Monday, April 30, 2012

Jean Negulesco night

TCM is spending an evening with the films of director Jean Negulesco. Negulesco started his career at Warner Bros. in the early 1940s, but probably spent the most productive portion, from 1948 to 1958, at Fox. In fact, I've recommended quite a few of Negulesco's movies here: Negulescu's first Fox film, Road House, in September 2009; Phone Call From a Stranger in May 2009; Three Came Home in July 2009; Boy on a Dolphin back in April 2010; and Woman's World a month later.

TCM, unsurprisingly, is focusing more on Negulesco's days at Warner Bros., probably because it's easier to get the broadcast rights to those films. The only Fox film is Daddy Long Legs, at midnight Surprisingly, they're not showing Johnny Belinda, which is the movie that earned Negulesco his one and only Oscar nomination. The other thing that's a slight disappointment is no nod to the real start of Negulesco's career. TCM is showing his first successful feature, The Mask of Dimitrios, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. But Negulesco (like recently-mentioned birthday boy Fred Zinnemann) cut his teeth directing shorts, and made quite a lot of them in the three or four years before THe Mask of Dimitrios. Granted, most of them are musical shorts, so they're largely of a piece. But I'd think TCM could fairly easily have come up with one or two of the one-reelers Negulesco directed to fit in the slots taken by tonight's two shorts. Negulesco did a few other shorts that look interesting, except that these seem to be two-reelers, such as The Flag of Humanity, a biographical short about Clara Barton. As such, they would cause tonight's schedule not to time out properly.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Paris on Parade

I've mentioned Traveltalks shorts a number of times in the past. Another interesting one is coming up at approximately 10:45 AM on April 30: Paris on Parade. As the title suggests, James A. Fitzpatrick is visiting Paris, France. But he's not quite visiting Paris per se. Instead, he's visiting the World's Fair that was held there back in 1937.

1937 was still in the time when world travel was a rare thing, pursued mostly by the wealthy classes. I'm reminded of Billie Burke in Dinner at Eight reminding Lord and Lady Ferncliffe over the phone that she met them in "An-tibes", holding each syllable much too long. Traveltalks and other shorts would have been one way for a broad section of society to learn a little more about the great big world outside, even if that something they're learning is quite distorted. The other way would have been World's Fairs, where countries from all over the world corruptly steal money from their citizenry to build a pavilion in some far-off country so that the upper middle class people of that other country can amuse themselves. (Or, at least, that might be a better descriptoin of today's World's Fairs now that international travel is so much more commonplace as to obviate any need for such Fairs.)

Some of the pavilions are interesting in that they come from places that don't exist in their 1937 form at all: French West Africa as a colony of France, which is now several countries; or the Soviet Union spring to mind. The other thing is knowing what was soon to come in world history, which is of course the European part of World War II. (Japan had already invaded China several years earlier.) So Paris on Parade is really a unique, if biased, historical document of the 1937 Exposition. And as with all of the Traveltalks shorts, it's in Technicolor too.

I don't think this particular Traveltalks edition has ever been included as a DVD extra anywhere, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Fred Zinnemann, 1907-1997

Today marks the birth anniversary of director Fred Zinnemann, who won two Oscars for his directing. The first was for From Here to Eternity in 1953, with the second for A Man For All Seasons 13 years later. Zinnemann was apparently a producer on the latter film as well, as IMDb lists him as having won for Best Picture that year. And we haven't even gotten to the several times where Zinnemann was nominated but lost.

Zinnemann's Hollywood career started with him directing shorts at MGM in the late 1930s. I don't recall if I've specifically mentioned any of Zinnemann's shorts here, you might want to look for the Crime Does Not Pay short Forbidden Passage, about illegal immigration. This particular short has gotten a DVD release on one of the Warner Home Video noir box sets.

After toiling in shorts, Zinnemann got to direct B movies, which I suppose is a step up. Still, I've recommended Kid Glove Killer before, and Zinnemann and the cast all do a professional job, making a fun trip along the way which today is just as worthy for its historical value as it is for its entertainment value.

It wasn't until The Search in 1948 that Zinnemann really got credit for prestige films, along with his first Oscar nomination. Zinnemann remained active throughout the 1950s and then really slowed down after The Sundowners in 1960; after that he only directed five more films. Still, two of those -- the aforementioned A Man For All Seasons as well as Julia earned him Oscar nominations. Surprisingly, he didn't get a nomination for The Day of the Jackal, where I thought Zinnemann did an excellent job.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Perils of Pauline

TCM is running the serial The Perils of Pauline starting at noon today, and running for four weeks. Now, you've probably heard the title before. The Perils of Pauline is one of the most famous silent movie serials. Or, at least, the original version from 1914, the one that made Pearl White as Pauline a household name is.

The serial that TCM is running is a talkie from 1933 starring Evalyn Knapp as Pauline. Knapp made a lot of films in the 1930s, but she was never a big star. Another reworking of The Perils of Pauline came in 1947. That movie wasn't a serial, however; it was a biopic about Pearl White, starring Betty Hutton as Pearl. I don't know, though, how accurate the 1947 version is.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Where's Katharine?

See!  There really was a DVD release!TCM is airing Stage Door tonight at 8:00 PM ET as part of a night of movies set in boarding houses. In this case, that's the Footlights Club, a New York City boarding house for aspiring stage actresses, with the movie having a wonderful cast, even if you don't like Hepburn that much. There's Ginger Rogers as the other female lead; she plays the "veteran" if you will of the boarding house. Hepburn plays the naïve new girl, fresh off the bus from somewhere in the Midwest or New England.

Lucille Ball plays one of the roomers, and a very young Ann Miller gets to dance a scene with Ginger Rogers. If you've been watching TCM, you'll probably have seen the "Word of Mouth" piece Miller did on wanting to do a dance number with Ginger. Oh, and I can also mention Gail Patrick and Eve Arden in supporting roles. As for the men, the one big male role is Adolphe Menjou as the theatrical producer; Menjou playing well as an elegant-looking man who has the same slimy intentions as Guy Kibbee would have had in 42nd Street.

The film is more of an ensemble movie with a slice-of-life theme than one with a real plot, but that doesn't mean it's not an entertaining film. That having been said, what I'm really wondering about is the DVD availability. TCM's website says it's not available for purchase from the TCM shop. IMDb links to Amazon, and says that there has been a DVD release. Well, two actually. One was back in 2005, so that would unsurprisingly be out of print. The second, however is a TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection box set of four Hepburn films. It very much surprises me that TCM could put a film like this on a box set, and then apparently stop printing the box set. Not only that, but if they've remastered the movie for a DVD release, you'd think they could also make the movie available as a single film in the Warner Archive set. More pricey, but at least still available.

Then again, there's something fishy on the Amazon page. The big bold heading at the top of the page says 2006. To be honest, I don't remember when TCM first started making these four-film box sets that they've been advertising. But 2006 I think was some time before they started the Warner Archive, which might explain why a film like Stage Door might not have gotten a release to the Archive. On the other hand, if you scroll down, you'll see that they list a release date for the collection of March 13, 2012. This has to be an error, since one of the two reviews is dated two months earlier.

