Friday, October 31, 2014

New month, new old movies

Tomorrow is November 1, and with the start of another month it seems we're going to get a couple of movies on FXM Retro that have been sitting in the vaults for a while, which will likely be repeated heavily before going back in the vaults.

The first of these is The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. This one has Betty Grable as a woman in late 19th century Boston who learns how to use the typewriter so that she can become the first female typist secretary. This turns her into a women's lib icon, but also causes problems with her boss. It's really not very shocking, in part because Fox took Frederica Sagor Maas' screenplay, softened it, and added songs to it for Grable and Haymes to sing. Still, it's not the worst thing out there, and on par with the other 1940s Fox musicals.

Then there's Blue Denim, on FXM tomorrow morning at 11:30 and repeated again Sunday (check your box guide, but it should be well after the end of daylight savings time). Brandon de Wilde plays a misunderstood teen who knocks up his girlfriend, and tries to get her an illegal abortion. Of course, with the Production Code, this all had to be done in circumlocutions. I don't think it's a very good movie, but you might want to watch for yourself just once to wonder what the heck the people making this movie were thinking.

Back on TCM, we've reached the end of the Dr. Kildare movies, but we continue with his boss, Dr. Gillespie, in Calling Dr. Gillespie, tomorrow morning ar 10:30 AM. Lionel Barrymore returns, but not Lew Ayres. I mentioned the reason for the change back in December 2011. World War II came, and Lew Ayres was a pacifist. It just wouldn't do to have him in movies, being a conscientious objector while all those other actors were going off and fighting a war. Ayres would up serving as a medic, and resumed his career after the war more or less.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

William Castle on Halloween

Tomorrow being Halloween, TCM is spending the entire day, or at least their programming day that goes from 6:00 AM one day to 6:00 AM the next, with horror movies. Those of you who are fans of the William Castle shtick are in luck, as he is well-represented.

First, at 1:45 PM, you can catch The Tingler, in which Vincent Price helps search for the "tingler" that everybody has inside them and which people keep from getting to dangerous by screaming.

That will be followed at 3:15 PM by Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, which is a documentary about the movies and gimmicks of William Castle.

One movie that didn't really need a gimmick was Strait-Jacket, which comes on overnight, or early Saturday morning, at 3:30 AM.

Unsurprisingly, two of the blog posts I link to were done in October, while the third was after recording a mvoie in Octoer and watching it at the beginning of November.

The Matt Cvetic story

If you enjoy those old anti-Communist movies from the early 1950s -- either because you agree with the poliitcs or because you enjoy how the strident nature of these movies detracts from the story -- you have a chance to catch another one: I Was a Communist For the FBI, this afternoon at 3:45 PM on TCM.

Frank Lovejoy stars as Matt Cvetic, a steelworker in Pittsburgh who was recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Communist Party because, of course, the CPUSA was doing all sorts of nefarious things. In the case of this movie, it means infiltrating labor unions and taking them over, so that the strikes can serve the interests of the Party and not the workers. (To be fair, Hollywood had already seen Communist-tinged labor strife around the making of the movie Night Unto Night) The Communists are also trying to infiltrate our teachers, presumably because the teachers would then put a more positive spin on Communism. It's Matt's job to investigate this stuff and report ot the FBI. He doesn't get very far until the strikes get violent enough for Eve (Dorothy Hart), one of the teachers who is a Communist sympathizer, to be turned off the Communists by the Party's use of violence. Our heroic anti-Communists save the day! (This is another case where we have to give the studio a bit of a pass, as the Production Code wouldn't have let there be aay other outcome.)

I've suggested before that when dealing with anti-Communist movies, you really need to look at them in the light of what they'd be like if they were going after the Nazis or the mob instead, whichever one would make more sense in the context of the movie. In that light, I Was a Communist For the FBI isn't terrible, although there were certainly better anti-Communist movies. Also, there are movies about spying on the Nazis to which we can compare this one, especially Confessions of a Nazi Spy and perhaps The House on 92nd Street, although the latter one also has the World War II backdrop which changes the tenor of the story somewhat. I think both of those movies are better than I Was a Communist For the FBI.

There's also the problem that Matt Cvetic's real story probably isn't all that interesting. Certainly, it's nowhere near as heroic as what's presented in the movie. The real-life Cvetic seems to have been in it just as much for the money as anything else, and a raging drunk to boot. How the FBI could use such a person is a good question, but then J. Edgar Hoover did a lot of strange things at the FBI.

I Was a Communist For the FBI has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some notes on tonight's schedule: October 29, 2014

So we finally get to Psycho on TCM, tnoight at 8:00 PM. I presume most of you have seen the movie before, but I have to say that even though I've seen it several times, I still find the scene just before then end when Marion Crane's sister (Vera Miles) goes down to the fruit cellar and discovers.... Well, you know what she discovers if you've seen the movie, and if you don't I'm not going to spoil it for you. I really wanted to mention Psycho because it's part of a mini-block of Alfred Hitchcock on TCM today. We start off at 4:30 PM with Marnie starring Tippi Hedren as a kleptomaniac with other mental problems too, and Sean Connery as the man who falls in love with her while trying to figure out what's wrong with her. That will be followed at 6:45 PM by Dick Cavet's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, which I mentioned when it ran about a year ago. I really like the Cavett interviews, which are reminiscent of the Private Screenings interviews, but mostly with people who died before Robert Osborne could interview them.

Following Psycho, there will be a pair of movies that are apparently currently out of print on DVD. Amazone lists a couple of options for Touch of Evil (10:00 PM), with one being "Instant video" and the other a "limited edition" DVD. For those who don't know the story, Charlton Heston plays a Mexican narctoics officer married to Star of the Month Janet Leigh who gets involved in a cross-border murder investigation when the signs start pointing to American cop Orson Welles. I'm not quite as big a Welles fan as some people, so while a lot of reviewers find Touch of Evil to be a masterpiece and dammit why did the studio edit it, I find it (and the print I saw on TCM claimed to be the most complete version available) to be a bit muddled. (At least they're not showing Mr. Arkadin.)

Then at midnight you can watch Act of Violence, which I blogged about back in September, 2010. This one has Leigh married to Van Heflin, who plays a World War II veteran with a secret in his war record who is being stalked for blackmail by Robert Ryan, who knows that secret. Ryan is always good at playing the bad guys, while a surprising performance from Mary Astor and direction from Fred Zinnemann help make this movie an underappreciated one that really deserves more attention despite a few flaws. Act of Violence showed up on a few box sets, but I don't know if those are in print.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Perhaps I should actually watch the movies

A few years back, I briefly mentioned the TCM Programming Challenge we have a couple of times a year over at the TCM boards. No prizes or anything, just a good way to stretch our brains and come up with programming ideas that, if we're lucky, will win the ultimate prize: getting used on TCM. There was another one this month, and I decided to set myself the extra challenge of programming only movies that I hadn't seen in their entirety. (In a few cases, that meant having tuned in five or ten minutes after the movie started and seeing the rest of it, which some people may consider cheating.)

One of the themes I thought up was movies with women's full names in the title. The problem is, several of them I couldn't use having already seen them: Alice Adams, Marie Antoinette, and Stella Dallas all come to mind. But I thought of a few others, and was able to come up with enough stuff to fill a night of programming.

But then, somebody pointed it out to me. I included the 1947 movie Cass Timberlane. "Cass", it turns out, is actually a man, played by Spencer Tracy. Really. Who thinks up these character names? Well, in this case it was Sinclair Lewis, who wrote the novel.

The one-person anthology

TCM is running a night of horror anthologies tonight, starting with Dead of Night, which is apparently out of print on DVD. I'd like to focus a bit more on the second film, Twice-Told Tales, at 10:00 PM. Vincent Price stars in adaptations of three different Nathaniel Hawthorne stories, starting with "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment", one that I read back in my junior high school days an eon or two ago.

The slightly more interesting thing is that you've got Price in all three of the stories. It isn't the first time such a structure has been used for an anthology moive. Buster Keaton told three stories of romance and how it's been essentially the same throughout history, in Three Ages. That movie is a bit different, however, in that the movie was structured was structured the way it was for a simple reason. It was Keaton's first feature, and he and the producers figured that if it wasn't successful as an anthology cutting back and forth between the three stories, it could be recut into three two-reelers, each dealing with one era.

A movie that follows the more standard anthology formula and has one star in all the stories is Plaza Suite. Here, Walter Matthau plays several different characters, all of whom rent the same suite at New York's Plaza Hotel at different times. Matthau is, unsurprisingly, quite good.

