Saturday, October 31, 2015

Your friendly Daylight Savings Time reminder

For those of you reading this in North America, tonight is the night that the clocks get turned back one hour at the end of Daylight Savings Time. Now, freaks in places like Arizona and Saskatchewan don't use Daylight Savings Time, so that don't have to adjust their clocks. But even they have to deal with the fact that the TV channels have an extra hour of programming.

TCM never thinks about this when they put out their monthly schedules, as the printable schedule I downloaded at the end of September only has a whole bunch of horror shorts running in two blocks, one allegedly at 2:45 AM followed by one at 3:45 AM. That first block is on after Mark of the Vampire at 1:30 AM, a 61-minute movie in a 75-minute slot. But sure enough, when you go to the online daily schedule page, they've decided to stick The MGM Story in between the two blocks. It always seems to be that or Some of the Best. As always, I find it easier to look at these schedules in terms of UTC/GMT. Mark of the Vampire should be at 0530 UTC, the first block of shorts at 0645, The MGM Story at 0745, and the second block at 0845. Let's hope the online schedule is right and that The MGM Story doesn't end the night, where it would really be more appropriate rather than breaking up TCM Underground. I'd like to record Twice Upon a Time at 4:30 AM and hope to get it all. The box guide is way off, not showing The MGM Story and putting all the shorts in 12-15 minute slots.

FXM did a better job: they've got one of the X-Men movies starting in the first 1:30 AM slot, and running about two and a quarter hours, which takes us through both 2:00 AMs through to the 2:45 AM, after which they'll have one of their FXM Presents pieces (or whatever they call their featurettes), followed by FXM Retro programming at 3:00 AM with The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Friday, October 30, 2015

For those with FXM

FXM Retro isn't doing the Halloween thing. Fox certainly produced some horror movies over the years, and FXM, or its predecessor the Fox Movie Channel, have shown some of them. It's been quite a while, however, since I've seen something like The Undying Monster. On the other hand, The Alligator People has aired more recently, but not for a year or so I think.

Instead, FXM Retro is running a couple of movies that I haven't mentioned in ages. First, at 6:00 AM, is Three Came Home, which I think I last mentioned in August 2014. Claudette Colbert plays an American writer married to a British man (Patric Knowles) living in Malaya when the Japanese come in and take over the place, putting all the westerners in prison camps.

That will be followed at 7:50 AM by The Keys of the Kingdom, which stars Gregory Peck as a Catholic priest who spends pretty much his entire adult life working as a missionary in China, and dealing with the hardships inherent to such a mission as well as the relative lack of support from his diocese.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

48 hours of Halloween

Saturday is Halloween, and as I mentioned earlier this month, TCM has been running a bunch of horror movies in prime time on Friday evenings this month. Tomorrow morning starts nearly 48 hours of horror movies on TCM; there's one final movie in the Trailblazing Women spotlight that begins at 6:00 AM Friday. Actually, the horror movies began this morning, but took the break for the female directors spotlight.

Friday morning and afternoon bring a bunch of Hammer horror, which seems to have become a staple in TCM's Halloween programming. There are other things I prefer, but I certainly can't deny that the movies create an interesting gothic atmosphere that, combined with the subject material, is perfect for Halloween. Plus, with the death earlier this year of Christopher Lee, showing the Hammer horror this year is even more appropriate.

Friday night's lineup is dedicated to producer Val Lewton, starting at 8:00 PM with Cat People, followed at 9:30 PM with a documentary on Lewton that actually premiered on TCM before I started blogging, and then continuing at 11:00 PM with the film that's the subject of the link above, The Seventh Victim.

Saturday's lineup seems more eclectic, at least as eclectic as a bunch of horror movies can be. I don't think there's any other overriding theme, although I think that's generally the case for Saturday mornings and afternoons. One note, however, is that the Batman and Robin serial and the Bulldog Drummond movie are not on this Saturday.

Get drunk with TCM!

While there are quite a few interesting movies about alcoholism -- The Lost Weekend and The Days of Wine and Roses spring to mind -- That's not the subject for this morning's post. Instead, just before the start of prime time yesterday, when I tuned in early to see whether TCM would run the TCM Remembers piece on Maureen O'Hara that supposedly has started airing but I haven't seen yet, they were running a promo for the TCM Wine Club.

The promo had Ben Mankiewicz up in Napa County, CA with somebody I'd never heard of who works, I think, for Francis Ford Coppola's winery. Apparently, the wine club is, if you join, going to send you fifteen bottles of wine every three months, wines that are supposedly selected to go with movies running on TCM. Well, technically, in many states they'll be sending the wine to a distributor in the state from which you can pick it up, or something like that. The 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition left it up to the individual states to set alcohol policy, and the result is that some states have byzantine laws around alcohol distribution, there mostly to keep the current distributors in work. (I think it was the previous governor of Pennsylvania who tried to take on his state's system after getting elected in 2010, and utterly failed. But that's a topic for another thread.)

Anyhow, back to the wine club, the first thing I noticed was that once again we have Ben and not Robert doing the promo. I presume TCM is putting Ben into more and more roles, because after all Robert Osborne is 83 and not going to be around that much longer in the grand scheme of things. Making Robert travel from his home in New York to northern California is probably too much to expect. Ben is still based in Los Angeles, if memory serves.

The other thing I noticed is that TCM cut strategically at the end just as Ben and the vintner were about to ingest some of that nice red wine. I know there used to be a law that in advertisements, you couldn't show anybody actually drinking alcoholic beverages. Since this is technically an advertisement, if that law is still around it would apply.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people are whining (pun intended) about this over at the TCM boards. But then TCM has been hawking movie-themed swag like TCM T-shirts and coffee mugs for years, so this isn't particularly new. Just a bit more specific and separately branded.

As for the club, there's no way I'm paying prices like that. I enjoy a nice wine, but I'm not expert enough on the subject to notice the subtleties between different grape varieties apart from reds versus whites. I'll try the moderately priced magnums at the local liquor store and drink a glass of wine with dinner:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another round of Treasures from the Disney Vault

The semi-regular feature Treasures from the Disney Vault is returning to TCM tonight for another night of programming.

Amazingly, this night has an animated feature, something I wouldn't have thought we'd see, since I always figured Disney would be incredibly protective of those. That having been said, it's one of the lesser animated movies, and in some ways it's not even necessarily a feature: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, at 8:30 PM. It only runs about 70 minutes, and it's an anthology, telling animated versions of two stories, The Wind in the Willows (well, only part of that book) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. As I understand it the two haves have been sold separately on various Disney compliations.

More interesting for me would be the three Three Little Pigs shorts that kick off the first half hour of programming. Three Little Pigs was apparently enough of a hit that Disney made two more shorts with the porcine characters. Indeed, it produced the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf". Three Little Wolves has the pigs in the "boy who cried wolf" story, while The Big Bad Wolf combines the pigs and Little Red Riding Hood.

