Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Young Stranger

The other day, TCM showed The Young Stranger, a movie which is certainly worth blogging about. Fortunately, it's gotten a release to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, so if you didn't see it when TCM last ran it, you can get your hands on a copy for a price.

James MacArthur, who would go on to play Dano on the Jack Lord version of Hawaii Five-O, stars in one of his first movie roles as Hat Ditmar, a teenage kid in Beverly Hills with an attitude problem. It doesn't help that his father Thomas (James Daly) is a big-shot movie producer who spends much more time with his clients than he does with his son, and his mother Helen (Kim Hunter) comes across as an aloof type. While Hal's parents are having an outdoor party at their home, Hal goes to visit his best friend Jerry (Jeffrey Silver). The two go to see a movie, but it's so boring that Hal basically starts being the sort of irritant you'd see in the Pete Smith Movie Pests short. It's the sort of behavior that's going to get Hal thrown out of the theater, and deservedly so. And to be honest, Hal is willing to leave the theater. But the manager (Whit Bissell) wants to talk to the two young ruffians in his office, and is willing to detain them to do so. When Hal rightfully doesn't want to be detained, he punches the manager, getting arrested for his trouble.

At this point, Hal's troubles multiply. He claims self-defense, and has a fair case, since after all he was prevented from leaving the theater. But the police won't believe him, and even worse, his father won't believe him either. (The movie has a gaping plot hole in that there were several witnesses to Hal's being prevented from leaving the theater. Presumably they would have pointed out that Hal was trying to leave the theater but was forcibly brought back in by one of the ushers.) And Daddy is worried more about how it's going to make him look, not any affect the whole incident has had on Hal. To that point, Mr. Ditmar is willing to use his influence in Hollywood to pressure the theater manager to drop the charges, something which only enrages Hal, since he still can't get anybody to believe him. What's a teenager got to do to get people to listen to him?

When I looked up this movie on IMDb, I was surprised to see it get much more glowing reviews than I'd be willing to get it. To me, the movie falls flat, something that I think is down largely to the writing. MacArthur does well enough portraying the kid nobody understands, although he comes across as a bit too unsympathetic to the viewer. I mean, he acts like an utter jerk in the movie theater. But his character also seems like a caricature of all the wanna-be relevant "why won't the adults listen to us troubled teens?" movies of the mid-to-late 1950s. This was made at RKO, and around the same time they produced a short called Teenagers on Trial that I've mentioned before. Both are earnest, perhaps too much so. At points, I was practically laughing at how hard The Young Stranger was making its point. That's not a good thing, since this wasn't supposed to be a comedy. Daly's father character is especially little more than an archetype. Kim Hunter also doesn't seem to know how sympathetic towards her son the character is supposed to be; these are flaws that are all down to the writing, I think. There are also the plot holes; in addition to the one I mentioned above, it seems as though somehow everybody in school learned about what happened to Hal the previous night. Gossip may travel fast, but how would this have become news for the other students to hear? Clearly the parents are too mortified to mention it, and Jerry wouldn't have done so either, since he had to spend half the night at the police station too.

One other thing to note is that this is one of hte very first movies directed by John Frankenheimer. In fact, while watching I was reminded of the piece Frankenheimer narrated on Burt Lancaster. Frankenheimer mentions doing The Young Savages with Burt Lancaster, and comments about how Lancaster found some of his choices in camera angles interesting. There are a couple of camera angles in The Young Stranger that definitely reminded me of that piece.

31 Days of Oscar begins tomorrow

Tomorrow being February 1, it's time for another edition of TCM's 31 Days of Oscar, with the regular features like Silent Sunday Nights and TCM Imports going on hiatus for the next several weeks. This year, TCM is grouping the movies by studio, with the first studio up being Warner Bros. The movies from WB are roughly in chronological order, starting with The Jazz Singer at 6:00 AM and continuing for four or five days, through to those movies that had the WB/Seven Arts logo.

The other thing with 31 Days of Oscar is that I've already blogged about a lot of the movies that show up. A case in point is 42nd Street, which will be airing tomorrow at noon. Not only did I do a post about it back in 2008, but in writing up this post I was thinking of some things I wouldn't have minded saying about Ruby Keeler's dancing. It turns out that I already mentioned that back in September 2011.

TCM's schedule lists two of tomorrow's movies as not being in print on DVD: Disraeli at 7:30 AM, and The Story of Louis Pasteur at 3:15 PM.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cinerama restoration

A few days back, I got an email from one David Strohmaier, including a couple of Youtubue links to trailers for Cinerama restorations. David is the man behind the 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure, which aired on TCM last October, and which he wrote an directed. Cinerama the company is apparently going through the process of restoring some of its old features, with Strohmaier a part of the project.

The above, as if you couldn't tell, is the trailer from the restored South Seas Adventure. I must say that the smileboxing doesn't look nearly as severe as it did on my TV screen when I watched Cinerama Adventure last October. Back then, I mentioned that I had seen some of the smileboxing in the Merian C. Cooper documentary that TCM ran several years earlier. (Strohmaier is, in fact, acknowledged in the credits for providing the smileboxing.) These Youtube trailers are much less problematic. That, and the seams where the prints from the three cameras meet up aren't quite as obvious either. To be fair to Strohmaier, though, ten years ago he wasn't working with a restoration print. I should also point out, since I don't think I did after watching Cinerama Adventuar last October, that it's a worthy documentary, and the portions about what the Cinerama creators were doing during World War II, years before the process was called Cinerama, was quite interesting.

I doubt if we're ever going to get home theaters with a ~150 degree radius of curvature and a multiple source setup so that we can all watch Cinerama at home the way it was meant to be seen in the theater, though.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It's my anniversary again

It's hard to believe, but I've been blogging now for five years. A few days ago, somebody rather rudely commented to one of my posts about how I get very few comments, so why blog? Well, why not blog? Blogging is more meaningful than something like Twitter, in that you're not constrained to 140 characters in which to make your statement. Indeed, if you wanted to write a ten-page post on a subject, you could. And how many people read the average Twitter message anyway?

I think it's also a good thing to get in the habit of writing every day, if you're going to try your hand at writing on a topic. That's why I try to put up a post every day, even if some of them are relatively meaningless in the sense that they're going to become out-of-date right away, like mentioning all the Guest Programmers. I find it keeps the old (well, not that old) noodle active as well, which isn't such a bad thing. There are a lot of blogs out there where people made a few interesting posts, and then never kept it up.

Third is that that it's nice to have an easily accessible archive of things that I've wanted to say about a bunch of movies, especially the lesser-known movies. If I want to make a reference in a blog comment or Internet forum someplace else about something like Forever Amber, I suppose I could just send people to the IMDb page. But that's impersonal, and doesn't particularly link to my own thoughts. I also find that sites like IMDb are generally a lot more bloated than most individual blogs.

Finally, why not blog? It's my own damn life, and if I want to make this my hobby, who's to boss me around and say no? There are a lot more harmful things out there one could do than just say nasty things about a movie where the lead actress has been dead for close to 40 years. It's not as if the professional critics are all sweetness and life, either; just look at any movie that allows them to make a political point. I make no claims about being a great writer, but I'm sure there are quite a few people out there who have interesting things to say about movies, but never got to be in the right place at the right time to get a professional gig writing about them. It's never ceased to amaze me that the man who wrote the screenplay to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, for example, went on to become one of this country's most popular movie critics.

