Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Goodbye the children

TCM's spotlight for tonight is on French director Louis Malle, specifically several of the movies he made in his native France. One that I haven't receommended before is Au revoir, les enfants, at 10:00 PM.

The scene is France in 1944, which of course means the Nazi occupation. Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is a boy who atends a Catholic boarding school. One might think the Nazis would want to close down all the private schools so that they could have complete control over the education system, but this was an occupied country in the midst of war, which means the Nazis probably had bigger things on their mind. Julien and his classmates are about as happy as can be expected, what with having to go to a Catholic school and with all the difficulties of a war and occupation going on. Kids cope somehow.

One day, a new student shows up at the school. Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) is put in Julien's room to share, and unsurprisingly the two boys strike up a friendship. However, Jean has a tendency to act rather guarded, and it eventually becomes clear that he's hiding something. Considering the Nazis' stated policies, it's not that difficult to figure out what it is that Jean is hiding. Julien eventually figures it out, and so we come to know that as with the parish priest in Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City, the clergy is resisting the Nazis in the best way they know how. Since they had a boarding school to run, they couldn't be quite so actively resistant, instead using the school to hide Jews who would otherwise be sent to the concentration camps.

For the boys, life goes on, with some situatoins posing difficulties for them, such as a time when they get lost in the woods. Not wanting to come up against curfew, they flag down a car to take them back to school, and the car just happens to be one with Nazi soldiers. Needless to say, Jean the Jew is rather nervous about this. Meanwhile, back among the adults, events are conspiring to make life even more difficult for the students. The priests discover that their janitor has been stealing bread to sell on the black market; to be fair, the janitor has to make a living too. But they fire him, and that gives the janitor leverage to cause problems at the school. One of the moral panics of the current day is bullying, but a movie like this shows that you can use the state as the biggest bully of them all to get back at somebody you don't like.

Au revoir, les enfants is a movie Louis Malle based on his own experiences growing up. The movie has a very personal feel to it, in the way many of the events are less cinematic and more naturalistic than we might expect from Hollywood, or anybody doing a straight historical drama about some period long before they were born. It's an intimacy that works much to the movie's benefit. There's nothing spectacular, just a series of events that leave you with more of an impression than you'd otherwise think.

Au revoir, les enfants is available on DVD, but from the Criterion Collection, which means it's a bit pricey.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Winchester '73 remake

I never realized that the classic James Stewart western Winchester '73 had been remade as a TV movie. But it turns out that precisely this happened, in 1967. I haven't seen the TV movie, so I can't really judge it. But for those of you who have the premium channels, you've got a chance to catch it on Encore Westerns twice in the next 24 hours, this afternoon at 12:20 PM and then overnight at 12:30 AM.

The cast looks interesting enough. Tom Tryon, whom you might recall as the groom in I Married a Monster From Outer Space, takes on the James Stewart role, of the man who wins the gun, only to have it stolen. Taking the gun from him is his cousin, played by John Saxon, who had a long career although never really became a star. One of his more interesting roles is as the student who harasses Esther Williams in the decidedly non-swim movie The Unguarded Hour. Interestingly, he and Tryon had both appeared in The Cardinal a few years earlier. Dan Duryea, who had appeared in the original, plays Saxon's father. Paul Fix, whom you might have seen in The Rifleman if you watch the nostalgia TV channels, shows up as Tryon's father; Joan Blondell shows up too.

It's also in color, but being a TV movie, it's not in widescreen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Speak of the Devil

Earlier today I mentioned that I was happy I hadn't had any obituaries to report on. Wouldn't you know, but when I look on Wikipedia's list of notable deaths just a few hours later, there are two people who each deserve mention:

Miroslav Ondříček was 80. Ondříček was a cinematographer who started out working in the 1960s on films directed by Miloš Forman. Among those early movies were Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball. Ondříček would go on to work with Forman quite a few times after Forman left for the west, with the most notable example being Amadeus; without Forman he handled the camera for Mike Nichols on Silkwood.

Gene Saks also died yesterday, at the age of 93. Saks was much more a stage director than a movie director, but he had a couple of notable film credits, notably directing the work of playwright Neil Simon. Saks did Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Brighton Beach Memoirs on the big screen when it comes to Simon's works. Away from Simon, Saks directed the sparkling comedy Cactus Flower.

Another round of thoughts about DVDs

With all that's been going on here lately, I haven't been able to do many full-length posts about new movies. I haven't been helped by the fact that there haven't been too many movies on recently that I've been interested in doing a full-length post on and have not already done so. So I figured that I would finally get around today to doing a post on You Were Never Lovelier, a pleasant if predictable movie starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. However, I was quite surprised to see that it's out of print on DVD. I really don't like recommending movies that have gone out of print if they're not going to be on TV any time soon for you to watch.

And then there are movies like The Manitou that showed up on TCM a couple of days ago. This is one that's definitely worth a watch, if only because the plot is so bizarre and it's got an all-star cast. It too is out of print, but it's a movie that I'm not certain I'd want to blog about until it was about to sho up on TV again. There are a lot of movies out there -- the tentpoles like Casablanca or stuff like Fred Astaire or Alfred Hitchcock movies where you can probably assume that the movie is good enough that you're going to enjoy it if you plonk down $15 or $20 for a DVD even if you haven't seen it. Well, some of the films might not be in your genre, but that too is something that's easy enough to spot ahead of time. Something like The Manitou, however, is one of those movies that is enjoyably bad. There's a lot about it that's just off, and unintentionally laugh-inducing, which makes it fun but not necessarily to everybody's taste. A movie like that is something I'd rather watch first before spending the money on the DVD.

There are also the B movies. Warner Bros. has done a pretty good job of at least making the movies available courtesy of the Warner Archive, but I know there are a lot of people who don't like the idea of the MOD paradigm. It means the movies probably aren't going to get another release, and also means that the DVDs are pricey. I think I've mentioned before that many of these B movies would probably never see the light of day any other way, or possibly only in some overpriced box set. But such B movies are also definitely a genre that I would want to see first before deciding whether to buy them on DVD at normal prices.

On the bright side, nobody famous enough has died that I need to do a bigger post on, and it's beginning to look like activity is finally going to pick up this week.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Perhaps I should give Cat Ballou a second chance

TCM is running a night of movies tonight in which one actor plays two roles, with one of the movies being Cat Ballou at 10:00 PM. I thought I hadn't done a full-length post on the film, and to some extent that's true. The post I've linked to above is really more of a half-length post. Still, the things I was thinking about writing about Cat Ballou this morning more or less show up in the post.

Probably the biggest problem I have with the movie is Stubby Kaye, as his musical interludes with Nat King Cole are supposed to be funny but fall flat, and wind up being almost irritating, or at least intrusive. I shouldn't necessarily have a problem with the comedy in the rest of the movie, as I've given a fairly positive review to a comic western like Support Your Local Sheriff before. There's also films like Alias Jesse James, which isn't bad, although it is a Bob Hope vehicle, which might be problematic for some who find Hope's later movies an acquired taste.

So Cat Ballou may be one of htose movies that deserves a second chance. If only it could have been released without the Stubby Kaye sequences. That having been said, there are probably going to be a lot of you readers who will like the movie, even with the Kaye scenes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Accuse! on again

I've briefly mentioned the film I Accuse! before, in conjuntion with its star Jose Ferrer, and with its screenwriter Gore Vidal. It's airing again tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM on TCM if you haven't seen it any of the other times I've mentioned it.