Both of the Witch Mountain movies are also on, with the latter, Return From Witch Mountain at 5:00 AM, starring Bette Davis and Christopher Lee along with the kids. Because those are the first two actors I think of when I think "children's movie".

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I see recently deceased people!

I suppose the above title could be appropriate for a post on zombie movies, but that's not the subject of this post, even though Halloween is coming up this weekend. Instead, it's about a couple of real, no fooling, film people who died recently and have films coming up that were previously scheduled well before their deaths.

First is a reminder about Chantal Akerman's film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which you can catch overnight at 3:15 AM.

Maureen O'Hara died over the weekend. TCM have already scheduled a 24-hour programming salute to her, but that isn't until November 20. (It'll be replacing a day and night of fairly often-aired musicals, with the exception of A Chorus Line, which doesn't show up on TCM very often.) As far as I can tell there's not much for O'Hara on TCM in the next couple of days, what with Halloween coming up. However, she does show up over on FXM Retro, in Immortal Sergeant, at 6:00 AM tomorrow. O'Hara plays the girl back home for Henry Fonda, who plays the man serving under the titular sergeant (Thomas Mitchell). FXM, if they had half a brain, could do a nice tribute to O'Hara, considering the number of films she made at Fox in the 40s. But that wouldn't be commercial.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Suddenly, a shot rang out

When I was looking for photos to illustrate my obituary post on Maureen O'Hara the other day, I ran across an interesting post on Jamaica Inn at the blog Suddenly, a Shot Rang Out.

As always, when I come across a blog that's new to me, I check to see whether it's still being posted to. In this case, the answer to that question is yes, so I've decided to add it to my blog roll over on the right.

The list normally only shows the ten most recent blogs that have been updated, so if you don't see your blog, either click on the "show all" link if you're on the desktop version (I don't see the blogroll on the mobile version), or post more often. ;-)

Sunday, October 25, 2015


For those of you in the US who have the Encore package of channels, you have a chance to catch the western Warpath tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on Encore Westerns. I don't think it's available on any video format, so those of you without the Encore package are probably out of luck.

Edmond O'Brien stars as John Vickers. In the opening scene, he shows up at some stereotypical old west town, where he finds a man and questions him. Then Vickers gets in a gunfight with the man and shoots him dead after the other guy draws on him first! Thankfully the local marshall will testify to the fact that Vickers was drawn upon and shot in self-defense, as it will allow him to leave town without such icky inconveniences as having to stand trial. It turns out that there's a train depot in town and a bunch of cavalrymen are going to be getting on the train there. Vickers is planning to join them. But before that he meets lovely Molly Quade (young Polly Bergen), who is being harassed by drunk Sergent O'Hara (Forrest Tucker). Vickers stands up for Molly and gets in a fight with O'Hara, winning the fight.

That fight is ultimately a bit of a problem, because Vickers is on his way north to the Dakota Territory to enlist with Custer's 7th Cavalry. O'Hara, for his part, is already an officer in the 7th. And more interestingly, Vickers was an officer in the Civil War, and a good one. But when he gets to the fort to enlist in the cavalry, he insists on starting off as a private. Clearly Vickers has some sort of ulterior motive.

Sure enough, it turns out that he killed the guy back in the opening scene because that guy was one of three people who ambushed and killed his fiancée several years earlier. Vickers basically lost the will to do anything other than find the people who killed her, and has spent all these years trying to find the three guys who did it. He has reason to believe that the other two are in the 7th Cavalry, which is why he's come here to enlist and presumably why he doesn't want any of the responsibilities of being an officer getting in the way.

Vickers gets put in O'Hara's batallion, and the two quickly develop a mutual hatred for each other. O'Hara doesn't care for Vickers largely because of that fight, while Vickers is beginning to get the distinct feeling that O'Hara might have been one of the three guys who killed his fiancée. Oh, there's also the fact that both of them have taken a liking to Molly. Molly's father Sam (Dean Jagger) seems to prefer O'Hara to Vickers.

I mentioned a few paragraphs ago that these folks are part of Custer's 7th Cavalry. That name Custer (played here in a small role by James Millican) is important, because anybody who knows their American history will know that Custer was the general who led the cavalry into the disastrous battle at Little Big Horn where he and his men were wiped out by the Sioux. So we can expect that there are skirmishes with the Sioux in this film, and that the looming battle is going to play an important part in the plot. There's really no other reason to have Custer as a character in a western.

Everything comes together when a bunch of settlers come out looking for a cavalry escort to the lands they're settling. O'Hara has deserted because he is in fact one of the people who killed Vickers' fiancée, while Vickers is leading the settlers. Who should show up in the migration but the Quades? Sam has good reason for taking up with these people moving further west. But before that can happen the Indians raid the wagon train and take all of the key characters hostage....

There's a lot going on in Warpath that's been seen in a whole bunch of other westerns. There's nothing particularly wrong with Warpath, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the movie, either. Pedestrian sounds like it has negative connotations, so I don't think that's the word I'd want to use to describe this movie. It's competently made, and certainly entertains, but at the same time there's something about it that just doesn't make it particularly memorable. Still, I think fans of the genre will enjoy this one. It's also in very nice Technicolor, although it was done a few years before Cinemascope came around to make the scenery really stand out.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Maureen O'Hara, 1920-2015

Maureen O'Hara (r.) with Charles Laughton in a scene from Jamaica Inn (1939)

Maureen O'Hara, the Irish-born actress probably most famous for playing opposit John Wayne in a series of films in the 1950s, died today at the age of 95.

O'Hara started her career in the late 1930s, opposite Charles Laughton in the underrated Jamaica Inn. This one was directed by Alfred Hitchcock as a favor to Charles Laughton who produced, and while it's not quite the style that Hitchcock had come to create starting a few years earlier with The Man Who Knew Too Much and especially The 39 Steps, it's still immensely entertaining. And young O'Hara is positively radiant on screen.

Jamaica Inn resulted in O'Hara's getting to go to Hollywood to make the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame opposite Laughton. The two would work together yet again in This Land Is Mine.

But it's probably the work with John Wayne that will probably be best remembered. I think the best remembered of them is likely The Quiet Man, a film I don't particularly care for largely because of it's obnoxiously doe-eyed view of Ireland. They also made Rio Grande, The Wings of Eagles, McClintock!, and Big Jake together.

How Green Was My Valley and certainly Miracle on 34th Street are certainly worth mentioning, although one that I'd also like to point out having blogged about is Spencer's Mountain.

I'm sure TCM is going to be doing a programming tribute to O'Hara at some point, but I haven't heard about anything yet. As far as TCM goes, here's O'Hara doing an interview with Robert Osborne at the 2014 TCM Film Festival:

Anyone up for a documentary film festival?

I've mentioned quite a few times, as recently as earlier this week, that I like to listen to the international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio back in the day, but are now mostly Internet only. The following story on the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival was mentioned in the current affairs section of Radio Prague's Thursday broadcast:

Documentary film festival offers "new perspective on everyday reality"

In just a few days, the small town of Jihlava on the Bohemian-Moravian border will once again become the centre of the European documentary scene. The annual Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, which is in its 19th edition, will offer hundreds of film screenings as well as some highly-anticipated guests, such as Masha Alyokhina or the "famous" Syrian immigrant Osama Mohsen.