I'm not a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn, but the all-star case of Stage Door makes it a great candidate for another DVD release.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I was looking forward to Sweepings last night. To be honest, I was underwhelmed. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, or with the exception of the Lionel Barrymore character, well-developed. I can't really do a full-length post on it, as it doesn't appear to be available on DVD.

There doesn't seem to be much in the way of shorts coming up. At least, not any shorts that I've seen and can blog about. None today and a couple tomorrow that look like Vitaphone Varieties from the early 1930s.

TCM has been spending the day with Tennessee Williams, although it doesn't seem to be his birthday. As for the Williamses, it is the birthday of Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, a career character actor who seems to have spent the last two decades of his life making western after western after western: close to 50 movies in the 1940s, of which a good 40 of them are westerns. Why couldn't TCM honor him?

TCM is honoring Yul Brynner tonight, even though it's not his birthday. Then again, a lot of the one-night prime-time salutes aren't birthday salutes. The first movie, Triple Cross, at 8:00 PM, sounds interesting. However, I'm also a hockey fan, and a couple of climactic Game Sevens in the Stanley Cup playoffs are being played tonight.

I see the original version of The Jazz Singer is on tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM on TCM, and one of Bette Davis' great on-screen rants shows up in In This Our Life at 9:30 AM tomorrow. I probably need to edit the original post, since I mis-named the movie as In This Our Lives. Kinda makes searching difficult.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Storm Warning

During TCM's Star of the Month salute to Doris Day a few weeks back, one of the dramas they showed was Storm Warning. With Ronald Reagan being the male lead, the movie has received a DVD release as part of a Reagan box set. It's certainly worth a look.

Day isn't the star; that honor goes to Ginger Rogers. Rogers plays Marsha, a fashion model of the sort who worked with traveling salesmen, back in the days when representatives from clothing companies went to various department stories trying to sell the companies' clothes. She and her salesman companion (who is only seen briefly in the openoing scene) are travelling through the South by bus, with the bus scheduled to stop in a town where Marsha's sister Lucy (Doris Day) lives. Marsha hasn't seen Lucy in quite a long time, in fact, the two haven't met since Lucy got married to Hank (Steve Cochran). So Marsha wants to stop for a day and meet Lucy.

What Marsha finds is at first mysterious and then shocking. She's looking for a taxi at the bus station, but the taxi driver lies about being a taxi driver and refuses to take her, at which point the bus station closes early, and Marsha is forced to walk to the bowling alley/entertainment center where Lucy works. When Marsha gets to the town square, she finds a bunch of guys in white robes and hoods -- obviously the Klan -- killing a journalist who was writing an unflattering exposé of the Klan. Thankfully, the Klansmen didn't see Marsha: she saw two of their faces when they stupidly took off their hoods; she'd probably be in danger if they knew they had been witnessed by an outsider.

Indeed, it's only the outsiders the Klan have to fear. Ronald Reagan, who was mentioned at the beginning of the post, plays Burt Rainey, the prosecuting attorney. He doesn't like the Klan and what they've done to his town and state, but for the most part he's powerless to stop them. The Klan are either actively supported by people in town, or have intimidated the non-supporters into remaining silent. Marsha tells Lucy she saw the murder, which means that she's going to have to see Rainey, who is leading the inquest, and tell him what she knows. This becomes problematic when she finally meets Lucy's husband Hank. Hank, in fact, is one of the two Klansmen she saw without his hood! What's a sister-in-law to do?

Storm Warning is a pretty good, if slightly preachy movie. When watching a movie like this, it's easy enough to say smugly that we would stand up to the bad guys if we were in Marsha's place. But, as can be seen in a film based on real life like The Phenix City Story, we know the reality is that most people will just do the minimum they have to, if that. Rogers plays that dilemma fairly convincingly. Reagan really doesn't have that much to do here. He's supposed to be the good guy, and his real-life affability makes him a natural to play a role that calls for uprightness without much emotion. Doris Day is almost a spare tire here; she's almost forgettable next to Rogers. Cochran is the bad guy, and maybe he overplays it a bit, but he looks brutish but stupid here, and plays it enjoyably well. The cast rises above the social commentary, although they're also helped out a bit by an ending that's a bit astonishing.

Storm Warning isn't perfect by any means, but it's not a bad little film.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another rights question

I was somewhat surprised to see that TCM doesn't list any of the Laurel and Hardy shorts they showed yesterday as being available for purchase. At least, you can't buy them at the TCM Shop. They've all been put on DVD, I think, and while those DVDs are available at Amazon, the prices suggest that these are DVDs which are now out-of-print.

The shorts that aired yesterday all (I think; I didn't watch all of them) had the MGM logo at the beginning. Of course it wasn't uncommon for a smaller production to produce motion pictures and then have those films distributed by one of the big studios; William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures distributed through various studios over the years.

If MGM had ended up with the rights back in the 1920s, as a result of having distributed the films, then those shorts would have ended up in the library that Ted Turner acquired when he bought MGM back in the 1980s, and which became a substantial part of the "Turner Library" that is now one of the many parts of the Time/Warner empire. Surely in that case the Laurel and Hardy shorts would have seen some sort of more recent release that TCM would be plugging every time they plug their TCM Shop. So who exactly does own all the Hal Roach pictures?

Unfortunately, somebody's going to be owning them for decades to come. Back in the day, the copyright would have been 75 years, which implies that the Laurel and Hardy shorts would have entered the public domain several years back. But that also would have meant that Steamboat Willie would have made it into the public domain, and the bastards at Disney couldn't let that happen. If memory serves, Disney bought enough members of Congress to get the copyright term changed to 120 years, which means that Steamboat Willie will be under copyright until 2048, or longer should Disney pay off Congress again in 35 years' time. As for the rest of the silent movies, you can do the math on when they'll finally make it into the public domain. (Mickey Mouse himself would remain a trademark as long as Disney use him, which is somewhat less objectionable.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Working for Hal Roach

TCM showed several of the silent two-reelers that Laurel and Hardy made for Hal Roach in the late 1920s. I sat down and watched Two Tars. Entertaining if a bit of a one-note film, but then what are you going to get in 20 minutes? What was most interesting for me was the opening credits. The "supervising director" was Leo McCarey, who also happened to be the writer. I suppose this is good practice for becoming a full-fledged director. Not only the supervising director part, but the writing; I've commented in the past about how Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, among others, got their starts writing, and became directors when they didn't want other directors directing their dialogue.

The other interesting name was the man who did the photography, which in this case really means the cinematography: George Stevens. This is of course the same George Stevens who would go on to win an Oscar for directing A Place in the Sun 20 years later. I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that a cinematographer went into directing; if you watched the month-long retrospective of Jack Cardiff's career that TCM had back in January, you'll know that Cardiff directed a fair number of films. I shouldn't be surprised, either, that Stevens did cinematography. After all, he took quite a bit of color footage during his time serving in World War II. I have to admit, however, that I hadn't known Stevens did the cinematography work on Hal Roach shorts. You learn something new every day.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

One More River

Some months back, as part of a night of movies directed by James Whale, TCM showed One More River. It's on again tomorrow morning at 11:30 AM, and despite the fact that it's a dated melodrama, it's worth a watch.

