Friday, July 31, 2015

Never Let Me Go

Tomorrow is August 1, which means the start of another month of Summer Under the Stars on TCM. As usual, every day brings 24 hours of movies starring a different person. This first day of August will feature somebody who did much of her work over at Fox, but who made enough movies elsewhere that TCM can get enough things to make a day of it: Gene Tierney. One of the Tierney movies that I haven't blogged about before is Never Let Me Go, kicking off the day at 6:00 AM.

Top billing goes to Clark Gable, who plays Philip Sutherland. Philip is a newspaper correspondent, working the Soviet beat. He had been stationed in Moscow for some time, going back to the days when the US and the USSR were uneasy allies since they were both fighting the Nazis. Of course we know who won that fight, and when victory was achieved Philip got the chance to take in a celebratory ballet. There, Philip saw ballerina Marya Lamarkina (Tierney), whom he had fallen for, at least from a distance. But to his surprise, Marya apparently noticed him, as she was trying to learn the language so she could meet him. They have a whirlwind romance and get married.

But there's a problem: getting an exit visa for Marya. State artists are a national treasure, and the Soviet government wants to keep a tight leash on them. If they let Marya go off with Philip, there's a high likelihood that she'll never return. Indeed, one of Philip's colleagues, Christopher (Richard Haydn), is in the same boat. He married a Soviet woman (Belita) and the government won't let her go to to England with Christopher despite the fact that she's pregnant. To make matters worse, the spirit of comity that the US, UK, and USSR had during the war is rapidly evaporating as an iron curtain is descending across the continent from Stettin to Trieste. Eventually Philip's visa runs out, and he's forced to leave the country without his wife. And there's no way the Soviets are going to give him another visa to enter the country.

Philip gets an assignment in London, which at least allows him to be a bit closer to Marya. But it also allows him to be closer to Christopher, and eventually he gets an idea: the two of them can sail to the coast of the USSR and arrange to pick up their wives there. Highly illegally, of course. It's another of those daft ideas that you could only think of in a movie, and which would never work in real life. After all, letters from the western husbands to their Soviet wives would be censored. And could either side in the marriage even get close to the coast? Well, since this is a Hollywood movie you can assume that the answer is yes, they actually can do it. Marya and the ballet go to Tallinn (remember that Estonia was part of the USSR at the time), which just happens to be on the coast. And Philip arranges to pick her up there....

Never Let Me Go is one of those movies where you really have to suspend your disbelief to watch it. That having been said, the movie just about works. Tierney had already played a Soviet wife in The Iron Curtain, and she does reasonably well doing that again here, even if she isn't that realistic as a ballerina. Clark Gable was never less than professional, and gives a solid performance that only pales if you consider all the other great movies he did earlier in his career. Again, if there's any problem with the movie, it's with the plot. But overall, it's entertaining enough.

Never Let Me Go did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, although there's a more recent film with the same title, so be careful if you look for the DVD online.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Apparently the AFI honored Steve Martin

I have to admit that I don't pay too much attention to what the AFI does. I mean, I know they give out a lifetime achievement award every year, but I don't pay attention to who gets the award until TCM shows the ceremony thta the AFI produces. And to be honest, I have no idea either when the award is given out. How embarrassing it would be if the recipient died between the time AFI gave them the award and TCM showed the program. I don't think any guest programmers or, more recently, the Friday Night Spotlight presenters, have died in between the time the recording was done and when the segments were supposed to air. (Richard D. Zanuck died shortly after the rough cut of the documentary on his life was finished. The documentary in its final form ends with a note saying that Zanuck had seen the rough cut and sent a letter to the filmmakers thanking them and telling them what a good job they had done, and then died a few days after that.)

All of this is just an elliptical way of pointing out that TCM is showing the latest installment of AFI's Lifetime Achievement Awards tonight. The 2015 recipient was Steve Martin, and TCM will be running the award show at 8:00 PM. As is generally the case with a new-to-TCM program like this, it will get a second airing for the benefit of the folks on the west coast, following one feature film. The film is the 1991 version of Father of the Bride, which comes on at 9:30 PM, with the second airing of the AFI show being at 11:30 PM.

Interestingly, Steve Martin is only getting two movies, as the film that comes on at 3:15 AM (Protocol) doesn't seem to have Martin in the cast. The other film is Pennies From Heaven at 1:00 AM.

You'll also have two opportunites to catch another airing of Martin's 1979 appearance on The Tonight Show when TCM reruns the Carson on TCM piece on Steve Martin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shorts for July 29-30, 2015

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks", where Robert Osborne selects the movies for the night, much as if he were a Guest Programmer, except that he does it pretty much every month with the exception of 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars.

Perhaps more interesting are a couple of tonight's shorts. First, at about 9:45 PM, after I Know Where I'm Going!, is The House in the Middle, which looks at how to make certain one's home will be more likely to survive a nuclear attack. (Hint: Live where the nuclear attack won't be.) For some reason, I can't help but think of the nuclear test at the climax of Split Second.

Rounding out the night, at 5:15 AM, or following The Mouse That Roared, is The Relaxed Wife, about how to deal with the stress of workaday life.

There are some more conventional shorts in between.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Les Blank night

Tonight is one of those nights that makes TCM worth having. As much as some people like to complain about TCM and think they only show the same stuff over and over, I find that even after seven and a half years of blogging that there are still new things to be learned about the movies.

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies directed by Les Blank. Never heard of him? I have to admit that I hadn't heard of him either before seeing this night's movies on the TCM schedule. Blank was a documentary filmmaker whose films included quite a few looks at traditional musicians of various genres. Much of the first half of the evening will be looking at Cajun music and culture, while the second half of the evening has what looks to be a fairly broad range of documentaries on music from the blues to polka.

Unfortunately, Blank died a few years ago so TCM won't be able to sit down with him for an interview. Blank's son is also a director, but the TCM page on tonight's movies doesn't say anything about anybody sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss Les Blank.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Sorcerers

A few months ago TCM showed a new-to-me movie called The Sorcerers. It's on again tonight at 6:30 PM on TCM, and is definitely worth a watch.

Boris Karloff stars as Prof. Monserrat, an elderly, down on his luck hypnotist/pyschologist. It's to the point that he has to advertise at corner shops, and can barely pay for those advertisements. But he's been working with his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) on a new invention, one that's sure to revolutionize society! The only problem is, to prove that the machine will work, they need to find a young, healthy person on whom they can experiment without the person being aware as to what's going one and what the experiment will entail. Sounds highly unethical, but I suppose if the elderly couple were ethical, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we?

Thankfully, the couple lives in London during the swingin' 60s, so there are a lot of young people around who like to experience life. They find Mike (Ian Ogilvy), a guy who likes to go out to the clubs with his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy) butalways seems to find himself winding up bored with the whole thing. So when he leaves the club to take a walk by himself and Monserrat approaches him, Mike decides to take Monserrat up up on the offer of having the wildest experience he's ever had, although Mike is understandably skeptical about the whole thing and is really only doing it on a lark.

