Friday, August 31, 2012

Robert Osborne's latest absence

I should have posted something on it yesterday, but I didn't watch Lady For a Day, which kicked off prime time. Those who did watch it would have seen Ben Mankiewicz filling in for Robert Osborne, who is taking another break. I don't think any news has been released about how long Osborne is going to be absent, but it should be remembered that the Osborne and Mankiewicz spots are taped several weeks in advance, so TCM presumably knew about this for some time. The one thing I find interesting is that Osborne's absence started on August 30 and not to coincide with the start of a month or a week.

Blogger Will McKinley goes into a bit more detail. (Note that he is mistaken about Mankiewicz not taking up any of the slack; Mankiewicz hosted the entire Summer Under the Stars last year.)

The Whistler returns

TCM finished up its run of the Rusty series of dog movies at the end of July, just before Summer Under the Stars. Now that August is over and tomorrow, September 1, is a Saturday, it's time for another series, which is The Whistler, tomorrow at 10:45 AM. All five Saturdays in September have a Whistler movie at 10:45 AM; I haven't checked if the series continues into October.

The Whistler movies are followed at noon by movies in the Jungle Jim series, which is what Johnny Weismuller did after he stopped being Tarzan.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Appreciating Aline MacMahon

So I watched The Mouthpiece this morning. I hadn't noticed beforehand that the part of Warren William's secretary was played by Aline MacMahon. She does a good job here, in a role that's similar to the one played by Joan Blondell in Lawyer Man.

In fact, MacMahon had quite a few good supporting roles in her career. She was most active in the 1930s, but was still able to get a few good film roles up until her retirement in the mid-1960s. I'm a bit surprised as to just how many times I've mentioned her. There's films like One-Way Passage or Ah, Wilderness earlier in her career, with great late roles in a movie like I Could Go On Singing, or one I haven't blogged about before, The Man From Laramie, in which she plays a widowed rancher who takes James Stewart in.

MacMahon also showed some flair for comedy in Gold Diggers of 1933. That movie I first blogged about in honor of then birthday star Guy Kibbee, who happens to show up in The Mouthpiece as an Irish bartender. (Kibbee will show up at 8:00 PM tonight in Lady For a Day as well.) And then there's Life Begins, in which MacMahon plays one of the nurses in the maternity ward.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Warren William Day

TCM is putting the spotlight on Warren William tomorrow for his day in Summer Under the Stars. One movie that looks interesting is The Mouthpiece, at 9:45 AM. I haven't seen it before, but it's apparently the original version of Illegal, a movie that I did see when it showed on TCM a couple of years back and one I thought I blogged about. In the latter film, Edward G. Robinson plays a ruthless prosecutor who changes his tune when he discovers that one of the people he sent to the electric chair (DeForrest Kelley in an early role) was in fact innocent. Robinson then decides to use his ruthless talents as a defense attorney (well, it's more that this is what pays the bills). The original sounds interesting in that it's a pre-Code: it doesn't have to have an ending that will please the moral prudes.

Skyscraper Souls, at 11:15 AM, is an interesting movie about William as a man trying to take control of a massive skyscraper in New York, and having to juggle a love life around it. I think I saw it back when TCM had it's month of movie critics selecting films. If memory serves, Leonard Maltin selected this movie, which I suppose says something about whether Maltin has "common" tastes.

Another movie that I saw many years back is The Mind Reader (3:45 PM), which I first saw when Stephen Sondheim selected it for his turn as Guest Programmer back in March 2005. William plays a carnival mindreader; like almost everything else at those old traveling carnivals, this one is a racket. In fact, William is being aided by Allen Jenkins. Unfortunately, one of the people he's trying to scam, Constance Cummings, falls in love with him (and he with her), until she discovers that the mind reading is utterly phony. She insists that he give it up and live honestly, and he tries for her sake, but when he finds himself unable to make an honest living, he goes back to the psychic racket, only this time to a more upscale urban clientele.

One William movie I've blogged about before is Three On a Match, at 1:00 PM.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

News of the Weird

I came across the following interesting (but completely unrelated to movies) story in my RSS reader this morning: Lost Woman Looks for Herself in Iceland’s Highlands. To make a long story short, the driver of the tour bus she was on didn't recognize her after she changed clothes, and somehow the passenger count got screwed up. The woman had no idea she was the one they were supposed to be looking for.

There has to be a movie comedy in this somewhere. In fact, I mentioned the lousy movie Go Chase Yourself a month ago, in which Joe Penner doesn't realize at first the police want him, while his wife is only helping the police look for a missing man, not a criminal.

Ray Milland leads a criminal investigation into himself in The Big Clock, although that's only because his boss (Charles Laughton) is forcing him to lead the investigation.

Police would be likely people to pull off such a tactic: commit a crime and then lead the investigation into the crime. One example of this that springs to mind is Van Heflin in The Prowler.

Fred MacMurray as an investigating cop tried to pull off a double-cross in Pushover, which doesn't quite fit the category. At first I was thinking that Double Indemnity didn't fit either, since it's Edward G. Robinson leading the insurance fraud investigation. But then, MacMurray is assisting. Another double-cross occurs in The Money Trap, in which police detective Glenn Ford tries to steal a bunch of money from Joseph Cotten, assisted by his buddy on the beat Ricardo Montalban.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Heydrich redux

Back in February 2010, I mentioned the movie Hangmen Also Die, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was the Nazi Reichsprotektor for the Czech lands. The Nazis responded by taking a small Czech village and killing all the men while sending the women to concentration camps. The Nazis, contrary to what I wrote in February 2010, made a lot of this public because they knew the plot to kill Heydrich had been hatched by Czech exiles in the UK, and the Nazis wanted to send a message to the Allies that if they tried similar operations in the future, they were going to kill a lot of innocents. (The events in The Heroes of Telemark, or at least the key sabotge events, took place after all this.)

I bring all this up only because tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, TCM is showing Hitler's Madman, which also happens to be about the Heydrich assassination, and was released the same year as Hangmen Also Die. This one, however, was made at low-budget Producers Releasing Corporation, although it was distributed by MGM. (If memory serves, there's an MGM card at the beginning of the print TCM shows. PRC is also the studio at which Detour was made.) Heydrich was played by John Carradine, and the movie was directed by, of all people, Douglas Sirk. The movie is actually being shown in honor of tomorrow's Summer Under the Stars actress, Ava Gardner. This even though she only has a bit part as a young student. Hitler's Madman has, as far as I know, not gotten a DVD release, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Sunday Afternoon

The last of today's Gary Cooper movies, airing early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, is One Sunday Afternoon. Now, I have to admit that I haven't seen this movie before. However, it's the original movie version of The Strawberry Blonde, which is one of the very first movies I blogged about; so, I at least know the plot.