Diana Wynyard (the matriarch from Cavalcade) stars as Claire Corven, a British woman whom we first see as she's making her way back to her home in the UK after some time abroad. It turns out that she's leaving her husband, Sir Gerald, because he's treated her badly, or at least so she claims. On her voyage home, she meets nice Tony (Frank Lawton) and strikes up a friendship with him. Purely platonic of course. Once she gets home, she starts working to help another of her friends, David (Reginald Denny) get elected to Parliament, and when he does get elected, she goes to work for him as his parliamentary secretary. After all, she needs some means of support.

She needs the support because she can't rely on her husband (played by Colin Clive), even though we know he's going to return and try to get her to come back to him. He does show up one evening, and sure enough, Claire refuses his advances. So Gerald begins to look for a way to make Claire suffer even more than he had made her suffer when he was stationed out in Ceylon. Thankfully for him, Tony is still interested in Claire, even though she claims that it's purely platonic. Tony keeps meeting her, and eventually winds up alone with her overnight. It's the most innocent of circumstances: while returning home from the country one evening, the car's headlights burn out in the middle of nowhere, much too far away from anything else for them do to anything but wait until morning when they can drive the car in daylight again and get it fixed. But Sir Gerald's private detective is there, and catches them alone together. In fact, he's caught them alone on a number of occasions, so he files divorce proceedings. He'll let her have her freedom, but only if it's shown publicly that she was the bad one. It's one final humiliation.

This is the sort of stuff that would never happen today. Claire would file for a no-fault divorce, and since it's not as if they have any children or anything, and she doesn't seem to be looking for alimony, it would be a purely bureaucratic formality of waiting several months until the divorce goes through. We couldn't have that in 1934, though, so instead we get a stagy trial. Everybody will eventually live more or less happily ever after, I suppose, but they're going to have to suffer before they get to happiness.

The plot bogs down what are otherwise good acting performances. Not only from Wynyard, but from several of the supporting roles. There's venerable British character actor C. Aubrey Smith as Wynyard's father; Jane Wyatt as her sister; Henry Stephenson as an uncle in London where Wynyard first lives when she goes to work for Denny, and before she has to flee from her husband; and Lionel Atwill and Alan Mowbray as the barristers at the divorce trial. One More River is an interesting period piece. Don't get too irritated with the cultural mores that make the plot go the way it has to.

Speaking of Lionpower

If you watched the Lionpower from MGM featurette that TCM showed overnight between Friday and Saturday, one of the films you'll have noticed is The Comedians. It's a story about people in Haiti in the early days of the "Papa Doc" Duvalier regime. Obviously, they couldn't film in Haiti, so to get the tropical locations, they went to Benin, a country in western Africa between Ghana and Nigeria. Back then, the country was still called Dahomey.

All this is told in the short The Comedians in Africa, which TCM is showing today just after Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, at about 3:45 PM. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it before. As for The Comedians, it doesn't seem to be on the TCM schedule any time soon.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dystopian sci-fi

I've commented a couple of times in the past about how there's a wide streak of dystopianism in 1970s movies. I've mentioned the conspiracy theories in movies like The Parallax View and The Stepford Wives, for example. All those all-star disaster movies certainly qualify as dystopian. And then there's the science-gone-wrong-fiction. It's that last group that makes up most of a good portion of tonight's prime time lineup on TCM.

The night kicks off with Close Encounters of the Third Kind at 8:00 PM. Although there's certainly a conspiracy theory here, with the US government trying to keep regular people from seeing what's going to be coming to Devil's Tower, I think this is actually more of a hopeful movie than a dystopic film. Certainly it is compared to the rest of the movies coming up.

Don't blame me for calling tonight's films sci-fi; that's TCM's decision. (Suprisingly, while TCM's schedule page says that tonight's prime-time lineup is "70s sci-fi", all of the features are listed as being in the horror genre. Go figure.) I think I'd call the second film tonight neither sci-fi nor horror, but a dystopic drama that just happens to be set in the future: Rollerball, at 10:30 PM.

The third film is Logan's Run, at 12:45 AM, about a society that kills its people when they get to be 30 years old. Of course, there are people who try to escape the system because they don't want to die young. Certainly dystopian, and more science here than in Rollerball. That's followed by a featurette on the making of the movie; I personally think TCM should have come up with a schedule that had this featurette promoting the movie and showing well before it.

The last two films fit squarely in the sci-fi camp: Westworld, at 3:00 AM, which I blogged about back in September 2008. It's got animatronic cowboys and other historical figures gone wild, so it clearly fits the bill both of sci-fi and dystopic.

Last but not least, at 4:30 AM, is Soylent Green, in which Charlton Heston learns the disturbing truth about how our food is made. One wonders what Martha Stewart could have done with Soylent Green.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I see that TCM is running the 1967 promo Lionpower from MGM just after 1:30 AM in the overnight hours between tonight and tomorrow. (Or, for those of you out in California, that's just after 10:30 PM this evening.)

This being a promotional film, there's no plot. It's simply a look at all the great films MGM will be showing you, the moviegoing public from the autumn of 1967 through to the summer of 1968. In and of itself, that's no big deal. But a couple of things make Lionpower worth viewing. First is the fact that it serves as a historical document. Looking back 45 years, we know which movies were successes, which failed at the box office, and which never got a release. We also know what's going to happen to MGM in a few short years, and that's not pretty. But the suits at MGM didn't have such foresight, of course.

The result is that all of the movies have to be promoted as though you moviegoers are just going to love them. It's a lot like TV networks' promotions for their new fall seasons. Some (many) of the shows may look crappy, but dammit, the bosses want them promoted. And this being MGM, even though it's a fading MGM, they pull out all the stops to try to make the movies look good. They've got stentorian voiceover artists proclaiming the "Lionpower" and how each season has a different theme. And still, despite the fact MGM was already fading by 1967, they still were able to showcase a lot of stars in one year's worth of movies.

It's difficult if not impossible to rate promotional films or trailers; the only real way to judge them, I think, is if they make you want to see the movies that are being promoted. I think Lionpower mostly succeeds in that regard. Not only that, but it's a fun time capsule, too.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Queen of Outer Space

TCM has been spending the day showing a bunch of those silly low-budget 1950s sci-fi films, most of which are sadly not available on DVD. One that you can find on DVD is Queen of Outer Space.

The movie starts off on Planet Earth at some unmentioned time in the future, a time when Earth has permanently manned space stations. One of them has been destroyed; exactly how is a mystery. So our future earthlings (well, they all seem to be Americans; the question of whether the Cold War had been resolved is unanswered) send up one lousy rocket ship with three astronauts to find out what happened.

Those three guys are going to find out quickly enough. It turns out that Venus is not uninhabitable, as the folks on Earth previously thought. Indeed, the Venusians have built a ray gun capable of sending energy long distances through sapce -- long enough to destroy space stations and sent our heroes' rocket hurtling through space to the surface of Venus. Here, they find a planet with only women, who all look surprisingly like buxom female earthlings on it.

