Tuesday, July 31, 2012

British Agent again

I recommended the movie British Agent last September. It's on again tonight at 9:45 PM as part of the final night of Leslie Howard's turn as TCM Star of the Month. The better news, however, is that since the previous airing, British Agent has received a DVD release as part of the Warner Archive collection.

I've probably mentioned this before, but I have to admit to not paying too much attention to DVD releases. When I mentioned several weeks back about Fox getting into manufacturing on demand, I mentioned a few of the very first titles. The article I read, if I remember correctly, said something about getting up to 25 films or so by the end of the year, but for the most part I don't recall any of those movies. Actually, I believe Diplomatic Courier might have been amongst that bunch, but I have no idea when any of those movies would be getting their MOD releases. This is even more true with the Warner Archive, which is over 1000 titles, if the promos for the Archive that show up between movies on TCM are accurate.

Tony Martin, 1913-2012

Tony Martin in Ziegfeld Girl (1941)

Tony Martin, who sang in a bunch of Hollywood musicals in the late 1930s and early 1940s, died at the end of last week aged 98. I don't think the announcement of his death hit the news until yesterday evening, which is why I didn't see it until now. Martin's best remembered work might be singing the song "You Stepped Out of a Dream" in the 1941 MGM musical Ziegfeld Girl, in which he sings to several of MGM's beauties of the day, most notably Lana Turner, and a staircase. I believe there's a "Word of Mouth" piece that shows up on TCM from time to time in which Tony Martin talks about being selected for The Ziegfeld Girl and doing that particular number.

Martin had a much longer career as a singer than he did as an actor, continuing to perform into his 90s. Martin was also well-known for his 60-year marriage to actress/dancer Cyd Charisse, who died back in 2008.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Island in the Sky (1953)

I've made brief mentions of the 1953 film Island in the Sky on several occasions, but a search of the blog claims I've never done a full-length post on the movie. It's airing again tonight at 9:30 PM, and is well worth the watch if you haven't seen it before.

The story is quite a simple one. John Wayne stars as Dooley a pilot who is a civilian working for the military transporting army supplies. His current mission is taking him over the northern part of the Labrador peninsula and Quebec. It's a desolate place in good times; in the winter it's downright hostile. So, you can probably guess what's going to happen. The plane develops technical problems and has to make a forced landing. How are they going to get out before the cold gets them all? Well, there's an emergency transmitter that's powered by hand cranking. But they have to get the thing to start running in the first place so that they can relay their position to the rescue crews, who aren't otherwise going to know there's a problem until the plane fails to show up where the flight plan said it would.

The search isn't a bed of roses for the search pilots, either. This was 1953, long before there was anything like GPS to calculate somebody's position to within 100 feet or less. If the downed pilots could accurately relay their location to within a tenth of a degree of latitude and longitude, that's still a good 40 square miles the searchers would have to cover, looking for a needle in a haystack.

Island in the Sky is a bare-bones story that on the face of it doesn't have much to it. But that's not to say the movie isn't much; not by any means. Indeed, director William Wellman tells the story quite well. Wayne, as the leader of the flight crew, has to be a leader, but just like everybody else in the downed crew, he has the same fears that nobody's going to make it out alive. And technically, as the leader he does bear the responsibility if anybody dies on his watch. There's also the issue of that emergency transmitter. Apparently that part is relatively accurate from a technical point of view. (Not that you should expect anything less from director Wellman, who was a World War I pilot.) Transport planes in those days did have the hand-crank transmitters that you see, and from what I've read they were a pain to keep cranked in good conditions. I can only imagine trying to keep them cranked in the bitter cold of northern Quebec.

The search pilots don't have it much easier. They're looking for mere specks, and for a large portion of the movie they're not certain where they should even be looking. Add to that the fact that these specks they're trying to find are their friends, as the transport pilot fraternity is a small one. The searchers are played by a cast of well-known character actors: Allen Joslyn, James Arness, Andy Devine and Lloyd Nolan. Watch for Devine in particular. Before he takes off on the search, he's got a scene in which he's at the local swimming hall with his children. We get to see Devine do a cannonball into the swimming pool. Now, everything I've read suggests that Devine was a dear, sweet man, and that almost everybody who worked with him liked him. But by this point of his life he was also almost morbidly obese. Seeing him in a pair of swim trunks doing a cannonball is almost as disturbing as anything you'd see in a horror movie.

Island in the Sky has gotten a DVD release.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another set of briefs

It's been over two years since I recommended the movie For Pete's Sake. It's getting another showing today at 3:30 PM. Streisand for once doesn't sing and isn't particularly irritating.

Tonight's Essentials Jr. selection is Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon, at 8:00 PM. Perhaps it's just me projecting my views onto the movie, but I wonder how many children are going to like Fred Astaire in those MGM musicals of the early 1950s. Sure, they're well made, and I think there's even less that could be objectionable to the parents than in The Great Escape. But I wonder about its appeal to the younger set, which I thought was supposed to be the point of Essentials, Jr.

In recent years it seems to be a trend in Hollywood to take popular TV series and make a movie out of them. Well, actually, I think that trend had its peak a couple of years ago, with the current trend being to make effects-laden films from comic book stories. The funny thing is, the comic-book trend is nothing new. The serials of the 1930s and 1940s were often based on the funny pages, and feature-length films based on comics were also made. Just look at this past Friday's TCM prime time lineup of Dick Tracy movies. As for the movies imitating TV, there was a movie version of Dragnet back in 1954, although that might be a bit of an outlier. Back then TV would have been more likely to cannibalize ideas from the big screen. But I only bring any of this up because TCM is showing The Fugitive in the wee hours of the morning at 4:00 AM. There's no Richard Kimble or one-armed man here. (And note that the TV series was made into a movie back in the early 1990s.) It's just one of many titles which are common enough that you'd have several different works having nothing in common save the title. There was a movie in the early 1950s called Dallas; I mentioned Jeopardy (minus the exclamation point!) when it aired again last week, and even one from the 1930s called Taxi! (with the exclamation point!) starring James Cagney as the taxi driver.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Did people find Joe Penner funny?

Yesterday, TCM showed the movie Go Chase Yourself, which sounded like an interesting enough B comedy, based on the one-sentence synopsis you'd see on the box guide or TCM's website. The movie has made it to DVD thanks to the female lead, Lucille Ball.