Those who know history will recognize the title as the English translation of Émile Zola's open letter "J'accuse!" which was published in response to the injustice of the case of Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, played here by Jose Ferrer, was a man of Jewish and German descent who served as a colonel in the French army in the early 1890s. However, it transpired that somebody was passing secrets, and Dryfus was accused and convicted, for which he was sent ot the infamous prison on Devil's Island, a location that's served for quite a few other films such as Papillon. In fact, the real traitor was Major Esterhazy (Anton Walbrook in this movie).

Of course, this is stuff most people will know. It's also been done in the movies quite a bit, with probably the most famous film being The Life of Émile Zola. The biggest difference in terms of story between the two movies is that the Zola biopic focusses on his whole life, although the Dreyfus affair was one of the most important bits. But Zola was already a famous writer before Dreyfus came on the scene. I Accuse! looks specifically on Dreyfus and his family; his wife Lucie is played by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Both movies are good, and would make a worthy double feature.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

TCM's prime time lineup: March 26, 2015

TCM's schedule lists tonight's lineup as "More Hammer Noir". I have to admit that I haven't seen any of the features in tonight's lineup, but one or another of them sounds as thought there could be something interesting. I'm usualy mildly intrigued when I see any of these non-presitge British movies on the lineup. I watched Obsession when it was on a few weeks back, which was a lot of fun, and think I mentioned THe Secret Partner briefly; that one aired at the end of January. Made between those two was stuff like Twist of Fate. There are several other movies from the 50s from Britian that would broadly fit the noir/thriller/crime-tinged drama genres, but I can't remember the names of all of them.

There are also quite a few shorts in among the features tonight. Life in the Andes, for example, at 12:20 AM, sees James Fitzpatrick going to Peru in 1952, which mildly surprised me, because even though I've looked at Fitzpatrick's page on IMDb quite a few times, I thought that by the end of his time at MGM making those Traveltalks shorts he was reduced to making a bucnh about Europe. Perhaps equally interesting is Operation Dirty Dozen, a making-of about the 1967 film, at 1:49 AM. This one shows Lee Marvin doing his thing around London in his off time, and those scenes make the featurette worth watching. At 3:38 AM, there's a featureet on Lady Sings the Blues. Any time I see one of these featurettes pop up I wonder if the movie it's promoting is going to be on TCM soon, which in the case of Lady Sings the Blues would be a treat since it shows up so rarely. But, the TCM database seems to imply that it's not going to be on through June.

Tomorrow morning sees a whole bunch of movies with the word Spring in the title, including the lousy early musical Spring Is Here at 7:30 AM.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When will FXM Retro disappear

I've commented quite a few times on the morning to 3PM ET programming block that's been around since the old Fox Movie Channel rebranded itself as FXM in the beginning of 2012. At first the FMC part kept its name, although several months back it was changed to FXM Retro. At the time of the change I wrote that I didn't expect the programming block to last six months, and am sonetimes surprised that it's still going. But there are often signs that make me ask whether whoever at Fox is in charge of the cable channels is planning finally to do away with that programming block.

Yesterday at 1:00 PM, I saw that the channel was running Slumdog Millionaire, which I think got another airing to start today's programming block. I didn't stay to see whether it had any commercial interruptions, and I also have to admit that I wasn't paying attention to see whether the bottom right of hte screen had the FXM Retro bug.

And then tomorrow at 3:00 AM and I think again at 1:00 PM. It's a 115-minute movie, so it should just fit into a two-hour block if there aren't any commercials; if they do add commercials it would require quite a bit of cutting. Either way, the movie is less than five years old. While it's possible for something that recent to be classic, I don't know if you could really call it "retro". At least something like Hitchcock, which has been showing up in the prime time block, would fit "retro".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alan Arkin night

Robert Osborne, sadly, is going to be missing this year's TCM Film Festival. That's a big shame, since he was going to be interviewing somebody there -- well, that somebody being Sophia Loren.

As for last yeat, the interviewee was Alan Arkin, and TCM is finally getting around to showing that interview this evening at 8:00 PM. As is usually the case with original premieres, there's going to be a second airing for the benefit of viewers on the west coast. This follows the normal practice of including one feature film (in this case The In-Laws) at 9:00 PM, with the repeat airing of the interview following at 11:00 PM.

Other movies airing in tonight's prime time lineup include:

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at midnight, about a deaf-mute in a southern town and the way his appearance changes the lives of everybody who comes into his life;
Wait Until Dark at 2:15 AM, starring Audrey Hepburn as the best-dressed blind woman around who winds up in possession of a doll stuffed with heroin; and
Hearts of the Weat at 4:15 AM, with Arkin as a producer/director of B-grade westerns in the 1930s who makes a starr out of Jeff Bridges.

Monday, March 23, 2015

TCM's Albert Maysles tribute

I mentioned that documentary film director Albert Maysles died earlier this month. TCM will be running a tribute to Maysles with four of the films that he and his brother David made.

First, at 8:00 PM, is Grey Gardens;
At 10:00 PM you can catch Salesman, a documentary about door-to-door bible salesmen and the pressures faced by them, and the people to whom they're trying to sell the bibles too.
11:45 PM sees Gimme Shelter, a look at the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the United States, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamont, when Hell's Angels members were brought in to provide security and the result was that several people died.
Finally, at 1:30 AM, you can see Meet Marlon Brando, a look at a bunch of journalists interviewing Brando around 1966.

Grey Gardens deserves a full post, and if I had the time to do a full post I would. The story starts off around 1971, when an item hit the news about one of those mansions out in the Hamptons to which all the rich people decamped in the summer as you can see in those old movies from the 1930s. Apparently, the elderly mother and her daughter living their were in conditions so squalid that the house was in serious violation of the building code. That's not particularly a big news story, even if it was one of those big mansions. The only thing was, however, that the mother and daghter were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She helped her relatives out in dealing with the problems at the home, and the notoriety of the story must have come to the attention of the Maysles brothers, because they made this movie about the two, their house, and their relationship.

Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter "Little Edie" have a relationship that's at times surreal, at times symbiotic if far from optimal, and at times extremely difficult for Little Edie. Little Edie feels as though Mom screwed up her chance at love back in the 1930s, and that that has something to do with why she's become a spinster, taking care of an elderly mother. Meanwhile, the house is continuing to fall down around them as there are stray cats constantly coming to eat, and who knows what wildlife in the attic. Mother and daughter generally eat not in the kitchen, but wherever, which is usually the bedroom. The only other person who seems to have remained in their lives is a handyman.

It's a movie that is sometimes sad, when you think about how lovely the house must have been back in the 1930s. There's also the frustration when mother and daughter start arguing with each other, because those are times when you start to dislike the two women and just want to shake some sense into them or something. And then there are scenes which seem exploitative, as though the Maysles were delibertely trying to make the Beales seem not just odd and dysfunctional, but even beyond freaks.

Grey Gardens gained a renaissance when it was made into a TV movie, and even a Broadway musical. But this is the original documentary, and worth a watch.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ooh, it's Joan Crawford's birthday tomorrow

And thankfully, TCM aren't giving us her MGM movies. Not that those movies are necessarily bad; it's just that Joan Crawford movies were so much more fun once she went to Warner Bros. and started going way over the top. Her first Warner Bros. movie, Mildred Pierce, finishes tomorrow's TCM salute at 6:00 PM. In fact, TCM will be looking at Crawford's post-MGM career in reverse chronological order.