And so they set out on the experiment, which involves strapping Mike into some ghastly machine while he watches, well, something that looks like an abstract video of lights, colors, and shapes. In fact, this mind-blowing contraption is supposed to put Mike into some sort of super hypnotic trance through which the Professor and his wife will be able to control Mike. But what makes the device revolutionary is not that they'll be able to control Mike, but the fact that they will be able to feel Mike's experiences. And in fact, the experiment seems to be a success as the elderly couple can feel when Mike cracks an egg open on his hand, and then washes his hand.

Think of the good that this contraption could be used for! Professor Monserrat believes it will be a boon to seniors and other shut-ins who will have a better ability to experience the world around him. Yeah right. If that were what the device were going to be used for, we once again wouldn't have much of a movie. Instead, Estelle gets ideas of her own. She's always wanted a fur coat, and with the device giving her the ability to control Mike, perhaps she can get him to break into a furrier and steal a coat for her! And Estelle wants more than that, much more. The Professor wants to stop her, of course, but does he have to will to do it? And won't everybody around Mike figure out that something bizarre is going on?

The Sorcerers is one of those movies that probably shouldn't be thought of as very good, but boy is it entertaining. Boris Karloff for the most part, and Catherine Lacey especially, are confined to one set of their tiny London flat for the entire movie. The hypnotic induction sequence was frankly laughable, albeit reminiscent of The Ipcress File, which is supposed to be a much more serious movie. Poor Ian Ogilvy has to act like an automaton for much of the movie. And yet, The Sorcerers is a heck of a lot of fun. Put it on when you just want to be entertained, and don't have to think too hard.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Long Hot Summer

Coming up at 4:00 PM today on TCM is The Long, Hot Summer.

The film opens up with young Ben Quick (Paul Newman) walking along a road in rural Mississippi, trying to hitch a ride. He eventually gets picked up by a convertible with two young ladies in the front seat: Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) and her sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick). They take him to town, which is also where they happen to live. Ben discovers that their father is the richest man in town and pretty much owns everything there is worth owning in the town, so Ben plans to approach the Varner father to ask about getting a job.

The only thing is, Dad isn't home just now because he's recuperating in hospital. So Ben has to ask the son, Jody (Tony Franciosa) about getting a job. Jody manages the general store for Dad, but it's not exactly a great relationship that father and son have. Dad Will (Orson Welles) thinks that his son isn't enough of a man, evidenced in part by the fact that Eula seems quite interested in sex, but Jody hasn't been able to get her pregnant an produce an heir to the Varner fortune yet. As for Clara, she's the local schoolteacher. She's got a bit of a man in her life in the form of Alan (Richard Anderson), but he isn't enough of a man for Will, either. He's under the thumb of his mother, afraid to ask for Clara's hand in marriage.

So you can probably guess that Will begins to take a shining to Ben, since Ben is a take charge sort of guy and exactly the sort of strong man that Will thinks the family needs to produce a strong heir. And you can also tell from the opening scene that eventually the sparks are going to fly in one way or another between Ben and Clara. Will begins to give Ben more responsibilities, which understandably irks Jody to no end. But Ben also has a past, which is another thing you probably should have been able to tell from that opening scene. As with Montgomery Clift's character in the opening of A Place in the Sun or John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice, seeing somebody hitchhiking into town at the beginning of a movie implies that there's something the character is trying to get away from. In the case of Ben Quick, it's accusations that he burns barns, and had to make a quick escape (no pun intended) from the last town he was in when another barn burned down. And sure enough, once you learn that, you can guess that there's going to be a barn burning in this town too, although it's made quite clear who started the fire.

It goes on like this for close to two hours, being overheated and never quite going anywhere, thanks to the fact that it's based on material by William Faulkner. I think I've stated before that I've never been the biggest Faulkner fan, probably going back to the days when I had to read As I Lay Dying for a high school English class. He's not as much of a slog as Tennessee Williams, although the screenplay here comes across almost as though it could have been from Williams' material as much as Faulkner's. Still, it's physically a well-made movie. Everybody acts well, and there's lovely cinematography and sets. It's just that the story made me want to reach through the screen and smack some sense into these people.

The Long, Hot Summer is available on DVD, so if my relatively short notice in mentioning this film made you miss today's TCM airing, you've still got a chance to see it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Nova Pilbeam, 1919-2015

Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney in Young and Innocent (1937)

British actress Nova Pilbeam passed away a week ago at the age of 95. However, she led a fairly private life after leaving acting, so her obituary didn't get posted until the 21st, and I didn't see it until the evening of the 23d, hence this late obituary post. Pilbeam is probably best known for her roles in two of Alfred Hitchcock's British films: the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Pilbeam played the kidnapped daughter; and Young and Innocent, in which an all grown up Pilbeam helps wrongly accused Derrick De Marney prove his innocence.

I didn't realize until reading the Independent obituary that Hitchcock wanted Pilbeam for Rebecca when he was going to go to Hollywood. But Pilbeam decided she didn't want to be tied down to an exclusive Hollywood contract, and that was that. Marriage, widowhood, a second marriage, and motherhood followed, and Pilbeam opted for the private life rather than remaining an actress.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kansas City Confidential

TCM has been showing a lot of noirs in its Summer of Darkness festival which has one more Friday to run after today. One of the movies that I've mentioned briefly a couple of times, but never actually done a full length post on, is Kansas City Confidential, coming up today at 1:15 PM.

John Payne stars as florist deliveryman Joe Rolfe. He's got a routine at the job, and wouldn't you know that somebody else knows about that routine. That somebody else is ex-cop Tim Foster (Preston Foster), and he's been following Rolfe's routine because of a scheme he has to get his job back. The thing is, the florist shop is right next to a bank, and Foster is watching when the florist vans come and go, and when the armored cars come and go from the banks. Foster's plan is to get a couple of thugs together to rob the bank, and then "solve" the crime himself, which will have him become a hero in the process. In order to keep the other members of the gang from ratting him out, he wears a mask and has all of them wear masks too so that none of them will recognize each other. (Except, of course, Foster knows all of them.)

So Foster and his gang rob the place, and one of the results is that Joe gets arrested for it, since the police naturally figure that with Joe's schedule, he's the one who would have been in the delivery van from which the robbers emerged. That, and Joe has already been in jail once before. It's only natural that the cops aren't going to believe him, and that when evidence comes out that Joe is in fact innocent of the crime, he's going to have to find the real robbers himself.

Joe does some investigating and gets word from a friend that perhaps all of the robbers went to Tijuana. Joe's response is to make his way to Mexico, where he will of course find the robbers. But he's also going to run into Helen (Colleen Gray). She's studying law at college, and she's in Mexico on her term break to see her father, who, having been dismissed from the police force, has decided to go to Mexico ostensibly for his health, but is of course really there to complete the robbery scheme. What he doesn't realize is that it's already not going the way he planned.

Not only has Joe begun to fall in love with Helen, the feeling is mutual. But more importantly for Daddy, Joe has found one of the other bank robbers only for that guy to get shot in an altercation with the police. Joe's thoroughly logical idea is to take that robbers' identity so that he can find the actual mastermind of the whole thing. (He should consider himself lucky he didn't run into the mastermind first and have to impersonate the mastermind.)