Joe Penner stars as Wilbur Meeley, a bank teller who is constantly entering contests and has dreams of becoming a singing radio star. (In real life, Penner was a radio star whose shtick some producers obviously thought would appeal to movie-going audiences.) He's not a particularly good teller, though, as he spends more time singing to them, and even reveals to a pair of depositors the location of the bank's vault! Even if you haven't read a one-sentence synopsis, it's clear these people are going to rob the bank. But more on that later. Wilbur's luck has finally come through in one of the contests, when he's given the grand prize of a camping trailer (even though he doesn't have a car to tow it!). Wilbur brings the trailer home to his wife Carol (Lucille Ball), who is none too impressed, as she thinks it gives her one more thing to have to vacuum. Where some husbands would have to sleep on a couch, at least this husband now has a trailer to sleep in.

But back to the bank robbery. The two depositors are joined by their henchman to empty the vault, but instead of setting off an aural alarm (Really? They had fire alarms back then; wouldn't a bank have had an automatic alarm?) they reveal their presence when they pull down a windowshade in one of the film's more inventive scenes. The cops are on to them, and the bank robbers wind up on a cul-de-sac in the same neighborhood where Wilber lives. They get a brilliant idea: hook their car up to the trailer and drive off, passing themselves off as people about to go on a camping trip. There's also a piece of evidence at the crime scene linking Wilbur to the crime, so the police are after Wilbur thinking he led the crime, and Carol is after him because she knows her husband is just too stupid to have committed the crime.

At this point, the plot starts to get really convoluted: One of the people they meet is Judy (June Travis), who is trying to escape her wealthy family which is trying to marry her off to Count Pierre (Fritz Feld). The family catches up with her, and Carol, having been tipped off as to Wilbur's whereabouts, meets Count Pierre on the train with the police following her, having no idea that their two stories are going to intertwine shortly....

Go Chase Yourself is a movie that has potential, but one that I think winds up going pretty badly wrong for long sequences. The first cause of all this is Penner. I found him almost uniformly irritating instead of funny, with a few exceptions (one being the way he's able to call his wife in the era before cell phones). There are also a lot of plot holes: the cops don't seem to have checked the bank for fingerprints, and it doesn't look like the robbers are wearing gloves. Not only are there holes; the plot veers from one thing to another much too much And the climax of the film, if you will, involves a runaway trailer and some bad rear-projection photography in a tedious scene that goes on much too long. (Didn't they have escape ramps in those days, either?)

Go Chase Yourself, as I mentioned earlier, got a DVD release. In fact, it's on a box set with two other Lucille Ball comedies, Next Time I Marry (1938) and Look Who's Laughing (1941). I haven't seen either of those, so they may be funny. And perhaps some of you might find Go Chase Yourself funny.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Donald Crisp, 1882-1974

Donald Crisp in How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Donald Crisp, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the patriarch of the Morgan family in How Green Was My Valley. Crisp had a long career in the movies, one that predates Hollywood. Although Crisp was born in the UK, the reason his career predates Hollywood is not because he started in British cinema. Crisp had emigrated to the US around 1906 and in 1910, he met DW Griffith, who was still in the New York City area with Biograph; it wouldn't be until a couple of years later that Griffith took Biograph west. Crisp started out not only as an actor in dozens of silent films playing bit parts, but did a lot of directing until the advent of the sound era. The one Crisp-directed movie you're most likely to recognize would probably be The Navigator, where Crisp handled the directorial duties along with star Buster Keaton.

Crisp ketp acting for another 30 years after he finally gave up directing, and played supporting roles in a lot of movies that you would recognize for the lead actors -- and probably, unless you're specifically a fan of Crisp, you'd likely think, "He was in that?" Not so much because it's a shock; it's more because of the roles being smaller and so numerous. Crisp was in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty; played small roles in films like Jezebel (one of eight in 1938) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (one of seven in 1939) or even a crime film like Brother Orchid. And then there are the Lassie movies.

Crisp's film career slowed down considerably after the start of World War II. His final role was in Spencer's Mountain, which is based on the same source material which became the long-running TV series The Waltons. A few years earlier Crisp had played the grandfather role in the 1959 version of A Dog of Flanders. One thing I didn't know about Crisp is that he also worked closely with the money men to help obtain financing from the banks, to the point that he wound up in a fairly high position with Bank of America.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Dog of Flanders

The British writer Maria Louise Ramé, writing under the pseudonym Ouida, wrote quite a few novels in her lifetime. One of them, 1872's A Dog of Flanders, has been turned into several films. TCM will be running the 1935 version of A Dog of Flanders tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM.

The scene is a small village not far from Antwerp in late 19th century Belgium. Nello (Frankie Thomas) is a poor boy who has been orphaned and lives with his grandfather (OP Heggie). They only have a small dairy business to keep them fed and clothed and put a roof over their heads, and they don't even have a horse to pull the dairy cart. One day, though, as Nello pulls the cart toward town, he meets a drunken peddler with a dog who is, unfortunately, abusing the dog. Nello takes pity, takes the dog in, and brings the dog back to health, at which point he and Grandpa use it to pull the milk cart! (I'm surprised nobody thought of this as abusive to the poor dog, which doesn't look to be the sort of breed that would be a sled dog.)

Meanwhile, Nello dreams of being an artist, and he actually has a bit of a talent for it. There's an art contest, and Nello is determined to enter it and win the scholarship to art school, which would make his and his grandfather's financial problems much less severe. Encouraging him is Maria (Helen Parrish) a daughter of a well-to-do family who is about Nello's age and who takes a shining to him. Maria's parents understandbly don't like Nello since he's entirely of the wrong social class for her, and want her to be with young Pieter (Richard Quine, the future director). Pieter likes art, too, and buys one of Nello's drawings, hoping to enter it into the contest himself....

The best word I can think of to describe A Dog of Flanders would be "mawkish". I suppose this is the sort of movie that would have been considered more suitable for children back when it was released. While I have no problem with making movies for children, I can't help but wonder whether even the children of 1935 would have cared for this movie, which is impossibly cutesy. The worse thing is that it's in black and white and filmed on the studio back lot. At least the 1959 remake had lovely color and some location shooting. Still, I suppose there are some young kids somewhere who will enjoy this, and at 73 minutes it's not too long.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TCM's Ernest Borgnine tribute

TCM's tribute to the late Ernest Borgnine is tomorrow, consisting of ten films plus two airings of the Private Screenings interview that Borgnine did with Robert Osborne back in 2009:

The Catered Affair at 6:00 AM;
The Legend of Lylah Clare at 8:00 AM;
Pay or Die at 10:30 AM;
Torpedo Run at 12:30 AM;
Ice Station Zebra at 2:30 PM;
The Dirty Dozen at 5:15 PM;
Private Screenings at 8:00 PM;
Marty at 9:00 PM;
From Here to Eternity at 10:45 PM;
The Wild Bunch at 1:00 AM;
Bad Day at Black Rock at 3:30 AM;
Private Screenings at 5:00 AM.

