Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tomorrow is a new month

We're already at the end of June, which I suppose is a good time to take another look at FXM. Back at the end of 2011, when they went from being solely the Fox Movie Channel to being half FMC during the morning and FXM during the evening, I figured that would last for six months; instead, it's gone on for three and a half years. There are always signs that make me worry they're finally going to get rid of what has since become FXM Retro; that includes two fairly recent movies on today's FXM Retro lineup. On the other hand, I looked through the schedule for the rest of the week over this past weekend, and there are a bunch of movies that are clearly retro and I know can only fit in the given time slots if there's no commercials. (I've also got an FXM movie that's going to be the subject of an upcoming blog post.)

The other thing is that I noticed at the beginning of June that FXM Retro seemed to change one of its interstitials. There's one that includes snippets of Montgomery Clift talking to Lee Remick in Wild River as well as marilyn Monroe dancing in Let's Make Love, but there's a second one that seems to have a different set of movies now than it did back in May. I'd guess it's a function of which movies FXM pulled out of the vaults to run into the ground. And on that score, I have to admit I didn't notice in the first couple of days of July any movies that have just come out of the vault this month.

So whither FXM Retro? Who knows? I have a feeling it will just disappear one day, and you'll only notice because there are no old movies and the FXM Retro logo is gone. But I have no idea when that day is going to come.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Two Against the World (1932)

Tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, TCM is running a 1932 movie called Two Against the World that sounds awfully familiar.

The first thing to recognize is that there was a completely different movie made four years later also called Two Against the World, although that one has been renamed One Fatal Hour, presumably when it came to syndicating these old movies for the late late show in the 1950s. One Fatal Hour is a remake of a 1931 movie called Five Star Final, both of which are well worth watching.

What makes tomorrow's Two Against the World sound awfully familiar is the plot. Constance Bennett plays a wanton socialite in love with attorney Neil Hamilton. Unfortunately, Bennett's brother gets mixed up in a murder, and Bennett does what she can to protect him. That is, until Hamilton has to put her on the stand. It's a movie I may have seen, but I'm not certain because this is a plot device that's been done several times.

One that comes to mind is The Unguarded Hour, which has Loretta Young as a woman who saw an accidental death in which a man is being unjustly prosecuted -- by Young's husband. Young could get the guy off, except the reason she was a witness is because she was there to pay off a man who was going to blackmail her husband.

Alternately, there's Evelyn Prentice. This one has Myrna Loy killing the blackmailer, except that the blackmailer is trying to blackmail her. And here, the husband (William Powell) isn't the prosecutor, but the defense attorney.

Don't get me started on all the versions of Madame X.

Finally, Constance Bennett's sister Joan had a similar role in The Reckless Moment, which has Joan protecting her daughter from blackmailers.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bergman Week

So I missed this year's Bergman Week, a look at the life and work of Ingmar Bergman held at his estate on the southern Swedish island of Fårö. I didn't realize it was going on until I heard a Radio Sweden report on this year's edition. The Radio Sweden piece isn't available by itself, but only as part of the full broadcast of Friday's show. That MP3 is about 27MB and will be available for another four weeks. This year being the centenary of the other Bergman, the Bergman Week looked quite a bit at the film the two Bergmans made together, Autumn Sonata.

Speaking of that other Bergman, Radio Sweden had a report on her, but this one is only a print report. (On the bright side, I don't think the print archives are limited the way the audio archives are. Apparently, somebody is planning to make a movie about Ingrid Bergman's romance with photographer Robert Capa, and pre-production is proceeding apace. No idea if it will ultimately be made, or when it will show up in theaters.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

TCM Shorts report: June 28, 2015

TCM has a couple of interesting shorts coming up in the next day or so. First, today being Saturday, the overnight lineup has TCM Underground, which often has shorts with cult value. I have to admit, however, to not having seen any of this week's shorts before. A Day in the Death of Donny B., however, is available on Youtube:

For more conventional shorts, you'll have to wait until a more sane hour on Sunday morning. First up, at 7:51 AM, is Stars on Horseback. Hollywood stars liked their horses, especially those who did a lot of westerns. James Stewart, for example, worked with his beloved Pie for nearly 20 years. Of course, horses needed to be shoed, and this short looks at shoeing horses. It's just too bad this one couldn't be in color.

Then, at 9:36 AM, is So You Think You're Allergic. If you've seen enough shorts on TCM, you can probably figure out from the title that this is one of the Joe McDoakes shorts. This is an earlier Joe McDoakes short, from the days when the shorts still had narrators. Knox Manning, who was one of the voices of Warner Bros, showing up in well over 100 movies over a 15 year period, handles the narration. Barbara Billingsley, in the days before she was the prototypical 1950s mother or before she spok jive, shows up.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Batman and Robin

TCM has been airing the 1943 serial Batman at 10:00 AM on Saturday mornings. But last Saturday saw the final chapter in that particular serial, so obviously TCM is going to be starting a new serial tomorrow (June 27). This time, it's Batman and Robin, from 1949. It's got 15 episodes, so it should be running through the first Saturday in November; remember that it won't be on in August because of Summer Under the Stars.

I have to admit that I haven't seen it before, so I can't really comment on it. I don't know how much of it I'll watch; I think I only watched the first episode of the 1943 Batman. That having been said, the one thing about this one that's of some interest is that Commissioner Gordon is played by Lyle Talbot, who was a reasonably recognizable character actor in the 1930s.

Bomba the Jungle Boy continues at 10:30 AM for the forseeable future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Heads up for a pair of movies I don't particularly care for

TCM's prime time lineup for tonight is people's final films; specifically, it's people who died before the movie became a commercial success. I briefly mentioned Saratoga yesterday; that's the movie that Jean Harlow was making when her untimely uremia killed her at the young age of 26. Her fans wanted to see the footage that was already in the can, so MGM got a stand-in to be in some remaining scenes and then released the movie.

But that's not the movie I don't particularly care for. Instead, that would be Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which is kicking off the prime time lineup at 8:00 PM. As I mentioned back in 2009, I find the movie to be terribly unsubtle, and that makes it hard to watch. Still, I know there are people out there who like it.

During tomorrow's Summer of Darkness look at noirs, TCM is showing Lady in the Lake at 11:00 AM. Robert Montomery stars as detective Philip Marlowe in this murder mystery. He also directed himself, and perhaps because of that he tried out a gimmick: the movie is told almost entirely from Marlowe's point of view. Not in the first-person sense that he shows up in all the scenes, but in the sense that the camera angles we get are from his eyesight. It's a lot like the first portion of Dark Passage, in which we see everything from Humphrey Bogart's point of view largely so the producers don't have to make him up after he gets plastic surgery. It's mildly laughable in Dark Passage; in Lady in the Lake it really gets in the way of the movie.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Irving Pichel, 1891-1954

Today marks the birth anniversary of director-actor Irving Pichel, a name you might have seen if you watch enough old movies, even though he never really directed any big movies. I've mentioned a couple of his directorial efforts before:

His very first effort was The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea as a man who gets hunted on an island owned by a man who likes to hunt "the most dangerous game", that being humans. Along the way, he also has to try to save Fay Wray.

I haven't seen the 1935 version of She before; probably the 1960s version with Ursula Andress is more famous, and is appearing on TCM tonight at 10:00 PM. The Pichel version starred Helen Gahagan, who would later marry Melvyn Douglas and run for Congress against Richard Nixon.

I've also recommended Hudson's Bay, which Pichel made over at Fox. Paul Muni plays French-Canadian, which is as funny as Laurence Olivier doing it in 49th Parallel.

One of Pichel's films as a director is coming up on TCM soon: They Won't Believe Me will be on at 8:00 AM Friday, as part of the Summer of Darkness noir festival.

Pichel's acting was mostly smaller roles, too. However, you've got a chance to see him coming up on TCM. He's listed as playing "Bruce Renoir" in Old Hickory, one of those Warner Bros. Technicolor US history shorts. This short, on Andrew Jackson, is scheduled to air Friday at 5:42 AM, following Saratoga (4:00 AM Friday, 92 min).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer June 2015: Edgar Wright

We've reached that point of the month when TCM has its monthly Guest Programmer. This month, that's Edgar Wright, who is probably best known from the movie Shaun of the Dead. He sat down with Robert Osborn to present a broad range of four films, and those movies are airing tonight.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Dames, a Busby Berkeley musical that's reminiscent of Gold Diggers of 1933, except that instead of having a rich guy wanting to write music despite his relatives wanting to go into the family business, we've got a rich guy (Hugh Herbert) using his money to promote morals, except that some of his cousins are in the theater.