Why are there only women? Well, the planet had been through a series of wars, which the Venusian Queen Yllana blamed on men. So she got all the men out of public view and began to rule as an autocrat. And since Earth only sent up male earthlings to investigate, our heroes are in mortal danger! At least they're going to have help on their side, though. Some of the scientistettes, led by Zsa Zsa Gabor, are chafing over the lack of men. They must be horny or something, although you couldn't actually show horny in a 1950s movie. They want the physical touch that only a man can provide them with. (Left unanswered is the question of how the Venusians are going to reproduce. Surely they had to keep some male Venusians.)

Oh boy is this funny stuff. Of course, it's also the sort of stuff that the filmmakers probably weren't intending to be funny, and that's one of the things that makes it even more fun. Zsa Zsa isn't much of an actress, and everybody else in this is at best B-grade stuff. The plot is something that reminds me of an old radio public service announcement, using clichéd ripoffs of 1950s scifi as an example of how recycling is a good thing, and we all need to recycle. It's full of plot holes, and expects the bad guys (well, gals in this case) to be much more stupid than they would be in real life. After all, it takes some cleverness to become queen of an entire planet!

If you're looking for a movie to show on a Bad Movie night, Queen of Outer Space is a great choice. You'll definitely be entertained.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark, 1929-2012

By now you've probably heard about the death of longtime television personality Dick Clark. If you've read this blog long enough, you'll recall that he actually did a bit of acting as well. I blogged about Clark's role in the movie The Young Doctors, starring Fredric March, back in March 2010. I've also mentioned Clark's other film, Because They're Young.

Interestingly, Clark also did the trailer for Gidget, which aired just yesterday on TCM. Assuming TCM's Media Room handles embedding properly, this should be the trailer:

Thankfully there's no M. Night Shyamalan

I wouldn't quite call it a beach movie; instead, it's closer to one of those 1960s generation gap films. But you can watch the 1967 film The Happening early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM on TCM.

The movie starts off with four young folks who aren't quite hippies, but are too late to be beatniks, played by Robert Walker Jr., George Maharis, Michael Parks, and Faye Dunaway not long before Bonnie and Clyde. They're sort of living a bohemian lifestyle, doing whatever they do just for the fun of it. One day, they wind up at the home of Roc Delmonico (Anthony Quinn), a retired mob boss. They take him in what is at first a semi-serious kidnapping, until they realize they could actually hold him for a hefty ransom, which they naturally proceed to do. The shocker, however, is that nobody seems to want to pay off the ransom. Roc has a wife Monica (Martha Hyer), but she sees this as her chance to ditch her husband because she's been having an affair with his business partner (Milton Berle). Roc's former godfather (Oskar Homolka) is also happy to have Roc out of the way.

What's a mobster to do? Well, at this point the movie becomes reminiscent of Too Many Crooks (a point I briefly mentioned back in August 2011). Roc, seeing that nobody seems to want him, decides to turn the tables on all of them. As a mobster, he knows where all the dead bodies are buried, so to speak. He can blackmail his former associates, and get the young folks their money that way instead of a ransom. His four new associates, of course, know next to nothing about how to do a kidnapping, so like Brenda de Banzie in Too Many Crooks, Quinn has to show them how it's done.

The Happening isn't the greatest movie ever made, by any means. In fact, I don't know if I'd say it's even as good as Too Many Crooks. It's still entertaining, however. The movie is more of a mix of comedy and drama than is Too Many Crooks, but Quinn proves himself to be adept at comedy. It helps that the movie has a bit of a dark edge, although it's nowhere near as dark as any noir would be. One other thing for which The Happening is known is its theme song. Vocals were added, and the song was performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes, with a sound rather different from everything else they did at Motown. Unfortunately, the Supremes' version is only heard over the opening credits. I think the movie would have been better off putting the Supremes' version at the beginning rather than having a straight-up instrumental arrangement, as it would have set a lighter tone. That, and the song is just that good when put over by Diana Ross.

The Happening hasn't gotten a DVD release, and shows up on TCM far too rarely, which is a shame for such a fun movie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Elmer the Great

Back in September 2008, I made a brief mention of the movie The Cowboy Quarterback, writing:

It's one of the few movies of the era to deal with professional football -- but the team in the movie is the Chicago Packers! The movie, however, is a remake of 1933's Elmer the Great. A professional athlete gets brought to the big city, and quickly runs up a big gambling tab, at which point the gamblers try to get him to throw the big game.

Well, Elmer the Great is airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM as part of a day of baseball movies. Personally, I think this is a story that works better in football for one key reason. The gamblers ask him to throw the big game, and when Elmer (Joe E. Brown) starts playing terribly, you'd think the logical response would be to substitute him. Except of course, that if you do that in baseball, you can't put him back in. The plot resolution works better in football, where you can put in your second-string quarterback and then put your first-string quarterback back in the game if you so desire.

One thing that I got wrong in my September 2008 comments is the date of Elmer the Great, which actually dates to 1935. What's a few years among friends? Also, I said that The Cowboy Quarterback is a remake of Elmer the Great. In fact, both movies are a remake of Fast Company, more or less. At least, Fast Company was the first movie version of Ring Lardner's play Elmer the Great.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A month late, I think

A lot of times, TCM has in addition to its Star of the Month, some other spotlight one night a week, every week for a month. Sometimes it's a person behind the camera, as it was back in January with cinematographer/director Jack Cardiff. Other times, it's a theme: in March we had a month of British New Wave movies. This month, TCM is going on Spring Break. However, because TCM spent every night one week with Star of the Month Doris Day two weeks ago, the Spring Break spotlight is every weeknight in prime time this week.

Spring Break generally means students going to some warm climate where there's a beach, and a week of drunken partying. At least, that's what it seems to mean nowadays; there's not so much drinking going on in the movie version of it. And how much drinking did students in the 1960s do, anyhow? I'm sure it's more than portrayed in the movies, but is it as much as today? The week kicks off with Where the Boys Are tonight at 8:00 PM; later in the week we're going to get such well-known films in the genre as Gidget (Tuesday night) and Beach Blanket Bingo on Thursday night. Friday, instead of escaping to the beach, the students will be escaping to the slopes for an abbreviated evening of ski movies.

That having been said, I wonder if the Spring Break movies should have been run in March. I know when I went to college, our break was between the Winter and Spring Terms, starting around March 15 and running around two weeks. I always got the impression that our spring break was a bit later than a lot of other schools. Graduation was at the beginning of June, unlike for my brothers and sisters, who went to colleges that had their spring terms end in early-to-mid May. Having Spring Break in April would have been much too late for them.

That's more or less irrelevant to the TCM schedule. If you like the sort of nostalgia that the 1960s beach movies provide, you'll love this week. I have to admit that these movies aren't exactly my cup of tea, however.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tonight on TCM

I've mentioned What Price Hollywood? several times in the past. It's airing again tonight at 10:00 PM. As I've commented when mentioning it, What Price Hollywood is pretty much the original version of A Star Is Born. The 1937 version of A Star Is Born (the one with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March) kicks off tonight's proceedings at 8:00 PM.