The movie does seem to have gotten a release from the Warner Archive, but there's a glitch on the TCM website. TCM's schedule page links to the Warner Archive's DVD of the 1948 One Sunday Afternoon, which is also more or less the same story as The Strawberry Blonde, except that it's a Technicolor musical. Amazon links to a DVD of the 1933 version, though, complete with cover art.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Documentary heads up

TCM is running a 45-minute documentary on Gary Cooper tomorrow as part of Cooper's day in Summer Under the Stars. That documentary, titled Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend, will be on at 9:45 AM and is narrated by Clint Eastwood. According to the TCM schedule, it's not on DVD, so you'll have to catch it on TCM.

On Sunday night at 8:00 PM, TCM's Essentials Jr. selection is Ball of Fire. I wrote back in February 2010 that it's available on DVD, but the DVD seems to be out of print, similar to what I mentioned earlier today regarding Witness for the Prosecution. As for it being an Essentials Jr. selection, I think it's another of those movies that's almost completely unobjectionable, but one that younger children might have problems with for long stretches.

It's out of print?!

I was looking at TCM's schedule for today, and was surprised to see that Witness For the Prosecution (airing overnight tonight at 2:30 AM) doesn't have a "Buy DVD" icon next to it. Oh, sure, it's gotten a DVD release, or mutliple releases if you believe Amazon. It's just that none of those DVD releases seems to be in print any longer. So you'll either have to stay up late, record it, or pay big bucks for an old DVD.

I would have thought that Witness For the Prosecution was one of those movies that was well-enough known to deserve more frequent DVD print runs, but then, what do I know about the business?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Anchors Aweigh question

He's a dancing, dancing, dancing machineI tuned in to Anchors Aweigh on TCM yesterday just in time for the animated sequence: Gene Kelly talks to a bunch of animals in the forest about how their king has banned music and dancing, and then visits the king, played by Jerry the mouse. Kelly then teaches Jerry how to dance. It is, of course, a famous scene. I saw in one of the documentaries on Kelly (I think) that aired on TCM that Kelly wanted to use Mickey Mouse in the dance, but that Walt Disney was unsurprisingly opposed. Disney afterwards was apparently quite impressed by what Kelly had done. But I would have thought that the suits at MGM wouldn't have liked using Mickey Mouse when they had their own cartoon mouse, as opposed to Hollywood Party back in 1934.

Anyhow, there was one thing that struck me about the dance scene: Jerry tapped! I don't mean that he was doing the same sorts of steps that Gene Kelly was; that's to be expected. But I could swear that I heard Jerry's steps making tapping sounds! It's not as if Jerry had any tapping shoes on; in fact he was naked as the day God made him, as opposed to Mickey, who at least has the decency to wear short pants. So where was the sound coming from? Well, presumably Jerry added the taps in post-production. :-) But don't they have a continuity editor for this stuff?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Madame Blanche

Back in February 2009, I very briefly mentioned the movie The Secret of Madame Blanche. It's airing tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM on TCM, and if you like movies like Madame X, you'll probably like this one, too.

Irene Dunne plays the lead role, this time as a showgirl in the 1890s instead of the married woman of Madame X. She falls in love with Phillips Holmes, and even gets knocked up by him. But Daddy (Lionel Atwill) doesn't approve of the relationship, cutting his son off which leads the son to commit suicide. At this point, Grandfather takes custody of his grandson (ie. the child of Dunne's and Holmes' relationship).

Fast forward 20 years. Dunne has been working as a barkeep in France to make a living, and it's now World War I. What British soldiers should wind up in the place where Dunne is working but the son she gave birth to all those years ago? Naturally, there's no good way she can tell him the truth. At this point, things get either interesting or melodramatic, depending upon your opinion of this sort of movie. The son is seeing a girl whose father doesn't like him, and there's a scuffle in which the son kills his girlfriend's father. And what does Madame Blanche do? She tries to take the rap for it!

As I said, it's the sort of movie that 80 years on can be a bit tough because the plot is just so unlike the stuff we're used to nowadays. Dunne does a reasonably good job, though, and this is a movie worth watching either for the people who are fans of Madame X, as I've already mentioned, or those who haven't seen any movies in this genre. As for the rest of you? Well, you've been warned.

The Secret of Madame Blanche has, as far as I'm aware, not received a release to DVD.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jack Lemmon night

For some reason I thought I had done a full-length blog post on The Fortune Cookie before, but I haven't. It's airing at 8:00 PM tonight on TCM, and the one-paragraph synopsis is going to have to suffice again, I'm sorry to say.

It's being followed at 10:15 PM by My Sister Eileen, which is of course the 1950s musical version; Lemmon's career not having started when the 1941 Rosalind Russell version was released.

The movie that interests me is one I haven't seen before: Cowboy, at 12:15 AM. The idea of Lemmon in a western is intriguing, although once you read the synopsis, it seems he was well-cast. It's based on the true-life story of writer (played by Lemmon) Frank Harris, who in the 1870 went west to try to remake his life by becoming a cowboy. Glenn Ford plays the leader of the cattle drive. Lemmon's not the first person you'd think of for a western, but if the role is for somebody new to the west, then why not Jack Lemmon?

I've briefly mentioned The Days of Wine and Roses quite a few times; that airs at 2:15 AM. Lemmon and Lee Remick play a husband and wife who together descend into alcoholism. Being the sort of person who only drinks a glass of wine a day, I wouldn't know how realistic this is, so I'd have to rely on reviewers who say it is. At least, the whole thing looks well-done.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guilty Hands

I mentioned the movie Guilty Hands back in April, saying that it wasn't available on DVD and that I didn't know when it would be airing again. It's still not on DVD, but it's on tonight at 8:00 PM as part of TCM's salute to Kay Francis in Summer Under the Stars.

The comments that I wrote back in April still hold, I think:

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.

A few things I didn't mention in April: Barrymore commits the murder thinking that he's doing the right thing for his daughter (Madge Evans), by protecting her from the man she thinks she loves (Alan Mowbray) but that Dad knows would be wrong for her. There's also no mystery in this movie, or at least not the traditional mystery. We know from the start who the killer is, so Hitchcock would probably classify this as suspense: will the killer get away with it? Since the movie dates to 1931, there is a reasonable chance that the killer could well get away with it, which is another thing that makes the movie worth one watch. If it were a movie made after they started enforcing the Production Code, the point of the movie would have to be seeing how the plot goes wrong. Not that you can't make a good movie along those lines; Double Indemnity springs immediately to mind. It's just that pre-Code movies allow for the possibility of something different.