Also under that Warner Bros. contract was Flamingo Road, which TCM will be showing at 2:00 PM. Sure, Joan was too old for the role she's playing, but she gives it everything she's got and makes the movie worth a watch.

Crawford did return to MGM for the hilarious Torch Song, which you can catch tomorrow at 10:30 AM. Of course, the movie is hilarious precisely because it was not intended to be a comedy. I have no idea what anybody making this movie was thinking, but thankfully they made the movie anyway.

The juicy What Ever Happened to Baby Jane sees Crawford going up against the equally volcanic Bette Davis at 8:15 AM. Sparks fly and it's the audience that benefits from this.

Finally, the day kicks off with The Caretakers at 6:30 AM, featuring Crawford as the head nurse at a mental institution. This one starts with a bang, as Polly Bergen suffers a nervous breakdown in an unintentionally humorous way. Robert Stack also shows up as the new head doctor who clashes with Crawford's style; Herbert Marshall near the end of his career plays the boss of both of them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mark Hellinger, 1903-1947

Today marks the birth anniversary of producer Mark Hellinger, who was born on this day in 1903. His is a name that would probably have faded into obscurity along with the names of most producers during the studio era. And indeed, a lot of people, even those who know many of the old directors like Htichcock and Billy Wilder, might not know the name.

I think, however, that one film ultimately made his name, and that would be his final film, The Naked City. Hellinger not only produced it, he narrated it. It's partly the way he narrated the story, partly the story itself, and definitely the large amount of location shooting in New York, that's made The Naked City a movie that's stood the test of time above a lot of other movies of the era. Hellinger, sadly, died before The Naked City was released.

That having been said, Hellinger produced several other movies that are well worth watching. Burt Lancaster shows up twice early in his career in the excellent The Killers< followed the next year by Brute Force. There's also Humphrey Bogart trying to kill his wife in The Two Mrs. Carrolls and, a bit earlier in his career at Fox, you can see Moontide.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The cost of doing business

One of the more baffling shorts out there is one with an overlong title: MGM's March on in 1934-35 with Metro Goldwyn Mayer: Convention of the Century. TCM is running it on March 21 at about 8:35 AM in case you want to see it.

There's very little to this short. Sometime in 1934, MGM held a convention for all of its exhibitors; that is, the people who were in charge of which MGM movies would get shown in the local theaters. That's no big deal; the bigger question is why MGM would make a short out of it. Well, there is a fairly obvious reason, which is good relations with their exhibitors. Of course, it's not as if anybody who went to the movies would actually care about any of these exhibitors. They might have cared about the upcoming movies; after all, MGM made any number of shorts promoting upcoming movies. This short, however, is mostly people nobody had ever heard of standing around not doing much of anything. At least when MGM did the same thing in their 1925 studio tour, there was the value of seeing the MGM lot as it was in its early days, and many of the directors and silent stars either were famous, or would go on to become famous. The only person here you might recognize by name is Felix Feist, who would go on to direct movies such as This Woman Is Dangerous.

Liv Ullmann interview

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Ideas program recently interviewed actress Liv Ullmann. I haven't gotten around to listening to the interview yet, but you can download it here. It's a 49MB file, so about 50 minutes. I have no idea how long it's going to be available online.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Happened in Athens

History tells us that Spiridon Loues won the first marathon at the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. From this bit of history, Fox added a lot of fluff and gave us the movie It Happened in Athens, airing at 11:15 AM on March 20 on FXM Retro.

Loues, played here by Trax Colton who was presumably being groomed for stardom but never attained it, is portrayed as a shepherd in a poor farm family living someplace in the mountains not too far away from Athens. He does a lot of running as part of his herding the sheep, and he must be the fastest man in the village. So when he hears about the Olympic games to be held soon in Athens, he wants to go to Athens to run the marathon. As though you can just show up and they'll let you in, but this is a movie, and it's set in a simpler time.

Unsurprisingly, when he gets to Athens, he finds his path to running in the marathon blocked, because the Olympic trials were already held. He's also got no money and no place to stay. So a young woman from his town named Christina (Maria Xenia as she's credited although she's really got a Greek name that fits the old joke that "It's Greek to me!") lets him take a shower in the house where the woman she works for lives. That woman, Eleni Costa (Jayne Mansfield) is an actress, in love with dashing Army Lt. Alexi Vinardos (Nico Minardos), who is also going to be running in the marathon, and is widely considered the favorite.

Alexi is so much the favorite, in fact, that Eleni allows herself to be used in a promotion that she'll marry whoever wins the marathon, because who wouldn't want to marry a hot woman like Jayne Mansfield? Well, not Spiridon. He's fallen in love with Christina, although Christina is due to emigrate soon to America. Eventually, Spiridon is able to convince the US delegation that he's got the Olympic spirit, and they convince Pierre de Coubertin and the powers that be that Spiridon should run. You can guess that Spiridon wins, and there's the dilemma of what Eleni will do, and whether Christina will be forced to emigrate.

The portrayal of the marathon is actually far worse than the one depicted in The Games. Everybody takes ridiculous breaks; Spiridon's dog keeps following him; and Spiridon's family follows him on their cart, all while semaphore men are relaying the results to the folks waiting in the Olympic stadium. There was telegraph back then, but no radio, and telephones wouldn't have been mobile enough to transmit the information. The result of all this is a movie that's laughably stupid at times, but winds up being a pleasant enough diversion.

There's one big problem, however, and that is that the last time FXM Retro ran the movie, it was a panned-and-scanned print. At least establishing shots were done in Greece, and the scenery looks like it would be quite nice in Cinemascope. Instead, we get what I like to call the "Cinemascope diet" for the credits, where everything is simply squeezed into 4:3 with no panning, making everybody look rail thin and tall; the meat of the movie is panned and scanned and looks lousy. As far as I'm aware, the movie isn't on DVD, either.

A death in the family

We suffered a death in the family overnight, so posting mill be sporadic for the next several days. I have no idea when the funeral or anything like that is even going to be.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Apologies for the interruption

I live on the end of a dead-end road in the middle of nowhere. We had a wind storm yesterday, and unsurprisngly wires go down and knock out power. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that one of the houses down the road had a tree fall on top of the power line, so the electric company couldn't do anything about it until this morning. So I was without internet for a good 17 hours. Not that I'm certain what I would have blogged about today anyhow. At least nobody important died. And with the wind storm, I suppose I should link to The Wind.

Actually, I really was thinking about linking to the return of Island in the Sun on FXM Retro. I think it already aired once earlier this month, but it's coming up again twice, tomorrow at 7:20 AM and again Friday at 4:00 AM.

Oh, and Photobucket is still acting up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Anybody else having trouble with Photobucket? I noticed last night that the direct links to images suddenly started updating. As an example, in my birthday post for Gail Patrick, which I was going to mention today what with it being St. Patrick's Day, there's a picture of a poster for the movie Love Crazy. The direct link to the image should be http://i262.photobucket.com/albums/ii96/justacineast/lovecrazy.jpg. But when I enter that address into the browser, I get redirected to http://s262.photobucket.com/user/justacineast/media/lovecrazy.jpg.html instead. One of the results is that it's broken all image embedding.

I tried to see if anybody else was having a problem with this via Photobucket's own help pages, but those seem to be bringing my browser to a crashing halt, such that I have to kill it from the Task Manager. I couldn't find anything recent from Google searches about any problems, either.