I'm sure there are some other good anthology movies having one actor in all the stories that I'm forgetting right now.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Foot in Heaven

Some months back, I recommended the sentimental film Spencer's Mountain. An earlier film that evokes many of the same feelings is One Foot in Heaven, which is coming up tonight at midnight on TCM.

Martha Scott plays Hope Morris, a young Canadian woman living with her parents in one of those fashionable upper-middle class houses that you had at the turn of the last century. She's still living with her parents because she's waiting for her boyfriend, William Spence (Fredric March) to finish his medical education so the two o them can get married and go off to start a practice somewhere. Well, they're about to start a new life together, but not the one they expected. William stops by the Morris house telling her and her parents that he walked into a church and got "the calling". That of course means a life in religious ministry and not medicine. William is going to become a Methodist minister, at a time when the Methodists were still apparetnly fairly conservative -- at least, it seems more conservative than William Lundigan's minister in I'd Climb the Highest Mountain. Still, Hope loves William, and marries him, not knowing what the future is going to hold.

That immediate future holds a post in a small town. Money is a constant issue, as Methodist ministers aren't paid much, and the parsimonious parishioners seem generally unwilling to help out the minister's family more than they're obligated to. On top of all that, a minister's family is expected to be the leaders in practicing a life of virtue. This isn't always easy for the minister himself or his wife, but they chose the life. Imagine what it must be like for their two children, who didn't get a choice as to what sort of life they were born into.

Rev. Spence rises up the ladder, eventually getting a post in a bigger city where the parishioners want to build a fabulous cathedral. But they want to do it their way, and not the way the minister wants. To be fair, though, Rev. Spence has shown himself to be a bit more forward-thinking than many of his parishioners. And if the minister doesn't conform to their tastes, then they're not above doing some rather un-Christian things to try to get the Spences to change, even going so far as to exploit his children. But this being a happy Hollywood movie, we know the Rev. Spence is going to come out right in the end.

As I said at the beginning of the post, One Foot in Heaven is one of those sentimental and nostalgic movies, looking at a way of life that really doesn't exist any longer. I mean, there's a scene in which the Methodists learn that motion pictures aren't so bad after all! And the controversy in the final segment is one that could be solved nowadays with a couple of phone calls. Never mind the severely declining enrollment of mainline Protestant churches. (I've always found humorous the scene at the end of The Bishop's Wife in which David Niven's bishop wants it made certain that a copy of his Christmas sermon makes it to the local paoper for publication.) I have to admit that going into it, One Foot in Heaven wasn't quite the sort of movie I thought I'd really enjoy. But the movie is well made, with March delivering a very professional performance as always. The rest of the cast is good enough too. There are a few blunt parts that are basically in the movie to show us how much more kind and tolerant Rev. Spence is compared to the his parishioners, but those don't really bring the movie down.

One Foot in Heaven does not seem to be available on DVD, which is a shame.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

So I have seen the movie before

Every now and then I sit down to watch a movie, only to realize five minutes in that it's something I've already seen before. Earlier this week, I had that misfortune with After Office Hours, a zippy little comic mystery with editor Clark Gable solving a murder while falling in love with society reporter Constance Bennett. It was when Gable showed up talking to Bennett's mother (Billie Burke) that I had the distinct feeling I'd seen the movie before. It was when the action hit the Other Man's (Harvey Stephens) crew house that it was blatantly obvious I'd seen the film. It's OK, but overpriced from the Warner Archive collection. It's the sort of movie that needs to be in one of those four-film box sets.

Anyhow, I was only mentioning After Office Hours because the feeling I had on watching it for the second time is the same feeling I had on watching tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature for the second time some years back. That movie is The Monster, airing overnight at 12:45 AM. The plot of this engaging movie has comic actor Johnny Arthur playing a shop assistant in love with the girl (Gertrude Olmstead) but having to compete with another man, until accidents start happening and people start disappearing. This leads the main characters to the sanitarium next door, where the doctor running the place, Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney) winds up being more than they bargained for. This is part horror, part comedy, although the emphasis is more on the comedy.

At least this week's TCM Import is one I know I've seen multiple times in the past Les Diaboliques, at 2:15 AM.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Shorts report: October 25, 2014 -- and a documentary

For those of you who like your featurettes, you're in luck, as TCM is airing a pair of them overnight tonight. The first one comes up around 1:04 AM, or following The Curse of Frankenstein (11:30 PM, 83 min): A Look at the World of Soylent Green. The other featurette also deals with a 1973 movie: On Location With Westworld, at about 2:14 AM. I have to admit I'm not certain whether or not I've seen either of these featurettes -- if you watch enough TCM, you see a whole bunch of "making of" featurettes that some of them start to blur together.

In between those two featurettes is teh "documentary", or more accuaretly part of TCM's irregular "A Night at the Movies" series that looks at various genres, with a bunch of clips and a bunch of talking heads discussing the genre. This time, the genre is "The Horrors of Stephen King". Goodness knows there have been enough movies made from the works of Stephen King. I'm not as big a Stephen King fan as a lot of people, but my favorite filmi of his stuff would have to be Misery.

One short tomorrow morning that sounds more interestingly bizarre and interesting than it's probably going to turn out to be is Mr. Bride, which comes on at about 11:40 AM tomorrow, following In a Lonely Place (10:00 AM, 93 min). This is a Charley Chase short, so that means you probably have to deal with Chase's wackiness, which I know can be an acquired taste. I'm not the biggest Chase fan myself. (NB: I haven't actually seen this particular short.) Mr. Bride has Charley going on a sort of "honeymoon", with his boss (Del Henderson). Yeah, you can figure this is probably going to be a bit warped.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two from Poland

So a couple of film festival-related stories came up in the English language broadcasts from Polish Radio that I listen to. The other day, I heard a brief report in the daily news program about the American Film Festival in Wroclaw which, if any of you are in Poland, runs through the end of the week. The longer-form feature program Focus has a report on it, although I'm not certain if that program focuses solely on the film festival. There's a little Javascript listen link in the top right corner of the main article on that page; the direct link from the RSS feed is here. NB: the MP3 file is about 18MB and 20 minutes.

How about a festival for Polish emigres? I'm not of Polish descent, so I'm not certain if it would appeal to me, but there's an individual report about a UK/Polish singer who's come back to Warsaw to perform. There's a direct link to the Emigra Film Festival as well as the actual MP3 file (3.8 MB, about four minutes).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Posting may be slow

The power went out here briefly early this morning, one of those things where the lights go on and off and on and off for several seconds, before coming back on. However, when I decided to go back on the computer, I noticed that the modem's "LAN" indicator was off, which meant I couldn't connect to the internet at all. It looks like the problem was eventually solved by disconnecting the cable from the router end of the router/modem connection. -- I had tried connecting the other end of that cable, which didn't seem to solve the problem, go figure. But, it's the second time in a couple of weeks I've had a bit of a problem with the modem, so I'm worried that it might be going bad the way the previous modem did back in August of 2010 (note the gap of a week or so in posting). In that case, though, I was getting repeated temporary disconnects of a few seconds or so while the modem was dying, so I don't think I'm having the same problem. At any rate, I hope it was just a burp and nothing more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bollywood in Prague

From my RSS feed yesterday came the following reasonably interesting story: Childhood one of main themes at this year’s Bollywood film festival


This Wednesday, the annual Bollywood festival of Indian film gets underway in Prague. Now in its 12th year, the festival offers a selection of classical as well as contemporary movies from India and Pakistan, along with a rich accompanying programme. The subtitle of this year’s event is “Children of Bollywood.” I spoke to Radim Špaček, one of the festival’s organizers, and first asked him about the choice of the main theme:

As always with the reports from Radio Prague, the linnk above is to a transcript of the story. There's also an embedded audio player, as well as a direct link to the MP3, which wuns about 3:43, and if it's 64kbit/sec like all the other Radio Prague stories I've mentioned, should be about 1.7 MB. (I download and listen to the emtire program via the RSS feed; this story appeared at the end of the "current affairs" section and I wasn't certain if the individual current affairs stories were available for download.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another lodger

One of the movies that's had a lot of showings on FXM Retro lately is Man in the Attic. It's getting another airing tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight) at 3:30 AM, and is certainly worth a watch.

The movie starts off with wstablishing scenes of Victorian London at night. An intoxicated woman walks out of a bar, and is escorted back to her apartment by a pair of police officers because it's not safe for women to be out alont what with Jack the Ripper having committed a couple of murders already. The woman tricks teh bobbies, telling them she's home when she really isn't, and goes back outside, at which point a shadow comes up, a woman screams, and Jack has committed another murder.

