Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven, 1939-2015

Renowned horror film writer-director Wes Craven died yesterday at the age of 76. Craven's career started in the early 1970s and more or less continued to the end of his life. However, it really wasn't until the 1980s when Craven hit it big with his writing and directing A Nightmare on Elm Street, which introduced the character of Freddy Krueger. In the original movie, he had been a convicted child killer and killed vigilante style by neighborhood parents, leading Krueger to vow that he'd get back at the parents by killing their children in the children's dreams. The movie spawned five sequels (not all having Craven's involvement), TV series, and a whole bunch of parodies.

In the 1990s, Craven would go on to direct Scream, which was also a big box office success and led to a bunch of sequels, all directed by Craven.

Somehow, I don't expect TCM to have a programming tribute for Craven, unless they do it in Underground. I think they've shown The Last House on the Left before.

Slovak World War II films

I've mentioned several times that I listen to the international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio back in the day. And, of course, I've linked to various stories about classic cinema when one or another broadcaster ran such a story. This past Friday, Radio Slovakia International had a report called "WW2 on the Silver Screen", which was a cursory look at some of the vintage World War II films made in Slovakia during the Communist era, as well as a new movie that's being made. That having been said, I don't think they mentioned The Shop on Main Street which, because it won an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, would have been my first thought when it came to Slovak films about the war.

Unfortunately, Radio Slovakia International doesn't have separate links to individual stories, so you're going to have to download the entire Friday program in MP3 form here (~27 min, ~12.5 MB).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Briefs for August 30, 2015

Has anybody else noticed that the TCM schedule pages seem to be more of a memory hog? I often use the weekly schedule, and it seems to be trying to load a whole bunch of Google stuff before I can use the page, and if I try to stop that stuff from loading, it'll freeze the page for quite some time before I can even do simple things like scroll up/down or use the "expand" links.

As for the shorts coming up on TCM, there seem to be a lot of "making of" shorts, or at least ones focussing on movies that were coming out at the time the shorts were being made. As for the more traditional shorts, there's an AMPAS-produced short on The Art Director coming up at 5:50 PM today, and then forgotte bandleader Glen Gray showing up a little after 10:00 PM following Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Warner Bros. really liked to make one-reelers featuring bandleaders, didn't they.

Oliver Sacks died overnight. Sacks was a neurologist, not a filmmaker, but one of his books was the basis for the 1990 film Awakenings, starring Robin Wiliams as the doctor (name changed) dealing with encephalitis patients who have been made catatonic.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gary Cooper films to watch out for

Gary Cooper is getting the Summer Under the Stars treatment tomorrow, August 30. There was a film I thought I hadn't blogged about before that I was going to mention, but it turns out that I have, so I'm just going to list a couple of the more interesting films showing up on TCM tomorrow.

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with It's a Big Country. This is an anthology about all the different types of people who make up America and make it great. As for Cooper, he plays the stereotypical Texan, giving a deadpan delivery trying to smash all those stereotypes while behind him, every stereotype he mentions plays out. I don't know if Gary Cooper could have done the screwball comedy humor that Cary Grant and William Powell did so well, but when it comes to being deadpan and letting everyone around you be funny, Cooper is great at it. (That having been said, Cooper is quite good in Ball of Fire, which isn't airing.)

At noon, TCM has One Sunday Afternoon. I've mentioned this one before because it's the first movie version of what would be redone in the early 1940s as The Strawberry Blonde and, under the original One Sunday Afternoon title, in the late 1940s as a musical. This one has Cooper in the role of the wrongly convicted man; Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon from TV's Batman) as the fast-talking bad guy; Fay Wray as the fast woman; and Frances Fuller as the woman Cooper's character winds up marrying.

There's also The Wreck of the Mary Deare at 6:00 PM, in which Cooper plays a crewman of a ship that gets scuttled, with him claiming that the scuttling was because there was something nefarious going on. Together with salvage boat operator Charlton Heston, he's out to prove that what he claims is the truth.

In between all this, you can watch Meet John Doe at 1:30 PM, but that one is airing again this coming Tuesday.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mountain climbing

My information over on the right-hand side of the blog states that I live in the middle of nowhere, which is in some ways true: where I live borders on a large area of state forest. But it's also not quite true, in that I really live in the Catskill Mountains of New York state, only a couple of hours north and west of New York City. In all the years I've been living here and with all those mountains, it's surprising that I don't climb many of them. When Anna Kashfi died last week and I noticed that she was in the film The Mountain, I started thinking that I perhaps should climb one of them before the summer ends.

But of course, when I started thinking of that, I also started to think about classic movies with scenes of mountain climbing in them. As I understand it, mountain climbing as a serious pursuit didn't take off until the mid-1800s. The 1938 film The Challenge, for example, looks at the first known summiting of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, which occurred in 1865.

Before The Challenge, though, there were several German movies set in the Alps, quite a few of them starring Leni Riefenstahl back when she was an actress in the silent era, before she became a director. (I mentioned a fascinating documentary on Riefenstahl's life back in August, 2008.)

In Hollywood, there's a key scene in the 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, that has Mr. Chips going on a vacation to the Alps to do some mountain climbing, which is where he meets he doomed wife (played by Greer Garson), who is also climbing. It's a wonder they didn't both fall off the mountain, though, what with the clothes they were wearing..

James Bond climbs a volcano in You Only Live Twice, which is how he learns that the volcano is actually a front for Blofeld's latest nefarious scheme, is hollowed out, and has a caldera that opens! Yeah, this is sheer nonsense, but it's a Bond movie, so you have to go with the flow when they get particularly outrageous. Bond would also do rock climbing in For Your Eyes Only, with the climactic sequence taking place on the side of the mountain

A different take on mountain climbing is in The Devil At 4 O'Clock, in which the main characters try to get down the mountain.

