May 1 marks the birth anniversary of Glenn Ford, and as I mentioned this morning, TCM is spending 24 hours with the movies of Glenn Ford, starting tonight with a prime-time lineup of Ford's 1940s films, and a morning and afternoon tomorrow of Ford's later movies. One of Ford's films that I've never blogged about before is Young Man With Ideas, which is on TCM's schedule tomorrow morning at 9:45 AM.
Glenn Ford stars as Maxwell Webster, an attorney in Montana with a wife named Julie (Ruth Roman) and kids. Maxwell is, if not timid, then at least a keep your head down, don't make waves, and go along to get along type of person. It's something that's prevented him from reaching partner status in the law firm where he works, despite actually doing good work and helping the firm win a big case. When the firm celebrates that big victory at a country club party, Julie wants Maxwell to get some of the credit, and then wants Maxwell to assert himself and ask to be named a partner. Big mistake, as doing that gets Maxwell fired. What's an out of work attorney to do? Well, he could set up his own shingle like James Stewart did in Anatomy of a Murder, but with a wife and kids to support, that's not going to pay the bills. Julie thinks there are more opportunities in a growing state like California, so the family should move there.
There probably were more opportunities in California, which would have been booming in the early 1950s, but when it comes to being an attorney, there's the small matter of being admitted to the bar, and California wants its attorneys to pass the California bar exam, which is notoriously difficult. Maxwell is going to have to study hard for the exam, and worse, not be able to work as a lawyer for several months because the bar exam is only administered a couple of times a year. So he signs up for a bar review course, where he meets Joyce (Nina Foch), who also helps Maxwell get a job at the collection agency where she works. Oh, there's a good job for a non-assertive guy like Maxwell. Complicating matters further is the fact that one of the collections cases Maxwell has to administer is of a sexy nightclub singer Dorianne (Denise Darcel). With all those women around, there's bound to be a misunderstanding that will make Julie think perhaps Maxwell has strayed.
Meanwhile, Julie has other problems. With money tight, the family wasn't able to rent the best house out there, so they wound up in a smaller bungalow in a "fast" neighborhood. The previous occupants were running a betting ring out of the house, and had to leave on short notice. So the phone is still connected, and there are people who wagered money with the betting ring who don't realize there are new occupants, and expect to be able to place bets and collect on them when they pay off!
Young Man With Ideas is one of those smaller, black-and-white movies that MGM wsa putting out in spades in the early 1950s to complement the Technicolor musicals and other big-budget fare, and there's something about the whole production that says, "pleasant, but not ambitious". Glenn Ford is sturdy as ever, well-suited to the inherently nice person to whom things just seem to have a way of happening. The rest of the cast is full of people who are capable, but I don't think ever reached A-level, not even Ruth Roman; something I think is true of a lot of this whole set of MGM's black-and-white output. There's something about the ending that I don't think is quite right: Maxwell does something that would likely run him afoul of the bar's ethics board and doesn't face any discipline over it. It feels like a bit of a cop-out of an ending, as if the writers didn't know how to resolve everything, which was already a bit contrived. But this fits the whole style MGM was doing at the time: movies that are good enough and mostly entertaining, but for the most part not quite great.
Young Man With Ideas isn't availalbe on DVD as far as I know, not even from the Warner Archive. It's another that I think would be suitable for those four-film cheapo box sets that Warner Home Video likes to put out and hawk on TCM.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
May 1 marks the birth anniversary of Glenn Ford, and as I mentioned this morning, TCM is spending 24 hours with the movies of Glenn Ford, starting tonight with a prime-time lineup of Ford's 1940s films, and a morning and afternoon tomorrow of Ford's later movies. One of Ford's films that I've never blogged about before is Young Man With Ideas, which is on TCM's schedule tomorrow morning at 9:45 AM.
One of the Richard Carlson movies I finally got a chance to see last night was The Magnetic Monster. I thought I had seen on TCM's schedule page that there's a DVD avaiable, but when I did an IMDb search this morning, they suggested it's not. This surprised me, since it's usually the other way around. Amazon deals in out-of-print and used items, which the TCM shop doesn't. As it turns out, The Magnetic Monster was originally teleased to theaters through United Artists, has been given a DVD release from MGM's manufacture-on-demand program. These are whatever films MGM after selling the library to Ted Turner, got the rights to, which would be a lot of United Artists stuff and I believe some other studios. At any rate, MGM's MOD films don't see to be available for purchase on Amazon yet. The Magnetic Monster won't be getting a full-length post today because there's something else not on DVD that I'll be blogging about.
Elsewhere on DVD, you've probably seen TCM hawking the Glenn Ford: Undercover Crimes collection, which I mentioned about a week and a half ago. TCM is finally showing two of the movies on that set as part of a 24-hour birthday salute to Ford. Ford's birthday is tomorrow, but TCM is starting the celebration off tonight, with several of Ford's films in the 1940s, with the Wednesday morning/afternoon lineup being films Ford made in the 50s. The Undercover Man is coming up at midnight, with Framed on at 2:45 AM. I don't think either of these have shown up much before on TCM, so it would have been nice to see them kick off the night's lineup, instead of the Warner Bros. film A Stolen Life (available courtesy of the Warner Archive). Actually, it's even more true for Babies for Sale, at 1:30 AM, which I don't think I've ever seen before and which isn't on DVD. The subject, which you could imply from the title, is about corruption in adopting babies and would, I'd guess, be part of an interesting pairing with the Crime Does Not Pay short Women in Hiding, about unwed mothers. (As far as I know, Women in Hiding isn't on DVD either, not even as an extra to some other movie.) I don't know if it's coincidence, but both of these were released in 1940.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:48 AM
Monday, April 29, 2013
TCM's prime time lineup for tonight is a bunch of science ficton movies starring Richard Carlson. I knew he was in It Came From Outer Space, which is on at 8:00 PM, but I didn't realize just how many other of those B-grade scifi movies he was in.
And, to be honest, it's been so long since I've seen It Came From Outer Space that the synopsis isn't quite what I remember it being. Basically, Carlson plays a man living out in the Arizona desert who sees a meteorite, investigates, and finds that it's actually an alien spacecraft that's crash-landed! Needless to say, he can't get anybody to believe him, until the aliens start kidnapping townsfolk, which only serves to frighten the townsfolk, even if the aliens come in peace. To be fair, it should be obvious that the aliens are coming in peace. If they weren't, they're still advanced enough technologically that thye'd be able to find a way to annihilate human life if they wanted to take over the planet, or just destroy the planet if that's what was necessary. But then, most of these scifi movies aren't worth watching for their scientific accuracy.
That would be much along the lines of the Saturday afternoon lineup, which has a process-photography giant tarantula, and ugly giant mollusks that had glowing eyes once they were out of their shells. Still, there's something about these 1950s scifi films that is just so charming; even when they're not good, they tend to wind up in the "so bad it's good" category.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 2:11 PM
Those of you who wanted to watch Eyes in the Night would in fact have done well to set your DVRs several minutes past the scheduled end time. The movie, which is listed as running about 79 or 80 minutes at IMDb and TCMDb, was scheduled for a 75-minute time slot, and in fact ended about 78 minutes in. At least, I think; I wasn't sitting there with a stopwatch but only turned on the TV just before the end of the 75 minute time slot to see Edward Arnold foil the Nazis. Kid Glove Killer started about five minutes late, which means that it too is running into the next movie. I apologize if this caused anybody an inconvenience.
But all of this will become dated by the time you read it. The one more interesting thing I noted from all of this is that the intro for the morning movies has changed. The pop-up book with scenes from several classic movies is still there, but in place of the final pop-up which used to read "Roll Film", there are now two. The first is a sign reading "Turner Classic Movies", with the second being the TCM logo. I don't blame TCM for wanting to have their branding on even the intros, but the two pop-ups here do look a bit out of place. The thing is that there's somethign modern-looking about the two title cards where the rest of the sequence looks like it was designed to harken back to something old-timey. I'm trying to remember the last time I actually sat down for a morning movie on TCM, so I don't know how long this new intro has been running. But I don't think it could be too awfully long since I probably would have read about it on the TCM boards.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:35 AM
Sunday, April 28, 2013
I believe I have never blogged about the film Eyes in the Night before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM.*
Edward Arnold stars as Duncan MacLain, a blind detective with a seeing eye dog, an assistant Marty (Allan Jenkins), and butler Alistair (Mantan Moreland). Into Duncan's life walks an old friend, Norma Lawry (Ann Harding). She's got a step-daughter Barbara (Donna Reed), who doesn't exactly appreciate her step-mother for having gotten married to dad Stephen (Reginald Denny). As such, Barbara is rebelling against Dad and stepmom by going out with older men who, Norma realizes, aren't right for Barbara. Specifically, it's an actor in a traveling theater troupe who many years ago was also Norma's boyfriend. (What a way to rebel.) Is there anything Duncan could possibly do to prevent Barbara from making a big mistake? Later that evening, Norma and Barbara each separately go to the actor's apartment and find him dead, a murder which is never quite fully explained.