Cut to a slightly more fashionable part of London. An older couple, Helen and William Harley (Frances Bavier and Rhys Williams, respectively) are sitting around doing whatever it is that older couples do in the evening in Victorian London. This being Victorian London, she doesn't work, while he's suffered some "business reverses", so they've had to take the humiliating step of offering a room to let to a lodger. There's a knock on the door, and the person at the door at this late hour is Slade (Jack Palance). He's interested in renting the room. Furthermore, he claims to be a pathologist, so he could use the attic to do his experiments, and his work will have him in and out of the house at very odd hours. Obviously, however, the juxtaposition of these two scenes sets up the dramatic essence of our movie: is Slade actually Jack the Ripper, or is he an innocent man whom people are going to accuse of being Jack the Ripper?

Enter into the story the Harleys' niece Lily Bonner (Constance Smith). She's about to have her big breakthrough, although it's a bit of a plot hole in that she seems more suited to the music hall based on what we see of her performance, while royalty is supposed to show up to this big premiere. There's also another actress who's clearly fallen on hard times who shows up in Lily's dressing room to wish her luck and to tell Lily of her certitude that Lily won't suffer the same fate she has. Oh, her fate isn't fully written yet you can guess that the only reason for this déclassé actress to be in the dressing room is so that when she leaves, she can get bumped off by Jack the Ripper.

Along the way, Lily begins to fall in love with Slade; Helen suspects that he's Jack the Ripper; and William believs Slade is just a victim of suspicion. When Jack the Ripper is spotted supposedly carrying a black bag, we cut to a scene of Slade trying to destroy his bag. William then shows Helen that he too has a black back, and has hidden it lest anybody suspect him of being Jack the Ripper. There's also a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Warwick (Byron Palmer) on the case and since he has to interview Lily after the death of that other actress, he meets her and falls in love with her despite that being thoroughly unprofessional.

Man in the Attic is territory that's quite familiar, even if you haven't seen the first two Lodger movies, from Alfred Hitchcock in 1927 and the Laird Cregar version from Fox in 1944. Still, Jack Palance is well-cast as the difficult to get along with Slade character; this was the part of Palance's career when he was playing the heavies. The rest of the cast is serviceable if not great. The end result is a movie that's satisfying enough, if not up to the standards of either of the first two versions of the movie called The Lodger. Apparently it's been released to DVD in the past but now our of print. Amazon Prime members, however, can apparently watch it on streaming video.

Edgar G. Ulmer schedule heads=up

TCM is running a programming salute to low-budget director Edgar Ulmer all night tonight. The only thing is, it looks as though there might be a scheduling conflict somewhere along the line depending upon whether you're looking at the prinatable monthly schedule downloaded at the beginning of the month, or the recently-updated daily schedule.

The problem stems from the fact that the first movie on the lineup, Her Sister's Secret at 8:00 PM, is an 82-minute movie which was originally scheduled in a 75-minute time slot. Apparently it's a TCM premiere and somehow they got the running time of the print they'd get wrong or something. The rest of the schedule, according to the monthly schedule, runs so:

8:00 PM Her Sister's Secret (82 min)
9:15 PM Documentary (77 min)
10:45 PM Carnegie Hall (136 min)
1:15 AM Murder Is My Beat (77 min)
2:45 AM Detour (68 min)
4:00 AM The Amazing Transparent Man (58 min)
5:00 AM Documentary repeat (77 min)
6:30 AM Sin Takes a Holiday (80 min)

That last film is part of a morning and afternoon of movies for birthday girl Constance Bennett. Now, as you can see, there's no good place for the schedule to catch up. If it weren't for Robert Osborne's introductions, I'd guess that the documentary would run a bit over, Carnegie Hall would start a couple of minutes late, and then the schedule would catch up at 1:15 AM. The fact that you have to add three or four mintues to those running times to include Osborne's comments complicates matters. The TCM on-line schedules and the box guide had the above lineup for quite some time, but when I checked the schedule this morning knowing I was going to write about the schedule conflict, things changed.

The daily schedule now has the entire night running 15 minutes later than the times given above, with the obvious exception of Her Sister's Secret. TCM's programming day begins around 6:00 AM or so, so the daily schedule ends with the documentary. The Wednesday daily schedule has Sin Takes a Holiday listed at 6:30. Since the repeat of the documentary wouldn't have Robert Osborne's comments, this implies that Sin Takes a Holiday is going to begin a few minutes late and this is where the schedule will catch up. This is probably the accurate schedule, but I'm not going to commit myself to anything.

Ah, but things get more interesting if you decide to look at the weekly schedule so you can look at the end of the prime-time lineup and tomorrow morning's schedule on one convenient page. This page is, I think, the one that's quite wrong. The Tuesday night schedule is the same as on the daily page, that is the schedule listed above with everything properly delated 15 minutes. But the Wednesday schedule is listed as having the short 100 Years at the Movies, which runs about nine minutes, starting at 6:00 AM, with Sin Takes a Holiday starting at 6:45 AM and the schedule catching up with the second movie of the day.

The upshot is that if you want to catch all the Ulmer films and Sin Takes a Holiday, be carfeul when you set your DVR.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Apparently I haven't blogged about Kings Row before

A search of the blog claims that I've never done a full-length post on Kings Row before. It's airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM as part of a night of "Bob's Picks", so now would be a good time to do that full-length post on the movie.

The movie is set late in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th in the fictional small town of Kings Row, which really could substitute for any small town anywhere in the country, bet it Peyton Place, NH, or the small Mississippi town in Intruder in the Dust. The story is told more or less in three parts, with the first part introducing us to the various protagonists as children. There's Parris, who lives in a big house with his grandmother; Drake, who's going to receive a stipend from a trust fund when he grows up; Cassie, the doctor's daughter; and Randy, the daughter of a railroad worker who lives on the "wrong" side of the tracks. Not that it matters to the kids, who have always been less conscious of class than the adults. Randy likes Drake, while Parris and Cassie have a crush on each other. The latter relationship is much to the chagrin of Cassie's father, Dr. Tower (Claude Rains). Rumor has it that Cassie's mother is not right in the head, and that's had an effect on Cassie. Or, at least, the doctor thinks it has, so he eventually pulls Cassie out of school and the others only see her through upstairs windows.

Fast forward to when everybody is a young adult. Drake (now played by Ronald Reagan) is now living off that trust fund, with a fashionable carriage and chasing after the fashinable women. Randy (Ann Sheridan) still lives with her father in a ramshackle place on the other side of tracks. Cassie (Betty Field) still lives as a recluse with her father, while Parris has decided to study medicine to become a doctor, and is doing so with Dr. Tower. This gives Parris the chance to try to see Cassie, although Dr. Tower strictly forbids it. This, even though Cassie wants to see Parris. But is she going crazy, just like everybody rumored about her mother? Eventually, two tragedies happen. One befalls Drake when the bank manager at the bank where Drake's trust fund is administers runs off having embezzled all the money, leaving Drake penniless. The other befalls Parris and Cassie when there's a murder-suicide at the Tower residence involving the doctor and Cassie.

Parris gets an opportunity to study psychoanalysis in Vienna, presumably under a youngish Dr. Freud. Drake goes off to work at the rail yards with Randy's father, which allows Drake to discover that Randy was really the girl for him all along. They fall in love and have plans for the future, but those plans change when there's an accident at the railyard and Drake's legs get pinned. Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn) is called in and he decides to operate -- by amputating both of Drake's legs! (This leads to the classic line, "Where's the rest of me?" when Drake discovers he's an amputee.) Randy writes to Parris in Vienna for help, since the amputation has left Drake bitter and feeling no hope for the future. Parris returns and finds that Drake's isn't the first amputation in town, and that perhaps Drake's amputation wasn't medically necessary. So what's going on here?

Kings Row is the sort of movie that makes you wonder what Douglas Sirk would have done with the material if he had been around in Hollywood and getting prestige movies to direct in the early 1940s. By the end of the movie, the material really does get to be that over the top, although not in a bad way. Cummings and Reagan both have roles that test the limits of their acting abilities. Both strive valiantly, but ultimately come up a bit short in spots. It's not quite a big deal with Cummings since his character goes away for much of the final third of the movie, while Reagan's difficulties in playing characters with a really dark part is particularly noticeable after the amputation when he's supposed to have no hope. Reagan was always more suited to play the equanimity he shows when he first takes the railroad job, the "I'm not going to let this get me down" attitude that allows his affable nature to shine through. When something finally dows get him down, in this case the amputation, Reagan looks like he's going through the motions.