There's more to the report at the link above. If you want to listen to the report, there's an MP3 here that's 1.6MB and just shy of four minutes. The home page for the Jihlava (the Slavic J is pronounced like the English Y) International Documentary Film Festival, which runs from October 27 through November 1, can be reached here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Born Reckless (1930)

Fans of early talkies may be interested by the fact that FXM Retro will be running Born Reckless tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Edmund Lowe stars as Louis Beretti. As we see him at the beginning of the movie, it's night in the big city. The camera pans to a jewelry store, and Louis and his gang are doing a smash and grab on the store! Unsurprisingly, this gets the police involved, and Louis makes a quick getaway to the apartment where his parents and sister (Marguerite Churchill) live. It's a ruse, of course, and the police figure it out and turn Louis over to the court system. All of this action takes place a good dozen years before the present day, which means that World War I is going on. The judge gives Louis a choice. Either he can go to jail, or he can enlist in the army and fight over in Europe. Louis selects the latter option.

Cut to Europe, where there is indeed a war going on, and the Americans have recently entered. Louis sees one of his friends die, but he's able to survive the war because if he didn't, this would be a very different movie. Louis heard his dead friend talk about his sister Joan, and when he does return home from the war he goes to see the sister with the intention of starting a relationship with her. Except that she's already got a fiancé and she isn't the right social class for him anyway.

So Louis decides to try to join the upper classes by opening a posh club, which really means a speakeasy since Prohibition quickly followed the end of World War I. Louis is about as law-abiding as you can expect a speakeasy owner to be, meaning that even though he knows all the old gang friends, given a choice he'd prefer just to be running the club. But with alcohol being illegal, you know that the gangsters he knew are going to get him involved again. Eventually, Joan's baby is kidnapped. Louis had mentioned to Joan that if she ever needed anything, she could come and see him. Now she does, and in an exciting climax, Louis goes and gets Joan's baby. But it's going to mean he has to get involved with the law and the gangs again....

In some ways, there's a lot going on in Born Reckless as it jumps from one part of the plot to the next, and that's really to the detriment of the film. It's difficult to figure out exactly what's going on at times what with all the clunky dialog. John Ford directed this, although it's more accurate to say that he co-directed it with screenwriter Andrew Bennison joining him. Ford had done quite a bit of work in the silent era so one can guess that he directed the more expressive scenes that look like they could have fit in in a silent, while Bennison handled all the stuff with the heavy dialog. (This is probably a reasonable guess since Bennison only directed one more movie while Ford went on to greatness.) But whoever directed what, it's a mishmash of some stuff that's visually interesting interspersed with all that dialog, because dammit, people could talk in the movies now.

One person to watch for is Lee Tracy, playing a reporter who covers the legal proceedings when Louis gets sent to Europe, and stays around up through the ending. He's already doing an early version of the cynical characters he would play, but not nearly as hard-boiled as in some of his later movies. But even his fast-talking can't save the dialog scenes.

In short, I think Born Reckless is a movie you'll watch once and then forget about watching again. But as always, judge for yourself.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In the good old days of classic Hollywood

One of the responses to my blogathon came from the blog In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. I have to admit to not having seen the blog before, but then again my life has become such that I don't normally go around looking for other movie blogs. That's what the blogroll on the side is for.

Anyhow, I have two criteria for adding a blog to that blogroll. Well, technically three, I suppose One is that the blog be interesting, which I suppose also encompasses the requirement that it be on topic about the movies. The other one is that it is still being posted to an a relatively regular basis. This one fits both of those criteria, so onto the blogroll it goes.

I see the blog is also running a Barbara Stanwyck blogathon in January. Now I have to think of a Stanwyck-related topic to blog about. :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer October 2015: Nathan Lane

Hard to believe it's been three weeks already, but we're up to another Guest Programmer on TCM. This time, it's Nathan Lane, the Broadway and sometimes movie star Nathan Lane. Lik most Guest Programmers, he's selected four movies, and sat down with Robert Osborne to discuss those selections, which are airing tonight on TCM.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is The Producers, the 1967 version with Zero Mostel as the Broadway producer who gets the brilliant idea to bilk people by oversubscribing a surefire flop, only for that flop, Springtime for Hitler to become a runaway hit. Gene Wilder stars as Mostel's assistant. Considering that this was turned into a Broadway musical with Lane in the cast, you can see why he'd select something like this.
Second, at 9:45 PM, is All the President's Men, which stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Woodward and Bob Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who uncovered what was going on during the Watergate scandal.
Then comes Being There at 12:15 AM. In this one, Peter Sellers plays a mentally-challenged man who has spent his whole life as gardener to a wealthy man who has just died, forcing Sellers to leave the only home he's ever known. Sellers learned everything he knows by watching TV, and the platitudes he spews are considered profound by the Beltway Class.
Finally, Lane has selected City Lights at 2:30 AM. Charlie Chaplin plays a man who falls in love with a blind girl selling flowers, and decides that he's going to do whatever it takes to raise th emoney to get her the operation that could restore her eyesight.

I have to admit that I'm not terribly excited about Lane's choices, although that's largely personal opinion. The Producers is mostly good, but as with most of the movies Mel Brooks made, there are times when it crosses over into irritating zaniness. But it's nowhere near as irritating as Being There. I suppose it's a sign of how good a job Peter Sellers did with his character, but I find his utterances dumb, with the movie being so tediously slow.

One final note: after Lane's selections, TCM will be showing the 1979 French film La Cage Aux Folles. This was the basis for the later Broadway musical, and later remade as the English-language movie The Birdcage, also starring Nathan Lane.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's a gas gas gas

TCM continues its series on "Trailblazing Women" directors by looking at some women who started off doing other things before becoming directors. The first of them is Penny Marshall at 8:00 PM with A League of Their Own, about the women's professional baseball league that sprang up during World War II. However, I'd like to blog today about the first feature film she directed, Jumpin' Jack Flash.

Whoopi Goldberg plays Terry Doolittle, who works at one of the big international banks in New York City. Her job is to man one of the computers in the foreign exchange bureau and facilitate the large interbank transfers. It's a boring job, at least the work part of it, although there is a crew of wacky supporting characters as her co-workers. Her boss complains that she spends too much time engaging in idle chit-chat with the people on the other side of the computer hookups the banks use to transfer the money.

Of course, all of that is foreshadowing. One day at the end of her shift, she's contacted by a man who calls himself "Jumpin' Jack Flash" after the Rolling Stones song. But Jack has nothing to do with transferring money. Instead, he says that he's in grave danger and can't talk to Terry on the international banking transponder, but instead needs a secure channel. If Terry can figure out the password, then the two can talk on that channel. Eventually she does figure it out, and on the secure channel Jack tells her that he is in fact a spy trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and needs her help to get a contact to get out of the Communist bloc safely. If she goes to the British Consulate and gives a certain person a code message, that man will get in touch with Jack.