Sundays as usual mean Silent Sunday Nights at roughly midnight. This week we get four two-reelers from Harold Lloyd. I think I've seen Get Out And Get Under (at 1:30 AM) before; I distinctly remember a sight gag with Harold Lloyd disappearing into his car. But for some reason I recall a short with Harold trying to get to a wedding on time to make it there before somebody else; the plot of Get Out and Get Under has Lloyd trying to get to a theater to meet his girlfriend. Maybe I'm mixing this one up with something from Buster Keaton's Three Ages. Just one more sign that I've seen too many movies.

This week's TCM Import, at 2:00 AM, is Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, which I blogged about back in March 2011.

There are also a couple of shorts that sound interesting. I don't think I've ever seen any of Hal Roach's "Taxi Boys" shorts from the early 1930s; TCM is showing What Price Taxi just after What Price Hollywood?; that is, a little after 11:30 PM. TCM's schedule page also lists a short that looks like a travelogue, called Kingdom of the Saguenay, around 5:40 AM tomorrow. I know nothing about this one, and neither the TCM databse nor IMDb has much information.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oh, that ship

By now, you've heard that we're at the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. TCM is marking the occasion first by showing The Unsinkable Molly Brown at 5:45 PM, as well as A Night to Remember at 10:00 PM. But what if other filmmakers had done a movie version of the Titanic story?

Alfred Hitchcock might have come up with a mystery along the lines of The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Or maybe not.

James Cameron would have taken something that should have been 90 minutes and turned it into a bloated three-hour snoozefest. Oh wait. He already did that, didn't he?

Edgar Ulmer would have made something interesting, but there would have been no ship, and no iceberg to hit: he wouldn't have been able to afford them.

Busby Berkeley's film would have been even more optimistic than The Unsinkable Molly Borwn, but it would also have been much more visually interesting, with overhead shots of the wrecked ship forming appealing geometric patterns.

Perhaps most interesting might be William Castle. I can imagine him setting up a gimmick such that, when the ship hits the iceberg, a huge flood of water enters the movie theater, partially submerging the moviegoers.

Friday, April 13, 2012

TCM Shop questions

I was wondering what tonight's TCM theme is, and it turns out to be anniversaries: they're showing one movie from 1942, one from 1952, and one from 1962. However, what shocked me was the first film: Casablanca, at 8:00 PM. No, I wasn't shocked by this being the selection for a movie from 1942, but by the fact that the TCM schedule doesn't have the "Buy DVD" icon next to Casablanca. A quick look at Amazon shows a whole bunch of DVD and Blu-Ray releases, which shouldn't be surprising. It's one of the best known titles out there, and I'd think it's one of the movies that Warner Bros. would sell the most copies of. And there are a bunch of different ways to promote it. Indeed, one of the products avaliable at Amazon is a special 70th anniversary ediiton DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. I could swear I've seen that advertised on TCM. (Yes, TCM has advertising; they promote the TCM shop a lot in between movies, and everything in the "TCM Classic Movie News" is advertising.)

So is this just a glitch, or has TCM temporarily run out of stock of Casablanca? I wouldn't be surprised if it were the latter. The second film, at 10:00 PM, is the French classic Forbidden Games, about a young refugee from Paris during World War II who with a young boy from the farm where she's staying, tries to build a cemetery for pets. Amazon lists a couple of DVD releases, although they're all several years old and appear to be almost leftover copies from a now out-of-print run. (Well, except for the way overpriced Criterion Collection.) That's the sort of release I could see TCM not having available for sale. So I suppose it's possible that Casablanca is out of stock, even if I find that hard to believe.

The last film, which is listed as being available for purchase via the TCM Shop, is 1962's Cape Fear, airing at midnight.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

45 years earlier, it would have been a screwball comedy

TCM is devoting tonight's prime time lineup to actress Liza Minnelli, starting off with a movie in which, despite being the leading lady, she's really only playing in support of the leading man: Arthur, at 8:00 PM.

Arthur, of course, is played by Dudley Moore. Arthur, as we see at the beginning of the film, is incredibly wealthy, but also incredibly spoiled. He doesn't seem to do any work (presumably, he's expected to take over the family business at some point), instead spending his time spending money and having a wild time. His family doesn't like this. Grandma (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who controls the money, and Dad (Thomas Barbour), who control the business, want Arthur to settle down, and marry the stuffy Susan (Jill Eikenberry), who comes from respectable money. If Arthur doesn't, well, the family will just have to cut him off.

Matters get complicated, of course. Although Arthur reluctantly agrees to the wedding, one day when he's out shopping he comes across Linda (Minnelli), who is struggling financially and living with her father (Barney Martin). In fact, Linda is struggling enough that she has to engage in shoplifting to get what she wants. Arthur is immediately smitten with her and pays for the things she shoplifts in order to keep her out of trouble, and then the two fall in love. I think we've all seen this plot line before....

In fact, the plot line of Arthur is something that has echoes of Gold Diggers of 1933 and My Man Godfrey, but the details place it very squarely in the early 1980s. Tha language is much coarser, Arthur is clearly cavorting with prostitutes, and New York is decidedly less glamorous than it would have been portrayed in the 1930s.

The movie succeeds, however, and that's largely down to the two male leads. Moore is outstanding as Arthur, playing a realistic boor but also making the character sympathetic. Even more credit, however, should be given to the one cast member I haven't mentioned yet: Sir John Gielgud as Arthur's butler, Hobson. It's difficult to imagine a Shakespearean actor like Gielgud playing opposite a character as coarse and bawdy as Moore's Arthur, but Gielgud is great, deadpanning his way through, and guiding Arthur, down a narrow path of action. Hobson clearly likes his boss, but also understands reality in a way that Arthur doesn't. In fact, the interaction between Arthur and Hobson is eminently more watchable than the predictable love affair between Arthur and Linda.

Arthur got a sequel several years later, and was remade a few years back. But watch the original.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's inaccurate, but at least it's in Technicolor

TCM has been doing fairly well recently when it comes to getting the broadcast rights ot old movies from 20th Century-Fox. Another one that I think is a TCM premiere is Belle Starr, airing at 5:00 PM today.

Belle Starr, for those who don't know, was one of the few famous lady outlaws in the decades following the Civil War until her murder in 1889. Starr was born in Missouri in 1848. Missouri was one of the "border states" in the Civil War, specifically, that refers to the states that stayed in the Union but still practiced slavery. In the movie, Starr (played by Gene Tierney) sees her homestead burned to the ground by Union forces, led by a Major Crail (Dana Andrews). This more or less happened in real life, but not for the reasons given in the movie. (In real life, the Union and Confedracy fought multiple battles over Starr's home town of Carthage, MO.) In the film, Belle and her family are hiding the pursued rebel Sam Starr (Randolph Scott), and it's the Union's attempt to find Starr. This enrages Belle so much that she joins with Starr to become outlaws, raiding in order to gain revenge on the Union, ith the Major in pursuit, also infatuated with Belle.