At 9:45, you can watch The Last of Sheila, an early 1970s movie about a rich guy who invites a bunch of Hollywood types on his yacht in the Mediterranean, with murder resulting;

Super Cops, at midnight, is a cop drama involving the seedier side of law enforcement, with prostitution and drugs.

Finally, at 1:45 AM is one I know absolutely nothing about, O Lucky Man! This one is presumably a TCM premiere, since for the genre it lists "TCM Presents", and doesn't show a synopsis.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Adding a Blog

Has anybody else been having troubles adding a blog to their blogroll? I was going to add one today, and the "Add to List", and the JavaScript just wouldn't bring up any dialog to insert the URL of the blog. It looks as though what happened is that the "sort" dialog box gets greyed out, replaced by nothing. I tried multiple browsers, and none of them worked.

No, the answer is not to use Chrome. I know Google runs Blogger and runs Chrome, and so always tries to do everything they can to force people to use Chrome, but it doesn't work on my old system. Indeed, the Chrome rendering engine (Komodo Dragon) that I have on my computer won't show the bar at the top of the page to sign in to Blogger. And I shouldn't have to switch browsers simply to add a blog to my blogroll, since it was still working a few months ago the last time I added a blog to the blogroll.

And Google Groups has become so bloated that it won't load properly on any of my browsers, either, so I can't ask there for help.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

TCM's Christopher Lee programming tribute

Actor Christopher Lee passed away two weeks ago at the age of 93. TCM is finally running its programming salute to the late actor. Tomorrow morning and afternoon, they will be showing eight of Lee's movies. Unfortunately, they couldn't get the rights to The Wicker Man, from which the above photo is taken. Then again, Lee really isn't the star of The Wicker Man, but in more of a supporting role. At any rate, the eight movies that will be on TCM tomorrow are:

6:15 AM The Mummy
8:00 AM The Curse of Frankenstein
9:30 AM Horror of Dracula
11:00 AM Dracula, Prince of Darkness
12:45 PM Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
2:30 PM Horror Express
4:00 PM The Three Musketeers
6:00 PM The Four Musketeers

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Yet another movie is coming up on FXM Retro that will be getting an early afternoon showing one day, followed by an earlier showing the next day. This time, however, I'm blogging about it before the afternoon showing. Bobbikins is coming up twice in the next couple of days: tomorrow (June 21) at 1:30 PM, and again on Monday (June 22) at 11:50 AM.

British comic actor Max Bygraves plays Ben Barnaby, who at the beginning of the movie is returning from a conscripted stint in the Royal Navy. He's got an American wife Betty (Shirley Jones) and a son he hasn't seen, since he conceived the child before going off to the Navy. Indeed, he doesn't know his wife all that well. But Ben intends for all that to change now that he's back on dry land and out of the Navy. In his pre-Navy life, Ben had worked as a nightclub performer, and he's got a standing offer from a club owner to come back and be the star attraction. This will enable Betty to give up her job as a fashion model and look after the kid. But a strange thing happens. When Ben goes to the club to get his job, he meets the man whose job Ben is going to take. There's an awkward moment. The other guy has much greater hardship than Ben, and since Betty is still working, she can just work a little longer until Ben gets that job. So Ben makes the magnanimous decision not to take the job on offer.

The only thing is, Betty already quit her job, in no uncertain terms, while Ben was at the club where he was as far as Betty knew getting his old job back. What's a young family to do? It doesn't help that things are about to get a whole lot more complicated for Ben. His infant son, who has been nicknamed Bobbikins, starts talking to him! And by talking to him, I don't mean baby talk like mama and dada, but real, fully formed sentences using adult (in the sense of needing an education, not dirty) words. And to make matters worse, Bobbikins declares to Ben that he's only going to talk to daddy, because you know how women gossip. Unsurprisingly, nobody believes Ben when he claims that Bobbikins is talking to him, and everybody treates Ben as though he's having a nervous breakdown or something.

Out of a job and supposedly going nuts, Ben is given the advice to get some fresh air. And take the kid for a walk, since Ben has the time to look after the kid. So Ben goes to a park, which is where Sir Jason (Charles Carson) bumps into him. Sir Jason is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a mild nonconformist, in that he doesn't have a family of his own, loves children, and likes to take his lunch in the park. So when Sir Jason meets Ben, Sir Jason immediately takes a liking to Bobbikins. And then one of Sir Jason's advisors comes up to him and Ben, and tells the Chancellor that he's going to have to cut the conversation with Ben short because the advisor has some important top secret news for the Chancellor. Ben goes off for a few minutes so the Chancellor can have his conversation in private, but the Chancellor continues to look after Bobbikins since he likes children so much.

Of course, the Chancellor has no idea that Bobbikins talks to Daddy; after all, the idea that an infant this age can talk is preposterous. But Bobbikins hears of a news development that's going to mean an obscure business is going to become big overnight, so he tells Daddy this and tells him to get thee to a stockbroker! Daddy does it, the stock takes off, and the Barnabys become rich. Nobody knows where he's getting his stock tips from, although the authorities quickly figure there has to be a leak somewhere....

Bobbikins is a movie that has a good idea. I couldn't help but think of Francis, in which Donald O'Connor winds up paired with a talking mule, with nobody believing him that the mule can talk. Unfortunately, the execution in Bobbikins is way off. A lot of that, I think, comes down to Bygraves himself, who acts incredibly annoying, mugging for the camera form the scenes where he's supposed to be having a nervous breakdown through the rest of the movie. Shirley Jones tries, but she's got a relatively thankless task and frankly, not much to do. As for the story, it doesn't help that the movie tries to tack on a message that you shouldn't try to get ideas above your station. All in all, Bobbikins really falls flat. But then, even when I don't care for a movie I still think you should judge for yourself. You'll have to catch the FXM Retro showings to see this, since it doesn't seem to be available on DVD.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Trouble Man

The latest in the series of movies that showed up on FXM Retro late one morning/afternoon and then early the next day is Trouble Man, which you can catch tomorrow morning (June 20) at 6:00 AM.

Robert Hooks plays Mr. T. (his last name is never revealed), a private detective who drives around Los Angeles in his late-model Lincoln Continental on his way to solving cases, and spends his other business hours at an office in a pool hall in one of the poorer black areas of the city. Mr. T. isn't above using a little stern warning, but never gets himself convicted of anything because that would cost him his license. Mr. T. has obviously been quite successful what with that Lincoln and his fancy deluxe apartment in the sky (as well as several girlfriends in similarly posh digs). His success has also made him well-known, which is what's going to get him his next assignment.

One day, as he's coming out of the pool hall, two guys approach him. Chalky (Paul Winfield) and Pete (Ralph Waite) are a couple of local gangsters, who run the craps games in the area: Chalky on the black side of town, and Pete on the white side. However, the two men have been finding that somebody is after their takings: armed gangs wearing masks and gloves and not talking so that nobody can recognize them show up to the floating craps games and demand all the money. Perhaps Mr. T. can figure out who's doing it. Mr. T. probably can figure it out, but to do so isn't going to come cheap. Mr. T. wants a minimum of ten grand, in 1972 dollars. Still, Pete and Chalky are willing to pay.

It shouldn't be a surprise that they're willing to pay, since we quickly discover that this is all an elaborate ruse. Pete and Chalky have kidnapped one of the underlings of the notorious Big (Julius Harris). The ruse is that Mr. T. is going to show up for a craps game that Pete and Chalky know is going to be raided; after all, they're setting up the raid. As part of that raid, Big's underling is going to get shot but it'll be made to look like the guy was one of the people doing the raid. Then Pete and Chalky will have one of their underlings put the finger on Mr. T., so that both the police and Big will go after him. It's a brilliant scheme.

Except that Mr. T. is going to figure it out by the end, because he's just that suave and brilliant. Trouble Man is a movie where, if it had been made a quarter century earlier (granted, it would have had to been made with an all-white cast if a Hollywood studio would have made such a story in the 1940s), it would have fit squarely in the noir cycle. There are blaxploitation elements to Trouble Man, although to me it's not nearly as over the top as more archetypal blaxpolitation films like Shaft or Coffy. Indeed, you can imagine Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe being set up the way Mr. T. is.

Still, Robert Hooks makes an appealing hero, and the story on its own makes Trouble Man worth a watch, even if the finale strains credulity. But above and beyond that, Trouble Man benefits from generous use of location shooting showing Los Angeles as it was in the early 1970s. That, and the soundtrack was provided by Marvin Gaye, who wanted to do something more jazzy than the R&B he was doing at Motown.