Norma tries to get away from it all by going to her house in the country, which is where the real action of the story begins. Duncan follows her there to investigate, using the ruse that he is Norma's uncle. Barbara shows up with the director of the theater troupe who, it turns out, has other reasons for wanting to be there. The murder was almost a Macguffin. Stephen, in fact, is working for the US government as part of the war effort, having developed a secret formula for something that obviously has to be important in the fight against the Nazis, because the Nazis want it, and have gotten a whole bunch of spies in that big house trying to get the formula. Can Duncan save the day? Well, thanks to the Production Code, you know the answer is "yes", so seeing how he saves the day, with some help from that seeing eye dog, is what makes the movie worth watching.
Eyes in the Night is quite entertaining, despite a plot that's rather problematic. I already mentioned that the murder is never really cleared up. How the Nazis were able to get so many spies working as Stpehen and Norma's servants, or how they got the one other spy, all to show up together and get involved with the various parts of the Lawry family, is also left as an exercise to the viewer. And how did this blind guy get so wealthy? (Presumably he was wealthy before going blind.) What makes the movie entertaining is a strong performance from Edward Arnold as the blind man. He's assertive, and quick-witted: in one scene where he gets stowed in a basement, he foils a gunman by taking his cane and smashing all the lightbulbs to make the gunman just as blind as him; it's an idea that would be used a generation later in Wait Until Dark.
Eyes in the Night has received a DVD release, but from one of those low-budget companies, implying that it entered the public domain at some point and wound up with a crummy print.
* (Eyes in the Night is listed as having a running time of 80 minutes, which means that the next film ought to begin at 7:30 AM. However, TCM's on-line schedule has the following film, Kid Glove Killer, as starting at 7:15 AM, and having a running time of 74 minutes, which makes the day's third film, Little Mister Jim scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM. Even my satellite box guide has the same schedule. Either the running time for Eyes in the Night is wrong, or the other movies are going to get pushed back.)
Saturday, April 27, 2013
TCM is running several shorts on Sunday morning to pad out the schedule, with the last of them being Crashing the Water Barrier at about 11:48 AM. This being a one-reeler, there's not much time to develop anything, but like the old Traveltalks shorts, it's still an interesting document.
The subject is Donald Campbell, a man who was the son of a car-racer who tried to set land speed records. Campbell is following in his father's footsteps, except that he is now trying to set speed records on water. In fact, Campbell woud eventually be killed in 1967 in an attempt to break the water speed record, and there's another film called The Price of a Record dealing with this. But this movie is made in a happier time, when everybody knew the danger of trying to set speed records, but nobody believed (rightly, as it turned out), that this was going to be the attempt that ended in tragedy.
Anyhow, this short plays out with narration much like the RKO Screenliner shorts, except that it was made by Warner Bros. The color should be a giveaway; RKO wouldn't have had the money to make a short like this in color. It shows the preparations for the attempt, and how absolutely calm water on Lake Mead were needed for the attempt, which involves running a set distance, and then running the same distance in the opposite direction, to negate any possible assistance from the wind. It's not much, but it's an interesting look at a world most of us would never experience.
It's the sort of short that would fit in as an extra for a Warner Archive release of one of the old movies about car racing, or maybe boat racing although there are a lot fewer of those. But, I don't think that's happened yet.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Tonight is the last night of Cher presenting the Friday Night Spotlight with Robert Osborne, presenting the defining Hollywood era of women on film. Three of Cher's four selections for tonight are on DVD, with the one not currently available being Kitty Foyle, at 10:00 PM.
The movie opens with Kitty Foyle (played by Ginger Rogers) living in New York where she's a bigwing in a fashion house, who has Mark, a doctor with a conscience (James Craig) for a boyfriend. She spends part of her evening on rounds with him, at the end of which he asks for her hand in marriage. Mark drops Kitty off at her place presumably to pack for their honeymoon -- Dr. Mark even has an all-night justice of the peace lined up to perform the ceremony. While Kitty is getting married, there's a knock on the door, and in walks Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan). This is a problem for poor Kitty, because she was in love with him at one time. And now he's back, to ask her to run away with him. What's a woman to do...?
At this point, we get a flashback, surprise surprise. Flash back a decade or so to Philadelphia, where Kitty is a working-girl who lives with her father (Ernest Cossart), who is that perfect Irish stereotype of the lovable drunk who's always a few dollars short, but dammit if you can't help but love the charming rascal anyway. Kitty understandably wants better, to be financially stable, so she dreams about being one of the beautiful people she reads about in the high society pages. Pop, warns her against this because the rich are just evil snots who won't respect her and she should just stay in her class. (The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo, so you have to understand there's going to be some unsubtle politicizing here.) And then into her life walks Wyn. He's one of those wealhty people from the "Main Line", Philadelphia's equivalent of the 400. Wyn loves Kitty, and she loves him, but this is a big bit of rebelliousness from Wyn, but he doesn't have the courage to go all the way and tell his parents to respect her no matter what.
This, combined with Pop's death, causes Kitty to leave Philadelphia and go to New York to get away from it all and clear her head. It's here, working as a shop assistant, that she meets Dr. Mark, who isn't perfect himself, but is at least of the "right" social class. But Wyn eventually returns and he and Kitty get married just long enough for Wyn to knock up Kitty, while Wyn's family, all of whom are Trumbo tropes, try to turn Kitty into the "proper" woman that she isn't. So the marriage is annulled and Kitty returns to New York, which is where she finds out she's pregnant (so she obviously couldn't have been married too long), and that Wyn's relatives have arranged a marriage of convenience for him, even though he really still loves her. But Kitty starts taking up with Mark again, eventually leading to the fateful night that starts the movie....
Kitty Foyle is a movie that I have a lot of problems with, mostly because the characters all leave me cold. The choice of which suitor to go with is supposed to be a crisis for Kitty, but I found myself not particularly caring which one she married at the end. Compare this to a conflict like The Easiest Way, where there are clear pros and cons for each of the two suitors. It doesn't help having a screenwriter who makes the point so bluntly obvious for us as well. That, and the fact that Kitty Foyle is definitely in the "women's picture" genre. Still, Ginger Rogers give a good performance, and there are lots of women out there who would love "women's pictures".
I'm really surprised that Kitty Foyle has fallen out of print. Amazon suggests that the movie got a DVD release back in 2006. With Ginger Rogers as the star, giving an Oscar-winning performance, and with the rights now controlled by Warner Home Video, you'd think the movie would have gotten a release to the Warner Archive, or one of those four-film box sets that TCM hawks between movies. But apparently not.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
TCM is showing Rage in Heaven today, although by the time you read this post, you'll probably have missed the movie. I briefly mentioned it back in April 2009, if only to point out that it wasn't avaiable on DVD. Thanks to the Warner Archive, however, that's changed, although the standard caveat about Warner Archive DVDs being a bit pricier than average stands.
Robert Montgomery stars as Philip Monrell, the scion of a family of wealthy industrialists in England. He's just returned from Paris where, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, he was seeking psychiatric help. When he returns home, he meets his mother's (Lucile Watson) new personal secretary Stella (Ingrid Bergman), and falls in love with her. The only thing is, the chief engineer at the company, Ward (George Sanders), also falls for Stella, somthing which makes Philip insanely jealous. Anyhow, Philip gets married to Stella, despite the fact that he spent time seemingly encouraging Stella to start a relationship with Ward, and despite the fact that Philip is an insecure drip. That insecurity only serves to make Philip even more jealous. Well, it also serves to cause problems when the time comes for him to run the factory. The workers don't like him, and eventually revolt.
All of this builds up to Philip's reaching the breaking point. When I commented on the movie back in 2009, I mentioned that I would compare it to Leave Her to Heaven. Not only is Philip as insanely jealous as Gene Tierney's Ellen Behrend, he fakes his own murder, committing suicide and making it look as though Ward did it. And there's enough circumstation evidence that Ward could have done it, especially his fingerprints on the murder weapon. The viewer of course knows the real story, but the characters in the film don't, and Ward is found guilty in a court of law, leaving Stella frantic to try to find the evidence that will exonerate Ward before he can be executed.
It's an idea that's interesting, since it was so well carried out in Leave Her to Heaven. Here, though, everything is a mess. The movie was released in 1941, but obviously has to be set several years earlier, since the characters are able to travel freely between London and Paris, which at the time the movie was released would have been occupied by the Nazis. That's the least of the movie's problems. The movie also has the bad, or at least the inappropriate, part of the MGM touch, much like Johnny Eager, another movie with a great idea that just goes way wrong somehow. The rest have to do with the personal problems the cast was having, at least according to Ingrid Bergman in her autobiography. She says that Montgomery was assigned by the studio to do the movie, didn't want to do it, and rebelled by giving as flat a performance as possible. Sanders didn't like the movie, and Bergman didn't like the director. That must have been one interesting set.
As I said at the beginning, Rage in Heaven has gotten a Warner Archive release, if you want to see how a movie can go so wrong.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
TCM ran a two-night series on film preservation and restoration the past two evenings in prime time, with Robert Osborne sitting down with people from the preservation departments at six of the major studios, each of whom brought one restored feature to show and talk about. Last night's first guest was from Disney, so it was the first time in a while that we got any live-action Disney on TCM. TCM had the rights to those movies for quite a while, but it's been two or three years since that contract ran out. More distressing is that I didn't realize the man from Disney was also going to present a second film: the 1932 short Flowers and Trees. This animated short is the first film in three-strip technicolor, and if you missed it, at least you can currently find it on Youtube.