Monday, January 28, 2013

As seen on TCM

I know there are people out there who complain about the number of repeats on TCM. Sure, movies get more than one airing, and sometimes, because TCM only has the rights to a movie for a limited amount of time, the movie airs enough times in that short window to make it look as though TCM is running a movie into the ground. I'll have to look through my monthly schedules to see how long TCM had the broadcast rights to All About Eve, for example: it was in The Essentials one season, and seemed to get a good half dozen airings in all, including outside The Essentials. But I don't think it's shown up since. TCM also sometimes mis-schedules movies in that a film will show up at the end of one month and the beginning of the next, an oversight which I'd bet happens by programming movies on a month-to-month basis. It must be easy to firget about what you've done in previous months.

That having been said, I think I finally saw something that's been rerun to the point of making me almost yell at the TV asking TCM to stop. It's Marlo Thomas' remembrances of Star of the Month Loretta Young. Thankfully, it's only in heavy rotation for this month, while Loretta is still Star of the Month, and will then only show up occasionally when TCM wants to promo a movie starring Young. Think of Kurt Russell's piece on Elvis -- yeah, we know how Elvis wants to wear his hat in a western. That, or the Michael Caine piece on Cary Grant. You never do see a star in Hollywood, but you sure see them all the time on TCM. Anyhow, getting back to Loretta, I wasn't really planning on watching any of the movies in yesterday's lineup until the Hitchcock movies in prime time. I turned the TV on about 9:50 to watch the replay of the Australian Open tennis, and there was the piece on Loretta Young, filling out a two-hour time slot held by The Crimson Pirate. Later in the day, about 15 minutes before King's Solomon's Mines, I turned the TV back on to catch a sports score, and saw that TCM was running the end of the Loretta Young tribute again. And then when I turned on TCM to watch the Alfred Hitchcock films, there was Marlo Thomas a third time just before the first Hitchcock movie.

Speaking of King Solomon's Mines, TCM had enough time following the preceding movie to run not only the piece on Loretta Young, but what must have been a barter deal between MGM and Dodge/Chrysler (was Dodge a part of Chrysler back in 1950?). Apparently, MGM used Dodge trucks to get the cast and crew into the remote parts of Africa where they filmed King Solomon's Mines and darn it if they weren't going to let us know. I hope TCM got paid well for running this extended infomercial for Dodge. At least the piece had nice Technicolor. And, as a plus, it's available on Youtube:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock is back

Well, Alfred Hithcock's movies never really went away from TCM, as there are a few to which they can get the rights to fairly easily. But it seems as though it's been quite some time since a lot of the movies have aired. It looks like TCM has regained the cable rights to some of them, at least, as they're running a night of his work in his native UK before he came over to the US to make Rebecca tonight. Unsurprisingly, I've recommended all three of TCM's selections before. But all three are worth another viewing.

The 39 Steps kicks the night off at 8:00 PM;
The Lady Vanishes follows at 9:30 PM.
Finally, at 11:15 PM, is Sabotage.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The latest set of briefs

TCM is showing Secret Service of the Air at 10:45 AM this morning. It's the last of the four Brass Bancroft movies. Presumably, another series will be starting up on Saturday, March 9, after the end of 31 Days of Oscar, but I haven't looked up the March schedule to see what TCM is going to be putting in that time slot.

Following Secret Service of the Air is Torchy Blane in Panama at noon. This is the first of a couple of Torchy movies that don't have Glenda Farrell playing Torchy. Farrell would return for Torchy Runs For Mayor, which I'm pretty certain will be running toward the end of March, as the Torchy Blane series will be continuing after 31 Days of Oscar.

In the wee hours of tomorrow morning, at 4:45 AM, TCM is showing Miss Robin Crusoe. You can probably guess the story, at least a bit. It's a retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story, only with a woman (Amanda Blake) as the castaway; complete with a female Friday and, eventually, a man to come between the two of them. I think this one first showed up on TCM when they were supposed to run Luis Buñuel's version of the Robinson Crusoe story starring Dan O'Herlihy. Some mix-up. Is there a good print of the Buñuel version available for TCM to run?

Finally, I came across a radio documentary on Herbert Selpin, the man who directed the Nazi version of Titanic, at least until his arrest and death under mysterious circumstances. However, as you can tell if you clicked on the link, it's in German, which means that most of the readers here won't be able to follow it. (I haven't tried running it through Google Translate to see how bad the translation is.) My German is good enough that I don't have much problem with the introduction page that I've linked to, but when it comes to actually listening to such documentaries, I'm usually doing other stuff on the computer, which means that I end up not paying quite enough attention to the radio program to understand it as well as I should. To be fair, though, that's also a bit of an issue with stuff in English. But for those who have a good enough command of German to listen, you can download the program here. It's 47MB and 51 minutes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mildred Dunnock, 1901-1991

Mildred Dunnock about to go downstairs in Kiss of Death

Today marks the birth anniversary of Mildred Dunnock, who was born on this day in 1901. (As if you couldn't tell from the title of the blog post.) Dunnock started her Hollywood career a bit later in life, although that's because she spent time on the Broadway stage before doing movies, her first film being a reprise of her stage role in The Corn Is Green. Interestingly enough, according to the Internet Broadway Database, her first stage role was in the stage version of Life Begins, which also had Glenda Farrell playing what I think is the same role she would go on to play in the movie version. The stage version ran all of a week, and Dunnock's stage career didn't really pick up until The Corn Is Green premiered, which rather more successfully ran for a year and a half.

Dunnock's role in Kiss of Death, which is pictured above, may be famous, but it's also quite brief. Dunnock had more substantial roles in Death of a Salesman playing Willy Loman's wife, or The Trouble With Harry, in which she played an old spinster who winds up falling in love with Edmund Gwenn. To be honest, most if not all of her roles are supporting, but Dunnock was one of those supporting actresses who's always worth watching: the high school teacher in Peyton Place, or one of the murdered maids in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, or Liz Taylor's mother in Butterfield 8.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My but it's been a long time

I first mentioned when I blogged about Brighton Rock that is was one of those movies that I really liked, but it was hard to do a blog post about, since it had been some time since I saw it and didn't remember it all that well. An even more extreme example of this would be The Corpse came COD, which is airing tomorrow morning at 11:30 AM on TCM.

Adele Jergens plays movie star Mona Harrison, who at the start of the movie gets a crate from her studio that she's expcting to be filled with fabric samples. But no! It's filled with -- a corpse! (To be fair, with a title like The Corpse Came COD, the viewer should expect this.) So Mona calls her old friend, investigative journalist Joe Medford (George Brent) to investigate and find the murderer. Also getting involved in the murder investigation is lady journalist Rosemary (played by Joan Blondell). You can figure out what happens next, which is that Joe and Rosemary are going to fall for each other, although they're also going to be at blows constantly over the attempt to solve the murder mystery.

The Corpse Came COD is decidedly B stuff, and since it was made at Columbia, it's not something that will make its way to the Warner Archive. In fact, it's something that won't show up on TCM very often. (That's also the reason why I don't remember it perhaps as well as I should.) I couldn't remember the last time I saw it, so I did a search on my computer through all the monthly TCM schedules I've downloaded since I got the computer, which was in the beginning of July, 2007. Tomorrow's showing is the only match, which means that it hasn't been on TCM in over five and a half years.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Catered Affair

I'm somewhat surprised to see that I haven't blogged about The Catered Affair before. It's showing up tomorrow morning at 9:45 AM as part of a salute to Ernest Borgnine, who would have turned 96 tomorrow.

Borgnine plays Tom Hurley, a working-class father of a family living in a cramped apartment in New York City. Tom is a taxi driver, and has been saving up money to get his own cab and license to run it -- something that takes a lot of money due to the limited number of cab licenses. (Don't get me started on the economics of taxi medallions.) It's taken a long time because being a cabby in a one-income family isn't exactly the road to wealth, and they've got a bachelor uncle Jack (Barry Fitzgerald) living with him, his wife Agnes (Bette Davis), and their daaughter Jane (Debbie Reynolds).