For some brief comments: Borgnine only had a supporting role in several of these, notably The Dirty Dozen, From Here to Eternity, and Bad Day at Black Rock, but Borgnine does a good job in all three and they're well worth watching for reasons beyond Borgnine's presence.

Marty, of course, is really Borgnine's movie. It's the one that made him a star, as he delivers an outstanding performance in what isn't your typical Hollywood love story.

Borgnine may be the nominal male lead in The Catered Affair, but the film really belongs to Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds. Reynolds plays a young engaged woman who just wants to get married, while her mother (Davis) wants a big celebration, even if it means using the money Borgnine was saving up to buy his own taxicab.

The Legend of Lylah Clare is a train wreck, although that's not Borgnine's fault; I'd blame a lousy script and a wooden performance from Kim Novak. To be fair to Novak, however, she's playing two parts, and the second one, a Doppelgänger of the first one, is supposed to be a lousy actress.

I'm really looking forward to Pay or Die, which I don't think I've seen before. Borgnine plays a policeman in circa-1900 New York who investigates the Black Hand, the forerunner of the Mafia.

All of the movies, with the exception of Torpedo Run, are available on DVD.

Loretta Young night

I've mentioned a couple of times since the start of the year that TCM seems to be having more luck getting movies from Fox. That's the case again tonight, when TCM will be showing a night of movies starring Loretta Young. The night kicks off at as usual 8:00 PM with Born to Be Bad, which I recommended back in June, 2011. Since it's not available on DVD and the Fox Movie Channel was never as available as TCM is, it's nice to see such an obscurity show up on TCM.

In fact, the only one of tonight's films which TCM says is available on DVD is the second film, Eternally Yours at 9:15, in which Young is married to magician David Niven. It's one I don't think I've seen before, and the DVD TCM lists looks to be one of public-domain stuff: fifty movies on twelve DVDs for thirty bucks. I suppose if there aren't better prints available, it's not bad to have such a box set on the market.

Third up ar 11:00 PM is Come to the Stable, which is reminiscent of Lilies of the Field except that it came about 15 years earlier. It also deserves a full-length blog post since the movie co-stars Celeste Holm, who just died recently. However, I still have to write up the post for tomorrow's 24-hour tribute to Ernest Borgnine. Young and Holm star as a pair of French nuns who left France after World War II, looking to build a children's hospital in memory of the children they couldn't save in World War II. They wind up in a small New England town in the farmhouse of artist Elsa Lanchester, and proceed to wheedle everybody, from the locals to the head of their order, into getting the hospital built. It's the sort of Catholic movie Hollywood made plenty of in the days before all the sex-abuse scandals (or Young's actions with Clark Gable that would probably be a sin in Catholicism) became public.

I'm surprised that Loretta Young's Oscar-winning performance in The Farmer's Daughter (12:45 AM) isn't available on DVD, at least not in America. (Amazon lists a Region 2 DVD.) Young plays the adult daughter of a Swedish immigrant farming family who goes off to study nursing, only to wind up working for US Representative Joseph Cotten, and getting involved in politics when she discovers not every politician has the best interests of the people at heart.

The night concludes with the 1942 comedy Bedtime Story at 2:30 AM, and the 1931 pre-Code Big Business Girl at 4:00 AM.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jack Buchanan?

I'm looking forward to the TCM premiere of Berkeley Square tonight at 9:45 PM; it's a movie I've never seen before. Thankfully they've put it at a time where most movie buffs who would want to see it will have the opportunity without recording. The same can't be said about the short Jack Buchanan and his Glee Quartet, which is airing around 3:45 AM.

Jack Buchanan plays himself, filling in for the missing fourth member of the "Glee Quartet" which is supposed to be a song and dance act. The joke in this short is that Buchanan can't dance in time with the rest of the quartet. It does take talent to miss your mark on cue (even if that sounds like an oxymoron), but it's unfortunately the type of talent that looks like it doesn't take talent when it comes to not being able to dance or singing off-key. This may not be something for everybody, but it's an interesting curio.

In fact, TCM seens to show quite a fair number of Vitaphone shorts from around this period. Hollywood was looking for new talent at the beginning of the sound era, and shorts were a good way to give talent an inexpensive test: if the short bombs, nobody will remember it. And presumably, there are people who would have enjoyed acts like this; after all, vaudeville was long popular. What I find more interesting, though, is the simple fact that all these Vitaphone shorts are around. These get a regular airing on TCM, but for whatever reason, there don't seem to be very many shorts from the early 1930s from MGM that show up on TCM. Oh, there's a lot of stuff from later, once Pete Smith and John Nesbitt and James A. Fitzpatrick got going with their various short film series. But the early 1930s? Not so much, I think, apart from the Dogville shorts.

Interestingly, IMDb seems to be acting up right now. I tried to use their advanced search to find MGM shorts from the early 1930s, and IMDb returned a bunch of Disney shorts. My first guess was that although Disney produced them, MGM distributed them, what with Loew's owning all the theaters. But the one I checked said it was distributed by United Artists.

And then there's RKO, whose shorts outside of the Pathé screenliners from the 1950s don't seem to show up at all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

There should have been a red herring

Jeopardy is airing tomorrow at noon on TCM. When I blogged about it last November, it was only a couple of hours before the airing, so you might not have gotten to see it, and this is a little more advance warning.

As I wrote in the original post, there's a dilapidated pier. You can probably see coming a mile away that part of the pier is going to collapse and hurt somebody. I think for once, I'd like to see a movie where there's something like a rotting pier that looks as though it should collapse, but never actually does, even if you have children constantly playing on it. Such a plot twist would at least make for something different.

I can think of some other classic movies that would be fun if they had such a plot twist, such as Second Chance. That would be a lot more interesting if the cable car simply continued on to its destination (with possibly the police picking up Jack Palance there).

Another movie, which I don't think I've recommended before, is The Window. (It's scheduled to be on TCM in September.) The various children play in a dilapidated tenement next door to where a lot of the action takes place. Eventually, the kid at the center of the story gets chased into that building by the bad guys, and you know part of the building is going to collapse.

And for once, I'd like to see a dud bomb in a James Bond picture, instead of one that Bond disarms with 007 seconds left on the timer. And if the bomber isn't going to be around, why put a countdowm timer on the bomb, anyhow? I suppose this illustrates Alfred Hitchcock's comments on the difference between horror and suspense.