In real life, after the battles for Carthage, Belle and her family moved to Texas. Belle married another man who was also an outlaw; she apparently knew a quite a large bunch of outlaws. After that husband was killed, she eventually married Sam Starr, who in real life had nothing to do with the Civil War but was a Cherokee Indian living in the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma. Sam and Belle were both tried and convicted of horse theft. This more or less ended Belle's career as an outlaw, although Sam would eventually be killed in another gun battle. Belle in real life was murdered under mysterious circumstances; the murderer is not known to this day. That's not what happens in the movie, where she gets killed as part of a plot to kidnap the Governor of Missouri.

So, the movie is wildly historically inaccurate. What a surprise. But is it entertaining? It's passable enough, although nothing particularly ground-breaking. Randolph Scott was always more than adequate when it came to westers. Dana Andrews acquits himself well, and Gene Tierney seems to be doing much the same stuff she did in The Return of Frank James. She wasn't really suited for westerns, but gives it a good try.

Belle Starr hasn't gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to watch it in its rare TV showings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you blinked, you missed Grant Mitchell

TCM showed The Penalty this afternoon. The plot sounded interesting: "Federal agents use a gangster's son to catch him." The movie was good at times, with echoes of Hide-Out and a bunch of other films where city folk wind up on the farm. Unfortunately, the movie's not on DVD so I can't recommend it right now. Well, I could recommend it, but you wouldn't have a way to watch it.

The casting was something I found a bit interesting. Edward Arnold deservedly gets top billing as the gangster, although the real main character is child star Gene Reynolds, only billed fifth. In between are three actors who don't show up until almost halfway through the film, most notably Lionel Barrymore. Speaking of Barrymore, there are a few scenes where he seems to be standing, although we never see him walking: this was made in 1941, after Barrymore's arthritis had more or less confined him to a wheelchair. In fact, even in the scenes where Barrymore is seated, I don't think we see a wheelchair.

And then there's the ubiquitous Grant Mitchell. He doesn't show up in the opening credits, or at least, I didn't spot his name there. But when Gene Reynolds goes before a Juvenile Court judge, well there's Grant Mitchell, as unmistakeable as he was throughout the 1930s. I knew I'd mentioned Mitchell several times in the past, but when I look through the blog, I'm surprised at just how many times that it. I knew I'd blogged about We're Rich Again, where he plays the husband to wife Billie Burke; what I didn't remember is that the two played a husband and wife later in The Man Who Came to Dinner. (Of course, they were also both in Dinner at Eight, although in rather different roles, and Mitchell only shows up at the end.)

And have I even mentioned a young Gloria De Haven yet? Boy, the studios were able to assemble great casts in the old days.

Anthony Bourdain, April 2012 Guest Programmer

I don't watch any of those cooking shows on the Food Channel or other similar channels, but at least I'd already heard of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. He sat down with Robert Osborne to talk about four of his favorite movies, and TCM is showing those movies tonight.

The night starts at 8:00 PM with John Ford directing John Wayne in The Searchers. This isn't one of my favorites: it's not a bad movie, but I can't help but think that a large part of its now towering relation comes from people projecting their own political views back onto the film. It's amazing to read all the glowing reviews invariably making comment of Ford's making a statement against racism.

Following at 10:15 PM is Eyes Without a Face which I recommended back in December 2008. It's a wonderfully creepy horror movie which for the most part doesn't have any of the blood or gore of today's films, despite the subject matter.

The third selection is the British gangster film Get Carter, which airs at midnight. I don't think I've seen either this one, or the final selection, which is another British movie, Withnail and I.

One other interesting thing airing this night, which I don't think Bourdain had any part in selecting, is the 1928 short The Five Locust Sisters, at about 5:50 AM tomorrow. It's from the very earliest days of MGM's talking-picture output, and features nothing more than a group singing two songs, including "Get Out and Get Under the Moon". It's an interesting historical document of the sort of songs people were singing at that time, this time the sort of song that isn't so well-remembered today. Would I want to watch a feature-length musical starring the Locust Sisters? God no, but a one-reeler makes it a fun enough curiosity.

Monday, April 9, 2012

John Calvert

I was looking through the satellite box guide earlier today, and noticed that the "Documentary Channel" was running something called "John Calvert: His Magic and Adventures" that sounded somewhat interesting. Apparently, Calvert was a magician who has been performing for 80 years. (He's still alive and will turn 101 in August.) Calvert also spent a good decade or so in Hollywood, although I don't think I'd ever heard of his name or remembered it from any credits.

The documentary obviously spends more of the time on Calvert's magic, although some of the documentary is given over to that decade in Hollywood. Apparently Calvert played the Falcon in three of the films in that low-budget series, acted in a dozen or so other films, and served as a technical adviser on The Silver Chalice. You may recall that Jack Palance's character is a conjurer, and Palance apparently wanted somebody who had experience in magic to handle the direction, at least for the magic sequences. Calvert in the documentary has a good anecdote about Paul Newman, for whom The Silver Chalice was one of his earliest films. There's quite a bit of lousy footage from Calvert's "Falcon" films; it looks as if the footage came from awful TV prints.

The documentary refers to Calvert's magic and adventures: Calvert also was a stunt pilot, and took his own boats around the world as part of his magic show tours. Along the way, he survived a plane crash, multiple typhoons, pirates, and a small boat being capsized. Oh, and the guy met his wife in Singapore when she was part of his magic show. So I guess adventure is an appropriate word.

I have no idea when the documentary is going to show up on the Documentary Channel again. Their website doesn't list it on the schedule, but their website also appears to be a bit lacking. It has been put on DVD, but it's even more expensive than the stuff from the TCM Archive collections.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Black Fury

I've recommended a number of the social commentary movies from the ootput that Warner Bros. had in the 1930s. If you haven't seen enough of them, you could do worse than to watch Black Fury, which is airing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM on TCM.

This time, the setting is the coal-mining country of Pennsylvania. Paul Muni, who had previously appeared in 38547075419843257984 of Warner Bros. social commentary movies, give or take a few, playd Joe Radek, an immigrant complete with accent who works in the coal mine. The mining company is typically nasty for one of these movies; they've set up a company town where everybody lives in squalor, kept in check by a police force which is also in the employ of the company. There is a union, but it believe more in the softly-softly approach than the strident fighting for labor's rights. That might not be such a bad thing, because the company is portrayed as being bad on union agitators.

In fact, it's this badness that's about to drive the action of the movie. Joe's good friend Mike (played by John Qualen, who was constantly playing immigrant roles) gets drunk one night, and starts speaking a bit too ill of the company. Mike's punishment is getting murdered by McGee, one of the company policemen (Barton MacLane), which the company police promptly declare an accident. Joe winds up in the hospital as a result of the fight, and when he gets out, he decides to take revenge. This revenge comes in the form of infiltrating the mine carrying a bunch of dynamite, threatening to blow the whole thing up. Yikes. The company sends McGee down the mine shaft to get Joe, and after another fight, Joe takes McGee hostage, and treats McGee as brutally as the company has been treating the workers: Joe ties McGee up and keeps a bunch of food just out of McGee's reach.