Jane's about to throw a monkey wrench into all of this, however. She approaches her parents one day and tells them that she's gotten engaged to her boyfriend Ralph (Rod Taylor). Ralph is a teacher and decidedly of a higher social class than Jane, and especially her parents. Now, this is no big deal for Jane. She's perfectly comfortable having a small wedding with a few friends, not wanting to cause problems for anybody and wanting to get on with life. Any sane groom-to-be ought to be happy with such an arrangement, too: if you can get a low-mainenance bride, take her! (OK, I apologize for the insults to any married women her who think I'm describing them as high-maintenance brides. But having seen both of my sisters get married, and having had to bury grandparents and multiple uncles and aunts, I've seen how stressful things can get when you've got a family member who wants things to be just right.)

The problem, it turns out, isn't so much Jane; it's mother Agnes. She's disappointed that she hasn't been able to provide as much in life for Jane as a mother thinks a daughter should be provided for, and dammit, she's determined to see that the last thing she does for Jane is a big thing. As Agnes keeps wanting to do more and more for Jane, Jane gets horrified. But even more than her, it's Tom who's aghast. He's the one who's going to have to pay for the wedding party, and there's only one source of money: the savings that Tom has been planning to use to get his own cab and medallion.

There's not much more to all of the plot than this, and yet The Catered Affair is a wonderful little movie. Borgnine is an underrated actor, I think. Sure, he won the Oscar for Marty, and yet in a lot of his roles he doesn't get the attention a lead actor should deserve. Indeed, The Catered Affair is much more Bette Davis' movie than it is anybody else's. And yet, Borgnine's father character here is eminently believable. The same holds true for Davis, who I think is clearly playing a woman who wants something she couldn't have when she got married. People like to mock the later careers of actresses who were big in the 1930s and had to suffer the ignominies of aging concurrent with the breakdown of the studio system in the 1950s, and point to Bette Davis' work in the 1950s and beyond as a good example of this. Whatever you can say about Davis in a movie like Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, however, doesn't apply to The Catered Affair. Debbie Reynolds was good in those musicals she did, but in The Catered Affair, she's a surprise, as she more than capably plays the sincere daughter who doesn't want to burden her father, and can't get this point through her mother's thick skull. And even Barry Fitzgerald isn't quite as irritating as he normally is when he's playing the Lovable Irish Stereotype character.

The Catered Affair was based on a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, who also did Marty and Network, among others. The screenplay, however, was reworked for the movie version by Gore Vidal. I obviously don't quite know what working-class New York City was really like in the mid-1950s, but the depiction here certainly seems realistic. The Catered Affair is also available on DVD.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tonight's caper movies

I've mentioned Topkapi a number of times in the past. It's airing again tonight at 10:15 PM as part of TCM's look at heist and caper movies. What I don't think I've mentioned any of those times is that it's only available on an out-of-print DVD, at least, here in the States. Looking at the IMDb information, Topkapi is one of those movies that was distributed by United Artists, so you never really know who's likely to have the rights nowadays. The DVD was by MGM Home Entertainment, and if memory serves they got the rights to a lot of UA stuff after divesting the classic MGM library to Ted Turner. Topkapi isn't quite my favorite, but I do think it's one of those movies that ought to be in print on DVD.

The other one of tonight's movies that's not available on DVD is Cairo, airing overnight at 2:15 AM. The one thing interesting about Cairo is that it's a remake more or less of The Asphalt Jungle, except with the action moved to Egypt and the thieves trying to rob the Egyptian Museum. I'm not of the school that thinks that movies should never be remade, especially as I think there are some good 1930s stories that could use a remake with today's superior audio technology. But just because you can do a remake doesn't automatically mean that you're going to come up with a better movie than the original, and Cairo is proof positive of that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Winner, 1935-2013

The death was announced to day of British director Michael Winner, who died at the age of 77. His is another of those names I hadn't heard of, but probably should have. Winner started his career in the UK making several movies I've never heard of; the descriptions sound like the sort of low-budget comedy that would play well for a domestic audience, but the comedy wouldn't translate so well across the Atlantic.

Winner came to America in the early 1970s, which is where he made the movie for which he'll probably be best known: Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, which was popular with the American public, although there are a lot of people (including the critics) who hate it because God forbid a movie should challenge their political world view. (Seriously, one post I came across today referred to the movie as a "right-winger's wet dream". One wonders why the writer didn't like the film.) One other movie of Winner's that I would mention, having blogged about it before, is The Games.

According to the BBC's obituary, Winner had an interesting life outside of film, too, as a restaurant critic and leading a campaign for a memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty.


TCM is running a day of films tomorrow about uxoricide, real and suspected. One entertaining film that I haven't recommended before is The Two Mrs. Carrolls, which comes on at 9:00 AM tomorrow.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Geoffrey Carroll, an artist living in London, who's doing some painting up in Scotland, which is where he meets Sally Morton (Barbara Stanwyck) and falls for her. The only thing is, he's got a sickly wife back in London, a fact he fails to tell Sally about. Oh, and a daughter, too. When she finds out about that, there goes the relationship. So Mr. Carroll paints a portrait of Mrs. Carroll called "The Angel of Death", and during the same time, she dies! Woo-hoo; Mr. Carroll is free to marry Miss Morton.

Fast forward a couple of years. Carroll and Morton did obviously make up, because they got married and moved into Sally's lovely country house outside London. It's time for Sally to let out a secret that Geoffrey didn't know about. While Geoffrey had had a first wife, Sally had had a former fiancé. It all seems like a plot device contrived by the screenwriters to increase the tension between our two main characters. Add to that that Geoffrey takes on the job of painting the portrait of the wealthy socialite Cecily (Alexis Smith) for the money.

At which point we learn why he needs that money. It seems that the first Mrs. Carroll may not have been so sickly after all. She was in fact poisoned, and by her husband no less! Howevewr, they pharmacist who sold him the poison has decided to start blackmailing him! Oh, and if you think things can't get worse for Geoffrey, you'd be wrong. Stanwyck falls ill, and then starts to suspect that there might be something wrong, as does the daughter. What was the deal with the first Mrs. Carroll, and what is that painting Geoffrey keeps locked up in his studio. OF course, we viewers know the answer, but the characters don't, which is what you need for a good suspense film.

The Two Mrs. Carrolls fills the necessary conditions for a good suspense film. But is that sufficient? There's something in this movie that seems a bit flat, especially the questoin of why Sally would marry Geoffrey. She seems like an independent enough woman, and one who has already been lied to by the guy. There should be some serious red flags. The presence and absence of the daughter also seems all too convenient, as does the sudden presence of a burglar in the community when Geoffrey might be getting ready to kill Sally. That having been said, Bogart gives a good performance as a bad guy who isn't a gangster, while Stanwyck is fun as always playing a woman in danger. The two leads take mediocre material and make it worth the while to watch.

The Two Mrs. Carrolls has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Passing Parade

TCM is showing the short Annie Was a Wonder overnight at approximately 3:40 AM, or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning if you want to look at it that way. It's coming up after the Danny Kaye movie Wonder Man.

Annie Was a Wonder was one of a series of two-reel shorts that were part of "John Nesbitt's Passing Parade", which generally looked at America as it was at some time in the past. In this particular short, Kathleen Freeman stars as Annie, one of the tens of thousands of girls who came over from the old country -- in this case Sweden -- to work as domestic help for middle class American families, through which they'd eventually become American citizens. The short, released in the late 1940s, is actually set in the first decade of the 20th century, showing Annie's long work week for not much money, although she did get a bed and three square meals a day along with the money.