What's your favorite movie with mountain climbing?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ingrid Bergman out of print on DVD

I'm looking at TCM's schedule for August 28 in Summer Under the Stars, honoring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman made several films with director-husband Roberto Rossellini, thanks to the controversial nature of their relationship making Hollywood not want to deal with her for a while. (She'd have a triumphant return with Anastasia, not on tomorrow's schedule.) It looks like none of the Rossellini films that TCM has selected to air tomorrow are currently available from the TCM Shop:

First up at 10:00 AM is Stromboli, which has Bergman playing a refugee from World War II who gets picked up by an Italian man who lives on a small isolated island. The two marry and move to his village, where she finds that life isn't all it's cracked up to be. I saw this one several years ago and recall being less than impressed by it. But that was just my opinion.

Journey to Italy at 11:45 AM has Bergman and George Sanders playing a married couple who, realizing that their marriage is on the rocks, try out a separation in the Naples area. Nice place to try it, I suppose.

I don't think I'd heard of Fear (1:15 PM) until now. This one has Bergman married to a scientist but having an adulterous affair ang getting blackmailed for it, at least according to the TCM blurb.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Joan Crawford (r.) taking a refreshing pause on the set of Trog (1970)

TCM celebrated Joan Crawford in Summer Under the Stars about two weeks ago. I finally got around to watching Trog again. Thankfully, it's available from the Warner Archive, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length post on the film even if it's not coming up on TV soon.

Even though Crawford is the star (well, one of the two stars), she doesn't show up for a good 10 minutes or more. Instead, the movie starts off with a sequence of three guys going cave exploring. Malcolm (David Griffin), together with his friends Cliff and Bill, finds an impossibly bright cave somewhere in the English countryside and decide to go down into the caverns. They have a fairly easy time of it, at least until they get to a subterranean stream. Bill, ever curious, decides to strip down to his undies and get into the stream to see where it goes, which happens to be to another cavern. Cliff eventually follows him, while Malcolm is a bit of a coward. That cowardice, however, is going to save his life: Bill suddenly and with no warning whatsover gets attack by what looks like a prehistoric forerunner of man! Cliff gets attacked to, but not to the point of death.

Cut to the Brockton Institute. Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) is a scientist, although what the original purpose of the intstitute was is never made quite clear. However, when Malcolm and Cliff wind up at the institute, Brockton is incredibly intrigued. She wants to know what the heck attacked the cave party, and dammit, she's willing to go down the hole to find out. Amazingly, in that dark cave, she's able to get a perfect flash photograph of what she'll eventually call "Trog" (Joe Cornelius). Unsurprisingly, this brings publicity, both good and bad. Brockton thinks it's great for the institute, but the locals, led by land developer Sam Murdock (Michael Gough), don't like the idea. Their suspicions may be confirmed when the TV crews stir up poor Trog to the point that he attacks the ones that went in the cave and then climbs out of the cave! Thankfully, the good Dr. Brockton has tranquilizer darts and is able to subdue Trog, take him back to the Institute, and keep him in a cage there while she and the other great scientists of the world can investigate him.

Murdock begins court proceedings to try to have Trog destroyed, especially after Trog kills a dog that takes Trog's bouncy ball. Meanwhile, Brockton is still trying to teach Trog and learn about man's distant past in so doing. When the court proceedings don't go as fast as Murdock would like, he takes matters into his own hands....

Trog was Joan Crawford's final feature film, and it's often considered incredibly bad. It's certainly not notably good, and there's a lot that you can laugh at that the producers surely didn't intend as comedy. Gotta love Joan's fashions, as well as the short skirts her daughter/scientific assistant (Kim Braden) wears. Trog is pretty much only made up in the face, with the rest of him looking much too human and not hairy enough. The thought that Brockton could get through to Trog as quickly as the movie implies is nonsense, as is her wearing red long after it's established that the color red drives Trog mad.

But as I watched it, I couldn't help but think about movies like Village of the Damned, which also have the theme of whether we should study something that has the power to destroy us or whether we should preƫmptively destroy such things. Trog is obviously nowhere near as good as Village of the Damned, but it's also not nearly as bad as the black-and-white B movies of the 1950s in the same genre. Granted, a lot of those tend to be entertaining even if they're bad, but I think you can say the same about Trog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Judging John Gilbert

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is not John Gilbert. Instead, it's Great Garbo, who worked several times with Gilbert both in the silent era than in talkies. Garbo apparently took lessons to improve her English, which is why she wasn't used by MGM when they made The Hollywood Revue of 1929. But her career continued just fine after the introduction of sound, starting with the famous "Garbo Talks"-promoted picture Anna Christie and continuing for another decade until changing tastes and the advent of World War II led her to retire from films and become a recluse.

As for John Gilbert, well, he wasn't so lucky. The legend says that Louis B. Mayer didn't really like Gilbert, so Mayer let it be known in the media that Gilbert had a voice that didn't fit his screen persona, and deliberately cast Gilbert in a bunch of garbage. That's probably a bunch of nonsense. While studios had a lot of control over their stars and often didn't know how to use them -- see Warner Bros. and its handling of Bette Davis before she left for Europe -- I don't think they were going to try to lose money deliberately, especially not with a Depression going on. John Gilbert was also a heavy drinker, which certainly couldn't have helped his movie career.

At any rate, you've got a chance to catch John Gilbert talking tonight at 8:00 PM with Downstairs, a movie that has him playing a chauffeur to a wealthy Austrian family, trying to move up the ladder any way he knows how, which means a bunch of unscrupulous means. This includes getting involved with maid Virginia Bruce -- the subject for today in Summer Under the Stars -- even though she's married to the butler. (The talkie I'd like to mention is Queen Christina, but that doesn't seem to be airing as part of Garbo's day tomorrow.)

For a representative silent, you could do worse than Flesh and the Devil, airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. This is Garbo's movie all the way, playing a woman who fell in love with Gilbert despite the fact that she was married to another man, leading to a duel that kills the other man and Gilbert's being exiled. Gilbert returns with the intention of marrying her, only to find that she's married Gilbert's best friend (Lars Hanson) in the meantime! Wow, talk about a nice thing to do to somebody!