Trouble Man is listed as being available on DVD at Amazon, but I'm not certain if it's still in print.

Nobody Lives Forever

TCM's Summer of Darkness, with 24 hours of noir every Friday, continues this afternoon at 3:15 PM with Nobody Lives Forever.

John Garfield plays Nick Blake, a man who's returning from World War II. One of the laws passed during World War II was that the men who went off to fight in the war would be eligible to get their old jobs back, something which is referenced for example in The Best Years of Our Lives where Dana Andrews' character can have his old job as a soda jerk back, not that he really wants it. For Nick Blake in our movie today, that old job was as a con artist. And he was good at it, to the point that when he left for the war, he had some $50,000 that he left with his girlfriend Toni (Faye Emerson) for safekeeping. He wants it back so he can go out west to California and set up shop there. After the war, a change might do Nick good. Except that Toni doesn't have the money. And she's got a new boyfriend. Of course, being a con man means that Nick will be able to get the money back, even if he does have to use a little muscle to get it.

So the action fairly quickly shits to a train bound for California, with Nick on board with his best friend Al (George Tobias). The two make it to Los Angeles, where Nick fairly quickly make the acquaintance of the various and sundry con artists plying their trade out on the west coast. One of them, Pop (Walter Brennan), happens to be an old friend of Nick's, except that Pop has fallen on hard times. As for Nick, he finds somebody who might be a suitable target for a con artist. Gladys Halvorsen (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is a widow with a substantial sum of money, enough that she's got a business manager. If you were a con artist, wouldn't you want to pursue a woman like this? Not only does she have all that money, she's still fairly young and nice looking. And so Nick starts getting to know her.

Of course, something happens along the way. That something, which you could probably guess, is that Nick starts to fall in love with her and feel some remorse over being a con artist. Well, that's not the only problem Nick is going to have. Toni shows up at an inopportune time. She obviously knows Nick's past, and spiling it to Gladys would present big problems for Nick. There's also Doc (George Coulouris), one of the west coast cons Nick has gotten to know. Doc wouldn't mind some of Glady's money himself, and if Nick is going to get cold feet about actually conning Gladys, there's something Doc could do about that.

There's not a whole lot new going on in Nobody Lives Forever, but the cast still pulls it off. John Garfield was always good at playing this sort of conman or gangster with an easy charm, and this is a role he could have played in his sleep. I don't know that Geraldine Fitzgerald is the best leading lady for Garfield, but then again, her character here is a widow, which probably has something to do with her seeming a bit distant. The supporting characters all provide nice atmosphere.

I think the best way to describe a film like Nobody Lives Forever is to say that it's an example of the good that the studio system could produce. For all the complaints about studios having control over their stars, and people getting typecast, there was also an assembly line-like quality that could churn out one competent work after another. Nobody Lives Forever is one of those works that's thoroughly competent from top to bottom.

Nobody Lives Forever is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Swarm

TCM is giving us a night of insect-based horror/disaster movies this evening. A movie that's highly entertaining, if not particularly good, is The Swarm, airing overnight at 2:45 AM (or still late this evening out on the west coast).

The movie begins with Brad Crane (Michael Caine) driving up to an isolated military base somewhere in Texas. Not only is it isolated, it seems as if there's very little activity going on, and much of what does go on takes place underground. Brad investigates, and indeed, there's next to no sign of life. Eventually, it turns out that there's still a sign of life in the escape areas. Meanwhile, General Slater (Richard Widmark) has also arrived at the facility, wondering what this Brad guy is doing there. Everything is explained pretty quickly. Brad is an entomologist, and what happened at this military installation has the hallmarks of an attack by killer bees. Except that the killer bees are supposed to be a tropical phenomenon, and shouldn't be appearing this far nother. They are, of course, and that presents a huge problem not just for Brad, but for everybody in America!

Brad and the general are obviously going to be battling each other throughout the movie; that much is foreshadowed fairly early in the film. But Brad wins, at least in the sense that Washington authorizes him to investigate the phenomenon and set up a research station at the military base and assemble anybody he wants. Among the assembled are wheelchair-bound Dr. Krim (Henry Fonda), and reluctant researcher Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain).

I said earlier that those bees could become a problem for all of America, and we wouldn't have much of a film if they didn't start attacking good old average Americans. Marysville is a town not far from the military base, and they're about to have a civic pride festival. Little do they know the whole apple cart is about to be upset. A family goes out for a picnic at a state park not too far out of town, which just happens to be not too far from where the bees are massing to go swarm. So they swarm this family, killing Mom and Dad and making the kid drive away in fear of his life, not that he can drive very well either. He winds up in Marysville, which is how the town is made aware of the impending doom. To make matters worse, these bees aren't just swarming; they're even more venomous than previous killer bee strains. People can get killed by being stung only once.

There's a lot of formula in The Swarm is the civilian scientists fight the military over how to solve the problem. It's a theme that gets visited in a lot of horror movies, but here it's set against the backdrop of an all-star disaster movie. Katharine Ross plays Helena, the woman who ends up assisting Brad; there's a love triangle in Marysville involving schoolteacher Maureen (Olivia de Havilland) being pursued by two lovers (Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson). That, and there are all sorts of over-the-top set pieces involving Marysville, a train, a nuclear power plant, and Houston. The result is a movie that should be terrible on so many levels. You have to feel bad for this cast of stars (I believe seven of them won an Oscar at some point in their careers) having to utter such horrendous dialog. The scenes of people dying during the bee swarms are some of the more hilariously bad death scenes you'll ever see. And some of those set pieces will make you laugh, even though that wasn't the intention.

That's all down to Irwin Allen, who produced and directed this movie. He had been successful at the beginning of the 1970s with The Poseiden Adventure, and seemingly tried to replicate such an all-star disaster film on an ever grander scale. The Swarm is near the end of that cycle, and it's clear that Allen had run out of steam. But while the movie is nearly bereft of ideas, it redeems itself by so unrelentingly missing the mark at every turn. Allen never intended movies like The Swarm to be comedies, but you'll probably be laughing a lot at the ludicrousness of all this. Ultimately, it's one of those movies that bombed but wound up being fun by so doing.

The Swarm is one of those movies that did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but is out of print. The TCM Shop doesn't list it as available for purchase, while Amazon has the sort of entries that strongly imply an out of print DVD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Untamed Youth

TCM's Star of the Month look at pinup girls continues tonight, including one of the more buxom ladies of the 1950s: Mamie Van Doren. I've already mentioned her in The Girl in Black Stockings, but this time you'll get to watch her in somethign else: Untamed Youth, at 11:45 PM.

Van Doren plays Penny Lowe, a young woman who wants to make it as an entertainer out in Hollywood. So she's hitching rides across country with her kid sister Jane (Lori Nelson). They stop in some small town for a rest break and go swimming, but their swimming involves skinny dipping, and of course they get caught by the authorities. It's the sort of thing that should just be a fine and let them go on their way, but then we wouldn't have a movie. No, this has to be one of those corrupt as sin towns, so our two damsels in distress get sentenced by Judge Cecilia Steele (Lurene Tuttle) to work at the cotton farm owned by Russ Tropp (John Russell). It's a good arrangement for both of them. Judge Steele gets to get the criminals out of the court system, while Tropp gets a source of cheap labor, much to the chagrin of the other cotton growers. Plus, Steele gets to keep Tropp happy, as he is her fiancé. No wonder none of this cheap juvenile labor is going to any of the other farmers.

Tropp takes advantage of this cheap labor for all it's worth to him, which is next to nothing. He thinks this kids are to be disciplined and treated like dirt, They don't get adequately fed, they're housed in what looks more like a barn than anything else, and not following instructions is going to be met with discipline. Unless you happen to be the one girl the supervisor has his eye on today, in which case you might get favors. That having been said, despite all this treatment, the teens still have the energy to perform several rousing musical numbers which are incongruously placed in the movie to show off the talents of rock singer Eddie Cochran.

And then Judge Steele's son Bob (Don Burnett) returns home from the military. He recognizes that there's something horribly wrong going on over at the Tropp farm, and when he takes a bit of an interest in Penny and Jane, he realizes that he's got to do something to stop Tropp, even it puts him and all the teens in danger. You kind of have to expect that justice will be served, thanks to the Production Code and the fact that the producers wouldn't want a downer of a movie in which Tropp gets away with his evildoing. So we're left to watch how they get there.