I was mildly surprised to see I'd never mentioned the Passing Parade before this one. As with a lot of shorts, there's not a whole lot going on, but the series is still worth mentioning. Once again, we've got a rose-colored view of America, although it's a different view than in the Crime Does Not Pay shorts which are boundlessly optimistic in their faith in the police, or the Traveltalks shorts which gloss over any negativity.

TCM's schedule page doesn't list Annie Was a Wonder as available for purchase, while IMDb suggests it's been released as an extra on a DVD of The Barkleys of Broadway, which may or may not be in print.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wrapping up loose ends

When I mentioned the Laurel and Hardy shorts yesterday, I mentioned that TCM's schedule page had some serious glitches, in that the programs weren't showing in order. Thankfully, that seems to have been fixed up. I am, however, a bit curious as to how things could have gone so wrong in the first place. I mean, I can see accidentally entering the wrong movie into the schedule, as typos are easy to make. I can see getting the running time for a movie wrong, especially when it's one for which there are multiple running times. But I would think that the schedule page is, if not automatic, something that's got an obvious template. Just enter the movies into the template, and the page prints itself up.

As for the Laurel and Hardy shorts themselves, Politiquerías, the Spanish version of Chickens Come Home, was something else. What else, I don't know, but it was something. Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that Hal Roach brought in a couple of vaudeville acts to stretch the running time. The magician was entertaining, if stuff we've all seen before. The other act, though, was shocking: a professional regurgitator. That is, somebody who swallows stuff, and then brings it back up. It sounds disgusting, and frankly it is to a point. But it's even more shocking than disgusting, and one of those things that has to be seen to be believed. Mankiewicz, I think, brought the right tone to his introduction for the movie, that being one of, "Yes, really, it's a regurgitator." As much as I enjoy Robert Osborne, I find him a bit too elegant for an introduction like that.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Laurel y Hardy

Back in May 2010, I mentioned that in the early days of talking pictures, studios would sometimes make two versions of a movie: one in English, and one in a foreign language for an overseas market. TCM is giving us an interesting example of that tonight with a series of Laurel and Hardy shorts.

What TCM will be doing is showing us the original English version of the shorts, followed in each case by the foreign-language version, with Laurel and Hardy presumably reading their lines phonetically off of cue cards. There are, I think two roughly half-hour shorts in English each followed by their Spanish-language equivalents; this will be followed by a pair of English-langauge shorts that were combined when the French-language version of them was made.

Unfortunately, figuring out the exact schedule is a bit of a pain right about now. It's tough enough figuring out what's going to be in between shorts when TCM is running a night of two-reelers, as we saw with the Mack Sennett month last year. But the bigger problem is that TCM's schedule page is currently suffering from some glitches. The programming doesn't seem to be in any logical order. It's out of whack for tomorrow as well, but on normal days that have mostly features, it's slightly less of a problem.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

99 River Street

Eddie Muller, the president of the Film Noir Foundation, is sitting down with Robert Osborne tonight to present a series of noir movies. One that I mentioned briefly two years ago is 99 River Street, which will be airing at 9:30 PM.

John Payne stars as Ernie Driscoll, a prizefighter. Or, should I say, a former prizefighter. He lost the big fight, and that's as far as he's ever going to get in the boxing world, since he's no longer healthy enough to win the big fights. There's that old saying that nobody likes you on your way back down, and that certainly seems true here. Ernie is working as a taxi driver, with a wife (Peggy Castle) who's nagging him and yearning for the more prosperous days they knew when he was winning boxing matches and on the way up. To that end, she's turned unfaithful, seeing other guys, specifically the jewel thief Victor Rawlins (Brad Dexter). Stupid, stupid woman. She'd like to run away with Victor, but she's got too much knowledge of one of Victor's robberies, and he ends up strangling her for it! Fortuitously, though, at least for Victor, he was able to drop the body off in Ernie's cab, which has the fairly obvious implication that Ernie is going to be blamed for the murder!

What's a wrongly-accused man to do? Well, in the tradition of good thrillers, he's going to have to find the killer himself! Well, not just himself, of course. As is the case in many of these thrillers, there's bound to be a lovely damsel reluctantly helping our gentleman in distress. Actually, in this case she's not quite so reclutant: Linda James (played by Evelyn Keyes) is an aspiring actress who knows all the taxi drivers, and is platonic friends with Ernie and his best friend Stan (Frank Faylen). The bad thing is, she mistreated Ernie in a recent attempt to get a part in a play, and he's not happy about her having done that. So she has to prove to him that she really does want to help him.

From here, the movie develops into a somewhat standard plot, that of the man and his girl trying to stay one step ahead of the police while trying to find a killer. The chase eventually leads to the seedy industrial port of Jersey City, where Victor is trying to escape the country because he's trying to get away from other mobsters himself, having committed murder as part of one of those jewel robberies. Where Linda used her acting ability to hurt Ernie before; now she has the chance to use it to get him out of his jam....

99 River Street is a lower-budget B movie that certainly isn't perfect. As I mentioned back in January 2011 when I briefly mentioned this film, there is some dialog that may leave you thinking, "Oh, really?" Also, the movie treads over ground that has been used a hundred times before in the movies. But that doesn't mean that 99 River Street isn't good. And, in fact, it's also enormously entertaining, which is one of the chief aims of a movie, anyway. The bleak industrial port is also a great place for a noir to have its climax, as it's cold and distant, while offering the opportunity for good use of shadows in the photography. 99 River Street has also gotten a DVD release thanks to the Warner Archive Collection.

For the record, the rest of tonight's "Noir City" lineup is:

Cry Danger at 8:00 PM, in which Dick Powell tries to find the people who framed him for a crime;
99 River Street at 9:30 PM;
Tomorrow Is Another Day at 11:00 PM, with Steve Cochran married to taxi dancer Ruth Roman;
The Breaking Point at 12:45 AM, in which John Garfield and Patricia Neal more or less play the Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall roles from To Have and Have Not; and
Van Helfin in The Prowler at 2:30 AM

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Robert Ryan, Class of 1932

Last summer, my college's (Dartmouth) alumni magazine had an article on Robert Ryan, who apparently was a member of the class of 1932. That's something I didn't know. The article was reasonably interesting, although for people who have seen a lot of classic film, there's not a whole lot that's new. At least, not about the movies he made. The article wasn't online with the print issue arrived in the mail last summer, and I never got around to linking to it once the issue was put online. I figure that with Odds Against Tomorrow having aired overnight, now would be a good time to link it, as you can see above. Oddly enough, the writer, Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr, did not include Odds Against Tomorrow in his list of ten Ryan films to see.

There are several reasonably well-known (at least to those of us who watch lots of classic cinema) people who went to Dartmouth and wound up becoming mildly prominent names in Hollywood. One of these days, I ought to start writing posts about them for days when I have nothing else to write about.

Man's Castle

Loretta Young returns for a third night as TCM's Star of the Month for January 2013. This third night kicks off with one more pre-Code, Man's Castle, at 8:00 PM.

Spencer Tracy gets top billing over Loretta Young. The two play Bill and Trina respectively; they're two of the millions of down on their luck people affected by the Great Depression. In fact, they first meet in a park where Bill is feeding the birds and Trina is looking for something to eat. Bill takes pity on her and offers to take her "home" with him; home being a shantytown similar to the place Carole Lombard meets "forgotton man" William Powell at the beginning of My Man Godfrey.