So watch both and judge for yourself how good or bad an actor John Gilbert was.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Charles Sellon, 1870-1937

Today marks the birth anniversary of Charles Sellon, who had an active career as a character actor for a dozen years spanning the end of the silent era and the first half of the 1930s. For me, Sellon's best remembered role would be as the wheelchair-bound Uncle Ned in Bright Eyes, where he has a number of charming scenes with Shirley Temple. IMDb also mentions the WC Fields movie It's a Gift, which has Sellon playing a blind man who destroys WC Fields' store.

One other Sellon role I have blogged about is in Central Park, in which he plays the criminally insane zookeeper who frees the lions, making life difficult for cop Guy Kibbee.

I apologize for any difficulties anybody may have viewing the photo.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Briefs for August 23, 2015

When Bud Yorkin died a couple of days ago, I made mention of his having directed Divorce, American Style. I probably should have pointed out then that Divorce, American Style would be on TCM tonight at 10:00 PM as part of Debbie Reynolds' day in Summer Under the Stars.

There are also a couple of featurettes coming up as part of TCM's "Extras" between movies. First, at 9:53 PM, just before Divorce, American Style is Glass Bottom Boat at NASA, which as you can probably guess is about the movie The Glass Bottom Boat (starring Doris Day and Rod Taylor), and the scenes that were done at NASA. The Glass Bottom Boat isn't on the TCM schedule any time soon (like, not during the rest of August; I haven't checked September's schedule yet).

Then, there's The Story of a Dress, at 1:54 PM, just before The Unsinkable Molly Brown. This short looks at a dress that Debbie Reynolds wore in... The Unsinkable Molly Brown. At least sometimes the "making of" featurettes are well-timed. For those who don't know about the movie, Molly Brown was a woman who famously survived the Titanic disaster and this is her fictionalized story.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Anna Kashfi, 1934-2015

I have to admit to not recognizing the name Anna Kashfi. Born in India ostensibly to British parents, Kashfi had a brief acting career in the second half of the 1950s. However, she's probably better known for her brief marriage to Marlon Brando, the first for both of them, which produced Brando's ill-fated son Christian.

Wikipedia has some interesting information about how Anna Kashfi became Anna Kashfi. Sometime in the 1950s she took that name, presumably to be able to play "exotic" parts, and claiming that she was actually of Indian (ie. south Asian) heritage with a father from India, although her parents vigorously denied this.

At any rate, Kashfi died yesterday at the age of 80. Her first movie The Mountain looks interesting; I ought to watch it sometime.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Out of print update: Marlene Dietrich

I'm looking at the TCM schedule for tomorrow, August 21, and see several films that you can't get from the TCM Shop. Looking at Amazon, it looks as though they've all fallen out of print, since you can't get new copies from ther, either:

The Garden of Allah, at 11:15 AM, had Dietrich falling in love with monk Charles Boyer in northern Africa;

Stage Fright, at 2:45 PM, sees Dietrich possibly having murdered her husband. I'm surprised I haven't done a full-length post on this one, but then, it's been so many years since I've seen this one.

Witness For the Prosecution is the week's Essential, at 8:00 PM. Here, Dietrich plays the wife of Tyrone Power, who is on trial for the murder of an elderly lady.

Movie references seen elsewhere

A non-movie blog I read linked this morning to the following story from the UK's Telegraph newspaper:

Pakistan to hang paraplegic convict from his wheelchair

Now, I don't want to comment on the story itself, since I generally try to avoid getting to close to contentious political issues. I did comment on the death penalty when I blogged about I Want to Live!, and I've certainly made some other veiled references of my political views, but generally, one of the things about writing this blog is to get away from politics in the outside world.

At any rate, I'm mentioning the Pakistan story because, in the blog where I read it, the first comment was this:

It is obviously a job for Tommy Udo.

Needless to say, I had the urge to giggle maniacally after I read that comment.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Alan Arkin day on TCM

Once or twice each year during Summer Under the Stars, TCM puts the spotlight on somebody who's more recent than the usual stable of studio era stars. This year, that honor goes in part to Alan Arkin, whose day comes tomorrow. (I'd also point out that Michael Caine, who got a day earlier this month, is only a couple of years older than Arkin.)

I wonder if they had difficulties getting the rights to enough movies to fill out fill out the entire 24 hours, because the day includes two showings of Arkin's 2014 interview at the TCM Classic Film Festival (8:00 AM and 7:00 PM), as well as a couple of movies that finish a good 20 minutes before the next movie begins. On the other hand, there's also going to be what I think it the TCM premiere of Little Murders, in which Arkin plays one of the police officers.

Arkin's career has been a long one and is continuing. TCM, however, only has one of Arkin's four Oscar-nominated roles, that being The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which will kick off prime time at 8:00 PM. Arkin would go on to win a Supporting Actor Oscar nearly 40 years later for Little Miss Sunshine, and then be nominated again just a few years back in Argo.

Of the Arkin movies that are airing, the first one I'd recommend is of course Wait Until Dark, which is always worth another airing and will be on at 1:00 PM, and in which Arkin plays the bad guy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bud Yorkin, 1926-2015

Bud Yorkin, who became most famous for his collaboration with Norman Lear, has died at the age of 89.

When it comes to Yorkin's films, the one I'd mention is Divorce, American Style.

Yorkin and Lear also made another interesting movie, The Night They Raided Minsky's, but to me it suffers from the same flaw as Divorce, American Style in that but have interesting ideas that add up to less than the sum of their parts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


TCM's star for tomorrow, August 19, is one of the more enduring stars ever to grace Hollywood: John Wayne. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Wayne's westerns, so my opinion is that you could do worse tomorrow than to start with Brannigan, which is coming on at 6:00 PM.

Brannigan is, of course, played by Wayne. Lt. Brannigan is a detective in the Chicago police department, and he's hot on the trail of the big-time gangster Larkin (John Vernon). It's not just that Larkin is a big gangster; it's personal for Brannigan in that he feels responsible for one of Larkin's men having killed Brannigan's junior partner. There's also a more pressing issue, that Larkin jumped bail, which is also why the cops want to get him again. As it turns out, Larkin has been found -- in England. One of Brannigan's superiors is waiting for him with a ticket on the next plane to London.