The overall result is a movie that falls squarely in the teen exploitation movie subgenre of the 1950s. The presence of Van Doren, and especially Cochran, in the cast, meant that it was being targeted at them and not discerning adults. It works as entertainment, in no small part because of how much there is over the top. Happy kids singing and dancing in a cotton field? Tropp treating them almost cartoonishly badly? Oh, there's a lot here that should elicit howls of laughter even though the movie was not at all intended to be a comedy. And yet it shouldn't be looked at as a bad movie. Van Doren, and the rest of the actors playing the young indentured servants, are genuinely entertaining, and the plot isn't a bad one. It's not I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang by any stretch of the imagination, but it's more than worth a watch.

Untamed Youth is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It's a Dog's Life

When you think dog movies, you probably think Lassie. TCM is running a bunch of those this morning and afternoon, but one of today's dog movies isn't a Lassie film: It's a Dog's Life, airing at 6:30 PM.

Wildfire (played by a dog named Wildfire) is a bull terrier lives as a stray on the New York City waterfront circa 1900 with his mother. Wildfire doesn't have a father, at least not that he knows of. So he goes to one of the older dogs on the waterfront and asks (voiced by Vic Morrow) about his heritage. It turns out that his father was a champion show dog, knocked Mom up, and then just left the two dogs. This ticks Wildfire off, so he vows to go off and avenge what his biological sire did to the mother he loves.

Wildfire goes off and winds up in the Bowery, which was the part of New York inhabited by the down-and-outers and people who made a living however they could. For some people, this meant dogfighting. Wildfire fights one of the strays himself, which gets him noticed by Patch McGill (Jeff Richards). Patch likes what he sees in Wildfire, takes him in, and trains himto be a champion fighter, getting the money to train him from his burlesque girlfriend Mabel (Jarma Lewis). As I said, these are rough people living in the Bowery. Wildfire becomes a successful fighter, at least until Patch has the hubris to put him up against much bigger dog, which results in Wildfire losing a fight, getting injured, and being abandoned by Patch.

Thankfully for Wildfire, one Jeremiah Nolan (Edmund Gwenn) has been hanging around down in the Bowery from time to time. Jeremiah is a servant for the wealthy Wyndham family, and takes Wildfire home with him to nurse Wildfire back to health. Mr. Wyndham, the patriarch of the family (Dean Jagger), doesn't like the idea of this dog being around, especially when Wildfire starts to mix it up with some of the Wyndhams' well-bred St. Bernards. Wyndham's daughter Dorothy (Sally Fraser), however, sees that Wildfire is really a beautiful dog, and with a little good grooming and refinement, could easily be entered in a dog show. It's at these dog shows that Wildfire also meets the lady dog of his dreams....

You'd think with the presence of a talking dog (and a whole lot of dogs, in fact), and kindly Edmund Gwenn), that It's a Dog's Life is a children's movie, but in some ways, it's not. The presence of dogfighting as an integral part of the plot, even though it's obviously never explicitly shown, makes the movie almost schizophrenic. For the most part the movie wants to be light, but the dogfighting is clearly a dark idea. That having been said, the movie tries to handle it fairly lightly, which makes things even odder. The human actors are, for the most part, OK, but this is really Wildfire's story. Wildfire does carry it well enough to make it worth at least one viewing.

It's a Dog's Life has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Don Ameche night

TCM in the past couple of years seems to have had a little more luck in getting movies out of the Fox vault that they can run. Tonight's lineup is a good example of that. TCM is putting the spotlight on actor Don Ameche, who was a contract player at Fox in the late 1930s and early 1940s. I think at least two of the movies running tonight are TCM premieres, although I will admit that I don't have access to the entire 21 years of TCM scheduling.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with 1943's Heaven Can Wait, which is not one of the premieres. Ameche plays a man who has just died, and thinks that because of the dissolute way in which he's lived his life, he's not going to go to heaven. He meets the Devil (Laird Cregar), who quizzes him on just why his life isn't worthy of going to heaven for, and the life story is told in flashbacks. There's wonderful Technicolor, with good performances from Gene Tierney as Ameche's wife and Charles Coburn as Ameche's grandfather.

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, at 10:00 PM, is, I think, a premiere for TCM. I know it didn't show up in the look at the films of "Hollywood's Greatest Year" 1939 that TCM did back in 2009. It's a 1939 biopic of Bell (played by Ameche), who invented the telephone with help from his assistant Watson (Henry Fonda, also under contract to Fox at the time), but gets into a patent dispute. Charles Coburn shows up again, while the love interest is played by Loretta Young.

That Night in Rio, which follows at 11:45 PM, might also be a TCM premiere. It was in the FXM or maybe Fox Movie Channel rotation at one point, but again I can't remember exactly when everything shows up everywhere. This is one of those energetic Fox musicals which might remind you a bit of the recently blogged about You Were Never Lovelier, as Ameche plays an actor who gets the job of playing a baron in order to help a business deal go through. The Baroness (Alice Faye) is OK with this arrangement, at least until the real baron comes back. Ameche's girlfriend (Carmen Miranda; there's a pairing) isn't quite so OK with it. With a cast like that there's ample opportunity for Fox musical merrymaking.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Broken Land

When I mentioned The Reward a couple of days ago, I didn't mention that I had watched it in a double feature with the movie The Broken Land. As for The Broken Land, it's showing up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, so this is your chance to catch it.

The film starts off with some falderal about how, in the years after the Civil War, there were a bunch of loner types who banded together and were... the insurgents! The worst thing about this scene is that Fox needed to keep the movie in the Cinemascope aspect ratio to show the text, and then switch to a grainy 4:3 panned-and-scanned print thereafter. Boo hiss. Anyhow, the panned-and-scanned portion of the movie begins with a stranger named Dave Dunson (Robert Sampson) coming into one of those old western towns in the territories on his horse. He stops outside a general store, but unfortunately the shop assistant Billy (Gary Sneed) knocks over some of those giant metal bulk milk containers that they used back in those days, an act which startles Dave's horse. It was of course an accident; Billy is probably just a bit slow although they wouldn't have used words like that back in the day either. Walking into all of this is Marshal Jim Cogan (Kent Taylor) who doesn't like what he sees.

Marshal Jim doesn't like anything, to be honest. He shows up at the restaurant where Dave stops to have a bite to eat, only for Dave to get involved in another accident when the waitress Mavera (Diana Darrin) accidentally knocks a glass off the table. Jim is enraged enough that he wants to throw Dave out of town for this! He also wants to throw Mavera out of town, but that's because she's got a past with him and clearly knows something about him that he doesn't want the rest of the townsfolk to know.

These three folks on Jim's enemies list are about to get involved with Jim again, this time in an incident that leads to a police-instigated brawl, and Billy and Dave being put in the town jail. Already there is Will Brocious (Jack Nicholson in one of his early roles), who hasn't done anything wrong, but who is the son of a man who was a notorious criminal. Will and Dave are used to this sort of treatment, but poor Billy isn't. Worse for Billy, the marshal is bullying the shopkeeper of the place where Billy works into pressing charges! Is there nothing bad this marshal won't do? Mavera has seen it all before, so before she gets on the stagecoach that's going to take her out of town for good, she goes to the jail and frees the three men. They, having learned a bit of Marshal Jim's bad nature, decide that they're going to stop the coach and rescue Mavera.

That goes wrong, Billy gets nicked in the arm by a shot, and the coachman drops the money bag thinking this is a holdup, which wasn't the intention at all. Now the marshal is really going to be after them! This time, however, at least one other person, Deputy Ed Flynn (Jody McCrea, son of Joel McCrea) has come to the conclusion that Jim is a hothead and he'll try to stop Jim from being too severe.

The Broken Land is a decidedly B movie that never really lets the viewer in too much on where the plot is going to go next, something which works for the movie. There's nothing spectacular here, just a bunch of solid entertainment. The only reason most people would think to even give this movie a chance is if they saw Jack Nicholson's name in it, and that's a shame, because the movie does deserve a bit more attention than that. It's also a huge shame that the FXM print is panned-and-scanned, because what we see in the opening credits makes it look like there's probably some nice cinematography here. Still, this is a movie more for the story than the backgrounds.

I don't think The Broken Land has received a DVD release, so you'll have to catch the FXM showings.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Manitou

One of the movies in this week's installment of TCM Underground is The Manitou, running overnight tonight at 2:00 AM (still 11:00 PM this evening out on the west coast).