It's all quite interesting, but then there's the ending. One of the previous times I mentioned the movie, I pointed out that it was made under the Production Code, which of course means that crime must not pay. So we're going to have to get script gyrations for Joe to be fully vindicated, for all the bad guys to get their due, and for Joe and Helen to be able to live happily ever after. (I don't think audiences would have gone for a twist that had Helen being in on the robbery.) There's also the plot hole surrounding the robbers' masks. This is obviously so that they won't be able to recognize each other's faces out in the real world. But there's no reason they couldn't recognize each other's voices. But there are a whole lot of Hollywood movies that had to deal with that aspect of the Production Code. Kansas City Confidential is still a very good movie in spite of that.

I'm sorry I haven't given you more advance warning of the upcoming showing on TCM, but at least this one is in print on DVD, in case you miss today's showing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

George Burns, early and late

TCM lists its prime time lineup for tonight as George Burns and Gracie Allen. The two were married for close to 40 years until Allen's death in 1964. The earliest of tonight's movies is the short Lambchops, on at 9:45 PM. This is basically just a one-reeler from the dawn of sound (1929) of Burns and Allen doing one of their routines, and then doing a short musical number. Burns' voice is unmistakeable even if he doesn't have the distinctive glasses yet; Allen's humor is, well, interesting. A one-reeler like this is a good way to learn about that original brand of humor.

Coming up at the end of the night is a movie that obviously doesn't have Gracie Allen in it, as it was made 15 years after her death: Going in Style, at 3:45 AM. George Burns plays Joe, a seventysomething pensioner living in one of New York City's outer boroughs. Joe lives together with fellow pensioners Al (Art Carney) and Willie (Lee Strasberg), in order to stretch their meager Social Security checks. This is the New York of a few years after Gerald Ford had told the city to drop dead, and once Ed Koch had been elected Mayor and started to turn the city around. So, it's not as bad as we'd se in some of those early-1970s movies, but it's still not particularly golden years for our three retirees.

Indeed, it seems as though all they do is get up, take care of whatever basic needs to survive they have, and spend their free time at the park. There's not much for them. So one day, Joe gets an idea. Why not spice up their lives by doing something, with the something he gets being the daft idea to rob a bank out in Manhattan? After all, they need something to do with their lives, and they could certainly use the money, too. The worst that could happen is that they get arrested, and get to live off the state in prison while their Social Security checks pile up. Amazingly, Al and Willie pretty much agree to the idea! So we get an extended set-up showing the three elderly men's preparations for the robbery. They need guns, and fortunately, Al has a nephew Pete (Charles Hallahan) who is a bit of a gun collector. (Imagine that in New York City these days.) Al can "borrow" a couple of Pete's guns for a few days without Pete even noticing that they're missing. And as for the disguise? Well, a couple of Groucho Marx masks will do.

But surely a plot this daft can't work! Well, the movie is supposed to be a comedy, so of course the heist goes off more or less without a hitch, but with a few moments of dark humor. The three men get to stuff their bags full of cash, and get home to count that they've raked in something like $35,000, which was even more substantial back in the late 1970s than it is today. But at this point, the movie also starts to turn dark. Crime does not pay, and it's going to turn out not to pay for our three retirees, although not quite in the way you might expect if you've seen some of the great old crime movies.

Going in Style is generally a good movie, although there are some uneven parts. It's a comedy, and up until they rob the bank, there certainly is a fair bit of comedy. But once the heist is pulled off, the movie takes a rather darker turn which some people may find a bit off-putting. The second half of the film also had an extended scene in Las Vegas that I thought really drags the movie. Still, George Burns was about as good here as he was in any of his elderly roles, while Carney and Strasberg are no slouches either. Hallahan seems like an authentic character, although I can't imagine somebody like that in real life knowing his uncle's friends so well.

Going in Style is another of those out-of-print DVDs: you can find old copies on Amazon, but it's not available from the TCM Shop.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer July 2015: Joan Collins

Joan Collins, who is probably best remembered for her role in the 1980s prime time soap opera Dynasty, is this month's Guest Programmer on TCM. She sat down with Robert Osborne to present four of her favorite movies. That sit-down and the movies will be on tonight.

First, at 8:00, Collins has selected Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth in the title role as the woman who tempts old flame Glenn Ford despite the fact that she's married to her boss in glamorous Buenos Aires;
That's followed at 10:15 by Boom Town, starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy as two men who wind up competing against each other in the oil business.
At 12:30 AM, Collins will present The Women, the classic 1939 movie about a bunch of catty women and how their gossipy ways affect each other.
The Women was remade in the 1950s as The Opposite Sex, which starred Collins herself, taking the role played by Joan Crawford in the original. The Opposite Sex airs at 3:00 AM.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Theodore Bikel, 1924-2015

The death has been announced of actor/singer Theodore Bikel, who passed away today at the age of 91.

Bikel was born in Vienna, but as a member of a Jewish family, his father knew that he had to get them out of the country once the Nazis took over in 1938. The Bikels actually wound up in Palestine, since Israel wouldn't be a country for several more years, and Bikel eventually made his way to London after World War II. Stage acting followed, and eventually in 1951 Bikel got his first role in a major film as the first officer of the German ship in The African Queen.

Bikel's stage career was, I think, always bigger than his movie career, having played Captain Von Trapp in the original Broadway version of The Sound of Music, as well as playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof more times than you can shake a stick at. As for his films, he was second-billed in I Bury the Living, and played the sheriff going after Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones.

Yet another out-of-print warning

TCM's prime-time lineup for tonight is called "Seeing Red", which I presume has something to do with the Technicolor in all the films. Anyhow, I notice that among the films is Peeping Tom, coming on overnight at 2:30 AM. TCM's schedule lists this one as not available at the TCM Shop. Meanwhile, over at Amazon, you can do the streaming video thing, or you can buy an out of print DVD, listed at "$116.88 used and new (9 offers)". Yikes.

Catch it on TCM. It's a good one.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Devil at 4 O'Clock

A few years back I briefly mentioned the film The Devil at 4 O'Clock. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 PM on TCM, so now would be a good time to do a full-length post on the film.

The movie opens with a plane landing on Kalua, one of those small South Pacific islands that in this case is owned by the French. On the plane are four passengers we need concern ourselves with. Harry (Frank Sinatra), Marcel (Grégoire Aslan), and Charlie (Bernie Hamilton) are convicts, and are being transported to Tahiti to serve prison sentences, but the plane stopped here for refueling and whatnot. The fourth passenger is Father Perreau (Kerwin Matthews). He's a Catholic priest, and is here to take over priestly duties from Father Doonan (Spencer Tracy). Doonan started a hospital and school for leper children many years ago, and he's reached the age where the Church feels it's better to recall him and let somebody younger take over. Kalua doesn't really have the proper facilities for three convicts like the ones who have arrived, so the governor of the island (Alexander Scourby) sends them off with Father Perreau since he's going to the leper hospital.

