Saturday, January 31, 2015

An end, and some beginnings

Today is January 31, the last day before another year of 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. It being a Saturday, we get one more Essential on TCM, that being Twentieth Century with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. It's also the last of the Essentials with Drew Barrymore. After three years, she's being replaced come March with Sally Field, something which I know will please a lot of people, albiet not the ones who think TCM shouldn't have The Essentials at all, and should just cater to me me me!!! Not that they enjoy 31 Days of Oscar, either.

TCM has been running the British Carry On series in the 10:30 AM Saturday time slot. That takes a break for 31 Days of Oscar, but does not end yet. When it returns in March, however, we'll also be getting a Batman serial from 1943 joining it at 10:00 AM and running for several weeks.

February 1 also brings some movies out of the Fox vault that haven't been seen in some time, and brings them to FXM Retro for multiple airings. I blogged about Blue Denim, which comes on at 9:50 AM tomorrow, back in May of 2011. Teenage Rebel, which was also the subject of a full-length post back in May 2011, follows at 11:25 AM tomorrow. Both of them will also show up in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Enjoy your February!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Briefs for January 30, 2015

I'm sorry to say that there were a couple of things I saw on TCM yesterday that don't seem to be available on DVD. I had turned on the TV at the dinner hour, waiting for the 6:15 PM start of The Secret Partner, a movie that was new to me and sounded like it had an interesting premise. It turned out to be quite entertaining, if nothing particularly great. Stewart Granger plays a junior executive at a shipping company who's being blackmailed, and then the safe at the shipping company is robbed, making it look like Granger did it. Bernard Lee, who would soon go on to play M in the James Bond movies, plays the police detective who's investigating and wants to wrap up the case before his pending retirement. The direction, by Basil Dearden who also did the recently recommended League of Gentlemen, deftly handles the plot twists.

Before The Secret Partner came on, however, there was the RKO Screenliner short White Peril, about men who work for the US Geologic Survey and go into the Cascade Mountains of Washington in the winter to determine how much snow pack there is and, by extension, how much water will be available to the residents of the cities who depend on this snow pack for their water supply. It's one of the better entries in the series, I think; certainly the straight news Screenliners are better than the Sportscopes.

I'm not into Mario Lanza movies, so I had no desire to see That Midnight Kiss, which was on when I turned the TV on first thing this morning to switch the channel to the Australian Open tennis. The voice of Ethel Barrymore was unmistakeable, however, even under a hat and glasses.

For fans of Traveltalks, James FitzPatrick will be going On the Shores of Nova Scotia early tomorrow morning at 4:21 AM. This one came out in June of 1947, about a year before the Nova Scotia-set Johnny Belinda, although that was done at Warner Bros. Sometimes I wonder whether folks at other studios saw a Traveltalks short and decided to set a movie in that exotic location.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

13 Fighting Men

A movie that was new to me when it started showing pu on FXM Retro recently is 13 Fighting Men. I got to see one of the previous showings, and it's coming up again tomorrow morning (January 30) at 6:00 AM. It's decidedly B material, but if you haven't seen it, it is worth a watch.

Grant Williams plays John Forrest, a captain in the Union Army about a day after the Civil War has officially ended: he and his soldiers meet a spy who informs them of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, but Abraham Lincoln has yet to be assassinated. Unfortunately, the spy has instructions for a member of Forrest's group: deliver a bunch of Union gold to somebody. Forrest wants to take his men north out of the technically former Confederate territory and back home, since all of them are sick of fighting a war that's officially over, but orders are orders, and they're going to have to guard the money. At least it's only a day or two out of their way.

Yeah right. Cut to a scene of the spy, who is waylaid by a group of Confederate soldiers, led by Major Boyd (Brad Dexter). The spy tells them the war is over, but Boyd and his men discover a couple of Union coins on him, which means they know he must have done some sort of work for the North. They get the information about the gold shipment out of him and execute him for spying. But they also decide that even though the war is over, they could use that money to start new lives. Besides, they still harbor understandable resentment towards the North. So they're going to try to ambush the Union soldiers and take the money for themselves.

The Union soldiers, meanwhile, stop at a farmhouse. Carole Prescott (Carole Mathews) was running the farm and barely scraping by while her husband was off fighting the war. Although the war is over and her husband has returned, she wants out. He's a pacificst coward, and she wants a better life than trying to farm when they have no money to buy seed. Needless to say, the Confederates find the Union soldiers, which leads to a cat-and-mouse waiting game over who will end up with the money and whether any outside forces will come to save the day -- remember, the war is officially over.

I said at the beginning that 13 Fighting Men is B material, but simply being a B movie doesn't automatically mean a movie is bad. 13 Fighting Men does a reasonably good job, as there is a surprising number of twists and turns along the way, and people acting with believable motivations. You can forgive the Confederates, who probably didn't have much of a choice in the first place, for wanting that money. Some of the Union soldiers also decide they wouldn't mind having that money, and since they just want to get home with the war over, you can't blame them either. There's nothing groundbreaking here and the production values aren't much better than episodic TV, but for a 70-minute movie, it's passable material. I just wish FXM would show the movie in its original aspect ratio.

Watch for future TV star Ted Knight in a small role as one of the Confederate soldiers.

TCM's Rod Taylor Tribute

They didn't have hot tubs in Victorian England
Rod Taylor in The Time Machine (1960)

Rod Taylor died three weeks ago, and TCM is finally getting around to a night where it could ditch the previously scheduled movies. TCM will be running five of Taylor's movies in prime time tonight:

First, at 8:00 PM, is The Time Machine, in whihc Taylor travels 800,000 years into the future and finds that mankind has devolved into two races;
Next, at 10:00 PM, Taylor goes to Bodega Bay, CA, and finds that the birds there don't like him or Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds;
At 12:15 AM, Taylor spends a Sunday in New York with Cliff Robertson and Jane Fonda;
Taylor plays Irish playwright Sean O'Casey under the pen name Cassidy in Young Cassidy, at 2:15 AM; and
Taylor gets to do a comic turn with Doris Day in The Glass-Bottom Boat at 4:15 AM.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The League of (non-extraordinary) Gentlemen

A couple of years ago, when actor-director Bryan Forbes died, I briefly mentioned the movie The League of Gentlemen. It coming up overnight tonight, or early tomorrow morning, at 5:00 AM on TCM as part of a night of films with Richard Attenborough. It's well worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Jack Hawkins plays Lt. Col. Hyde, now retired from the British Army. Not that it was his choice; he was cashiered aftre reaching his quota of 25 years of service. Hyde is none too happy about it, either. He was a personnel officer, and still seems to have access to the personnel files, because he's able to find the names of other former soldiers who are in a state where they can be bribed to take part in Hyde's revenge plot. Hyde gets up six or seven other names, and sends each of them half of a £5 note, with the message that they'd better come if they want the other half of the note. Considering that £5 was worth a fair amount back then, probably a good $100 US or more what with the exchange rate and inflation. And all of these guys have some reason for needing the money: a high-mainenance girlfriend, failing businesses, debts, or the like. So of course they show up.

Hyde's plan is to rob a bank! And to that end, the men he's assembled all have one skill or another necessary to pull off the job. But before they can rob that bank, they're going to need some more specialized equipment, of the sort that you can only get at a military base. Which is where everybody being ex-military comes in, at least in part. The other reason for having a bunch of former military men doing the job is because Hyde has worked it out to extreme precision. But to achieve they precision, they have to practice, so the lot of them go off to some isolated but fading country estate for training.

The robbery of the military base to get their weaponry goes well, although there's a portent that something might go wrong -- without that we wouldn't have the requisite suspense, or the foreshadowing that the big job that is the climax of the movie might go wrong, too. After all, even though we're in Britain, there's still a moral code that you're not supposed to get away with bank robbery! As the training goes on out in the country, there's the beginning of dissension. Not everybody wants Hyde to be in command; one of the men wants to see his girlfriend; and so on. That having been said, the bank robbery appears to go off well, and everybody makes it back to that house in the country to split up the loot, only for something to go wrong there. Thanks to the morals, you know something is going to go wrong, but not necessarily what or when.

Jack Hawkins is quite good to watch, and it's fun to see the meticulous planning of a heist even though we know it's going to founder on some minor detail in the end. The panoply of British actors in the supporting roles -- including the aforementioned Attenborough and Forbes, Forbes' there's Roger Livesey, wife Nanette Newman, Kieron Moore, and several others -- also make the movie worthwhile to sit down with. The one other important aspect is the look at Britain as it was circa 1960. I'm All Right Jack explicity mentions the end of an era for Britain as the Empire is about to fail; kitchen-sink movies like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning attack the old notions head-on; The League of Gentlmen only hints by what it's showing that yes, there's a fading glory for Britain, and look what it's done to men like Hyde. But the London of 1960 that it shows along with the cultural values of the time is a great artifact to have on film.