So Brannigan arrives in London, where he's picked up by his liaison for the duration of this asignment, Jennifer (Judy Geeson). Yes, she's a woman, but there's not much of a battle of the sexes here. The bigger issue for Brannigan is going to be with Cmdr. Swann (Richard Attenborough), Brannigan's colleague from Scotland Yard, and the guy who's going to be in charge of the case. Swann doesn't like the fact that Brannigan carries a gun, and also has a smug attitude about the fact that the Americans lost Larkin and it's the Brits who were able to locate him.

Swann is about to have that smug attitude wiped right from his face, however. They don't actually have Larkin in custody; they're just tailing him constantly so they can bring him in when they're ready to make the transfer to Brannigan. And in that time, Larkin goes to a Turkish bath, where he's kidnapped! Oh dear, that really bollixes up everybody's plans.

Enter Larkin's attorney, Fields (Mel Ferrer). He's willing to cooperate with the British police in getting Larkin back from the kidnappers. The kidnappers, for their part, have come up with a rather elaborately choreographed scheme to get the ransom money, but one that the police are able to surveil almost for the duration. So when they get to where the money should be, they get -- a bag full of newspaper! That certainly complicates things. But complicating them even further is the fact that Larkin hired a hit man to take out Brannigan in the UK.

It goes on like this for another hour or so after the botched ransom sequence, but when I write it like that, I'm not implying that the movie isn't entertaining. Wayne does well in what was only mildly a stretch for him; I can't help but think of compare his police detective to the old marshals he would have played decades earlier in all those westerns. The story is also well done, and the other supporting performances are good too. There's nothing particularly challenging here, and nothing particularly new, but oftentimes that's just the thing to sit back and relax.

Brannigan seems to be available from Amazon via instant video, but I think the DVDs are out of print.


I mentioned back on Sunday that I'd have to get around to adding the blog Dell on Movies to my blogroll, which I eventually did. I suppose I should also go through my blogroll to look at which blogs haven't posted for a while to remove some dormant blogs and possibly add some new ones. I've only got my site set up to show the 10 most recent blogs to be updated, in part because I don't want a huge list of blogs taking up space. I've mentioned I'm on a creaky XP box, and tend to prefer more minimalist site design.

I also noticed that Blogger changed the captcha software they've been using. Previously it had just been to type in the word you saw, or maybe type in a number off a house sign. But they changed it to something awful, and I decided to get rid of it. Who knows how much spam I'll get; it's not as if there was much in the automatically marked as spam section.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Compare and Contrast: Waterloo Bridge

Tomorrow is Vivien Leigh's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and one of the movies they're presenting is 1940's Waterloo Bridge, at 10:00 AM. Leigh plays a ballerina at the beginning of World War I who meets a British Army officer (Robert Taylor), stays out with him, and loses her job for breaking curfew. And then she hears that he's missing in action, which leads our former ballerina to turn to prostitution, or at least as close to prostitution as MGM could show us during the Production Code.

However, this isn't the first film version of Waterloo Bridge, and it's based on a stage play anyhow. The first movie version was done back in 1931, starring Mae Clarke (she of getting hit in the face by James Cagney's grapefruit in The Public Enemy) in the lead. And just by chance, Mae Clarke happens to be Thursday's star, with her version of Waterloo Bridge showing up at 8:00 PM.

I think I prefer the earlier version. It was done before Joseph Breen started enforcing the code, so the prostitution can be made somewhat more explicit. Mae Clark also wasn't quite the known quantity that Leigh was by the time she made Waterloo Bridge, which came after Gone With the Wind. As such, the earlier version is able to have the lead start off a bit lower on the social ladder, playing an American chorus girl in a failed London show as opposed to a ballerina. It's not just the casting of Vivien Leigh, though; it's the studios that made the two versions. The earlier Waterloo Bridge was done at Universal, which was a less prestigious studio in the early 1930s. The 1940 version was, as I mentioned, done at MGM, which had glitz even in most of movies about the gritty side of life.

The 1931 version also has some noteworthy people working on it. It was directed by James Whale the same year he did Frankenstein, and has, as the sister of the army officer, a young Bette Davis before she signed her Warner Bros. contract and well before Of Human Bondage made her a star.

But as always, watch and judge for yourselves.

James A. Fitzpatrick visits Michigan

Tonight's short of note is Playlands of Michigan, at 7:50 PM on TCM. As you can guess, this short (from 1949) sees Traveltalks presenter James A. Fitzpatrick visiting Michigan, specifically some of the placs in the southern part of the state that Michganders apparently liked to visit in their free time. It's one of three shorts Fitzpatrick made out of his visit to the state that year. For some reason I thought I had blogged about it before, but a search of the blog claims I haven't. Instead, it showed that I did a full-length post about Anatomy of a Murder twice; obviously I don't keep as good track of which movies I've blogged about as I'd like to think.

Playlands of Michigan doesn't seem to be available on Youtube; a search instead features all sorts of user videos from their own experiences at amusement parks. Besides, I personally find his visit to Mackinac Island several years earlier more interesting, and that one is on Youtube:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Against the Crowd

The blog Dell on Movies (which I'll have to get around to adding to the blogroll) is running a blogathon that's fairly simple to take part in. The theme is Against the Crowd, which means taking one movie that has very high ratings and tell people why you dislike it, and one movie that has very low ratings and tell everybody why you dislike it. I'm going to have to violate the rules a bit, though. The rules call for using Rotten Tomatoes' ratings, but the site screws up every browser on my creaky XP desktop, and the images on my smartphone can't be saved as far as I can tell. So I'm going to be using the backup IMDb ratings. Besides, the film I like doesn't have a Rotten Tomatoes rating.