The feature was the 1950 version of Treasure Island, which doesn't necessarily deserve a full-length blog post right about now. TCN, however, decided to use this occasion to run, just before Disney's Treasure Island, a pair of Traveltalks shorts on San Francisco's Treasure Island. Both of them were filmed in 1939 for the Golden Gate International Exposition which was running at the time. The first one, A Day on Treasure Island, was nothing special, being reminiscent of the Traveltalks entry on the Paris World's Fair of 1938. I wish I had known about the second one, Night Descends on Treasure Island, beforehand. The short is more or less in two parts. One goes inside one of the exhibition halls to look at the paintings on display, which I suppose was the only way most of the movie-going audience was ever going to see any of these paintings. The more interesting part, however, was a look at the exhibition grounds as they were at night. Engineers from General Electric set up a light show to liht the various buildings, presumably doubling as an advertising display of what could be done with modern lighting. But the effects are spectacular, with fountains and buildings lighted in all sorts of colors. The Traveltalks shorts generally seem not to have aged too well, in that the colors look muted. But even with that, it's obvious that the light show must have been a sight to behold in real life. And with the original color in the Technicolor prints, I have to think it would have looked stunning to the theater audiences in early 1940 when this was released. It seems to be available as an extra on a DVD release of San Francisco.
TCM is kicking off this final night of Laurence Olivier's as Star of the Month with a gem that I think doesn't get the attention it deserves: The Entertainer, at 8:00 PM.
Olivier stars as Archie Rice, the father in a family who unfortunately hasn't made much of a success in life. Archie's father Billy (Roger Livesey), was a very successful music-hall entertainer a generation earlier, and Archie followed in Dad's footsteps. Like vaudeville over on this side of the Atlantic, the music hall was not destined to thrive in the changing times that followed World War II. Much like vaudeville, I suppose, except that the transition came later. Archie also doesn't have as much talent as his father did, so while Dad got to perform in the great music halls of London, Archie is reduced to performing in Britain's fading seaside resorts; resorts I think would compare roughly to the Borscht Belt here in the US; places where the average family could go for a holiday at a relatively inexpensive price. But after World War II with cheaper transportation options, other places became much more desirable for vacations, leaving the old resorts faded shells of themselves. So that's Archie's work prospects in a nutshell.
His life outside of work isn't much better. Or, that is to say, work seems to be his life, and without much work there isn't a particularly wonderful life. He's married to his second wife, Phoebe (Brenda de Banzie), and has three kids. The eldest, daughter Jean (Joan Plowright), would like to be an artist and social worker, and even has a boyfriend. She also no longer lives with the family, and both loves him and sees he's never going to be a success; Frank (Alan Bates) works for Dad; and Michael (Albert Finney), who has joined the military and is about to be sent to the Mediterranean as part of the Suez crisis. The much bigger problem is financial. Having never really had a successful show, Archie is heavily in debt and has put everything in Phoebe's name in an attempt to keep it away from the creditors. Phoebe is naturally frightened that the creditors are going to get everything, leaving her and Archie penniless. She's got an offer from relatives on her side of the family who have already emigrated to Canada to join them, and she thinks a new start would be perfect for her and Archie, and tries to convince him to take up that offer.
But Archie still has dreams of hitting it big. The resort town where he works is holding a beauty pageant, and Archie chats up Tina, one of the prize winners (Shirley Anne Field). It turns out that her father is well-to-do, and Archie sees that big pile of money: perhaps Tina's father could help back the new show Archie is planning to put on! Archie also woos Tina, of course not letting her know he's married. It's something Phoebe has apparently seen before, and is resigned to seeing happen again. But, with Archie's charm, the money from Tina's father, and Billy coming out of retirement to be the headline act, Archie might finally be able to make the big time and get out of debt. But tragedy strikes, first in the form of Michael being taken POW. And that's not the last of the tragedies....
The Entertainer is, in many ways, a real downer of a film. Olivier's Archie is a man whom society is passing by, and he is utterly powerless to do anything about it. And yet he keeps on plugging away at his dreams, even though there are times you want to tell him to just go to Canada with Phoebe. The thing is, Archie probably doesn't know anything but entertainment, and would feel useless if he didn't have that in his life. It doesn't help that Archie makes himself quite unsympathetic at times by the way he uses people -- especially Phoebe and Tina -- and doesn't seem to care about anybody else's needs. And this is before the real tragedies.
Yet, in the end, The Entertainer is a great film, down in no small part to Olivier's excellent performance. Olivier makes his character real, telling Jean at one point that he's really dead behind the eyes. Still, he carries on, if only because he simply doesn't know anything else to do: if he didn't have the opportunity to attempt to entertain people, he'd be dead in front of the eyes too. I can't help but think of life was like in the dying days of vaudeville, or for other old-time entertainers whose style was being consigned to the dustbin of history. Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. at least made enough money from the silents that she could like in a decaying mansion, but Archie Rice doesn't even have that, never having been big.
If you want to see The Entertainer, be prepared to catch tonight's showing on TCM. The movie did get a DVD release many years ago, but the DVD is long out of print. With its wonderful cast, especially Olivier, whose name ought to remain well-knwon by the general public even though he's been dead for almost a quarter century.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
TCM is running a bunch of movies in honor of Shirley Temple's 85th birthday today. I was thinking of doing a post on That Hagen Girl, which is airing at 12:15 PM and doesn't seem to be on DVD, but I already did one some time back. So, I was going to do a post on somebody else who was born today, but unfortunately while looking up the birthdays on IMDb, I typed in April 24 for today's date, when in fact it's only April 23. So I wrote an entire post on April 24 birthday boy William Castle before realizing I was a day off! Oh well, the whole post is written; there's no point in deleting it and starting a new post, especially since there's something on TCM tomorrow night worth blogginb about tomorrow morning. If you want a good April 23 birthday other than Shirley Temple, you could do worse than director Frank Borzage, or actress Simone Simon.
Anyhow, William Castle started off directing B-movies in the 1940s, doing three of the movies in The Whistler series, including the first of them. Despite the low budget, Castle gets a lot out of his actors, which might have something do with with a good plot, about a man (Richard Dix) who pays to have himself killed because his wife was lost at sea, only for him to find later that his wife was in fact not lost.
Castle continued to direct B-movies for others in the 1950s, getting to do several westerns. I believe The Gun That Won the West just showed up on TCM last week, and I don't think I've ever seen Jesse James vs. the Daltons before. At any rate, it's quite different from what he was doing in the 1940s, and what he'd get to do once he became a producer.
It is of course the work that Castle did as a producer that made known today for what he is, that being a man who used all sorts of gimmicks to draw people in to the theaters. TCM showed the first film he produced, Macabre, recently, but I think the gimmicky stuff is better known from a film like The Tingler, for which he had seats wired with small electrical charges so that at key points during the movie, some audience members would scream. Castle produced Rosemary's Baby, but didn't direct it.
Of the movies Castle directed, I think my favorite might be Strait-Jacket. Joan Crawford became increasingly fun to watch in the 1950s and 1960s, and she's a hoot in that horrible dress, axe-murdering the Six Million-Dollar Man. The plot itself is a lot of fun too. True, the production values aren't the greatest, but I've argued a lot that a good story can often make up for a poor budget.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:06 AM
Monday, April 22, 2013
Burt Reynolds may have been a sex symbol in the 1970s, but I don't know how much of an actor he was. Oh, there was a certain type that he could play, but I'm having trouble imagining him in any of a broad range of roles. Just think, for example, about all the different films TCM's Star fo the Month Laurence Olivier did, and then try to imagine Burt Reynolds in any of them. But if Reynolds got a role that fit his talent, the result could be altogether watchable and not bad at all. Such, I think, is the case with W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, which you can catch tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.
Reynolds plays the titular W.W., whom we see in the opening driving his fancy two-tone limited-edition anniversary Oldsmobile down a country highway somewhere in Tennessee circa 1957. He pulls the car up to a service station selling gas from the Southland Oil Service and, after making some small talk with the kindly older man filling up his gas tank, pulls a gun on the attendant. No, really, this is a no-fooling hold-up. And apparently, it's not the first time somebody's held up an SOS station, as the head of the company is at his wits' end. But we'll get back to him later.
The local police are actually on to W.W. after the latest hold-up, and one of their number eventually chases him to a gymnasium turned into a dance hall for a dance with live music provided by Dixie (Conny Van Dyke) and the Dancekings. Just when it looks like the policeman is going to get W.W., he climbs up on stage a passes himself off as the manager of the band. And he's just so charming that he's able to get Dixie to swear to the cop that yes, indeed, W.W. is their manager. So now they've got a manager, and W.W. has a bunch of people in tow with him. W.W. is not only charming enough to get Dixie to lie for him; he's got enough charm that he can make them believe he can get them a music contract in Nashville and even an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, that takes money, and the only way W.W. knows how to get money is to rob SOS and its subsidiaries, now with a country band as his accomplices. In the movie, W.W. is a Korean War veteran who is portrayed as having a vendetta against SOS. I think there was some reason given for it, but whatever it was, it was fairly perfunctory and glossed over.