The TCM Shop lists The League of Gentlemen as being available on DVD in a four-movie set.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hold That Co-Ed

I was stuck inside this morning waiting for that blizzard that never really hit the Catskills, and so had the chance to watch Hold That Co-Ed on FXM Retro. It's a charmingly stupid little movie, and is on FXM Retro again early tomorrow morning (January 28) at 4:35 AM if you want to watch it for yourself.

George Murphy (later host of the MGM Parade that shows up on TCM from time to time) plays Rusty, a college football star, although we only know that from a montage of newspaper headlines pointing out his derring-do on the field. Now he's going to be a coach at one of those big midwestern state schools, and shows up to find a beautiful campus with a well-funded football team. The only thing is, he's at the wrong school, Clayton University; the State school is just down the road. When Coach Rusty gets there, he finds that college President Fletcher (Donald Meek) has decided to cancel the football season because they're not getting any funding for a football team from the Governor. Indeed, there's only one football, and no money for equipment.

This being one of those silly college movies from the 1930s, the coach does what any good coach would do: he gets the team to march on the Governor's mansion. Not just the team, but it seems the entire student body, which is entirely too small for a state school, but this is the sort of the movie where you don't worry about minor things like continuity or even a sensible plot. Governor Gaby Harrigan (John Barrymore) stopped funding football because he's on a money-saving drive, trying to show the electorate he's fiscally prudent since he's running for the US Senate. Of course, he's also fiscally imprudent in that one of his campaign planks is to give everybody over 60 free sh*t in the form of a $400 a month pension, but as I said don't expect plot coherence. The college is able to convince the governor to start funding football again on the grounds that he'll lose votes otherwise, and he can speak to captive audiences at each game at the big stadium.

Of course, that big stadium hasn't been built yet, but with the Governor's help, they're able to build a 100,000 seat stadium in three weeks! And Harrigan is able to pull in some political favors (call it corruption if you'd like) to get the big schools to schedule games against State. Meanwhile, Coach Rusty has fallen in love with the governor's secretary Marjorie (Marjorie Weaver). While the stadium is being built, the governor gets hit in the head with a football. That ball was kicked by Lizzie Olsen (Joan Davis), the daughter of a famous college football star of days gone by. But she can kick the ball, so they put her on the team, along with a pair of wrestler ringers.

Ultimately, the team's season comes down to a big game against the aforemnetioned Clayton, which was obviously only mentioned at the beginning so that we could have this dramatic climax. Making matters more dramatic is tht Harrigan's opponent in the Senate race, Breckenridge (George Barbier), is a regent at Clayton, and the two make a wager that the one whose team loses has to drop out of the Senate race. Really.

There's a lot of dumbness to Hold That Co-Ed. Football fans will cringe at how little of the football resembles anything real, even by 1930s standards. The game has changed a lot in 75 years, but if you score a touchdown, you don't have your opponents kick off an onside kick at you! All the tropes about college life in the 1930s are here as well, with the student body performing a musical number on the way to the Governor's mansion, or every single member of the student body getting the school spirit for the game, yelling "Block that kick!" in a way that sounds exactly the same whether it's the State students or the Clayton students doing it.

John Barrymore was an alcoholic and the booze took a toll on his career and ultimately his life, resulting in his early death a few years after this movie was made. He comes across as a buffoon at times, but that's actually in keeping with the charactre. (His hair, on the other hand, looks terrible.) Overall, though, he winds up more memorable than Murphy. The one other memorable character is the lady place kicker, who incongruously doesn't wear a helmet when she kicks and does this bizarre dance when she comes on the field. They say kickers are squirrely, and Lizzie is too, albeit in a different way.

Overall, Hold That Co-Ed is by no means an award-winner. But if you like vintage movies and don't mind an out-of-place musical number or two, Hold That Co-Ed is also a suitably brief (about 80 minutes) time-passer. As far as I know it's not available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the infrequent FXM showing.

Ross Bagdasarian, 1919-1972

Ross Bagdasrian with Alfred Hitchcock making his cameo in Rear Window (1954)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Ross Bagdasarian. Bagdasarian was a musician/record producer who did a bit of acting in the 1950s. Perhaps Bagdasarian's best-known acting role comes in the movie Rear Window, where he plays the composer trying to come up with a tune who is one of the people James Stewart watches along the way; eventually, the composer winds up with "Miss Lonelyhearts". Bagdasarian also appeared in Destination Gobi, which I blogged about during the last cycle of airings it had on the former Fox Movie Channel four years ago.

Of course, Bagdasarian is known for his work outside of acting. Under the stage name David Seville, he had a #1 hit as a soloist with the novelty hit "Witch Doctor", but is even better-remembered for speeding up some voices under the conceit that they were coming from the animated chipmunks Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. "The Chipmunk Song" became a Christmas classic in 1958 and has remained so ever since, while the Chipmunks got their own animated TV series, and ultimately a movie a few years back.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Belle de jour

TCM is spending this morning and afternoon in Paris; tonight is spent with the films of Spanish-born director Luís Buñuel. The two subjects merge in the night's first movie, Belle de jour, at 8:00 P0.

The movie starts off oddly. Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) is taking a romantic carriage ride through the woods someplace presumably just outside Paris with her husband Pierre (Jean Sorel). All of a sudden, Pierre orders the driver to stop the carriage. At this point, Pierre orders Séverine out of the carriage, and has her whipped by a couple of coachmen! That's bizarre. Of course, it turns out that it's just a dream. Séverine loves her husband, but it her life is a bit boring. He's a doctor, so he works long hours and there's not much time for romance. And when there is, it's not the most exciting, as Séverine apparently wants something a little kinky.

Séverine spends her days doing what a lot of women do: shopping and gossiping with other women. Sorry, women, but it's been a cultural trope for ages, and Buñuel is just following that trope. Of course, he needs to have Séverine be part of the idle upper middle class to drive the plot, too. One day, while taking a taxi home with a friend, Séverine learns that a third friend has been doing some sex work to spice up her life. This, unsurprisingly, gives Séverine idea.

So Séverine goes off to see a Madame Anaïs. Anaïs runs a brothel in an otherwise non-descript apartment building somewhere in Paris; I don't know enough about the city to say whether it's a particularly good or bad area. Eventually, Séverine agrees to work a couple of afternoons a week, but only under specific conditions. She has to get home before Pierre, of course, so that he doesn't suspect what she's doing. And Séverine, never having done this sort of work before, is understandably a bit reluctant at first. But Anaïs gives her the name "Belle de jour", and Séverine turns out to be good at what she does, eventually.

There are going to be some problems, of course. One comes in the form of the young Marcel. He's a thug with flashy gold teeth, working under another thug with more experience. They come to Anaïs now and then for the sex, and Marcel decides that he wants Belle all to himself. Belle doesn't want that, but Anaïs can be discreet about that sort of thing. A bigger problem in the form of another client, a middle-aged man whom Séverine immediately recognizes as Pierre's friend Henri. Needless to say, Henrie recognizes that Belle is actually Séverine.

Belle de jour is an interesting movie, although the ending is one that I found maddening, with two sudden plot twists. The first wasn't so bad, but the second leaves you wondering what part of Séverine's life as displayed in the movie was real, and what was just the fantasy of a bored housewife. Did she even work for Anaïs? What happened to Pierre and Henri? I could accept a lot of different endings. Heck, Pierre informing Séverine that he's into kinky sex, too, and why didn't she tell him would have been an interesting, mind-blowing ending. But the ambiguity of what we get, in my opinion, takes the film down a notch. Oh, it's more than worth a watch. The rest of the movie is a good story, and if you like vintage set design, there's a lot to love here. Plus, Catherine Deneuve looks gorgeous as ever.

Belle de jour is available on DVD, but it's one of those more expensive imports.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Zazie dans le métro

TCM is spending Monday morning and afternoon in Paris. One of the movies that I don't think I've blogged about before is Zazie dans le métro, at 9:45 AM.

Zazie (credited to Catherine Demongeot) is a 10-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mother in some provincial town in France. At least, she does when Mom isn't trying to woo another in a long string of boyfriends that requires Mom needing some time to herself and the boyfriend. The movie opens with another of those times. This time, Mom drops Zazie off with her uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) for a couple of days. Gabriel works in the show at the nightclub, which you'd think isn't the best place to leave a kid, but then Zazie is no ordinary kid, giving as good as she gets.

Zazie apparently hasn't been to Paris before, because she informs Uncle Gabriel that she wants to ride the métro, or subway. And boy is shoe going to pester him to make certain he eventually takes her on that subway ride! You'd think they'd have to take the subway eventually, like any normal person in a big city with a bunch of subway lines, and so the little girl can just cool her heels for a bit. Zazie apparently just wants to ride the rails for fun, though. So eventually she makes her way to the nearest métro station and learns something shocking: the workers have gone on strike, and the system is hsut down. No subway ride for poor Zazie!

What's a girl to do? Well, Zazie, headstrong thing that she is, decides she's going to turn the city upside down if she can't have her way and get that subway ride. She proceeds to turn the city upside down, leading Gabriel on a series of adventers through markets, through crowded streets, and up and down the Eiffel Tower, among other things. Generally, she spends the day making life a nightmare for her poor uncle who has to take care of her. You can see why Mom would want to drop her off with a relative for a couple of days.