Any classic movies that use a trope which turns out to be a red herring?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Another Essentials Jr. head-scratcher

Tonight's selection for TCM's Essentials Jr. is The Great Escape, that 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen as one of many people who try to escape from the Nazi POW camp for the most incorrigible soldiers. It's a good enough movie, but I'm not certain it's one I'd select for targeting children. (It appeared a few years back in the regular Essentials, where I think it certainly fits.)

It's been several years since I've seen The Great Escape, and I'm trying to recall just how much there is (or isn't) in the movie that parents might find objectionable for children. It is, after all, a war movie. I distinctly recall one scene in which some of the escapees, having been rounded up, get shot firing-squad style, albeit off camera. This is after the Nazis say they won't kill the people. My general recollection, however, is that The Great Escape is probably less objectionable than other war movies. Certainly the early 1960s were a time when movies weren't using foul language to the extent that they do today, or even just a few short years later. And since the characters spend much of the movie in prison, there's also less in the way of sexual innuendo. But I think it's less violent than your standard issue war movie, or even a movie like Stalag 17, which has a shootout in the climactic attempted escape. There's some material that might be objectionable, but it's a lot less than it could be.

Yhe big problem, of course, is that the movie runs about 170 minutes. Regardless of whether you think children today have a shorter attention span than they did a generation or two ago, that's still a pretty long time to expect children to sit still and watch a film. And The Great Escape is one where there are substantial periods without much action. I mean, how much action can you have when you've got your lead character in solitary confinement?

I'm not suggesting that you not watch The Great Escape; not by any means. I just don't know how much the kids will like it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mutiny on the Bounty trailer

If you've been watching TCM lately, you'll have seen that they're running a trailer for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty to air at 8:00 PM Monday. The movie has lovely color widescreen cinematography, which is great for places like Tahiti. Unforunately, it also has Marlon Brando. More importantly, however, is that I don't think the 1962 version is the one that's going to be airing, but the 1935 version.

The monthly schedule that I downloaded at the end of June lists the 1935 version in that time slot. So does my onscreen box guide (although we know those can be wrong), and the daily schedule online at TCM's web site. Perhaps better evidence is the rest of the schedule. Following Mutiny on the Bounty, TCM is going to be showing a short on Pitcairn Island, followed by the next feature at 10:30 PM. This would be consistent with TCM's running the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, which has a runtime of 132-133 minutes. With Robert Osbourne's intro and concluding remarks, that would fit in perfectly with the short. The Marlon Brando version runs something like 178 minutes, which in no way fits for the next film to start at 10:30 PM.

Just a heads up.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Say what?

TCM is showing a night of pre-Code movies starring Barara Stanwyck tonight. The first two, Shopworn at 8:00 PM and Ten Cents a Dance at 9:15 PM, were made at Columbia and are both available on a Columbia pre-Code box set for which TCM has been running promos recently. For some reason, I thought all four of the movies in that box set were Stanwyck pictures, and conversely that all of tonight's movies were in that box set, but that's not the case. The third film, Illicit at 10:45 PM, is a Warner Bros. film and part of a DVD release with Girl Missing. The last, Forbidden at 12:15 AM, isn't on DVD at all.

When I was looking up these movies on TCM's site for the DVD information, I noticed that there's a rather interesting article on Ten Cents a Dance, which stars Stanwyck as a taxi dancer who has to choose between a rich businessman (Ricardo Cortez) and a seemingly nice guy (Monroe Owsley) who is in fact a good-for-nothing schlub. The movie was directed by Lionel Barrymore during a brief period in his career when he was getting into directing. The Oscar that he would win for A Free Soul would put an end to that. The article says something rather wacky about this, however:

Barrymore would go on to work on one more film as director - Guilty Hands [1931] - but would be replaced by W.S. Van Dyke and receive no screen credit. Luckily, his film career as a character actor took off the same year when he was nominated and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for A Free Soul.

"Character actor"? Maybe by the time he was confined to his wheelchair and played Dr. Gillespie or the evil banker in It's a Wonderful Life. But not through the 1930s, where he was the driving force behind great films like Dinner at Eight and You Can't Take It With You. Worse, anybody getting paid to write about old Hollywood movies ought to know that the Acadmey didn't award Supporting Actor and Actress Oscars until 1936.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Winchester '73

Thanks to the dispute between DirecTV and Viacom taking several channels off the DirecTV lineup, DirecTV has given its customers free access to the several Encore chnnels through the end of July. Unfortunately the post-1953 movies seem to be panned and scanned, but that of course isn't an issue with movies that were filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. At any rate, having the Encore channels for a few weeks gave me another chance to see Winchester '73. It's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM on Encore Westerns, and is also availalbe on DVD if you don't have any of the premium channels.

James Stewart stars as Lin, a man who shows up in Dodge City for the centennial anniversary of Independence Day in 1876, and clearly has an ulterior motive for being there. The good people of Dodge are running a marksmanship contest in which the winner will receive a "perfect" Winchester repeating rifle, and Lin enters the contest for that. Also in the contest is Dutch (Stephen McNally), who, it is implied at the beginning of the film, has a past involving Lin. (What that past is should be fairly obvious, but isn't revelead until near the end of the movie.) The very next thing that happens is fairly simple to predict: Lin and Dutch are by far the two best marksmen in the contest, making the contest run longer than the organizers expected. Eventually Lin wins, and takes possession of the rifle. Not so fast. Dutch is ticked off and has henchmen with him. They waylay Lin in his hotel room, conk him on the head, and take his Winchester, running off before they can reclaim their pistols from Marshall Wyatt Earp (Will Geer in a small role). Unsurprisingly, Lin rather obsessively goes after them in order to get his rifle back.

It's at this point that the action really picks up. Dutch loses controle of the rifle, and wants it back, as does Lin. However, it goes through a series of owners: a trader, Indians, a settler, and a bank robber. All the while, Dutch stays one step behind whoever has the gun, while Lin is only one step behind Dutch. The stories of the people who wind up with the Winchester are just as interesting as Lin's pursuit of Dutch, and intertwine nicely: this is no anthology movie. The settler, named Steve Miller, is played by Charles Drake. He's a man who wants to settle down with his fiancée (Shelley Winters, whom we first see being escorted out of Dodge City, but whom Lin would defend given the chance) but first has to settle some financial affairs with Waco Johnnie (Dan Duryea, who gets a high billing despite not showing up until about an hour in), which turn out to be robbing a bank. Waco is a real man if a criminal, unlike Steve who turns out to be a coward, and there are some fun scenes when Waco first shows up fleeing the authorities. A young Rock Hudson shows up, nearly unrecognizable as an Indian chief.