It's going to be a severe pain in the ass if I have to drop Photobucket and use some other service to host all the blog's photos. Obviously it wouldn't be that difficult to start hosting new photos (new to the blog, of course) someplace else, but all the old photos? I don't have the time or energy to deal with all that aggravation.

Monday, March 16, 2015

With Oscar-winner Rosalind Russell

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks", which is more or less Robert Osborne acting as a GUest Programmer, except of course that he's not a guest. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Oklahoma Kid, which is a fun western mostly because it's got Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in the cast, and you have to wonder what Warner Bros. was thinking putting those two in a western.

The second movie is China Seas, at 9:30 PM. Ship's captain Clark Gable gets involved in a love triangle with Jean Harlow and Rosalind Russell, while having to deal wiht Wallace Beery and a band of pirates. The Straits of Malacca were a haven for piracy before Malaysia and Indonesia got their act together. Now, the pirates are all operating out of Somalia, as you may have seen if you recall the movie Captain Phillips. The trailer for China Seas is available on Youtube:

I'll admit to not watching the Youtube video, but if it's the same one that's shown up on TCM, it's interesting to see the movie e called an MGM "Hall of Fame" Picture, whatever that's supposed to mean. More interesting, though, is what Warner Bros. has on the Youtube page for the trailer above:

Legendary screen icon Clark Gable (Gone With the Wind) stars as a sea captain who is caught in a romantic triangle and who has to fight off modern-day pirates. Co-starring the Blonde Bombshell Jean Harlow (Dinner at Eight), Oscar-winner Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame) and Oscar-winner Wallace Beery (The Champ).

Russell may have been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times (the last for Auntie Mame), but she only won a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Disney returns

Last December saw the first night of Treasures From the Disney Vault. It returns to TCM tonight, with two rather distinct themes. First up is Ireland, as TCM will be showing Darby O'Gill and the Little People at 8:00 PM followed by a Disneyland episode promoting the movie at 9:45 PM. TCM's schedule is calling the Disneyland show "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color", although if I understand correctly the TV show wasn't aired in color until 1961. Apparently, ABC, which had originally hosted "Disneyland", still wasn't able to broadcast in color, while NBC was, so Disney took his color to NBC.

(NBC's prime-time lineup would be all-color starting in 1964, and all of prime-time network TV would be in color starting in 1966, I believe. Some places, like New Zealand, didn't go to color broadcasting until well into the 1970s. There's an interesting radio program about New Zealand's starting of color TV here, although this isn't really the point of my blog. I just happened to get around to listening to that program yesterday.)

Later in the evening, at midnight, will be The Three Caballeros, a movie I haven't heard of before, in which Donald Duck goes to South America and makes friends there. World War II was going on in 1944 when the movie was made, and part of American policy was to have a "Good Neighbor Policy" toward the rest of the western hemisphere, or more specifically Latin America, which included cultural exchanges among other things. Orson Welles, for example, went down to Latin America as part of this policy after finishing The Magnificent Ambersons, which is what enabled RKO to send in a separate editor to cut the movie to a reasonable length without having Orson Welles go nuts -- he was 5,000 miles away so he couldn't do anything about it. There's also a documentary about Walt Disney's experiences with the Good Neighbor Policy called Walt and El Grupo, airing at 1:30 AM.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Shorts report for March 14, 2015

Those of you who like the old Traveltalks shorts are in luck, as there are a pair of them that I don't think have shown up on TCM in some time. First, at 1:45 PM is Ancient Egypt. This one was filmed in 1938, presumably on the same trip that had James A. FitzPatrick go to the Paris World's Fair and several other places in Europe. Of course, when filming ancient Egypt, it's almost beside the point what year you did the filming, except when it would have come to saving the treasures that would have been under threat of flooding from the building of the Aswan High Dam.

The other Traveltalks short is City of Brigham Young, at 7:48 PM. I haven't seen this one, which focuses on Salt Lake City and presumably didn't have to be sanitized to show only the nice parts of the place, since the bland but polite Mormons would have put on a nice face and kept the weird parts like the secret handshakes and magic undies and buying up land in Missouri out of FitzPatrick's view. (I probably shouldn't be that snarky to the Mormons.) I haven't actually seen this one; there are two other shorts on the rest of Utah in the series, not being shown any time soon: Monumental Utah looks at the natural scenes, while Salt Lake Diversions looks at the a resort on one of the salt lakes that has people being served on floating trays as they float do the lake's high salt content. (I think; there's a scene in one of FitzPatrick's Utak shorts showing this and I think this is the short.)

For those who like the Crime Does Not Pay shorts, TCM is running Soak the Poor, one of the earlier entries in the series focuses on racketeers going after recipients of government relief. Leon Ames plays the federal agent sent to investigate. This one airs overnight at 1:36 AM.

A short that I mentioned just about two years ago is Ups and Downs, which is getting another airing tomorrow morning at 7:38 AM. This one is only intreesting for the presence of a young June Allyson, together here with the bland actor Hal LeRoy. The other short I mentioned in that post, The Knight Is Young, doesn't seem to be on the schedule any time soon.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Henry Hathaway, 1898-1985

Henry Hathaway and John Wayne, apparently taken on the set of The Sons of Katie Elder

Today marks the birth anniversary of prolific director Henry Hathaway. Hathaway was nominated for a Best Director Oscar fairly early in his career for 1935's Lives of a Bengal Lancer, which turned out to be his only nomination. It was also well before his most fertile period, which came at 20th Century-Fox, especially wortking with a star like Tyrone Power. I think a list of the movies Hathaway made with Power shows a fairly broad range of what Hathaway did: Johnny Apollo is a gangster drama; Brigham Young is a biopic of sorts; The Black Rose is historical adventure, set in medieval Asia; and Rawhide is a straight-up western. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good photo of Hathaway on the set with Tyrone Power, so I had to substitute one of Hathaway with John Wayne instead. Then again, directing John Wayne to an Oscar isn't so shabby.

It also wouldn't be fair to judge Hathaway just on the basis of the films with Power, or looking at a bunch of westerns. At Fox, he also made the wartime espionage docudrama The House on 92nd Street, the crime docudrama Call Northside 777, and several noirish movies like Kiss of Death. There's even a service comedy in You're In the Navy Now. And there's very few duds among the lot.

I'm not certain which Henry Hathaway movie I'd consider my favorite, and there are still quite a few I haven't seen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Briefs for March 12, 2015

Richard Glatzer, who co-directed last year's Oscar-nominated film About Alice, died on Tuesday at 63 as a result of his ALS. It shows how much I follow current movies that I didn't know the director has a terminal illness.

It looks as though IMDb's search function is acting up again. Yesterday, TCM aired a British movie titles Obsession. However, an IMDb search of that title doesn't bring it up. That might be forgivable when you consider that Obsession is the British title and it was renamed The Hidden Room for US release. However, when I do an IMDb search for Obsession, the top two hits I get are for films that only have "also known as" for Obsession.

Obsession isn't the only title not being found. Overnight tonight at about 3:35 AM, TCM is running Storm, an unorthodox entry in John Nesbitt's Passing Parade Series about weather forecasting. It's not as if the IMDb title search doesn't bring up shorts, either, as I use it a lot when I'm looking up Traveltalks shorts, for example. More interesting is that when I did a name search on the director, Paul Burnford, he showed up... with the movie Storm being used to distinguish him from people with similar names.