So a bewildered Terry goes to the consulate, and gives the man, Jeremy Talbott (John Wood) the message. Talbott, unsurprisingly, acts as though Terry is nuts, and claims not to know anything about Terry's message or the "Section C" that the consulate supposedly has. So Terry goes back to the bank, waits for Jack to show up, tells him all this, and finds that he wants her to go to his New York apartment to get a clue that will help her find some New York-based contacts. As if going to the consulate wasn't dangerous enough. By now, we've had enough foreshadowing to be told that Terry is already being watched. But by whom?

Terry eventually gets into a more and more manic series of misadventures as she tries to get Jack to safety while staying one step ahead of both whoever it is who is chasing her as well as the New York cops, who unsurprisingly want her because by this point she's wound up in the Hudson River claiming there's a dead body there (there is), had her apartment ransacked, and various other fun things.

Jumpin' Jack Flash is a lot of fun, down entirely to the performance of Whoopi Goldberg, who is the star to the point that everything in the movie revolves around her. That having been said, there are certainly some weak points where Penny Marshall wouldn't or couldn't rein Goldberg in. One scene involves Terry at the consulate a second time trying to get at the classified computers to get the contacts; another involves her being drugged with truth serum and acting entirely too manic. She also swears quite a bit, which may be a problem for some people. The supporting cast is good even if they're totally secondary to Whoopi. There are quite a few names who would go on to bigger things, if not quite A-list. I mentioned the foreshadowing a couple of times above; there are some things Terry is able to do to get out of trouble that are hinted at well ahead of time if you know what to look for. But I won't spoil them. One other interesting thing about the movie is the 1980s technology. Boy are those computers clunky!

If you're looking for a classic, Jumpin' Jack Flash isn't it. But if you're just looking to be entertained, Jumpin' Jack Flash will do that in spades.

Bumping up a Blogathon

I'm reposting this to keep the blogathon toward the top of the page. I will be having another post coming out later this afternoon. I guess I also need to start promoting the heck out of this blogathon on other sites. ;-)

Welcome to the Ego Trip Blogathon, running from January 8-10, 2016!

A year and a half ago, I took part in a blogathon in which the object was to pick each letter of the alphabet and pick one's favorite movie title that began with that particular letter of the alphabet. When I got to the letter I, I noticed that there are a whole lot of movies out that which begin with the pronoun "I", revealing some quality about the movie's protagonist.

So, the "rules" of this blogathon are simple: pick an interesting movie whose title begins with the pronoun "I", and blog about it and why you selected that movie. There are any number of reasons to select a particular movie. First, it could be a movie that you just think is really good. Altertnatively, it can be a movie where the title is just so outrageous that it doesn't matter whether the movie is any good; the title alone makes the movie something worth talking about. Or, it could be a movie that you particularly like but think not enough people know about.

Note that this is about movies whose title begin with the pronoun "I", not the letter "I". So movie titles like It's a Wonderful Life don't qualify. Also anything with initials wouldn't qualify assuming the I initial stands for something other than the pronoun. Movies whose titles begin with a contraction (eg. "I've", "I'll", etc.) are acceptable, as are any foreign-language films whose titles begin with that language's equivalent of the pronoun "I". I can't think of any that fit that last category, but then I'm sure there are people out there who know a lot more about foreign film than I do.

To be a bit honest, the "rules" are a bit more complicated than I outlined above. The full rules:

1. Pick a movie that fits the criteria above, and mention your selection in the comments below. Please mention the name and URL of your blog in your comment. I'd prefer to avoid repeats if at all possible.
2. Blog about that movie the weeked of January 8-10, 2016. You've got almost three months to come up with an idea. Your blog post should include the logo above, either hotlinking to it or copying and storing it on your own site. (The image is small enough that it shouldn't cause me any bandwidth problems with Photobucket, but my desktop is still acting up with Photobucket so I can't actually see the photos I host unless I look at the photos on my mobile phone.)
3. Link to your blogpost once you actually post it in January. I'll be posting a thread in January for you to do that in the comments.
4. Have fun coming up with a movie to blog about and writing the post!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Christopher Wood, 1935-2015

Wikipedia's obituaries page has listed the death of one Christopher Wood, having died on Saturday a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday. Christopher Wood is one of those names you may not recognize. I have to admit that I certainly wouldn't have recognized it. It turns out that he was an author turned screenwriter, writing the screenplays to two of the James Bond movies: The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 and Moonraker two years later. Wood's death is a bit sad for me, in that I remember liking those old Bond movies as a kid, and then reading the books as somebody probably too young to be reading them. I did a book report on Doctor No back in the sixth grade.

Frankly, Moonraker is a silly plot, but the movie is still entertaining enough. The Spy Who Loved Me is nothing like the book, if memory serves. The book is set up in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York state, while the movie is set in Egypt among other exotic locales. But then it wouldn't be the first time there were big changes between a book and the movie version. A few months back I had the opportunity to read the book The 39 Steps, and while there are a few similarities, the second half of the Hitchcock movie is radically different from the book. There's also no Hitchcock blonde in the book. That's a big difference.

Wood didn't write enough screenplays to get a TCM tribute. Besides, they couldn't get the rights to the ones he did write, and he wasn't famous enough to earn a programming tribute. With any luck, he'll show up in the parade of the dead they run every December as TCM Remembers.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The American Film Festival

Last year at this time, I mentioned the American Film Festival in Wrocław, Poland. A full year has passed, which means that it's apparently time for another edition of the festival. Not that I would have remembered blogging about it last year. It's more that my RSS feed of Radio Poland's English-language program had a report about the festival in Friday's broadcast, which I only got around to listening to this morning.

Radio Poland's report on the festival can be downloaded here. The website for the festival itself, which is available in English, is here.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Joan Leslie, 1925-2015

Joan Leslie in the background left with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Joan Leslie, an actress of the 1940s whose career high point was probably acting with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, has died at the age of 90.

Leslie started her acting career as a child during the Depression, eventually making her way to Hollywood and getting some small uncredited juvenile roles, as well as a few that have her credited under her birth name, Joan Brodel. She wound up at Warner Bros. in 1941, appearing that first year in such classic movies as High Sierra and Sergeant York. Even with the success of Yankee Doodle Dandy, Leslie's career never became as big as it probably should have. A look at her credits in the following years shows that she worked steadily at Warner Bros, but didn't get the plum roles that the studio was offering at that time. Of course, she wasn't old enough to take the roles that Bette Davis or newly-acquired Joan Crawford had. But it's interesting to think about what she might have brought to the role of Veda opposite Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Blyth was three years younger, so the earlier scenes when Veda is clearly a juvenile might have been a bit more out of place for Leslie, but she was still only 20 at the time.

