Friday, November 30, 2012

Do not touch the Grisbi!

I probably should have mentioned earlier that tonight sees this month's TCM "Guest Programmer". The only thing is, it isn't one guest programmer this month, but four of the bloggers from TCM's Movie Morlocks web-site. We finally get to see what they look like! Not that I should talk: Helen of Troy may have had the face that launched a thousand ships, but I've got the face that broke a thousand cameras. The night's lineup is

The Locket kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. Laraine Day plays a user of men in this movie made difficult to follow because it's got flashback after flashback after flashback.
That's followed at 9:45 PM by Dracula's Daughter; I presume you can figure out what the subject of this one is.
At 11:15 PM comes Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, a French gangster movie with Jean Gabin as an againg gangster who finds that the times are changing around him.
Finally, at 1:00 AM, is Five Million Years to Earth (also known as Quatermass and the Pit), a hilarious scifi movie based on the premis that humans are descended from insects and some still have the insect mentality in their mind.

Unrelated, but Fashion's Mirror, which I mentioned two weeks ago, is schedule to air again at the end of the overnight, or about 5:50 AM tomorrow morning.

The Story of Mankind

I mentioned late yesterday evening that today is the birth anniversary of Virginia Mayo, who was born on this date in 1920. One of her movies I've only barely mentioned, much less done a full-length post on, is The Story of Mankind, which finishes up the day's Mayo proceedings at 6:00 PM.

Mayo, like most of the cast members, only shows up briefly, but more on that in a bit. The movie was released in 1957, during the Cold War when the fear of nuclear war was running high. In the framing story, mankind has invented a new weapon known as a "Super H-Bomb", one which would destroy the earth as we know it if it were ever used. It's up to God to decide whether or not we humans should be allowed to survive, or to use the weapon and annihilate ourselves. God has set up a trial, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke playing the presiding judge. Arguing for the prosecution -- that is, for the proposition that Man should be allowed to destroy himself -- is the Devil, played by Vincent Price. Trying to save mankind is Ronald Colman, as the "Spirit of Mankind". Man may be a mess, with rape, war, pillage, plunder, and oppression and if the idea were tried in a movie nowadays, you know they'd throw in a bunch of environmental propaganda. Let's just say the list of ways Man has screwed up is long and varied. On the other hand, Man has made many artistic and scientific achievements, not including the fact that we can see this movie 55 years after it was released. And so the two advocates go at it, albeit in a genteel debate.

The idea of a heavenly (or hellish) trial is a conceit that's been used in a number of movies, with the two most closely applicable here being A Matter of Life and Death and Two of a Kind. The former is excellent for a whole lost of reasons, including the casting of the couple in love, while Two of a Kind suffers from the fact that its leads have surprisingly little chemistry together. Casting winds up dooming The Story of Mankind as well. The Devil and The Spirit of Mankind put forward their evidence by using specific examples from mankind's history, and it seems as though every single example has been deliberately selected to be as badly miscast as possible. Birthday girl Mayo, for exaample, plays Cleopatra, with a 40-something Hedy Lamarr playing Joan of Arc. For the men, there's Peter Lorre as Nero, a young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, and Charles Coburn as Hippocrates.

The highlight (or lowlight), though, is probably the Marx Brothers. This is their last movie, although they don't appear together. Chico plays a monk in the Christopher Columbus sequence; Harpo plays Isaac Newton discovering gravity; and Groucho plays Pieter Minuit, swindling the American Indians out of Manhattan Island. It's jaw-droppingly screwed-up stuff. Who could have thought any of this was good casting. And as such, large portions of the movie are an utter disaster. Yet, that's what makes the movie so much fun. It's one of those movies that's so bad it's good. You'll be laughing at it, even though it's not a comedy.

The Story of Mankind has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Virginia Mayo birthday repeats

November 30 is the birth anniversary of actress Virginia Mayo, something I noticed when I looked for the direct link to the post I did on the movie Red Light: I noticed that the post was composed November 29, 2011 with the movie airing the morning of the 30th. I was looking for it since Red Light is airing again as part fo this year's TCM birthday salute to Mayo, at 2:30 PM, and still isn't available on DVD. In fact, five of the movies that are running as part of the 2012 salute. Considering the number of movies Mayo made that I think TCM has the rights to, I'd think they could do two tributes without repeating more than about one movie, assuming that somebody would want to show her most famous work. I can't for example blame TCM for wanting to show something famous like White Heat for her, or for James Cagney or director Raoul Walsh. And to be honest, I really did enjoy Red Light despite its gaping plot hole.

I'll actually be posting about another of Mayo's movies in the morning; this was really just a post to mention the airing of Red Light since it's not on DVD.

Yakima Canutt, 1895-1986

Yakima CanuttToday marks the birthday of Yakima Canutt, a Hollywood figure whose work you've seen even if you didn't know what he looked like. Canutt was a pioneer in stunt work, most notably doing stunts as John Wayne's stunt double in the 1939 version of Stagecoach. If you watch the famous scene of Wayne's character running over the tops of the horses and then under the stagecoach to wind up on the back side, that's actually Canutt. But Canutt did so much more, performing stunts in dozens of B westerns in the 1930s and through the 1940s, by which time he realized he was getting too old to do the strenuous stuntwork.

The result of getting older is that Canutt turned to secnod-unit directing, staging fight and action sequences for the other, younger stuntmen to do. Canutt's credited work as a second-unit director includes the Charlton Heston version of Ben-Hur, for which Canutt staged the famous chariot race; other period pieces such as El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire; and the western comedy Cat Ballou.

People like Canutt really deserve more attention, I think. Stunts are an important part of a lot of movies; you don't want to risk your expensive big stars; and those stunts aren't going to do themselves. (Well, with modern-day CGI and the increasing number of animated movies, maybe those stunts will do thmeselves one of these days.) At least nowadays, the stuntmen show up in the closing credits that go on and on after the movie; back in the studio era the credits were so limited that many of the people playing the bit parts, as well as the stuntmen, didn't get screen credit. IMDb, for example, lists Canutt as uncredited for Stagecoach. (It's been a while since I've watched it and don't have a DVD at hand, so I can't remember whether he actually is in the credits or not.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Those wacky Kiwis again

So I fired up my RSS reader this morning and what did Radio New Zealand have? There was some news, and a lot of reports about the lastest overblown movie to be based on the work of JRR Tolkien opening in New Zealand where it was mostly filmed. Yes, I'm talking about The Hobbit, as if three Bored of the Rings movies weren't enough. Of course, being an American, I don't always get the pride that people in smaller countries get when something related to their country hits the world spotlight in a positive way. I suppose it's like those "Hollywood in Your Hometown" pieces TCM airs, only at times it goes much further: my Finnish friends inform me that the tabloids have gone nuts over a Finnish reality show contestant who is boinking an American reality show contestant. (The Finns I know don't care, but there seems to be an air of "Isn't this the greatest thing ever!!" from the tabloid articles. One can also presume the tabloids wouldn't report on this stuff if it didn't sell.) As for New Zealand in the movies, it's not as if the country got much attention from Hollywood during the studio era. I can think of Green Dolphin Street back in the 1940s and Until They Sail from the late 1950s, and that's about it.