The thing is, the leper hospital is halfway up the mountain, in a rather inaccessible place. The reason for this is that the locals were afraid of leprosy, and the God-forsaken place is about the only place Doonan could get the facility built. Not only is the place God-forsaken, the attitude of the locals toward Doonan and the children he takes care of has led to Doonan questioning his own faith and being a rather unorthodox Catholic priest, which is probably part of the reason he's being replaced.

Oh, and did I mention that the hospital is not just halfway up a mountain, but that that mountain is a volcano? Well, you'll find out soon enough, as the volcano begins to let out smoke in a minor eruption. Of course, a minor eruption is one that happens to other people and in other parts of the world. When you live at the base of the volcano, any time it lets out steam or ash is a big deal. And so the authorities begin to investigate whether the volcano is going to blow its top the way Mt. St. Helens did back in 1980. They also make plans to evacuate the islanders to safety. But who's going to help the lepers evacuate, since none of the locals want to help them? You can probably guess who.

Then, to make matters worse, the minor eruption turns into a major eruption, with it looking dicey as to whether any of the sick children or the adults looking after them will be able to make it to safety. If a place is inaccessible to get to, then it's also going to be inaccessible to get from, after all.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock is a movie that I'm probably harsher on than I ought to be. I think it's mostly because I find the script to be ludicrous at times. Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra both try, but the script asks them to do things that are just a little too over the top. That having been said, it's entertaining enough, and nice to look at.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock is another of those movies that I think is out of print on DVD. You can find copies on Amazon, but it's not available from the TCM Shop.

The Swede making life-size film props

Radio Sweden's English service broadcast a short (about five minutes) interview this past Friday with Robert Stan, who has spent the past five years making life-size props for movies. There's an introductory page for the interview at Radio Sweden's site here, which includes more photos and a streaming audio player. I think Radio Sweden only keeps its audio up for 30 days, so you've only got another four weeks to listen.

As far as I can tell, the page above doesn't give you an opportunity to download the interview by itself, as opposed to stream it from their site. If you want to download it, you'll have to download the entire half-hour program here, which runs about 27MB.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Natalie Wood, out of print

TCM is marking what would have been Natalie Wood's 77th birthday tomorrow with a whole bunch of her movies. I notice that there are a couple of them that I've blogged about before that seem to be out of print on DVD. At least, they're not available from the TCM Shop according to the daily schedule.

First, at 9:15 AM is The Star. Wood, who was about 13 at the time, plays the daughter of Bette Davis. Davis plays a washed-up actress who has lost her husband, custody of her daughter, and now her apartment, which leads her to go on a bender that lands her in jail and gets her rescued by former leading man Sterling Hayden, who had no desire to be a movie star.

A Cry in the Night is on at 1:00 PM. When I blogged about it back in 2013, I noted that it doesn't seem to have receieved a DVD release at all. (The IMDb page doesn't have a "Buy it at Amazon" link, which is generally the sign that a movie did get a DVD release at some point in the past.) Wood plays the daughter of a police officer. One evening while spending time with her boyfriend at Lovers' Lane, she gets kidnapped by mama's boy Raymond Burr. Dad Edmond O'Brien goes nuts.

Both movies are well worth seeing if you haven't seen either before.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Nuclear negotiations

So the negotiations between Iran and the US over what to do with Iran's atempts to enrich uranium to produce enough material for an atomic bomb were in the news this week. For some reason, I was suddenly reminded of this scene from the end of the 1985 movie Spies Like Us:

Negotiations don't necessarily make a good topic for movies; I remember in college taking a course on the Soviet Union that covered in part the negotations in Reykjavik, Iceland in the late 1980s and the professor showed us a BBC TV movie about the negotiations that was not particularly exciting, other than the interesting tidbit about the Americans all going into a specially made soundproof capsule to discuss the negotiations. Apparently the Americans really did have such a capsule.

But when it comes to the movies, most of what passes for "negotiations" involves the "boots on the ground", so to say. That's probably because that's the sort of stuff that makes for interesting drama, and not the stuff that goes on among the professional negotiators. By analogy, think of all those jury movies and how overdone and not true to life they are. That, and how we were able to get a movie like Argo about rescuing six Americans from Teheran while the rest of the embassy staff were hostages, while nobody's thought of making a movie about the actual negotiations between the Carter administration and the Iranians that led to the hostages' ultimate release in January, 1981.

When it comes to nuclear "negotiations", then, it's really all those espionage movies. Ice Station Zebra would be a good example. The same theme also gave Roger Moore probably his best line in all the years he played James Bond. In For Your Eyes Only, the plot revolves around trying to recover a launch code computer for British nuclear torpedoes from a sunken ship. Bond gets it, but with the bad guys surrounding him at a clifftop Greek monastery. So Bond throws it off the cliff, utterly destorying it. "Détente: I don't have it; you don't have it," Bond drily delivers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Coming up on FXM Retro, July 18, 2015

Unfortunately I'm pressed for time and there's not a lot good on that I'd want to blog about and haven't already done so, and the good stuff is things I've already blogged about. One of the reasons for that is that FXM shows the same stuff over and over, and then puts it in the vault and plays other stuff over and over. As an example, much of tomorrow's broadcast schedule is stuff I've already blogged about, quite a few years ago. (Although, to be fair, one of them is a "please release me" post. I can't remember how long it was off FXM/FMC before the recent cycle of airings started earlier this year.)

7:21 AM Half Angel
8:45 AM The Forbidden Street
10:15 AM Inferno
11:45 AM Where the Sidewalk Ends

On the bright side, there are some movies coming up next week that I would like to blog about and am pretty certain I haven't blogged about before.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Roman Polański poster exhibition

So I was listening to Polish Radio's external service in English, and the following item was in the news on Tuesday:

Polański film poster show hosted in Kraków

An exhibition drawing together over 200 Roman Polański film posters from over 30 countries opens in Kraków this week at the city's art nouveau Palace of Art.


Posters from such diverse destinations as Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Australia, the USA, Mexico and France are all included, with examples by celebrated designers such as Rene Ferracci, Jean Michel Folon, Clement Hurel, Bernard Bernhardt and Peter Strausfeld.

If you're going to be in Poland in the next few months and you're interested, there's more information (in English), with quite a few posters, at

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

UCLA Film and Television Archive

If you watch enough TCM, you'll probably have noticed some movies are shown in prints that mention at the beginning that it was restored by one or another archive. Probably the most common archive to show up is the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Since TCM is also interested in film preservation, it's only natural that they would have a night dedicated to the UCLA archive. That night is tonight.

TCM has a piece on the programming here. Unfortunately, there is one block on the schedule titled "UCLA Shorts and Newsreels" at 11:15 PM. TCM's online schedule doesn't say anything about what shorts will be showing up, and neither does the downloadable monthly schedule. Even more surprisingly, the TCM article on tonight's programming doesn't even mention it! So I'm sorry to say that I have no idea what shorts are going to show up in that block.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ever in My Heart

IMDb says that Barbara Stanwyck was born on July 16, 1907. However, TCM is marrking the anniversary of her birth tomorrow, July 15, with a morning and afternoon of her movies. One that's relatively infrequently seen is the interesting Ever in My Heart, at 11:45 AM.