Leslie married in 1950 and retired from movies after the birth of her twin daughters. She was married for 50 years until her husband's death.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Linda Darnell, 1923-1965

While TCM is spending this morning and afternoon with birthday girl Angela Lansbury, I'd like to mention another actress whose birth anniversary is today: Linda Darnell.

Darnell started her career young, playing adult roles at the age of 16 when she starred opposite Tyrone Power in Day-Time Wife. This one has Darnell as Power's wife. She learns that he's probably having an affair with his secretary, so she decided to find out why bosses love their secretaries by becoming one herself. The only thing is, she becomes secretary to one of her husband's clients and then has to try to keep him from finding out. Darnell proves to be capable of comedy as does Power. This one apparently got a DVD release in a set with Johnny Apollo, but I think it's out of print.

Darnell remained at Fox for much of her career, which is why her movies don't show up all that often on TCM. Among the starring roles she did the title role in Forever Amber as the woman who rises in Restoration England by using her sex appeal. There's also Fallen Angel, an early noir starring her and Dana Andrews.

One of my favorite Darnell roles is as the woman from the wrong side of the tracks who really only cares about getting away from that, in No Way Out.

Darnell's film career more or less ended with another movie she did opposite Dana Andrews, Zero Hour!. This one has Andrews as a former World War II pilot who has to take the controls of a commercial plane after the cabin crew and many of the passengers get sick from the airline food. It's the storyline borrowed by the Zuckers when they made Airplane! two dozen years later.

Darnell died tragically young at the age of 41 in a house fire.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Documentaries by women

We're up to another night of Trailblazing Women on TCM, this time looking at women who made documentaries. I have to admit to not know much about most of the documentaries running tonight with the exception of Harlan County, USA at 9:45. It tells the story of a coal miners' strike in Kentucky in 1972. Apparently, that wasn't supposed to be the original focus of the movie; director Barbara Kopple was planning to document an internal struggle in trying to elect a new president of the United Mine Workers union. But while she was doing that, there was the strike in Kentucky, and that proved to be far more interesting.

Mining is also the subject of the night's first film, Araya at 8:00 PM, which looks at a Venezuelan salt mine and the people who work it.

Other themes for the night include women in World War II, in The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter at 11:30 PM;

A gay black man in Portrait of Jason at 12:45 AM; and

Punk rock in The Decline of Western Civilization at 2:45 AM.

Apparently they didn't have enough time or couldn't get the rights to anything interesting enough to round out the night with one more documentary, so TCM will be running 1950's The MGM Story, which is similar to the previous year's Some of the Best.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Purple Heart

A movie that first showed up on FXM Retro a month or two ago is The Purple Heart. It's getting a pair of airings tomorrow, at 4:00 AM and 9:30 AM.

The movie starts off with a bunch of foreign correspondents from various countries assembled at a Shanghai courtroom. This is sometime in late 1942, so it's occupied China and after the US entered the war against Japan and the correspondents are from countries not at war with Japan. (Note that the USSR didn't declare war on Japan until 90 days after the German surrender, so they were still neutral on the Asian front.) Obviously these reporters know that there's something important going on, but what could be so important that Japan would want to assemble all these reporters?

All is made clear when the defenders walk into the courtroom. They're American, led by Capt. Harvey Ross (Dana Andrews). Ross was the pilot and commanding officer on one of the flights that was part of James Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, something that is dramatized in the book and movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. In the movie, the raid is portrayed as having continued westward from Tokyo, with the planes hoping to land in free China. Ross' plane encountered mechanical difficulties and was forced to ditch in a part of China controlled by the Japanese. A friendly local government officer picked them up, but it turned out that the officer was friendly to the Japanese, promptly turning the Americans over to Japan.

And so the Japanese put the men on trial for war crimes, saying that the Americans bombed obviously neutral targets like schools and hospitals. In reality, though, the Japanese want to know where the American planes took off from. The Geneva Convention dictates that captured soldiers only have to give their name, rank, and serial number, so this is what the Americans do. The Japanese obviously don't like this, so they come up with the bright idea of using torture to try to extract the information they want from the Americans. Meanwhile, the trial is still going to go forward.

The Purple Heart is an interesting movie for a whole bunch of reasons. First, it's based on actual events, although the names have been changed. It's not just the Doolittle raid that actually happened; Japan captured some downed air crews and put them on trial. Second, the cast contains a number of young actors who would go onto bigger and better things. In addition to Dana Andrews, there was also Richard Conte and a very young Farley Granger. Third, the movie is interesting as a propaganda piece. Since the movie was released during World War II while the events would still have been fresh in the minds of American audiences, the story is pretty one-sided, depicting the Americans as heroes who would never break under torture, while the Japanese are brutal and sadistic. (There is, however, also a conflict between a Japanese general and admiral over whether the Americans took off from aircraft carriers or from China.)

The overall result is that The Purple Heart winds up being a movie very much of its time. It's good at times, but clearly designed for the benefit of wartime audiences who would have needed a pick-me-up. Watching from the perspective of 70 years of hindsight, it comes across as a bit datedand almost overbearing. (The final scene is particularly heavy-handed, I think.) But The Purple Heart is still worth a watch.

Time After Time

Tonight is a night of Bob's Picks on TCM and one of them is a movie I haven't had the opportunity to blog about before: Time After Time, at 2:30 AM. It's a movie with an interesting premise that turns out to be quite entertaining.

Malcolm McDowell stars as HG Wells, a name you should probably recognize because this is the HG Wells, the British science fiction writer from the turn of the last century. Wells has invited a bunch of his friends over to his house for dinner and because he has a major announcement to tell all of them. He's invented a time machine. (How do you think he got the idea for the book? OK, this is something that didn't happen in real life, inventing a time machine. But without it we wouldn't have a movie.) Not only that, but he plans to demonstrate it.

But before that can happen, he's interrupted by a sudden guest, his good friend JL Stevenson (David Warner). What the audience knows, but Wells doesn't, is that Stevenson is running from the police. In fact, Stevenson is Jack the Ripper, who has killed several prostitutes already! Stevenson obviously doesn't tell Wells this truth, but acts like a normal guest who should have been at the party all evening. That is, until the police arrive. How to make a quick escape? Well, there's one obvious way, and Stevenson takes it: he gets in the time machine, and goes somewhen in time.

The end. Actually, of course that's not the end, since that wouldn't make for much of a movie. Indeed, Wells built in a safety feature to his time travelling device that, if you didn't use a special key, it would return to its previous location in space and time. So of course, the machine winds up back in Wells' basement with Stevenson stranded someplace and somewhere in time. But Wells is able to figure out what happened the last time the machine was used, so he sets the machine to go back to the same location and time so that he can intercept Stevenson and bring him to justice.