Following Storm is the movie Escape From Crime at 3:45 AM, which is part of a night of movies with Jackie Gleason in the cast. What makes this less-than-stellar B-movie interesting isn't so much the fact that Gleason shows up briefly, but the fact that Warner Bros. remade Picture Snatcher with this one. Picture Snatcher is much the better movie, and is airing at 4:45 AM.

I wish I had seen The Sorcerers before yesterday evening's airing on TCM. It's a movie that at times is a howler and at times really interesting, in no small part because of the presence of an elderly Boris Karloff in the cast. I don't do the streaming video thing, so I don't know if it's available on Watch TCM for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


With Ann Sothern being TCM's Star of the Month, TCM's programming is unsurprisingly getting around to showing what is probably Sothern's best-known character: Maisie, starting at 8:00 PM.

Maisie Ravier (Sothern, of course, is a chorus girl who, at the start of this movie, is in some hole-in-the-wall town on the rail line through Wyoming. She's there because she has a contract to join a traveling show. Unfortunately for Maisie, the show went bankrupt, so she's stranded in the middle of nowhere without a job and with next to no money. But the way these movies go, Maisie is a plucky sort, with almost as much cojones as Torchy Blane over at Warner Bros. So she gets a job at the carnival, which is where she meets Slim (Robert Young). He's the manager for one of the big ranches in the area, but he doesn't care for Maisie at all. He's willing to get her out of his life by buying her a train ticket back to Chicago, but when she hears that the absentee owners of the ranch will be coming for a visit, Maisie stows away on the back of Slim's truck and, when the owner and his wife arrives, claims that Slim hired her to be the wife's maid for the duration of the visit.

That's one problem for Slim, but there are a lot of other problems for him and the ranch. The ranch is under financial strain, and worse, the owners are here under their own difficult circumstances. Clifford Ames (Ian Hunter), the owner, thought he was in a happy marriage to his wife Sybil (Ruth Hussey), until he discovered that she was having an affair behind his back! So Clifford convinced Sybil to come to the ranch for a while so that they could work on their marriage. He doesn't realize that her lover Richard (John Hubbard) has followed her here, and the two of them are still carrying on their affair!

So it's a lot that Maisie has walked into, although of course she doesn't know the half of what's going on. She sets about fixing what things she can see in front of her, to the point that she goes from being Sybil's maid to pretty much being Clifford's personal assistant. Sybil begins to think that Clifford is falling in love with Maisie, which the nasty Sybil could certainly use if there were ever divorce proceedings started. Things take a rather more dramatic turn, however, when Clifford discovers that Sybil is still carrying on her affair and offs himself. It looks like Maisie's meddling has hurt rather than helped. And Sybil is about to make Maisie hurt a whole lot more as she's able to cook up evidence to make it look as though Maisie is responsible for Clifford's death!

Thw whole dilemma is wrapped up with one of those Hollywood courtroom scenes that defies all reality, and in this one wrapped up fairly hastily, as though the writers didn't quite know who to solve all the problems the created in the first three-quarters of the film. That having been said, though, Maisie succeeds as entertainment, thanks to Sothern's portrayal. The movie proved popular at the box office, to the extent that MGM decided to rush an entire Maisie series of movies into production. TCM is running the series (I think in its entirety; I haven't seen most of the other movies in the series) throughout the rest of tonight and into tomorrow morning, but the series leaves open the question of what happens to Slim.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Molly and Me

FXM Retro ran the movie Molly and Me this morning, and are running it again tomorrow morning at 8:05 AM. It's another of those movies that's worth one viewing at least.

Molly (Gracie Fields) is an out-of-work actress in 1937 London who thinks she might have a chance at a job. There's only one problem: the job is as a housekeeper for a rather particular man who apparently doesn't like the theater. To that end, she's getting everybody at the theatrical boarding house where she lives to take down any ecidence that this might be for actors. But there's one more problem: she doesn't have references. Good luck ensues, however, when another former actress Kitty (Natalie Schaefer) who has married well shows up. Kitty can provide references. Anyhow, the rich man's butler Peabody (Reginald Gardner) shows up and gets the feeling he's seen Molly before. It's not until he sees Kitty that the secret is revealed: Peabody was in the theater himself, and is playing at being a butler. One theather person in the house can fake it, but two would be too mwny.

Molly wangles her way into the rich man's home anyhow. All of the actors go out for a reunion celebration, and Peabody gets frightfully drunk, to the point that Molly has to help him get into the house. So she simply takes over the housekeeper's room for herself and acts as though Peabody approved of her. It's a ruse, of course, but she could always expose his theatrical past and get him fired. Besides, she takes the flowers that the gardener has cut and arranges them in one of the rooms in a way that the man of the house, one John Graham (Monty Woolley), says that he actually likes.

As for Graham, he's got a son Jimmy (Roddy McDowall) he never sees off at boarding school, and an ex-wife who ran away when Jimmy was just a baby, a divorce that led to Graham having to resign from Parliament. Graham, for his part, lied to his son and told Jimmy that his mother died tragically when in fact she's half a world away. They have a crappy relationship as a result. Meanwhile, his servants -- the real ones, not the actors -- have been robbing Graham blind. Molly discovers this, and fires all of the servants, which doesn't cause that big a problem for the time being because Graham is resurrecting his political career by running in a by-electoin someplace out in the English countryside. So when Jimmy shows up unexpectedly, Molly is the only one there, and the two hit it off well. There's a problem, though, in that Dad announces he's coming home and will be needing a formal dinner for eight laid on. Molly can't do it all herself, and finds that none of the employment agencies have staff available at this short notice. Molly finally decides to hire all those actors from the theatrical home in the hope that they can play parts. Complicating matters is that one of the dinner guests is Kitty.

There's one more problem that Molly's going to have to deal with, and that's the return of Jimmy's mother (Doris Lloyd). She's found out that Graham is running for Parliament again. Needing money, she figures that she can blackmail him. If he doesn't give her £1,000, she'll spill the dirt on what really happened between the two of them, which will hopefully scupper his political career and destory his relationship with his son. This gives all the actors one more chance to play parts again in a scheme to scare off Mrs. Graham....

Molly and Me is in some ways episodic, with some of the episodes lasting a bit too long (Molly getting the job), and others feeling rushed (having to deal with Mrs. Graham at her hotel). Still, Gracie Fields does a good enough job of making all of this feel enjoyable, while Monty Woolley is playing the irascible but ultimately likeable character that he had given us in The Man Who Came to Dinner and would do again in The Bishop's Wife. There are some songs that I found detracted from the movie, but overall the movie isn't all that bad.

Molly and Me does seem to have received a DVD-R release, at least according to Amazon, so you should be able to get a copy if you so desire.

TCM Guest Programmer March 2015: Robin Quivers

Once again, the end of 31 Days of Oscar means that we get back to programming blocks that show up every month but February and August. Today's programming block is the Guest Programmer. Robin Quivers, whom you might know as Howard Stern's sidekick, has selected four films and will be sitting down with Robert Osborne tonight to present them. Those movies are reasonably well known, but all worth a watch:

Montgomery Clift falls in love with Elizabeth Taylor, which leads to tragedy since he's already knocked up Shelley Winters, in A Place in the Sun, at 8:00 PM;
Sidney Poitier and his family come into an insurance inheritance and debate what to do with that money in A Raisin in the Sun at 10:15 PM;
William Holden is brought in by junk magnate Broderick Crawford to teach refinement to Crawford's chorus-girl wife Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, at 12:30 AM; and
Cary Grant shows up with tabloid writer James Stewart to try to prevent ex-wife Katharine Hepburn from getting remarried in The Philadelphia Story, at 2:30 AM.