The movie I dislike is an easy selection: Doctor Zhivago. I've mentioned my dislike of this movie on a number of occasions, most recently when Omar Sharif dropped dead. I was a Russian major in college, and although my Russian isn't anywhere near as good as it used to be, I did read the book in the original Russian. The book has two epilogues, one which occurs several years after Zhivago's death and involves the story of the love child. That's what opens the movie, thereby giving the story away. (The other epilogue is Zhivago's poems, obviously untranslatable to the medium of cinema.) There's also a strong hint of socialist realism in the movie, especially in the ending, which is not there in the book. After all, there's a reason the Soviet authorities wouldn't publish it and didn't want Pasternak to go to Stockholm to pick up his Nobel Prize. And don't get me started on the balalaika music. It reminds me of the way Tolstoy would wax poetic about the Russian peasant when the peasants' lives were brutal and harsh.

As for the movie I like, I'll have to pick one that's not so well known: Untamed Youth. A lot of the votes on IMDb must be from people mocking this as a piece of 1950s schlock aimed solely at the teen market, or those who wanted to ogle Mamie van Doren's assets. To be fair, the movie has definite flaws, but it's the sort of movie that's just a heck of a lot of fun. There's a good villain; Lurene Tuttle does a fairly good job as the judge; and there's some surprising shock value. The musical numbers are beyond ludicrous, of course, and that might be part of the reason that people give the movie such a low rating, but they're fun too because they're so ludicrous.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. day

Today's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Fairbanks was the son of popular silent actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr., of course, but not the son of Mary Pickford, whom Fairbanks Sr. was well known for marrying and who helped co-found United Artists. Pickford would have been about 16 at the time Fairbanks Jr. was conceived, and Fairbanks Sr. was married to another woman. Apparently he also had an interesting career in the military during World War II that I didn't know much about and that he wrote about in a book called A Hell of a War.

As for the movies that are airing today, I see that I've already blogged about Little Caesar, which is airing overnight at 3:15 AM. It's a really good movie, although Fairbanks' role is decidedly secondary to that of Edward G. Robinson.

Perhaps more interesting, because it's rather less well-known, is Parachute Jumper, preceding Little Caesar at 2:00 AM. This one has Fairbanks as a pilot who, because of the depression, gets involved in whatever work he can, which results in his working for a drug smuggler, who wants him to fly drug shipments over the border. This one has a young Bette Davis, before she really hit the big time with Of Human Bondage.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Horse Feathers

I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of the Marx Brothers' style of humor. But as a football fan, I should point out that TCM's salute to Groucho Marx includes Horse Feathers, at 9:30 PM.

Groucho plays Professor Wagstaff, a professor at Huxley College who gets elected president because presumably nobody else wants the job. I mean, if you see the professor's acceptance speech, you'd wonder why anybody would want to keep this guy around as a professor, much less make him president of the college. But then, Huxley has fallen on hard times, to the extent that it may have to close if it can't get its financial house in order.

Wagstaff's son Frank (Zeppo Marx, who would leave the team after their following film, Duck Soup) has an idea. Football is popular, and perhaps Huxley could field a winning football team. To that end, Frank happens to know a couple of ringers that Huxley could recruit and put on their team. After all, this is the early 1930s, when lots of college football teams had ringers, at least in the movies, and colleges are all the time trying to recruit them. All Dad has to do is go down to the local speakeasy and sign the two players.

So Dad goes, but of course not knowing the first thing about football and thanks to a mix-up, he picks up the wrong two guys. Instead of the two high-quality football players, he recruits Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Baravelli (Chico Marx). No matter; they'll make Huxley a good football team. And so Huxley prepares for the big game against Darwin. Darwin's president (David Landau) has a lot riding on the game, so much so that he wants to use his assistant (Thelma Todd) to get Huxley's signals from Wagstaff (as if Wagstaff would know the signals).

Eventually, we get to the game itself, which forms the climactic action of the movie. Let's just say that this is the most unrealist football you'll ever see on screen, which is saying something considering how many movies Hollywood was putting out in the 1930s with thoroughly unrealistic looks at football. The closest I can think of would be Hold That Co-Ed, but I think Horse Feathers has it beat.

I mentioned my lackluster feelings towards the Marx Brothers' movies at the start of this post. I think part of it has to do with the movies' being just a bit too wacky. The football game certainly qualifies for that, and goes on too long, especially after the rest of the movie has also been wacky. (That's a problem that Hold That Co-Ed doesn't have.) The other thing is that Grouch fairly rapidly grates on me. You'd think that after five or ten minutes of having to deal with him, everybody else would slug him. And it's seemingly the same character in every single film.

But, of course, there are people who are big fans of the Marx Brothers, and will be thrilled to have another opportunity to watch Horse Feathers or the other movies airing today.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sunday Night at the Trocadero

Tomorrow on TCM's Summer Under the Stars is dedicated to a day of movies with Groucho Marx, which of course means most of the films have his brothers in them too. Starting things off is a short which I think only has Groucho in it: Sunday Night at the Trocadero, at 6:00 AM.

That's because Groucho isn't the subject of the short. It, like a lot of 1930s musical two-reelers, is a way of putting the spotlight on unknown acts. This one uses the conceit of a nightclub putting on new acts, with the nightclub in question being one where a lot of celebrities visit. So, for those of us who are movie buffs, this short is probably more worthwhile for trying to spot the more famous faces.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's Oh So Quiet

There's something that's struck me a couple of times during Summer Under the Stars. After each film there's usually a screen showing the next three features coming up on TCM, with some guy doing a voiceover that can include some subtle humor. However, I've noticed when I've stayed past the end of a movie so far this month, that the announcement of the next three movies is visual only. The man who normally does the voiceover isn't there.

It's one of those little things, but it's one of those things that's made TCM TCM over the years, I think. Presumably, whoever handles/handled the voiceover duties came in and did a whole bunch in one go. I'm not certain if a talented voiceover artist could go through the thing more quickly than Robert and Ben can do their intros and outros. After all, they're shorter, but the voiceover man has more of them to do. But I'd assume that he could knock off a month of announcements in a week the way Ben and Robert can do all their intros and outros one week a month.