That location is 1970s San Francisco, this being a movie released in 1979. Wells obviously doesn't quite know how to make his way in a time 80 years in the future, but he brought a bunch of gold coins with him, and gold keeps its value so he's got a means of supporting himself at least for a time. He goes to the various banks to try to exchange some of those coins as well as to see which bank Stevenson would have used and get some information on Stevenson's present whereabouts. Eventually, at one bank, he meets Amy (Mary Steenburgen), who did handle Stevenson's financial affairs. Amy is intrigued by Wells and eventually they begin to date even though they're seemingly all wrong for each other being 80 years apart in time and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Stevenson being Jack the Ripper, he's still got a lust for murder, and women start winding up dead in San Francisco. Not only that, but Stevenson wants that special key that will allow him to restart the machine and go back to London or perhaps some other place and some other time. Stevenson will stop at nothing to get that key....

Time After Time is, as I said in the opening paragraph, a very entertaining movie. The story is pretty good, raising some of the standard points you can expect from time travel movies. How, for example, can Wells convince people that he is in fact from a different time, and that he has a working time machine? (The machine, being in San Francisco, is shows as part of an exhibition on Wells; that's something that seems reasonably plausible.) And there's also the question of how to convince people that Stevenson is a cold-blooded killer. After all, if you went to the authorities saying you were from 80 years in the past and you knew there was somebody else from 80 years in the past around as well who is a murderer, the authorities would think you're insane.

But it's not just the story that's good. The characterizations and motivations of Wells and especially Stevenson are handled well. Stevenson is seen flipping through the channels on what would for him be the newfangled device of television, pointing out to Wells that he, Stevenson, as a vicious murderer is well-equipped to handle these tough times while Wells decidedly isn't. Wells, for his part would have had a vivid imagination being a science fiction writer; he's able to use that to be resourceful in trying to convince Amy that he really is who he says he is, while also ultimately dealing with Stevenson.

Time After Time is one of those movies that will never end up on any list of all-time great movies, but it's very successful at entertaining the viewer, which is one of the things a movie probably should be doing, after all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Briefs for October 13-14, 2015

TCM continues its Trailblazing Women series tonight with a look a women directors from the 1980s. I'm not certain if Look Who's Talking (10:00 PM) should be considered a classic, although it's certainly possible for movies under 30 years old to have reached classic status already. It's not just a studio-era thing. After all, I've recommended Mrs. Soffel (1:30 AM) before.

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of Lillian Gish, who would have turned 122 if she were still alive. Unsurprisingly, TCM is spending the day with a number of her silent movies, as they have done in the past. Indeed, it was exactly two years ago that I blogged about Broken Blossoms (11:15 AM), which is well worth watching if you haven't seen it before. You could also watch The Scarlet Letter (1:15 PM), which isn't bad if a bit melodramatic.

Monday, October 12, 2015


David Niven returns to TCM tonight for a second night in his turn as TCM's Star of the Month. This week I'm going to recommend him in a supporting performance in The First of the Few, also known as Spitfire, airing at midnight.

The star here is Leslie Howard, who also directed. Howard plays R.J. Mitchell, an aerospace engineer back in the days when such people didn't have such fancy titles but were were working in the fledgling field of aviation. Mitchell worked for a company called Supermarine, which you might be able to guess from the name developed seaplanes. But that wasn't Mitchell's biggest interest. In fact, he liked developing racing aircraft. These were still the days when there were air races, and various designers entered their prototypes in these races. Mitchell is seen in the movie partaking in such races along with his test pilot Geoffrey Crisp (that's Star of the Month Niven).

Mitchell was having a quite successful career, to the point that the company that bought out Supermarine specifically wanted him to stay on. But things began to change in the early 1930s. Specifically, it was the Nazis coming to power in Germany that changed the course of Mitchell's life. In the movie, he is presented as visiting Germany to talk shop with German airplane designers, since as you can imagine in a young industry the pursuit of invention can lead people from divergent backgrounds who might otherwise dislike each other to have a sense of camaraderie. But what Mitchell hears on his trip to Germany frightens him. The German airplane designers are coming up with some great designs, but it's in the service of an air force that, so the plan is, should make Germany strong again. And it's obvious that the force would be used against a country like the UK if the need ever arose.

So Mitchell realizes that the UK needs to take a prophylactic step to try to deal with the coming German menace. For Mitchell, this means building a new fighter for the UK's own air force that would be able to take on any possible German invaders if it should come to that. Now, in real life the British government was already looking for a new plane to replace one of their older fighters, and what Mitchell was designing was something that would fit the bill nicely. The movie, I have a feeling, dramatizes this a bit and makes Mitchell more prescient in seeing the possible German threat. But in any case, he did design the plane that would become known as the Spitfire, and that plane did take the major part in Britain's air defenses against the Nazis in the Battle of Britain.

However, Mitchell wouldn't live to see the ultimate success of his Spitfire. He had been diagnosed with cancer, and despite knowing that his days were numbered, continued workign on his prototype Spitfire almost until the end.

I have to admit to not knowing how much liberty the movie takes with the real events. (The Wikipedia article on the movie, however, does list several.) But in any case The First of the Few is a fine dramatization of those events. Leslie Howard obviously had a lot of love for the subject, both in terms of aviation and in terms of the people defending Britain; see From the Four Corners. The supporting cast, including Niven, are fine, but this is really Howard's movie.

The First of the Few is available on DVD if you should miss the TCM showing.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Announcing the Ego Trip Blogathon!

Ego Trip Blogathon, January 8-10, 2016

Welcome to the Ego Trip Blogathon, running from January 8-10, 2016!

A year and a half ago, I took part in a blogathon in which the object was to pick each letter of the alphabet and pick one's favorite movie title that began with that particular letter of the alphabet. When I got to the letter I, I noticed that there are a whole lot of movies out that which begin with the pronoun "I", revealing some quality about the movie's protagonist.

So, the "rules" of this blogathon are simple: pick an interesting movie whose title begins with the pronoun "I", and blog about it and why you selected that movie. There are any number of reasons to select a particular movie. First, it could be a movie that you just think is really good. Altertnatively, it can be a movie where the title is just so outrageous that it doesn't matter whether the movie is any good; the title alone makes the movie something worth talking about. Or, it could be a movie that you particularly like but think not enough people know about.

Note that this is about movies whose title begin with the pronoun "I", not the letter "I". So movie titles like It's a Wonderful Life don't qualify. Also anything with initials wouldn't qualify assuming the I initial stands for something other than the pronoun. Movies whose titles begin with a contraction (eg. "I've", "I'll", etc.) are acceptable, as are any foreign-language films whose titles begin with that language's equivalent of the pronoun "I". I can't think of any that fit that last category, but then I'm sure there are people out there who know a lot more about foreign film than I do.