The first third of the movie that sets all of this up is fairly slow, and frankly almost a bit tedious. But stay with it; things finally do pick up. Back to the CEO of SOS, Elton Bird (played by Sherman Lloyd). He is understandably miffed with a bunch of his outlets being held up, and is equally understandaby irritated that the police seem powerless to stop whoever is pulling off the bold-ups. But, he's got an ace up his sleeve, in the form of his brother (Art Carney). Carney's character is the Deacon, but the Deacon was formerly a sheriff himself. He was quite good and zealous as a sheriff, in fact. But he felt he had to quit the job because it required -- horror of horrors! -- working on Sundays, which are the Lord's day. So instead, he became the stereotype of every phony mass-media preacher you've heard on the radio or seen on TV. But dammit if he's still not vastly superior to the rest of the police force at doing detective work.
W.W. and the Dixie Danckings, as I mentioned earlier, starts off slowly, but eventually becomes a pretty entertaining movie thanks in part to the presence of Carney. The fact that Reynolds and the band are also given some more elaborate hold-ups to commit, with more opportunity for the improbable comic timing of cops just missing the fleeing Oldsmobile, helps as well. Especially notable here is when SOS gets into banking and opens the first drive-through bank in the region. Reynolds is well-cast; you can see why women of the day would have considered him such a sex symbol, and such a charming man: W.W.'s charm comes across as much more genuine than the oozy manipulation of a Wally Fay in Mildred Pierce. Art Carney is also great, cast way against the type he had played a year earlier when he won the Oscar for Harry and Tonto. It's almost tough to believe that the two characters were played by the same actor. The movie is quite obvious in taking sides, in that we're supposed to root for W.W. not to get caught, and for Dixie and her band to get the big break. Still, Carney is so much fun as the comic-book villian that he's just as much the highlight of the movie as Reynolds.
There are also some notable supporting performances: country singer Mel Tillis has a bit part; fellow singer Jery Reed plays one of the Dancekings; and Ned Beatty plays a successful country singer whom W.W. tries to convince to write a song for the Dancekings to perform. Unfortunately, they're overshadowed by mostly being in the less interesting parts of the movie. There's also a technical flaw, I think, in that the director (John Avildsen, who would do Rocky a year later) insisted on using offbeat wipes to transition between scenes. After the first three or four times, my feeling was, "Yeah, I get it. You're trying to be cute here."
IMDb doesn't list W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings as even being available for purchase at Amazon, which would imply that it's not gotten a release to DVD. I suppose that's understandable, since it's not a particularly outstanding movie or even anything earth-shattering. It is, however, entertaining enough.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:44 AM
Sunday, April 21, 2013
I should have posted this last night, but TCM is showing Beach Blanket Bingo at 2:00 PM today. This was always on the schedule, and isn't a preemption of anything else because of the death of Annette Funicello. So, sorry if you're looking for any of the other beach movies.
TCM is running the short The Flag at approximately 11:40 PM tonight, just after Now Playing: The Show, which begins at 11:15 PM. The running time on The Flag is listed as 20 minutes, which may put it very tightly up against the "oficial" start of Silent Sunday Nights at midnight, which is John Barrymore in Beau Brummel. The Flag is apparently still not available on DVD, at least not from the TCM shop.
Finally, this week's TCM Import, at 2:15 AM, is Loves of a Blonde, which I blogged about back in April 2010. This one is on DVD, albeit from the Criterion Collection, which makes it a little more pricey.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:30 AM
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Last week saw the last of the Perry Mason movies, and I was remiss in not mentioning yesterday that the new series showing up in the 10:45 AM Saturday time slot on TCM is the Falcon series of movies. George Sanders stars as the Falcon, a suave detective investigating crimes among high society. Or, at least, Sanders plays the Falcon in the first four movies of the series. After that, the character's brother (played by Sanders' real life brother Tom Conway) shows up to take on the title of The Falcon.
Fortunately, the Warner Archive has released a box set of several of the Falcon movies, which isn't too terribly pricey for a Warner Archive release considering how many movies you get. I have a feeling the 318-minute listed run time is off, though.
The Falcon movies will be continuing into July, which I think means they'll be airing all of them.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:00 AM
Friday, April 19, 2013
I look at TCM's online schedule almost every day to see if there are any interesting shorts coming up, since those don't make it to the printable monthly schedule, since TCM only schedules the shorts a week or so ahead of time. However, TCM also uses some of the excess space on the page to include a "movie news" section, which is usually links to articles on various DVD or book releases.
Currently, there are two articles on DVD releases of movies I blogged about quite some time ago. First is Apartment for Peggy which I commented on back in November 2009. The reviewer who wrote the article has a rather more negative view of the movie than I do. I thought it was better than it had business being; he thinks it's worse than it should be, although the article is dripping with negative views of the director's (George Seaton) social values. Sure, the social values were different back in the 1940s, but movies set in contemporary time periods ought to be given a bit more of the benefit of the doubt for presenting the mores of the day.
That said, the bigger problem is apparently with the DVD itself. Apartment for Peggy is part of Fox's MOD service, the Fox Cinema Archive. I haven't bought any of the Fox MODs, but what I have read about them indicates that the DVD quality isn't particularly good, with lousy prints, which is a shame. Granted, there's no other way such movies are going to get released... or is there?
The other movie is Heaven With a Barbed-Wire Fence, which also happens to be courtesy of the Fox Cinema Archive. This time, a different reviewer suggests that the DVD quality is better. I can't remember from my viewing on the Fox Movie Channel what the print quality of the two movies was, but if Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence was running with a better print on FMC, then it should be no surprise that the MOD DVD has a better print too.
Heaven With a Barbed-Wire Fence stars Glenn Ford, and these days when I think of him I think of the Glenn Ford: Undercover Crimes box set that TCM has been hawking in between movies. I don't think the movies in the box set have shown up on TCM recently, but the five movies on this set are all from Columbia, so one would have to presume that the constant plugging of this set is getting TCM access to other movies from Columbia's archive. Still, I can't help but wonder whether a box set like this shows the way forward for some of those old Fox movies. I don't know that Glenn Ford made very many movies at Fox, but as I mentoined back in October 2010, there are quite a few actors who worked at Fox for a good portion of their career. Some of the lesser-known entries from Spencer Tracy's or Henry Fonda's early work would be ripe for putting out on a box set, I'd think.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:24 AM
Thursday, April 18, 2013
TCM is running a day of movies on Friday about juvenile delinquency. I've recommended quite a few of them before, but not Reefer Madness (which was also known as Tell Your Children; I don't recall which title is on the print that's aired on TCM). It's shown up as part of TCM Underground before, and it's quite an appropriate film for Underground because of its cult status. This time, it's getting an airing at the slightly less ungodly hour of 6:00 AM tomorrow.
The movie opens with a bunch of school administrators hosting a meeting for the organization of concerned parents, who are concerned about, and getting informed of, the newest scourge to hit good middle-class communities of the 1930s: marijuana. To make the point, the school district has brought in somebody from the federal government, who represents the Department of Narcotics, which I'd presume is a forerunner of today's DEA. The narcotics agent proceeds to tell the parents how the problem is getting worse, and how it could affect their town, because in fact it's affected towns just like theirs. And to terrify the parents more, let's fade to an example story of just what's been happening in those other towns....
In tone, this opening makes Reefer Madness reminiscent of the MGM Crime Does Not Pay shorts, except that the shorts were slighlty more based in reality, and that's not saying very much. But let's hit the viewer over the head with over-the-top warnings about the dangers of this evil drug! The scene is what I guess you could say is the 1930s equivalent of a crack house, except of course that they didn't have crack in those days; instead, the drug openly consumed in the house is marijuana. Generally, it's only adults, but one of the people -- I think a recent high school graduate, although it might be a senior -- recruits some young unsuspecting underclassmen to ome to the house and party. (I'm reminded of the scene from Dahmer in which high school-aged Jeffrey Dahmer asks the high school wrestler to his house for some pot.)
Anyhow, the teens smoke week -- and it turns them nuts. They start playing the piano really fast and dancing like Ruby Keeler; they blithely get into hit-and-run accidents; they become licentious; and eventually they get involved in murder and framing one of their own for that murder! It's hilarious to think that a generation or two on and the predominant view of marijuana is that it would make its users lazy and give them the munchies. But, dammit, we've got to terrify those parents!
I'm not quite certain how much the people making this movie were being serious, and how much they were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the sort of people in government and enforcing the Production Code. Nowadays, the stuff presented in Reefer Madness seems so obviously untrue. But back in the 1930s, you'd have to think a lot of the parents in smaller towns would actually believe this stuff. After all, we still have moral panics to this very day, with caffeinated energy drinks seeming to be the latest moral panic. Well, that and the "epidemic" of obesity, which is being used by many in government to put all sorts of their pet regulations on grocery store food and restaurants. And there are a lot of people who believe the crap being spewed by the moral scolds of today.
Reefer Madness is hilariously bad, but it's a movie that deserves to be seen not only for its historical value, but because it's in the "so bad it's good" camp. It's fallen into the public domain, so there are a lot of DVDs and various prints out there to be had. Just make certain you get the 1930s movie, and not Reefer Madness: The Musical from 2006.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:11 AM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Apparently, I've never bloged about That Hamilton Woman before, although I thought I had. It's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as part of the third week of films for Laurence Olivier's time as Ster of the Month.