But that's not really why I'm writing this particular post anyhow. This morning, one of the Radio New Zealand feeds had the following report:

Teen movie blogger

A movie blog called Cinematic Paradox, that includes movie reviews, Oscar predictions, and advice to directors about how to make their movies better, is winning awards. Stevee Taylor writes the blog and has won "Lammys", or Large Association of Movie Bloggers awards for best blog, best rating system, best awards coverage and more. And she's just 17-years old. The Dannevirke High School student spends two hours most nights writing the blog from her bedroom and more than 50,000 people have viewed it.

The report is a 3.3 MB audio file, and based on the last RNZ report I linked to, that should probably run around ten minutes; I haven't listened to it yet. If you want to read the Cinematic Paradox blog, there's your link.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Adding to the blogroll

I've added the blog Classic Movie Ramblings, by a blogger calling himself "D For Doom" (or at least I think that's how it should be parsed), to the blog roll.

I notice that one of his most recent posts is on Union Station, a very nifty little thriller from Paramount in 1950 which should not be confused with Warner Bros.' 1932 movie Union Depot, an all-star movie in the vein of Grand Hotel, only set at a train station. There's also Central Station, although that's a 1998 movie from Brazil so it would be difficult to confuse it with anything from Hollywood in the 1950s Central Station, in turn, should not be confused with Central Airport, a movie that for some reason I always think is called Central Station even though I know it's about an airport.

I thought I had blogged about boht Union Station and Union Depot at some point, but a search of the blog claims that I haven't.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fog Over Frisco

Recently, I briefly mentioned the movie Fog Over Frisco as one I had seen recently and deserved a full-length blog post, even though I didn't have the time for it back then. I'm not too excited about tonight's lineup of novels adapted to movies on TCM, so now would be a good time to write that post about Fog Over Frisco.

Bette Davis gets top billing as Arlene Bradford, one of two half-sisters living in San Francisco with their wealthy father Everett. Arlene is the bad girl, spending time in nightclubs and being seen with less-than-reputable characters, something which gets her name and face in the newspapers, much to her father's chagrin. He's a stockbroker, and has gotten his daughter engaged to one of his young colleagues, Spencer (Lyle Talbot). Arlene's half-sister Valkyr (Margaret Lindsay), however, is Dad's favorite and is being pursued by reporter Tony (Donald Woods), even though she's not so sure reporters are honest. Although Arlene is engaged to Spencer, she doesn't really love him. In fact, she's using him as part of a plot to steal bonds from the east, smuggle them out to San Francisco, and then launder the bonds through the brokerage's Honolulu branch; Arelene is working with gangsters who populate those nightclubs she visits.

Unsurprisingly, those stolen bonds are going to get Arlene in trouble. She plans on leaving Spencer, and leaves a note taped to her mirror, but in the darkness, somebody comes into her bedroom and winds up with the message. And then Arlene goes missing. Everybody is worried for their own, obvious reasons: Valkyr liked her sister and tried to protect her from their father; Dad doesn't want any scandal; Spencer knows the securities fraud is going to catch up with him; Tony is on the trail of a hot story; and the others, well, their motivations will become clear as the story goes on.

Fog Over Frisco is a briskly-paced movie, running about 68 minutes. The second half of the movie is part mystery, as several people have reason to be the ones behind Arlene's disappearance, and this isn't quite revealed until the last reel. It's not quite on the level of, say, The Thin Man, but to be fair I don't think the point of Fog Over Frisco is in the whodunit angle to the extent that it is in The Thin Man. In fact, director William Dieterle packed a lot of action into the 68 mintues: after the disappearance there's a car chase, a boat chase, an attempted kidnapping, and gunplay. Just nowhere near the drinking you'll see in The Thin Man. Bette Davis is a star; everybody else is passable, helped along by entertaining material. One low spot is that there's a clue that's so obvious you'd wonder how any characters could miss it until it's revealed by photographer Hugh Herbert. As for Herbert, his attempts to get the shot provide the comic relief in the film.

Fog Over Frisco is immensely entertaining, if nothing spectacular. If you like early-to-mid 1930s movies, or the work of Bette Davis, you'll love this one. For people new to such vintage movies, I might suggest starting with a mystery like The Thin Man before moving on to this one; or mor shocking pre-Codes like Night Nurse. It's gotten a DVD release as part of the Warner Archive collection, which is a bit of a shame considering how pricey those DVDs are. I personally think Fog Over Frisco would be well served by being included into a box set of Davis' early work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two interesting things I saw on TCM today

After The Lemon Drop Kid finished, TCM had a good ten minutes or so to kill before the 8:00 PM movie. They showed the "Classic Movie News" for November, the promo with the woman who always starts off by saying, "Hi! This is the TCM Classic news report for" such-and-such month. I might not have the quote exactly right, but the phony "Hi!" is unmistakeable. This time, however, the whole thing sounded funny, as though the voice were computer sampled or something. It sounded quite odd. I could swear that I saw at least part of the Classic Movie News piece earlier in the month and didn't notice anything wrong with the sound.

The reason I could swear I'd seen it before is because the "new to DVD" portion of it mentioned The Iron Petticoat, which will be airing on Thursday evening as part of a night of films with westerners falling in love with Communists. It's getting a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack with a restoration, which was displayed with a scene from the old print being transformed into the sharper print by a left-to-right wipe. So what followed next was interesting as well. It was a trailer for The Iron Petticoat, with the trailer being in black and white! If you had just seen the Classic Movie News report, you'd know the movie is a color film. I could swear I saw another trailer on TCM within the past week or so for a color movie where the trailer was in black and white, but I don't remember which movie it was. I thought I had posted on the subject some time in the distant past, but the closest I could find was a March 2008 post mentioning washed-out colors, not not color movies having trailers in black and white. I just wish I could remember what the other movie was.

Pete Smith plays football!

Well, Smith himself doesn't actually play football; he just comments on it in the short Pro Football, which is airing on TCM at just about 4:30 AM tomorrow (ie. in the overnight between Sunday and Monday). I think I've mentioned a few times before how professional football wasn't so popular back in the 1930s. It wasn't until the late 1950s with the 1958 NFL Championship that went into overtime that the league realized the sport could be popular on the new medium of TV, and then a rival group of owners setting up the AFL, that really made professional football popular. Before that it was the college game that was king, as you can see in Hollywood movies of the day. Quite a few movies about the college game, and very few about the pros.

Pro Football, released in 1934, is about the 1933 NFL champion Chicago Bears, who were out west to play a game against the west coast collegiate All-Stars. (In fact, the NFL champions would play a game against a team of college all-stars until the 1960s.) That would explain why Hollywood might be interested: they had a team right there. It's the sort of subject material that suits Pete Smith, but there's also a drawback. People who are fans of the history of football might actually enjoy the chance to hear a couple of famous names from back in the day (Bronko Nagurski was a famous linebacker, and there's also Red Grange) speak, but because of the Pete Smith style, all the action is silent with his voiceover narration.