To be a bit honest, the "rules" are a bit more complicated than I outlined above. The full rules:

1. Pick a movie that fits the criteria above, and mention your selection in the comments below. Please mention the name and URL of your blog in your comment. I'd prefer to avoid repeats if at all possible.
2. Blog about that movie the weeked of January 8-10, 2016. You've got almost three months to come up with an idea. Your blog post should include the logo above, either hotlinking to it or copying and storing it on your own site. (The image is small enough that it shouldn't cause me any bandwidth problems with Photobucket, but my desktop is still acting up with Photobucket so I can't actually see the photos I host unless I look at the photos on my mobile phone.)
3. Link to your blogpost once you actually post it in January. I'll be posting a thread in January for you to do that in the comments.
4. Have fun coming up with a movie to blog about and writing the post!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

More box guide fun

My set-top box guide is showing FXM Retro as airing something called "Secrets of Car Thieves" tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. The guide has no information on the movie, which is of course unsurprising since that's not what's going to be airing. Apparently there was a 2001 TV documentary from New Zealand with that title, but Fox wouldn't have the rights to anything like that, would they?

So I had to go to FXM's online schedule to find out what's running. The movie showing is, it turns out, Seven Thieves, one of those early 1960s heist films that I have to admit to not having seen in quite a few years, not since the last go-round of showings on FXM whenever that was.

But at any rate I'd rather make some comments about FXM's web site. Or, rather, the lack of a web site. FXM is under the FX Networks banner, as Fox is trying to make their channels all be of one brand, I guess. FX is the "regular" channel; FXM is supposed to be for movies, and FXX was conceived as "extreme", with that being marketing-speak for I don't know what since the channel seems to have morphed pretty quickly into FX2. Somehow I don't think Shrek Forever After qualifies as "extreme".

The schedules only run a week in advance, and when you select a different date the schedule immediately defaults to the FX schedule. The mobile version didn't seem to have anyway to find other airings of a selected program, either. So for all the problems I have with TCM's site (I don't have the app on my phone, and they don't have a non-app mobile version), things could always be worse.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Shorts and TCM's schedule pages

I've commented a few times in the recent past how TCM's weekly schedule page seems no longer to be playing nicely with the browsers on my older computer. I have a feeling it's down to one or another of the things from Google that the page is trying to foist upon us. Google, after all, is trying to get everybody to switch to their Chrome browser. However, the daily schedule pages don't seem to be having nearly as much problem.

And so with that, I note a couple of shorts that are coming up on the schedule today and tomorrow. First up is Take a Cue at 9:18 PM, just after Mad Love. TCM's schedule lists it as a man demonstrating how to play billiards, but in fact it's a Pete Smith short, so you can imagine the quality of the billiards we're going to get. Well, actually, it's trick shots, which can be interesting even if they're not real pool or billiards of whatever sort we're used to. Direction is handled by Felix Feist, who never quite made it out of the second tier of directors, except possibly for when he directed Joan Crawford in This Woman is Dangerous.

Tomorrow morning at 8:08 AM, we get something called The Road to Victory, which is one I haven't seen before. The synopsis on TCM's schedule page makes it sound like it's going to be another of those all-star shorts with the stars entertaining us, of the sort the studios made to try to boost people's morale on the homefront during World War II. But the one reviewer on IMDb's page claims that it actually looks at the future, or the perceived bright future we're all going to have after we beat the Nazis and Japanese, if only you at home continue to participate in the war effort. I'm always up for studio era movies looking at the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Man Who Played God (1932)

A few weeks back I had the chance to record The Man Who Played God when it showed up on TCM. It's apparently available from the Warner Archive (more on that later), so I feel OK doing a full-length post on the film.

George Arliss as Montgomery Royle, a prominent pianist who is currently performing in Paris. He's got a lot of adoring fans, to the point that his sister Florence (Louise Closser Hale) has to deal with all the letters and flowers as his secretary. Among his two biggest fans would be the widow Mildred (Violet Heming) who thinks Montgomery should settle down, and somebody like her would be a good woman to do it with; and Grace (Bette Davis). Grace has been Montgomery's student, and she has a crush on him even though he's more than twice her age. Still, he says to her to give the relationship six months and, if she still holds a flame for him, then he'll marry her.

Meanwhile, back to that concert. Montgomery informs everybody that he heard that there's a European king who plans to be in attendance incognito -- and no, he's not going to say which country's king it is. That's a good thing, because it's the king of one of those countries that likes to have revolutions of the sort that took place from time to time in the Hollywood movies of the day. There are, in fact, terrorists waiting for the king to show up at the concert hall so that they can assassinate him. Except it turns out that the king's car develops mechanical problems, leading to his missing the entire concert! But he shows up at the after-show party, and gets Montgomery to play something for him. Unfortunately those terrorists have spotted the king, for they throw a bomb just outside the window of the room where everybody is enjoying themselves. The king is OK, but the shock from the blast destroys Montgomery's eardrums or something, because the result is that he winds up stone deaf.

What's a deaf pianist to do? Well, Montgomery doesn't want to live life any longer even though he's got a lot of money, a nice overlooking Central Park, and a lot of friends. What good is life without music? And why would any God do a thing like this to him? So Montgomery goes out on the balcony and plans to jump off! Thankfully, his butler stops him, and gives him the idea to learn how to read lips.

Montgomery becomes a very adept lip reader. So adept, in fact, that he's able to take a pair of binoculars and look down into the park below and watch the people sitting on the benches there. It's a pretty darn powerful pair of binoculars, because he's able to read the lips of the people in the park which is how he learns about their problems. And Montgomery decides that he's got a new mission in life, which is to help those poor people down there with their problems.

The only thing is, it turns out that one of those people is Grace. She spent the months after the bombing out in California with Harold (Donald Cook) and his smart set friends. Harold has always loved Grace, and thinks that somebody like himself would be more appropriate for Grace than an old man like Montgomery; never mind the fact that Montgomery is now deaf. And during those months out in California, Grace comes to realize that she loves Harold. Oh, she still likes Montgomery since he's such a nice man, but she doesn't have the feelings for him that she used to. But she feels she has to go through with the marriage to Montgomery, because to let him down would break his heart and kill him.

It's all reasonably interesting stuff. George Arliss is fun to watch as always, brightening up pretty much every movie that I've seen him in, even something like this that should be melodramatic piffle but isn't. (Compare it to something like Magnificent Obsession.) This was near the beginning of Bette Davis' career, and the chance to work with Arliss, who was a fairly big star at the time, gave her an opportunity at her first big role. (This even though she's credited behind Heming). Bette hasn't yet become the Bette of Now, Voyager and other histrionic roles, and she shows why she would ultimately become a legendary actress. The rest of the cast is serviceable, but it's Arliss especially, and to a lesser extent Davis, that you watch this movie for.

It's a bit surprising that even with the presence of Bette Davis and an early Best Actor Oscar winner, this movie isn't very well known. It has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but oddly, IMDb suggests you can't get it at Amazon. However, it is available from the TCM Shop, as well as slightly less pricey (for the time being) from the Warner Bros. shop. I wonder if Amazon has lost the rights to Warner Archive DVDs?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Another "FXM Retro still hasn't been killed off" observation

It's coming up on four years since FX launched, taking the 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM part of the schedule away from what had been the Fox Movie Channel. I said at the time that I'd give FMC six months before it, too went and the whole schedule was recent movies with commercial interruptions.