That Hamilton woman, as the title refers to her, is Lady Emma Hamilton, played by Vivien Leigh. However, when we first see her at the start of the film she's decidedly not a lady. Indeed, she's stealing to live, and is put into prison for it. She meets another female prisoner, which gives Hamilton the chance to tell her story in flashback, because that's such a highly original film technique. Anyhow, we flash back a couple of decades, to Naples in the 1780s. Emma is better off than she was as a prisoner, but not of a particularly wealthy family. She and her mother are going to Naples at the insistence of her lover, Charles, who is the nephew of Lord Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples (played by Alan Mowbray). It turns out that Charles was sending her away in order to pay off some debts, and never had any intention of marrying her. So what's a woman stranded in Naples to do? Why not marry the ambassador? He needs a wife and she needs money, so it's a match made, if not in heaven, then at least in the land of convenience.
Into all this walks Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier). He's in Naples trying to get support from the Kingdom of Naples (remember, Italy wasn't unified until 1870) -- since the previous events, there's been a revolution in France, and now France and Britain are at war. Admiral Nelson meets Lady Hamilton, and as you can guess they hit it off as a sort of friends, especially because she's got a bit of influence with the Queen of Naples. Granted, he's already married back in Britain (and don't forget that Lady Hamilton is still married too), but then Nelson and Hamilton are only friends, right? Sure. Five more years pass, and Nelson returns to Naples, which by now is no longer receiving British warships. So Lady Hamilton goes out to Nelson's anchored ship, and this time, they fall in love. Now there are big problems, especially when Lady Nelson asks why the hell she should get a divorce and lose her position in society just so her husband can run off with this floozy. Who can blame her, even if we're supposed to look at her as the bad one because Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton are supposed to be tragic figures.
I don't know if I'd call it a problem with That Hamilton Woman, but one thing about movies with historical figures as the leads is that we already know from history when and how they die -- and even if you didn't know history, you know that Lady Hamilton is going to wind up poor since the story is being told in flashback. In the case of Lord Nelson, that death of course comes at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. His ships defeated the French fleet, but at the cost of his life. Lord Hamilton had already died, disinheriting Emma along the way, and Lord Nelson couldn't exactly leave anything to her in his will.
I cannot deny that That Hamilton Woman is a very well-made movie with a good cast and fine production values. I have to admit, however, that it's always left me a bit cold. That probably has a lot to do with the casting of Olivier and Leigh, and a bit with the melodramatic nature of the story. I have never particularly been a fan of Vivien Leigh, for reasons that I can't quite verbalize. But there's something about her performances for which I don't really care. Olivier isn't a favorite of mine, either, although I don't have quite the feelings about him that I do about Leigh. There are more of his performances that I like, such as next week's The Entertainer. That having been said, anybody who's a fan of Olivier, or especially of Leigh, is probably going to love this one.
That Hamilton Woman has received a DVD release, although it's courtesy of the Criterion collection, which means it's a bit more pricey.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is dedicated to Pierre Étaix. I had hever heard of him before, although I'll admit that I'm not as knowledgeable about non-Hollywood movies as some other movie buffs, and certainly not as much as the critics are. But TCM is running four of Étaix' shortish features (only one of them runs longer than 90 minutes) and a couple of his shorts, so I figured I'd look him up.
Étaix, who is still alive at the age of 84, started his career as a clown, and got into the movies in the early 1960s. He made several over a period of about a decade before going back to the circus. Somewhere along the way, the movies entered rights hell, at least if Wikipedia is to be believed. That would certainly help explain why I'd never heard of the movies of Étaix. I learned about Jacques Tati, for example, at some point in my adolescence, I think from Siskel and Ebert when they used one of their end-of-show segments to talk about a Tati movie (I'd assume it was M. Hulot's Holiday, but don't remember) was being released to VHS -- this was long before DVDs were ever invented. (Siskel and Ebert were also where I first learned about Leave Her to Heaven, when that got its VHS release, and I remember for years wanting to see it.) But if Étaix' movies were tied up in rights issues, then I can imagine critics not being so well-versed in them.
At any rate, TCM is finally showing these movies, which is nice. Even if they turn out to be no great shakes, they're still worth seeing at least once just so people can come to that conclusion for themselves. And TCM is one of the only cable channels here in the States that would bring these movies to a broader audience. So bravo to them for getting the rights to show these movies!
Actually, there is one thing in the prime time lineup that I've seen: another airing of the short All Eyes on Sharon Tate, which shows up about 1:15 AM.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Last month TCM showed several movies to mark the birth anniversary of actor Sterling Hayden. One of them, Crime Wave, has made it to DVD as part of one of those "noir" box sets, even though the movie isn't quite a noir. Still, for the most part, it's a highly entertaining movie that's well worth watching.
The movie starts off with three thugs: Penny (Ted de Corsia), Hastings (Charles Bronson, still going by the name Charles Buchinsky) and Morgan (Nedrick Young), sticking up a gas station late one evening. Unfortunately, the hold-up goes awry, as the man running the place is able to get his gun and shoot Morgan, seriously wounding him. Penny and Hastings give Morgan some money, and Morgan calls up underworld doctor Hessler (Jay Novello) to treat him.
All of this is bad news for Steve Lacey (Gene Nelson). Not because he was involved in the stick-up at all, but because he's an ex-convict who knew these guys. Steve wanted to go straight after getting out of prison, and to his benefit he's got a wife Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) and a good job as an airplane mechanic. But he's only on parole, and the cops naturally don't trust parolees. So what does Steve have to do with this robbery? He gets involved in it through no fault of his own when Morgan shows up at his apartment begging to be let in so that Dr. Hessler can treat him. Things go from bad to worse when Morgan pulls a gun on Steve and Ellen to force them to comply but, before everything can be resolved, dying. There's a dead body in the apartment of an ex-convict? Oh, surely the cops aren't going to believe anything the ex-con says about it. Sure enough, when the detectives show up in the form of Lt. Sims (Sterling Hayden), Sims would have no qualms about sending Lacey back to prison for a long spell, even though we know he's completely innocent.
Things get really complicated for Steve and Ellen when Penny and Hastings show up at the Laceys' apartment. Penny's got a brilliant idea for a bank robbery that's a can't miss, but there's a catch -- they need an airplane to escape to Mexico. Who can provide them with that airplane? Why, airplane mechanic Steve Lacey of course! So Penny and Hastings proceed to hold the couple more or less hostage, in the way that John Garfield did to Shelley Winters and her family in He Ran All the Way. And to make matters even worse for Steve, Hastings uses Steve's car to drive someplace to commit a crime. The cops are certain to find Steve's car, connecting him to the crime and having no possible alibi. That's bound to make it easier for Penny and Hastings to blackmail him....
Crime Wave is one of those low-budget 50s movies that get lumped in with the noirs, but which I would generally call a "post-noir": movies that have crime themes and possibly some noir-like themes, but have a visually brighter atmosphere often due to location shooting. Gene Nelson does a good enough job as the innocent man who has circumstances thrust upon him, but the movie is really Hayden's. His Lt. Sims casts an even more menacing presence on the proceedings than any of the criminals do. That's down in part to the writing of course, but Hayden also physically looked the part of somebody who could be tough-as-nails. In fact, there were times that I found his character unappealing; he's that much of a prick. Even in the final scene, after the required Production Code-obeying resolution, he still comes across as a bit of a jerk to Steve and Ellen. But it's necessary to the plot, I suppose.
As I said at the beginning, Crime Wave is available on a box set. In fact, there are quite a few good movies I've recommended before that are part of this particular set, even if they're not all noirs.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 9:04 AM
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I blogged about Dangerous Crossing three years or so ago. It aired again this morning on the Fox Movie Channel, and is scheduled for another airing on May 12. Since three years ago was the last time I had seen the film, I figure this would make a good chance to sit down and watch the movie again and re-examine it.
Jeanne Crain overacts here. To be fair, she's being asked to play a character who is being accused of losing her sanity, and there are a lot of movies where people are supposed to play insane and don't know how to pull it off -- I just watched Man in the Middle the other day, where a key plot point is whether or not Keenan Wynn's character is psychopathic, and he portrays his character through a lot of shouting and bluster as well. And goodness knows Bette Davis made a career out of histrionics. Also in Crain's defense, the film uses the plot device of having her give an echoic voice over of what she's thinking. That's a cliché that I don't think goes over well at all nowadays.
On second viewing, I find it difficult to believe that there would be enough of a opportunity for Crain's husband to meet her alone. On a transatlantic voyage, there would likely be entertainment and partying going on late into the night, with the result that there would almost always be somebody on the various decks. But I suppose this is a nitpick, because it's the sort of plot hole that would sink a whole lot of movies.
I'm not certain about what motivates Michael Rennie's character either. Perhaps it's just that he's got nothing else to do, and is bored out of his mind. After all, if this is a ship that's relatively quiet at night, then it's probably not going to be very exciting in general. And Crain is good-looking enough that once can see why a man would want to pursue her.
Overall, I think Dangerous Crossing is the sort of movie that, five years later, would have been more suited to the hour-long TV drama format. It's not quite as good as I remembered from three years earlier, but it is still entertaining enough.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 1:58 PM
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Jonathan Winters died late on Thursday at the age of 87. I was only going to do the standard obituary that I do for most famous people who die, but when I was searching for the links to posts about the movies he acted in, I noticed that I apparently haven't done a blog post about The Loved One before.