There have, if memory serves, been some silent upcoming movie announcements before, most commonly when TCM is running a tribute to a recently deceased star. Since those tributes are scheduled fairly shortly in advance, the voiceover man might not have the time to come in and do them, or might not be avaiable at all. After all, since the voiceover guy isn't on camera, he doesn't have to go to Atlanta to do the voiceovers. He can have a home studio and literally phone them in from there. Don Pardo worked into his mid-90s and, as far as I know, did a lot of the Saturday Night Live announcing from his home in Arizona. Nice work if you can get it.

But I also wonder whether these silent announcement are a permanent thing and a sign of further belt tightening at TCM.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Hunters

Tomorrow on TCM brings up a day of films starring Robert Mitchum. One that I haven't blogged about before is The Hunters, which you can catch at 4:45 PM

Mitchum plays Major Cleve Saville, a US Air Force officer during the Korean War. He's heading back from Japan to Korea to take part in more missions against the Communists' MiGs, but first has to deal with another pilot who has serious self-confidence issues. First Lieutenant Carl Abbott (Lee Phillips) has yet to shoot down a plane, and he thinks he's never going to get a good mission. To deal with this, he's taken to the bottle, which unsurprisingly is a problem for a pilot. Anyhow, Lt. Abbott drinks himself into a stupor, such that Cleve and Carl's wife Kristina (May Britt) have to take him back to the Abbott's place in Japan, which seems impossibly big for a soldier, but that's another story. It fairly quickly becomes apparent that the filmmakers want us to think that Cleve would be the more appropriate man for Kristina, and that this is going to be one of the running themes of the movie.

The other theme, of course, is Maj. Saville's difficulties in dealing with the new pilots the Air Force is giving him. Saville fought in the previous war, World War II, and he's a lifer. Flying in World War II was different from flying in Korea, and the young pilots just don't seem to have the same respect for flying that the Major thinks he has. Get off his lawn, or maybe his cloud. The part of the hot-shot young flyer, Lt. Ed Pell, is played by Robert Wagner.

And so we get the set-up for the dramatic climax of the movie. The pilots go on missions, especially wary of one Chinese pilot who goes by the nickname "Casey Jones" who is the one pilot to be the equal of the best American pilots. He's shot down quite a few American planes, and he's back in action. They'd like to get him, but of course it's not going to be that easy.

Indeed, one of the missions is going to see a pilot get downed behind enemy lines! That pilot is Lt. Abbott, and if it weren't for military discipline, we'd probably be happy to see the jerk get what's coming to him, and Saville and the widow Abbott can get married and live happily after. But of course, that would be a terrible ending for a film, so we need something a little more dramatic. And what we get is certainly that: Maj. Saville ditches his plane, and Lt. Pell lets himself be downed too, so that the two of them can find Lt. Abbott and bring him to safety! This despite behing well behind enemy lines and having no real idea of the lay of the land. It also doesn't help that Abbott is fairly injured.

The result is a movie that treads over a lot of territory that we've seen before in previous war movies. Not that it does most of the stuff badly; it's just that other movies did these things better. What The Hunters has going for it is its color cinematography, as well as the presence of Robert Mitchum, who gives a professional performance as always. If you like war movies, The Hunters is entertaining enough but will never achieve greatness.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rhonda Fleming turns 92

Rhonda Fleming in a screencap from Inferno (1953)

Today is the 92nd birthday of actress Rhonda Fleming. Fleming started her career in the mid-1940s, with one of her first credited roles being one of the patients at the sanatorium where Ingrid Bergman works in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. There's a "Word of Mouth" piece that appears on TCM from time to time in which Fleming talks about getting the part, which is as a nymphomaniac, a word she and her mother didn't know. Learning what it mean was apparently an interesting experience for them.

Fleming had flaming red hair, but didn't get to show it off in all that many movies when she was younger since so many of them where in black and white. One that is in color is Inferno, which looks like it finally has received a home video release, at least over in Europe.

TCM had a night of Fleming's films last December, and I think I'll post that link here since it includes the links to several other of her films that I've blogged about and were shown that night.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

They're not calling themselves Essentials Jr., are they?

Over the years, I wrote several posts commenting on the interesting selections of "family" films for the old summer franchise Essentials Jr. on TCM. The new franchise, Movie Camp isn't directly trying to say that what they're showing are family films, but they are saying that these are films that can kindle a lifelong love of films, with a bit of an implication that some of these films were seen as children.

Which, I suppose, makes it interesting that toniht's selection is Strangers on a Train, at 8:00 PM. Oh, it's certainly a film I would put in the regular Essentials category, and I think it has in fact been on the regular Essentials one season or another. But the portraya of Bruno Kirby by Robert Walker is certainly one I'd have some reservations about showing the kiddies. And I'm not exactly a prude when it comes to such things.

Still, Strangers on a Train is always worth a watch, and if for some reason you haven't seen it before, it's one I can highly recommend.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Classical music biopics

Back in July, 2011, I mentioned how there are quite a few Hollywood movies that use pre-existing classical music. There are also some movies that are -- or purport to be -- biopics about composers. I mention these because Song of Love is coming up tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM on TCM.

Song of Love deals with Robert Schumann, played here by Paul Henried. Schumann was a German composer in the first half of the 19th century as well as a would-be piano virtuoso, except that he injured his hand early on. So the piano-playing duties in the family fell to his wife Clara (played by Katharine Hepburn), who was recognized as one of the great piano virtuosi of the 19th century, keeping the memory of her husband's music alive and composing some music of her own. Unfortunately, Robert suffered from either mental illness or perhaps some sort of brain tumor that led him to have visions and ultimately attempt suicide. He spent the last two years of his life in a mental asylum, dying at the young age of 46. Robert Walker plays Johannes Brahms, another composer/piano virtuoso, who one day showed up unannounced at the Schumann place and wowed them with his music. (Brahms was not yet famous at the time.)

It's one of several movies I can think of about real-world classical musicians who were long since dead by the time the movie was made. George Gershwin was as much of a popular songwriter as well as a serious composer, so we'll leave Robert Alda's Rhapsody in Blue aside for now.

Johannn Strauss Jr.'s life was highly fictionalized for the movie The Great Waltz. Strauss was played by Frenand Gravet, and his wife by Luise Rainer. Interestingly, this movie was remade in the early 1970s with Horst Buchholz playing the famed waltz composer.