I don't know quite how realistic all of this is. My understanding of American history is that there certainly was a good deal of industrial conflict back in the 1930s, but that it's a bit difficult to figure out just how much each side is bad because the current (disproportionately government-sector) union descendants of the old industrial unions have a vested interest in romanticizing the conflict into the unions being unambiguously virtuous and the companies unambiguously evil. But back in the 1930s, the fact that there was a depression going on with a large pool of excess labor would have meant that the companies would have had the upper hand in industrial relations. I'm sure the movie has some reality, but also some exaggeration. When it comes to social commentary movies, you need a story that can override the political point you're trying to make. Black Fury is entertaining enough to accomplish that mission. As for the acting, Paul Muni is about as understated as ever, which is to say not much. Still, I think a lot of these social commentary movies are the sort of things that need a protagonist with a forceful character of the sort that Muni could play well.

Black Fury has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

God vs. Rita Hayworth

I don't think there's any movie that really pitted God against the lovely Rita Hayworth. TCM's schedulers have done so, however, by programming a number of films with Hayworth as a temptress right before Easter. The night of Rita Hayworth movies begins at 8:00 PM with Gilda, which is this week's TCM Essential. Hayworth then goes on to tempt Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai at 10:00 PM; Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon in Fire Down Below at 11:45 PM; and Rex Harrison in The Happy Thieves at 2:00 AM.

As for the Easter films, they begin with Godspell 7:15 AM tomorrow. I'm not going to complain about one day of religious-themed movies on Easter Sunday, even if a lot of these -- such as the 1960 version of King of Kings at 9:00 PM tomorrow -- aren't my sort of film. But I can think of some other interesting ideas to play just before Easter.

The obvious one would be movies with "Devil" in the title, especially if we can avoid the actual Satan who shows up in The Devil and Daniel Webster. That having been said, a night of hell-themed movies could include such excellent films as Cabin in the Sky and the Ernst Lubitsch version of Heaven Can Wait. Unfortunately, it would probably have to include something like The Story of Mankind too.

No; I was thinking something more along the lines of The Devil and Miss Jones, or maybe Devil's Doorway. And then there's the Marine film Devil Dogs of the Air. That one is actually showing at 8:15 AM Monday on TCM.

Another good idea might be movies like The Omen or The Seventh Victim, because Satanic possession is just the thing to show during Easter weekend. The other transgressive thing might be charlatans like Elmer Gantry, or the Joan Crawford character in Susan and God. And add into that Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling!. There's a fun one.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A half-century of Bond Girls

It's almost hard to believe that it's been 50 years since Sean Connery played James Bond for the first time, that being in the film Doctor No. Not only did its popularity spawn a whole series of Bond films, the scene of Ursula Andress coming out of the sea spawned a series of sexy women to play opposite the various James Bonds.

Andress is now 76 and looking very good for a woman of that age: a recent article from the UK tabloid the Daily Mail includes then and now photos for several of the Bond girls, all of whom seem to have aged fairly well. Then again, there are a couple of caveats: the article doesn't say just how current the "now" photos are, although I suppose they can't be too old. The other, of course, is the possibility that one or another of them had plastic surgery. Still, even somebody like Honor Blackman looks quite distinguished for a woman well into her 80s.

As for some of the Bond girls, I have other memories of them, especially Karin Dor; when I think of her I think of Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz, in which she has a visually interesting death scene. And I don't think Grace Jones (from A View To a Kill, turning 64 later this year) shows up in the photo spread. Wikipedia has a photo of Jones performing in 2009 in which she doesn't look too bad, except for the think on the top of her head that's part of the costume.

I'm sorry it's still not on DVD, and other briefs

I should have checked last night whether The Whole Town's Talking had gotten a DVD release since I blogged about it back in January 2009. The movie hasn't, and since it's airing again in just a few hours' time, at 2:00 PM today, the chances are good that you're only going to see this post after the movie has aired. Another film today which doesn't seem to be on DVD is The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, at 5:15 PM, in which Edward G. Robinson plays the doctor who, in order to study the criminal mind, infiltrates a gang of thieves led by Humphrey Bogart.

One of the Edward G. Robinson movies that is on DVD, but I haven't seen yet, is The Man With Two Faces, at 12:45 PM. Not having seen it yet, I can't blog about it. Maybe in the near future, although I've got a few other movies I just saw to blog about first. I'm not certain why they're showing so many of Robinson's films today, since his birthday is in December.

And then there's Guilty Hands, which ran this morning. It sounded like an interesting premise -- former district attorney Lionel Barrymore commits murder and tries to pin it on Kay Francis -- but the execution was off. That having been said, the execution was off in a way that makes parts of the movie really interesting. If it were on DVD, it's definitely a movie I'd be blogging about, just for its oddness. But sadly, you'll have to wait for this to show up again on TCM, and I have no idea when that's going to be.

I could swear I had blogged about Young Man With a Horn, which airs tonight at 10:00 PM. Kirk Douglas stars as a trumpeter who winds up with a woman (Lauren Bacall) who's not right for him and it drives him to drink. It's loosely based on the story of 1920s cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, with the looseness coming from the fact that Beiderbecke died tragically young, while the Douglas character doesn't. I probably should do a full-length post about this one, but I'm just not that big a fan of Lauren Bacall.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another night of Doris Day comedies

TCM's week-long salute to Doris Day has several 1960s comedies tonight, starting at 8:00 PM with previous recommendation Please Don't Eat the Daisies. As I said in 2010, it's nice enough. Another comedy that's nice, but rather more inane, is The Glass Bottom Boat, which airs at midnight tonight.

Doris Day plays Jennifer, whom we see at the start of the movie working for her father's tourism business, playing a mermaid who swims under Dad's titular glass-bottomed boat for the tourists to see. Unfortunately, her costume gets hooked by recreational fisherman Bruce (Rod Taylor). It turns out the two have something in common besides being out to sea that day: Jennifer is an employee at the aerospace company Bruce runs. The only thing is, there's a problem at the company: they're doing defense work, but it seems as there's a mole somewhere in the company trying to pass secrets to the Soviets. Jennifer's getting close to Bruce, combined with some other misunderstandings, such as Jennifer's constantly making phone calls to a mysterious "Vladimir" (who turns out to be her dog), lead to her being suspected as the spy.

The problem that The Glass Bottom Boat has is that it's formulaic fluff. After the release of Doctor No, the first James Bond movie, both spy thrillers and spoofs became popular genres in the decade. Indeed, both of our leads here made another movie that could be considered a spy spoof: Taylor's The Liquidator, and Day's Caprice. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks is that a lot of these movies now come across as rather severely dated. (Granted, it's not the moviemakers' fault that the USSR collapsed.) Also, you know that Day and Taylor's characters are going to fall in love, but thankfully they're both good enough at fluff that they pull off the romantic part well. And particular to The Glass Bottom Boat, and unlike The Liquidator or Caprice, the bad guys just aren't believable enough to cause the requisite tension.