It's all told in a zany style, and that may be a problem for some viewers. Some of the reviews on IMDb say that Zazie dans le métro compares almost to a Looney Tunes cartoon come to life, and that's not such a bad description. There is a lot of humor to be had here, but there are also times when the way in which that humor is presented may be a bit over the top for some viewers because it's so overwhelmingly zany. On the plus side, the zaniness covers up the fact that Zazie, when you get down to it, is a bit of a spoiled brat and the sort of child character one might not like otherwise if the movie weren't as zany as it is.

Ultimately, I think Zazie dans le métro is one of those movies where its better to know what you're getting into when you watch it. If you sit down expecting something absurd, I think you'll really enjoy it. But if one were to watch not knowing the movie was going to turn absurd, I can understand people feeling a bit on edge.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Post 3000

I should probably be holding off on any self-congratulation for another couple of days, when I reach the seventh anniversary of my first post, but I note that this is my 3,000th post. Somehow, I don't think I'm going to make it to 30,000 at the rate I'm going, since that would take another 63 years. The only movie I could think of that would fit my 3,000th post is the baseball movie Mr. 3000. Strangely enough, this is one of those films that I haven't seen, although the plot is something easier to remember than some of the movies I have seen.

Bernie Mac (I can't believe he's been dead six and a half years now) plays a retired baseball player who retired with exactly 3,000 hits, which for those of you abroad who don't follow baseball, is the big odometer number as opposed to 2,000 (not too difficult to reach) or 4,000 (only two or three players have done that). Just like the odometer number of 500 home runs, it's also one of those goals that makes getting into the Hall of Fame a near certainty. Or, it did before the extent of steroid use in the game became known and the baseball writers who cast the Hall of Fame ballots wanted to show their hypocritical indignation. But that's a topic completely unrealted to a movie blog.

Bernie Mac's now retired player takes the nickname "Mr. 3000", and uses that to go into business and become successful in business. But something comes up that would never happen in the real world. A recalculation of his statistics reveals that in fact "Mr. 3000" only has 2997 lifetime hits. Now, it does sometimes happen that the official scorers of the game get a call wrong and change it during the game, and on even rarer occasions the change is made a day after the game. But there's no way it would take the official people who do this stuff over a decade to do it, especially when the player is closing in on the big target number and in the age of onstant coverage of sports. But "Mr. 3000" goes back to being a major-league player, trying to get those three hits, and learning a few things about life along the way according to the fuller plot synopsis.

I think I've seen the title show up on my box guide on the Major League Baseball channel, but there it would be chewed up with a bunch of commercial breaks, and possibly edited to get rid of any bad language the film might have. (As I said, not having seen it, I don't know how much content there is that the commrecial channels would edit for airing.) It's also coming up three times on Monday on Starz Black and twice on Thursday on Starz Edge if you've got the Starz/Encore package; check listings.

Friday, January 23, 2015

1912 Cinema Etiquette

This week's Friday Ephemera frmo the always-interesting David Thompson included an interesting link: Cinema Etiquette, 1912. The page at Visual News includes a link to the Library of Congress, so I have no particular reason to believe that these photos are a hoax. (NB: The photos are at the Visual News link; David Thompson's Friday Ephemera has a bunch of other interesting, but not necessarily movie-related, stuff.)

There are a couple of photos pointing out that women should remove their hats, which are much fancier than the one that Greta Garbo fell in love with in Ninotchka. Of course, there's nothing telling people to turn off their cell phnnes, since nobody could even dream of such a technology back then.

And then there are some that seem quaint: "Ladies and Children are cordially invited to this theater. No offensive pictures are ever shown here." Everything has somebody who will consider it offensive. I'm sure some people of today would look at the movies exhibited in 1912 and scream about ethnic stereotypes or if there aren't any of those complain about the lack of black people on screen. But, as another of the cards reads, "If annoyed when here, please tell the management."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Copyright and the movies

I came across an interesting article on director Steven Soderbergh courtsey of the Washington Post's Volokh Conspiracy blog yesterday:

Actor-director Steven Soderbergh has been getting a great deal of attention recently for posting his newly-edited versions of classic films [...]. But as Mike Masnick points out over at Techdirt, Soderbergh has been a prominent copyright maximalist, testifying before Congress on behalf of the Director's Guild of America in favor of a harsh "three strikes and you're out" policy for online copyright infringers.

And both more peculiar, and closer to the point here, Soderbergh was the lead plaintiff in the 2006 case of Soderbergh et al v. Clean Flicks of Colorado et al. (433 F.Supp.2d 1236). Clean Flicks (and the other defendants) were in the business of preparing and distributing edited versions designed to be more "family friendly" (i.e. with the nasty stuff edited out) of previously-released motion pictures....The plaintiffs—Soderbergh included—were successful at shutting the operation down, on the grounds that the edited versions prepared by Clean Flicks violated their rights under sec 106(2) of the Copyright Act to create "derivative works" of the films[....]

Now, one could ask questions about what constitutes fair use. If I post a screencap from a movie, I'm technically using copyrighted material without permission. But should it really be a violation of law to use a screencap to illustrate who a character looks, as I did yesterday with my photo of Montgomery Clift at the beginning of A Place in the Sun? Soderbergh and his defenders would argue that what he does is not for profit, although I'd suggest it's aiming at the ancillary benefits of publicity and future business by showing Soderbergh's skills at redirecting and re-editing movies. I'm reminded of the letterboxing piece on TCM where one of the directors says that when you're panning and scanning, you're technically redirecting the movie. One of the differences is that the studio would have owned the copyright, and would have been the ones making the print for broadcast TV.

One of the articles I read said that what Clean Flicks did required people to buy the original movie on DVD and then send that DVD in to the company to be edited. Or something like that; I'm not the sort of person who would have used such a service. The implication, however, is that the original copyright holder was getting the proceeds from the sale of the original DVD anyway. And there is a good question to be asked of, if you buy compyrighted material, can't you do what you want with it for your own private pleasure? Not that this necessarily makes Clean Flicks right, but the users of Clean Flicks are much less in the wrong. I'm reminded of what Melina Mercouri did with public domain material in the amphitheater scene in Never on Sunday


And then there's the whole issue of copyright to begin with. Copyrights and patents are explicitly allowed in the Constitution as one of the functions that Congress was supposed to set up:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Note the use of the word "limited". Copyright lengths have consistently been going up. There's a good chart on Wikipedia in one of the copyright articles showing this. Before the copyright reform of, I believe, 1976, copyrights were for a term of 28 years, renewable for another 47, or 75 years in total. The failure to renew is how some movies wound up in the public domain for a time. But another reform about 15 years ago lengthened the copyright term. If they hadn't, stuff from 1940 would be entering the public domain this year. But now it's up to I think 120 years, with the copyrights being extended to stuff from 1923 and beyond. (Disney, who wanted to keep Steamboat Willie from entering the public domain, were one of the drivers behind the change.) So clearly there's a fluidity to what consititutes a copyright violation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have I not blogged about A Place in the Sun before?

Tonight on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks". Robert Osborne's first selection is A Place in the Sun at 8:00 PM. Apparently I've never done a full-length post on this one before, and the TCM schedule claims it's not available from the TCM Shop, so now might be a good time to recommend the movie

As the opening credits come up, we see Montgomery Clift hitchhiking along a highway trying to get to town. It turns out that the young man's name is George Eastman, and the place that he's going to is a business called... Eastman Industries. No, George doesn't own the place. Instead, it's his uncle Charles who owns the place, and George is looking for a job at the bottom of the ladder. Apparently, George's father and the rest of the Eastmans didn't get along all that well: Mom is working at the mission in one of the big cities in the midwest while the rest of the familiy is wealthy. It's not just that George's parents (Dad presumably died as we don't see him) are doing charity work; they really seem to belive the whole probably non-mainstream branch of Christianity stuff. But uncle Charles and his son Earl give George a job on the assembly line boxing shirts and blouses.

Most of the workers here are women, and Earl lets George know about the company policy in no uncertain terms: no romantic liaisons between the male and female employees. Not that they thought about sexual harassment back in those days; it was just easier not to have to deal with workplace romances. You can argue that it's good advice, but the policy is given so obviously that you just know George is going to fall in love with one of the workers there, which soon enough happens as he's walking home from work with Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). In theory, a workplace romance might not be such a bad thing if one of them can get a job someplace else or if they can get married and the woman can become the housewife as would have been the expected thing back in 1951 when the movie was released. But of course the movie isn't going to work out that way.

George, being the nephew of the factory owner, eventually goes to meet his uncle Charles at the Eastman estate. While waiting for Charles in the billiard room, in walks young debutante Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). She's taken by George's raw manliness gained from having worked blue-collar jobs instead of a life of leisure that all the other young men she's ever known would have had. George falls for Angela because, well, she's played by Elizabeth Taylor, who really was a stunning looker up until about Butterfield 8. Of course, there's a problem in that George already has that relatinoship with Alice Tripp, and probably another problem in that George isn't really the right social class for Angela and her family. That latter problem could probably be solved, or at least ameliorated, if George can get his uncle to give him a promotion.