As I said at the beginning, those of us who watch TCM all the time will know all of these movies fairly intimately, and some people will probably complain that it's a terrible thing that Quivers didn't pick any lesser-known movies but "the usual suspects". It never ceases to amaze me, though, how many people don't know about some of the truly great old movies. These four aren't a bad place to start.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Immortal Ephemera

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of character actor David Landau, who made 30 or so movies in the first half of the 1930s before his untimely death in 1935. One of the credits that jumped out at me looking at his IMDb page was as the man who gave up his daughter to doctor Lionel Barrymore at the beginning of One Man's Journey. That, and the warden of the work gang in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. I did a Google search for some suitable images of Landau to illustrate this post with, and one, or Landau and Mae West from She Done Him Wrong, was linked to a site called Immortal Ephemera.

It turns out that the post in question was a lengthy and very well done biography of Landau, which gives much more information and contains a lot more in the way of screencaps than I ever would have come up with. There's a lot on Street Scene in which Landau plays Sylvia Sidney's father, a role he reprised from his time on Broadway. With the blog being so interesting, my first thought was to see whether I should add it to my blogroll. Being interesting is one of the two criteria; the other one is that it's still being updated and posted to with reasonable frequency. That seems to be the case as well, so the blog is now on my blog-roll over to the right.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Harold Lloyd Shorts on Silent Sunday Nights

Tonight sees the return of Silent Sunday Nights after the five-week hiatus for 31 Days of Oscar. This week sees four two-reelers starring Harold Lloyd. However, as often happens when there are a bunch of shorts put into one longer block, the schedule often winds up confused.

TCM's online daily schedule lists the four shorts all beginning in the following order:

Get Out and Get Under
High and Dizzy
I Do
From Hand to Mouth

Also according tot the daily schedule, there's going to be a short called Bermuda Cockleshells (one of those RKO Sportscope shorts) following the four silents, at 1:50 AM. The four shorts put together add up to about 100 minutes. The monthly schedule, which I downloaded a week ago, however, has Get Out and Get Under and I Do switched, keeping the other two in the same order. No mention of any shorts, but that's no surprise because the shorts are generally only schedule a week ahead of time or so.

And then there's the satellite box guide, which stars off with From Hand to Mouth, follows that with High and Dizzy, Get Out and Get Under, and I Do in that order. The box guide also lists each movie as starting on the half-hour, although I've noticed when there are a bunch of shorts the box guide always gets the starting times wrong.

The silents are all from before 1923 so they should all be in the public domain. Here's Get Out and Get Under:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sierra Baron

FXM Retro is showing the movie Sierra Baron this afternoon at 1:35 PM, with a repeat tomorrow morning at 9:05 AM. (Note the time change overnight.) It's worth a viewing if you haven't seen it before.

The scene is California around 1848. That's just after Mexico lost the territory to the United States, but before the land became a US state, with all of the legal niceties being a state as opposed to a US territory would mean. It's also around the time of that gold rush that brought a lot of Anglos from the east. Rick Jason, who would go on to star in the TV series Combat!, plays Miguel Delmonte, the current head of one of those Mexican families that several generations before had received a large land grant from the Spanish government in California, something like 5,000 acres. If you remember the film The Baron of Arizona (which I thought I had done a full-length post on but apparently haven't), you'll recall that the treaties ceding land from Mexico to the United States upheld the land titles, so the Delmonte family should have been secure in keeping those 5,000 acres. The Americans pouring in from the east, of course, didn't feel that way, and Delmonte returns from a sojourn down to the southern part of California to find that there are people hunting on his land, and even having set up a small town! This must not stand, and Miguel is confident that he's got the law on his side. The Anglos, however, have the guns.

Rufus Bynham (Steve Brodie) established the town, and he's obviously got a stake in making certain this town stays right where it is. So he plans to drive the Delmontes off their land, through the use of force if necessary. To that end, he hired gunman Jack McCracken (Brian Keith) to deal with Delmonte. Of course, things don't go quite as planned. Jack seems to have his own agenda, and that agenda gets even more complex when he sees Miguel's lovely sister Felicia (Rita Gam). He falls in love with her although he doesn't want to admit it to anybody.

That's not the only thing making the situation more complicated. Into all of this walks not just the gunman, but an entire group of settlers who were planning to farm land someplace futher west, is found crossing their land. (To be honest, 5,000 acres is a lot, but at just under eight square miles, I don't think it's big enough for all the locations in this film.) The leader of the pioneers says they were attacked by Indians on the way west, and that combined with bad weather means they've been dipping into their seed crop to eat and survive. Could kind Señor Delmonte please let these pioneers farm some of the land for just one season? This poses a problem, because if Delmonte lets them do so, the gold-miner types are going to have a bit more legitimacy in saying they should have a stake in the land, too. But Miguel is moved by a young widow named Sue (Mala Powers). Just as McCracken fell in love with Felicia, Migeul starts to fall for Sue.

There's a lot in Sierra Baron that's fairly predictable for the western genre, and you can see some of the themes here winding up on later TV series like The Big Valley. But it's all entertaining enough, if nothing special. The only real problem I had with the movie is that the last time FXM Retro showed it, they showed a panned-and scanned print. (Well, it was in the proper aspect ratio for the opening credits, and then switched to 4:3, which is even more irritating.) That's a shame because the movie looks like it would have some lovely location photography in the proper Cinemascope ratio. I don't think the movie has ever been released to DVD either, so this is all we're going to get of it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Albert Maysles, 1926-2015

Documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who made several notable documentaries with his brother David in the 1960s and 1970s, has died at the age of 88.

I have to admit to not having heard of the Maysles brothers until last summer when TCM ran the documentary Salesman, about of group of door-to-door Bible salesmen. It's a movie that's at times fascinating, but at times disturbing when you think about these salesmne almost preying upon the lower-class families who really can't afford the overpriced bibles that these people are selling. (To be fair, the salesmen got their leads from the churches as one or two scenes refer to congregations filling out cards. The parishioners brought it upon themselves.) But Salesman wasn't the Maysles' best-known documentary by a long shot.

That honor would probably go to Gimme Shelter, a documentary about the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of America, which ended up in disaster. After Woodstock, there were plans for a free concert out on the west coast at which the Stones and other artists would appear, but the concert location was moved from San Francisco to Altamont, and security was provided by the Hells' Angels motorcycle gang. One can see how this would lead to disaster, and the fighting led to a couple of concert-goers getting killed.

There's also Grey Gardens, a 1975 documentary about a couple of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' relatives who have been reduced to living in poor conditions in what used to be a lovely estate out in the Hamptons on Long Island. Eventually the property would be sold to Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who restored it. This documentary became more prominent after a Broadway musical was made about the mansion, and then an HBO film. Grey Gardens happens to be on the TCM schedule at 10:00 AM Sunday.

David Maysles died in 1987.

The next several TCM Programming features to return

As I said on Wednesday, with 31 Days of Oscar over, weget back to the regular programming features on TCM. This being the first Friday of the month, we get a new Friday Night Spotlight. This month, Michael Feinstein will be presenting roadshow musicals. I mentioned a couple of months back when Feinstein was the Guest Programmer that I don't particularly care for Hollywood musicals, and those overlong roadshow musicals from the later period of the Hollywood musical are especially not my cup of tea. But Feinstein did a very good job as Guest Programmer, helped by getting to use that piano they keep on the TCM set which allowed him to play some of the themes he was talking about.