Overall, I think Guilty Hands is the sort of movie that's worth one watching. Not the greatest thing by any stretch, but an enjoyable enough little curiosity, and a window to 1930s values.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mary Stevens, MD

For those of you who like pre-Code films, Kay Francis is in the spotlight tomorrow as part of Summer Under the Stars on TCM. That means several pre-Codes. One that I don't think I've recommended before is Mary Stevens, MD, which comes on at 7:00 AM

Francis plays the title character, doctor Mary Stevens, who has a thriving practice working with nurse Glenda Carroll (somebody in the script department wasn't very imaginative, as the character is played by Glenda Farrell). She also likes Dr. Donald Andrews (Lyle Talbot), but he's in love with Lois (Thelma Todd), who is the daughter of a wealthy politician. Dr. Andrews marries Lois, while Mary becomes a successful pediatrician. Time passes, and Dr. Andrews, finding he's in a loveless marriage, starts committing embezzlement. But he can't get out of the marriage because it would hurt his father-in-law's political career.

Drs. Andrews and Stevens meet again and he promises her that he'll get a divorce from Lois, but you know that's never going to happen. Dr. Andrews has to agree to remain married to Lois or else he'll get in trouble for his embezzlement Mary, however, is apparently stupid enough to believe that he's going to be able to get a divorce, as she has sex with Dr. Andrews. Now, of course, we don't actually see anything approaching a sex act. They couldn't get away with that even in a pre-Code. But we know there has to have been a sex act, since we soon discover that Mary Stevens is pregnant! It's not like they had test-tube babies back in those days, either (well, only in a movie set in the future like Just Imagine). At this point the movie starts to get strange and take an odd turn.

Mary Stevens decides to go off to Europe to have her baby. I'd guess she was doing the same thing Loretta Young would do a few years later in real life: go off into seclusion, have the baby, and then claim you've adopted a child! Yeah, nobody's going to figure out what really happened. After having the baby, she gets back on a ship to return to the US, but there's an outbreak of "infantile paralysis" (the old-fashioned name they used for polio back in the day), and while she's saving two of the children on board, her own child gets infected! The movie quickly follows the rest of its plot to a strangely happy and conventional ending, which I won't give away here.

Mary Stevens, MD is an interesting idea that I think gets weighed down by a subpar script. Mary ought to be a smart woman, and there's no good reason for her to sleep with Dr. Andrews and get knocked up. The ending also feels tacked on, as if the writers had no idea how they were going to resolve the problems they had. Perhaps is Mary had poisoned a patient like George Bailey stopped Dr. Gower from (accidentally) doing in It's a Wondreful Life when Gower learned his child had died of influenza, there would be a more interesting ending. On the bright side, Mary Stevens, MD didn't get into the territory that Madame X and a whole bunch of imitators did.

Mary Stevens, MD doesn't seem to be out on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

William Windom, 1923-2012

The death has been announced of actor William Windom. To be honest, Windom is probably better known for his roles on TV, which include a few starring roles and well over a hundred guest appearances. For those of us who watch the old movies instead, he might be remembered for playing the prosecuting attorney in To Kill a Mockingbird; at least, that's probably the best-known movie in which he appeared. I have to admit that I wouldn't have remembered it being Windom who played the prosecutor.

The role for which I think of Windom is the poor guy who committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the grandstand at Aqueduct in Frank Sinatra's The Detective. That's actually the first time we see Windom's character in the movie; we only learn about his past as Sinatra investigates it and as it's eventually told in a flashback sequence voiced over by Windom.

Some Hitchcock notes

Tonight's selection for TCM's Essentials Jr. is North by Northwest, at 8:00 PM. It's a good movie, and I don't know that there's too much that parents would find highly objectionable, but I just have this nagging feeling that at about 135 minutes, it might be a bit long for the kids. I've also blogged in the past that I believe Saboteur tells much the same story, but better, and in 25 fewer minutes too. I suppose in that regard, The 39 Steps might be best of all at under 90 minutes, but then that has the British accents which might present a bit of a problem for some children.

That having been said, it's not as if TCM has much choice in the matter. North by Northwest was made at MGM, while most of Hitchcock's other movies weren't. Although TCM doesn't have unlimited access to the library that Ted Turner amassed when he purchased MGM, they seem to have a much easier time renting films from their corporate brethern in the Time Warner complex than from other studios. Specifically in the case of Saboteur and other movies whose rights ended up with Universal, those films seem to be showing up on the Encore family of channels right about now. Meanwhile, TCM has been able to come up with a few more showings of I Confess and the other films Hitchcock made at Warner Bros. in the early 1950s.

Following North by Northwest at 10:30 PM is Destination Hitchcock, a 40-minute documentary about the making of North by Northwest, narrated by Eva Marie Saint and well worth the watch.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A short and a not-on-DVD repeat

TCM is in the middle of its 24 hours of movies with Freddie Bartholomew in the cast, as part of his day in Summer Under the Stars. The Essential is Captains Courageous at 8:00 PM, which I've recommended before and which I really don't have to mention anyway since it's on DVD. Just before Captains Courageous, or a little after 7:45 PM, is the short Hollywood Goes to Town, which according to the TCM database is a 1938 short about the premiere of Marie Antoinette. I don't think I've seen the short before, which sounds at least as though it'll be more interesting than most of the trailers the studios made for their movies at the time.

Back in April, 2010, I blogged about Lloyd's of London, another film that TCM has gotten the rights to show from Fox. It's on tonight at midnight ET, and according to TCM's schedule it's not available on DVD. From what little research I've done, it doesn't seem to be art of Fox's MOD archive yet, either. The first set of Fox MOD releases is here, with the second set here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

That former movie channel

An acquaintance of mine on a game show borad posted this bit of programming news from a former movie channel:

AMC announced today two new unscripted original series: Untitled Taxidermy Series (w/t) and Venice Beach Freakshow (w/t), both working titles.

[...]Untitled Taxidermy Series (w/t) consists of eight, half-hour episodes. It's a hosted competition series between a new contestant and one of the series' immortalizers that face three judges each week. The series features taxidermists pulled from both the rogue and classic schools of taxidermy to create a distinct piece of art that is judged on overall presentation, creativity and technique.

Oh dear. And AMC has the cable rights to some very prominent movies (most notably The Godfather, which I think is locked up until the end of 2019). As somebody who's a fan of both game shows and classic cinema, I have to say that this is the sort of thing that wouldn't particularly interest me even it it were on one of the hunting/outdoor channels elsewhere on the dial where it would probably fit in better with the program. The latter-day nontraditional game shows, based on competitions like cooking, interior decoration (my mom watches HGTV religiously and I know they have such a show), or in this case taxidermy all seem to have fallen into stereotypically obnoxioux contestants and irritating production values among other things. Taxidermy might be an interesting subject for a documentary; not this competition format.