Trina falls in love with Bill, and while Bill likes Trina as a friend, he's not necessarily in love with her, or with anybody at all, preferring not to be tied down so he can maintain his freedom. Indeed, while keeping Trina in his shack at the shantytown, he's also seeing a nightclub singer (Glenda Farrell in a relatively small role). But then Trina learns that she's pregnant courtesy of Bill. What's a man to do? Well, the only thing he knows is to call on fellow shantytown resident Bragg (Arthur Hohl), a criminal who had been suggesting a plot to rob the payroll of a toy company. Bragg is a shady character in more ways than one, however. Not only is he a criminal, he's got his eyes on Trina despite having a lady friend of his own (Marjorie Rambeau).

Man's Castle has some really good performance. Spencer Tracy plays a character who, on the face of it, should be really unappealing. I mean, Bill treats Trina almost like dirt, at least until she gets knocked up. Trina, for her part, seems rather clingy at times, although I suppose that might be due in part to the circumstances: if there's a depression going on, why not hold on to whatever little you can get? Despite the difficult characters both leads have to play, Tracy and Young both succeed in making the viewer care about what happens to their characters, and in a positive way. Rounding out the cast is Walter Connolly (Claudette Colbert's father in It Happened One Night), playing a man of the cloth who's ended up in the shantytown along with Bill and Bragg, and treats Bill almost the way a father treats his son. His character is a bit unrealistic, but Connolly does a good job with what he's got.

Despite the presence of some really high-caliber stars, Man's Castle is a relatively little-known movie. As far as I know it's never even gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the rare showing on TCM.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Nagisa Oshima, 1932-2013

The death has been announced of screenwriter and director Nagisa Oshima, who died earlier today at the age of 80. I have to admit that I'm not particularly well-versed in foreign films, so this was a name I didn't recognize at first. It wasn't until I read his filmography that I saw he had directed Cruel Story of Youth. I wrote back in 2010 that the story has some great use of color in the night scenes, but that I couldn't find any good screenshots of it. So once again, I'm going to have to use the one inferior shot I could find.

Odds Against Tomorrow

Apparently I've never blogged about Odds Against Tomorrow. It's coming up overnight at 2:15 AM as part of this month's TCM series of heist and caper movies, and most definitely deserves a viewing, especially since the DVD seems to be out of print.

Ed Begley plays Dave Burke, a policeman who's left the force in less-than-honorable circumstances. As a policeman, he knows quite a bit about crime from the other side, that being how the police try to detect it and stop it. Perfect knowledge, you'd think, for somebody who wants to commit a crime. And boy does Burke want that. He's fingered a small-town bank and has an elaborate plan to rob it. The only thing is, it's something he can't do alone. And so, he's found two people to help him. Hary Belafonte plays Johnny Ingram, a nightclub singer with alimony and child support payments driving him deeply into debt. Well, there's the illegal gambling too. Obviously, somebody desperately in need of a quick buck is a good candidate to be roped into a heist. The other partner is Robert Ryan, playing Earle Slater. He's a released prisoner who, having been in jail, is now on the margins of society, not able to eke out much of a living. But he's got knowledge of how to rob. So Burke recruits both Ingram and Slater.

What could go wrong? Well, this is a heist movie and one filmed while the Production Code was still being enforced, so we know that something has to go wrong. In the case of Odds Against Tomorrow, much of that is down to Slater. Not only is he a former prisoner, he's a transplant from the South, which means he's a pretty vicious racist. And with Ingram as a black man being in on the job, it's clear right from the beginning that there's going to be tension between the two that might just doom the whole plan. (You'd think Burke could have found a way around this.) Can Slater trust Ingram? And can Ingram overcome his understandable distrust of racists to carry out his part in a plan that will benefit one of those racists? Shades of The Defiant Ones here.

Harry Belafonte always strikes me as a bit of a lightweight: more than good enough for supporting roles as in Bright Road, but a bit lacking when he gets a bigger part as in Carmen Jones. That having been said, he's more than adequate here. He's overshadowed by Robert Ryan, though. Ryan is one of those actors who could play the menacing with a violent temper under the surface type seemingly in his sleep. As such, this is a role that looks as though comes easily to him, and he pulls it off effortlessly, giving a superb performance. Ed Begley was a good actor, although here he's really more of a supporting role linking the Ryan and Belafonte characters. There are probably a lot of character actors who could have played it, but that's not a knock on Begley. I haven't mentioned the women yet. Shelley Winters plays the Slater's girlfriend Lorry, and she might be even more clingy here than her character in A Place in the Sun. Gloria Grahame plays their neighbor, showing a romantic interest in Slater. Ingram's ex-wife is played by Kim Hamilton in a smallish role that, while small, seems realistically drawn. Odds Against Tomorrow also benefits from bleak black-and-white photography, much of which was done on location in Hudson, NY, maybe two hours from New York City and about an hour away from where I am here in the Catskills on the other side of the Hudson River

If you haven't seen Odds Against Tomorrow before, this is your chance to do so. It did get a DVD release, but I think it's out of print since Amazon lists only a couple of copies available for purchase and TCM doesn't list it as being available for purchase at all.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Two more old posts

TCM is not marking the birthday of actress Susan Hayward any time soon. Oh, they're honoring her all right, but her birthday is actually on June 30, if both Wikipedia and IMDb are to be believed. TCM is running a bunch of Susan Hayward movies tomorrow for no particularly obvious reason, although I should add that saying this doesn't imply that I've got anything against Hayward. Hayward's day of movies kicks off with Girls on Probation, a movie that I gave half a post to back in March 2009 when Ronald Reagan was TCM's Star of the Month. This is one of Hayward's first screen credits, and she's got a small role as the young woman who owned the dress that was at the cleaners when Jane Bryan's "friend" Sheila Bromley "borrowed" it for Bryan to wear. Girls on Probation is something I would consider one of those enormously fun late-1930s Warner Bros. B movies, even if it's not that great.

But before the Susan Hayward movies, TCM is running another installment in its irregular Art of Collaboration series. This documentary focuses on director Richard Zemeckis, and his frequent cinematographer Don Burgess. It's airing at 8:00 PM with a repeat at 11:30 PM for those on the west coast. In between, TCM is showing What Lies Beneath at 9:00 PM. Every time I see one of these AFI-branded shows on TCM, I find myself wondering who's getting what in return. I thought about writing a post about that today, but I also thought I might have done so earlier. Sure enough, there's just such a post from May 2012. I have to admit that I haven't actually watched any of these Art of Collaboration programs, so I can't comment on how good they are or aren't.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spellbound heads-up

TCM is running Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 classic Spellbound at 4:00 PM today. The running time is listed as 111 minutes in a two-hour slot, which I thought was a bit short. In the past, TCM has run a print of Spellbound that included an overture and exit music, and I believe that made the movie run over 120 minutes. But then, we got the non-roadshow version of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World again on Friday night, at 159 minutes in a three-hour slot.

I don't remember whether this particular print of Spellbound has the red tinting, either. Either way, though, if you haven't seen Spellbound before, watch it! I think I may have to revise the view that I had when I posted back in August 2008, when I suggested that it's not quite at the top of the list of Hitchcock's best. Over the past few years, I've found Spellbound to be far more fun than the overrated Vertigo, for example, but that's a topic for another thread.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Not quite right about the Fox Movie Channel

At the beginning of 2012, when the Fox Movie Channel changed to a format of half "older" movies remaining commercial-free, and half newer movies with "limited" commercial interruption, I suggested that it wasn't a bad guess to say the end is near. I would have picked six months before the FMC half of the channel was phased out in favor of 24 hours of FXM, although I see in my January 2012 post that I didn't actually pick a time frame.