Still, Kings Row is a very entertaining movie in part because of the material, and in part because it's Ronald Reagan trying to pull off this material. The TCM Shop is offering the movie on DVD as part of one of their four-film box sets, this one of Ronald Reagan movies. I don't know if it's available on a standalone DVD.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Do wasps have a spirit too?

A movie that's very interesting and worth a watch, albeit rather difficult to classify, is airing overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning depending upon your point of view): The Spirit of the Beehive, at 4:30 AM.

The scene is Spain, around 1940, or just after the Spanish Civil War ended. Ana (Ana Torrens) is the younger sister in a standard-issue family that has two girls, a mother, and father. Dad spends his time philosophizing and keeping bees, writing about the way the bees go about their life, while Mom apparently had another man in her past before she met and married Dad, because she's got a bunch of old love letters that aren't from Dad. (Or at least, I [i]think[/i] that was supposed to be the plot point.) The two sisters are more or less typical for young girls the world over.

One day, the local cinema shows a very interesting movie: James Whale's 1931 masterpiece Frankenstein. The kids watch in awe of the monster, but one scene that particularly affects Ana is the one in which the monster accidentally drowns the little girl who gives him a flower, and then the girl's father carries her dead body through town before the townsfolk attack the castle where Dr. Frankenstein does his experiments. Ana's sister decides to play a bit of a prank on Ana, telling her that Frankenstein's monster actually lives nearby, and she'll show Ana where the monster lives. Big sister then takes Ana to an abandoned farmhouse a couple of miles outside of town, saying that this is where the monster lives, although it happens not to be there at the time (natuarlly, since there's no monster).

The little girl, having a vivid imagination like many young children do, starts fantasizing. She wants to see the monster, so she keeps going back to the farmhouse. Eventually, she does find something in the house, but it's not Frankenstein's monster. Instead, a fugitive (whether it's just a run-of-the-mill criminal or a fighter from the losing side of the Civil War isn't quite made clear) has holed up there. Eventually, though, the authorities capture the man, and Ana decides to run away from home.

In among all this are a bunch of scenes that seem like vignettes in one of those old Hollywood movies that tells a child's story through vignettes; think a movie like Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. But The Spirit of the Beehive is a different sort of movie entirely. The vignettes feel a bit disjointed and the plot at times seems almost baffling. Why is there so much emotional distance between the various family members? Why does big sister play dead? But the visuals are stunning, and anybody who had an active imagination as a child should be able to identify with Ana. If you haven't seen The Spirit of the Beehive before, you should see it at least once. And if you didn't get it the first time, you may want to watch it again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hot Saturday

One of the more fun and shocking pre-codes that showed up back in September as part of the Friday Spotlight of pre-Codes was Hot Saturday. It's on TCM again tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM, and is certainly worth a viewing if you haven't seen any of the previous recent TMC showings.

Nancy Carroll stars as Ruth Brock. She's a secretary at the local bank, and in some ways the belle of the bank. At least, all of the male tellers want her. Chief among these young men is Conny Billop (Edward Woods), who's trying to get her to be his date when everybody goes out to the local weekend spot out on the lake. They're planning to go as a group, evne though the town's older residents wonder whether the young folk enjoying themselves this way is such a good idea. That having been said, they wonder even more whether the guy on the other side of the lake is good. That guy is the notorious playboy Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant). He's got a place on the lake, and a girlfriend whom he just got rid of by writing a $10,000 check, which of course is a huge sum of money back in those days. Romer comes into the bank and invites the young people who work there to his place on Saturday afternoon before they all head off to the night spot.

So everybody goes to Romer's lakehouse which looks like it would be a fabulous place to have if you could afford it. And even though the parents' generation all think Romer is a terrible influence, the party the youngsters have at his place that afternoon is fairly innocent with the possible exception of the alcoholic drinks being served, which would have been problematic considering that this was still the Prohibition era. Meanwhile, Romer has shown Ruth a little more of his side of the lake, completely innocently of course. Eventually, they all decamp to the other side of the lake to enjoy the evening. Conny takes Ruth out on a boat and is a total jerk to her, trying to paw her when clearly she doesn't want it. So she runs away when the boat gets to shore again, and this being the opposite side of the lake, she makes her way to Romer's place. They talk fairly innocently for several hours before he takes her home.

When she gets back home, she finds that the family has a guest. That guest is old family friend Bill Fadden (Randolph Scott). He's a minerals engineer who went off to school and now several years later, he's returned on his way to the mountains where he's going to do some geological surveying for an oil company. Bill is unsurprisingly, like every other guy in town, smitten with Ruth, and her parents (William Collier and Jane Darwell) think that he'd be right for Ruth to marry. But that's not going to happen so quickly.

When Romer took Ruth home, a couple of the young people saw him drop her off. And they start gossiping. This being one of those small towns, gossip travels fast, and the lies about what Ruth and Romer are accused of having done spread quickly. Romer doesn't care since he lives outside of town and has the money to go off to the big city; in fact, he doesn't even know about any of the gossip. For Ruth, however, it's tragic, as she gets fired from the bank. Ah, but at least there's Bill, in love with her and willing to marry her immediately to solve all her problems, since his work is generally going to take him away from this crummy old town. So they get engaged and go to that night spot on the lake to celebrate with everybody. Conny, however, feeling himself a spurned lover, decides to gain revene on Ruth by inviting Romer to the little shindig....

The plot synopsis is relatively old-fashioned, in that it's hard to believe 80 years on that a town would immediatley gossip just because one of their young people returned home in the middle of the night. But what makes the movie is a couple of thoroughly pre-Code scenes. The first of these comes early in the movie, when Ruth returns home and wants to change into a new pair of undergarments that she had bought for when she goes out. She discobers that her kid sister Annie (Rose Coghlan) has taken them and is wearing them, and dammit, Ruth is going to get them back, even if she has to tear them off Annie's body! (The scene doesn't go [i]quite[/i] that far.) Later, there's a scene when Ruth goes running off to Bill after news of her "indiscretion" with Romer has made its way around town. Bill has already gone off to the mountains, and when Ruth gets there, it's pouring rain. She collapses, and Bill takes her into his tent to take care of her lest she get pneumonia or something. She wakes up with a blanket covering her and above her head, we get a pan shot of every last stitch of clothing she had on! Bill had strictily honorable intentions, of course, but still it's shocking. And then there's the shock at the end, which I won't give away. Let's just say that the ending of this movie is one that would never have made it to screen after 1934.

Cary Grant gets top billing in this, one of his earliest movies. But it's really Nancy Carroll's movie, and she's a lot of fun to watch. Grant is good, although watching a movie like this you can see why he ended up as the elegant gentleman type in his later movies. Randolph Scott is upright enough, but a bit boring, although that's probably because the script requires him to be more bland. Fans of old movies will recognize Grady Sutton as one of the bank workers. All in all, Hot Saturday is a really surprising pre-Code.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shorts update for October 17, 2014

I don't think I've ever mentioned Cradle of a Nation before. This is a Traveltalks short, looking at some of the restored sites in Virginia that were important parts of the state's colonial history. It's airing at approximately 4:15 AM tomorrow morning, or overnight tonight depending upon your point of view or time zone. Or, to put it another way, it follows The Macomber Affair (2:45 AM, 89 min plus I presume an intro and outro from Alex Trebek). For some reason when I saw this on the schedule, I didn't immediately think it was a Traveltalks short, but something from Warner Bros. I recall seeing ome time back on TCM, a black-and-white short trying to be a Traveltalks short but falling short. The more I think about it, the more that black-and-white short I could swear I've seen might have looked at places that were a part of antebellum history in one of the southern states. Mississippi?

And then there's Grand Prix: Challenge of hte Champions, which you can catch tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. This one is a featurette made for the 1966 James Garner movie Grand Prix. That movie deals with the Grand Prix of Monaco, so we get a lot of shots of Monaco itself, of the stars, and perhaps most interestingly the racecar drivers of the day actually competing in the Grand Prix of Monaco.. This is one of those shorts that I've come across once or twice in the past while I was just flipping through the channels or sitting down before the next movie, but don't think I've actually watched all the way through.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Leo F. Forbstein, 1892-1948

So that's what Leo Forbstein looks like!

Today marks the birth anniversary of Leo F. Forbstein. That's a name that you've almost certainly seen if you watch enough TCM. He was the musical director at Warner Bros. for oer 15 years until his death in 1948, conducting the orchestra. Forbstein started at Vitaphone which was a subsidiary of Warner Bros., which explains why in many of the early 1930s pictures he's credited as the conductor of the Vitaphone orchestra. Forbstein won an Oscar for Anthony Adverse, although that was as head of the music department; the actual score was written by Erich Korngold who also picked up an Oscar alongside Forbstein.