The British Carry On movies that were running in the 10:30 AM Saturday time slot return after the hiatus for 31 Days of Oscar. Now, however, they are preceded at 10:00 AM by episodes from the 1943 serial Batman, which I haven't seen before so I can't comment on. While it's nice to get another serial, it's a bit of a commitment to watch the entire thing. One of the things I've noticed about a lot of the old TV shows now that we get them again on the digital subchannels with vintage TV shows is that most of them don't have long story arcs, with the exception of those old prime time soaps. And then there were also the game shows with returning champions.

Finally, tomorrow being the first Saturday after the end of 31 Days of Oscar means that we get a new season of The Essentials. Drew Barrymore is no longer the co-host alongside Robert Osborne; now Osborne will be sitting down with former flying nun and two-time Oscar-winner Sally Field. Their first selection, at 8:00 PM tomorrow, will be Roman Holiday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Guy Kibbee in Central Park

That's Guy Kibbee on the bottom right, although Lady For a Day isn't one of the films airing tomorrow

Tomorrow, March 6, marks the brith anniversary of Guy Kibbee, who showed up in lot of movies in the 1930s. TCM will be spending the morning and afternoon with a bunch of those 1930s movies, such as Central Park, at 7:30 AM.

The various studios made a couple of interesting "day in the life" movies back in the early 1930s, in an attempt to cast as many of their stars as possible. MGM did Grand Hotel, while Warner Bros. rushed Union Depot into production. Central Park is somewhat along those lines, with a bunch of intersecting plots set in Central Park, except that it's much more of a programmer than a prestige movie.

Joan Blondell plays Dot, an out-of-work actress looking for food in Central Park -- remember, there's a depression on. She meets Rick (Wallace Ford), an out-of-work transplant from Texas. Guy Kibbee plays Charlie, one of the cops patrolling the park. As for the plots, you know that Dot and Rick are going to fall for each other; what else could a movie like this have them do? But Dot also gets involved with gangsters, at least unwittingly. Dot enters a beauty pageant not knowing that it's really a front for those gangsters. The prize is taking part in a charity event at the Central Park Casino which the gangsters are going to rob; Dot's presence will alert the gangsters as to where the money is.

Rick, meanwhile, gets a job washing to police motorcycles, and being generally helpful to Charlie. This is good news for Charlie, because he's got a secret. He's a week or so away from the proverbial 20 years you need for a pension, but he's going blind, and if hte police find out they'll fire him and he won't get his pension. So he just wants to last one more week. Charlie's life is about to get more difficult, though, when one of the former keepers from the Central Park zoo, who had gone nuts and wound up in a mental asylum, escapes, and lets one of the lions loose!

As you can see, there's a lot going on here in this little picture. Where Grand Hotel is nearly two hours, Central Park is a breezy one hour. The result is a movie that doesn't have a whole lot of character development, but winds up being reasonably entertaining, just because Warner Bros. seemed to have the formula down already. That, and the presence of Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee.

I don't think Central Park has been released to DVD yet, not even from the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TCM Star of the Month March 2015: Ann Sothern

With 31 Days of Oscar over, we get back to normal things like a Star of the Month on TCM. The films of Ann Sothern will be running on TCM every Wednesday night in prime time. This month sees a bunch of her supporting roles from the 1930s, such as in Trade Winds, airing at 10:30 PM.

Sothern only being the second womna, she understandably doesn't get the opening scene. That belongs to Joan Bennett, who plays Kay Kerrigan, a San Francisco socialite. Her kid sister just committed suicide, and she thinks she knows who's to blame for it. So she goes to the man she considers responsible, who says to her, go ahead and shoot me. She shoots at the lower part of his body, and he drops dead! She's a murderess, she thinks! So she dyes her hair and goes on the run, making it look like she too has committed suicide. Detective Blodgett (Ralph Bellamy) is on the case, and the police figure that Kay is actually on the run when the Hawaiian police report a piece of jewelry he owned has been pawned there; obviously, Kay is in need of money to get somewhere else. The San Francisco police chief doesn't think Blodgett can handle the case alone, so he sends in private investigator Sam Wye (Fredric March).

So Wye and Blodgett both head off for the Far East, ultimately working in a sort of friendly rivalry to find Kay. What Sam doesn't know is that his trusty secretary Jean (Ann Sothern) has also come along. There's a big $100,000 reward (and this is 1938 dollars) available for Kay's return, and that would solve Sam's financial problems and allow Jean to get a regular paycheck, which is a nice little benefit of being a secretary. Blodgett finds Kay, except that it's not Kay, it's Jean. But she can help them find Kay. Kay may be in Japan. Or maybe China or Saigaon or Singapore or anywhere in the Far East, as she's constantly on the run and they're constantly chasing her.

Eventually they do find Kay, and in that most surprising of plot twists, Sam falls in love with her. Ooh, that's going to present a mighty big problem. And to make things more interesting, Blodgett is falling in love with Jean. Jean, meanwhile, is also becoming friendly with Kay to make certain she gets that reward, thinking that if Sam or Blodgett gets it, she won't see a penny of it. How are we going to get the requisite happy ending out of all of this?

That's one of the problems with Trade Winds. The Production Code kind of limits what a movie like this can do, and we know that if the Fredric March and Joan Bennett characters are going to end up together, as the script is leading us to believe, there's going to have to be some twist. The other problem is all those locations. Hollywood couldn't have done location shooting for a movie like this, as it would have been prohibitively expensive and inconvenient to boot. So they used rear-projection scenery, which wouldn't be that big a deal since all the movies did it back then. Except that this time the cast is going all over East and Southeast Asia, so we get a lot of rear projection that's extremely obvious.

Those criticisms having been said, Trade Winds is still pleasant enough, if a bit forgettable after you've watched it, since it seems so much like a bunch of other 1930s movies you've probably watched before. It is worth one watch, however, since the cast is so good. I don't think Trade Winds is available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM airing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

31 Days of Oscar is ending for another year

Today being March 3, we've finally reached Day #31 of this year's 31 Days of Oscar programming block on TCM. That's a fact ath I'm sure will please a lot of the people who whine and shriek about how TCM isn't showing enouhg old movies. Indeed, the TCM boards got two different putatively first-time posters who posted solely to bitch about the movies from the 70s and beyond showing up on TCM. For people like that, I suppose it doesn't help that TCM decided to do prime time this year in roughly chronological order, so that by the beginning of last week we were already into the late 1970s. That having been said, I enjoyed A Little Romance and Absence of Malice amond the movies o fthat era that showed up in prime time; I already did a post on 1975's The Wind and the Lion, and would certainly not be averse to doing full-length posts on My Life as a Dog or The Swarm the next time either shows up on TCM.

With this final night of 31 Days of Oscar looking at movies from the past four years or so, it seems as TCM couldn't get the rights to enough films to make the schedule work out properly. Newer movies tend to be the sort of thing that other channels are going to want the rights to show as well; with the older movies it's only the tent-poles (I think AMC has the rights to The Godfather for another four years) or movies that fit a genre channel like Encore Westerns. So after tonight's last feature, The Queen at 2:45 AM, TCM is running four straight two-reelers:

The Music Box, which I linked to last June on Stan Laurel's birthday, kicks things off at 4:29 AM.