Robert Morse shows up first. He plays Dennis Barlow, and English poet who is traveling to Hollywood to see his uncle, Sir Francis (John Gielgud). Sir Francis is member of the British expat community in Hollywood, which as I understand it was a real thing back in the day, although by "back in the day" I mean a generation earlier than the 1965 release date of The Loved One. Things turn tragic when Sir Francis, apparently unhappy with what life away from England has given him, commits suicide. Sir Francis' fellow Britons in Hollywood decide that, since Dennis is the closest person to Francis in the Hollywood community, Dennis ought to handle the funeral arrangements.
It's at this point that The Loved One turns to a way over-the-top satire. Dennis visits Whispering Glades, a funeral home/cemetery run by the mysterious Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters), which promises people the ultimate in a funeral and final resting place for their loved ones. And boy is this place spectacular, with a burial grounds that includes tour guides (watch here for Tab Hunter), and almost any sort of funeral and memorial that one could want. Perhaps more disturing for Dennis is some of the people he meets. There's Aimee (Anjanette Corner), who helps prepare the dead bodies for their open-casket viewings, but really wants to be an embalmer, especially since it would make her the first female professional embalmer. As for the actual embalmer, that's Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger), a seeming psychopath with mother issues.
Along the way, Dennis realizes that, being out of a job, he's got to get work, and winds up working for Rev. Glenworthy's brother Henry (also played by Jonathan Winters). Henry has also gone into the funeral business, but providing funerals for pets instead. There are a lot of people out there who love their pets as if the pets were their own children, and go to great lengths to pamper their pets -- including in the way they handle their pets' deaths. (Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris covered this in his 1978 documentary Gates of Heaven.) Henry has decided to cater to the pet owners, and if he had the capital, he could do just as good a job as Rev. Wilbur. He doesn't have that, but he does get Gunther (Paul Williams), a precocious kid with an astonishing technical idea for a final sendoff....
I find The Loved One a bit tough to rate. Funerals are certainly a topic ripe for satire, and heaven knows there have been some outrageous funerals on film (the opening of Sunset Blvd. comes to mind), and phony funerals used as plot devices in comedies (the opening of Some Like It Hot). But at times the satire in The Loved One goes way, way over the top, as with the rocket funeral plot at the end. Sure, there are some funny scenes, such as one with Liberace, and excellent performances, especially from Rod Steiger. But many of the scenes left me a bit cold, with the feeling that the writers and directors had a lot of great ideas for scenes, but an overriding plot that's a bit incoherent, as if they're trying to stuff too much into the movie. A lack of a plot can work in some cases when you have a good framing story for a bunch of vignettes, as in Mr. Hulot's Holiday. Then again, part of my problem could just be a personal animus. A lot of the reviews that talk about how brilliant this movie is comment on how it skewered the sensibilities of society of the mid-1960s, and as I've mentioned several times, that aspect of the 60s is something I've never particularly cared about. So where I find The Loved One to be a movie with potential that doesn't always succeed, the rest of you may find a masterpiece.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:10 AM
Friday, April 12, 2013
I've briefly mentioned Since You Went Away several times in comparison to other moviews about World War II. It's airing again tonight at 10:15 PM on TCM as part of Cher's look at studio-era movies with strong portrayals of women; this week's theme being women during wartime.
Claudette Colbert stars as Anne Hilton, a wife and mother of two. There's a war on, of course, and Mr. Hilton has gone off to fight, leaving Anne alone to raise two young adult daughters. Jane, the elder of the two, is played by Jennifer Jones, while Bridget, the younger, is played by Shirley Temple. The family was at least middle-class before the war, and probably higher on the economic ladder than that considering how big their house is and the fact they used to have a maid they had to let go because they could no longer afford to keep her on, what with the husband's salary being replaced by allotment checks. What's a mother to do? Well, she decides to advertise for roomers for the last bedroom, with a preference for military personnel. What they get is Col. William Smollett (Monty Woolley). He's military, all right -- a colonel from the first World War! But he's no dummy, either, and points out that he is military, which is what they wanted, so they really have to take him.
Col. Smollett proceeds to turn everybody's life upside down. He's a difficult, exacting person who expects everything to be run his way, and that forces the three women to change the way the house is run. However, it turns out he's also got a grandson, William II (Robert Walker). The young William is an enlisted man, and one who seemingly can do nothing right by his grandfather, which understandably frustrates him. Jane feels sympathy for him and eventually he begins to pursue her romantically. This is also an issue for Jane as she's had her eyes on a much older man, Lt. Tony Willett (Joseph Cotten). He's an old friend of Anne's who's in the military on business that I don't think is ever quite made specific. The movie is sprawling and there's a lot of detail that's easy to miss.
Eventually, the war starts to turn personal for all the women, at least in the sense that it begins to hit home and makes them make real sacrifices and suffer far more than just having to share a bedroom. Young William is called off to war; young men on the periphery of the Hiltons' lives get killed in action; and a telegram arrives containing the sad news that Mr. Hilton is missing in action. Where the first half of the movie is a bit slow, the second half picks up and becomes rather more forceful.
The bad news is that forceful doesn't always mean powerful in a good sense. Since You Went Away was released in 1944, and as such had to provide a sense of morale on the home front. So there are some scenes that are almost obvious in the way they're trying to deliver their message. There's one with an immigrant, and one where Anne tells off a gossipy woman (Agnes Moorehead) about "doing one's part" for the war effort. And some of the action is telegraphed. But there are also some quite excellent sequences, such as when young William gets on the train to go off to war, leaving Jane behind. The performances are also quite good, with Colbert being strong in the lead and Monty Woolley providing very good light relief.
I don't know that Since You Went Away is the best of the movies about the home front. It was compared in its time to Mrs. Miniver, a movie that audiences back in the day loved but which I find interminable at times. It could also be thought of as a bookend to The Best Years of Our Lives, seeing as how both of them run about 170 minutes and deal with the way war affected people: the former with the women and how they handled things during the war, and the latter with the men having to adjust to the end of the war. The Best Years of Our Lives never feels too long despite its 170 minutes; Since You Went Away does feel too long at times. And I've also mentioned a few foreign films that look at the homefront, in places where the war came much closer; In Which We Serve and The Cranes Are Flying come to mind. Still, Since You Went Away is a worthy movie, both on its own and as a contemporary look at how America was handling the homefront back in 1944.
Since You Went Away got a DVD release years ago, but I don't know if it's in print. The movie is available for purchase on Amazon, but not at the TCM shop.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
TCM is putting the spotlight on actress Debra Paget tonight. It's not her birthday; she'll be turning 80 in August. But, it's nice to see a Debra Paget spotlight because she was a contract player at Fox at the start of her career. So, it means that we're going to get more movies from Fox on TCM, which is always a good thing.
The night starts off at 8:00 PM with Love Me Tender, the Civil War-era movie which introduced Elvis Presley to the movies. It's the sort of thing that shows that Elvis could have been a capable actor, although Jailhouse Rock and King Creole show it even better. It was only after getting back from his Army service that things started to go downhill.
Anyhow, back to Debra Paget, at 9:45 she plays Cosette in the 1952 version of Les Misérables, followed at 11:45 PM by Demetrius and the Gladiators, which is a sequel to The Robe.
I've recommended From the Earth to the Moon before; that one is on at 1:30 AM. Unlike the night's first three movies, it's still not on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM airing. You'd think TCM would have come up with one of those cheap four-movie sets of Joseph Cotten movies to include this movie on, but no....
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:03 AM
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The Fox Movie Channel showed The Barbarian and the Geisha again this morning. I thought it was going to be getting another airing later in April, but it doesn't look like it. Thankfully, it's been released to DVD and Blu-Ray before, at least according to Amazon, so you can still watch it even if FMC won't be showing it again soon.
John Wayne stars as Townsend Harris, an American diplomat who was sent by Franklin Pierce to conclude a peace treaty with Japan in 1856. The Americans wanted to be able to use Japanese ports for resupplying their ships, as trade was increasingly becoming a global thing. The Japanese, for their part, knew of the Western colonial interests in China and didn't want this to happen to them. They had closed themselves off from the rest of the world in the early 1600s, with the exception of a small Dutch enclave in Nagasaki, and feared what opening themselves up to the West would do. Indeed, it took Commodore Matthew Perry with his ships to open up Japan at gunpoint in 1853.
The parts of the movie that concern Harris' diplomacy with Japan are apparently fairly accurate. Harris showed up off the coast of Japan at the village of Shimoda, a hundred miles or so from Edo (the then name for Tokyo), which according to the agreement Perry had reached with the shogun, was to be where the US Consul would be stationed until a full treaty could be concluded with Japan. The people of Shimoda, for their part, didn't want any foreigners around, quite understandably, and didn't make life easy for Harris as he was forced to endure an interminable wait to be permitted entry into Edo some 18 months later, when the treaty was finally concluded. (Perry had only reached an agreement for refueling rights; Harris' mission was to secure a trade treaty.)