In fact, Forbstein wrote very few scores unlike some composers who are also conductors. IMDb lists only four credits for Forbstein as a composer, for movies I have to admit that I don't recognize. IMDb also lists two credits for Forbstein as an actor, although I doubt he was really acting. In both pictures: 1934's Twenty Million Sweethearts and 1935's Broadway Gondolier, he's listed as playing a conductor. I haven't seen either movie, but I'd presume both of them needed a conductor for the orchestra that showed up in a musical number, so why not use Forbstein?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pete Kelly's Blues

If you liked Jack Webb last week in The D.I., you're in luck. One of the movies TCM is showing in honor of Star of the Month Janet Leigh was directed by and stars Webb. That film, Pete Kelly's Blues, airs tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM.

Webb, unsurprisingly, plays Pete Kelly. (Having your own production company making the movie helps.) Pete is the cornetist in, and leader of, a 1920s jazz combo, playing at a Kansas City-area speakeasy along with clarinetist Al (Lee Marvin) and drummer Joey (Martin Milner). This being the 1920s, it obviously means Prohibition, and all the concomitant problems that brings. One of the big problems is the rise of the gangster, which in this context means the protection racket. Local gangster Fran McCarg (Edmond O'Brien) wants to take over the entertainment racket, charging every band a piece of the action in order to be able to play. The band thinks it over and says no, with Joey being particularly strident in his view that the gangsters shouldn't be taking money from bands.

Of course, McCarg's offer wasn't a request; he's not going to let a little thing like the word "no" stop him. So while the band goes off to a private function, Fran is plotting to use force to get Pete and his band to comply. Janet Leigh finally shows up here, playing Ivy, the woman hosting the party and falling in love with Pete there, although at first the feeling is not mutual. On the way home from the party Fran's goons try to run Pete and has band off the road. Joey still refuses to give in to Fran, and when the gangsters continue their policy of vilently harassing anybody who says no to them, Joey gets in a fight with one of the underlings, thus sealing his fate. He abruptly gets rubbed out. This ultimately gets Pete to give in to Fran.

Of course, that's not where Fran's pressure ends. Fran has a girlfriend named Rose (Peggy Lee), although she's not particularly enamored of him any longer. Rose is a singer, and Fran is trying to push her career, reminiscent of James Cagney and Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me. So Fran tries to push Rose on Pete's band, even though the styles of music aren't a mesh at all. Eventually Fran strikes out at Rose, and that's what gets Pete to do the right thing and cooperate with the law.

Even if Jack Webb weren't playing Pete Kelly, the movie would still have his fingerprints all over it: the clipped dialog and the obvious right versus wrong, practically hitting us over the head with all of it. Still, it's obvious from watching the movie that Webb had an affection for the material and as with The D.I., directs it almost as a labor of love: in addition to Peggy Lee's singing, Webb was able to get Ella Fitzgerald The result is a movie that, while it has its flaws, is a lot better than you'd think if you only knew Jack Webb from the 1960s version of Dragnet and the other TV shows his production company made at the time. (Martin Milner would go on to star in Dragnet's police-drama companion Adam-12.)

Pete Kelly's Blues did get a DVD release several years ago, but it seems to be out of print now, as the TCM shop no longer offers it for purchase.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Briefs for October 14, 2014

TCM's forums finally came back yesterday afternoon. I think once I found out that I wasn't the only one having problems, the fairly obvious conclusion was some sort of major problem at TCM's end, although I still think it mildly odd that the error message only read, "This account has been suspended." Another board where I post was undergoing a bit of maintenance yesterday afternoon, and the board owner notified us a good week before of the possible outage time. Sure enough, there was a brief outage, but there was an error message that had a drawing reminiscent of the robot from Forbidden Planet and a message that something's gone wrong and either try again or contact the people who make the board software with a link to their web-site. I also have to admit that I don't do Facebook, which is why I wouldn't have seen any message from TCM there about problems with the boards. I find it a memory hog and I don't care about a bunch of middle-aged gossips playing Candy Crush Saga.

I should probably apologize for not blogging about Tycoon, which aired yesterday at 5:45 PM as part of TCM's birthday salute to the late Laraine Day. I had seen it on the schedule and intended to do a post, but with everything going on over the weekend I totally forgot. There was a little "Buy This" icon next to the movie in the TCM schedule, but the DVD is actually out of print. On the TCM Shop, it says that the DVD is "on order", while over at Amazon they say they only have a limited number available, which is a sure sign that the DVD is out of print. Tycoon isn't exactly a great movie, but it's one that's certainly worth at least one viewing.

As for another short, I can recommend Primitive Pitcairn, which TCM lists as beginning at 4:59 AM, or just after the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty at 2:45 AM. The short is an early 1935 look at Pitcairn Island, where the Bounty mutineers ended up because it seemed suitably remote. It was still remote even in 1935, and the lives that the descendants of the mutinners were leading was exceedingly harsh. There's apparently no good harbor on the island, so ships didn't stop by very often, which led to a great deal of isolation. The island also doesn't offer a very bounteous (no pun intended) harvest. It's on Youtube, but I'm not certain if it's in the coorect aspect ratio. (I didn't actually watch the Youtube version.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

TCM Guest Programmer: David Steinberg

And so we get to this month's Guest Programmer on TCM: comic writer/director David Steinberg. He's selected four of his favorite films, and will be sitting down with Robert Osborne to present those movies tonight. Those selections are:

The Marx Brothers and Kitty Carlisle spend A Night at the Opera at 8:00 PM;
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance their way through Swing Time at 10:00 PM;
Cary Grant tries to recover his prize dinosaur bone from selfish Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby at midnight; and
Prostitute Giulietta Masina walks the streets of Rome in Nights of Cabiria, at 2:00 AM.

Perhaps more interesting is the short that's coming up in between two of the movies. Just after A Night at the Opera, at about 9:48 PM, is Things You Never See on the Screen. This was Warner Bros. "goof reel" for the year 1935, bloopers from filming that didn't make it into the final cuts for obvious reasons, and which would ultimately be presented at the company Christmas party. People who are even better acquainted with the Warner Bros. movies of that era will have fun trying to figure out which movie each clip is from; James Cagney flubbing his Shakespearean lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream is the easy one. There's also a somewhat shocking line in an intertitle card about a behind-the-scenes crewman of Italian descent "going home to cook one of his wop dinners".

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Another silent shorts warning

TCM's Silent Sunday Nights feature for tonight is not a feautre, but five comic shorts. No problem with that per se; it's just that when TCM schedules a bunch of shorts like this, there's always a problem with the timing and order in which they'll run. TCM's online schedule page lists the five shorts, but all beginning at midnight. (They also list a short in between The Steel Trap and Silent Sunday Nights: 1933's Come to Dinner, which is a parody of Dinner at Eight.) That order is:

1. Jailed and Bailed
2. The Boy Friend
3. Charley, My Boy!
4. Long Pants
5. Just a Good Guy

The downloadable monthly schedule lists them in mostly the same order, except that Jailed and Bailed is at the end instead of the beginning. Also the times given for the five shorts add up to about 91 minutes on the monthly schedule, and 108 minutes on the online daily schedule. My DirecTV box guide lists them in the same order as the monthly schedule, but puts each of the five shorts into a 24-minute block, which conveniently comes out to two hours. (The daily schedule page lists two of the shorts as running 25 minutes.) And Titan TV's online guide only lists four of the shorts, following the same order as the monthly TCM guide and DirecTV, but omitting Just a Good Guy, and sticking each short into a half-hour slot. I think we can presume that's wrong, and all five shorts are airing. I'd guess it's in the monthly guide order, but I'm never certain when it comes to these blocks of shorts.

The Steel Trap

A movie that's got an interesting premise but which unfortunately goes wrong in the execution is The Steel Trap, which is on TCM this evening at 10:00 PM.

Joseph Cotten stars as Jim Osborne, a man whose life seems somewhat reminiscent of the character played by Dick Powell in Pitfall. Osborne is a middle class (by early 1950s standards) bank assistant manager, married to a lovely wife Laurie (Teresa Wright) and father to an infant daughter. Now, if you saw Pitfall, you know there was a femme fatale. There's a femme fatale of sorts in The Steel Trap, too, but it's an inanimate one: the almighty dollar.