Tony Curtis plays Harry Erskine, a psychic in San Francisco in the late 1970s. Psychics are, of course, phony, and Harry has taken the flamboyant phoniness to new levels, reminiscent of his scheming in movies like Some Like It Hot or Operation Petticoat. Things change, however, when his ex-girlfriend Karen (Susan Strasberg) comes back into his life one day. She's got a small lump on her shoulder that she's worried about. To be fair, it's perfecly normal to be worried about a lump like that since there's always the possibility of a cancerous tumor. But what Karen doesn't know is that she's really in for it with this lump.

Harry takes Karen to the hospital, where the doctors run some tests on her that give them the distinct impression that this lump resembles a fetus, which is of course preposterous since it's on her shoulder, and not in her uterus, which is where a fetus is supposed to be. Since this lump is clearly dangerous, the doctors plan to operate and remove the lump, which is an eminently sensible move. At least, it's sensible until they actually perform the operation and something physically repels the doctors from cutting into that lump. It's as though the lump has a life of its own beyond what a fetus would be.

So Harry does some research, and eventually finds out from a retired professor of Native American history (Burgess Meredith) that this lump might actually be a "manitou". Apparently, every living thing (and every non-living thing, as we'll find out in a later scene) has a spirit called a "manitou", and this one is a reincarnation of a manitou from several hundred years ago. Not only that, but if it finishes going through its gestation period (for lack of a better phrase) all hell is going to break loose, because this manitou is a particularly evil one. The only hope our poor San Franciscans have is to find a Native American medicine man who knows how to fight a manitou and defeat it.

Thankfully, there is one of those medicine men around northern California, one John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara). He doesn't really like white people because of the way they treated his ancestors, but he ultimately decides reluctantly to fight this manitou because he knows what the consequences are if nobody fights it. So he accompanies the white people back to San Francisco and the hospital, where all hell does break loose in the final climactic battle in the hospital, although it is at least localized to the hospital.

The Manitou is ludicrous even beyond the point of many movies that I've argued strain credulity to the breaking point. It's also not helped that the movie has 1970s special effects. This is a film that needed either to go the Val Lewton route and leave some of the stuff that would have required "modern" special effects to be left to the imagination and only show the things they could have done 30 years earlier, or else benefit from the CGI that was not yet available. That having been said, there's so much about The Manitou that's so unintentionally funny that the movie winds up being entertaining. Tony Curtis is way over the top; Ann Sothern in a small role gets thrown down a flight of stairs to her death; all of the scenes of the manitou fighting back, not just the final battle, are a hoot; and Susan Strasberg is given an unenviable task in that final battle, although you'll have to watch it for yourself.

The Manitou is one of those movies that did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but is now out of print, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Terrorists

As with yesterday's The Reward, another movie that showed up on FXM Retro in the later part of one day and will be showing up again during the earlier part of the next day is The Terrorists. This one you can catch tomorrow morning (June 13) at 8:35 AM.

The movie starts off with a bang. Or, with a series of bangs, as there is a series of explosions in London. As if you couldn't figure out from the title of the movie, these bombings are the work of a committed group of terrorists. Cut to "Scandinavia", which of course is a region although it's presented here as an individual country. Terrorists have also kidnapped Palmer, the UK Ambassador to Scandinavia (Robert Harris). Their demands for releasing Palmer are the release of a whole bunch of imprisoned members of their terrorist group, as well as safe passage to someplace; they're obviously not mentioning where because that way they'd get caught. Oh, they also want parachutes so that they can bail out of the plane to wherever it is they're going. Capt. Barnes (Jeffrey Wichkam), the UK military attaché to Scandinavia, winds up working with the Scandinavian head of security, Col. Tahlvik (Sean Connery). The Scndinavians officially announce that they're goign to capitulate to the terrorists' demands, although in reality they're going to try to drag things out.

Meanwhile, there's trouble at the airport. A plane to the capital city has been hijacked by Ray Petrie (Ian McShane). It turns out that he's working in cahoots with the folks who kidnapped Palmer, because his demands are safe passage for the people who kidnapped Palmer and still have him at the Ambassador's residence. Petrie, for his part, is putting impossible demands upon Scandinavian security. The situation isn't helped out by the fact that the pilots of the hijacked plane did what they thought was their part in putting a monkey wrench into the hijacking by sabotaging the landing such that the wheels of the landing gear all burst and will have to be replaced. Petrie says replace them within a few hours, or else he'll blow up the plane.

The rest of The Terrorists is a fairly standard hostage drama type movie, with Tahlvik trying to make certain that all of the hostages make it out alive, while still trying to catch the hijackers. That, and the expected clash of cultures between the various agencies -- in this case British and Scandinavian security -- and how they think the case should be resolved. There's an abortive rescue attempt, people getting in the way, and a climactic shootout. How exactly everything is resolved, however, is something I'm not going to give away.

The Terrorists isn't a bad movie, although as I strongly implied in the previous paragraph, it fits into a tried and true formula. That having been said, it ticks off the boxes of that formula fairly well and is definitely worth a watch. Perhaps rewinding and watching parts a second time if you record it instead of watching as it airs, because there are some plot points that are a bit difficult to get the first time you watch. Still, Connery does well, and it's mostly his movie.

One other big plus point is the location shooting. Although a subtitle early on states that the action is in "Scandinavia", much of the movie was filmed in Norway, and at the old international airport in Oslo, which was closed down in the late 1990s. It's snowy and a relatively forbidding place with its concrete functionality rather than the sort of luxury you'd find in the airport lounges of The VIPs or Airport.

Amazon lists The Terrorists as being available for purchase, but it looks like another of those out-of-print DVDs.

Christopher Lee, 1922-2015

Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee, the actor whose career spanned Hammer horror movies in the late 1950s through to recent roles in popular film series like the Star Wars prequels or The Hobbit, died over the weekend at the age of 93, although the death was only announced yesterday morning.

Probably Lee's earliest recognizable role would be in 1949's Scott of the Antarctic about the doomed expedition to get to the South Pole first. I don't know which of his roles would be the most recognizable, if only because he played so many roles. Dracula in a bunch of the Hammer horror films would be a good choice; another good choice might be the bad guy Scaramanga, he of the superfluous third nipple, in the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun. One of my favorites has to be Lord Summerisle in the wonderfully creepy and shocking The Wicker Man.

The picture above is from The Wicker Man, but it's also from this 2009 interview that shows Christopher Lee to be a very interesting man who was not just an actor. He also sang and released several CDs worth of music in various genres, such as a heavy metal Christmas song.

If TCM does a programming tribute, it will probably be heavy on the Hammer horror, but it would be nice to see a tribute with the other stuff.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Reward

FXM Retro has a thing with showing movies toward of the Retro block one day, and then repeating them at the beginning of the block the next day. One thing that's good about this is that it makes it easier to blog about such films. Another film that received the same treatment is The Reward, which you can catch again tomorrow (June 12) at 4:00 AM.

Max von Sydow plays Scott Swenson, a crop duster working in Mexico for reasons that aren't quite explained and would be beside the point. He's in Mexico, and he has an accident while trying to land the plane. The accident destroys his plane, but also brings down a water tower, resulting in several thousand pesos in damages. His choices should be to either pay the damages or go to jail. He can't pay the damages, but there's a bit of luck for him, if you can call it luck. Apparently, another American, Frank Bryant (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) is wanted for allegedly kidnapping and shooting a young boy. if Scott joins the police captain Carbajal (Gilbert Roland) as part of the posse looking for Bryant, then he can have his freedom. Plus, there's a $50,000 reward for the return of Bryant, dead or alive, that only Carbajal and Scott know about.

So Carbajal rounds up a couple of men: police sergeant Lopez (Emilio Fernandez), young Luis (Nino Castelnuovo), and the native tracker Joaquin (Henry Silva). They eventually find where Bryant ditched his car, so they're on the right path. But there's a problem. Bryant and his girlfriend Sylvia (Yvette Mimieux) traded the car in for a pair of horses. They're going to try to cross the Mexican desert on horseback and escape the police that way. Perhaps these fools should have tried watching a movie like Yellow Sky to know the pointlessness of trying such an escape. But then we wouldn't have a movie. Carbajal rounds up enough horses for the posse, and the five are on the way.

Unsurprisingly, they find Bryant and Sylvia, and capture them for taking back to town and the justice and financial reward that comes with so doing. But there's one small catch. Scott makes the mistake of using a piece of newspaper that has the article regarding the bounty on Bryant's head, and Lopez discovers it. Needless to say, he wants the reward too. And he doesn't care whether Bryant is brought in dead or alive. Furthermore, if he has to kill everybody else in the posse to claim the reward, he might not be that opposed to such a thing.