Winchester '73 is quite a good movie, thanks in part to a good script, and in part due to excellent characterizations from several of the actors, especially Stewart. Stewart was directed here for the first time by Anthony Mann, and a lot of people give Mann credit for the change in Stewart to playing much darker heroes than he had done a decade earlier in films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I think Alfred Hitchcock deserves some of the credit for putting Stewart in Rope two years earlier. But Mann definitely deserves some credit, especially for casting Stewart in a western (in fact, they'd go on to do a series of westerns together), something I don't think Stewart had done since Destry Rides Again (which is almost a comic western) a decade earlier.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TCM's Andy Griffith salute

Andy Griffith died two weeks ago, but TCM for whatever reason couldn't schedule its tribute to him a little closer to his death. It's finally coming tonight, with four films:

A Face in the Crowd at 8:00 PM, with Griffith as a yokel whose homespun popularism makes him a TV sensation, only for him to let power go to his head;
No Time for Sergeants at 10:15 PM, in which Griffith gets drafted into the Army and proceeds to make life hell for his commanding officers due to his incompetence;
Hearts of the West at 12:30 AM, in which Griffith helps writer Jeff Bridges become a star in 1930s Hollywood; and
Onionhead at 2;15 AM, in which Griffith joins the Coast Guard to try to avoid World War II.

The first three are available on DVD; Onionhead doesn't seem to be available.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Leslie Howard, night 3

Tonight's look at TCM Star of the Month Leslie Howard includes all three of the movies he made with Norma Shearer, starting with the 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet at 8:00 PM. I'm not a huge fan of this, largely because I don't think Howard and Shearer are particularly believable as the two leads. There's also the fact that MGM seemingly had to use everybody on the lot to fill the large cast, much like Warner Bros. a year earlier with A Midsummer Night's Dream. This naturally means that you've got some people who aren't exactly adept at delivering Shakespearean lines. It works at Warner Bros. because they gave many of the non-Shakespearean types roles in Nick Bottom's acting troupe. But there are no such roles I can think of in Romeo and Juliet. The result is that you get an opening sequence involving Edna May Oliver and Andy Devine! Poor Andy. TCM's schedule page suggests that this movie is not available on DVD either, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM, which for a prestige movie from MGM is surprisingly infrequent.

Second is A Free Soul at 10:15 PM. This one is on DVD and is worth the watch, especially for Clark Gable as a gangster with whom Shearer falls in love even though she's engaged to Leslie Howard. Lionel Barrymore rounds out the cast as Shearer's alcoholic father and lawyer to Gable.

Then, at midnight, is Smilin' Through, which I don't think I've seen before. Howard plays the uncle of Shearer and raises her, only to see her fall in love with the son of man who killed his fiancée (Fredric March). At least, I think I've read the synopsis correctly.

Two more Howard movies round out the evening. At 1:45 AM is Outward Bound, which I've recommended before for its use of sound. Last is Captured!, at 3:15 AM; this is a World War I POW drama about two POWs who were in love with the same woman (although only one of them was actually married to her).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Atypical weddings

Every now and then I look through the blog's site statistics. A few days back, I did so and noticed that one of the things that somebody had apparently searched for which brought them to the blog was "atypical wedding". It couldn't have been an exact phrase but just the two words each, because the blog search says there's only one post in which I used both words. That's a post on A Midsummer Night's Dream, which has a wedding in it and in which James Cagney plays an atypical role.

But I've been thinking for the past few days about atypical weddings in classic cinema. There's a "Word of Mouth" piece that TCM runs every time they're going to show Tarzan, the Ape Man in which Maureen O'Sullivan talks about playing Jane. O'Sullivan says something about how, thanks to the Production Code, the studio had to have Tarzan and Jane get married, with the married officiated by Cheetah or something wacky like that. That would certainly qualify as an atypical wedding.

It's been a while since I've seen Bride of Frankenstein, but I can't imagine a wedding between two monsters being particularly typical, either. It's too bad King Kong didn't survive the fall from the Empire State Building; the wedding with Fay Wray would certainly have been interesting. I believe the wedding in I Married a Monster From Outer Space is typical, and it's only after the wedding that the bride learns the truth about her husband.

There are some fully human weddings that don't go to plan. The climax of It Happened One Night is certainly one. Even if Claudette Colbert hadn't jilted her fiancé at the altar, his arriving on an autogyro is very much out of the ordinary. In a similar manner, Katharine Ross runs off with Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate. And Preston Sturges directed some atypical wedding ceremonies in THe Miracle of Morgan's Creek and The Palm Beach Story.

And they all lived happily ever after... or did they?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Celeste Holm, 1917-2012

Celeste Holm in Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Actress Celeste Holm, who won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for playing one of Gregory Peck's journalist colleagues in Gentleman's Agreement, died this morning at the age of 95. This was the first of three Oscar nominations for her, with the other two coming in Come to the Stable, a story about nuns trying to build a church in rural Maine; and All About Eve, where it seems half the cast got a nomination. The CNN obituary has a wonderful still from All About Eve.

Holm also had a lengthy career on Broadway.

Overnight tonight

Earlier in the week, I mentioned that the Documentary Channel was going to be running a documentary on William Castle. That documentary, called Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story, airs overnight tonight, at 2:00 AM ET. The film actually dates to 2007, according to the information on my box guide, so it's one that some of you might have seen before somewhere along the way.

Also overnight tonight, and back on TCM, is The Films of Georged Méliès. TCM ran the same package, I believe, back in November 2010 as part of the programming dealing with the Moguls and Movie Stars documentary series. This includes 16 shorts, including the most famous, A Voyage to the Moon. I don't know offhand what the other shorts are and the last I checked, TCM's schedule doesn't give detailed information on it either.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Reckless Moment

A few months back, TCM showed the rarely-seen noirish film The Reckless Moment, which was a new-to-me film. It's getting another airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM.

Joan Bennett stars as Lucia Harper, the mother of a middle-class family in late-1940s California who has some family problems. Her husband (Henry O'Neill) is often away on business, so she has to deal with the problems by herself. The biggest problem is that of her daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks), a would-be art student who has taken up with a much older man (Shepperd Strudwick) who is decidedly not right for her. Lucia drives down to Los Angeles to tell the man she doesn't want him seeing her daughter any more, but he shows up that night at the family's boathouse. Mom confronts him and her daughter, and in the ensuing scuffle, he hits his head and dies an accidental death. Mom knows that the police would never believe such a story, and besides, there's the scandal that would be involved. So mom takes the rowboat and dumps the body in the lagoon. Everybody lives happily ever after, except for the dead guy.