But this blog isn't really about complaining about taxidermy shows. It's sad to see what happens to former movie channels that feel they have to appeal to the "correct" demographic. But once again, it also raises the question of what's going to happen when the fans of today get old if there aren't enough new fans. Sure, TCM has prestige, but I would have thought that AMC had prestige, too. I mean, it was on a bunch of cable systems in the lower-capacity days when it was still a commercial-free channel. There are the premium channels, but in an a la carte universe, how many people are going to pay for any niche channel? And the premium channels are almost all just as focused on bringing original series-style programming even if they started out as movie channels.

I have to admit that I don't have an answer to any of this. And in some ways, that's frustrating. I'd like to think I'm doing what I can to pass on my love of classic movies, but that's not very much. And it's not as if I hold the rights to any of them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Phyllis Thaxter has died

The Hollywood Reporter has an obituary for actress Phyllis Thaxter, who died on Tuesday at the age of 90 (some sources say 92). The obituary highlights her role as Clark Kent's mother in the 1978 version of Superman, where she played opposite Glenn Ford as Kent's father.

Those of us who watch old movies may remember her as Robert Ryan's girlfriend in Act of Violence, or as Margaret O'Brien's mother in the Christmas movie Tenth Avenue Angel. Her film career ended in the early 1950s, however, and she switched to the new medium of television, where she apparently had quite steady work in TV anthology series, if no big hit show of her own.

Intolerant of Intolerance

Well, not quite. But I have to admit I was greatly underwhelmed by last night's showing of Intolerance on TCM. The movie purports to tell us how hate and intolerance have been with us throughout the ages, cruelly hurting those who love, and does so by jumping back and forth between a modern-day (1916) story about a poor girl (Mae Marsh) who faces the wrath of the female reformers (referred to here as the Uplifters), and stories from 16th century France, Jesus-era Israel, and Babylon.

The thing is, I only really found myself caring about the modern-day story. In defense of Intolerance, I have to say that the modern-day story would probably have made a good silent movie all by itself. It's one of those great melodramatic formulas that we would see later, in silents such as Street Angel with Janet Gaynor, or any of the incarnations of Madame X or its imitators in the sound era. The sort of intolerance depicted here is still quite relevant today. Just look at how the First Lady bullied a teenage girl on national TV for eating the "wrong" food. Intolerance has also been a theme of some other really good movies I've recommended, such as They Won't Forget.

Praise should also be given to the sets in the Babylon story, which most reviewers claim are spectacular; for 1916 standards they most certainly are, and they look pretty darn good by today's standards too. (Of course, nowadays, a lot of this stuff would probably be CGI.) I wonder if any of them were reused for the silent version of The Ten Commandments. But the Babylon story didn't particularly excite me, at least in that it had an overly long build up. And the Babylon story isn't as uninspiring as the other two historical parts.

I don't think the problem is with a three-hour silent movie, either. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, which was made one year earlier (I include this point only to mention that the problem isn't with 1916 silent film techniques, as opposed to naming later silent epics that had more advanced filmmaking techniques), holds interest well, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its controversial subject matter and the racism used in presenting it. And to be honest, I think that might have something to do with the problems I have with Intolerance. Griffith made Intolerance after he was stung by the criticisms over the racist content of Birth of a Nation. Modern-day critics praise Intolerance, and I get the impression that a good portion of that praise is simply because it's the Not-Birth of a Nation. Heaven forbid you praise Birth of a Nation for its filmmaking techniques and get branded a racist. No; it's much better to go 180 degrees in the other direction and praise the opposite film just because it's the opposite.

That's not to say Intolerance is a bad movie. It's reasonably well made, and certainly influential for its use of having sharply-defined different stories to tell the one overarching point. But I feel that it's also overhyped. It's also available on DVD, if you want to fast-foward through the slow bits.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blow, but no hookers

TCM is spending today with Lillian Gish, who is one of the better-knonw stars of the silent era. One of her last silents is also one that's probably not as well-known as I think it should be. That movie, The Wind, is airing tonight at 11:30 PM.

Gish plays Letty, a young woman from the East who moves to one of those dusty places out west on the encouragement of her cousin Roddy (Montagu Love). She gets there, and finds a harsh environment in more ways than one. One is that Roddy's wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) doesn't like Letty. Frankly, you can't blame her for having an in-law foisted upon her, but The Wind isn't about Cora. The other big problem, and this is a problem for everybody, is the wind. Sandstorms abound, at times making it impossible for people to get to each other and physically isolating them.

Letty feels not only that physical isolation, but also emotional isolation. To get away from Cora, she marries Lige (Lars Hanson), but it's really a marriage of convenience for the both of them. Letty needs a way to live honestly without her cousin's support, while Lige needs female companionship and wants a family. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Letty is often left alone with only her thoughts to accompany her.... Oh, and with the wind, too. It's enough to drive a woman mad. If that's not enough, Letty gets left alone in a windstorm one more time. Except that this time, it's not just her and the wind; there's another man who's not her husband there! And he tries to take advantage of her!

I have to admit that I might not have done justice to the plot of The Wind. Then again, The Wind is a bit muddled, and the reason to watch it isn't so much for its plot, but for its character study of Letty as she seems to be going slowly mad alone and in this harsh environment. In that manner, the film succeeds quite well, as it's easy to understand by watching just how forbidding Letty's new environs are: she's definitely not of the tough pioneer stock.

The last time TCM showed this, it was a print that had an introduction from Lillian Gish herself, filmed when she presented the movie for British television back in the late 1980s. It's the sort of stuff that would in most other cases on TCM be a Word of Mouth piece shown between movies, but Gish's comments serve as a great introduction. Apparently they shot on location out in the Mojave Desert, and the shoot was difficult, to say the least. The wind machines they used were dangerous, and got the sand into everything. To top that all off, they faced temperatures up to 120 degrees. No wonder Letty goes mad.

The Wind, unfortunately, does not seem to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Primrose Path intro

I watched Primrose Path on Sunday as part of Ginger Rogers' day in Summer Under the Stars. One thing really intrigued me: at the beginning, even before the RKO logo, there was a card from the British film board saying that the movie had been passed for showing, and given a rating of A, for adult audiences. The other classification that seems to show up on films from the UK censors is U for universal. Primrose Path certainly deserves its A based on the subject material, even though the material had to be watered down significantly from the source novel on which it was based in order to pass the Production Code. I didn't pay attention to which of the TV content rating classifications Primrose Path received.