Stanwyck plays Mary Archer, a nice young woman living circa 1909 in one of those idyllic small college towns, this one founded by her own ancestors a few centuries earlier. She's of a fairly high social stratum, and the feeling among her family is that she's going to marry her good friend and longtime friend of the family Jeff (Ralph Bellamy). Of course, you know that since Jeff was played by Ralph Bellamy, there's no way he's going to end up with the woman. In fact, Jeff introduces Mary to her future husband. While studying in Germany, Jeff met Hugo Wilbrant (Otto Kruger), who comes over to America with his friend. He sees Mary, and it's love at first sight.

Hugo and Mary get married, to the shock of the rest of her family, who think that nothing good can come of not marrying the right kind. And it's old American stock that is the right kind, they think. But no matter. Mary and Hugo love each other, and Hugo gets a job teaching chemistry at the local college. Hugo likes his life, and has good friends in the rest of the community. Indeed, Hugo likes it so much that he decides to become an American citizen, and all his friends celebrate right along with him by giving him a cup to commemorate the occasion.

But of course you know that it's not all going to be a bed of roses, or else they wouldn't have been able to make a movie. The conflict comes in 1914, with the onset of World War I. The US remained neutral for several years, of course, but in mid-1915, with the sinking of the Lusitania, there was a bit more agitation to try to get the US into the war on the side of the British. Indeed, the British themselves started up a propaganda campaign to get the Americans to believe that the Germans were just terrible Huns. And quite a few Americans believed the propaganda.

It's not much mentioned nowadays, but even though something like a quarter of the American population at the time was at least partly of German descent, there was quite a lot of hatred not just of the Germans in Germany, but of the German-Americans in the US. It was so extreme that sauerkraut was renamed "liberty cabbage". And unsurprisingly, the anti-German sentiment hits Hugo and his family. Everybody turns on him on a dime, excepting Mary and their child.

So Hugo decides that the only thing he can do is abandon America and go back to Germany without his wife and child. Yeah, this plot twist is a bit nuts, but it's only leading up to the really nutty stuff at the end. Let's just say that the movie gets pretty harsh on the one hand, and pretty silly on the other.

Despite my feeling that Ever in My Heart has a thoroughly ludicrous ending, I still found the movie well worth watching. The idea of turning on one's former friends in a time of war is one that always bears repeating. Stanwyck, for her part, does a good job in roles like this. She was never less than professional, and this is by no means one of the worse pictures she was in. It's no Double Indemnity, of course, but then most pictures aren't. Still, if you haven't seen it before, take this opportunity to watch it.

I'm not certain whether Ever in My Heart is available on DVD, so you'll have to catch it on TCM if you want to see it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Ernest Gold, 1921-1999

Today marks the birth anniversary of composer Ernest Gold. Gold was one of those many European Jews who made his way to the United States in order to escape the Nazis, or at least he was of enough Jewish descent to want to get out of Vienna after the Germans forced the merger of Austria and Germany.

Gold found work in Hollywood, scoring a bunch of B movies in the 1940s and 1950s until, I think, The Defiant Ones gave him more clout. (At least, that's when his credits start to become much more prestigious.) Gold would win an Oscar just a few years later for his score to Exodus, which has a very well-known theme:

Gold's other extremely recognizable theme would be for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with an opening that I think perfectly encapsulates an atmosphere of a circus of bumbling idiots:

Gold was also a serious composer with a piano concerto among other works to his credit. Gold's son, by Marni Nixon, is the late singer-songwriter Andrew Gold, who wrote "Thank You For Being a Friend", and had a top ten hit in the late 1970s called "Lonely Boy" that you can look up yourself.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Bad Sleep Well

TCM is spending Monday morning and afternoon in Japan with a mix of Hollywood films about Japan, and actual Japanese films. Among the movies in the latter category is The Bad Sleep Well at 9:45 AM.

This movie starts off with a bang. The opening sequence is of the wedding of Yoshiko Iwabuchi (Kyoko Kagawa), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist/head of one of those large Japanese conglomerates (Masayuki Mori). She's getting maried to Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune), who is the executive assitant to Iwabuchi. It's a big wedding, and because of the nature of the man giving the bride away, it's a wedding that's attracted the elite of the Japanese business world as well as the equivalent of the tabloid press of the day. It all goes on like an elaborate show, but then the most elaborate part of all comes out: the wedding cake. And here is where the bang comes in. It's not a traditional wedding cake, but a cake shaped in the form of the corporate headquarters. And one of the windows of this corporate headquarters is very clearly marked, as it's the window from which a former mid-level type at the corporation have jumped to his death. That's something every bride wants at her wedding!

So there's a corruption investigation. There had been one in the past, which resulted in the police detective heading the investigation committing suicide, and thus the investigation having to be closed for lack of evidence. And now there are more suicides surrounding the current investigation. Nishi is able to stop one of the attempted suicides at which point he reveals a truth: his father was the detective who had conducted the old investigation. Not only that, but Nishi has good reason to believe that the suicides that have been going on are in fact not suicides, but murders! Nishi is out to get the evidence that will prove all of this, but of course that's not going to be easy. Especially because he's beginning to fall in love with Yoshiko.

Meanwhile, Yoshiko's brother Tatsuo learns what's going on and that Nishi pretty much married his sister under false pretenses. Tatsuo tries to shoot Nishi, but Nishi is able to escape. However, Dad also begins to figure out what's been going on, and pressures Yoshiko to reveal where her husband is hiding....

The Bad Sleep Well is an interesting movie, although it's also one I'd call difficult. Mostly, that's because you really have to pay attention to keep track of exactly what's going on. Perhaps that's because I don't know any Japanese; it might be a lot easier for a native speaker to follow the action. But it's also in part because the movie goes on and on and on, running nearly two and a half hours. It's probably a bit too long. Still, it's more than worth a watch. Akira Kurosawa directed, and I've always been a bigger fan of his contemporary movies than the samurai-era films he made. That having been said, if I were going to recommend a Kurosawa movie for somebody who hasn't seen any, I'd start not with The Bad Sleep Well, but something a lot simpler and more straightforward like One Wonderful Sunday.

The Bad Sleep Well is on DVD, but it's a Criterion Collection release, so it's a bit pricey.

Warning about shorts blocks again

This week's Movie Camp selection is a bunch of vintage shorts. Unfortunately, as often happens when TCM schedules an entire block of shorts, the actual order of the shorts may be off.

There are two blocks of shorts, one beginning at 8:00 PM and one beginning at 10:00 PM, at least, according to the monthly schedule I downloaded at the beginning of the month. This one has something called Match Your Mood listed as the first short. Somehow I doubt it, since it's a promotional film for Westinghouse appliances. The online schedule, however, has it listed second, after the Robert Benchley short How to Sleep. As for the shorts in the first block, I'd especially mention The Big Dog House, which is one of the Dogville shorts.

The online schedule also mentions something that the monthly schedule doesn't: The Battle of Gettysburg, at 9:16 PM per the schedule. However, it only runs 30 minutes, and is the last short before the 10:00 PM shorts, so I have no idea if that starting time is accurate or what TCM would be doing with the remaining 14 minutes if it is indeed accurate.