But the former problem is about to get much bigger. Alice informs George that she's going to have a baby! George is trying to have a relationship with Angela now, but having knocked up one's ex really throws a monkey wrench in the works. And Alice is making no bones about it. Do something now, or I'm telling everybody about our relationship. What's a young man to do? George decides to take Alice up to the lake for Labor Day, where he's going to rent a canoe, and let nature take its course, or perhaps push nature along. The story strongly implies that George is planning to murder Alice, but the way the scene is played deftly makes it ambiguous as to whether he murdered her, or whether she really fell out accidentally and then George committed negligent homicide by doing nothing to try to save Alice. Either way, though, George is going to have to pay, thanks to the Production Code.

Even though we know where the movie is going to wind up thanks to the strictures of the Production Code, it's still an excellent movie even after is starts the path along that preordained denouement. The story before that is top-notch and the last third is not bad at all. Elizabeth Taylor is OK, although her character is for most of the movie given fairly little to do other than look good and make it obvious why George would fall for Angela. And when you look as good as Elizabeth Taylor did back then, that's not hard. But then Taylor gets her finale and shows that was was going to blossom into much more than just a juvenile actress. Montgomery Clift is very good, playing the difficult role of the man who's gotten himself caught between two women and between two worlds, and has made a complete mess of his life. I've never considered myself the biggest fan of Clift's work, and yet every time I see one of his movies I find that there's an extremely high-quality movie to be had, and it's not as if he's detracting from that one bit. The reveltion, though, is Shelley Winters, who is very, very good, up until she announces that she's pregnant, at which point she's fabulous. It's just too bad that her character has to die off two-thirds of the way through the movie. Winters and Clift were both nominated for Oscars, although they both lost (to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire respectively). The movie won several awards, however, for George Stevens' direction, the screenplay, and the lovely black-and-white cinematography, among others.

If you haven't seen A Place in the Sun before, I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mathematicians figure out what makes movies popular!

Well, maybe that headline is a bit of an overhyping. But the following showed up in one of my RSS feeds this morning:

Movie buff mathematicians crack classic cinema code

The history of cinema is littered with classic lines and images, and now a team of mathematicians in the United States has figured how a few memorable moments can turn ordinary flims into masterpieces. They've crunched the numbers of how often films are referenced in, or inspire, later movies. And their sums show the most frequently quoted movies often become the most critically aclaimed.

The story is reported by Australia's Radio National. There's a transcript of the story here. Or, if you want to hear the story, complete with movie clips, you can download it here; the audio file is about four minutes long and 1.9MB.

Personally, I'm not so certain I agree with the methodology, or the conclusions. There are a lot of movies that aren't critically acclaimed, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, that have also become cultural icons precisely because they're so awful. But it's an interesting idea.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Harry Davenport, 1866-1949

Harry Davenport in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Harry Davenport, who became an extremely busy character actor late in life. Davenport. Davenport, like many, started his career on stage, simply because there wasn't a film career to be had back in 1890. He did make some silent movies during a period when he couldn't get work on the stage, but returned to the stage once roles were available. Davenport made a few talkies in the early 1930s, but it wasn't until he was 70 that he really became active in Hollywood, making some 100 movies in the final dozen years of his life.

Already being elderly by this time, Davenport played a lot of roles that seemed right for the older man, notably elderly small-town doctors in the days when small towns all seemed to have one doctor who had been working there all his life and who was beloved by the townsfolk. Probably the most famous of the doctors would be Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind.

There were also a lot of grandfathers (Meet Me in St. Louis) and judges (You Can't Take It With You), but perhaps my two favorite Davenport roles are as Joel McCrea's boss in Foreign Correspondent, where he tells McCrea Europe needs a "fresh, unused mind", and "someone who doesn't know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo"; the other would be as the lone prospector living in the ghost town where James Cagney and Bette Davis wind up in The Bride Came COD, a movie I thought I'd done a full-length post on but really haven't.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Repeated shorts on TCM

I've stated quite a few times how I enjoy the shorts that pop up between the movies on TCM. For better or worse, a lot of them are things that I've seen multiple times to the point that I've blogged about them here. On the other hand, it makes it easier to compile a list post when several of them are showing up in a short period of time. Also, with tomorrow being Martin Luther King Day, TCM is showing a lot of the same race-relation themed films that get shown every year on the day. But there's also a fair bit of space for shorts, and quite a few will be airing tomorrow.

Decade For Decision airs overnight at about 3:43 AM, in between the two TCM Imports. It's an interesting look at what is now the University of Buffalo, part of the SUNY system, as it was back in 1957 when it was thought that there was a huge need for colleges to churn out science and technology graduates to keep up with the Soviets. Indeed, there's still some relevance today in that there's a belief that STEM (the E and M of course standing for Engineering and Mathematics) courses are more needed than low-demand things like puppeteering or "media studies", whatever the latter is. Probably what I do on the blog, and nobody's giving me a Ph.D. for it.

Lionpower From MGM can be seen at 7:29 AM tomorrow, or just after Intruder in the Dust, which as you can see I blogged about after seeing on MLK Day back in 2012. I still get a chuckle thinking about the breathless tone the narrator uses in describing the several seasons of "Lionpower" that lead to the movies mentioned being released.

It's only been a couple of months since I wrote a post on King of the Duplicators, which you can catch at 9:40 AM tomorrow, following ...Tick ...Tick ...Tick at 8:00 AM. This is a feature I actually haven't seen before. The short, though, is well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.

There's a short or two I haven't mentioned before. First is Salar, the Leaper, at 11:50 AM tomorrow. This is one of the RKO Sportscope, about fishing in New Brunswick. It really would have benefited from a tighter focus and Technicolor photography.

Another short that needed to be in color is The Car That Became a Star at 1:49 PM tomorrow. This is a promotional short for The Yellow Rolls Royce, looking at the vintage car that plays the title role. Well, that's only half of the short; the other half is a brief fashion show looking at fashions "inspired by" the car. Yeah, whatever. The car, the scenery, and the fashions all would have looked better in color, and the fashion show part looks pointlessly tacked on.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How to make a film inappropriately

A couple of days ago I blogged about This Property Is Condemned and how I thought it had a whole bunch of inappropriately intrusive camera movements. Another movie with some real inapt workmanship that really intrudes on the rest fo the movie is Raiders From Beneath the Sea, airing tomorrow at 1:45 PM on FXM Retro.

Ken Scott plays Bill Harper, whom we first see at the beginning of the film dealing with a dissatisfied tenant, who wants the refrigerator fixed. Bill, you see, is managing an apartment building owned by his wife Dottie (Merry Anders). Then we see Bill going into a darkened workshop space, where he starts playing with a powerful industrial-strength magnet that he just bought. That is, until his good for nothing brother Buddy (Garth Benton) shows up.

Bill, you see, is managing that apartment because he had some trouble with the law and the IRS. They're going to garnish his wages, so there are only two ways that he can make money. One is to work more or less under the table, as he's doing managing the apartment building. The other is to engage in straight up crime. And that's whree that magnet is going to come in. Bill's previous job was as a scuba diver, and nobody down at the shore wants to deal with him. This includes his old friend Tucker, another former diver now servicing boat engines because he's got a bad heart. Bill shows up to tell Tucker why he's going to use that magnet. It turns out that Bill wants to rob the bank on Catalina Island the day after Labor Day, when it's about to send all the cash deposits the businesses have made to a bank on the mainland. The only way to get the cash off the island is to put it in a watertight container and then use a magnet to stick that container to the hull of the ferry that takes people between Catalina and the mainland. Yes, it's as daft an idea as it sounds.

This criminal plot is going to suffer from complications of course. One is the mysterious Purdy. Purdy shows up to ask Tucker some questions. It turns out that he's the one who originally came up with the idea for this bank robbery back in jail, and that BIll has stolen the idea from him. There's no honor among thieves, it seems. And then there's Buddy. He wants in on the plot too, and is going to hold that over Bill's head. Buddy has been living with Bill and Dottie, and has been particularly creepy, spending his days drinking beer and trying to peep into Dottie's bedroom window when she's changing! It gets even better in the climax, when he tries to seduce her and when she rebuffs his advances gives the game away about the bank robbery plot! What a dumb criminal. He's not the only dumb criminal, though, because the bank robbery actually involves Bill and Tucker going into the bank in full scuba gear, which means they have to walk though the main town on Catalina Island in that scuba gear, including harpoon guns. Is there any way to make criminals more conspicuous?

And to think when I said there was some inappropriate workmanship in this film, I wasn't talking about the screenplay. In fact, I had the score in mind. Almost the entirety of the score is one of those 1960s-style organs that you would hear in beach movements, or in a short like Stop, Look, and Listen. The music is jarring and nearly maddening every time it comes on. The only good thing to be said for the movie is that it's one of those films that's just so awful that it winds up being unintentionally funny. At least, if the music doesn't drive you nuts.