In fact, what's left of the Fox Movie Channel limps along a full year later, with the web-site's schedule suggesting that they've scheduled at least into February. In my defense, there are a lot fewer "classic" old movies, with there sometimes being full days with nothing made before 1980. And it seems as though there are even more repeats than there were when the channel was FMC 24 hours a day.

Once in a while, though, FMC actually does run a vintage movie or two. I overlooked yesterday's airing of Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence, which I blogged about back in November 2009. It doesn't seem to be getting another airing any time soon, and I don't think it's made it to Fox's MOD DVD system.

I mentioned detective Michael Shayne back in November 2011, and FMC has very slowly pulled out more films from that series to run. I believe since I posted about Michael Shayne, they've shown four of the seven films, with the one currently running being Sleepers West, which is on again at 6:00 AM tomorrow and a couple more times later in January. Sleepers West is followed at 7:15 AM by the solitary airing of Nightmare Alley.

How much longer will FMC be around? I have no idea. At least TCM seems to be having more luck in getting the rights to run movies in the Fox library.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Speaking of the second unit

When David R. Ellis died the other day, I commented that second unit people don't get the credit they deserve. I hadn't noticed at the time I posted that, but overnight tonight/early tomorrow (Saturday the 12th) morning at 5:22 AM, TCM is running the short The Man Who Makes the Difference.

I'm not certain if I've seen this one; I find the one-reel behind-the-scenes looks at movies interesting but there are enough of them that have shown up on TCM that I can't remember which ones I've seen and which I haven't. This one was made for Ice Station Zebra and focuses on John M. Stephens, whom TCM's brief synopsis lists as a "second unit/stunt photographer". (Note also that the TCM synopsis misspells his name as "Stevens".) According to IMDb, Stephens is only credited on Ice Station Zebra for "additional Arctic photography", but to be fair, that is second unit stuff. The TCM synopsis also suggests this short talks about Grand Prix, on which Stephens is credited as "camera operator: second unit". In fact, most of Stephens' credits are as cinematogrpaher or camera department. But as we learned last January with Jack Cardiff, that's still a very important part of moviemaking.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love Is a Racket

I'm always up for an interesting pre-Code, as long as it's not one of those early drawing-room comedies. TCM just gave us a night of such movies starring Loretta Young, and will be having another such movie early tomorrow morning: Love is a Racket, at 6:00 AM.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stars as Jimmy Russell, a newspaper columnist covering the Broadway beat. Lady reporter Sally (Ann Dvorak) likes Jimmy, but Jimmy has forsworn women on the grounds that they tie men down into a domestic life that's much too constraining. (This was a couple of years before Nick and Nora Charles showed everybody how much fun marriage could be.) But you just know that Jimmy is going to get caught up with a woman, and that it's going to cause problems for him. That woman comes along in the form of Mary (Frances Dee). She's an aspiring actress who wants to make it big on Broadway, and is willing to use any man she can as a stepping stone. Since Jimmy writes about Broadway, he's the perfect man for Mary to try to charm.

Mary certainly needs to charm somebody. She's racked up quite the pile of debt trying to make it on Broadway, and has paid her way out of it by passing bad checks. Big problem. Jimmy would like to help her, and do so honestly, but he finds that he's been beaten to the punch by the wealthy Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot). Shaw also has his eyes on the lovely Mary, and has decided to bind her to himself by covering the bad checks and holding that over her. The problem for Mary is that Shaw is a shady character. He's a racketeer, involved in the "milk racket" which basically charged dairymen protection money and skimmed off that money (no pun intended). Jimmy's paper is railing against the racket because it hurts children, but there's not much Jimmy can do to expose Shaw since it will hurt Mary.

There are other people who have no compunction about going after Shaw, however. That would include Mary's aunt, who shows up at Shaw's deee-luxe apartment in the sky just before Jimmy does. Jimmy finds that the aunt has deposited a gun at the penthouse, while Shaw is quite dead, with Mary's checks on him. Oh dear.

Love Is a Racket is one of those movies that's got a lot going for it in the orm of things that are almost shocking. Some of the characters act surprisingly immorally and crime isn't punished at all. The only real problem is that the ending seems a bit too tidy. The leads are all enjoyable, with one other cast member I haven't mentioned being Lee Tracy as Jimmy's assistant Stanley. Tracy played some pretty cynical characters, and boy does he get to do something cynical here at a key point in the plot. Ultimately, Love Is a Racket is nothing groundbreaking, and even a lot like a lot of other pre-Codes that had racketeers in them. But that's not to say Love Is a Racket is bad. For anybody who likes pre-Codes, it's quite an enjoyable little entry in the genre. It's never gotten a DVD release, though, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


TCM's second night of Star of the Month Loretta Young's movies includes a bunch of pre-Codes that are more or less typical of what she was doing in the early 1930s. Among the movies is Play-Girl, airing early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM.

Play-Girl is a movie that starts off with a bang, and never quite reaches that level again. The opening scene is in one of those old department stores where you asked the shop assistant behind the counter to get the stuff on shelves behind the counter. An older man wanting to see something that's up on one of those shelves asks the female shop assistant. It turns out he wants to see something else: as the young woman climbs a ladder to reach the top shelf, the camera (and presumably the customer) takes a good long look at the woman's legs. "I'm sorry," the man says after the shop assistant comes down from the ladder. "You don't have exactly what I'm looking for." Indeed.

In fact, there are two shop assistants the story focuses on at first. Bus (Loretta Young) and Georgine (Winnie Lightner) are co-workers and roommates trying to make it in the big city by working at the department store. Bus wants to earn an honest living instead of snagging a rich man: her mother died delivering her, and Bus doesn't want to suffer the same fate Mom did. Georgine, however, convinces bus to go on a double date, and the date changes Bus's life. Bus is introduced to Wally (Norman Foster), and the two hit it off, eventually getting married!

Unfortunately for Bus, Wally isn't the sort of man Bus thought he was when she first met him. In fact, he makes his living, such as it is, by gambling! And of course, this wasn't like now when you have professional poker tournaments and if you win the big one you could be set for quite a long time. No, gambling back in those days of the sort practiced by Wally was quite illegal. Wally promises to Bus that he's going to change his ways and earn an honest living, but it's really just to shut Bus up. Eventually, she finds out that he's been dishonest, but by this time, she's already pregnant.

What's a pregnant woman with a bounder of a husband to do? Unfortunately, this is where the movie starts to fall down. Bus decides that the best way to make a living is to take up gambling herself! And wouldn't you know it, but there's a strange set of coincidences that results in gambling working for Bus, with her earning some money and being reunited with a reformed (more or less) Wally, with the two of them presumably living happily ever after. It's a shame, because the movie starts off with an interesting premise before copping out, much like Week-End Marriage (airing in two weeks from now), which also starred Young and Foster in a similar relationship.

The three leads all do well enough, ably supported by Guy Kibbee who plays the immediate boss of Young and Lightner. He's interested in Lightner, and tries to put her in departments where she won't be seen by men better than Kibbee. Guy Kibbee sure did play a lot of those lecherous older man roles. TCM's schedule lists Play-Girl as being available on DVD, but closer inspection reveals a problem with their database, as it's a different movie with the same title that they're selling.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

David R. Ellis, 1952-2013

The death was announced yesterday of director David R. Ellis, who was found dead in his hotel room in South Africa where he was working on a remake of a Japanese anime movie. He was 60. Ellis was one of those names that I have to admit I didn't recognize at first. That's because he worked his way up to becoming a director, and didn't have the directing duties on that many movies. Of the ones he did, they weren't my type. And besides, as a classic movie blogger I generally watch movies made before I was born. That having been said, Ellis directed one movie I think we'd all recognize, that being Snakes on a Plane.