Where the movie differs from history is with Harris' personal life. The governor of Shimoda (played by So Yamamura) sent a geisha named Okichi (played by Endo Ando) to the house of Harris and his interpreter (Sam Jaffe), possibly to spy on him. (Historical records suggest that there was a real Okichi, but she only spend a few days at Harris' residence in Shimoda.) In the movie, she begins to develop an attraction for him, and Harris for his part even thinks about taking her to America with him after he concludes the treaty. However, the Japanese system of family honor dictates that Okichi could never do that. The family to whom Okichi was in service was powerless to stop the treaty from being concluded which was supposedly a big blow to their family honor, and for Okichi to leave would, as the movie claims, have disgraced the family.
Several of the reviews I've read of The Barbarian and the Geisha claim that John Wayne was badly miscast and that this is a big problem for the movie. I would tend to disagree with that. I remember hearing once a joke about the "John Wayne School of Foreign Languages": if at first people don't understand your English, speak it loduer and more slowly. I have no idea what the real Townsend Harris was like, but Wayne's forceful, if somewhat blustery, style fits well with a person trying to open up a country and society that's been more or less closed for 200 years. Eiko Ando's acting is OK, but she's also given a bunch of narration which comes across to me as silly. The person you'd really think is miscast is Sam Jaffe as the interpreter, whom I think of as Doc Riemenschneider in The Asphalt Jungle. Yet Jaffe too is enjoyable, espeically in a scene when a giant and midget team up to take his top hat. The Barbarian and the Geisha combines history with romance, although there's more emphasis on the history, which is a good thing. The romance is more of an undercurrent, which only gets more strongly hinted at toward the end, as opposed to the maudlin Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Actress Annette Funicello died yesterday at the age of 70 after a long battle with mulitple sclerosis. Funicello will be remembered by some Baby Boomers for being one of the Mousketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club, but to the rest of us for all those beach movies she made with Frankie Avalon and others. After all, TCM shows those beach movies on a semiregular basis, while I don't think any Disney outlet shows those old TV episodes, if they even still exist.
I've never been a particularly big fan of the beach movies, mostly because it's a genre that's not my cup of tea; it's nothing regarding the acting of Annette, Frankie, Sandra Dee as Gidget or the others. They're inoffesive enough, and 1960s style as it actually was back in the day can be a fun time-warp, much like the norms of movies from earlier decades, except now we've got glorious color too. But it irritated me to read somebody on TCM's message boards write something to the effect that "a part of all our childhoods has passed".
I was born in 1972, so Frankie and Annette weren't part of my childhood. And there's something about having been born too late to be a Boomer, but too early to be a child of the boomers, that makes it grate on my when people suggest that the cultural touchstones for the Boomers ought to be cultural touchstones for all of us. Granted, this is something I've discussed before, probably several times in fact. But the idea of the 1960s somehow being uniquely worthy of imitation and reference just bugs the hell out of me.
There's also the corollary idea that the people who were more or less the backlash of the 1960s -- that being the 1980s -- are somehow uniquely evil, as we can see with the reaction to yesterday's other obituary, former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But that's a topic for a non-movie blog.
Monday, April 8, 2013
I'd never heard of the short People on Paper before, which is airing early tomorrow morning a little after 5:40 AM, or just after The People Against O'Hara which begins at 4:00 AM. Apparently, this one doesn't get shown very often on TCM, since it doesn't have any user reviews as of the time I'm writing this. Most of the shorts that get shown on TCM (like the Traveltalks shorts) wind up with a review or two, if only to mention that it's another entry in whichever series it was part of.
In the case of People on Paper, that series would be John Nesbitt's Passing Parade. This particular entry, according to the IMDb synopsis, looks at the people who draw the comic strips that appear in our newspapers. Or appeared past tense, since they're all long since dead. There are a couple of names I recognize: Chester Gould of Dick Tracy fame; Chic Young who did Blondie; Hal Foster gave us Prince Valiant; and Fred Lasswell whom I always associated with Snuffy Smith since that's how the cartoon was titled in my Sunday newspaper. Apparently the full name was Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, with Google having been written out of the stripa long time ago.
I have no idea if the presentation is well-down, but for anybody interested in comic strips, this might be worth a look.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Unsurprisingly, I've recommended the movie Blackmail. In that post, I also mentioned the fact that it was originally conceived as a silent film, with the decision made during filming to convert it to a talkie once the technology for making sound films reached the UK. In fact, there were two versions made: the talkie which we more commonly see, and a silent version. Although the technology for making sound films had reached the UK, the technology for showing them was more problematic. You only needed to be a centralized studio to make the movies, but had to have widely dispersed ability to be able to show them. In 1929 Britain it still would likely have been the case that a lot of theaters outside the big wouldn't have been wired for sound, as it was a reasonably expensive undertaking. (I think that's part of the reason why The Big Trail had its problems: theaters that had paid to convert to sound didn't want to pay to convert to widescreen too, and so there were two versions of that film made as well.) And so this week TCM has Blackmail in the Silent Sunday Nights spot at midnight tonight, which presumably implies we're going to be getting the silent version.
Inserted between Blackmail and this week's TCM Import is the Hitchcock short Aventure malgache, which was the subject of a September 2008 blog post, at 1:30 AM.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:41 AM
Saturday, April 6, 2013
TCM has moved TCM Underground to the overnight between Saturday and Sunday to make way for the new Friday night spotlight (which has a really nice graphics package, by the way). This week's Underground is a repeat of a programming block they ran just last October: the documentary Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story at 2:00 AM, followed by Macabre at 3:30. The only difference is that this week, Underground stars an hour and fifteen minutes earlier, which means TCM will have those extra 75 minutes to kill after Macabre.
One of the shorts running, is Perversion for Profit, a hilarious look at how porn is supposedly going to lead to our downfall. Back in the 1960s, it was porn; nowadays it's guns in video games; in between it was rap music or even satanic messages in rock music -- remember that moral panic? As regards Perversion for Profit, TCM's online schedule only lists everything filling out the block between the end of Macabre and the start of Sunday's first feature (New Morals For Old at 6:00 AM) as beginning at 4:45 AM. The good news, however, is that several people have uploaded Perversion for Profit to Youtube, so you can watch it whenver you want:
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:44 AM
Friday, April 5, 2013
I think I've stated once or twice before that Joan Collins gets unfairly maligned, largely because of all that time she spent as part of the cast of Dynasty in the 1980s. To be honest, there are better actresses out there, but Collins was not incapable when she was young. A good example of this is Sea Wife, which is airing at 6:00 AM tomorrow on the Fox Movie Channel. (It will be getting another airing on April 22.)
The movie starts off in London at some point after the end of World War II. Richard Burton plays a man who's taking out classified ads in all the London newspapers, looking for somebody he calls "Sea Wife", and signing the ads "Biscuit". Who's "Sea Wife", and why won't she answer? Obviously, we're going to find that out in a flashback....
Flash back to the beginning of 1942. Japan is attacking Singapore, which was a British colony at the time. Because of the Japanese siege, everybody who can is trying to get out of Singapore, and the boats are severely overcrowded. Burton is able to get on one of the boats, where he's got a place sleeping on the top deck cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of others waiting for him. Joan Collins also gets on, but gets a slightly better place to sleep. She's a nun, and is ministering to the sick children who got on the boats and whose parents couldn't; or, at least, that's more or less what's implied. It's not a comfortable journey though, even for her, as the cabins are overcrowded as well. In addition to being uncomfortable, it's downright dangerous, what with all thost Japanese subs patrolling the Indian Ocean trying to bomb ships. And, sure enough, this ship gets torpedoed.
In the panic, four people get off the boat into one of the lifeboats: Burton, Collins; a man nicknamed "Bulldog" (Basil Syndey), and a member fo the ship's crew (Cy Grant) who is given the nickname "Number Four". The panic is so severe that Collins loses her nun's habit and winds up in the lifeboat with an outfit on that I suppose could pass for some old-fashioned sleepwear. So Burton, who is given the nickname "Biscuit", falls in love with Collins, giving her the name "Sea Wife", while she doesn't return the favor. There's a major plot hole here, which is the question of why on God's earth she didn't just tell him she's a nun? As opposed to, say, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, in which Robert Mitchum's character sees Deborah Kerr's nun in full nun's vestments praying in church when he first meets her on that deserted island.
And if anything, the script is the problem with Sea Wife. In addition to keeping a secret about the real identity of Collins' character from Burton's, the plot has some other problems. Number Four is black, and so you know they just have to make Bulldog racist to provide sufficient tension. And then the lifeboat makes it to an island that is presumed to be one of the Andaman or Nicobar Islands. Either there would have been British patrolling the area at the time, as that would have been close to the front line in the war, or the Japanese would have found the survivors since they occupied the islands in March 1942. Collins does OK given the trite material she has to work with, while Burton seems to be working for a paycheck.
Sea Wife did get a DVD release, although I'm not certain if it's still in print.
No; they're not showing the 1950s Fox movie Woman's World. In fact, I'm not certain if TCM has ever shown that before. Instead, TCM has a new Friday night series. This month, the spotlight is calles "A Woman's World", with the subtitle "The Defining Era of Women on Film".
Guest host Cher will be sitting down with Robert Osborne every Friday night this month to look at the old "women's films" grouped in several sub-genres. This first Friday in April sees a number of movies looking at women in their roles as mothers in four films about which I've already blogged:
Mildred Pierce, with Joan Crawford playing mother to Ann Blythe, kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
Barbara Stanwyck sacrifices everything for her daughter in Stella Dallas at 10:00 PM;
Irene Dunne and Cary Grant adopt a child that dies tragically in Penny Serenade at midnight; and
Ginger Rogers becomes mother to a foundling in Bachelor Mother at 2:15 AM.