Well, of course, that's not quite how the movie goes. If everybody had lived happily ever after following Strudwick's death, there wouldn't be much of a movie. So what happens is that one Martin Donnelly (James Mason) shows up at the Harper residence with some bad news for Lucia. It turns out that stupid Bea, in her love for her older paramour, had written a bunch of love letters to him. Those letters have wound up in the hands of Donnelly, and he wants a large sum of money for them; much more than Lucia could possibly come up with unless she notifies her husband of what's going on. So it looks like nobody is going to live happily ever after.

Donnelly might just be happy with the $5,000, but Lucia's difficulties in getting the money pose some problems for him. It seems as though he's not working independently; in fact, he's the underling of some other blackmailers who are none too happy about the fact that he's not getting the money from Lucia. Worse, he's beginning to fall in love with Lucia to the point that he'd be OK with letting her off rather more easily than his bosses would let her. And then the police find the body and the evidence points back to Lucia....

The Reckless Moment is an interesting movie with a good premise, which unfortunately has the problem of being constrained by the Production Code. Given everything I've mentioned above, there are any number of plausible resolutions to Lucia's problem, except that most of them would fall well afoul of the strictures of the Production Code. The result is that we get an ending which does satisfy it, but which seems to strain credulity. Joan Bennett does a good job as a mother who seems somewhat more amoral than what one would see on the surface, while James Mason is suave and mildly menacing, but not the most dangerous character in the picture. Much as with Odd Man Out, we're supposed to have some sympathy for him, despite the bad thing that he's doing to Mrs. Harper.

The Reckless Moment has apparently gotten a DVD release in Korea and Europe, but not an official US release. It's possible to obtain an import copy through places like Amazon, but more expensive and you might need a multi-region DVD player.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Speaking of film restoration

I've mentioned The Black Book before, probably on a previous July 14. July 14th is of course Bastille Day in France, and TCM often takes the opportunity to air a couple of films dealing with the French Revolution. So movies like The Black Book get trotted out. In the case of The Black Book, it's going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM One thing I've also pointed out in the past is the terrible quality of the print of The Black Book that gets run, which is a shame because the movie is so interesting. Presumably, TCM hasn't been able to find a better print. The movie was produced by Walter Wanger (the same man who produced Foreign Correspondent and I believe Stagecoach) but distributed by low-prestige Eagle-Lion films, which probably goes a long way toward explaining the lousy print quality. The movie could seriously use a restoration, but who knows if the elements are out there to be restored?

As for the rest of this year's Bastille Day festival, TCM is running George Arliss as Voltaire at 5:45 AM, and the 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities at 8:30 AM.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Czech film restoration

I've mentioned a couple of times before the fact that I used to listen to international broadcasters on short-wave radio back in the days when they were still using short-wave to broadcast. Nowadays, the ones that didn't close down their English-language services are mostly on the internet, so you have to download the broadcasts, although on the other hand you can find a particular program later if you should happen to miss it.

Such is the case with a report I heard from Radio Prague today about the state of film restoration in the Czech Republic. To put it simply, the state isn't particularly good, largely because it costs money to restore the films. Heck, there are a lot of films from Hollywood that could use restoration and, even though there's a lot more money in the US, it's often not economically viable to restore the films if very few people are going to buy them on DVD. Manufacture on demand can help, I suppose, but MOD releases are priced higher than others to compensate for the low volumes.

You can read the text of Radio Prague's report here, or download the MP3 file (I'm not certain how long the download link will remain active).

Speaking of Bigger Than Life

Over the weekend, I mentioned that the movie Bigger Than Life has gotten a DVD release since I blogged about it. I should have mentioned that it's back on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel, tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, with a repeat Sunday at 7:45 AM. Yes, even with only half the time left for older movies, they're still running a lot of recent stuff, and abusing movies in the number of times they're on the schedule within a short period. It's not uncommon for some of the more recent films to be the first movie of the day (ie. around the 3:00 AM ET slot), and then the last movie before the switch to the commercial FXM.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

John Calvert redux

I mentioned the documentary John Calvert: His Magic and Adventures back in April, and said that I didn't know when it was going to air again. For those of you who have the Documentary Channel (you should if you've got DirecTV; I don't know about other satellite/cable providers), it's going to be on again overnight tonight at 2:00 AM (that's still late Wednesday evening out on the west coast).

I was flipping through the channels a few days ago, and when I got to the Documentary Channel, they were running a promo about a documentary on William Castle, which looked as though it had some reasonably well-known names doing interviews in the documentary. I believe I saw both Roger Corman and Leonard Maltin talking about Castle's shtick. The promo didn't say anything about when this documentary might be airing, but according to their web site, it's supposed to be on at 2:00 AM on July 16; I don't know whether that's the overnight between Sunday and Monday or, like the way TCM irritatingly does their schedule, the overnight between Monday and Tuesday.

Thomas Mitchell, 1892-1962

Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor in Stagecoach (1939)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Thomas Mitchell, one of those character actors who shows up in dozens of old movies: he had about four dozen appearances in the 1930s and 1940s, and did a lot of TV work in the 1950s along with some movies. Mitchell won the Best Supporting Actor for playing the alcoholic doctor in 1939's Stagecoach. And yet, as good a job as Mitchell does in Stagecoach, it may not be his most famous role, as he also played James Stewart's uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life. There's also his appearance as Scarlett O'Hara's father Gerald in Gone With the Wind.

Other movies I've recommended Mitchell in include his performance as one of the children in Make Way For Tomorrow, or Rita Hayworth's husband in Tales of Manhattan. Mitchell's last screen appearance is in Pocketful of Miracles, which is a remake of Lady For a Day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Of Human Bondage

As far as I can tell, I've never done a full-length post on Of Human Bondage before. With Leslie Howard being Star of the Month, TCM is showing all three of the movies he made with Bette Davis tonight, concluding with Of Human Bondage at 11:15 PM.

Howard stars as Philip Carey, a club-footed man who at the start of the movie is a struggling would-be artist in Paris. The only thing is, he's not a particularly good artist, so there's no way he's ever going to be able to make a living at it. Fortunately, he's got a place waiting for him in medical school back in London if he wants it. Bette Davis comes in not long after the scene shifts to London. She plays Mildred, a waitress at a café where Philip goes to eat one day, and for whatever reason, Philip is smitten by her even though she's all wrong for him.

How wrong is Mildred for him? Well, she runs off with another man only to get knocked up by him and abandoned, at which point Philip takes her back! This time, Mildred is even worse, as she starts taking up with Harry (Reginald Denny), who is one of Philip's fellow medical students. And still, our dumb hero keeps pining for Mildred. It's going to get even worse, as the next time Philip brings Mildred back into his life, she destroys the stock certificates which formed the trust fund that was funding Philip's medical school education. No money for tuition; no medical school.