Before Ellis got to direct on his own, he started off as a stuntman and then stunt coordinator, which is one of those important parts of filmmaking that doesn't get quite the attention it deserves. Ellis did the stunts on quite a few recognizable movies from the 1980s, actually going back a few years before that with 1976's Bound For Glory being one of his first. In the 1980s there's National Lampoon's Vacation, Lethal Weapon, and Fatal Attraction, although I don't remember Fatal Attraction having stunts per se, unless you're going to count having to use doubles in the bathtub scene. Then again, it's been quite some time since I've seen Fatal Attraction.

Ellis should also be remembered as an assistant director or second unit director, which like stunts is a part of the moviemaking business that is important and doesn't get recognition. In fact, it might get less attention than the stunts. Ellis served as a second unit director on some well-known movies in the 1990s and early 200s, from Clear and Present Danger to one of the Matrix sequels, a Harry Poter sequel, and Master and Commander. It's a bit sad to think that Eliis would have gotten even less mention in death than he did if he hadn't directed Snakes on a Plane, since he clearly did quite a bit of quality work.

Monday, January 7, 2013

TCM Guest Programmer: Bill Paxton

Tonight sees this month's Guest Programmer on TCM: actor Bill Paxton, whose movies include Apollo 13, in which he played Fred Haise, one of the three astronauts who successfully returns to Earth after a technical glitch causes the moon mission to go disastrously wrong. (Oh dear, I've given away the ending.) Paxton has an interesting set of selections, starting at 8:00 PM with Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits. I don't think I've actually seen this one all the way through, because the last time it was on TCM, it was part of a night of Fellini's movies and came on second, after 8-1/2 (which I think is a bit overrated in that to me it never really seemed to go anywhere). So it began around 10:30 PM, and after a half hour of nothing much happening, I didn't feel like staying up until 1:00 AM for the ending.

The rest of Paxton's selections are as follows:

Spirit of the Beehinve at 10:30 PM, about to girls who try to find Frankenstein's monster after seeing the classic movie;
California Split at 12:30 AM, Robert Altman's film about a gambling road trip to Tijuana; and
The Last Detail at 2:30 AM, in which two MPs take a sailor on a road trip to show him a good time before the sailor has to go to military prison.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Cheat

This week's Silent Sunday Nights feature on TCM, airing just after midnight tonight as usual, is The Cheat.

Sessue Hayakawa stars as Haka Araaku, a Burmese dealer in ivory who will be showing up a bit later in the story. The movie really begins with Fannie Ward as Mrs. Edith Harvey. Edith is the wife of a wealthy banker, and this being the teens of the last century, a woman like Edith would live the life of a socialite, wearing fancy clothes, going to parties and organizing charity benefits. Since the movie was made at a time there was war raging in Europe, that charity is for war relief. But Edith is also a spendthrift. This causes some consternation with her husband Richard (Jack Dean), who wants her to spend less, especially because business isn't going as well as she's thought and they're not quite so wealthy. What's a woman to do? Why, embezzle the charity money and wager it on a sure thing get-rich-quick scheme! Of course, everybody can figure out what's going to happen next, which is that the sure thing wasn't so sure, and Edith loses the money, making her desperate to get $10,000.

This is where Haka Arakau comes back in. He's made quite a bit of money with that ivory dealing, and he's willing to help out Edith by refunding the money. But this is going to come at a price. Despite being an ivory dealer, Haka Arakau isn't 99.44% pure, not by a long shot. He's a stereotypical Movie Asian, alluring, exotic, and dangerous all in one; further, he wants to be seen respectably by white society His price for helping out Edith is her sexual humiliation. In the meantime, business fortunes turn around for Richard, so Edith decides to embezzle the money from him (really, it shoud be embezzlement even if it is just a wife spending her husband's money like a drunken sailor) to pay back Haka. But Haka will have none of that: he really wants to see Edith suffer. Edith shoots him in the shoulder, partly in self defense.

Amazingly, due to 1915-era moral values, Richard decides to take the rap and stand trial for the attempted murder, claiming that he was defending his wife's honor. And for all you know, he could get away with it: after all, everybody knew back in the day that those Asians were scheming, dishonest lechers, readily willing to deflower our pretty white women. Will the truth come out at the trial? And if so, just how will the people react to a relationship that, to be fair, is rather bizarre?

The Cheat is quite the interesting movie. Since it was made in 1915, many of the film techniques look primitive, although for the time they were quite advanced. The acting is also stagy and florid, although that's due in part to the melodramatic nature of the story. Hayakawa is a treat as the Burmese ivory dealer, and there's a story in that in and of itself. When the movie was first released in 1915, Hayakawa was playing a Japanese man. Japanese-Americans, however, complained about the racist stereotyping of Japanese. Since there were a fair number of Japanese-Americans, and relations with Japan were still good in 1915, the movie got a change when it was re-released, which was to make the Hayakawa character Burmese. After all, there were a lot fewer Burmese around to complain, and audiences wouldn't notice, since all those weird exotic Asians are alike.

If I were looking to introduce people who have seen almost no silents to the genre, I'm not certain if I'd pick The Cheat, only because it's so different from even the movies of the classic studio era. But for people who are already comfortable with silents, I can heartily recommend The Cheat. It has gotten DVD releases, and probably should even be in the public domain since it was released in 1915. The DVDs might be out of print, however, since TCM doesn't have it available for purchase in its web store.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Added to the blogroll

Yesterday I briefly mentioned the blog Movie Classics, written by Judy (kindly imagine that in Cary Grant's dulcet tones, not my lousy voice), a British woman with a taste for 1930s and 40s movies as well as British literary adaptations. Having mentioned her, I figure now is a good time to add her blog to the blogroll.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Two more returnees

I did a post on Ronald Reagan's four Brass Bancroft films back in March 2009 when Reagan was Star of the Month. TCM is running the series again, this time starting tomorrow morning at 10:45 AM with Secret Service of the Air. Brass Bancroft joins up for the Service when another agent is killed in action and they need a man with skills as a pilot. Although the Service's real task was to investigate counterfeiting, in this movie Bancroft winds up investigating illegal immigration because the two crimes intersect. There's also a surprising scene of how the human traffickers prevent the authorities from finding out just what they're doing. The other three movies in the series will be airing on subsequent Saturday mornings at 10:45 AM, with the series ending conveniently just in time for 31 Days of Oscar to run in February and a new series to begin in March.

Also back on TCM is Now Playing: the Show. We're already four days in to January, and the show is on the schedule for early Saturday morning at 5:15 AM, which doesn't seem like a particularly opportune time as this isn't the sort of thing I think people would set their DVR for. But the bigger thing is that Now Playing: the Show is back at all. I would have thought that with Robert Osborne's reduced hosting duties that the show might have been gone for good.

Awards Season, Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, Livius over at Riding the High Country named me not only for the Versatile Blogger award, but also a "Blog of the Year". That award also requests a hat tip, with the following rules:

1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
2. Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
3. Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
4. Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
5. You can now also join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience
6. As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

Since I mentioned earlier today that having to pass awards on to other people gives me the feeling of responding ot a chain letter -- although at least this time, you only have to mention one post -- is something I find a bit off-putting, if only since I'm generally far enough down the list on these things that I'm liable to pick a blogger who's already been selected. So rather than actually handing out an award, I'll just mention a post that reminded me of something I'd wanted to post.