The interesting thing, of course, is that it's the British censors whose rating card appeared at the beginning of the print. Primrose Path is an RKO movie with a fully American cast and crew, and would presumably have been in the Warner Library from the time Ted Turner acquired it. The only thing I can think of is that somewhere along the way, the powers that be were looking for a print to restore the movie -- I'd guess that would date to when the people at the Warner Archive decided to include this movie in the collection; the Warner Archive DVD saw its release in February 2011. In tht case, it would be perfectly reasonable for the best print to be someplace arbitrary other than the rightsholder's archive.

Another example of this is A Man to Remember, although that movie has a different provenance. It's a remake of One Man's Journey. The earlier movie was one that Merian C. Cooper decided to retain the rights to when he left RKO, as part of his severance agreement. A Man to Remember being a remake, it would have had rights issues which resulted in Cooper ending up with the rights to it as well. But apparently the prints also left RKO's possession, and who knows what happened to whatever prints Cooper ended up with? When it came time to disentangle the rights situation, the one surviving print of A Man to Remember was found in the Netherlands, complete with bad 1930s era subtitles. I don't believe, however, that there was any rights situation with Primrose Path.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Note there's no S on the end

A Google search of my blog suggest that I have never blogged about the movie Lady Killer (not to be confused with The Ladykillers) before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 as part of TCM's Summer Under the Stars day of James Cagney movies.

Cagney plays Dan Quigley, who at the start of the movie is a movie usher. Actually, he's much more than an usher; he's a small-time con artist and gambler to boot, running a dice game in the restroom among other things. One day he meets Myra (Mae Clarke, who had been with Cagney in The Public Enemy, which airs just before Lady Killer at 7:30 AM), just as she's dropping her purse. He picks it up and follows her back to her apartment, where he finds that her brother-in-law Spade (Douglass Dumbrille) is running a poker game. Dan, being the keen gambler, gets in on the poker game, but gets cleaned out. On leaving, however, he finds that he's been scammed, and extorts his money back from his opposing con artists, getting in on the gang in the process. Quigley eventually becomes the leader of the gang, but they're incompetent and accidentally kill somebody during a botched robbery, forcing Dan and Myra to go on the lam to California.

In California, Dan gets arrested but there's not enough evidence to convict him. Free but broke, Quigley gets picked up by a talent scout because the scout thinks Quigley could play the sort of gangster that the movies wanted back in those days in spades. Quigley starts off as an extra, meets leading lady Lois (Margaret Lindsay), and because of his charisma, he immediately becomes romantically involved with her and starts to rise the ladder of fame in Hollywood. Well, he does so by engaging in a con but when has Hollywood ever been authentic. Of course, there's one thing Dan hadn't considered: if he were to become famous, certainly his old gang would recognize him in one of his movies, and come looking for him. Sure enough, that eventually happens.

Lady Killer is a movie that I think would make a good double bill with Picture Snatcher, or possibly The Mayor of Hell. In all three of them, Cagney plays a gangster who tries to go straight, but also has to use his con skills to make it a bit easier to get ahead in honest life as they're the only way he knows how. By 1933, when all three of these movies were made, the moral scolds were getting uncomfortable with the traditional gangster movies, but audiences still loved them, so the studios tried to find different ways to use their gangsters. Having the gangsters go straight was one way. Lady Killer and Picture Snatcher both have a fair bit of comic relief in them, while The Mayor of Hell doesn't have nearly so much. In all three, however, Cagney is charismatic as ever and makes the movie zip forward by leaps and bounds. Lady Killer, like the other two, is certainly not a "prestige" movie, and has the look of a lesser movie. But it's also immensely entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun.

All three of the Cagney movies I mentioned are available on the same Warner Gangster Movie box set.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Let's thank the Warner Archive again

I was pretty cetain I had recommended The Hucksters before; indeed, I blogged about it back in November, 2010, when Ava Gardner was TCM's Star of the Month. The Hucksters is getting another airing, tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM as part of Deborah Kerr's turn in Summer Under the Stars.

Now, if you'll read the old blog post, you'll see I pointed out that it's not available on DVD. That was accurate at the time, but looking at tomorrow's TCM schedule, it shows a link to purchase the movie on DVD. Sure enough, The Hucksters has gotten a DVD release in the meantime; specifically, last September from the Warner Archive.

Speaking of movies I blogged about in the past which have gotten a DVD release since I blogged about them, I see that TCM is hawking a Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 4 box set, which is apparently going to be released soon, although there's no release date listed as opposed to the page for The Hucksters. That one contains Jewel Robbery and Lawyer Man.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Not an Essentials Jr. movie

Last week, I suggested that the week's Essentials movie on Saturday night, Some Like It Hot, wouldn't necessarily be a bad choice for Essentials Jr.. (The only other Monroe movie I might suggest for Essentials Jr. is Monkey Businesee.) This week's Essentials selection, Lolita (as always, at 8:00 PM), is an entirely different matter. Lolita, of course, is the movie in which James Mason starts leching after his stepdaughter, who is much too young for him, and really too young for anybody with the possible exception of Roman Polanski.

That having been said, the movie preceding Lolita might not be such a bad choice for Essentials Jr.: Journey to the Center of the Earth, at 5:30 PM. It's based on the Jules Verne novel, and I think a lot of Verne's stuff can work well for younger audiences if adapted correctly. I don't know that the 1950s version of Around the World in 80 Days would be so good for the young ones, but that's only because the film is something close to three hours. I read the story, or at least an abridgement of the story, back when I was in elementary school, and the story is perfectly fine fot children. Same with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I think the Disney live-action version was an Essentials Jr. choice several years back. (TCM, I believe, no longer have the broadcast rights to the Disney live-action films.) From the Earth to the Moon isn't a bad story, but the movie is problematic because it was made in the death throes of RKO. Fox made a version of Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon in the early 1960s, and that's another one where I don't think the story is bad, but Fox put in one of the teen idols (Fabian) and the movie has African stereotypes that would probably make some people uncomfortable.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fantastic Voyage

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is showing the fun, if not particularly realistic, Fantastic Voyage, tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 PM.

So why is Raquel Welch in the cast anyway?The framing story, which is really a bit of a Macguffin, involves the defection of a Soviet-bloc scientist. It turns out that he knows a lot about miniatuarization. Both the Soviets and the Americans have learned how to miniaturize anything -- including humans -- down to microscopic size. This could be a great weapon, except that to this point, all attempts to control the miniaturization have failed beyond a certain point. They can get things small, but after 60 minutes, everything returns to its original size. The defector, however, has apparently figured out how to control the miniaturization, which would allow the military to shrink things down and then return them to their original size at will. Our Soviet defector has decided to give the information to the Americans, since the Americans are supposedly the good guys and would never do anything wrong with the information. (I suppose I should refrain from all political commentary here.) Before he can do this, however, he's ambushed in a car accident and suffers a blood clot in the brain that threatens to kill him.