Jim Osborne suggests that if you work for a bank long enough, it's only logical that once in a while, your thoughts are going to wander to whether or not you can get away with getting any of that money for yourself. The only thing is, there are all sorts of security measures to try to keep people from stealing that money. The bank vault is on a timer; the assistant manager knows only half the combination, with the other half being entrusted to a second person; there's no place to go with all that money; and so on. But Jim decides that it would be easy to look over the shoulders of the people who have the other halves of the various combinations, and starts doing research into how he can get around the other dificulties. The most difficult one is not getting extradited back to the United States. Theoretically, I assume the communist countries of the day might not have extradited him, but getting into those countries would have been a problem. But Jim discovers that there's a loophole in the extradition treaty with Brazil, so he's going to steal the money and hop on a flight to Brazil with his wife and kid!

This is where the movie starts to go wrong. Jim has to steal the money after the close of business on a Friday, so that he can get on that plane and make it to Brazil before Monday morning when the bank opens, it's discovered that a lot of money is missing, and the suspicion points to Jim. (Remember, this is in the era before jet travel, when even plane travel was a good deal slower than it is today.) This isn't a crime of keeping people from figuring out who did it; it's a crime of getting oneself outside the scope of law and who cares who neat or messy the crime is. However, there's one catch. The bank has seasonal opening hours that include a couple of hours on a Saturday morning, and that season is just about to begin next week. If Jim doesn't pull off the job This Friday, he's going to have to wait months to pull it off. Any logical person would spend those months preparing for the job, but stupid Jim takes the other option of committing the deed now.

And with this, Jim starts to reveal himself not as a suave criminal who could con people, but as a bullying jerk who commits one blunt lie after another that everybody should be able to see through. Jim and Laurie don't have passports, because international travel wasn't so common back in the early 1950s and you didn't need a passport to travel to Canada or Mexico back then. Some of those six months could have been used to get those passports: since Jim works for the Bank of Italy, he could make up a smoother lie about being interested in getting into the international banking part of their business, and getting the passports for him and his wife to prepare for that. But no; Jim has to get na emergency expedited passport for him and his wife, which is where the scheme should fall apart. It doesn't, and the film goes on for another 40 or 50 minutes with Jim compounding his lies and being exceedingly dislikeable in doing so.

Or, at least, that's the impression I got watching this movie. A lot of other reviewers have much kinder things to say about the film, so this is definitely one you'll want to watch for yourself to judge. Cotten and Wright are generally quite good actors, too, so that should make it easier to like the film.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Account suspended

Has anybody else been having trouble getting into the TCM forums in the last few hours? I was on just fine this afternoon, but when I tried to connect this evening, I get an error page saying "This Account Has Been Suspended". No message from anybody at TCM that I might have done anything to be suspended, no way to connect anonymously -- it's as though I've been IP-blocked, not just suspended. Heck, I even tried using Opera's proxy server, and still couldn't connect. I did mention once on Thursday that I thought a certain poster was just looking for reasons to complain, and the poster in question basically sent me a PM saying he was going to bitch to the moderator about it, but that's all.

Is anybody else having problems, or have I been completely banned with no explanation because one user had a conniption fit?

The latest in 1950s RKO-Pathé shorts

There are a couple of the RKO-Pathé shorts coming up on TCM in the next 24 hours. Objectively, these 1950s shorts aren't very good in terms of technical quality or presenting the subject material. But they're always interesting time capsules.

First up is the Sportscope Canoeman's Holiday, a little after 5:00 PM, or just after The Westerner (3:15 PM, 100 min plus the intro/outro from Ben Mankiewicz). This one looks at a hunting lodge for fairly wealthy tourists in New Brunswick just over the US/Canada border from Maine. This is the sort of short that really needed Traveltalks-style color cinematography but because of RKO's financial state we get black-and-white and even worse narration than what James A. Fitzpatrick would give us. It's a shame because the scenery would have been nice and I'm sure there are people interested in duck hunting.

Following this week's TCM Underground -- a double bill of blaxploitation horror in Blacula at 2:15 AM and Scream, Blacula, Scream at 4:00 AM -- we get the short Alert Today -- Alive Tomorrow. This one looks at civil defense in the 1950s, which back then obviously meant preparing for the possibility of a nuclear attack. This was still the days before ICBMs, I think, so the bombs would have come via bomber, and as we saw last year in Polar Outpost, our government was busy trying to keep the Soviets from coming in over the pole. But if the Soviets did succeed in dropping a bomb, it would have been up to Civil Defense to deal with the damage. Here we see CD preparing in Reading PA, and the fact that we get one of those now-decaying Rust Belt towns as it was in the 1950s is what really makes this short worth a view, along with the look at how people thought about the possibility of nuclear war back then.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Animation update

I didn't get to watch the entire evening of animation on Monday night, so I missed that the third set of vintage shorts from the Van Beuren Studio didn't show up, which led to much consternation over on the TCM boards. One of the presenters from Monday evening said that this was due to a technical glitch at TCM, and that the cartoons are back on the schedule for December 7.

The Winsor McCay shorts were interesting. The scenes from Gertie the Dinosaur set in the Museum of Natural History also show the challenges of early filmmaking, as the picture was very dark, and there was no way to put sufficient lighting in the closed room. I also didn't realize just how long that dinosaur skeleton has been there.

At any rate, if you didn't see any of the Winsor McCay shorts, here's the whimsical How a Mosquito Operates:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flashback... What a Feeling

A movie that over the years has received some notoriety for its narrative structure shows up late this afternoon on TCM: The Locket, at 6:30 PM.

The movie starts off with a bunch of people entering one of those fancy apartment buildings in New York City. They're going to see he wedding of John Willis (Gene Raymond) to his fiancée Nancy (Laraine Day). One of the wedding guests, hoewver, is an uninvited guest, and that's because he doesn't want the wedding to go off until after he's spoken now -- and there's no way he's going to hold his peace forever. This man corners Willis and then begins to tell his story. Cue the flashback....

The man is psychiatrist Harry Blair (Brian Aherne). Some time back, while he was vacationing in Florida, he met Nancy, and fell in love with her. They got married, and returned to New York where the good doctor starts one of those fashionable psychiatric practices. However, he's not ready for one of the people who comes into his office one day. That man, an artist named Norman Clyde (Robert Mitchum), claims that Nancy is the cause of an innocent man winding up on death row! Cue another flashback....

Norman, the artist, was working as an art instructor a couple of years earlier when who should walk into his class to take lessons but Nancy? Nancy is working as a secretary for the wealthy businessman Bonner (Ricardo Cortez). Since by this time Norman has fallen in love with Nnacy, she's going to do a favor for him: she's going to get get her boss to show one of Norman's works at one of the private showings that Bonner, a patron of the arts, runs in his lavish apartment. That's great, until a bracelet goes missing at the showing. Norman and Nancy go back to his apartment, and sure enough, he finds the bracelet in her purse. Nancy is apparently a kleptomaniac, and boy does she have a story to explain why she is the way she is. Cue the flashback....

When Nancy was a kid (played by Sharyn Moffett), she was the daughter of a maid in one of those fancy apartment buildings in New York. The people who employed Nancy's mother had a daughter about Nancy's age, and the two were about as close friends as you can expect the boss' daughter and the help's daughter to be. No class differences for them. The parents, of course, see things differently. The daughter gives young Nancy a locket, but it's a gift the parents don't approve, and they demand the locket be returned, eventually accusing Nancy of being a thief when the locket goes missing. It's that incident which scarred Nancy emotionally and turned her into a compulsive jewelry thief, apparently.

Finally, the action starts to move forward again, and we eventually get back to the wedding, although there are a few surprises along the way, with the biggest surprise of all being saved for the wedding ceremony itself. That part of the story I won't give away, however.

With all those flahsbacks-within-flashbacks, you'd think the story is difficult to follow, but that's not really the case. It's not the way the story is structured that's the problem, it's the story itself. I couldn't help but think that Nancy would have gotten into serious legal trouble before she ever started working for Bonner, and certainly wouldn't have stayed clean long enough to get to the altar with a wealthy family like the Willises. And you'd think somebody in the famliy would have investigated Nancy to the point of discovering her past. The ending is one that I found unbelievable and a bit unsatisfying.

Still, the actors do the best they can with this material, and none of them do anything to detract from the movie. The same goes for the director. So The Locket is absolutely another of those movies that you need to give a viewing for yourself, because many of you will probably have a higher opinion of it than I do. It's also available from the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Meat the Professor

After Dory Schary took over at MGM, the studio started making a bunch of little pictures in order to subsidize those big prestigious musicals they were putting out. I've mentioned some of those little movies before as being quite good, but some of them leave you scratching your head wondering what they were thinking making the movie. A good example of this latter category is Confidentially Connie, which will be on TCM tomorrow morning at 5:45 AM as part of Janet Leigh's turn as TCM's Star of the Month.