There's something in Of Human Bondage that I should find terribly wrong. Philip and Mildred are so completely wrong for each other. She's so mean to him, and he doesn't seem to get it, to the point that you almost want to reach through the TV screen, grab Philip by the shoulders, and shake him violently to knock some sense into him. And yet, all that aside, Of Human Bondage is an excellent movie. One of my first posts back at the end of January 2008 discussed how Leslie Howard seemed to play a lot of weak characters. For whatever reason, it's something he does well, and Of Human Bondage is one more example of this. Bette Davis, before this, had been in quite a few supporting roles, and unappealing Mildred was a huge break for her career. Sure, she gets a scene where she gets to show of her histrionics, when she talks about how she used to wipe her mouth every time she kissed Philip. But Davis is just as good at that sort of scenery-chewing as Howard was at playing the Philip Careys of the world, and the pairing of them is dynamite.

All three of tonights Howard/Davis films are available on DVD.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Robinson Crusoe question

TCM showed the Luis Buñuel version of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe again this morning. What I noticed as I was flipping through the channels, however, is that this time it was letterboxed, and the print looked somewhat crisper than I remember it being when TCM showed the movie during 31 Days of Oscar back in February. Am I correct in this?

I suppose I could be misremembering what TCM did back in February, but I distinctly recall a blurry print that looked worse than your typical panning and scanning. I didn't record the February showing, and if I had, I would have watched it since then and erased it. The movie doesn't seem to be available on DVD either, so I have no idea what prints of this movie are available.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ernest Borgnine, 1917-2012

Ernest Borgnine with Betsy Blair in Marty (1955)

I just read of the death today of Ernest Borgnine, who died at the age of 95. Borgnine won an academy Award for Marty, in which he played the lovable if homely butcher looking for love. But that's just one of many, many roles he had in his long career.

Borgnine played heavies in a bunch of good 50s movies, notably Fatso Judson, the guy who torments Frank Sinatra and gets killed in a knife fight with Montgomery Clift, in From Here to Eternity. Borgnine was also a bad guy in the really underrated Bad Day at Black Rock and the camp classic Johnny Guitar. Later in his career he was one of the passengers in The Poseidon Adventure.

Borgnine is survived by his fifth wife, to whom he was married for 39 years; before that he had been married to actresses Ethel Merman and Katy Jurado.

I haven't seen yet when TCM's tribute to Borgnine is going to be.

Around the World in California

I mentioned the Traveltalks short Around the World in California back in October 2008 to comment how some of James A. FitzPatrick's observations are not quite the same 60 years on. I don't think it's available on DVD, so I'd like to point out that you've got a chance to see it this afternoon on TCM after East of Eden, or right around 2:00 PM.

As with all the Traveltalks shorts, it's enjoyable enough. There's some nice scenery that would be better if there were better prints of these shorts available, and looking at what's different so many years later is always fun.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


When television came along, the movie studios felt threatened at first. Eventually, of course, several of the studios more or less got involved in TV production, and all of the major US TV networks have been owned by conglomerates that have movie studios at one point or another. Before all that, however, one of the things MGM did to try to cohabitate with television was producing a fairly bland clip show called MGM Parade, which packaged clips from classic movies, repackaged shorts, and contained thinly-veiled advertising for upcoming movies. TCM shows these MGM Parade shows from time to time whenever they have a spare half-hour to fill in their schedule; the next such half-hour comes up at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning.

The only reason I'm mentioning it is that it aired earlier in the week and I happened to come in somewhere in the middle, which was a Pete Smith short on a circus family that does rather interesting tricks with horses, although I feel kind of bad for the poor horses. The family was having four or five guys jump up on one horse while it was running around the ring, or guys doing somersaults through a hoop and landing back on the horse. Smith had a voluminous list of credits, and looking through that list, I can't tell which short this is from. IMDb's episode guide claims this particular episode includes the short Miracle of Salt Lake, but the short I saw clearly wasn't that. If you can take Smith's voice, the short is another of his many interesting time capsules.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A few more briefs

I saw the "TCM Remembers" tribute to Andy Griffith yesterday evening, just before Spike Lee came on at 8:00 PM, with a note at the end announcing the night of Griffith movies on July 18. I had already read about the programming change, but this was the first time I saw the clip montage. In fact, I think it's the first one that TCM has done in a while. To be honest, though, it's not as if too many of the really well-known people who would merit a "TCM Remembers" montage have been dying lately. There's Ann Rutherford and, before that... who? And I've been watching a lot more tennis and soccer over the past month than TCM.

I had reason to recommend the film Bigger Than Life on another forum the other day. In doing so, I found out that it got a DVD release back in 2010. I guess I should pay a little more attention to upcoming DVD releases.

(Edited to add a link to the Bigger Than Life DVD release)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

TCM Guest Programmer Spike Lee

I mentioned in my post the other day on the death of Andy Griffith that Spike Lee had selected Griffith's A Face in the Crowd as one of his four movies that he'd be showing as TCM's Guest Programmer. Lee shows up tonight, and the rest of his line-up is:

No, that's not TCM Guest Programmer Spike LeeJournalsit Kirk Douglas deliberately keeps a man trapped in a mine to get a story in Ace in the Hole at 8:00 PM;
Robert Mitchum wants Peter Graves' kids to tell him where daddy hid the money in Night of the Hunter at 10:00 PM;
Marlon Brando could have been a contender in On the Waterfront at 11:45 PM; and
The aforementioned A Face in the Crowd comes on at 1:45 AM.

For those of us who watch TCM religiously, there's nothing particularly rare in Lee's selections, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were quite a few fans of Lee's work who are much better versed in the movies of Spike Lee's era, ie. from the 80s to today. For any such people, Lee's picks are a good way to introduce the somewhat harder-hitting movies of the 1950s which, while tame by today's standards, certainly would have challenged audiences of the 1950s and to a small extent the folks enforcing the Production Code.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day briefs

This being July 4, TCM is showing most of the not too many movies Hollywood made about the Revolutionary War, or at least most of the ones I can think of that were made during the studio era. That includes the shorts that studios churned out back in the day. Warner Bros. did a couple of historical two-reelers in the late 1930s dramatizing events from American history in lovely Technicolor. The Declaration of Independence is running just after The Scarlet Coat; that is, about 10:55 AM, featuring future Warner star John Litel as Thomas Jefferson. A year later, they'd do one on The Monroe Doctrine, although that's not airing today. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to get a list of all of them, as some are credited to Vitaphone and some to Warner Bros.