A few years later, Smith made the 1937 short Pigskin Champions, which stars the 1936 NFL champion Green Bay Packers. That one isn't on the TCM schedule any time soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman, 1931-2012

I read this morning of the death of actor Larry Hagman yesterday, at the age of 81. Hagman is best known for his work on television, which is voluminous. Hagman spent 13 years playing JR Ewing on the prime time soap Dallas and before that played astronaut Tony Nelson, who discovered a bottle containing gorgeous genie Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie, which ran five seasons. There are also a lot of guest appearances.

As for his movie work, I've recommended at least two of his movies. In Mother, Jugs, and Speed, Hagman plays a libidinous co-worker of ambulance drivers Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch. There's also Harry and Tonto, in which Hagman plays one of Art Carney's sons, a man living out in California who doesn't want to let his father know that his life isn't as successful as he's been leading Dad to believe.

I don't think I've ever done a full-length post on Fail-Safe before. In that one, Hagman plays the interpreter to president Henry Fonda, translating between Russian and English on the "hotline" phone that connects the President with the leader of the Soviet Union after a rogue US bomber crew goes into Soviet airspace believing World War III has started and their mission is to drop an atomic bomb on the USSR.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shirley Temple Remembered

No, Shirley Temple hasn't died as far as I'm aware. But the other day I received the following in one of my RSS feeds from Radio New Zealand:

Shirley Temple Remembered

Shirley Temple starred in 35 films and is the biggest child star Hollywood ever produced. Shirley Temple's influence on New Zealand is the subject of a research project by a screen and media studies professor at the University of Waikato. His research led him to Shirley Piddington in Timaru. She was the runner up in a Shirley Temple lookalike photo competition in Christchurch in 1935. Now, almost 80 years later, Shirley Piddington can still recall the excitement of the contest and the joy Shirley Temple brought to movie-goers in an era when joy was often in short supply.

The link is to an audio interview which is about 4.0 MB and 11 minutes long. I have to admit I've downloaded it but not gotten around to listening to it yet as I've got a whole bunch of other radio programs to listen to. I'm also not certain how long link to audio files remain active with RNZ's feed, although I know they've got some dormant feeds with old audio files.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Show Kids

TCM showed the short Show Kids this morning after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It's received a DVD release on one of the DVDs in TCM's box set of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire musicals, and is definitely worth a mention.

This being a short, there's not much plot. Dad runs a vaudeville-style theater, but now that it's the 1930s nobody really wants to see vaudeville acts any more, so attendance has fallen to the point that there is no point in keeping the theater open. Son, however, thinks he's good a good idea on how to keep the theater going, which is to book a bunch of child acts. The families of all the children will want to see it, which means big attendance. (In reality, anybody who's been to a high school band concert knows that this will only work for a one-night stand. But this is a short, so we don't need to deal with reality.)

The rest of the short is obviously the child acts, which is where it gets relatively interesting. The movie was shot in three-strip Technicolor roughly at the end of 1934 (TCM's database lists it as a 1934 release, while IMDb lists it as a January 1935 release), which means it was made before Becky Sharp. The color is surprisingly good, for the most part, which is more than can be said about the child acts. There are some dance numbers that aren't bad, and you can see where the young dancers have potential. And then there are some acts that are downright creepy by 202 standards, mostly because they're dressed up and made up like adults. One is a bunch of young girls in grass skirts, with another being a prepubescent boy and girl doing a number with a lot of lifts. Those two look like they have talent -- at least, it certainly takes a good deal of talent to do those lifts. But they're dressed up like modern dancers, which means that the young boy is wearing next to nothing. I'm sure it was perfectly innocent back in the day, but now it doesn't seem quite so. And don't get me started on the songs, which are either more creepy or done by people who simply can't sing.

Show Kids is by turns bizarre and fascinating. Thankfully it's on DVD, but if you don't want to buy the box set, somebody exceprted the talent show portion of it and posted it to Youtube.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

TCM is showing a bunch of family comedies tonight. I'm a bit surprised to see that I've never done a full-length blog post on Cheaper By the Dozen, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. Based on a true story, it stars Clifton Webb as 1920s efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth, who uses the knowledge he's gained as an efficiency expert to raise his twelve children together with wife Lilian (Myrna Loy). It's on DVD, but don't get this version mixed up with the 2003 Steve Martin movie.

I recommended Sitting Pretty (9:30 PM) back in July 2010. As far as I'm aware, it still hasn't gotten a DVD release in the two and a half years since I wrote the original post.

I've mentioned Joe McDoakes before. TCM is airing another of the McDoakes shorts, So You Want to Be a Father, at approximately 4:44 AM (after Life With Father and before Father's Little Dividend).

Happy Thanksgiving to all of the American readers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eleanor Powell centenary

Eleanor Powell in Born to Dance (1936)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of tap-dancing actress Eleanor Powell. TCM is spending the day with Powell by showing a bunch of her movies, but somewhat surprisingly, they're not showing Born to Dance. Thankfully, it's gotten a DVD release (although I get the impression it's out of print), so I have no qualms about recommending it to you now.

James Stewart plays Ted, and Sid Silvers plays Gunny, a pair of Navy men on leave in New York City. Gunny's wife Jenny (Una Merkel) runs a "lonelyhearts" club where people from out of town can go for some eats and a dance, which is also where Nora (Eleanor Powell) works. Gunny, having been deployed with Ted for almost four years, hasn't seen his wife in that time, so is eager to see her. Unfortunately, Jenny doesn't find Gunny as appealing as he was before he went out to sea; complicating matters is that when he left years earlier, Gunny also left her pregnant. But Born to Dance is a musical comedy, so none of this is too serious. Nora dances at the club, but really wants to dance on Broadway. Ted meets her and immediately falls for her.

That might be enough for a thin story, but there's a little more here. The Navy's public affairs department has arranged for famous Broadway star Lucy (Virginia Bruce) to visit the ship on which Ted and Gunny are deployed. When she does, her dog accidentally falls overboard, and Ted falls into the harbor to save the dog. The Navy thinks this is great publicity: play up a relationship between Ted and Lucy. Even though Ted really prefers Nora, duty requires him to accompany Lucy, which understandably leads Nora to believe Ted no longer cares for her. Ted gets a bright idea, though: get Nora a part in Lucy's latest show, which will surely bring the two back together.

Born to Dance is a musical, which as I've mentioned a couple of times in the past isn't my favorite genre. The quality in Born to Dance, however, is quite apparent, and it's a very well-made movie even if it's not necessarily my cup of tea. I think one of the problems with the genre is that in a musical comedy like this, you pretty much know how it's going to end. The characters sing (including Stewart, who is entertaining even if he's not much of a singer), they dance, and the two leads are bound to end up together after the final musical number which defies reality: I don't think any Broadway stage could hold these things. Powell dances -- boy does she dance -- and the secondary characters provide the requisite comic relief. To be fair, it's a formula that even some not-so-musical romantic comedies used; I just always find breaking into song and dance as musical characters do unrealistic. As fot the music, that's a treat in and of itself. The lyrics were written by Cole Porter, and include what is now a classic song, "I've Got You Under My Skin".