Ah, but help is on the way. Our scientist's clot would normally be inopreable, but thanks to the miniaturiazation there is in theory a new way to operate on the patient: miniaturize the surgeons, and send them into the brain to do the operation from the inside! Dr. Duval (Arthur Kennedy) is the scientist who is an expert in brain surgery, and is aided by his buxom assistant Cora (Raquel Welch, who is clearly in the picture for one reason). There's a problem, of course, which is that the government isn't so certain about Dr. Duval's political loyalties. So they impress upon one of their security agents (Stephen Boyd) that he has to be part of the operation as security: make certain nobody sabotages it. The doctors are going to get to the clot in a specially designed submarine injected into the carotid artery, and also along for the operation are a second doctor (Donald Pleasance) and a radio man.

The miniaturization aspect of the story is a bunch of hooey, but once everybody gets injected into the defector's circulatory system, the movie really gets visually interesting. Our doctors face a whole host of problems, from the body's immune system to various injuries to the possibility that somebody is trying to sabotage the mission, and have to complete the entire mission in under an hour in order to get out before they start enlarging back to their original size. Some of the medical issues, such as the fact that the immune system really would be likely to attack them, or having to deal with a fistula, really do seem plausible. Other parts of the surgery seem unlikely, but that's always the case with science fiction. The Cold War-era plot may be dated and trite in its attempt to provide extra suspense, but again, the medical aspect more than makes up for that: the movie would be interesting on its own just for the surgical part of it. Fantastic Voyage is an enjoyable enough movie that deftly intertwines suspense with science fiction.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

TCM and advertising, chapter whatever

I suppose I should be disturbed with Google and its cookies tracking me wherever I go on the internet. I don't know if I opened up TCM's schedule in the same browser tab that had a Google search in it, or whether it's my searching for images of classic movie stars. But in some of the strangest places, I've been getting ads on sites that use Google's pictorial Adsense for TCM's Summer Under the Stars. Some of these sites are based in Europe, so the ads are presumably targeted at me and not the users of the forum in general. On the other hand, I'm also getting the standars online college scam ads on the same forums. As for the Summer Under the Stars ads, they're actually very well made, with a picture of the star in question, and the star's name and date. The problem is, I'm still getting ads for Marilyn Monroe's day on Summer Under the Stars, which took place last Saturday.

TCM is also showing Should Ladies Behave? tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM. I briefly mentioned this drawing-room comedy from 1933 back in August 2008. Not for the movie itself, which is OK if you like the early sound-era drawing-room comedy, but because early on in the film is a so-obvious-you-can't-possibly-miss-it ad for Dinner at Eight.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Golf shorts

At approximately 3:40 AM, between two of Rita Hayworth's movies overnight (specifically, between You Were Never Lovelier and Miss Sadie Thompson), TCM is showing a short called Shoot Yourself Some Golf. I don't think I've ever seen this one before. It stars Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman (to whom Reagan was married at the time) as themselves, both of whom are having trouble with their golf game. So Warner Bros. brings in the champion of the long-drive contest and a trick golfer -- neither of them is a name I recognize, although I don't particularly follow golf or know too terribly much about the history of the sport -- to teach our Hollywood stars a bit about the game. The other thing that's interesting about the short is that it's in color.

I did a search of my blog, and while Blogger may be having search problems again, I really don't think I've ever mentioned Bobby Jones before. Jones is one of those old golf names that's more likely to be remembered by us non-golf fans, as he was one of the world's best in the late 1920s and more or less created the Masters tournament. Jones also starred in two series of shorts. First, in 1931, he made a series of about a dozen called "How I Play Golf"; the second, two years later, is called "How to Break 90" and is half a dozen films. Both series were directed by George Marshall, who directed a lot of movies, and is one of those names that I recognize, but I notice that a lot of his work is not quite A material. There's a couple of Betty Hutton movies from his Paramount days in the second half of the 1940s, and James Stewart's western Destry Rides Again.

TCM airs the Bobby Jones shorts often enough, but trying to find when they're going to show up is a pain, as "How to Break 90" doesn't yield any title matches! Searching for "Bobby Jones" is also problematic: there are a lot of Bobby Joneses out there, but TCMDb doesn't give any titles under each name to disambiguate them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marvin Hamlisch, 1944-2012

Composer Marvin Hamlisch died yesterday evening after a short illness. He was 68. Hamlisch won three Oscars, all in 1973: he won the Original Score Oscar for The Way We Were, as well as winning the Original Song Oscar for the title song. (Remember, the Original Song Oscar goes to the songwriter(s), and not the singer.) The third was for music adaptation for The Sting. The Sting is a score that I always find interesting. The movie was set in 1930s Chicago, and when Hamlisch wrote the score, he came up nostalgic music. But the song we best remember from The Sting is Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer", a piano work which was composed -- in 1902! Who would have thought that you could depict the 1930s by using a song that was popular 30 years earlier? And yet, the use of Joplin's music in the movie works.

Hamlisch would be nominated quite a few more times over the course of his career, both for scores like Sophie's Choice, as well as individual songs like "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me. And Hamlisch also was busy doing much more than movies. Hamlisch did the score for the hit Broadway musical A Chorus Line, which won him both a Tony award and a Pulitzer Prize. (And when the musical was adapted into a movie, an original song for the movie was also nominated for an Oscar.)

Edge of the City

TCM's star for today's installment of Summer Under the Stars is Sidney Poitier. Some of today's films I've recommended before; one that I haven't and would really like to mention is Edge of the City, which airs overnight at 12:15 AM. (If you're further west, it's not overnight, but rather earlier this evening.)

Poitier is only second-billed; the star is actually John Cassavetes in one of his earliest movies. He plays Axel Nordmann, a man who somewhat mysteriously shows up around the docks one night, looking for a job. The jobs of course don't come open until morning, so Axel sleeps outside the office and gets spotted in the morning by Tommy (Poitier). Tommy's an outgoing man, and willing to strike up a friendship with Axel, while Axel is rather more guarded and gets assigned to work not with Tommy, but with Charles (Jack Warden). Apparently Charles knows a bit about Axel's past, and is part of the racket to get people like Axel their jobs on the waterfront, and Axel has to pay protection money to Charles.