That's followed at 4:59 AM by another Laurel and Hardy short, Tit for Tat, which has the two working in an electrical appliance store, and getting in a heated competition with the grocery next door. Ah, the days of overpriced grocers in tiny shops on main streets. I'm reminded of the shop where Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have one of their secret meetings to discuss the killing of her husband in Double Indemnity. Back to Tit For Tat, it happens to be on Youtube:

The night will conclude with two of the shorts from Warner Bros.' series of Technicolor American history shorts. Both of them got the one-paragraph treatment on Independence Day 2013: John Litel plays Patrick Henry in Give Me Liberty at 5:18 AM, while Claude Rains plays Jewish financier Haym Solomon in Sons of Liberty at 5:39 AM.

To get completely away from 31 Days of Oscar, TCM is spending March 4 with a bunch of schlocky horror movies from the early 1960s, such as the hilariously awful The Brain That Wouldn't Die at 8:45 AM.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Mudlark

FXM Retro showed The Mudlark this morning. It's going to be on again early tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM in case you missed any of the previous showings.

The movie starts off by telling us that there's a legend of an event that supposedly had an effect on Britain in the 39th year of Queen Victoria's reign, so that places us at 1875. Cut to a shot of the London waterfront, where there are a lot of docks as well as muddy shorelines. It's those muddy shorelines that give rise to the term "mudlark", referring to orphans who would scroung through the muck, looking for whatever they could trade for food, I suppose. Wheeler (Andrew Ray) is one such mudlark, and he finds a medallion with a nice picture on it. So nice, in fact, that he's willing to dive back into the Thames to find it, that's how interested he is in this thing. Anyhow, one of the older men along the waterfront tells Wheeler that the woman depicted on the medallion is none other than Queen Victoria, and that she is figuratively the mother of the country. So Wheeler wants to see this mothre, since he doesn't have a mother of his own. He's told that Victoria lives in Windsor Castle, which is 20 miles or so upstream from where they all are. Wheeler sets out for Windsor Castle, and almost in the next shot he's outside the gates, looking at one of the palace guards standing at attention in front of the gates.

Wheeler of course doesn't have a way to get in, but Benjamin Disraeli (Alec Guinness) certainly does. Disraeli is, after all, the Prime Minister, and has to see the queen on a regular basis. But it's more than just the regular laws that need royal assent that have brought Disraeli to see Her Majesty on this particular occasion. Victoria (Irene Dunne) has been mourning the death of her husband, Prince Albert. People mourn when they become widows or widowers, but Victoria has been in mourning for something like 15 years, which is thoroughly abnormal. She's decided that because Albert loved Windsor Castle, she's going to honor him by spending the rest of her life there. Her subjects haven't seen her in public, and they're beginning to get restless. You can see why Disraeli would like Victoria to make a public appearance.

But back to the title character. Somehow the gate didn't get properly locked after Disraeli was admitted, and Wheeler just pushes the gate open and walks into the palace grounds! He walks through the grounds on a foggy night, until he falls into a hole that must be the open door of the coal chute, for the next thing we see, Wheeler is in the basement dirty from coal. He makes his way upstairs, amazingly escaping detection for the longest time. Eventually, though, he gets caught under the table in the queen's dining room by an Irish maid and then her boyfriend, who makes jokes about how easy it would be to burn down the castle. The more senior servants show up, so they have to hide the kid quickly, which they do behind a curtain. He falls asleep, and his snoring catches Victoria's attention at dinner, leading to Wheeler's being found. Wheeler mentions an adult man who said something about burning down the castle, and that leads everybody to think that there's n Irish plot about.

The Queen has problems, Wheeler has problems, and Disraeli has problems. And yet there are even more characters with problems. The script tacks on a story about Emily, one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting (Beatrice Campbell), and her military boyfriend (Anthony Steel) who isn't appropriate for a daughter of the nobility. Rounding out the cast is Finlay Currie as John Brown, Prince Albert's old manservant who is still in service of the Queen. (He's the Mr. Brown who is referred to in the title of the Judi Dench movie Mrs. Brown, about Victoria's relatoinship with Brown.)

There's a lot going on in The Mudlark, and none of it really gets resolved satisfyingly. Emily and her boyfriend presumably elope as she tries to do that on multiple occasions, and then Victoria drops a hint about Emily's mother sometimes being a handful herself. Currie's John Brown is a lovable Scottish drunk, as opposed to the stereotypical lovable Irish drunk that somebody like Barry Fitzgerald might have played in movies set in America. Victoria is a frigid jerk for most of the movie, and then suddenly has a change of heart when she meets Wheeler? Disreali makes a speech in the House of Commons, but we don't really care much about the other events that are going on in Britain. As for Wheeler himself, it's ludictous to believe that he could have gotten as far as he did. Everybody tries, and the movie is mildly entertaining, but it's nowhere near greatness.

I'm not certain whether The Mudlark has ever received a DVD release, so you'll have to catch the FXM Retro showings.

Who wants Dolores Del Rio's Town Car?

The past couple of autumns, TCM has been running stuff from Bonhams auction house about auctions of movie memorabilia to be held that November. I presume TCM get money or other considerations for running these promos; it's not as if TCM is truly commercial-free. What did you think all those promos for Midnight Lace were for, if not to prise more films from Universal (and the Paramount titles they own) to show on TCM?

Well, Bonhams runs other auctions throughout the year, and there's a car auction coming up next week at Amelia Island, FL. Among the cars up for auction is a 1930 Cord L-29 Town Car supposedly owned by Dolores Del Rio. Unfortunately, this seems to be the one car in the auction that doesn't have a reserve price listed, although one of the other cars if I read correctly is expected to fetch a seven-figure fee. Sadly, I don't have that kind of money lying around. I also don't have a place to put a fine car like that. You wouldn't want to see what the winters here would do to such an automobile.

I can't help but think of Norma Desmond's car in Sunset Blvd. that she claims cost her $25,000 in 1920s dollars. That car, an Isotto Fraschini Tiop 8A. is apparently at the Italian National Automobile Museum; the English-language pages are apparently not working just now. That car, or a certain yellow Rolls-Royce....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Richard Bakalyan, 1931-2015

Wikipedia's obituaries page is announcing the death of actor Richard Bakalyan at the age of 84, although it hasn't reached the major news outlets yet as the only mention so far seems to be a local newspaper obituary reposted to legacy.com.

Bakalyan is one of those actors where I saw the name and though, "That name sure sounds familiar, although I can't think of anything he was in offhand." But Bakalyan had a long career playing supporting characters in all sorts of films from the late 50s onward. One of his first films was The Delinquents, which had him playing an underling in the gang that terrorizes the good guy who just made a dumb mistake because society doesn't care about teens enough.

IMDb lists a credit for Panic in Year Zero!, but since he wasn't in the main family I couldn't tell you exactly where to look for Bakalyan. As I said, he spent his career doing supporting work.

That same year, Bakalyan appeared alongside Bobby Darin in Pressure Point, which led to a friendship that lasted for the rest of Darin's life until his early death in 1973.

For a change of pace, try Von Ryan's Express; if memory serves, Bakalyan plays the US Army man translating with the Italians.

A different sort of Italian-American would be in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a docudrama about the Chicago gangland massacre on February 14, 1929.

Bakalyan's career really took a turn in the late 1960s when he started working at Disney, making stuff like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The Strongest Man in the World, interspersed with more serious work elsewhere like a role in Chinatown. There was also a large body of TV work.