Leigh plays Connie Bedloe, and we first see her in a doctor's office, where we find out that she's pregnant. Oh, that's not a problem, since she's got a good husband Joe (Van Johnson) who is an English professor at the local college. The problem is that English professors at small New England liberal arts colleges don't make all that much money. And never mind what the couple is going to do when the baby comes. The good doctor wants Connie to eat lots of red meat so that the baby will be born strong and healthy. Red meat, however, costs money, and that's something the poor professor doesn't have enough of. So it looks like it's going to be fish, until Connie gives up her cigarette money to buy some good meat.

What's a poor couple to do? Well, both spouses have an idea. There's a chance at a promotion at eh college, as Dean Magruder (Gene Lockhart) is planning to raise somebody to a fuller professorship. If Joe can get that, it means more money for him and Connie. But there's a problem here in that his chief rival for the promotion is inviting the dean over for a dinner party, and planning to tip the scales by providing some good meat at the dinner, a cut that Joe and Connie can't possibly match. Connie's idea is different, and involves Joe's father Opie (Louis Calhern), who is a wealthy Texas rancher. Going into ranching would make far more money than being a crappy English professor.

Opie, meanwhile, has decided to take a few weeks off to visit his son and daughter-in-law. Unsurprisingly, he's appalled by what he sees; more specifically, it's the lack of red meat that appals him. So when he gets there, he hits opun a scheme involving getting the local butcher to claim he got a shipment of excess meat that allows him to lower the price of red meat, enough that Connie will be able to afford it. Opie will then pay the butcher under the table. Unfortunately, that plan backfires because all the other housewives in town find out about the low low prices and start storming the butcher shops.

It's all thoroughly ludicrous, even more so than a lot of Hollywood movies. I'm reminded of the Barbra Streisand film For Pete's Sake, which has as its climax Streisand trying to smuggle a truckload of cattle into New York. It's nuts, but the whole movie is set up as being silly so that when you have such a zany scene it works. Confidenially Connie, however, is firmly in the early-1950s MGM tradition of earnestness and a bit of a social conscience that turns out painfully pathetic. The "Black Americans" sequence in It's a Big Country comes to mind here. The result is comedy that doesn't work, and whatever message the movie is trying to send doesn't work either. Still, it's a movie that deserves a viewing just because of it's off-the-wall theme. And being one of the lesser movies that MGM was making to pay for the prestige movies, it's mercifully brief at 72 minutes.

Confidentially Connie is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection, but I'd think it's much too expensive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The D.I.

TCM is putting the spotlight on Jack Webb as director tomorrow morning with three of his movies, starting at 8:00 AM with The D.I.

Webb, who was director and head of the production comapny Mark VII, was unsurprisingly able to get himself cast in the titular role, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jim Moore. Moore is stationed at Parris Island, SC, as a drill instructor, whose job it is more or less to put the new Marines through the Marine equivalent of basic training. The sergeant is good at what he does, yelling out orders and getting in the recruits' faces when they screw up, because as we'll learn in one scene later in the movie, even the tiniest screw-up could be fatal. There's only one problem. One of the privates in the newest group of recruits, Pvt. Owens (Don Dubbins), is spectacularly incompent. Well, perhaps spectacular is an overstatement, but he's certainly not shown himself to be good at any part of being a Marine. Sgt. Moore thinks there's something in the kid, though, despite everybody else's opinion to the contrary. And dammit, Sgt. Moore is going to prove it.

The rest of the movie is Sgt. Moore trying to prove that Pvt. Owens can make a good Marine, with Owens more or less gumming up the works every time he's given a chance. A good example of this comes in a scene where the recruits are training in a sandy area and Owens has a sand flea crawling across his face. It itches terribly, so Owens does what any normal human would do: he tries to swat it. That may be fine for a normal human, but Marines aren't normal human beings -- they're supposed to be held to a higher standard. Or to put it another way, if you slap yourself while hiding out from the enemy, there's a good chance they'll hear that slap and will be able to determine your location. It's a variation of the old movie trope of people trying to hide and be silent and one of them suddenly sneezing. So to punish Owens, he has the entire platoon go out and look for the exact flea that was walking across Owens' face. The use of collective punishment is supposed to get the rest of the group to get the scofflaw to get back in line without having to appeal to authority, but punishment like this just shows why I'd never make it in the military.

There are two women who play importanr roles in all of this. One is Annie (Jackie Loughery). She's a woman Sgt. Moore meets at the local off-base watering hole, and her purpose in the plot is to soften Sgt. Moore just enough so that we can see there's actually a real human being underneath the tough exterior that Moore has been presenting to the outside world all these years. Sgt. Moore has given his life to the Marines, to the point that he's totally awkward wround women. You'd think he at least slept with a couple of whores during World War II or something, but a movie like The D.I. would never discuss a topic like that. The other woman is Pvt. Owens' mother (Virginia Gregg), who gets one key scene with Sgt. Moore toward the end of the movie to help explain why her son is the way he is, but also to give the Sgt. hope that the kid really can shape up and won't have to ship out.

It's that scene between Sgr. Moore and Mrs. Owens that best typifies the Jack Webb style of having extremely bright lines between the good people and the bad guys, and beating you over the head with it. It's also the sort of scene that makes me like the movie quite a bit less. Now, I'm not that into military movies in the first place, but for the most part, The D.I. is quite well made. Indeed, all of the retired Marines who have commented about the movie on IMDb have very good things to say about it, mostly that it really gets Marine life accurate. Camp Pendleton in San Diego was used for some scenes, not Parris Island, and Webb hired a bunch of Marines to play the recruit parts, which probably helps the realism. I'm not a huge Jack Webb fan, but The D.I. is a film that I think quite a few people will like.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Animation on TCM, and a schedule note

Tonight on TCM, they're running a special feature called Back to the Drawing Board, a salute to vintage animation. They're going to be running three collections of shorts whcih in some cases go back almost a hundred years, followed by four feature-length films, of which the most famous might be the Fleischer brothers' 1939 version of Gulliver's Travels, which is listed on the schedule for 1:30 AM. I have to say I know very little about the shorts that make up the first half of the evening's schedule, although I have a feeling I saw one or two of them the last time TCM had an animation festival. I just don't remember when that festival would have been.

The 1:30 AM start time for Gulliver's Travels is probably right, although some of the earlier starting times may be a bit off. The first studio honored, at 8:00 PM, is Winsor McCay, and the schedule lists those shorts as running 113 minutes. However, the next set of shorts is schedule at 9:45. That and the other block of shorts are listed as being just short of an hour, although by the time the person sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss the shorts finishes, the whole thing will run over an hour in each case, which is why those blocks were -- correctly, I think -- given 75-minute slots in the schedule. My guess is that the second block will start at 10:00 PM, with the third starting a bit after 11:00 and catching up in time for The Adventures of Prince Achmed (12:15 AM, 67 min).

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jack Cardiff night on TCM

TCM is running a brief tribute to cinematographer Jack Cardiff this evening. Of course, all of the Sunday night programming themes are brief because they have to give way for the Silent Sunday Nights movie around midnight, but this one only has one movie: The Red Shoes, at 8:00 PM. It's a movie I've never really been able to get into, largely because I find it difficult to get into the world of ballet in the first place, and because the characters here are even more driven than the ones in The Turning Point. There's nothing wrong with being driven per se, it's just that getting to the top can be so demanding that the drive to do so makes characters unappealing. That's particularly true here. Still, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the color they used in those days is much better than the color of The Turning Point or certainly the movies of today, which seem to be mostly green-blue with the occasional explosion thrown in.

But the real reason to watch tonight's lineup is the documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, which follows at 10:30 PM. It's a comprehensive and informative look at Cardiff, with extensive interviews done with him in the last years of his life. (The documentary was released in 2010, the year after he died.) TCM put the spotlight on Cardiff with a month-long festival back in January 2012, and I briefly mentioned the documentary then.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Catnerbury Tale

There are some movies where you probably shouldn't trust the one-sentence blurb that the TV listings sites use to describe what it's about. An excellent example of this -- both because the synopsis doesn't capture the essence of the movie well at all and because the movie turns out to be extremely good -- is A Canterbury Tale, which is on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

The movie starts off with a few scenes of bucolic England, set against the words of Georrfey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, before shifting to the present day, that being 1943/4. That date of course implies that there's a war on, and that war figures heavily in the action of this movie. Real-life American army sergeant John Sweet plays Bob Johnson, a US GI on a couple days' leave who is trying to get to Canterbury to see one of his friends as well as photograph the cathedral. He's taking the train at night to get to Canterbury, but because of the war on, there are blackout conditions. So when Bob hears "Canterbury" mentioned, he gets off thinking he's arrived, but is in fact a stop early because they were announcing future stops. So he's in the middle of some small town somehere in the middle of south-east England. At least he's not alone, as having gotten off the train as well is the young, lovely Alison Smith (Sheila Sam, the widow of Richard Attenborough), who is here as part of the labor program to send people to work with the farmers. Also there is the young Londoner Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), so the three of them start to look for a place to spend the night.