There are a lot of themes in The Reward that are familiar to anybody who's watched a bunch of westerns. But unfortuntaely, the movie never really goes anywhere. The characters, for the most part, I found difficult to have any sympathy for or care about. They seem not quite cardboard cutouts, but certainly not rich characters. Perhaps a lot of that blame falls on the writing. There's a lot of talk that seems far more tedious than expository or really advancing the plot. And the ending is one that I found a thorough let-down. As always when I don't care for a movie, though, you might want to watch for yourself to see if you don't agree with my opinion.

I don't think The Reward is on DVD at all, so if you want to see it you'll have to catch the FXM Retro showing.

Richard Todd, 1919-2009

Richard Todd in 'The Dam Busters'Today marks the birth anniversary of Irish-born British actor Richard Todd. Todd wasn't quite the biggest success in Hollywood, but he does appear in several interesting movies. When it comes to Hollywood, I could mention The Hasty Heart, which earned Todd an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, as a British soldier at an army field hospital during World War II who is terminally ill, but who isn't being told about it. One other notable Hollywood movie would be Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, in which he plays the ex-boyfriend of Jane Wyman who is accused of a murder he may or may not have committed.

As for the British movies, you could do far worse than to watch The Dam Busters, which has Todd as a bomber who engages in a daring nighttime rade on the dams that provided hydroelectric power for the Nazi war machine. In fact, Todd appeared in several of those World War II action films, including both D-Day the Sixth of June and The Longest Day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Torrid Zone

This week's installment of TCM's "Star of the Month" look at pin-up girls brings us an actress known as the "Oomph Girl": Ann Sheridan. Her movie Torrid Zone will be running early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight depending upon your point of view) at 3:30 AM.

Pat O'Brien is the one we see first, playing Steve Case. Steve is the manager of a series of Central American banana plantations in one of those places that gave us the term "banana republic". Steve seemingly runs not only the plantations, but also the entire country. He's got a lot of problems with local revolutionaries led by Rosario (George Tobias); problems with Anderson, a crappy manager at one of the plantations out in the sticks; and problems with Lee Dorsey (Ann Sheridan). Lee is the femme fatale, although she's not quite fatale as she is a con artist who will steal the workers' money in fixed card games. Steve is trying to get Lee deported from the country and back to the States, although she clearly doesn't want to go. And if she does have to go, she'd rather go south to wherever in South America. Probably that place Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth ended up in Only Angels Have Wings or something similar.

I mentioned that Steve was having problems with Anderson, which brings us to the actor who gets top billing: James Cagney. Cagney plays Nick Butler, a man who had formerly managed plantations for Steve, and was quite a good manager, being able to put out all the metaphorical fires quite efficiently. Steve wants Nick to return to work for him, but Nick is insistent upon returning to the States, even though Steve is willing to pay him big money to go back to work for him, at least during the present crisis. Nick gets on the boat to go back to the States, and runs into Lee, who is of course not there by choice. So Nick helps Lee escape and she goes back to dry land. Unsurprisingly, Nick winds up back on dry land himself, and with Lee again.

You can probably guess while watching this thatthere's not going to be a movie is Nick doesn't eventually agree to go out to that plantation in the middle of nowhere. You can probably also figure out that when Nick does go, Lee is going to figure out a way to get there. When Nick gets there, there's another problem: Anderson's wife Gloria (Helen Vinson) is disillusioned with her ineffectual husband, and seems to take a shine to Nick. Finally, one more problem that was foreshadowed at the beginning of the film is that Rosario breaks out of jail and stirs up his revolutionaries again.

Torrid Zone has a stellar cast. But the end result is one that I found underwhelming. The movie moved along slower than you'd think from the plot, and the characters just didn't appeal to me. Several of the reviewers on IMDb have compared this film to His Girl Friday, which was released the same year as Torrid Zone. But something about the three main leads in that one, and especially the underlying plot of the condemned prisoner, sparkles in a way that Torrid Zone just doesn't. As always, however, watch and judge for yourself.

The TCM Shop advertises Torrid Zone as being available as part of a James Cagney box set; I didn't check to see whether it's in print on a standalone basis.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Another set of briefs, June 9-10, 2015

So I watched the Movie Camp intro to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and never got around to commenting on it. The first thing I noticed had nothing to do with the commentary, but with the latter-day production values. Would it hurt filmmakers/TV production people to do a static shot of two people talking, with one talking at a time and we can se the other person standing there silently waiting for his lines? Barring that, show one person talking with him being the only one in the shot, and then cut to the other person. But no, there were several instances where they would show the first guy talking, and then pan to the other guy for his comment. It came across like one of those panned-and-scanned movies that show up in the letterboxing featurette. It's irritating when it's done in a panned-and-scanned print, but it's just as irritating when it's done for "artistic" purposes.

TCM is running another of those Bobby Jones golf shorts again, this one called How to Break 90 #3: Hip Action, tomorrow morning at 8:34 AM, following I'm No Angel (7:00 AM, 88 min). Golf technology has advanced so much since the 1930s, but I can't help but think golfers would still get a kick out of these shorts.

Later tomorrow morning, at 10:15 AM, TCM is running Operator 13. This one is a Marion Davies film set against the backdrop of the Civil War, in which she plays a Union spy. I thought perhaps I might have seen this one before, since the plot sounded vaguely familiar. Then I realized that it must be a remake of some other movie, as I remember a Civil War spy film from the beginning of the sound era. Thankfully, I was able to remember the star of that earlier film was Richard Dix, so looking things up shows that the earlier movie is 1930's Secret Service and that the two are not the same story. Marion Davies often doesn't get the credit she deserves, supposedly because of Citizen Kane and the belief that it was mocking the relationship between her and William Randolph Hearst. That's a shame, because Davies wasn't a bad actress.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Out of print update: June 8, 2015

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of "WWII Thrillers", although I'd argue at least one of them isn't quite a thriller. I've recommended most of the films before, but the TCM schedule implies that a couple of them are either out of print, or never received a DVD release in the first place.

The first of the out-of-print films is Hangmen Also Die, airing at 10:00 PM. As I mentioned when I blogged about this one back in February 2010, it tells the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi governor of the Czech lands. One thing I haven't mentioned before is that the Nazi reprisals after his assassination, which consisted in part in killing all the adult male inhabitants of a small village called Lidice, led to the free Czechs exiled in the UK to produce a movie called The Silent Village:

Later, at 2:30 AM, you have the opportunity to catch I See a Dark Stranger. A very entertaining movie Deborah Kerr wanting to engage in terrorism for the IRA, but getting roped into fighting Nazis by British army officer Trevor Howard. I probably should revise and extend my remarks on this one at some point

The night ends with Secret Mission at 4:30 AM, a movie that is also not on DVD but that I can't comment on since it's one I have to admit to never having seen before. In fact, I don't think I'd heard of it before seeing it on tonight's schedule.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Briefs for June 7-8, 2015

Don't forget that tonight is the first night of TCM's Movie Camp. TCM will be showing Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's been a while since I've seen it, so I can't recall how much language there is that parents of younger children would find objectionable. I'd suggest that it's probably less of a children's movie than a lot of what ran in Essentials Jr., especially adaptations of books like Treasure Island or Little Women. But don't forget that Essentials Jr. ran Lifeboat of all things. (If I wanted to introduce children to Hitchcock, I'd probably pick something more straightforward where the violence seems a bit more comic, like The Lady Vanishes, or perhaps even the dark comedy The Trouble With Harry.)

The short Sport Slant #5 is on at 12:05 AM tonight. Warner Bros. made a series of movies looking at sports of lesser interest in the early 1930s, much the way that ABC would later come up with Wide World of Sports. The commentary, from the ones I remember, is a bit strident. I don't think I've seen this particular episode in the series, which covers backgammon (yeah, it's not a sport), bowling, and wrestling.

Robert Benchley fans may enjoy My Tomato, which comes on at 12:37 PM tomorrow. This one has Benchley trying to start a Victory Garden to do his part for the war effort. I found it to be one of the more annoying Benchley shorts, but I'm sure there are going to be people who like this, just as there are people who love the Pete Smith shorts.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Crash Dive

Earlier this afternoon, FXM Retro ran Crash Dive, a movie that I have to admit was new to me. It's running again tomorrow morning at 11:50 AM if you want to see it.