One of the blogs Livius selected in his 15 for the Versatile Blogger awards is Movie Classics, which is one I hadn't read before. It includes quite a few posts about British movies, with one of the more recent ones being about Scrooge, also known as the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol. It was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, a name that jumped out at me. Looking at his filmography on IMDb, I don't know that I recognize any of Hurst's other movies. But some time last year when I was going through RTÉ's documentary archives, I noticed one called An Irishman Chained to the Truth, which first aired in August 2011. According to the brief synopsis:

Brian Desmond Hurst was the most prolific Irish film director of the 20th century - Allan Smith delves into his family history to find out more about his great great uncle Brian's adventures in Hollywood.

Most of RTÉ's documentaries are available for download, and this one is here, a 17.5MB download of a radio documentary running about 38 minutes. I'm surprised I didn't blog about it when I first ran across it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Awards Season, Part 1

I noticed a day or two ago that Livius over at Riding the High Country nominated me for a pair of awards, a "Blog of the Year" award and a "Versatile Blogger" award. The rules say that winners are supposed to write a blog post about it, but I wasn't certain whether Livius had actually named me a winner per the rules of the contest. Looking through my Gmail account, though, it seems he did in fact notify me, so I get to write an oh-so-exciting post about the awards. I don't know whether I should react like Sally Field when she won her second Oscar for Places in the Heart (the "You like me, you really like me!") comment, or Jane Wyman upon winning for Johnny Belinda (which is coming up tomorrow evening at 6:00 PM on TCM), who commented that she won the Oscar for not saying a word, so she should just shut up and accept her award. The "Blog of the Year" post will be coming up separately later today, since the "Versatile Blogger" post is getting a bit long.

Anyhow, the rules for the "Versatile Blogger" award are aw follows:

Versatile Blogger

Display the award certificate on your website.
Announce your win with a post and include a link to whoever presented your award.
Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
Create a post linking to them and drop them a comment to tip them off.
Post 7 interesting facts about yourself.

I think the "15 awards to deserving bloggers" is going to be a bit of a challenge. The problem, of course, is that doing so will quickly turn into a chain letter/pyramid scheme thing, where the right move is really to pass it on to the people above you on the list, otherwise, you're going to run out of people to award. There are a few blogs I'd like to mention without actually awarding and obligating them to write a post about, though.

, a blog that I first noticed when Livius linked to the post on the title sequence of Experiment in Terror, a movie that I think is both visually and aurally interesting and doesn't get the attention it deserves. Obviously, I can't give Michael an award since he's already got one!

Cinematic Paradox. Stevee Taylor is a high school student in New Zealand whom I first learned about back in November thanks to a report from Radio New Zealand. I prefer classic movies and her blog tends to discuss much more recent stuff, but she's still quite a capable blogger who deserves a mention.

I'm also supposed to mention seven "interesting" facts about myself. I'm not the most interesting person, but here goes, in no particular order and the first things that came to my mind:

1. I live next to 1000 acres of state forest, quite literally. New York State has two big preserves, the Adirondack Park Preserve and the Catskill Park Preserve, within which they own a fair amount of the forested land. My driveway is set in from the road, with the property bordering state land. In fact, just yesterday I had 20 wild turkeys in my driveway, watching them from the front window.

2. I was an avid listener of short-wave radio from back in the days when the international broadcasters still used that medium, if they even still have English-language programs. Most of the content has migrated to the internet, however. However, I still have a lot of promotional stuff. I'll see if I can find my Radio Prague sponge and post a photo of it.

3. My first real drinking experience was on board an overnight train in Latvia. I was a Russian major in college, and spent a study abroad semester in 1992 in Sankt-Peterburg. One weekend, we took the overnight train to Riga, Latvia, and on the train back I had my first shot of vodka, from a bottle called "Russkaya Vodka" (yes, that was literally the brand name). The only thing the other students had as a chaser was Pepsi, and I don't like carbonated beverages, so I wound up chasing it with Latvian sausage!

4. Я еще знаю русский язык, но к сожалению у меня нет так много шансов говорить по-русский. (I can still speak the language more or less, but don't have many opportunities to do so.)

5. Russian is my third language; German is my second. My grandfather emigrated from Germany, and I still have a ton of relatives in the Passau area. I should mention the movie The Nasty Girl, which is based on a true story of a young woman who for a school projected investigated the history of her town (Passau) during the war, and found a lot of stuff that angered the city fathers.

6. I'm an avid player of the Oriental board game Go, and the western board game Scrabble, and play both online at servers dedicated to the games, although I'm not particularly good at either. (I don't do "Words With Friends" on Facebook; in fact, I don't care about racking up a high number of Facebook non-enemies at all.)

7. I'm a bit of a minimalist. I drink my coffee black with no sugar and couldn't be bothered to spend big bucks on Starbucks coffee or the similar brands. I don't mind a somewhat more drab blog design if that means it's not full of stuff that will hog the computer's memory and eat up bandwidth. That'a a big part of the reason why I have a plain gray background for this blog.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

TCM January 13 Star of the Month: Loretta Young

This month marks the centenary of the birth of actress Loretta Young, who wa born January 6, 1913. January 6 is a Sunday, and TCM rarely does its Star of the Month tributes on the weekend. Frank Sinatra in 2008 is the only one I can think of, and he had two nights each week, with Sunday being one of them. Anyhow, TCM is honoring Young on Wednesday nights in January so that they can run her films over five nights instead of four: they've got enough movies that they can run to cover five nights of prime time. As it is, the movies continue into Thursday mornings.

Tonight kicks off at 8:00 PM with Laugh, Cluwn, Laugh, a movie I briefly mentioned on Young's birthday back in 2009, and is a good one for anybody who enjoys silent movies. I've also briefly mentioned Life Begins (overnight at 12:30 AM) before. Loretta Young is, as most Hollywood actresses were, too glamorous to play a prisoner. Hollywood also makes preganacy look like far more of a breeze than it apparently is -- I'm a childless man, so I wouldn't know. For whatever realism flaws it has, though, it's a fun movie; in fact, part of the fun is the time capsule nature of the movie.

I don't think I've ever seen The Show of Shows (3:45 AM) before. This is a movie similar to The Hollywood Revue in that it's an all-star movie with no plot. Instead, Warner Bros. used a lot of its contract players in what was essentially a sound test for them, putting them in discrete scenes to show off their talents while at the same time seeing how well their voices worked with the new sound technology. Loretta Young appears with her real-life sister, Sally Blane, in a scene called "Meet My Sister". Everything I've read (which admittedly isn't much) suggests that the entire movie was filmed in two-strip Technicolor, but that only the finale survives in color, something which isn't unusual for the time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Still not on DVD

TCM's prime time lineup for New Year's night is heist movies of various types. There's a comedy to kick things off in the form of The Pink Panther at 8:00 PM, followed by a decidedly non-comic film in The Asphalt Jungle 10:00 PM. Both of those are available on DVD, though. The last movie of the night, Jack of Diamonds, is one that I blogged about back in December 2008, which I think is when Cotten was Star of the Month on TCM. (I really should keep a list of TCM's Stars of the Month.) I mentioned in the 2008 post that Jack of Diamonds was not available on DVD, and it still seems not to have gotten a DVD release.

Wednesday morning and afternoon are given over to movies about ghosts, mostly comedies and romances. I'm very surprised to see that A Guy Named Joe (7:30 AM) doesn't seem to be on DVD either, at least not in print. In this one, Spencer Tracy plays a World War II pilot in love with Irene Dunne who gets killed in action when his plane gets shot down. However, he returns as a ghost to help fellow pilot Van Johnson win Dunne's hand in romance. Worth seeing if you haven't seen it before. Frankly, I'm surprised this one hasn't gotten a release from the Warner Archive, or as one of those four-film sets focused on Spencer Tracy, seeing as it was released by MGM and would be in the Warner Bros. library now.