ago for me to remember and it's not as though I was paying attention to those movies.

The picture above is one I'm pretty certain is from The Stepford Wives, where she played the best friend of Katharine Ross. Prentiss gets one of the great scenes in the movie when, after Ross stabs her, she just keeps trying to fill the coffee filter with more coffee, oblivious to what's happened to her. (Of course, if you've seen the movie, you know why she's oblivious.) Prentiss also had a smallish role in another movie with a conspiracy theory theme, that being The Parallax View, in which she plays a journalist who saw an assassination several years back and is now certain that people are out to get her. She's hysterical in the movie, but just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there aren't people out to get you.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A new season of The Essentials

As I mentioned yesterday, 31 Days of Oscar has come to an end for another year. Today being a Saturday, it means the return of The Essentials. Alec Baldwin is no longer co-hosting (and I doubt it had anything to do with his well-publicized rants); for this year, TCM has brought in Drew Barrymore to sit down with Osborne. She's the granddaughter of John Barrymore, and John and his brother (ie. Drew's great-uncle) Lionel both appear in Dinner at Eight, which is part of this year's Essentials on May 26 and November 10. I don't think I saw any of the movies of Drew's father, John Drew Barrymore, in the list. Probably not much of a surprise, since John Drew never really made any truly great movies, unless you want to count High School Confidential! in that list. A bit more surprising is that great-aunt Ethel doesn't seem to show up, either; you'd think Portrait of Jennie or None But the Lonely Heart might be deserving of a mention.

As for this first week of The Essentials, we get the classic comedy Some Like It Hot at 8:00 PM, with a special late-night second feature, This is Spinal Tap, overnight at 2:00 AM.

Also, I highly doubt Drew Barrymore will be flashing Robert Osborne they way she did to David Letterman.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The end of 31 Days of Oscar

I know that some people will be thrilled to see that today is the final day of TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar. There are people out there who complain about TCM's playing the "same old" movies during February, and not the obscure stuff they want. For the record, TCM winds up going out into outer space tonight, with the final movie of them all being Forbidden Planet at 4:15 AM. As you can probably guess, its nomination was not for Leslie Nielsen as Best Actor, but for its special effects.

Saturday morning brings another airing of the Raquel Welch version of One Million Years BC at 7:30 AM, a movie that I first mentioned back in February of 2009. That's followed at 9:15 AM by Have Rocket, Will Travel, which is a feature starring... the Three Stooges. It's not one that I've seen before, so I can't really comment on it.

As for 31 Days of Oscar, which movie was your highlight? I'd already seen Harry and Tonto and The Firemen's Ball before, but it was nice to see those films get their TCM premieres. It was also nice to get my own first viewing of Robinson Crusoe and The Entertainer.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

This Woman Is Dangerous

Sometime not long before TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, they showed This Woman Is Dangerous. At the end of the film they ran the blurb about the movie being available at the TCM shop, having been released by the Warner Archive. It's a movie that's fun at times even if it's a bit (or a lot) overcooked; in fact, it's one of those movies that's probably more fun because it's overcooked.

Joan Crawford, now well into her post-MGM days, plays Elizabeth Austin, a woman with a past and with problems. First we see her problems: she's been having trouble with her eyesight, and is visiting an eye doctor, who tells her that she's going to go blind, except that there's a doctor who can perform an experimental operation which might restore her eyesight. Her past, if you will, is also part of her present. She's the head of a criminal gang that goes around pulling off big money stick-ups, and is in town to rob a casino.

Miss Austin's partner in crime, Matt Jackson (played by David Brian), isn't too happy with her actions, largely because she hasn't been telling him about her eye problems. He's also in love with her, and is insanely jealous, so he thinks that her being away means that she's seeing somebody else. With that background, the gang robs the casino, and makes off with the big bucks, at which point Elizabeth heads off to Indianapolis to get that operation.

Matt doesn't believe her, but what's a man to do? He leaves town with his brother Will (Philip Carey) and Will's wife Ann (Mari Aldon), only to get pulled over by the cops when Matt, in a fit of rage, throws a bottle at Will which goes through the window of the trailer in which the two are hiding. It's bad enough that they get pulled over by a cop; Matt decides to shoot the cop because the cop could be a witness against them. (I told you the guy was insanely jealous.)

Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, Elizabeth's operation seems to have gone off fairly well. She eventually regains her eyesight, and along the way, also falls in love with her doctor (Dennis Morgan), who obviously has no idea about Elizabeth's past and that the police are looking for her. He also obviously doesn't know about Matt, and the fact that Matt is looking for her too....

This Woman Is Dangerous is a potboiler, to be sure. There are times when you'll be groaning (God, could the Dennis Morgan character be more stupid? You'd think he would have learned about women from In This Our Life a decade earlier), and times you'll be laughing even though the filmmakers didn't intend it (a lot of the earlier scenes with Matt). The movie has a big problem, which is the presence of the Production Code. Elizabeth Austin is a crook, and the Code suggests that she has to be subjected to justice. And yet, she's in love with the good doctor, seemingly wnating to do right by him. The writers have to come up with a way to resolve this conflict, and the Code means that there's not really any satisfying way to do so; any resolution is going to seem forced. Still, the journey there is fun.