The movie starts off with an Allied civilian boat of some sort having been torpedoed by the Nazis. Coming to their rescue is a PT boat, captained by Lt. Ward Stewart (Tyrone Power, who was billed in the cast as part of the Marine Corps Reserves). He drops some depth charges, annihilates those damn Nazis, and becomes a hero for it. For his troubles, he gets sent to New London, CT, where there is a submarine base. Apparently, the US submarines are short of officers, and the Navy needs Lt. Stewart on a submarine, even though he's good on the PT and likes it. At any rate, Lt. Stewart gets transferred to the Corsair, captained by Lt. Cmdr. Dewey Connors (Dana Andrews in an early role).

Lt. Cmdr. Connors, for his part, has had a lot on his mind. He's been waiting for the requisite senior officer to join him, and is mildly miffed that Lt. Stewart needs to go to Washington for the weekend to take care of some business before setting out to sea in the submarine. Meanwhile, Connors also has a girl, Jean Hewlett (Anne Baxter), who teaches at the local girls' school. He sees her off at the train station, as she's taking some honors students to Washington.

Unsurprisingly, Hewlett winds up in the same car as Lt. Stewart, who has accidentally occupied her berth. He immediately falls in love with her, not realizing that not only does she have a boyfriend, but that boyfriend is his fellow officer. So he decides that the best way to get the girl is to act like a complete jerk, because there are some women who like such jerks, and because with Power being billed ahead of Andrews in the cast, there's a reasonable expectation that it's his character who is supposed to be with Baxter's, not Andrews' character. Lt. Stewart keeps pursuing Jean, until she finally gives into him. Well, she really gives in to his nice grandmother (Dame May Whitty).

Meanwhile, the submarine goes out and confronts a Nazi mine boat somewhere in the North Atlantic, and they realize that the boat is far enough out that they have to have a base somewhere. Not that there's anywhere in the North Atlantic for them to have a base. The most logical explanation would be if it's hidden in Greenland, except that the comments they make about the climate would imply that the base is someplace further south, if only there were islands far enough south in the Atlantic for them to have a base.

The sub gets back to New London, Lt. Stewart finds that Jean is engaged to be married to Connors, and then Connors finds that Jean and Stewart are in love with each other. All of this at the same time they're about to head back out into the Atlantic to find that Nazi base and destroy it....

There's a fair bit in Crash Dive that's predictable and formulaic, but then this one was made during World War II, when audiences probably wanted something that was more morale-raising than anything else, which means uncomplicated and familiar. Crash Dive, I think, probably would have succeeded for audiences of the day; as for today's audiences I'm not so certain. I thought Power was even more of a jerk than he was in A Yank in the RAF. The climactic raid on the Nazi base is OK, but the print has colors that are muddled, even more than would normally be the case for a nighttime raid. It was to the point that it was sometimes tough to tell what was going on. And then after the raid succeeds -- as I said, this was a morale builder -- there's a tacked on bit about the importance of every type of ship to the war effort.

As I say when there's a movie I don't particularly care for, however, watch and judge for yourself. The movie did get a DVD release, but I don't know if it's still in print.

The Man Who Would Be King

A few months ago I had the chance to catch the TCM airing of the rousing adventure movie The Man Who Would Be King. It's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM as this week's TCM Essential, and is well worth a watch.

The movie starts off in British India sometime in the 1890s. Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) is a civil servant working in some God-forsaken part of the country, when into his office walks one Peachy Carnahan (Michael Caine), who looks vaguely familiar despite the fact that he's also looking very haggard. It turns out that the two men met several years ago, introduced by an old friend of Peachy's. Flash back five years to how Kipling and Peachy met.... Kipling was taking the train to get to his posting, where he was accosted by on Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery), a cashiered British Army officer. Daniel picked Kipling's pocket watch and then returned it, claiming Kipling had lost it. But that was all a ruse for Daniel's scheme that he was planning to carry out with Peachy.

Beyond the borders of British India lies what is today Afghanistan; recall that India and Pakistan were carved out of British India and partitioned off at independence in 1947. Back in the day, what was beyond the Khyber Pass, the border pass leading northwest out of what is now Pakistan, was little known, at least not until you got someplace as far north as Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan. There were, however, rumors of various tribes, some with fabulous wealth, living in the mountainous terrain. In particular, there's one tribe that is supposedly descended from Alexander the Great and the wealth that he plundered from his conquests along the way to the Hindu Kush. Daniel and Peachy have decided that, since they've got access to modern weapons, they can turn one of the tribes against another and get at some of that wealth themselves. Daniel and Peachy need maps from Kipling's office.

It's a daft idea, and already a quarter century earlier Hollywood westerns had running arms to the American Indian tribes being presented as a terribly bad thing. So you'd think Daniel and Peachy should be really bad people. But The Man Who Would Be King isn't that sort of movie. It's far less social commentary and far more straightforward adventure; after all, this was based on a story by Kipling himself, written back in the days when people like him would have felt the "white man's burden" to try to civilize places like India, or even more those tribes up in the northwest. So Daniel and Peachy are lovable rogues

And they actually do fairly well in getting away with their scheme. At least, they do at first. They're able to get past the Khyber Pass and meet up with another army man they knew, Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey). He helps them, being mixed-race and not quite feeling British. Eventually, they all get to Kafiristan, which it seems is the legendary land of the descendants of Alexander the Great. Their mythology posits that someday, Alexander's son is going to return to rule them -- and it just so happens that they mistake Daniel for that son! This gives Daniel the idea not to plunder the wealth, but to become a king and rule over these people. This is really a gilded cage, but it's probably also a hell of a lot less dangerous than trying to remove the wealth from the Kafiristanis. And who wouldn't let power go to his head?

Peachy, for his part, just wants to get that wealth. And we know that he makes it out of Kafiristan, since he shows up back in India in the opening scene of the movie. To be fair, though, it's not like the good people of Kafiristan were mistaking him for the son of Alexander the Great. He's just a dumb schlub accompanying Alexander's son. Who wants to be in an unequal relationship like that? So Daniel and Peachy start to develop a rift between themselves, one that could possibly put their entire scheme in danger. But there's a much bigger problem, which is that the Kafiristanis believe that the son of Alexander isn't just a king, but a god. Daniel, obviously, is not a god. What's going to happen when the natives figure that out?

I said in the opening paragraph, and stand by my comment, that The Man Who Would Be King is a rousing adventure story. Don't look too hard for deeper meaning. There might be some in places, but this is much more an entertaining movie, not a message picture. Sean Connery had finished up being James Bond a few years earlier, and was in a phase of his career where he was doing quite a few action movies (Zardoz and The Wind and the Lion spring to mind). The Man Who Would Be King is squarely in that mold, and Connery is well-cast as Daniel Dravot. Michael Caine is an interesting choice. He had already proven himself to be quite good at playing roguish heroes; Alfie is a cad and Gambit is rather closer to The Man Who Would Be King, only set in a different era. I wouldn't necessarily have thought of Caine as being the right person to do colonial India, but he's just fine here. Christopher Plummer doesn't have much to do, but is more than up to the task. One other notable cast member is Roxanne, the Kafiristani with whom Daniel falls in love. Roxanne was played by Shakira Caine, Michael Caine's real-life wife. They're still married after 42 years.

The Man Who Would Be King is a hell of a lot of fun. If you haven't seen it before, do yourself a favor and watch it tonight. It's also available on DVD if you can't catch it tonight, however.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Land of the Quintuplets

I'm somewhat surprised that I haven't mentioned the Traveltalks short Land of the Quintuplets before. It's on TCM again today at about 5:33 PM, following Journey Into Fear (4:15 PM, 68 min).

The quintuplets in question are, of course, the Dionne quintuplets, who had been born in 1934 and were the first set of surviving quintuplets. (Two of them are still alive, and turned 81 last week.) As I mentioned when I blogged about Five of a Kind, the Ontario provincial government eventually made them wards of the province and built up an entire tourist industry around the quints, which is what this particular short depicts. As would become clear when the quints grew up, they found this incredibly exploitative. The short, however, depicts what the government is doing to the poor kids as a good thing, which I suppose shouldn't be too surprising coming from James A. FitzPatrick, who always looked at the bright side of things in his narration. (See, for example, Chile, Land of Charm. Granted, FitzPatrick wouldn't have been able to know that much about what was going on behind the scenes, but the kitschy tourist industry that had built up -- and this doesn't just mean showing off the quints, as you'll see in the film -- should have given him a clue. Still, looking back on things with 70 years of hindsight, this short comes off as especially creepy.