Tommy thinks this is unjust, and strikes up a deeper friendship with Axel. This is something that Charlie really doesn't like, partly because he doesn't want to lose his control over Alex, but also because he's racist and doesn't like a black guy like Tommy. Tommy, for his part, continues to get gloser to Axel, tries to get Axel assigned to work under him, and even tries to set up Axel and a blind date and go out with Axel, the girl, and his wife (Ruby Dee). Axel is still guarded, and still trying to patch up his relationship with his mother, whom he loves, but from whom he had to run away as his father no longer accepted him.

You can see coming from a mile away that there's going to be a boiling over in the conflict between Tommy and Charlie, and that this is presumably going to help bring a resolution to the conflicts in Axel's life, but in a movie like Edge of the City, part of the reason for watching is seeing how the characters get there. Edge of the City achieves that quite well, mostly down to the strong acting from all of the leads.

The only real problem with the movie is Tommy, and that's not Sidney Poitier's fault. If you've seen the piece on Poitier that TCM runs quite a bit, you'll recall film professor Donald Bogle talking about how Poitier had to play the "perfect" black man; the one sort of black person that could appeal to white audiences. That sort of sharply-drawn character wouldn't be problematic if you need your characters to be archetypes, but when you need more nuanced characters, such a lack of drawing the character's opposite side can be grating. Tommy at times comes across as too perfect and too interested in Axel for no good reason. With the state of race relations as they were in the late 1950s, I can't help but think the real-life Tommy would be closer to the character of Ruby Dee's husband in The Incident, or at least a bit closer to what Poitier played in The Defiant Ones.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jamaica in

I read someplace this morning that today marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence from the United Kingdom, and it goes without saying that one of things I thought about with respect to this blog is movies that are set in Jamaica. Jamaica Inn would be an obvious guess for anybody who didn't know the story, but despite having the name "Jamaica" in the title, the movie is set solely in the UK. I don't think I've ever seen Cool Runnings in its entirety, the movie which tells the Disneyfied version of the Jamaican bobsled team. I would presume that some of the early scenes before the Jamaicans start bobsledding are in the characters' native Jamaica. One other movie that I think might be set in independent Jamaica is Doctor No, although I know the original Ian Fleming novel came out well before Jamaican independence. The movie's premiere was in the UK in October 1962, and a lot of the filming was done on locatoin in Jamaica. But presumably all the filming would have been before independence, and looking at IMDb, there's a scene where Bond meets the Colonial Secretary.

I believe Jamaica would have been the biggest of Britain's colonies in the Caribbean, and certainly in the western half of the Caribbean, back in the day. (I'd have to look up the size difference between Jamaica and Trinidad; Jamaica is quite a bit more populous nowadays. And frankly, I have no idea about the historical population differences, and when each British colony in the Caribbean was settled.) It would make sense if some of the pirate movies made in the Studio era would have had colonial settings on Jamaica. The Black Swan and Captain Blood both come to mind. I'm sure there are quite a few others.

Tonight's Van Heflin repeats

So it seems I've blogged about tonight's prime-time lineup on TCM before. Well, I haven't blogged about tonight, but it seems that in four and a half years of blogging, I've already done full-length posts on each of the first three movies that TCM is showing tonight in its Summer Under the Stars salute to Van Heflin. The picture at left is Heflin with Glenn Ford in tonight's first selection, 3:10 to Yuma, at 8:00 PM. I don't believe the recent remake is airing any time this week.

3:10 to Yuma will be followed at 9:45 PM by Johnny Eager. I blogged about this one back in April 2010 when Robert Taylor was Star of the Month. As I implied then, there are a lot of better gangster films out that, many of them made over at Warner Bros. instead of MGM. But Van Heflin richly deserved his Oscar for playing Taylor's alcohol-soaked best friend and quasi-conscience. He's by far the best thing in the movie.

Ooh, more pictures! I cribbed an image from somewhere for tonight's third film, The Prowler. It's nowhere near as prestigious a movie as either 3:10 to Yuma or Johnny Eager, but it's one that's just as deserving of a viewing if you haven't seen it before. It's coming on at 11:45 PM. All three films are out on DVD, in case you miss any of the showings.

There are also two interestingly titled Heflin military movies airing as part of Summer Under the Stars, neither of which I think I've seen before: Cry of Battle (not on DVD according to TCM) at 6:15 PM, and Battle Cry overnight at 3:00 AM.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

TCM schedule heads-up

TCM was running a promo this week that I think got one of the showtimes wrong. Their Summer Under the Stars promos are highlighting what's coming up on weekends in prime time, and they announced tonight's Claude Rains lineup as:

The Invisible Man at 8:00 PM;
Mr. Skeffington at 9:30 PM; and
The Unsuspected at 12:30 AM.

Now I know Mr. Skeffington seems like an overlong movie, but it really only runs 146 mintues, and not a full three hours. With Robert Osborne's introduction and closing remarks, that should make the end of Mr. Skeffington right around midnight, which means the next film could start at 12:15 AM. This, in fact, is what TCM's online schedule and printable monthly schedule say. All three are availalbe on DVD anyhow, so if you miss any of them, you can catch them that way.

TCM's online schedule also doesn't list any shorts today to pad out any of the running times.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Some Like it Hot for Essentials Jr.!

How objectionable is this really?

Or, maybe not. Some Like It Hot is showing up tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the regualar Essentials, the one with the introduction by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. For some time, however, I've wondered what younger people would make of a movie like Some Like It Hot.

Sure, it's got cross-dressing, and there are some uptight people who might have a problem with this. But think about why Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are dressed up as lady band members. They've seen a crime, and they've got a bunch of gangsters who want to kill them. What better way to escape than to dress up as members of the opposite sex. It's not too different from the way blackface scenes would understandably be considered offensive, but a movie like Silver Streak can get away with it because the scene has Richard Pryor coming up with the blackface idea, and it's used to help Gene Wilder effect an escape.

Yes, there's also a lot of sexual innuendo, or at least love innuendo. I would think, however, that the fact that Tony Curtis' character falls in love with Marilyn Monroe's character is explained easily enough, when you consider that Curtis is a man and Monroe a woman. Of course men and women fall in love. As for Joe E. Brown's character falling in love with the in-disguise Jack Lemmon, that's fairly easily explained by the fact that Brown has no idea the "woman" he's dancing with is in fact a man. And Lemmon and Curtis both have qualms over how to deal with their lies and how it's going to hurt the people who have fallen in love with them. Or, at least, the disguised characters they've been passing themselves off as: Lemmon's woman and Curtis' millionaire. As I think about it, this part of the plot of Some Like it Hot sounds complicated, but thanks to the excellent writing and the broad humor, it's really quite understandable. If there's really any sexual innuendo, it might just go over the heads of younger viewers. I know I watched James Bond movies when I was a kid, and I'm sure a good portion of the sexual innuendo completely escaped me back then.