As I mentioned at the beginning, Born to Dance has gotten a DVD release, or actually more than one. Amazon lists a two-movie set which appears to be out of print, while the TCM shop sells a six-DVD box set which is obviously more price. If you like musicals, Born to Dance is a treat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Topper out of print?

TCM is showing Topper tonight at 11:15 PM, followed by Topper Takes a Trip at 1:00 AM, both in honor of Star of the Month Constance Bennett. (Bennett wasn't in the third movie, Topper Returns.) TCM's schedule page doesn't say anything about Topper or the sequel being available for purchase on DVD. Amazon, however, does have DVDs available, although none of them seem to be at the original list price.

The fact that there's a several years old DVD on sale at Amazon, with a selling price lower than the list price, is something that always leads me to believe that a movie got a DVD release at one time, but that the DVD is now out of print. That may or may not be the case for Topper, however. There are three or four different two-movie DVD sets, all of which have Topper and Topper Returns, but not Topper Takes a Trip. The reviews of them also suggest that the video quality is bad. Those are two signs that the two movies fell into the public domain at some point, which I suppose shouldn't be too surprising since they were made at Hal Roach Studios. But you'd think that if something fell into the public domain, it would still be in print.

Just a heads up for those of you who are interested in the Topper movies, especially Topper Takes a Trip.

Inside the bowels of TCM

Well, not quite. But there are times when I do wonder about the technical workings of TCM and the rest of its corporate brethren down in Atlanta. On Sunday, I was watching the end of It Happened One Night since it was on and I happen to like the ending. From a visual point of view, I particularly like the shot of Claudette Colbert running away from the altar towards her car, the long train of her wedding gown flowing behind her in the air like some low-lying cirrus cloud. What was really interesting, however, was what happened after the movie. Ben Mankiewicz came on talking about Norman Jewison's use of Topol to play Tevye, and helpfully informing us of the night dedicated to French actress Capucine coming up.

Oops. Somebody obviously played the wrong file. Looking through the TCM schedule, Fiddler on the Roof was followed by a pair of Capucine movies on Sunday, November 4. Now, I don't know quite how TCM's (or really, the corporate parent's) playback scheme works, other than evreything being digital nowadays; no sort of bulky videos. But obviously, typos can produce errors like this. A few years back, TCM actually showed an ad! No, not one of those ads disguised as a promo trying to get people to buy a video, but a 30-second automobile ad, played after the outro to a movie. The explanation given at the time, and it seems reasonable and accurate, is that when whoever typed in the codes for what files to play accidentally mixed up a 2 and a Z, thereby typing in the code for the car ad. (Canada, which uses alphanumeric postal codes, deliberately doesn't use the letters I and O, among others, because of their similarity to certain digits.) After all, we haven't seen another "regular" ad show up on TCM. But a similar code for two Ben Mankiewicz outros two weeks apart? I would have thought that unlikely, although I have to admit to having no idea exactly how they format the naming of their data.

My first thought would have been that TCM should name Robert and Ben's pieces by date, using what's known as the ISO 8601 date format of year followed by month and date, such that today's date would be 2012-11-20. (The reason behind dating this way is that it allows for much easier sorting: leading zeros are used in the month and date, making all dates eight characters without hyphens and ten with, and the sorting order is a perfect correlation to chronological order.) But that would only work for the intros and outros to movies. The movies themselves get played multiple times, and even a few intros (the Essentials pieces) get reused. Those would have to be named differently, defeating the purpose of dating the intros and outros. Ideally, you'd want something that's got a uniform length and a format that makes sorting the various types of pieces easy. There's also the problem that the corporate offices run the broadcast files for multiple channels, which is how the car ad showed up on TCM in the first place. I for one would be curious to know more about how TCM (well, frankly cable channels in general) make everything run so seamlessly the vast majority of the time.

Finally, you don't want to see how I name my blog posts when I save them to my local hard drive. Sorting? Finding information from a particular post? I think I've made that quite impossible.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Prisoner of Swing

So I watched The Prisoner of Swing yesterday. It wasn't particularly good, in part because I don't think Hal LeRoy is much more than a supporting player. In fact, I think he was by far the weak player in the otherwise terribly enjoyable Too Many Girls.

The more important thing, however, is that this is not the same short that I mentioned having seen the end of some weeks back when I wrote Saturday's post. That one had the band in an outdoor setting, and absolutely didn't have a fencing duel toward the end the way The Prisoner of Swing does. So now I have no idea what that other short was.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The latest pair of repeats

Closing in on my fifth anniversary of blogging, trying to post at least once every day, means that sooner or later I'm going to hit the point where there's not much of interest to blog about on some given day. Well, there might be something interesting to watch on TV, but I'll already have blogged about it. I suppose I'm looking forward to Captain John Smith and Pocahontas at 10:00 PM tonight, since I'm not sure if I've seen it before. Then again, there are movies I thought I hadn't seen before, but look awfully familiar to me when I sit down to watch them, such as Fog Over Frisco earlier this week. On the bright side, nobody famous enough for me to do a blog post on has died recently.

Anna Christie is this week's TCM Import, overnight at 2:00 AM. It's technically not an import, as it was made in Hollywood. I knew I had done a post about Hollywood's making foreign-language versions of some of their movies during the dawn of the sound era, but I didn't realize until doing a search this morning that it was in fact this German-language version of Anna Christie (and the fact it showed up as the TCM Import!) that prompted me to write the original post.

If you want to see a short that I blogged about in the past, you could do a lot worse than to watch Winning Your Wings, which was the subject of a post for Memorial Day weekend earlier this year. It airs at approximately 1:40 PM, which is just after Queen Bee and just before Casablanca.

As for a short I haven't mentioned before, there's another new-to-me Traveltalks, that being 1937's India On Parade at 4:49 AM. I fail to see how you can capture all of India in a one-reel short, especially when back in 1937, British India included what is today Pakistan and Bangladesh. But then, this is James FitzPatrick we're talking about.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The short sounds familiar

Sometime within the past couple of weeks, I tuned in to TCM towards the end of a short, which seemed to involve a big band in some fictitious kingdom, where the government didn't like jazz music and was trying to capture the band. The band plays, however, and the king's emissary falls in love with the music. Unfortunately, I didn't think to go to TCM's schedule to see what this short was.

However, TCM is airing The Prisoner of Swing tomorrow morning at 7:38 AM. The plot of this sounds like it could be the short I had seen some time back (although I'd think TCM wouldn't rerun the same shorts within a few weeks). The Prisoner of Swing is apparently based on The Prisoner of Zenda, which involves kidnapping the king and replacing him with a lookalike, who in this one is a fan of swing music. The plot summary mentions a big ball, which I probably wouldn't have seen anyhow since I only saw the last few minutes of the short. But in what I saw the band was hiding in what looked to be some sort of rural or forest area. I guess I'll find out tomorrow whether The Prisoner of Swing is the short I saw the end of a few weeks back.