Still, The Glass Bottom Boat is entertaining enough, especially if you're a fan of Doris Day or Robert Taylor. Both did much better work, however.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Elmer Bernstein, 1922-2004

Today marks the birth anniversary of film composer Elmer Bernstein (no relation to fellow composer Leonard). I've remarked in the past on the importance of people behind the screen who contribute to what make the movies the movies, as well as the importance of the proper music in movies. Bernstein certainly stands out as an example of this. I think most people would know him best as the composer of the score for The Magnificent Seven, which brought him the second of his 13 Oscar nominations. The only time he won, however, was for Thoroughly Modern Millie, of all things.

Bernstein's career in Hollywood started about a decade earlier, writing the scores for some not very good movies, such as 1953's Cat Women of the Moon. It was scoring The Man With the Golden Arm in 1955, followed a year later by The Ten Commandments, that really made Bernstein a big name in film composing. Later well-known films for which he wrote the score include To Kill a Mockingbird, the John Wayne version of True Grit, and, surprisingly enough, Airplane!

In looking for a photo of Bernstein to accompany this post, I came across one of him with his Oscar. The page that included the photo is a biographical article that's well worth linking to, focusing especially on The Ten Commandments.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Adventure in Manhattan

TCM showed Adventure in Manhattan a week or so ago. It's the sort of movie that I wouldn't have expected to see a DVD release. But, it's part of a TCM box set of Jean Arthur comedies, so you don't have to wait for the next TCM showing, whenever that's going to be.

Adventure in Manhattan was released in late 1936, about the same time that the second of the Thin Man movies came out. Nick and Nora Charles had proved to be quite a popular couple, and studios, in their usual fit of unoriginality, were all trying to come up with movies that fit the same formula as The Thin Man -- comedic mysteries that aren't too long and not too taxing, preferably with a bunch of quirky characters. Adventure in Manhattan isn't exactly the best movie Jean Arthur ever made, but as far as comic mysteries go, this one is entertaining enough.

On to the plot, such as it is. Arthur may get top billing, but the real main character is Joel McCrea, playing George Melville. Melville is a crime writer who has been hired by a newspaper editor (Thomas Mitchell) to cover the case of a prominent jewel heist. Melville is convinced he knows who did it. The only problem is, the person who did it is dead, or at least, believed to be dead by everybody who matters. As Melville is leaving the press club, he's accosted by Claire (Jean Arthur), who gives him some sob story about her horrible ex-husband keeping her from seeing her child on the child's birthday. It turns out that this is just a ruse designed by all of Melville's reporter friends and Claire is an actress starring in a World War I-themed play being produced by Blackton Gregory (Reginald Owen).

At this point, the movie turns not into a mystery, but a sort of suspense film: Gregory reveals his true identity to a small group of people woking on the play with him. It turns out that Gregory really is the man who Melville figured is responsible for the heists; only, he faked his death to throw everybody off the trail. The play is really an elaborate ruse. The theatre, it turns out, is right next to the bank where a famous jewel is kept, and Gregory is going to use the artillery blasts that are part of the play's plot to mask the sound of tunneling under and drilling into the bank vault to get the jewel. (Wouldn't the police spot the tunnel in their investigation and find that it leads back to the theater?) Alfred Hitchcock made the comment about suspense being that we viewers know something bad that might be about to happen, but the characters may not know; mystery is when we don't know who's going to commit the crime. So Adventure in Manhattan really goes from one genre to another.

As I said earlier, Adventure in Manhattan is entertaining enough, thanks in large part to the cast. Jean Arthur was good at comedy, as well as being the support to the leading man, so she's fine here. Indeed, for most of the film she doesn't really know what's going on, but is a key witness to discovering the truth about Blackton Gregory. Joel McCrea is also quite underrated in comedy, but also good enough to handle suspenseful roles as he did in Foreign Correspondent. Reginald Owen is British enough and distinguished enough, while Mitchell's editor role is fairly small but shows a good adeptness at least for the sort of comedy where he's the foil. If the movie falls short, it's in the plot. I think it might have worked better as a straight-up comic mystery in the Thin Man vein, or perhaps a suspense movie if the relationship between Claire and Melville weren't as comedic (see the relationship between McCrea and Laraine Day in Foreign Correspondent).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Half a post

I couldn't recall whether I had done a full-length post on Sayonara before; it's airing tomorrow at noon on TCM as part of a birthday salute to Marlon Brando. It turns out that I gave a brief synopsis of the film back in April 2008, and pointed out how much I dislike Marlon Brando's performance in the film. Four years on, and I still stand by that statement.

That post also goes on to mention Brando's role as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar, which follows Sayonara at 2:30 PM tomorrow. I'm sure some of you love Marlon Brando, and will find his movies that TCM is showing tomorrow a nice treat. I'm sure you also know my opinion of Brando, too. Still, I thought that Sayonara was worth pointing out, since the story line involving Red Buttons and Miyoshi Umeki make up more or less for the one involving Brando.

A different Star of the Month

Today marks the first of five nights for TCM's Star of the Month for April 2012, Doris Day (second from left in the photo above, from the film Julie, but you could probably have figured that out yourself). Most of the time, that would mean each of the five Mondays in April in prime time, but this month, TCM is doing something different, which is to have Doris Day's movies every nihgt in prime time this week, extending into the early morning of the next day in some cases; the last film in "tonight's" lineup is Starlift which actually airs at 8:00 AM tomorrow. Presumably this would be because she's turning 90 on April 3. For those who aren't fans of Doris Day, I'm sorry; but this might not be a bad opportunity to catch up on any backlog of taped films you might have -- don't we all have that?

This wouldn't be the first time TCM has done something different regarding its Star of the Month. Some people made enough films that TCM could spend 24 hours a day for each of the "nights" of the tribute; I believe Humphrey Bogart and Mickey Rooney both got that in December 2009 and 2010. Frank Sinatra, on the other hand, got two nights a week in prime time when he was the Star of the Month in May 2008 on the 10th anniversary of his death; that spotlight did include a couple of TV speacials, however. And in May 2007, TCM marked two centenaries with Stars of the Month tributes: Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne. Like Doris Day, both of them recieved a full week of the prime-time spotlight in the week that corresponded to their 100th birthdays. (Thankfully they weren't born in the same week.)

As for Julie, it's not airing until 1:30 AM Thursday. I only used the photo beause it's the one Doris Day photo I've used in the past to illustrate a film and I didn't feel like looking for a new one right now.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TCM, phone home

I don't feel like trying to fool you with an April Fools' Day post, so I'll just note TCM's prime time lineup for tonight has a pair of movies with phone numbers in the title. It turns out I've blogged about both of them before:

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Call Northside 777, in which Jimmy Stewart goes looking for Wanda Skutnik so he can free Richard Conte from prison.

Butterfield 8 follows at 10:00 PM, with the title referring to the telephone exchange of the escort service for which Elizabeth Taylor works.

As for other movies with phone numbers in the title, you could always try dialing M for murder. If you dial L or N, however, whoever answers the phone might say Sorry, Wrong Number, which I apparently have not done a full-length post about. And somehow, I doubt TCM is going to be showing Transylvania 6-5000 any time soon.