Among the 10:00 PM shorts, the Pete Smith short Quicker'n a Wink is worth mentioning. It's a look at the work of Harold "Doc" Edgerton, who helped develop stroboscopic photography and is the man responsible for some of those great photos of bullets being captured in flight, or of a milk drop hitting a bowl of milk, and the like.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Love and War

FXM Retro ran the retro-World War II drama In Love and War this morning. They're going to be airing it again tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM so you've got one more chance at least to catch it.

The movie starts off with three men in uniform at the rail of a US Navy ship looking out at San Francisco as the ship comes into port. Over all of this is a graphic: "1944". So we know right away that these men, who are in fact not in the Navy but the Marines, have been at war. They've got a day or two of shore leave, and they all plan to use it to the fullest. Nico Kantaylis (Jeffrey Hunter) is of Greek descent, and his family runs a fishing business in San Francisco. He sees them briefly, but has to go off to Monterey to see his girlfriend Andrea (Hope Lange). She's got bad news for him: she's pregnant. Apparently they had sex once and only once, and in the great tradition of Production Code-era premarital sex, that one misdeed must leave the woman knocked up. So Nico says he knows a judge who can perform a marriage ceremony for them, and takes her off to San Francisco to do that and have a brief honeymoon.

Frank O'Neill (Robert Wagner) stops off at Moran's bar before going home to see his family. This shouldn't be a surprise, since he's shown in the opening holding a beer bottle and drinking from it. It's clear he's a drunk. It also soon becomes clear that he's drinking in part to deal with the stress of going home. Oh, he likes his mothers and his young siblings. But Dad died and Mom remarried, and the stepfather doesn't like Frank. Indeed, he thinks Frank is just as much a drunk as Dad was, and that Frank is a coward to boot. No wonder Frank doesn't want to go home. Of course, there's a lot of truth to all of that....

The third Marine is college man Alan Newcombe (Bradford Dillman). He goes off to see his on again, off again girlfriend Sue Trumbull (Dana Wynter). She's taken to drink to, largely because she has mother issues. Her parents were extremely wealthy and she's inherited a good deal of that wealth, which she uses to try to push out of her mind the fact that there's a war on. Alan has finally had it with her partying, so he leaves her to go off with Frank who is planning a big blowout for their final night in Frisco. Frank has his girlfriend Lorraine (Sheree North), now a WAVE, who brings along her nurse friend Kalai (France Nuyen), a Hawaiian-French nurse whose parents were killed at Pearl Harbor. Lorraine has finally had it with Frank's drinking, while Kalai finds herself falling in love with Alan. Alan, however, is clearly the wrong social class for Kalai, at least as the movie morals of the day would have you think, because of that college education and because his father is fairly well-to-do himself.

So the movie spends the first half looking at all these loves and engaging in expository information, before we finally get to the war part. The Marines ship out to the Pacific theatre, which means island hopping as they take one island after another from the Japanese. However, that also means some fairly fierce fighting, as the Japanese weren't about to give up any of those islands without fighting to the last man. All three of the men learn something about themselves....

I don't spend that much time on the "war" part of In Love and War because the movie seems almost to include it as an afterthought. Although there are quite a few war scenes in the last half, they're also interspersed with the women back home. Kalai has a meeting with Sue, although not the one you'd expect; Andrea is shown with her baby; and Lorraine is written out of the movie, with the resolution of her story being mentioned in one blink-and-you'll-miss-it aside. Frank's home life does get one more scene, though.

Ultimately, In Love and War is a by-the-numbers production that probably doesn't deserve as much criticism as I found myself giving it while I was watching. It's not that the movie is bad, it's just that we've seen all of this done before, and done much better. It doesn't help that FXM is running a print that's panned and scanned -- even in the opening credits. So it really only starts obert Wagne, not Robert Wagner. The end screen, however, has been given the Cinemascope diet, squished into a 4:3 box and making Hope Lange look incredibly thin. I don't think In Love and War has received a DVD release, though, so you're going to have to see it chopped up like this.

Omar Sharif, 1932-2015

Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Omar Sharif, the Egyptian-born actor who starred in successful epics like Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, has died at the age of 83.

I have to admit that it's a bit difficult for me to write about Sharif, considering that I'm not a fan of his two biggest movies. I find both of them to drag on way too long. As I've said about Lawrence of Arabia, those desert shots only look spectacular because earlier directors didn't have ultra-wide screen technology at their disposal. I've also made my thoughts on Doctor Zhivago clear. So if I were going to recommend a movie with Omar Sharif in it, my first thought would be Juggernaut, even though Sharif isn't a main character.

TCM has a remembrance of Sharif, although at this time I don't believe they've announced a schedule change to show any of his movies.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Technically, Alfred Hitchcock is retro

FXM Retro has aired some decidedly recent movies, usually right at 3:00 AM or leading into 3:00 PM when the regular FXM block starts. Tomorrow morning at 3:00 and repeated at 1:15 PM is the 2012 movie Hitchcock.

Anthony Hopkins stars as Alfred Hitchcock, the famed movie director. In this movie, the action begins in 1959, just as North by Northwest is a big success. In fact, Hitchcock had a big string of successes in the 1950s, but the movie posits that Hitchcock still didn't have as much clout as you'd think he did. That's becautse when he comes across the source material for what would be his next film, Psycho, the studios are reluctant to let him film it the way he wants. Hitchcock has to put up a lot of his own money, and so there's a lot at stake riding on the success of that next film.

Well, not just for him, but also for his wife Alma (Helen Mirren). Alma had been one of the screenwriters for a whole bunch of Alfred's films back in Britain, and now serves a bunch of purposes for Alfred: helping deal with producers and actors, having good taste to understand what will work, and so on. But she's decidedly in Alfred's shadow, at least publicly. Everybody knows Alfred; people don't particularly know Alma.

And so, our movie version of Hitchcock looks at both the shooting of Psycho, which wasn't always easy because of the difficult subject matter, as well as the personal relationship between Alfred and Alma. It's well known that Alfred had a thing for icy blondes, which is why he cast so many of them in his movies, at least the great movies of the 1950s through to Marnie in 1964. How interested he was in the actresses themselves is a matter for debate; Janet Leigh (played here by Scarlett Johansson) supposedly said good things about Hitchcock after Psycho, while Tippi Hedren (not a character in the movie) had difficulty on the set of Marnie. As for the movie Hitchcock, Psycho costar Vera Miles (played by Jessica Biel) is shown warning Janet about the director's reputation, and Hitchcock is shown as a peeping Tom.

While the cat's away, the mice will play, so neglected Alma spends her days playing script doctor to crappy writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) and eventually getting entangled enough in a relationship with him to spend her days working at his beach house. Exactly how serious their relationship was is left a bit ambiguous. But what isn't ambiguous about this movie's presentation of Alma is its presentation of her as more of a force behind Alfred than most people would think, including keeping production going while Alfred was ill. Alfred is known for having elaborate storyboards prepared such that the actual prodcution should in theory go like clockwork; supposedly this means that somebody who knew Alfred well enough would be able to make that clockwork run too.