One other thing that should be mentioned is that TCM almost certainly has decided to run The Prisoner of Swing tomorrow because it's running immediately before the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda at 8:00 AM.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Peter O'Toole

I don't particularly care for Lawrence of Arabia, but it's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM. I knew I'd mentioned it before, but it was back in April 2008 that I made the suggestion that Erich von Stroheim's Death Valley sequences in Greed would have matched some of David Lean's desert sequences if only they had had widescreen photography back in 1924. And the story of Lawrence of Arabia doesn't particularly interest me. But I'm sure there are people out there who enjoy it, and they get another chance to see it tonight.

Why I'm mentioning O'Toole is that at midnight, following Lawrence of Arabia, TCM is running an interview that was done with O'Toole at the TCM Film Festival, I think back in 2011. It's an interesting interview, in part because O'Toole talks about how he became an actor and the part of his career before he really became famous. The interview runs about an hour, although I read some place that at the Film Festival, the interview actually went on for over two hours, forcing a good deal of editing to make the product we have on TV.

Blasts from the past and future

Over on the TCM boards, somebody was talking about the attempt to get a postage stamp to commemorate Tyrone Power's 100th birthday, which I believe is coming up in 2014. It reminded me of the set above which was issued back in 1994, when first-class postage was all of 29 cents. Some of the images are obvious, by noted sketch artist Al Hirschfeld (subject of the 1996 documentary The Line King), even without the captions: Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp, or Buster Keaton with his hat. If I had only known that this was an issue of actors, I might have guessed George Burns for the Harold Lloyd image, since he had the same sort of glasses and the image looks older than Lloyd would have been in the 20s. (Of course, Burns wouldn't have been eligible for a postage stamp at that time as he was still alive.) I don't think I would have guessed any of the women correctly. In fact, I believe this stamp issue was my introduction to Zasu Pitts.

Unfortunately, when I tried to upload the image to Photobucket, they tried to force a new interface on me, which didn't work: hitting the "Upload" button led to a blank page. Thankfully, there's still a link to go back to the "old" Photobucket, but as with Blogger, I wonder how long they're going to maintain the old site before trying to force everybody into the new interface. It'll be time to start looking for a new photo hosting site at that point, I suppose.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hollywod Revue redux

So TCM is running Babes in Arms tonight at 10:15 PM as part of a night of "Bob's Picks". You may have seen the promo trailer show up on TCM; if not, I've embedded it below. (I think that's the one TCM's been running; I'm having a bit of trouble getting to run on my system. The trailer TCM has been running is also on Youtube.)

The first thing I noticed was how MGM claims to have pioneered the musical with Broadway Melody. The only problem is, the clip they're using isn't from Broadway Melody. In fact, it's the black-and-white version of "Singin' in the Rain" from The Hollywood Revue; specifically, if memory serves, it closes the first half of the movie. The promo/trailer also includes that wonderful revolving spiral staircase that seems to have no end from The Great Ziegfeld before it runs out of steam.

Actually, I think TCM had another Hollywood Revue sighting for attentive viewers. I mentioned the short Fashion's Mirror the other day. It turned out to be not so great other than a punchline at the end, and a scene in which the two leads are in their car going through Times Square as it was around 1930. I always love those establishing shots that show a famous lit-up place like Times Square as the people of decades ago would have seen it. But as the two are riding down the street, it really looks as though one of the movie theaters has a vertical marquee for Hollywood Revue. That's somewhat interesting because Hollywood Revue was an MGM film, while the short was from Vitaphone, which was already part of Warner Bros. (I always try to read movie marquees in classic films to see if they're advertising a real film, and then figure out if it's from the same studio that released the movie I'm watching. Yes, I'm a geek.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kiss Me Deadly

A search of the blog claims that I've never even m Kiss Me Deadly before. It's airing overnight (or early tomorrow morning depending on your time zone) at 4:30 AM on TCM as part of this month's "books to movies" salute, having been based on one of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer novels.

The part of Mike Hammer is played here by Ralph Meeker. I'll admit to never having read any of the Mike Hammer novels, but Hammer here is even more hard-boiled than Sam Spade or a disillusioned cop like Glenn Ford's character in The Big Heat; reference sources suggest that this is par for the course for Hammer. Ralph Meeker also certainly looks the part. Anyhow, the movie starts with Hammer driving his car and coming across a harried-looking woman (Cloris Leachman) who is running away from people because she apparently has knowledge of the MacGuffin that's going to drive everybody's behavior throughout the course of the movie. The bad guys aren't far behind, and eventually catch up, forcing Hammer's car off the road in an "accident" which sends Hammer to the hospital and the girl to the morgue.

After some time in the hospital, Hammer learns of the girl's death, and is told by the police that he shouldn't bother himself with this case, because this is much too big for him. In fact, the feds are on the case, which only serves to make Hammer believe that he really should be investigating. Part of this is that the investigation into the MacGuffin is liable to lead to putting the case of the woman's murder on the back burner, but also because with so many people trying to get this MacGuffin, it has to be something really valuable. Perhaps it's even the stuff that dreams are made of. (In the original book, everybody's apparently after illegal drugs, but for the movie it's been changed to something that will provide a more spectacular ending.)

As I wrote earlier, Mike Hammer here is an extremely rough, cynical, hard-boiled character, who has no qualms about committing violence to get to the bottom of the mystery, something he has no qualms doing in part because he sees the police as ineffectual as they're not allowed to resort to violence. (The policing of today might show that Hammer's faith in the nonviolence of police is misplaced, but that's another story.) Indeed, there's a lot of violence on display here, not only from Hammer but also from the bad guys who not only kill the Cloris Leachman character, but are not above going after a lot of other people.

I think the word I would use to describe Kiss Me Deadly is "stylized". The violence is over-the-top at times, almost as if the characters are more archetypes than realistically-drawn people. The story also seems secondary at times, as though it doesn't matter what the characters are trying to obtain; no, it's simply more imprtant that the characters are willing to kill each other over something valuable. Hence, my use of Alfred Hitchcock's word "MacGuffin" several times above. In that regard, the movie succeeds quite well. It has a starkly interesting visual style, looking much different than what the major studios were putting out at the time, and not only because of Hammer's willingness to engage in violence. There's a sub-genre of films that I've referred to as "post-noir" before, which I think of as different from traditional noir pictures in that three's a much brighter (in terms of lighting, not necessarily mood) atmosphere, combined with what appears to be less studio-bound shooting. Kiss Me Deadly combines that with the 1940s hard-boiled detective stories in a way that I can't think of any earlier movie combining the two. Kiss Me Deadly is a treat to watch.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More short notices

I've mentioned What Price Hollywood? several times in the past, and it's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the second night of Constance Bennett's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. Slightly more interesting is that TCM's online schedule page suggests that none of tonight's Bennett movies is available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch them all tonight.