One upshot of this is that TCM Underground is moving to the overnight between Saturday and Sunday. I'm also somewhat interested to see Cher's thoughts on these movies. She was a Guest Programmer back in September 2011 and had some selections that one might not guess she would pick, and had interesting things to say about them.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 7:43 AM
Thursday, April 4, 2013
By now, you've probably heard about the death of Roger Ebert at the age of 70. Ebert is best known for being a movie critic on TV, first with Gene Siskel for many years and then, after Siskel's death in 1999, with Richard Roeper. Ebert left his show after cancer forced him off the air in 2006, eventually costing him his voice and much of his lower jaw. But you probably know all of this.
Something less-known might be that Ebert wrote the screenplay to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which has become a cult classic since its release in 1970. Apparently, Ebert had said good things about some of director Russ Meyer's earlier work, which is how Ebert got the opportunity to meet the director, a meeting which eventually led to the job writing the screenplay, as the movie was directed by Meyer.
The fact that the writer of the screenplay for such a movie could go on to become one of America's most respected movie critics is indirectly part of the reason why I have, if not a jaundiced view of critics, one that's less than trusting. I don't particularly place much stock in what any one critic, or critics as a whole, say about movies. I hang out at the TCM boards, and there are some posters there who have interesting views on old movies, and some whose views I find I'm almost always diametrically opposed to. (I also find I disagree strongly with a lot of what I've read from Pauline Kael.) That, and some of the bloggers I've got in my blogroll.
The ironic thing is that I think Ebert might have been the best of the critics when TCM had its "Critics Choice" series back in October 2010. Having lost his voice, he was forced to prepare all his comments beforehand instead of having a real conversation with Robert Osborne. One of Ebert's choices was The Lady Eve, and he made some very intelligent comments about the film, focusing on the scene early on in the boat when Barbara Stanwyck ends up in Henry Fonda's lap.
Unrelated, but that movie is one of quite a few films that shows how Fonda was actually relatively adept at comedy. He wasn't necessarily cracking jokes, but reacting to everybody else being funny around him. It's a type of comedy that Gary Cooper also did extremely well, even though I think Cooper might have had even more obviously comic roles as in Ball of Fire. James Stewart would be another one who has an excellent example of this sort of comedy, in You Can't Take It With You.
Today marks the birth anniversary of Samuel S. Hinds, one of those names you've probably seen a dozen times, but whose face you might not be able to recognize. Hollywood had a lot of great character actors in the Studio Era, and Hinds was one of those who shows up a lot. His first career was as a lawyer in Hollywood, with acting only being a hobby, until with the Depression he changed careers. (IMDb and Wikipedia offer differing accounts as to what exactly happened.) But, eventually he got noticed enough to get work in small roles, with a lot of the early ones being uncredited because back in those days the movies didn't have credits at the end that go on for a good ten minutes like they do today. I don't remember him as the mayor in Lady For a Day, for example.
The only time I've actually mentioned Hinds is in Navy Blue and Gold, in which he plays the father of the girl who is Jimmy Stewart's love interest, and of a son who is one of Stewart's classmates at the Naval Academy. Not a particularly big role, of course, but then most of Hinds' roles weren't very big. Still, as I said that the beginning, you can see him in some very well-known movies.
Hinds was one of Jean Arthur's nutty relatives in You Can't Take It With You, and a judge in Destry Rides Again. At the end of his life he played Uncle Peter Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. All told, Hinds appeared in over 200 films, working right up until the end of his life.
Posted by Ted S. (Just a Cineast) at 8:49 AM
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The death has been announced of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who died today at her Manhattan home at the age of 85.
I have to admit that Jhabvala was a name I had never heard of for the longest time. It wasn't until September 2011, when TCM had a salute to the 50th anniversary of Merchant Ivory Productions, in fact, that I first learned of her name. Jhabvala was the screenwriter for many of the films produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, a collaboration among the three of them which lasted close to 40 years. In fact, Jhabvala wrote the novel which became the basis for the first Merchant Ivory picture, The Householder. Jhabvala would go on to win a pair of Oscars for her screenwriting, both for Merchant Ivory pictures: A Room With a View, and Howards End.
Screenwriting is an important part of moviemaking, and yet I don't think it generally gets the attention it deserves. People probably remember Merchant Ivory pictures, but how many of them would have been able to name the screenwriter?
I'm a bit surprised to say that I don't think I've seen a TCM piece promoing the new Star of the Month Laurence Olivier yet. I'm sure they must have done one, but I just having been tuning in at the right time to see it. They sure ran the piece on Greer Garson into the ground though, as they did with Philip Yordan talking about the screenplay to the 1960s version of King of Kings.
Anyhow, Olivier's movies are going to be on TCM every Wednesday night in April, starting with tonight. On this first Wednesday in April, the prime time lineup consists of four movies based on Shakespeare plays, kicking off with Henry V at 8:00 PM. This one is remarkable in that it even got made at all. It was made in the UK during World War II, in color no less. It must have been quite the feat to get that much color film stock. (By the same token, I wonder how Michael Powell managed it for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which was made a year before Henry V.)
That's followed at 10:30 PM by Olivier's Oscar-winning turn in Hamlet. Thankfully, nobody gets up to see the Queen when Hamlet starts his soliloquy. At 1:15 AM, Olivier plays the hunchbacked king Richard III, and finally, at 4:00 AM he plays Othello.
TCM lists only Henry V as being available for purchase on DVD; I haven't checked Amazon to see if any of the others are on an out-of-print DVD.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
I gave a one-paragraph mention to Strangers on a Train back in November 2008. This month's TCM Guest Programmer, retried basketball star turned color commentator Reggie Miller, has selected it as the first of his four movies, so it's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM.
Farley Granger plays Guy Haines, a tennis player on a train to Washington DC to meet his girlfriend Anne (Ruth Roman). He'd love to propose to her, but there's a problem in that he's already got a wife. Sure, he could get a divorce, but that takes time, and then there's alimony and that other stuff -- and that's if one's wife even wants a divorce. While on the train, who should run into him but Bruno Antony (Robert Walker)? Who's Bruno, you ask? That's a good question, and it's not as if Guy knows Bruno. But Bruno knows of Guy since Guy is a famous tennis player, and strikes up a conversation. It seems as if they've got something in common: a relative who's causing problems in their life. He's got serious daddy issues, and thinks his father is the cause of all is problems. If only something could happen to Father. At which point Bruno reveals his brilliant plan. Find two people who each have somebody they want to get rid of, have them have a chance meeting, and then have each of them perform the murder for the other one! It's not as if the police would be able to discover a motive.
Guy thinks this is nuts, and understandably gets off the train figuring that he was just talking to some oddball. I mean, who on earth in real life would come up with an idea like this? Of course, this isn't real life, but the movies, so it's perfectly normal to have oddballs like Bruno, and boy is Bruno a nut. Or, more accurately, a psychopath. Where Guy thought Bruno was just a nut and Guy was just humoring him, Bruno figured -- in no small part because it was also convenient for him to draw this conclusion -- that Guy was agreeing to the "let's commit each other's murder" plot. So he goes off and kills Guy's wife.
This presents an obvious problem for Guy. The bigger problem is that Bruno wound up with Guy's cigarette lighter when he accidentally left it on the train, and could use it to implicate Guy. And, having committed murder, Bruno expects Guy to fill his half of the bargain. Going to the police is of no use, since Guy doesn't have an alibi, either. (Well, technically he does, but it's not believable and conveniently can't be corroborated.) So Bruno continues to stalk Guy, while the police have their eye on Guy for the more obvious reason.
Strangers on a Train is a wonderful plot, although it's also a plot that, because of its outrageousness, is easy to lampoon. Depending upon your point of view, it either helps the movie tremendously, or is a bit of a problem 60 years on, that Hitchcock also used visuals that are ripe for imitating: there are some striking visuals of Washington DC that make me want to get out my copy of Blackmail to check whether the shots of the British Museum in the earlier movie are a precursor to what Hitchcock would do in Strangers on a Train. But the one big difference in any case would be the presence of Robert Walker in the shots, who is really the focus, with everything around him being framing. That's even more true in the famous tennis match shot. The idea of spectators moving their heads back and forth to follow the tennis ball is exaggerated in most movies, and even more here. But Bruno is absolutely still, eys fixed on Guy. Robert Walker, in fact, is excellent throughout the movie. Everybody else is at the very least good enough. Of note is Alfred Hitchcock's daughter Patricia, playing Ruth Roman's sister.
Strangers on a Train has gotten multiple DVD releases, including one of those four-film bare-bones box sets that TCM likes to advertise.
For the record, Reggie Miller's other three selections are:
Chain-gang member Paul Newman eating 50 hard-boiled eggs in Cool Hand Luke at 10:00 PM;
Dustin Hoffman being pursued by cougar Anne Bancroft, in the days before such women were called cougars, in The Graduate at 12:15 AM; and
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy meeting their daughter's black fiancé (Sidney Poitier) in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at 2:15 AM.