I don't know that Raiders From Beneath the Sea hsa ever been released to DVD. The suits at Fox probably wonder who would ever buy it.

A few upcoming things on TCM

I've got a full-length post on something over on FXM Retro coming up later today, but there are a few things not on DVD that are coming up on TCM in the next 24 hours or so which deserve another mention, or even a first mention. First up is Turnabout at 8:00 AM tomorrow. Hal Roach, who had generally produced a bunch of two-reelers and then brief B movies clocking in at about an hour, got some bigger stars in the form of Adolphe Menjou and Carole Landis for this comedy in which the two play a bickering married couple who wind up with a magic statue that grants their wish of changing bodies. Each of them learns how the other lives, and unsurprisingly discovers that perhaps things weren't so bad the way they originally were. It's reasonably enjoyable.

I could swear I had done a full-length post on Fun on a Weekenkd before, but a search of the blog claims I haven't. I really need to catalog the posts better. Eddie Bracken and Priscilla Lane play people who each have no money but decide to pretend they're married when they meet, which leads to getting all sorts of people to accept them unwittingly into high society. Fun con artists are a trope of movies of the 1930s and 1940s, and Bracken and Lane do a good job in this movie with an ultra-low budget.

Friday, January 16, 2015

On Borrowed Time

I don't think I've ever done a full-length post on the film On Borrowed Time before. It shows up on TCM tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM, and is more than worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

On Borrowed Time is one of those movies where the one-sentence synopsis really does the movie justice: an old man traps Death in a tree. That old man, "Gramps" Northrup, is played by Lionel Barrymore, is living with his wife (Beulah Bondi), and their orphaned grandson Pud (Bobs Watson), with a little help from housekeeper Marchia (Una Merkel). Pud was orphaned when his parents picked up a hitchhiker, one Mr. Brink (Cedric Hardwicke). They of course didn't know that Mr. Brink was actually the personification of death; indeed, about the only person who has any idea of it at first is Gramps.

Gramps doesn't want to die, and who can blame him? He's got people he loves, and people who love him, especially that grandson Pud. Besides, there are other considerations. Chief among those is Pud's aunt Demetria Riffle (Elly Malyon). She thinks that Gramps is unable to take care of Pud, and to an extent she's got a point. After all, what is Brink doing here if not to claim Gramps? Gramps also realizes that Demetria wants Pud's inheritance of $50,000 more than she wants Pud. Sure that doesn't sound like much, but in 1939 it would have been equivalent to several years' income, and who wouldn't want that much free money.

So Gramps lures Brink into an apple tree on the family's property and prevents him from getting down. You'd think that the personification of Death would be a little smarter than that. Sure, he could be tricked into the tree, but since there's no way Gramps can watch the tree 24/7, Death is going to figure out a way out of the tree. Apparently Death can't do that however, so as long as he's up there, nobody's dying, which obviously does start causing problems. Consider all those people who would have otherwise untreatable diseases. Simply trapping Death in a tree doesn't cure them, it only prolongs their life with an otherwise terminal illness. Imagine having to take care of a dementia patient for all eternity.

You can probably guess that the Production Code is going to require Gramps to let Brink out of the tree, but how can they achieve that in a way that will satisfy the audiences of 1939? That's why you have to watch the movie.

Lionel Barrymore is quite good as always, playing the crotchety old guy. In real life, he was finally confined to that wheelchair by the time he made this movie, but shows that you can act even from a wheelchair. MGM was also able to draw on all those great character actors in their stable: I haven't mentioned Henry Travers as the doctor or Grant Mitchell as the lawyer yet. The story is sentimental at times, and perhaps even a bit sappy, but for the most part it's well done. Watch that tree carefully; you might recognize it when you start watching other MGM films done on the backlot.

On Borrowed Time has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

This Property Is Condemned

As part of Robert Redford's turn as TCM's Star of the Month this month, I got around to watching This Property Is Condemned back on Tuesday night. It's listed as being available at the TCM Shop and on Amazon, so I figure I can do a full-length post on the subject.

One might guess from the title of the movie that it's going to deal with a property that is condemned either moreally, legally in the sense that it's unfit for habitation, or both. One would be right. Of course, this is all given away by the fact that the movie is told in flashback. Willie Starr (played by Mary Badham, whom you'll best remember as Scout To Kill a Mockingbird), is shown at the beginning of the film walking along the rail of an abandoned railroad track wearing a tattered dress that's two sizes too big for her. Just when she's about to fall off the rail, she spies a boy about her age flying a kite. They're both truant from school, although this is the Depression, so they could both just as easily be dropouts. The boy asks Willie about her life, and Willie points to a dilapidated, condemned boarding house just off the tracks, saying that her wholf family used to live there, and what a happening place it used to be. Cue the flashback....

A couple of years earlier, but definitely in the grip of the Great Depression, Owen Legate (Robert Redford) is up front with the engineer on a train that's about to go through the town of Dodson, MS. This train doesn't stop there, so Owen has to jump out when the train slows down, which he does near the aforementioned boarding house. He shows up at that boarding house, where he meets Willie. Willie is looking for her mother Hazel (Kate Reid), since she's the responsible manager of the place, and because everybody else is looking for Ma too. It's Ma's birthday, and Johnson (John Harding), one of the boarders, has organized a birthday party for Ma. Owen takes a room for a week, but is very mysterious about who he is or why he's here.

Meanwhile, Wilie has an older sister Alva (Natalie Wood) who is the star of the movie and the star of the boarding house. She looks lovely, so all of the men, who are workers at the local rail yard, want her. Hazel, for her part, is trying to get Alva to be more sociable with the boarders more or less in the way that Barbara Stanwyck's character in Baby Face was being prostituted before the place burned down and Stanwyck and her friend hopped that train to New York and used men to get the things they want. The only real difference is there's not quite so much implied sex here; if anything Alva would be winding up as more of a mistress to Johnson. Not that Alva particularly likes this kind of life. She dreams of New Orleans, but if nything she only has unrealistic plans. Still, she meets Owen and senses something different in him from all the other men.

Oh, there certainly is something different. Owen is from the head office, and his job is to come into towns where the railroad is no longer really a viable concern, and figure out who among the railyard workers should be fired. That would explain why he's been so mysterious about what he's doing in Dodson. He kind of likes Alva, too, except that he's not fond of her fantasies. Things change, however, when everybody learns why Owen is really in town....

The movie was based loosely on a one-act play by Tennessee Williams, who supposedly disliked what the scriptwriters (including Francis Ford Coppola) did to his play when they wrote the screenplay. When Robert Osborne did the introduction and said that it was based on a Williams play, I was a bit apprehensive since I find that a little Williams goes a long, long way. In fact, the first two thirds or so of the movie aren't that bad in terms of plot, except for the fact that the movie is told in flashback (and since one of the first shots of Alva shows her wearing the dress that Willie is wearing in her opening scene, you can make an educated guess about what happens to Alva). The movie really veers into melodrama, though, once Alva hops on a train to New Orleans to follow Owen there. The bigger problem for me was the 1960s styling. Natalie Wood's character, especially her hairstyles, look like they're from the 1960s instead of the 1930s, almost to the point that at times you wonder if she's in a different movie. But for me an even bigger problem was the camera work. Hollywood must have changed cameras sometime in the early 1960s, because the new cameras could zoom and move more freely, and dammit, cinematographers were going to show us that the camera could do these things. In the case of This Property Is Condemned, it makes the camerawork look intrusive at times. There's one scene of Owen and Alva, either in the garden or on her abandoned train carriage, where the camera goes all the way around Owen and lights him obtrusively. And then there's one of Alva on the train to New Orleans where the camera pulls way, way out to a panoramic shot that I found pointles.

Overall, there's a fair bit to recommend to This Property Is Condemned. You may just find it a bit maddening at times.

The Great Train Robbery again

TCM is running a night of movies looking at train robberies. The night begins and ends with The Great Train Robbery, although the two movies are completely different. First up at 8:00 PM is the 1978 film, also known as The First Great Train Robbery, which deals with a plot to rob a train full of gold in 1855 England. Sean Connery leads the plot. Sean Connery plays the ringleader; Donald Sutherland a partner in crime, and Lesley Ann Down plays Connery's girlfriend.

The night concludes at 5:15 AM tomorrow with the 1903 version of The Great Train Robbery. This is an entirely different movie from the Sean Connery film, set in the American west and dealing with three guys who rob a train full of passengers. This one, being from 1903, is in the public domain, and that means there are quite a few versions up on Youtube. Several of them call themselves the full version, even though the videos are a couple of minutes apart in running time. TCM lists the film as running 11 minutes; I have no idea how many seconds above or below that the TCM print actually runs. If you miss TCM's running, I've included one of the prints on Youtube below:

I'll admit to not having watched this particular print before embedding it, so I'm not certain how much this differs from the TCM print in terms of a score or frame rate or anything missing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Haven't I seen that before?

There's not a whole lot to blog about right now. TCM's lineup for today was college break movies and the music they inspired, and as I wrote back when Annette Funicello died back in 2013, I never really got into all those beach movies, not being in the right demographic. I'm sure there are a lot of oldsters who have a fond memory for these films, though.