Cornel Wilde played Polish piano player/composer Frederic Chopin in A Song to Remember. Poland was not an independent country at the time, having been divided up among Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the late 18th century. The movie also deals with Chopin's relationship with female writer George Sand (Merle Oberon).

More recently, Amadeus might be the most famous of all the movies about composers. I don't think Mozart and Salieri had quite the rivalry that the movie implies. There's also Immortal Beloved about Beethoven.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Raymond Massey plays John Brown

Tomorrow is Raymond Massey's day in Summer Under the Stars on TCM. I notice that there is an interesting pair of movies put together.

First, at 11:30 AM, is Santa Fe Trail. Errol Flynn is the star of this one, playing alongside Olivia de Havilland yet again. It's about the conflict in "Bloody Kansas" in the 1850s, with Raymond Massey playing John Brown. Brown, of course, was the famous abolitionist who had extremely strong views on the matter. So much so that he was willing to take the law into his own hands, both in Kansas and then later at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia).

That's followed at 1:30 PM by Seven Angry Men, in which Massey is the star, again playing John Brown. Again, Brown is a Kansas farmer whose life is turned upside down when he's subjected to violence from the pro-slavery side, and this is what makes him go so nuts in his zeal to end slavery.

To be honest, I can't recall if I've seen either film, which is why I'm not doing a full-length post on either of them. I have vague memories of seeing at least the end of something about John Brown, but I can't remember which of these two movies it was. Interestingly, John Brown doesn't show up in many other films from the studio era. You'd think he'd be at least an ancillary character, the way George Custer is in Santa Fe Trail, where he's played by Ronald Reagan.

It's also interesting seeing the same actor play the same historical figure 15 years apart, when it's not exactly as though somebody's made a career out of it. Obviously, there are Shakespearean actors, for example, who will often play the same characters in the Shakespeare canon over and over. There are also people who wind up in movie series, such as William Powell playing Nick Charles six times. And then there are the people who become identified with a character for playing him (usually) on stage. Theodore Bikel as Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, and Ralph Bellamy as Franklin Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello both come to mind.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Out-of-print update for August 7, 2015

First, I should apologize for the satellite outage that prevented me from writing a normal post yesterday. It's particularly distressing in that I would have enjoyed writing a full-length post about Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, which aired this morning at 6:00 AM as part of a day of Michael Caine movies. Unfortunately, it's one of the movies that TCM's schedule lists as not being available from the TCM Shop, which implies that it's not in print.

There are also a couple of movies tomorrow airing as part of Katharine Hepburn's day that are surprisingly not available from the TCM Shp, at least not according to the schedule.

Pat and Mike, which I mentioned briefly very early on in my posting days, can be seen tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 PM. Hepburn plays a female athlete managed by Spencer Tracy

That's followed at 3:00 PM by the much better comedy Adam's Rib. In this one, lawyers Hepburn and Tracy wind up on opposite sides of a case in which a wife shoots her husband.

Finally, at 4:45 PM, is Woman of the Year. Hepburn plays a political columnist who winds up romantically involved with sportswriter Spencer Tracy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The joys of satellites

I think I've mentioned several times in the past that I've got Internet by satellite since I live in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, this sometimes causes problems. I have to go up on the roof a couple of times each winter to clear snow off, and then there are the times that the connection goes out when it doesn't go out for most other people. This lovely summer day is one such time.

Since I try to post every day, I'm now writing to you on that smartphone that brought me into the 21st century. As for satellites and the movies, well there obviously aren't that many films dealing with the topic from most of the studio era, since there were no artificial satellites then. A couple of the James Bond movies deal with space missions, and I think the bad guy in Diamonds Are Forever is trying to make a space-based weapon.

2001: A Space Odyssey has that rotating space station, and the malignant computer, but not satellites aren't that prominent a plot point if memory serves.

I'm hoping normal service will resume tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Coleen Gray, 1922-2015

Coleen Gray and Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

I just noticed that actress Coleen Gray died yesterday at the age of 92. I've blogged about several of her movies, although I wasn't always careful and spelled her name with two L's on a number of occasions, which will obviously screw up search functions.

Perhaps it's my like of noir, but her movies I blogged about are all noirs. In addition to The Killing, from which the photo above is taken, Gray was also a good girl in Kansas City Confidential, the most blog post about one of Gray's movies.

Gray also played the wife of Victor Mature in the noir classic Kiss of Death, as well as playing the main character's wife in yet another noir classic, this time opposite Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley.

Caftan Woman

So I've joined the 21st century and gotten myself a smartphone. One of the benefits is having another browser on a completely different computer than the creaky old Windows XP(!) system I've been using fo what seems like an eon. As I wrote back in June, I've been having trouble on this old computer trying to add any blogs to the blogroll. I can do it on the smartphone, although doing anything with a tiny screen and the smartphone keyboards is a lot of fun. Apparently there doesn't seem to be any way to do it from the mobile-friendly version of the site.

Anyhow, the point of all the above is that I've gotten around to adding the blog Caftan Woman to the blogroll. As always, my personal rules for adding to the blogroll is that I find a blog interesting, and that it's still being updated relatively regularly. This blog certainly fits both of those criteria.

Elsewhere on the mobile front, I note that the mobile version doesn't seem to be handling the embedding of Youtube videos as well as the desktop version. I apologize for this, but don't know how to fix it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

I was looking at the movies in Adolphe Menjou's day in Summer Under the Stars today, and realized that the ones I was thinking of blogging about, I already had. Either that, or as with A Woman of Paris, it's been long enough since I last saw it that I'd want to see it again before doing a full-length post on the movie.

So instead, I'll embed the Mary Pickford version of Poor Little Rich Girl:

It's from 1917, so it's in the public domain. I think this last showed up on TCM last November when TCM made silent stars the "Star" of the Month. The movie was remade rather loosely in the 1930s with Shirley Temple in the title role. At least Temple was age appropriate. However, the Temple movie rather opens up the action while much of the Pickford movie is set in her house or on the grounds. It also has a rather darker turn and an extended dream sequence.