I'm not certain just how much of the material in the movie is true; there are also dream sequences of Alfred talking to Ed Gein (the murderer who was the basis for the book that was made into the movie Psycho), but if this were a story about wholly fictitious people it would hold up quite well. Anthony Hopkins has the thankless task of trying to play a well-known larger than life figure, something that probably no actor would be able to do. Alma is less well known, so Mirren can do more of what she wants with her, and I think she does quite a good job as the woman behind the man.

Ultimately, Hitchcock is entertaining, at least if you go in expecting a dramatized version of Hollywood history.

110 years of Chinese cinema

So I mentioned China Radio International a week ago. It turns out that the most recent edition of the English Service program "Spotlight" -- or, at least, the most recent edition available on the website as of this posting -- has another report on Chinese cinema.

Apparently, the first Chinese motion picture made was back in 1905, so CRI decided to mark the occasion by doing a brief history of Chinese cinema. This time, there does happen to be a transcript available here. It's the first of three stories, so the audio would run about eight minutes. But CRI doesn't break up programs like this into individual stories, so if you want to hear the audio, you're going to have to download the entire "Spotlight" program. The link above does include the MP3 as well as streaming audio, but if you want the direct link, it's here, about 11 MB.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Day the Earth Stood Still

TCM is running a night of science fiction movies about alien visitors tonight. Most of them are decidedly B movies, but there's also The Day the Earth Stood Still, at 11:00 PM.

This is one of those movies that, on the surface, there's not a whole lot to. Michael Rennie plays Klaatu, an alien from another planet. His race is far more advanced than us earthlings, and apparently the denizens of his planet have decided to warn us on Earth that if we keep going the way we're going, we're going to seal our own destruction. So he's come to the planet to do just that.

Of course, the earthlings react in a totally understandable way. They have no idea who the heck he is, and see him as somewhat of a threat, since he landed right in the middle of Washington DC in a spaceship! They try to shoot him, leading him to effect his own escape from a hospital room. He winds up liing in an apartment house next to Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a widow with a young son (Billy Gray), and a new suitor (Hugh Marlow) pursuing her. Klaatu, going under the alias Carpenter, still wants to warn the earth about the problems they face. But will the governments of earth let him?

That's pretty much all there is to the story, but this is one that rises to a high level. I think it's for the same reasons as I've given regarding Village of the Damned. Both of them have relatively little in the way of special effects; although The Day the Earth Stood Still certainly has more than Village of the Damned, it's still a lot less than the CGI-dominated movies of today. They've even got less than many of the Ray Harryhausen films of the 1950s. Instead, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a movie that relies on that story and presents it very well in a thought-provoking way. Of course, most science fiction even for the rest of the 50s and 60s didn't have the sort of star power that this one does in Patricia Neal. That, too, gives it a serious heft that other scifi of the 50s didn't have at all.

If you haven't seen The Day the Earth Stood Still before, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How Green Was My Valley heads-up

I see that I still haven't done a full-length post on How Green Was My Valley yet, even though I've mentioned its airing on several occasions. It's back on FXM Retro -- actually, I think it came back sometime last month.

Roddy McDowall plays Huw Morgan, the youngest son in a Welsh family where all the men go into the coal mines to work because there's not much to do. The movie is basically Huw as an adult looking back at growing up in such a town, and despite being filmed entirely on soundstages and backlots does an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of a coal-mining town. (I think; I didn't grow up in a coal mining town or in Wales.) Anyhow, you have a chance to catch it on FXM Retro tomorrow, July 9, at 6:00 AM.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I should have mentioned the Thanhouser shorts

TCM's Silent Sunday Nights the other night looked at the Thanhouser Studio, a New York-based studio that produced films in the 1910s. The silents block started off with a documentary on the studio, and then had a couple of shorts. I probably should have mentioned it, since I'm a sucker for documentaries on film history.

That having been said, since the movies are all from the 1910s, they're all in the public domain since the most recent change in copyright law only affected works produced on or after January 1, 1923. That, of course, means that those pre-1923 silents that have survived are much more likely to be on Youtube.

Evidence of the Film:

Petticoat Camp:

Cry of the Children:

There's also a website about the studio,

Monday, July 6, 2015

TCM Star of the Month July 2015: Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple (r.) with Jane Withers in a still from Bright Eyes

We didn't have a Star of the Month on TCM last week because the last several months have had Stars of the Month on Wednesdays, and this Wednesday was July 1. TCM apparently didn't have enough films to run five nights of programming for July's Star of the Month, Shirley Temple, so her tribute is showing up on Mondays instead.

To be fair, having Shirley Temple as your Star of the Month means having to get the rights to a bunch of films from Fox. Bright Eyes, from which the photo above is taken, is one example. That movie is airing tonight at 11:00 PM. There have been three of Temple's movies getting regular airings recently on FXM Retro, and one of them shows up in this month's tribute: Wee Willie Winkie is on next Monday at 9:45 PM.

As it is, TCM couldn't get enough to have four full nights of prime time, as the last movie in the night, that is the one that leads into 6:00 AM, is just a film with another child star. As for tonight's schedule:

Shirley winds up with gambler Adolphe Menjouy in Little Miss Marker at 8:00 PM;
Temple gets to meet long-lost father Gary Cooper in Now and Forever at 9:30 PM;
The aforementioned Bright Eyes is on at 11:00 PM;
Orphan Temple gets adopted by a wealthy man in Curly Top at 12:30 AM; and
Temple runs off in New York and helps two struggling dancers hit it big in Poor Little Rich Girl at 2:00 AM.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Karlovy Vary and other news from Radio Prague

I've mentioned the Karlovy Vary Film Festival a couple of times in the past, and the 50th edition opened up this weekend. Richard Gere is the honoree this year, as the former American gigolo will be picking up a lifetime achievement award. Radio Prague has a report. You can find the transcript here; there's also a direct link to the audio here. The audio file is a three-and-a-half minute MP3.

Also at Karlovy Vary, a young Czech filmmaker is seeing his debut feature film be premiered. Radio Prague did an extended interview with the director, Andy Fehu, whose film Greedy Tiffany will be getting a midnight showing, appropriate for a horror film. The interview transcript can be found here. If you'd rather listen to it, the download link is here; again it's an MP3 but this one is 12:45.

Finally, last Wednesday I mentioned the death of Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved future director Karel Reisz among some 669 children he was able to get out of Czechoslovakia in the nine months before World War II broke out. Radio Prague honored Winton by reairing a piece on a special train that was chartered to mark the 70th anniversary of the last train that didn't make it because the war had already begun. That report is from September 2009, when Winton was a few months past his 100th birthday. The transcript his here; the MP3 download (11 minutes) is here. Granted, it has next to nothing to do with movies, but I thought some of you may find it interesting.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day

I couldn't find any Youtube clips from the silent era of US Presidents celebrating Independence Day. Nor could I find anything of the Ah, Wilderness July 4th scene. So this vintage video will have to do:

If you're an American, enjoy your Independence Day holiday! (You Brits can repeat the old joke about it being the day you celebrate being free from us Americans.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

An American producer in China

I've stated quite a few times that I listen to what used to be the international shortwave broadcasters, now mostly internet only. And, I've posted several times to audio from, especially, Radio Prague. This time, however, the report is from China Radio International.