That's followed tonight by a night of movies with cinematographer Charles Lawton, Jr. Everything seems to be available from the TCM shop except for Gunman's Walk at midnight. It's a good son vs. bad son story that I thought I blogged about in full at some point in the past, but haven't. Indeed, it's one of those movies where the same things I mentioned in a 2013 post about The Man From Laramie hold true. I know fully well I've seen it, but it's one of those westerns (again, not my favorite genre, which probably explains things) where the plot elements seem to blend in with quite a few of the other westerns I've seen. You'll probably have to look for a better commentary on the film from one of the bloggers who writes about westerns.

Over on FXM Retro, they're running Mother Is a Freshman, which I bloged about three and a half years ago, tomorrow at 9:15 AM. I've stated before that FXM, going back to the days when it was the Fox Movie Channel, seems to take films from their vault, run them a whole bunch of times within a short period of time, and then put the films back in the vault. That now seems to be the case with Mother Is a Freshman.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mary Jane's Mishap

Yesterday, I noticed that the Forgotten Actors blog had a post on somebody named Laura Bayley. I'd never heard of her, so I clicked on the link and found out that she was the wife of one of the pioneering British film directors -- and by pioneering, I really mean those pioneers who were making one-reel and under films at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th, even before people like DW Griffith came along. One of the films mentioned was Mary Jane's Mishap, which was illustrated with an interesting screencap or two. Gotta love those facial expressions.

Since the movie is from 1903, it's in the public domain, which means that it's unsurprisingly made it to Youtube courtesy of several posters. Below is the version put up by the British Film Institute. Judge for yourself.

I think you also have to enjoy the vintage things in it, such as Bayley carrying around a big container marked "PARAFFIN" in letters large enough that the audience will be able to make out what it is. It looks like something that would become a staple of cartoons; just think of all those gadgets from the Acme Corporation that Wile E. Coyote uses to try to catch the Road Runner. But in 1903, such conventions had barely been invented. I was going to ask who even uses paraffin these days, but apparently the British use the word "paraffin" for what we in the US call "kerosene". I always thought paraffin was a type of wax.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Patsy Kelly, 1910-1981

Patsy Kelly is the brunette on the left with Thelma Todd

While TCM is spending time with the late Luise Rainer this morning and afternoon, I thought I should mention the other actress who was born on January 12, 1910: Patsy Kelly. Kelly was a vivacious comedic actress who starred in a whole series of shorts with Thelma Todd at the Hal Roach studio. The series was cut short, however, when Thelma Todd died at an early age, and Patsy Kelly never became anything more than a supporting actress in comedies. Not that that last clause should be read as demeaning to Kelly; it's just that for whatever reason, she never really hit the big time. Kelly's career petered out in the 1940s, until television came along.

For the last 20 years of her life, Patsy Kelly did guest-starring roles on TV, sprinking in a few movies, such as The Crowded Sky, or Rosemary's Baby. One of these days, I should do a full-length post on The Naked Kiss, a sleazy melodrama by Sam Fuller in which Kelly had a supporting role.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Luise Rainer memorial programming

Tomorrow would have been the 105th birthday of actress Luise Rainer, who died two weeks ago. TCM already had a lineup of her films scheduled for her birthday, and it's looking as though that lineup has remained intact for the programming tribute. I would have thought that, as with Lauren Bacall, they'd expand it into a 24-hour tribute, but apparently not. Among the seven films and one interview are both of Rainer's Oscar-winning roles:

The Great Ziegfeld, at 6:00 AM, won Rainer her first Oscar;
Rainer plays the wife of taxi driver Spencer Tracy in Big City at 9:00 AM;
Rainer returns as a European spy in The Emperor's Candlesticks at 10:30 AM;
The Good Earth at 12:00 PM won Rainer her second Oscar;
Rainer is a wannabe actress in Dramatic School at 2:30 PM;
Rainer plays Mrs. Johann Strauss Jr. in The Great Waltz at 4:00 PM;
Rainer gets cast as a southern belle in The Toy Wife at 5:45 PM; and
The interview Rainer did at the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival concludes the proceedings at 7:30 PM.

Anita Ekberg, 1931-2015

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (1960)

Swedish-born actress Anita Ekberg, who starred in a series of films in Hollywood and then Italy in the 1950s and 1960s, has died in Italy at the age of 83. Ekberg would probably be best remembered for the movie La Dolce Vita, although I have to admit that's one of those Fellini movies I've never seen. In fact, Fellini is one of those foreign directors I've never really gotten around to watching much

But there are a lot of her Hollywood movies that I've never gotten around to watching, either. I've blogged about Way... Way Out as well as Man in the Vault. Both are probably worth at least one viewing, although Man in the Vault is the sort of movie I prefer simply because of the genre. Ekberg was also in Back From Eternity, a movie that I'm not certain whether I've seen in its entirety, an unsureness which comes down to the fact that the movie is a remake of the 1939 movie Five Came Back.

I don't know what if anything TCM is going to be doing for Ekberg in the way of programming. The tribute for Rod Taylor has already been set for January 29 in prime time, and then there's 31 Days of Oscar.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Briefs for January 10-11, 2015

Producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. died yesterday at the age of 88 Goldwyn Jr. wasn't a studio mogul like his father, so the list of films he produced is rather shorter, but ranging from the 1950s through last year's version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Goldwyn Jr. was an Oscar nominee, because of the rules that the Best Picture nominees are technically to the producers of the film. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which he co-produced in 2003, was nominated for Best Picture.

TCM's schedule for the next 24 hours or so is filled with Traveltalks, two of which I think I haven't seen before. This includes the first of the shorts to be filmed in Technicolor, Holland in Tulip Time from 1934. That one comes on about 5:50 AM tomorrow, or in the middle of the night overnight if you're on the west coast. One year later, James FitzPatrick visited Japan and produced a couple of shorts, including Cherry Blossom Time in Japan, which comes about 8:12 AM, following Maytime (6:00 AM, 132 min). Also interesting, and somewhat sad, is Glacier Park and Waterton Lakes, tomorrow afternoon at 1:45 PM. This last short was released in 1942, when FitzPatrick was stuck in the Americas thanks to that war going on, and focuses on the pair of national parks that straddle the US-Canadian border. It's interesting to see the park as it was in 1942 when it would have been a plaything of the rich, and a bit sad to see the border so open, considering what the authorities have done since September 11, 2001.

For those who want a short other than the Traveltalks shorts, there's a Pete Smith short coming up called Anaesthesia at 11:48 AM tomorrow. The history of anaesthesia is an interesting one, and something that would probably make an interesting movie. Read up on ether frolics as an example. Indeed, the 1944 movie The Great Moment starring Joel McCrea tells the story of William Mortan, the Boston dentist who tried to introduce ether as a viable anaesthetic. Don't expect such erudition from a Pete Smith short, however.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rod Taylor, 1930-2015

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds (1963)

The news came in overnight of the death of actor Rod Taylor. Taylor, who was born in Australia but moved to Hollywood early in his career after landing a part in a Hollywood-financed movie filmed in Australia. Taylor worked in supporting roles in movies such as The Catered Affair and Separate Tables before getting his chance to be a leading actor in the 1960 science fiction classic The Time Machine.

Rod Taylor in The Time Machine (1960)

For those who don't know, The Time Machine is based on HG Wells' novel about a Victorian-era man who invents a time machine and travels to the distant future, 800,000 years ahead, and finds that human life on Earth has devolved into a childlike race of Eloi living above ground, and the evil Morlocks. Taylor's character falls in love with one of the Eloi. I have to admit this movie has never quite been a favorite of mine, but it does show up a lot on TCM.

Taylor actoed regularly throughout the 1960s, playing alongside a cast of big stars in The VIPs; opposite James Garner in 36 Hours, and opposite Doris Day in The Glass Bottom Boat>. There's also Sunday in New York, which was just on the other day.

I don't know that TCM has announced any programming tribute for Taylor yet.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer January 2015: Michael Feinstein

If you've been watching TCM lately, you've almost certainly seen the promo for Michael Feinstein as the TCM Guest Programmer for January 2015. Feinstein is a singer and pianist best known for his interpretation of the "Great American Songbook" of standards from American musical theater. So it's unsurprising that all four of Feinstein's selections are music-based. Feinstein's sit-down with Osborne airs tonight in prime time.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Too Late Blues, starring Bobby Darin as a jazzman with principles who finds himself questioning his artistic principles when he meets and falls in love with Stella Stevens.
Then, at 10:00 PM, you can see Rhapsody in Blue, the biopic about composer George Gershwin, starring Robert Alda as the tragic composer.
Feinstein's third selection is Cabin in the Sky at 12:30 AM, in which God and Satan stage a battle of good versus evil through a good-hearted sinner played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.
Finally, at 2:30 AM you can catch Summer Holiday, a musical remake of Ah, Wilderness!, starring Mickey Rooney as a young man graduating high school in a small New England town circa 1905. It's based on a play by Eugene O'Neill and the original movie version (presumably not presented by Feinstein) is on at 4:15 AM.