It's an interesting movie, but when it comes to Pickford, I'd still recommend Sparrows first.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Proud Rebel

A few months back, I got the chance to see The Proud Rebel for the first time when TCM showed it. TCM is running it again at 10:00 PM tonight as part of 24 hours of Olivia de Havilland films, so now would be a good time to do a full-length blog post on the film.

The movie opens up with John Chandler (Alan Ladd) approaching a town somewhere in southern Illinois together with his son David (real-life son David Ladd) and the best sheepdog in the world. It turns out that the elder Chandler is a southerner who fought for the Confederacy in the recently-concluded Civil War. But he's going north looking for doctors. Apparently his young son saw his mother die when the Union Army burned down the farm, and ever since then David has been either unwilling or unable to speak. Since it's probably some sort of mental block instead of a physical block, there's a chance that David might be able to speak again, and John is going to do anything he can to see that his son does speak again. This particular town has a doctor, Enos Davis (Cecil Kellaway), who might be able to help in that regard.

He's not able to help directly, but he does have an acquaintance at the Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota who might be able to help. Of course, there's the issue of getting the money to make a trip all the way up to Minnesota. And to complicate matters, John and David get waylaid in town. The Burleighs -- father Harry (Dean Jagger) and sons Jeb (Harry Dean Stanton) and Tom (Tom Pittman) ride into town, and their entrance spooks a flock of sheep. However, the Chandlers' dog is able to herd them back into some sense of normalcy. The Burleighs want that dog, although it's absolutely not for sale. Things get heated, and Harry's sons wind up getting in a fight with John, and lying about what really happened at the resulting trial. The only other witness is David, and he's not talking.

So John has to either go to jail or pay a fine with money that he doesn't have. Ah, but who does have it? The widow farmer Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland; after all, it is her day on TCM). She can use a man around the farm, especially since the Burleighs are trying to drive her off her land. Unsurprisingly, despite the fact that both John and Linnett intend for their relationship to be all business, you know that some sort of emotional bond is going to develop between the two, as well as between Linett and David, since he's now got a sort of foster mother. Not that it will help him to talk.

I mentioned earlier the problem of getting David up to Minnesota, and John can't just save up for it because the doctor at the Mayo Clinic who could help is going to be leaving in a month's time. It seems increasingly certain that the only way John can get the money is to sell the dog, but that will just devastate poor little David. John eventually does sell the dog without telling David, and the Burleighs find out which gives them a chance to get back at John....

The Proud Rebel a movie that I found squarely in the camp of your typical Hollywood studio era output, this time in the same sort of area that Friendly Persuasion falls into: it looks like it could be a western, but it's not really set out west now, is it? The ranchers, the conflict between the two farms, and a lot of other western tropes are there. But I really think of The Proud Rebel as more of a straight drama that just happens to be set in the post-Civil War era. The cast does well, including young David, who has a difficult part since he's not allowed to speak during the film. The cinematography is nice, and the film has a satisfying ending. I think it's also good for adults and kids alike.

The Proud Rebel is also available on DVD.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

White Feather

I only noticed this morning that White Feather is airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on FXM Retro. It's airing again at 4:00 AM Monday, but there's another movie I was intending to do a full-length post on tomorrow. And it turns out that I hadn't done a post on White Feather before; I thought I had after the last time it got a couple of airings on FXM in quick succession.

Robert Wagner stars as Josh Tanner, who at the beginning of the movie is seen riding alone somewhere out in the old West. He comes across the victim of a Cheyenne attack at a river, and the Cheyenne watch him to see if he's got courage. It turns out that Tanner is making his way to the nearby fort. The river is the de facto boundary between the US forces and the native tribe, but the US are currently in negotiations with the various tribes to put them on reservations so that the US can take the land without annihilating the tribes.

Tanner is a surveyor, and his bosses are waiting for that treaty to be signed so that they can get their hands on some of that new land; Josh is being sent out in advance as a surveyor to survey the land for the land company. Not that the folks at the fort like him. The commander, Col. Lindsay (John Lund), is wary of him, while the only place he can find lodging is in the storeroom of the store run by Magruder (Emile Meyer). Magruder has a daughter Ann (Virginia Leith), but apparently she has a past, because her father thinks she's fit for no man and she makes cryptic comments about her past.

Apparently, however, the Cheyenne respect Tanner. They're the only tribe that hasn't signed the treaty to give up hostilities against the Americans, and the Americans are trying to get them to sign the treaty which all the other tribes are going to sign. Chief Broken Hand (Eduard Franz) is beginning to think that perhaps the fight against the Americans with their superior forces is futile, but his son Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) is not willing to give up the old ways. Tanner goes into all of this to talk to the Cheyenne.

While there, he meets not only the men in the Indian tribe, but also the chief's daughter Appearing Day (Debra Paget). She falls for him, and the feeling winds up being mutual. Needless to say, this presents all sorts of complications.

White Feather treads over some of the same territory that Fox had covered a couple of years earlier with Broken Arrow. There are also the themes of tradition versus modernity that appear in a whole bunch of movies in all sorts of genres. In White Feather, it all amounts to something that's capable, but which also feels as though we've seen it all before. Still, it's not bad, with the one exception that I wished I could have learned more about Ann, the white woman we kind of expect Tanner to wind up with when the story opens. She clearly has a past, but it's never really gone into. Oh, there's also the other problem of a bunch of white actors playing Indians, but really, there weren't enough prominent Indian actors to play these characters. On the plus side, the cinematography is quite nice if you can catch this in widescreen. I have a distinct memory that when it showed up on FXM a few weeks back, it was in fact in widescreen and not panned-and-scanned like a lot of their Cinemascope movies.

White Feather did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but I think it's out of print based on Amazon's not having new copies regularly available.

Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014

Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die (1973)

Today marks the birth anniversary of dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder spent the better part of his career dancing, and on the stage, winning a Tony award for The Wiz. When it comes to the movies, Holder didn't make all that many, but will likely be best remembered for playing Baron Samedi, a voodoo priest, in Live and Let Die.