The three are waylaid, however, by a surprising event. Not only does some mystery person accost them; that mystery person dumps glue in Alison's hair! So the three get to the local inn, where Alison can have her hair washed, these being the days where staying in to wash one's hair was actually a real thing, especially with the war on. There, the three newcomers also learn that Alison isn't the first woman who's suffered the indignity of having glue dumped on her. So who the heck would do such a thing? And why? It's this that more or less forms the one-sentence blurb you'd see in the TCM schedule or on your box guide. And yet, the investigation into who is assaulting women with glue is really not what the movie is about at all.

No; A Canterbury Tale is partly about life in this rural English town, and partly about the four main characters and the journey they take both within the town and as they try to make their way to Canterbury. Canterbury has long been a pilgrimage town as the seat of Christianity in England; indeed, Chaucer's original story was about a group of pilgrims. As the story goes along and especially once we get to the end, the main characters all wind up having taken a sort of metaphorical pilgrimage. Bob, the American, is from a farming family out in Oregon, and he's somewhat disappointed that his girlfriend back in the States has stopped responding to his letters. Alison is also alone, but that's because her boyfriend has gone missing in action. She's trying to get to Canterbury because that's where her trailer is; she's more or less hoped to sit out the war by going camping in the middle of nowhere. As for Peter, he's been working in London as the organist at a movie house, but he really wants to play a magnificent church organ. The fourth main character is the one the focus on as the likeliest candidate for having dumped the glue on the women's heads: local air-raid warden and prominent lawyer Colpeper (Eric Portman). There's not much mystery over whether he did it, but why?

It sounds as though there's not much going on in this movie, and as you watch it, you get the distinct impression that there's not much going on other than a weekend in a rural English backwater that's simply had the dubious honor of being the locale for a strange crime. But as we get to know the characters and the life of tht little town where they've all wound up, we find that there's so much more going on under the surface as these people make their way to Canterbury that will stick with you long after the movie is done. Whether it be Bob playing iwth the children on a late summer afternoon as he enlists them in his scheme to find the guilty party, or the resolutions to Alison's and Peter's stories, the little things going on wind up being very affecting. John Sweet had no real acting experience prior to this movie, and would not make another movie, but he's fine as the American. The British actors all turn in good performances too, setting up a depiction of small-town life that was utterly destroyed by the war. Michael Powell does a good job as always with the directoin, but as so often happens with his films, it's more the story than the direction that winds up staying with you.

A Canterbury Tale is a modest, unassuming movie, but one that is really rewarding and well worth a viewing.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Beat the Devil

We're in the first Friday of a new month, which means we get a new Friday Night Spotlight. On the first four Fridays of this month (Friday October 31 being Halloween, TCM will be skipping the Friday Night Spotlight for a bunch of horror movies), quiz show host Alex Trebek will be doing the intros for movies set in Africa. This first Friday in Africa sees a night of movies starring Humphrey Bogart, including Beat the Devil at midnight.

Humphrey Bogart plays Bill, an American in some decrepit port city in Italy who at the beginning of the movie is witnessing several people being taken into custody. It turns out that Bill knew these people, so he's going to tell us their story, as we go into that most original film device of the flashback.

Bill was the representative for the four, who were businessmen of a sort: Peterson (Robet Morley), Julius (Peter Lorre), the Major (Ivor Barnard), and Ravello (Marco Tulli). The four of them know about a region in British East Africa that's mineral-rich, specifically in uranium. These guys want to acquire the rights to the minerals, and make a killing off of it. However, they need to buy the title to the land, which they apparently have to do in Africa itself. They've got tickets on the next boat to AFrica, but unfortunately the boat has developed problems so the people are going to be dealyed in port for a couple of days while the boat is being fixed.

At the same time, the group meets a British couple who are also travelling to Africa. Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown) has inherited some land, and is going there with his wife Gwendolen (Jennifer Jones) to manage that land. Bill has a wife of his own, the lovely local girl Maria (Gina Lollobrigida). So the two couples go out together, with the thoroughly original plot twist that Bill and Gwendolen begin to develop some feelings for each other, while Harry and Maria do as well.

After a series of twists and turns, this whole gang of whack jobs winds up on the ship, but their attempts to get to Africa are all for naught as the ship breaks down again. Of course, you knew the scheme wouldn't work, since the four protagonists in it get arrested at the beginning of the movie.

Many of the IMDb reviewers say that to really enjoy this movie, you have to look at it as a very dry comedy poking fun at the phony characters as well as the genre of movie they're in. That may be, but I have to admit that I still found the movie a bit of a slog. I think that's mostly because I found the characters so thoroughly unappealing. Everybody's constantly lying to everybody else, and not in an entertaining Jack Carson is schmoozing you way. No; these characters come across as a bunch of jerks you wouldn't want to spend time with in real life. Robert Morley, in particular, is nearly as annoying as a Peter Ustinov in Topkapi.

But, you should probaly watch Beat the Devil and judge for yourself. A lot of the reviewers really like it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The latest from Radio Prague

I've mentioned a couple of times before that I listen to what used to be the old short-wave radio stations, now mostly Internet-only. Every now and then one or another of the stations has something interesting pertaining to film. Yesterday's edition of Radio Prague included an interview with Ludmila Claussová, head of the Czech Film Commission, discussing the attempt to get production companies to return to the Czech Republic to do location shooting, which was a thing in the 1990s thanks to the much lower costs there. That, and the ability to pass for various generic Central or Eastern European locations.

The link above is to a transcript of the interview. If you want the audio interview, there's a direct link just before the interview starts to the MP3 file, which is about 4.6MB and runs 10 minutes. There should also be an embedded audio player if you want to play the interview as streaming audio rather than downloading it.

Another sign it's October

Today is October 2, the second day in a month which will culminate on the 31st with Halloween. So it's only natural that we're going to start getting movies appropriate for the occasion. (At least we're not getting Christmas movies yet.) Tonight begins the first of five Thursdays in October in which TCM will be showing movies with ghostly themes. On this first night of the salute to ghosts, TCM will be showing ghost stories that have a bit more of a comic bent. It turns out that I've blogged about three of the night's entries before:

Roland Young plays banker Cosmo Topper at 8:00 PM, who learns how to enjoy life with the help of the ghosts of old friends George and Marion Kirby (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett).
Lou Costello plays a ghost from the Revolutionary War haunting Bud Abbott and his companions in The Time of Their Lives at 10:00 PM
Margaret O'Brien and a ghost help Robert Young become a hero in The Canterville Ghost, at 11:30 PM.
I don't know much about A Place of One's Own at 1:15 AM.
Ghostly Frank Morgan helps his family in The Cockeyed Miracle at 3:00 AM.
Finally, we get a Christmas-themed ghost story in the form of Beyond Tomorrow at 4:30 AM

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TCM Star of the Month: Janet Leigh

We're now in the first day of a new month, which is going to mean a bunch of new programming blocks coming up on TCM. The first is them is the Star of the Month, Janet Leigh. Leigh is probably best known for playing Marion Crane, the woman who steals $40,000 from her employer and takes a memorable shower in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. That kicks off prime time on October 29.

I noticed in doing a blog search for this post that I don't have too many photos of Janet Leigh. In fact, one of the few I had posted is for Prince Valiant, which being a Fox movie doesn't make it to this month's schedule, which is a bit of a shame.

On this first Wednesday in October, we get a bunch of Leigh's earlier movies, all from the 1940s, starting off in fact with her very first movie, The Romance of Rosy Ridge at 8:00 PM.

The movies will be continuing into the Thursday schedule (that from TCM's standpoint, where the day begins at 6:00 AM ET):

If Winter Comes at 10:00 PM;
The 1949 version of Little Women at midnight;
The Lassie movie Hills of Home at 2:15 AM;
Words and Music, a biopic about Lorenz Hart, at 4:00 AM;
That Forsyte Woman at 6:15 AM; and
The Doctor and the Girl at 8:15 AM.