I'm not particularly a fan of musicals or that style of singing, so I'm not all that interested in Feinstein's work. That's not to say that he's a bad selection for Guest Programmer or anything like that. Feinstein has already done the voiceover for the Star of the Month piece TCM did for Fred Astaire, and Feinstein did a good job with that. I have no idea how much Feinstein knows about noirs or silents, but I have no reason to believe he won't do a good job presenting his selections tonight. If you're one of those people who likes musicals, I'd bet you'll really enjoy Feinstein tonight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dostoevsky night on TCM

Tomorrow morning is the 80th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley, so it's perhaps unsurprising that TCM has been running promos frequently mentioning that fact. One that seems to show up especially often is the piece Kurt Russell did when Elvis Presley was Star of the Month many years ago. Not that Russell does a bad job, but boy have we seen that piece enough times by now.

I haven't seen quite so much mentioning any of the movies that precede Elvis' birthday, which together comprise a night of films based on the works of 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. When I spent a semester in Sankt-Peterburg studying Rusian decades ago, we visited Dostoevsky's last apartment, which had been turned into a museum; several Russian writers got that treatment. One of the interesting things I remember was that the Russian guides at the Dostoevsky museum tended to use the word izvestny to describe Dostoevsky, a word that means "famous" or "well-known". Pushkin, however, routinely got the word veliky, meaning "great". Anyhow, the Dostoevsky excursion also involved going to some of the adreses mentioned in "Crime and Punishment", which weren't particularly glamorous being in narrow alleys and whatnot. It's not surprising that a version of Crime and Punishment shows up on TCM tonight, at 10:45 PM; this one stars Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov, the man who kills a pawnbroker woman, only to be racked by moral qualms over what he's done as the detectives needle him.

Starting the night off is the other of Dostoevsky's best-known stories, The Brothers Karamazov at 8:00 PM. This is a movie I have a bit of a problem with mostly due to the casting. Yul Brynner plays one of the brothers. While he's certainly a capable actor, I've more and more come to the conclusion that for me, a little of Yul Brynner goes a long, long way. Also interesting is the casting of William Shatner as the good brother who's become a virtuous Orthodox priest. This was several years before Star Trek, of course, but there's still something to Shatner's acting that's not quite right here. It works well in Judgment at Nuremberg where Shatner's playing a military adjutant to Spencer Tracy, but not so much as an Orthodox priest.

Another movie I have a problem with is The Great Sinner, at 12:30 AM. Based on Dostoevsky's novella "The Gambler", this one has Gregory Peck playing the writer with writer's block who falls in love with Ava Gardner at one of those Western European spas, and then racking up heavy gambling debts. The whole idea of anybody having a "system" with which they can beat the casino, especially at something like roulette, is something that seems ludicrous to me, even though the idea shows up in a whole bunch of gambling-themed movies.

The final film, Hakuchi, is Akira Kurosawa's take on Dostoevsky's story "The Idiot". It airs at 2:30 AM. I haven't seen this movie, so I can't really comment on it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lights of New York

I have to make at least some mention of the film Lights of New York, which TCM is running tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM as part of a day of films about New York City.

There's not much to the plot here. A couple of brothers named Eddie and Gene, played by Cullen Landis and Eugene Pallette (before he really, really put on the weight) respectively, are barbers in some small town in upstate New York who go to the big city to try to make a better living for themselves. They get a job in a nice place, not realizing at first that it's a front for a speakeasy. Gene falls in love with Kitty, one of the chorus girls at the speakeasy (Helene Costello), and they all live happily ever after.

Oh, of course they don't live happily ever after. It turns out that Hawk, the guy running the speakeasy (Wheeler Oakman), also has his eyes on Kitty as well. And he's got guys with guns to do his bidding. So Hawk has his underlings frame Eddie in the murder of a cop, with the idea that once Eddie is tried, convicted, and executed, Hawk will have Kitty all to himself. It should go without saying that this is an ending that wouldn't have satisfied the audience, although I do think it would make a startling plot twist.

The reason that this movie is worth one viewing, and that's about it, is because it was the first feature-length all talking movie. Sure, there were films like The Jazz Singer, but most of the scenes in that one were silent, with the exception of Al Jolson singing his songs and a bit of related dialog around the songs. Lights of New York was originally conceived as a two-reeler in early 1928, but supposedly Jack Warner was away, so the director, Bryan Foy of the vaudevile family, took the opportunity to ass material to the movie until he had about six reels, or the just under one hour running time we have today. Warner apparently wasn't happy but the film was released anyway, and became a big hit, presumably because there must have been a lot of people intrigued by the idea that every scene in a movie was a talking scene.

It can't be because the movie is particularly good. Oh, it's not the worst movie ever made, and it's not the worst the studio system ever put out. But it does have many of the problems that early talkies have, with people who hadn't quite figured out how to act naturally and get their sound picked up naturally by the microphones, or a camera that had to be fairly static to make certain all the sound was picked up. That's also part of the fun of the movie. In order to pick up the sound, the director and crew had to hide the microphones. One way they got around this was to put the microphones in a telephone mouthpiece. It's reasonably natural for people to talk into phones, and the audience won't see your microphone there.

Lights of New York shows up rather rarely on TCM, probably because it really is little more than a historical curiosity. Still, it does deserve that one viewing at least.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mixing up gangster movies

There's a subset of gangster movies that involves the families of the gangsters. Or, more specifically, children of the gang heads who grow up and want to live their lives in a way that involves turning their backs on the gang, and how this is a lot more difficult than it might sound. I'm not talking about a movie like The Public Enemy. In htat, even though James Cagney's gangster character has a brother who's a policeman and is trying ot convince Mom not to take the dirty gang money, it's still the Cagney character who's the main character. No; in the movies I'm thinking of, the gangsters are important to the plot, but not the main focus per se.

I mention this because as part of a birthday salute to Loretta Young tomorrow, TCM is running The Ruling Voice at 10:15 AM. Loretta Young plays the daughter of Walter Huston. Dad is the head of a "businessmen's association" which is a polite way of saying he runs the protection racket. Don't pay them, and you can't do business. Dad's been keeping his daughter relatively in the dark by having her study abroad at European finishing schools, which is where she met David Manners, whom she wants to marry. That is, until she learns the truth about what her father does.

The Ruling Voice sounds like one of those movies that I think I've seen before, but I'm not quite certain. I know that I'm not mixing it up with The Guilty Generation, another movie from around the same time. In that one, Robert Young and Constance Cummings play children in families on either side of a gang war. Young's character has been studying architecture to try to get out of the mob business; Cummings bieng a daughter isn't so involved in the game. They meet and fall in love, and the consequences are predictable. This one doesn't seem to be scheduled on TCM any time soon.

There's a third movie from the beginning of the sound era that I remember fairly distinctly, except that I can't remember the title. In this one, the gangster father had two sons. One had been raised to take over the business, the other grew up more or less clean. Mom's dying, and wants to see the other son before she dies, so the elder brother rounds up the kid brother, who ultimately winds up in the bootlegging business himself. I know this is an early talkie because I remember how much the sets fit the whole early talkie time frame in terms of production values, which were often on par with those of late silents like The Racket. But dammit, I just can't remember the title of this particular movie.

Enjoy the Loretta Young pre-Codes tomorrow!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Barbara Rush turns 88!

Barbara Rush and Richard Carlson in It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Today is the 88th birthday of actress Barbara Rush, whose presence graced a bunch of 1950s movies and later TV shows even if she never became a really big star. I picked a photo of her and Richard Carlson from It Came From Outer Space mostly because I figured that was one people might remember Rush in. Here, she plays the love interest to hero Carlson, who comes upon a desert town after seeing a UFO, and finds that there are strange goings-on in the town and can't get anybody to believe him.

But Rush did a fair amount of serious work. She plays Jane Wyman's daughter in Magnificent Obsession, I film I really, really dislike because I find the plot so maddeningly stupid. Rock Hudson is a playboy whose boating accident requires the defibrillator that Rush's dad owns privately, so when Dad has a heart attack, he drops dead. And then when Hudson tries to make it up to Mom, he causes a car accident that blinds her! So he tries to make that up by becoming a doctor. This is one of those movies that I've never been able to sit all the way through just because it is so irritating in its stupidity, and not in a good way like some of those movies that are such misfires they wind up being fun to laugh at.

As for one of those movies that winds up being more fun to laugh at, you can watch Rush in Bigger Than Life. Here, she plays the wife to James Mason, who has a heart condition that gets treated with cortisone. The only thing is, hubby gets addicted to the cortisone and it gives him delusions of grandeur that threaten the wife and kids! The idea actually isn't a bad one, it's just that the execution winds up going off the rails somewhere.