Immediately preceding What Price Hollywood?, just after 7:45 PM, is Fashion's Mirror, which is a 1930 one-reeler from Vitaphone. Warner Bros./Vitaphone were making a lot fo one-reelers during the early years of sound movies, most of which look fairly creak today, although some of them are at least mildly interesting for their historical documentation of the way things were (or the music) back in the day. This one, which I haven't seen before, apparently involves a no-good son putting on a fashion show to help out his father's business.

The other short, which concludes tonight's proceedings, is Toyland Casino, which TCM's schedule lists as starting at 5:39 AM, early tomorrow morning. Another one that I haven't seen, this is listed as a two-reel yourh talent show. I have to admit that it doesn't sound terribly appealing, but I'm sure there are people who will find it interesting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nick Carter

I've mentioned various detective film series in the past. One that I don't think I've mentioned before is Nick Carter, a series of three B-movies at MGM in 1939 and 1940 which are mildly intereting because Carter was played by Walter Pidgeon. (Looking through Pidgeon's credits, I can't tell if he was a leading man before this. All of the famous stuff came just afterwards.) The series starts with Nick Carter, Master Detective at 1:45, and concludes with Sky Murder at 4:00 PM.

Sky Murder is the only one of the three I've seen, and involve a group of what are supposed to be Nazis, although since the movie was released in 1940, their being Nazis isn't explicitly mentioned. German refugee Kaaren Verne comes to Carter after she's accused of committing a murder in an airplane compartment that I think we can all figure out was done by the Nazis. What's more worth staying for isn't who did it, but how the murder was carried out, as this is a "locked-room" mystery: a murder committed in a room that as far as anybody can tell is locked with no way of entry or exit, and the bigger part of the mystery is how anybody could get into the room. I should probably have recommended The Snorkel which aired over the weekend; although that's more of a thriller in that the viewer knows who did it and how it was done, the characters don't know.

The other interesting thing about the Nick Carter movies is Nick's sidekick Bartholomew, played by bald character actor Donald Meek. Meek is one of those people who, once you put a face to the name, you can't miss him. Meek is practically a whack-job here, using bees in unexpected ways. I don't know how anybody came up with this idea, but it certainly lightens up the proceedings. And since this one is from MGM, you know it's going to have good production values. Sky Murder is nothing special, but it's more than capable enough entertainment.

The Warner Archive really ought to make a box set of the Nick Carter movies.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sherlock Jr.

I've briefly mentioned the movie Sherlock Jr. in a number of blog posts about the work of Buster Keaton. It's airing on TCM overnight tonight at 1:30 AM as the second film in tnoight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup, so now is a good time for a fuller-length post about the movie.

Buster Keaton stars as the main character, a film projectionist who would really rather be a detective. He's in love with The Girl (Kathryn McGuire), but he's not the only one in love with her, and as a lowly projectionist, there's no way he can compete financially with the wealthier guy (Ward Crane) who wants her affections. Unfortunately, Buster's character is inept at everything: films, love, and detective work. Crane frames Keaton over the theft of McGuire's father's watch, and the chase is on. Keaton eventually winds up on a train, getting off by holding on to the waterspout along the side of the tracks that provided water to trains back in those days. (Unfortunately, in real life, Keaton fractured a vertebra in his neck doing this stunt.)

If Keaton can't be successful in real life, at least he can be successful in his dreams. Back at the movie theater, Keaton sets up the next film to be shown to the audience, and falls asleep while its running. (This ought to be a problem, since projection reels only ran about 20 minutes before they had to be changed.) In his dream, Keaton enters the movie that's being shown, and here he's finally able to be Sherlock, Jr., elegant and solving mysteries while he's at it, avoiding danger along the way.

Sherlock Jr. is a relatively short film, running about 45 minutes. But as with a lot of Keaton's work, it's filled with inventive sight gags and stunts that Keaton himself did, as with the ones on the train I mentioned earlier. TCM ran it a few summers back as part of its Essentials Jr. summer series, and I think they were quite right to do so. Not only is it an excellent film; it's the sort of film that can appeal to younger people with the sight gags, and doesn't run too long. I'd think it's a great way to introduce kids to silent film.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Gorgeous Hussy

A search of the blog suggests that I have never mentioned the movie The Gorgeous Hussy before. It's showing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM, so now's a good time to mention it.

Based on a true story, Joan Crawford plays what is supposed to be the title role; presumably, "hussy" meant something different back in the 1820s. Here, she's Peggy O'Neal, the daughter of an innkeeper in the Washington DC area (played by Gene Lockhart). She marries Navy Lieutenant Bow Timberlake (Robert Taylor), but he gets sent to sea. (Not that this should be a surprise; after all, that's the point of the Navy.) While at sea, he dies, leaving Peggy a widow. That's bad for her, but not so bad for Senator John Eaton from Tennessee (played by Franchot Tone). In real life, he may or may not have had a thing for Peggy while she was married to Lt. Timberlake. But now, with her being a widow, there's no such problem. Instead, the only problem is with Virginia Senator Randolph (Melvyn Douglas), who is also somewhat interested in Peggy. Peggy prefers Eaton because he doesn't go on as much about "states' rights" as Randolph does, and winds up marrying Eaton.

For whatever reason, this is a problem for a lot of people. Andrew Jackson (played by Lionel Barrymore, who I think is really miscast here) is the new President, and selects Seantor Eaton to be his Secretary of War. Several of the other Cabinet Wives don't like this, and give Peggy the silent treatment. Jackson has sympathy for Peggy, who in her defense really hasn't done anything wrong, or at least nothing to deserve the treatment she's getting from the other wives. The thing is, he too had a wife who caused scandal just by being his wife. (This is covered in the movie The President's Lady, although I don't believe that's available on DVD.) Rachel Jackson (played by Beulah Bondi) died in between the election fo 1828 and Jackson's inauguration, so it's understandable why Jackson would have the feelings he does. Eventually, Jackson was forced to shuffle his cabinet and send Eaton to Spain as ambassador, at least according to the movie. (In real life, Eaton was only named ambassador five years after the cabinet reshuffle.)

Historical dramas in the studio era can be problematic if they're based on real events. The studios really glossed over things while taking obvious sides. Also, a lot of the actresses were much too glamorous to look like people from the olden days. (Pioneer women in particular aged badly, due to all that hard work.) Bondi is the only one who fits; Rachel Robards Jackson was 61 when she died while Bondi's craggy face made her look old enough to play mothers to a lot of actors who weren't that much different to her age in real life. (Bondi would have been about 45 when she made this.) Crawford looks like she belongs in the 19th century about as much as Bette Davis does in Jezebel. So you have to overlook some things when watching these movies based on real history. In that regard, I don't think The Gorgeous Hussy is bad at all.

The Gorgeous Hussy has gotten a release on the Warner Archive.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Maltese Falcon

I've talked about Hollywood's lack of originality before on several occasions. One of the things I've specifically mentioned is how Humphrey Bogart's version of The Maltese Falcon isn't the first movie version. In fact, there was a version made in 1931 starring Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade. You can catch the 1931 version tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM. I have to admit, however, that it's one of those films where I don't really remember all the differences between the original and the more well-known remake.