For the CRI program "Horizons", one of their reporters talked to American producer Ron Yerxa, who was in Shanghai for the Shanghai International Film Festival. CRI usually has transcripts of their programs. But for some reason, this particular interview doesn't show up as a transcript. So you're going to have to download the full "Horizons" program here (~11.0 MB, 24 min) or listen to the streaming audio.

If you want to see all of CRI's English-language offerings, you can go here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Season in Tyrol

Regular readers know that I like to mention the Traveltalks shorts that show up frequently on TCM. Today I'd like to mention another travelogue that's not a Traveltalks short: Season in Tyrol. It's airing early tomorrow morning at 5:39 AM, or just after Rascal (4:00, 85 min).

Season in Tyrol was produced at Warner Bros. in 1969, well after the end of James FitzPatrick's career, and at a time when I would have thought the studios for the most part weren't doing shorts any longer. So when I first saw this one come up in the schedule some months back I thought it was going to be a featurette on the making of something like Where Eagles Dare which, if I'm not mistaken, was filmed in part in Austria. But no, it's just a straight up travelogue, looking at the four seasons in Tyrol, and many of the customs that the people of Tyrol had been practicing for centuries during those four seasons.

I'm not certain why this short was actually made, but I'm glad it was. It's a reasonably nice look at Tyrol, with some visuals of the mountains that would really be gorgeous if the short were restored. If memory serves, TCM showed this in a 4:3 aspect ratio, although IMDb doesn't have any information on the original aspect ratio. (I'd guess the standard then was 1.85:1 since Cinemascope filming had ended, but I don't know if whatever shorts were produced generally were made in widescreen.) I don't know how much the old traditions are still practiced; a lot has changed since the radicalism of the late 1960s. Just like the Traveltalks shorts, this is a good look back to a time when international travel wasn't as easy as it is today.

Treasures from the Disney Vault returns

The latest round of Treasures from the Disney Vault returns to TCM tonight. Once again, there are a couple of cartoons, a Disneyland episode, and a Disneyfied nature documentary in among the live action features. The feature worth mentioning is Johnny Tremain at 8:30 PM.

You may have had to read the book when you were young; I know I did some time in junior high school. Eighth grade, I think, but I don't quite remember. I know eighth grade was when I read To Kill a Mockingbird and we saw the movie version of that; while in seventh grade we did the play I Remember Mama. Anyhow, getting back to Johnny Tremain, it tells the story of a young lad (Hal Stalmaster) who is an apprentice silversmith in Boston in the early 1770s. That is, until he suffers an accident with molten metal that cripples one of his arms and makes him obviously unsuitable to be a silversmith.

However, it's early 1770s Boston, which mean there's a revolutionary spirit in the air! Paul Revere and Sam Adams are around, and Johnny becomes useful for the revolutionaries, getting to show that a cripple can serve in ways other than the usual ones. It's a Disney version of the run-up to the revolution, as well as a Disney version of the novel, so beware that if you have any problems with the Disney gamut of emotions, you might well have the same problem with their rendition of Johnny Tremain.

Oh, there's also that awful song, which I can remember 30 years on from when I saw the movie. It's an awful earworm, but it certainly is memorable.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sir Nicholas Winton, 1909-2015

The death has been announced of Sir Nicholas Winton, who dies this morning five weeks after his 106th birthday.

Winton was working in Prague in 1938 after the Munich Conference led to Nazi Germany carving the Sudetenland off of Czechoslovakia. The writing was on the wall for the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Winton helped organize a series of trains that would take young Czechoslovak Jews to Holland and then across the North Sea to England where they would be safe. Up until the start of World War II on September 1, 1939, Winton's work was able to save 669 Jewish children who almost certainly would have been sent to the concentration camps. In fact, there was another train scheduled to leave on September 1, but obviously the start of hostilities stopped that last train.

I mention all this here on this blog because among the children Winton saved was a 12-year-old boy named Karel Reisz. Reisz spoke little English when he got on the train, but he quickly learned in England, and like a whole lot of refugees, made a big contribution to the film community. Reisz was one of the directors who was responsible for the British new wave. Probably Reisz' most famous film is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Surf Party

From time to time, TCM will spend an entire morning and afternoon showing some of those vintage beach movies, especially the ones with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Lots of studios made these cheap movies to try to appeal to the teen audience, and a particularly cheap example is coming up on FXM Retro: Surf Party, tomorrow (July 2) at 12:30 PM and repeated on July 3 and July 5.

The movie starts off with Terry Wells (Patricia Morrow) in a car, trailer in tow, with two of her girlfriends. They're all from Arizona, and Terry is driving out to California to see her brother Skeet (Jerry Summers), who lives on the California coast spending his summers surfing. All three girls: Terry and her friends Junior (Jackie DeShannon, before she put a little love in our hearts) Sylvia (Lory Patrick) are looking to take up surfing, and enjoy the beach and all the other good things they must think California has to offer them from those beach movies they've seen. The only thing is, when they get to what is supposed to be Skeet's place on the beach, he doesn't answer. Oh, he's there, but he's got a girl and doesn't want to be bothered by anybody knocking on the door, not realizing it's his sister.

So the women park their trailer on the beach intending to camp there, not realizing it's illegal. The next morning, they're woken up by the owner of the local surf shop, Len (Bobby Vinton; none of the girls wears blue velvet at any point in the movie as far as I can tell). He helpfully informs them that they really should get off the beach before the local wet blanket cop comes by, and at least one of the women takes an interest in Len's hot body. Eventually they meet Skeet, and find that he's got some sort of reputation that's less than positive. Part of it is that he's considered the best surfer, and to get invited into his exclusive coterie, one has to surf between the pylons of the pier, which is unsurprisingly both dangerous and illegal. Milo (Ken Miller) is stupid enough to try, but Junior loves him for it anyway because he's just so dreamy. Terry is falling for Len, and Sylvia eventually falls for Skeet.

But there's tension between Len and Skeet, because Len wants the beach open for normal people and fears that Skeet's encouragement of illegal surfing will get that wet blanket cop to shut the beach down entirely. The young women visitors don't seem to care about any of this, and could easily play peacemaker, but by this time it's too late. Especially when the truth about Skeet is revealed.

I don't know why I'm going on about the plot of Surf Party, because that's not the reason to watch this one. Instead, watch it so you can laugh at how thoroughly awful it is in every way. The plot isn't very good, but that might be the least of the problems. Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon should have stuck to their day jobs singing. The dialogue is terrible. The sets are terrible. But they're 10 times better than the surfing scenes, which are so blatantly done against rear projection with the actors doing gyrating "trying to keep balance" moves. And there's lots and lots of pointless music. One or two instrumental numbers wouldn't be bad, but there are a lot of vocal songs as well. And all the life is sucked out of the beach by the decision to film in black and white.

Watch Surf Party, and have fun. Just don't go into it with a serious point of view.