Wikipedia says that amazingly, the Dionne parents had three more children after the quints. In addition to the two surviving quints, three other of the children, out of 14 total, still survive.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer of noir

I probably should have mentioned instead of talking about the Bulldog Drummond films that, starting tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, TCM is runnins a special summer series of noir films. Every Friday in June and July, TCM will be showing 24 hours of noirs (or films they claim are noirs) from the classic era of noirs, as well as the films inspired by the old noirs. Eddie Muller, who hosted a Friday Night Spotlight a couple of years ago on noir writers, will be back to host, presumably only during prime time. After all, when TCM had the centenary of World War I last year, the films ran for 24 hours but the on-air presenter was only around for prime time.

Anyhow, a couple of the movies are worth mentioning. The whole thing kicks off at 6:00 AM with M, Fritz Lang's classic film about a child murderer (Peter Lorre) on the loose in Berlin, and the underworld vigilante justice that is going after him because his activities are making the police cause problems for them. That will be followed at 8:00 AM by another foreign noir. This one, however, is French, which makes more sense since it's generally the French films of the late 1930s that are considered to be the prototype of the American noir film. Anyhow, the film in question is La bête humaine, which was remade in Hollywood 15 years later as Human Desire. (By the same token, the late 1930s French proto-noir Le jour se lève, also known as Daybreak, was remade in Hollywood as The Long Night. Neither of these is airing in June, I think.)

I certainly wouldn't consider the Bette Davis version of The Letter to be noir, but there it is at 9:45 AM. Another movie airing tomorrow that I wouldn't consider noir, but just a straight crime flick, albeit a good one, is High Sierra at 12:45 PM.

Bulldog Drummond

Unfortunately I had some problems with my internet connection, so today is only going to see a brief post. I'm looking forward to tonight's prime time lineup on TCM of Bulldog Drummond movies. They're running eight movies which I beleive is the entirety of the series.

There were a whole lot of detective movie series in the 1930s and into the early 1940s. I think Philo Vance might have been the first. As with the Philo Vance movies, the Bulldog Drummond films used multiple actors in the title role over the course of the series. The first one (8:00 PM; as far as I can tell, the series goes in order) stars a young Ray Milland before he became a big star. John Howard, if you've ever heard of him, played in most of the later ones. The more interesting in the later ones is the presence of John Barrymore in several of them as the Scotland Yard investigator who butts heads with Drummond. It must have been a big step down for the alcoholic Barrymore to have to do movies like this, although we saw Barrymore himself doing a variation of this in Dinner at Eight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Walter Lassally interview

From our good friends at the English Section of Radio Prague we learn that Oscar-winning cinematographer Walter Lassally recently appeared at Prague's Cinematographers' Days festival. While there, he gave an interview to one of the staffers from the English Section:

A good film should be comprehensible with the volume off, says Oscar-winning cameraman Walter Lassally

German-born cameraman Walter Lassally worked on some of the greatest films produced in the British New Wave of the 1960s, including classics such as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and A Taste of Honey. The recipient of an Oscar for Zorba the Greek, he also has some Czech connections, including shooting the movie The Clown with his friend Vojtěch Jasný. Lassally (88), who was in Prague last week for the Cinematographers Days festival, made documentaries early in his career as part of the ground-breaking Free Cinema movement – so I asked him what he had taken from that form to his work on feature films.

The article can be found on Czech Radio's website here, which comes complete with a transcript of the interview. If you'd rather listen to the interview, there's a direct link here; the MP3 is about 4.9 MB and a little under 11 minutes. If memory serves, Radio Prague's audio files are up more or less permanently, so it's not as if you absolutely have to download it today if you want to listen.

I found the interview interesting, ranging from talking about Kitchen Sink-era directors like Tony Richardson and Czech-born Karel Riesz, as well as discussing the differences between filmmaking then and now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

You Were Never Lovelier

A few months back, TCM ran You Were Never Lovelier, which I hadn't seen before. I was going to do a post on it afterward, but as far as I could tell it's out of print on DVD. At any rate, it's running again on TCM, overnight tonight at 3:15 AM (or very early tomorrow morning, depending upon your point of view). If you haven't seen it before, it's an entertaining one to catch.

Fred Astaire stars as Robert Davis. He's an American, stuck in Buenos Aires trying to get the money to get back to America. He's got an idea for the way to get that money. He'll work in the nightclub at the swanky hotel owned by one Señor Eduardo Acuña (Adolphe Menjou). Acuña, for his part, seems to be a very difficult man to get to, in more ways than one.

He's not just unapproachable in his office because of all the business stuff he's got going on; he's difficult in his family life, too. That's because there's always been a tradition in the Acuña family that daughters in a generation will be married off in the order in which they were born. It's currently the turn of daughter Maria (Rita Hayworth), but she steadfastly refuses to believe in the institution of marriage. This is especially troubling for Maria's two younger sisters, who have men they'd like to marry. So Dad gets an idea. He'll write up a bunch of phony love letters and send them with flowers to Maria, with them being from a secret admirer. Once Maria falls in love with the mystery man, Dad can find somebody to fill the role. Sure, it's daft, but this is a Hollywood movie and a Fred Astaire vehicle, after all.

Since it's a Fred Astaire vehicle, you know that he's going to get mixed up in Dad's crazy scheme. One day, something happens that the original delivery man isn't able to deliver the flowers, and Mr. Davis gets asked to deliver them to the Acuña house. He does, but Maria sees him, and jumps to the conclusion that he must be the secret admirer. Oh dear, this might just be an even bigger problem for Dad. He doesn't particularly like Davis; that feeling is mutual; and besides, Davis is supposed to go back to America. But Maria is in love.

Of course, it's not going to be that straightforward. It's a reasonable guess if you think that Robert and Maria are going to wind up together in the final reel, but it's also reasonable to believe that there are going to be a whole lot of complications between Robert and Maria along the way. It's Fred Astaire, and he did this formula so many times with Ginger Rogers already.

The upshot is that You Were Never Lovelier is a movie that you watch not so much for the plot, but for Fred Astaire, the music, and the dancing. We all know Fred Astaire was a darn good dancer, but he also had very good things to say about Rita Hayworth. I'm not an expert in dance, so it's not as though I'd be good at telling whether Hayworth is better with Astaire than Ginger Rogers or any of Astaire's other partners. But there certainly doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Hayworth and Astaire's dance numbers. As for the music, much of it is provided on screen by Xavier Cugat and his orchestra. If you've ever watched I Love Lucy reruns, you might recall that Ricky Ricardo would mention Cugat's name as if Cugat were Ricardo's big rival. Cugat appeared in quite a few movies in the 1940s, and this is one of your chances to see him.

Overall, You Were Never Lovelier is one of those light movies where the plot is a bit forgettable after you've watched it. I have to admit that in doing this post, I'm having a bit of trouble remembering exactly what the problems are that cause Robert and Maria to split up and get back together three or four times over the course of the movie. But it's the sort of light movie that Astaire was so good at doing, with the result that it more than succeeds in entertaining the viewers for the course of the movie.

Another June 1 returnee

Yesterday was the first of the month, and I have to admit that it didn't even occur to me to think of what it might mean on TCM. I sat down to watch The Long Hot Summer kick off the evening's lineup of films involving Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and there was the intro for the Feature Presentation with Robert Osborne. Yes, Robert Osborne is back after a two-month hiatus.

I didn't notice too much difference in his appearance, but then it's amazing what TV and movie make-up artists can do to make people look younger. (That, and photographers doing airbrushing or the modern equivalent, Photoshopping. I recall Loretta Young making a comment about that when she appeared on a magazine cover, I think it might have been Vanity Fair but am not certain, in her mid-80s.) Still, Robert Osborne is 83 now, and he's not going to be around hosting movies on TCM forever.

As for The Long Hot Summer, I was terribly disappointed by the ending, but I should admit that I'm not the biggest fan of William Faulkner. It doesn't help that my first experience with him was having to read As I Lay Dying in high school English, which as I understand is not the best place to start with Faulkner.

Monday, June 1, 2015

New month, new films return to FXM

One of the things I've commented on several times over the seven years I've been blogging is that FXM Retro, and the Fox Movie Channel before that, seems to have a programming philosophy of taking movies out of the vault, running them incessently for some months, and then putting them back in the vault. Well, we're in a new month, which means that we're likely to get a couple of movies showing up on FXM Retro after a long absence.

Indeed, one of them shows up tomorrow: Tales of Manhattan. I can't believe that it's been seven years since I blogged about it, which makes me wonder just how long it's been since the movie last appeared on the old Fox Movie Channel. It's showing up twice this week, tomorrow morning at 9:50 AM, with a repeat Wednesday at 3:30 AM.

If you haven't seen Tales of Manhattan before, it's one I can highly recommend. Even though it runs just over two hours, the anthology nature of the movie makes it seem shorter than that.