Another example of this is What Price Hollywood?, which is considered by many to be the original version of A Star Is Born; I've mentioned this factoid quite a few times. But I'm mentioning it again today because the star of What Price Hollywood? just happens to be TCM's Star of the Month for November, Constance Bennett. So it's coming up in a week's time.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Norman Lloyd turns 98!

Today is the 98th birthday of actor Norman Lloyd, whom you may remember for playing Frank Fay, the bad guy in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. The photo above is of Lloyd, taking the ferry out to Liberty Island (you can see the statue in the background), leading up to the climax atop the Statue of Liberty. Interestingly, the blog where I found the photo above, had problems with Saboteur that are exactly the reason I like the movie.

Another good photo of Lloyd hanging from the prop Liberty can be seen at the sit of the LA Stage Times, who interviewed Lloyd back in 2010 as part of a promotion for a one-night show Lloyd did back then. The interview also discusses Spellbound, as well as a lot of Lloyd's other work.

Lloyd was also married for 75 years, until the death of his wife back in August 2011.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sign of the times

So I was watching the Constance Bennett movies last night, and I noticed after the end of the first one, Lady With a Past, and just before Robert Osborne's outro, TCM ran a screen that said something like, "Gift giving is classic. Visit" Now, in the past TCM has run a screen pointing out when a DVD of the just-finished movie is available for purchase from the Warner Archive, but this was a different screen. (Besides, Lady With a Past doesn't seem to be on DVD.) This one had what looked like a snowflake background, which implies along with the message that it's designed for the Christmas gift-giving season.

To think that yesterday was exactly seven weeks before Christmas! Granted, when you're buying stuff mail order, it does take some time for the things to arrive. And it's probably not a bad idea to get as much of one's Christmas shopping out of the way early. (Either that, or do what my sister did last year and buy a bunch of gift cards just before boarding the airplane to come home for the holidays. I can't blame her, what with the TSA's regulations.) Still, I'm one of those people who's not ready for Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving. If Christmas advertising is here, I presume the annual parade of the dead can't be far behind.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 2012 Star of the Month: Constance Bennett

If you don't want to watch a bunch of Election Day coverage (and really, who would want to watch that stuff?), you're in luck. TCM is spending Tuesday nights in November looking at the films of Constance Bennett. Bennett actually started her career in the silent era, although TCM's salute is, I believe, all talkies. The first night of salute includes her early talkies, which means a bunch of fun pre-Code movies, such as The Easiest Way, which you can catch at 11:00 PM.

Bennett plays Laura, a young woman from a lower class family who's a working girl, working as a shop girl in one of those big New York department stores. Being unmarried, she still lives with her family, which includes her parents (Clara Blandick and J. Farrell MacDonald) and her sister Peg (Anita Page). Dad's an alcoholic and depends on the daughters' income to survive, while Peg has a boyfriend in Nick (Clark Gable before he became a star), who works for a laundry and has big dreams of opening his own chain of laundries. Mom and Dad like that idea, but Laura wants love.

Laura's about to have a change of luck, however, when she's discovered by some guys who work for a modeling agency. They give her their business card, and when she models clothes for the big boss Brockton (Adolphe Menjou), she finds that she's good at modeling, and can make good money doing it as well, which could really help out the family. The problem for Laura, though, is that some of the family -- notably Mom and Nick, who by now is Laura's brother-in-law -- think modeling is unrespectable. Well, it's not just that; Laura has also more or less become Brockton's mistress.

Brockton takes Laura on a business trip west, and while leaving Laura with friends in Colorado, Laura meets journalist Jack (Robert Montgomery), and falls in love with him. Indeed, she's even willing to give up the good money she's been making modeling and being Brockton's woman in order to marry Jack. The only thing is, Jack gets called away to an assignment covering a revolution in the Argentine, and Brockton dumps her, leaving her in debt. What's a woman to do? Well, when she eventually stops hearing from Jack, she resigns herself to a life as a kept woman, and returns to Brockton. But you know Jack is going to return for the final reel....

The Easiest Way is an interesting little pre-Code movie, with a surprising number of stars. Bennett is good as a model and nice to look at. Montgomery seems at first a bit miscast as a reporter only because we're probably all well acquainted with all the elegant gentlemanly roles he played. But Montgomery does a good enough job with his role. Menjou, with that moustache, looks like he's perfectly cast to play the creep, and he's quite good here too. Gable doesn't have much to do, but you can already see the qualities that were soon to make him a star.

The Easiest Way should be enjoyable for those who like pre-Codes, and has gotten a release as part of the Warner Archive.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Temple Drake

TCM's programming theme for the month is movies made from novels. Every Monday and Wednesday starting at 8:00 PM and continuing for 24 hours they're going to be airing such adaptations, of which there are a lot. One of the more interesting movies airing on this first night of the salute is The Story of Temple Drake, overnight at 12:45 AM. (It's based on the novel Sancuary by William Faulkner.)

Miriam Hopkins stars as Temple Drake, the granddaughter of Judge Drake (Sir Guy Standing) a respectable judge in one of those small southern towns that populate William Faulkner's oeuvre. While the judge is respectable, Temple isn't so much. She likes to live a wild life, carousing at night and flirting and teasing all of the young men in town. Indeed, Judge Drake would like his granddaughter to marry the nice lawyer Stephen (William Gargan). Stephen proposes to her at a town dance, but Temple would rather go off with the party crowd, running off with Toddy (William Collier Jr.), who gets in an accident and winds up at one of those dilapidated plantation houses that also populated William Faulkner's oeuvre. The only thing is, this one is being used as a place for people to get illicit liquor, the novel having ben published in 1931 and the movie released in 1933, before the end of Prohibition. Gangster Trigger (Jack La Rue) makes a play for Temple; Toddy gets knocked out in a fight trying to defend her; and the mistress of the house suggests Temple take refuge in the barn, guarded by a mentally challenged young man. So far so good, until Trigger and his gang return after having gone on a liquor run. Trigger learns Temple is out in the barn, and shoots Tommy and rapes Temple! He also convinces Temple that the only thing to do is become his moll, and he sets her up at a safe house in town.

Fast forward to the murder trial. Well, not quite that far forward. An arrest has been made in the murder of the young man who had been protecting Temple (who, it's told, has gone north even though we viewers know this isn't true), and of course, it's not Trigger, but the guy who owned the plantation house. And he's not telling the truth because if he did, he'd get killed by Trigger's henchmen. The mistress of the house, however, has no such more dilemma. Not only is she willing to finger Trigger, she's willing to give away the secret of what Trigger is doing with Temple. This is a problem because her husband the defendant is being defended by... Stephen, who had wanted to marry Temple back at the beginning of the movie. You can imagine what happens when Stephen visits the address given by the defendant's wife and finds Temple there as a kept woman.