Finally, I'll mention No Down Payment, where Rush plays one of four wives married to World War II veterans in a new suburban housing development of the sort that were springing up all over the country and especially the places that were really growing in the 1950s like Southern California. This is another movie that has some good ideas but winds up not quite succeeding.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

On Approval

For those of you who like the sort of drawing-room comedy that showed up in early talkies, or like the humor in British movies, you're in luck. TCM is running the film On Approval tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

Set in the 1890s, the movie stars stage actress Beatrice Lillie as Maria, a wealthy widow in London. She's got an American friend in Helen (Googie Withers), who like her is a wealthy widow. Apparently the two women married well back in the day. Into this come two men. George (Clive Brook) is the Duke of Bristol, but unfortunately just having a title isn't enough. The old family has fallen into debt and George needs a cash infusion quick to keep the family's good name going. You can probably guess that he's going to get the idea to marry a wealthy widow, and you'd be right. George has a friend in Richard (Roland Culver), who is also a man down on his luck and needing a wealthy widow to solve all of his financial problems.

Maria thinks she might like Richard, so she has a novel idea (certainly a novel idea for Victorian England): a trial marriage! She's got a big place in Scotland, and she invites Richard to come along for a month so that she can decide whether joining with him until death parts them is a good idea. George the Duke chaperones Richard, in part because Helen is companion to Maria and George has his eye on Helen. So our two couples make their way to Scotland.

Needless to say, things don't go quite as they had planned. Victorian-era morals dictate that these two unmarried men can't possibly stay with the two women, but the hotel where they were planning to say announces that it's booked solid. There literally is no place to stay, so George and Richard wind up in guest rooms at Maria's house. This actually enrages the hired help, who say there's no way they're going to serve people who are so clearly immoral (I don't know how much this is an exaggeration of Victorian morals, and how much the era really was that warped). So they leave in a huff, leaving the four main players to do all the work of keeping up the house, while trying to fall in love with the right people.

The stage is set for what turns out to be typical material of the genre. Characters seemingly fall in and out of love, as they have their own ulterior motives to try to get other characters to be with them in the final reel. I have to admit that this is a genre that I've always had a bit of trouble with, and On Approval shows that it's not just because most of the movies in the genre were made at the dawn of the sound era. On Approval was released in 1944, and as such has no issues with sound. Instead, I found the antics of the characters, who seemed constantaly out to trick each other, to get on my nerves, making me wonder whether any of these characters were supposed to be sympathetic.

These personal issues aside, On Approval is well enough made, and people who like drawing room comedies or movies that may remind you of Oscar Wilde will probably enjoy it Beatrice Lillie apparently had a reputation for being extremely funny on stage, but she made very few movies. So this is one of your rare chances to see her.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Time for a new Friday Night Spotlight

Since we're in the first week of a new month, we get a new Friday Night Spotlight on TCM. Every Friday in Januayr, Emmy Award-winning writer Ken Levine will be presenting the films of playwright Neil Simon. Some of the films are adaptations of Simon's successful stage plays; others are screenplays written directly for the screen. Since this month has five Fridays, it looks as though some of the Fridays are only going to have three movies instead of the four movies that most weeknights in prime time have one of the presenters talking about, be that presenter Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, the Friday Night Spotlight, or a Guest Programmer.

Indeed, this first Friday in January only has three movies. The night begins at 8:00 PM with one of Simon's best known works, The Odd Couple. It's been done a whole lot of times, but this is the 1968 movie version with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as neat freak Felix Unger and slovenly Oscar Madison, who wind up sharing an apartment when their wives divorce them. It's also the version that gave us the familiar theme music which would be used for the long-running 1970s TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

Jack Lemmon returns at 10:00 PM in The Out-of-Towners. This time, he plays a man from a small town in Ohio who goes to New York with his family since he's going to be interviewed for a job that would mean a big promotion. He plans to get there the day before and spend some quality time seeing the city, but unfortunately, everything that can go wrong does, leading him to wonder whether he can survive the city.

Finally, in Come Blow Your Horn at midnight, Frank Sinatra plays a swinging playboy in New York who is visited by his kid brother (Tony Bill), and the elder brother proceeds to teach the kid brother how to be a playboy too, much to the chagrin of their parents.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Don't call it Hide-Out

Another of the B comedies coming up on TCM that I'd like to recommend is Hideaway, tomorrow at 12:30 PM. There are quite a few things in Hideaway that may remind you of the excellent 1934 film Hide-Out, but others that are completely different.

Where Hide-Out starts with the gangsters escaping and going to a house in the country, Hideaway starts at the house in the country and has the gangsters come there. The house is currently squatted in by the Peterson family, a father (Fred Stone), mother (Emma Dunn), and adult daughter (Marjorie Lord). Gangster Mike Clark (J. Carroll Naish, probably the most recognizable name in the cast) shows up with a couple of underlings, looking to escape from the police and other gangsters. And they had a good idea, too. They bought a house out in the country to use as their hideaway, only to find that the Petersons have taken the darn thing over since nobody's been living in the place for years!

So, what's a group of gangsters to do? Clark is the brightest of the lot, so he has them assume fake identities and tell the family nothing of who they really are and that they're the actual owners of the house. Instead, they'll be paying guests, although Mr. Peterson quickly makes them the talk of the town. As in Hide-Out, one of the gangsters falls in love with the daughter, although here, it's even more of a problem for the father. The daughter doesn't want to be stuck down on the farm any longer, and this big city guy coming along for her just might tear the family apart.

Hideaway is definitely not as good as Hide-Out, although to be fair, it was never intended to be anything more than a B movie. It wouldn't surprise me if the filmmakers had even forgotten about Hide-Out which had only been made a few years earlier. This one has a cast of relative unknowns, and a lot of broad humor, as in a scene where the gangsters have to paint a barn. One problem, though, is that with half the main characters being gangsters, there's the little matter of the Production Code, which constrains what everybody can do and how the movie can end.

If you could only watch of of Hideaway and Hide-Out, I'd certainly recommend Hide-Out. But if you're looking for 1930s B movies, you could do a lot worse than spend an hour with Hideaway. I think this time I actually am right in saying the movie isn't available on DVD.

Big-Hearted Herbert

TCM is going to be showing a bunch of 1930s B movies tomorrow, and a couple of them are worth mentioning that I haven't blogged about before. The first of these is Big-Hearted Herbert, at 7:15 AM.

Guy Kibbee stars as Herbert Kalness, the patriarch of one of those midwestern small cities that populated movies of the 1930s before everybody migrated to California or the South and the place became the Rust Belt. Herbert started at the turn of the century working at the bottom as a gopher and working his way up to the point that he now runs his own successful plumbing supply business. He did all this without the benefit of a fancy college education, and as such he feels that everybody else can succeed too without going to college. That, and without the benefit of lawyers, whose sole purpose he sees as trying to make him pay more to the rapacious tax man.

Meanwhile, at home, Herbert has a kindly wife Elizabeth (Aline MacMahon) and three kids. All of them are about to present problems for Herbert. Alice (Patricia Ellis) is all grown up, and she's met and fallen in love with Andrew (Philip Reed). They want to marry, and Andrew is about to bring his family over to the Kalness place to make the big announcement, but there's a problem: Andrew is going to become a lawyer! Andrew's parents are also of a rather higher social class than the Kalnesses. Not that this is a problem for them, but for Herbert Kalness it certainly is! Elder son Herbert Jr. (Junior Durkin) is in high school, and Dad is planning for him to go into the family business. However, Junior wants to go to -- gasp! -- college! -- and become an engineer. Younger son Robert threatens to eat Dad out of house and home, or at least so Dad fears.

Andrew and his family come over for dinner, and unsurprisingly, the result is a disaster as Mr. Kalness shows himself to be such a blowhard that Andrew's parents are turned off by Herbert's constant talk about "plain living" and ranting about lawyers and college. Who could blame them? Elizabeth, of course, knows that she's married to a man who really is a good guy deep down inside, it's just that you have to get to him in the right way. That opportunity shows itself a few days later when Herbert announces that he's got an important client in town. He's been going on about plain living, so Elizabeth gets the kids together and decides they're going to show these clients what plain living really means. Ultimately Herbert learns his lesson: this is a comedy, and you can't expect anything less. Everybody lives happily ever after and we fade to the end.

Big-Hearted Herbert is a B comedy all the way, but it's well-made an entertaining. When I first watched it, it felt a lot like watching a TV sitcom from 20 years later, lengthened to push the running time past an hour. Indeed, when Aline MacMahon's character gets the idea ot have her and the kids show Dad real plain living, she gathers the kids together and whispers the plot to them such that the audience cannot hear, something that would become a staple on later sitcoms. I can just imagine Lucy Ricardo whispering like that to Ethel Mertz like that on I Love Lucy. Guy Kibbee is good at playing blustery, although some reviewers might find his bluster a bit too much. MacMahon is the emotional center of the family, and she does a good job of portraying the loving and patient mother. Everybody else is good enough, not detracting from the proceedings. Big-Hearted Herbert may never be mistaken for an all-time great movie, but it's more than worth a watch.

I don't think Big-Hearted Herbert is available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive.

Edit: I misread the TCM schedule; it turns out that Big-Hearted Herbert is in fact available from the TCM Shop as part of a two-movie Aline MacMahon/Guy Kibbee set.