Third might be the violence. But is Some Like it Hot any more violent than a lot of the movies of today? And to be fair, there are a lot of movies that I don't think anybody would have a problem considering suitable for children which have a fair amount of violence. Some of the serials that TCM has been running on Saturdays have comic-book characters shooting their way out of situations, and a lot of westerns have sharply-drawn good and bad guys with climactic shootouts. And never mind the violent cartoons. If there are any uptight parents out there, let's just drop a cartoon anvil on their heads. (And speaking of cartoons, I distinctly recall Bugs Bunny cross-dressing both in some Yosemite Sam cartoons, and some of the classic Elmer Fudd cartoons. Most notably would be Bugs as one of the female Wagnerian opera characters in What's Opera, Doc?)

This might be the objectionable partIf there's really one thing that's objectionable to certain people, I'd guess it might be the last line, once Jack Lemmon reveals to Joe E. Brown that he is, in fact, a man. Brown's line is one of the all-time greats, but it does technically leave open the possibility of something that would have been taboo for 1959 happening. In fact, I think the ending of Some Like It Hot is more open-ended. There are still some gangsters who would have survived the shooting in the hotel, and they are liable to go looking for Lemmon and Curtis after the escape by boat that ends the movie. If that isn't resolved, then it's perfectly fair to assume the relationship between Btown and Lemmon hasn't been resolved either.

So, then, the only question is, would younger people enjoy the humor of Some Like it Hot?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Time for a Marilyn Monroe box set?

MGM didn't know what it had

Tomorrow on TCM's Summer Under the Stars brings 24 hours of Marilyn Monroe pictures. Monroe is one of those people who has become an icon, so it's not surprising that studios would use her image to sell DVDs, even in films where she wasn't high up in the billing. It's something I've mentioned before in conjunction with the piffling Fox film Love Nest, which doesn't happen to be part of tomorrow's Marilyn Monroe day, but is unsurprisingly availble on DVD with Monroe's face splashed all over the cover.

In fact, only one of tomorrow's movies on TCM is not available on DVD, which is Clash By Night (airing at 8:00 AM tomorrow), in which Monroe has a smaller role as the girlfriend of Barbara Stanwyck's brother (Keith Andes); the movie is really about Stanwyck, the man she marries (Paul Douglas), and the rough man she falls in love with (Robert Ryan). I find it somewhat surprising that TCM claims it's not on DVD, since it's got Stanwyck and Marilyn Monroe, and was made at RKO, whose films are now under the control of Warner Bros. That means Warner Bros. could very easily release it as part of the Warner Archive. In fact, Warner Bros. released a DVD several years ago, but it's apparently out of print.

Clash By Night would be a good selection for part of a Monroe box set in those four-film "Legends" DVD box sets that you see advertised on TCM between movies, such as the current Kirk Douglas box set. The only condition would be that there are four films that are part of the Warner library, and I believe there are. In addition to Clash By Night, there's The Asphalt Jungle (tomorrow at 6:00 AM) which was made at MGM, and The Prince and the Showgirl which was made in Britain by Warner Bros. For the fourth movie, a restoration of Home Town Story might be in order. Monroe has a smaller role as a receptionist, but this is one of those MGM Bs from the early 1950s when Dore Schary was trying to be socially relevant. Inexplicably, they let the copyright run out, soe it entered the public domain and is cheaply available from all over the place.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pre-code Myrna Loy

TCM's star for the second day of Summer Under the Stars is Myrna Loy. Loy is probably best remembered either for playing Nora Charles in the six Thin Man movies (the first airs at 11:00 PM), or for the wives any man could love (and I mean that in a good way) in movies like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (6:00 PM), The Best Years of Our Lives (8:00 PM) or Cheaper By the Dozen (overnight at 12:45 AM). She's good in all of these movies, but she's really interesting in the movies she did before enforcement of the Production Code became strict in 1934. TCM has been showing a bunch of those this morning, and will be showing one more overnight: Penthouse, at 2:15 AM.

Warren Baxter plays Jackson Durant, a society lawyer who unfortunately finds the sort of law he practices in polite society boring, so he defends gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton, who also shows up this evening in The Thin Man). This causes him to lose his job at the society law firm, and be looked down upon by society, to the point that he even loses his fiancée, Sue (Martha Sleeper). So he takes up with Gertie (Myrna Loy), a high-priced call girl, even having her stay in his apartment!

Things are about to get more interesting, though. Sue comes crawling back to Durant. Not because she loves him, but because she needs his help. Her new boyfriend Tom (Phillips Holmes) has been accused of a murder he didn't commit, and she needs Durant to get Tom off. I mean, if Durant could get a gangster to beat the rap, why not a respectable person? And this is a doozie of a crime -- Tom stands accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Mimi (Mae Clarke), who was also a gangster's moll! Durant likes the challenge, and he starts to act like Perry Mason. That is, he doesn't defend the case in court; he solves it before it even gets to court. And, unsurprisingly, he does it with the help of Gertie and even Tony.

Penthouse is one of those movies that I saw ages ago, so my memories may be a bit fuzzy. For example, looking at the plot synopsis given on TCM implies I may have gotten wrong exactly when Durant and Gertie meet. But Penthouse is one of those breezy early 1930s movies, inexpensively made but with a lot of pizazz and entertainment value. If you haven't seen Myrna Loy's early career, this isn't a bad place to start. She played a lot of exotic vampish roles, but some of them were ethnic characters, as in Stamboul Quest or Thirteen Women, which I suppose might be off-putting. (It could be worse; I haven't mentioned the Fu Manchu movie where she plays Chinese!) Penthouse showcases Loy in a role that's not exactly clean, but isn't ethnically incorrect. It's one of the many, many films that have made their way to the Warner Archive, so you can catch it any time you want.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

Gore Vidal, a novelist and critic who also wrote several screenplays, died yesterday evening at the age of 86. I knew that Vidal had written the screenplay for the movie version of his play The Best Man, but he ald did the screenplay for The Catered Affair and Suddenly Last Summer, along wiht I Accuse!, a late 1950s version of the Alfred Dreyfus story which puts more emphasis on Dreyfus than does The Life of Émile Zola. Vidal also wrote the novel Myra Breckinridge, which was turned into one of the bigger movie messes.

Vidal appeared as a Guest Programmer, I think back during the Month of Guest Programmers in November 2007. One of his selections was That Hamilton Woman, which was my first exposure that movie which tells the story of Horatio Nelson and his lover Lady Hamilton. For some reason I thought I had done a full-length post on it, but apparently not.