The Story of Temple Drake is a movie that still carries a good shock value 80 years on. One can only imagine what it was like when it was originally released. The one thing we do know, though, is that there were powerful interests who didn't like it, led by the Joe Breens of the world, with the result being that The Story of Temple Drake was more or less out of circulation for a long time. Obviously, once the Production Code restrictions came into force in July 1934, there was no way this movie could get a re-release. TCM got the movie restored in time for first TCM Film Festival a few years back, and then it finally got a TV premiere on TCM. Hopkins is excellent, the other actors are good, and the material, as I said, is shocking, not only 80 years on but also in spite of the fact that some of the stuff had to be hinted at rather than shown directly (needless to say, you had to be circumspect in how you depicted a rape). The historical significance of the movie would by itself make the movie worth watching, but it's actually a pretty good movie. Unsurprisingly, though, it's not avaialble on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Han Suyin, 1917-2012

The death has been announced of Chinese-born British writer Han Suyin, who died on Friday at the age of 95. You might not recognize the name at first, although you'll recognize one of her most famous books. Born to a Chinese father and Belgian mother, she wrote about her experiences as a woman of mixed race in the book A Many-Splendoured Thing. The book was wildly popular, and a title you probably will recognize. Since the book was so popular, it's no surprise Hollywood wanted to make a movie version out of it, which became Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing just happened to be on the schedule for this coming Sunday, November 11, at 8:00 PM.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Daylight Savings Time warnings

Tonight is when most of us in the US turn our clocks back one hour. What it means for television programmers is that their broadcast day today actually has 25 hours instead of the normal 24. It always seems to cause problems, which is in some ways unsurprising when you consider that there's going to be some difficulty getting your recording device to understand which of the 2:30 AMs you mean. (Actually, this is where UTC would be good, although getting the general public to adjust everything by several hours is probably beyond impossible.)

The printable schedule TCM had for November, which was put out well before the programmers decided which shorts they would stick in where, only had 24 hours for today. So, it seemed fairly obvious that TCM was going to have to add some shorts ot the schedule, or else rerun the old piece on letterboxing, which would give us all the heebie-jeebies. The problem is, there still seem to be a few issues with TCM's online schedule for today.

They're showing The Cowboy and the Lady overnight at 1:15 AM, which is before the official time change so it's not a problem. That movie runs 91 minutes, which means it should end at the first 2:45 AM, or actually a few minutes later since Robert Osborne has an intro and an outro to do. The next feature, The Dark Angel, was schedule to begin at 3:00 AM. Since 3:00 AM is when the clocks go back (well, technically I think 2:59:59 is followed by the second 2:00:00), this ought to mean there's over an hour between the end of The Cowboy and the Lady and the start of The Dark Angel. Thankfully, this is where TCM has scheduled a short to make up the time. Specifically, it's the 1944 version of Some of the Best, which is listed on TCM's online schedule as beginning at 2:51 AM, which presumably is just after the outro for The Cowboy and the Lady. The thing is, it only runs 49 minutes, which means there's still a gap of roughly 20 minutes.

The Dark Angel is 106 minutes and is followed by a one-reeler, which together fit well into the two-hour time slot before the final movie of the night, The Lion Has Wings at 5:00 AM.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The first noir?

TCM is showing the movie which is often referred to as the first noir: Stranger on the Third Floor, tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. Whether or not it's really the first noir is beside the point, although I'll comment on that a bit at the end of this post. The movie is extremely well worth watching in its own right.

John McGuire plays Mike, a journalist working in the big city, in love with his girl Jane (Margaret Tallichet). He's also a witness in a murder trial: apparently he saw the defendant Joe (Elisha Cook, Jr.) threaten the victim, and the victim wound up quite dead, having had his throat slit. John testifies, and his testimony gets Joe convicted and sent to the electric chair. So far, so good, right? Of course not! Jane isn't so sure of Joe's guilt, and that's the least of Mike's problems.

Mike's got a neighbor Meng (Charles Halton) who seems to have something against Mike, getting the landlord to have Jane sent home when she spends too long in Mike's apartment. (If you'll recall the old days of rooming houses, many of them were single-sex and especially the ones for women discoaraged having single guests of the opposite sex and closing the doors.) Mike rather stupidly threatens Meng, in much the same way that Joe threatened his murder victim. The next morning, Meng is found dead, and obviously, Mike is accused of being the murderer.

Mike, for his part, claims to have been asleep when the murder would have occurred (and boy did he have the nightmare to prove it; at least, we viewers get to see the nightmare). Not only that, but he claims to have seen a shadowy strnager in the building who, unsurprisingly, has disappeared. You'd think the police would be able to find blood in Mike's room after a murder as vicious as slitting somebody's throat, especially since he didn't have the facilities to clean his hands and blood the way, say, OJ Simpson did. But the police weren't so good 70 years ago. It's up to Jane to find out whether or not there really was a stranger there.

The Stranger on the Third Floor is a great little film. As you can probably guess from the list of actors I've mentioned above, this was decidedly a B movie. In fact, the one really recognizable name is Peter Lorre, playing the stranger, who doesn't show up until toward the end of the movie and doesn't speak much, although what he does say and do he does quite well. Supposedly he had a brief period left on his contract at RKO and the studio came up with this "small" role to finish out the contract. Lorre makes a lot out of it. Being a B movie, the writer and director were forced to come up with lighting and camera techniques to add to what is a fine story, even if one of mistaken identity that had probably been done before. It is that lighting (stuff that you could imagine Val Lewton doing a few years later at RKO), combined with the plot turning on Mike, that makes The Stranger on the Third Floor fit somewhat into the noir genre. It doesn't really have the femme fatale or later movies that are unambiguously noir, but many of the elements or noir are unmistakably there. So a proto-noir, definitely. Was it the first? Well, I don't think so; noir came about from the French, who in the late 1930s made movies like Le jour se lève (which I've briefly mentioned a couple of times, but never done a full-length post on). Still, I think The Stranger on the Third Floor is a reasonably important movie in American cinematic history, and a pretty darn good one, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In case you missed some of the animation on TCM

Since I need to put up some placeholder posts in case the power goes out due to Hurricane Sally, I decided to look through the early animation that TCM showed just after the midnight between Sunday October 21 and Monday October 22. (I looked for those because they're in the public domain; I think stuff before 1923 is out of copyright.) A couple of them showed up on Youtube, although the copies aren't the greatest.

Artist's Dream

Bobby Bumps Starts for School

Shorts are back

I was looking at the TCM online schedule this morning to see if there was anything worth blogging about even though I still think I've got one pre-written post from before the hurricane set to show up. What I noticed is that the shorts are now being listed on the schedule again. I'm fairly certain that just started today, since I don't remember any shorts being listed yesterday.

Probably the most interesting of today's shorts would be overnight, just after The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (which begins at 3:30 AM; the short is around 5:15 AM). That short is HMS Bounty Sails Again! which was made for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. As I mentioned yesterday, the ship sank while trying to go around Hurricane Sandy. I'm not certain whether this was added at the last minute as a tribute, or whether it's serendipitous scheduling. Probably the former, although I can't help but think of something like All Eyes on Sharon Tate when I see them coming up with a tribute like this.