In between Drums Along the Mohawk and 1776, or at about 4:50 PM, is Historic Maryland, which you can probably guess from the title is a Traveltalks short, this one being set mostly in Annapolis, which is the home of the US Naval Academy.

Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is a bunch of biopics of American composer/musicmakers that I think I've all mentioned in the past. The night kicks off with Yankee Doodle Dandy at 8:00 PM, starring James Cagney as George M. Cohan.
At 10:15 is Clifton Webb as John Philip Sousa in Stars and Stripes Forever, after which we get a short of the Marine Corps Band.
Coming up at midnight is James Stewart as Glenn Miller in the imaginatively-titled The Glenn Miller Story.
Robert Alda plays George Gershwin in Rhapsody in Blue at 2:00 AM.
Finally, at 4:30 AM, is David Carradine as Woody Guthrie in Bound For Glory.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith, 1926-2012

Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal in A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Andy Griffith passed away this morning at his home in North Carolina, a month after his 86th birthday. Griffith actually didn't make that many movies. The reason for this, of course, is that in 1960 he started working on The Andy Griffith Show, where he played Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor. The show was enormously popular, and it led to him not doing much other work during the eight years that it ran. Or, at least, not much that would get him acting credits; he made cameos an quite a few TV shows. Griffith would go on to play another very popular TV character, the lawyer Ben Matlock, on the show Matlock which ran for nine seasons. In between, he did a fair number of TV movies, a small number of movies for the big screen, and the usual amount of guest starring roles that a lot of older actors were doing.

The picture above is Griffith with Patricia Neal in the movie A Face in the Crowd. Griffith plays the Arkansas yokel Lonesome Rhodes, who gets discovered by Neal's character, a big-city journalist. Rhodes' populist homespun wisdom and willingness to pull no punches in his commentary makes him a big hit with the viewers, but he lets power go to his head and become an extreme jerk to everybody around him. A Face in the Crowd was already on the TCM schedule: on Thursday night, Spike Lee visits TCM for his stint as Guest Programmer, and A Face in the Crowd is the last of Lee's selections. It airs at 1:45 AM Friday.

I don't know yet if TCM is going to plan any further tribute to Griffith.

Leslie Howard, director

I mentioned yesterday that TCM had already scheduled Gone With the Wind for 8:00 PM tonight. What I didn't mention is that it was on the schedule to kick off Leslie Howard's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. Howard was one of the many Britons who came to Hollywood in the early 1930s and made a very successful career for himself. However, 1939, the year of Gone With the Wind, also saw the Nazi invasion of Poland and the start of World War II for Britain, and Howard devoted himself to the anti-Nazi cause, eventually dying in 1943 under mysterious circumstances when the plane in which he was flying was shot down off the coast of France. (I could swear I've read speculation that he was serving as a decoy for Churchill on at least one flight he took, and I've also read that the Nazis particularly wanted Howard dead.) Howard's work against the Nazis also included filmmaking. I've mentioned his role in the movie 49th Parallel (coming up at 11:15 PM on July 31); there's also an appearance in the short From the Four Corners where he reminds soldiers from various countries in the British Commonwealth just what it is that Britain is fighting for.

Howard also did some work for the cause as a director, by making films about the home front that were presumably meant to keep up Britain's morale. TCM is showing all of these tonight: I say "all" of them becuase Howard was in the middle of directing the third when he was killed. I don't think I've seen any of these before, so I can't really do a review of any of them. They are:
The First of the Few (aka Spitfire) at 1:45 AM, about the tribulations of an aircraft designer;
The Gentle Sex at 4:00 AM, in which seven British women join the British equivalent of the WAACs, the auxiliary army corps; and
The Lamp Still Burns at 5:45 PM, about nursing in wartime.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ann Rutherford trbiute

Actress Ann Rutherford died three weeks ago. TCM delayed its tribute for her largely because they already had Gone With the Wind on the schedule for Tuesday, July 3 at 8:00 PM. With Rutherford having played Scarlett O'Hara's sister Carreen, already having that on the schedule was a good thing for TCM to build its Rutherford salute around. So, they ditched the previously scheduled programming for the morning and afternoon, which consisted mostly of Saint and Falcon movies starring George Sanders. (Well, I wouldn't have minded seeing Assignment -- Paris, which sounds interesting.) Not counting Gone With the Wind, TCM has selected nine of Rutherford's ilms to show tomorrow, only a couple of which I've seen:

Of Human Hearts at 6:00 AM
Love Finds Andy Hardy at 7:45 AM
Four Girls in White at 9:30 AM
Pride and Prejudice at 10:45 AM
Washington Melodrama at 12:45 PM
This Time For Keeps at 2:15 PM
Whistling in Dixie at 3:30 PM
Two O'Clock Courage at 4:$5 PM
The Adventures of Don Juan at 6:00 PM

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Harold Lloyd shorts

This week's Silent Sunday Nights brings three Harold Lloyd movies which don't seem to be on DVD, at least not on a DVD that's currently in print. The first two are two-reelers I don't think I've seen before; Number, Please? at midnight tonight followed by Never Weaken at 12:30 AM. The last film is Lloy'd first "feature", if you can call a movie that runs a little over 45 minutes a feature: A Sailor-Made Man. This one has apparently made it to some Lloyd box sets that are Region 2 DVDs, but not North American Region 1.

As usual, Harold Lloyd plays The Boy. He's in love with The Girl (Mildred Davis), but unfortunately, her father doesn't like the idea of her marring Lloyd, unless Lloyd can get an honorable profession and make a man of himself. So what does our hero decide to do? Join the Navy, even though he's spectacularly unsuited for the Navy. Eventually, the Navy calls at a port in the stereotypically Middle Eastern kingdom of Khaipura-Bhandanna, where The Girl and her father just happen to be as well. The bad news is that the Maharajah has become smitten with the Girl, and takes her for his harem. In a plot twist that probably was unoriginal even in 1921, the only person who can save The Girl is The Boy, which is also his chance to become the sort of man her father would like!

The plot may not be much to speak of, but when you're watching a movie like A Sailor-Made Man, it's really more about the visual comedy and the physical gags. These are two areas where Lloyd excelled, and the movie gives him a variety of locations to engage in different sorts of gags. In addition to your standard US middle class places, there's shipboard humor, and the Arabian palace. Granted, the Arabian palace is probably nothing like it would be in real life, but we're not looking for realism in a 1920s comedy.

As I said at the beginning, this isn't available on DVD here in the States, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing tonight.