Obviously, my supposition was way off the mark. Whoever programs what is now FXM Retro is still continuing to take old movies out of the vault and put them on the cable channel, and changing the selection of movies from time to time. One movie that's just come back on the schedule after being away for two years or more is Sea Wife, which I blogged about back in April 2013, or almost exactly two and a half years ago. You can catch it tomorrow at 1:25 PM.

Meanwhile, for those of you who can do the streaming thing, you're in luck. Fox, for its 100th anniversary, is releasing 100 mostly studio era movies via digital streaming. It looks like a reasonably broad range of titles from the studio, except that the really prestigious titles aren't included. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it means lesser-known titles have been selected.

Chantal Akerman, 1950-2015

Belgian-born filmmaker Chantal Akerman has died at the age of 65. I have to admit that I don't know much about her, other than once in a while seeing the title of her film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles show up in the TCM Imports slot.

But it just so happens that that film is on the TCM schedule this month as part of the TCM spotlight on women directors. On the night of October 22 the spotlight is looking at non-US directors, and Akerman's film shows up at 3:15 AM on October 23. According to the TCM schedule, it runs 202 minutes, so it sounds like a bit of a slog to me. Well, that, and many of the reviews seem to praise it for having the right political views.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Janet Gaynor, 1906-1984

Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien in Sunrise (1927)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Janet Gaynor, who was born on this day in 1906. Some people might only remember her from the lists of Oscar winners, as she was the winner of the very first Best Actress Oscar. That's normally credited to the film Seventh Heaven, although the Academy rules at the time technically looked at one's body of work throughout the year in question, so Gaynor was also being honored in part for Sunrise and Street Angel.

Sunrise is a gorgeous movie, and shows what silent movies could do, and possibly what they would have been able to do if it hadn't been for the introduction of sound. (To be fair, it's only natural that people would want to hear the actors, and besides, while sound might have taken some things away from the movies, they made others a heck of a lot easier.) Gaynor made Sunrise and many of her other movies at Fox, which is why she doesn't show up all that often on TCM.

One Gaynor movie that does show up more often is the 1937 version of A Star is Born, in which Gaynor stars as Esther Blodgett-turned-Vicki Lester and moves up the ladder of success in Hollywood while her husband, Norman Maine (Fredric March) goes down into a miasma of booze. The story is melodramatic but fun, and also in nice early three-strip Technicolor.

Monday, October 5, 2015

TCM Star of the Month October 2015: David Niven

David Niven and Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death (airing 8:00 PM Oct. 12)

After a slight break due to a calendar quirk, we get back to having another star of the month on TCM. This month it's British actor David Niven, who graced the screen with his suave presence for close to 40 years. Niven won a Best Actor Oscar for Separate Tables, which amazingly doesn't seem to be on the schedule. TCM must have had a rights problem. That having been said, TCM were able to get enough movies that the four nights of Niven films continue well into Tuesday mornings.

As for tonight's schedule, the highlight probably depends upon what sort of movie you like. I'm not a particularly big fan of Wuthering Heights (1:00 AM), in which Niven plays Edgar, the good but unexciting guy in Cathy's (Merle Oberon) life. Partly it's the story; partly it's the ludicrous death scene when Cathy dies, sorry for giving away the plot. But that having been said, a lot of critics and just plain old movie buffs love the movie, so a lot of you probably will, too.

More up my alley is a nice comedy like Bachelor Mother, at 9:30 PM. This one stars Ginger Rogers as the woman who has a foundling come into her life, and David Niven as her boss having to deal with the mess caused by all of this. Needless to say the two leads wind up falling in love too as the story goes along....

Niven has a small part in Dodsworth (6:15 AM tomorrow) as Capt. Lockert, although I don't remember him showing up. That only says more about the size of the part; I'm not saying IMDb is wrong. But this is another well-made drama, and one I do like a lot more than Wuthering Heights.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera (1925/1929)

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature on TCM is The Phantom of the Opera, a movie I actually haven't done a full-length post on before. It comes up overnight at 12:45 AM.

Lon Chaney Sr. plays the phantom, but more on that in a bit. The opera here is the Paris Opera, where there are rumors of a ghost. Young Christine (Mary Philbin), however, doesn't seem to care. She's an understudy trying to make her way up the ladder of success, with the help of a masked singing tutor. She's also got a boyfriend in Raoul (Norman Kerry). Eventually, Christine does become a success, and wants to learn more aboutg her tutor. So she follows him, discovering that he goes to the depths beneath the opera house, eventually following him to his lair several stories underground. It's at this point that she removes the mask and discovers he's horribly disfigured! Her tutor is the phantom!

Now, the Phantom doesn't want his secret revealed for obvious reasons, but he makes a deal with Christine: he'll release her if she vows never to see Raoul again. Stupid move on both their parts. He should know that Christine is going to want to see Raoul, and Christine should probably have figured that based on the Phantom's insane lodgings, she needs to be more careful than she's going to be. She meets Raoul again (naturally) at the Masked Ball and plans to run away with him -- but only after one more performance. That's the stupid move. The Phantom has overheard them, and needless to say he's pissed. So he kidnaps Christine in the middle of the performance!

I don't think a brief synopsis like the above can really do a movie like The Phantom of the Opera justice. The story is well done, especially Chaney's acting, since he was good at all these horror types. The cinematography is excellent. Some of the scenes were tinted, as was not uncommon during the silent era. Also, the Masked Ball sequence was done in two-strip Technicolor, which gives it a slightly eerie feel since the film stock always looks different to me from the standard black-and-white film used in movies of the day and because the colors aren't particularly accurate.

There have also been various prints of this movie out there. Apparently there was more than one cut done before the movie went into wide release at the end of 1925. But then talkies came about, and some scenes were re-shot to turn the film into a partial talkie; it's with these new scenes that TCM has generally shown the movie -- that's probably the print most commonly available, and the version I've seen. There are also a lot of different scores, since many silent movies didn't have specific music associated with them. That probably shouldn't be the case with The Phantom of the Opera since there is supposed to be opera music at the heart of the film, but no, there are various scores out there. But whatever version you see, it's a film that's well worth watching for the story, and because it's surprisingly lovely to look at.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Moguls and Movie Stars redux

For those who missed it back in 2010, TCM is going to be rerunning the Moguls and Movie Stars series this month. There are going to be two episodes each Sunday at 10:00 AM, starting tomorrow and running through the 25th, which only has one episode since the miniseries only had seven episodes. My impression back when it premiered was that for anybody who didn't know much about the movies, it was a good introduction, but on a channel like TCM where a lot of the viewers are extremely avid movie buffs, it's mostly the sort of thing we know already. I'd say this is especially the case with the folks over at the TCM discussion boards.

The first episode in the series looks at the dawn of film, even more so than the recent first night of the Trailblazing Women spotlight did on Thursday night. If you didn't get to record any of the Alice Guy shorts that ran on Thursday night, here's Guy's La Fée aux Choux, or The Cabbage Fairy, all one minute of it:

Friday, October 2, 2015

Oh, that's right, it's October again

So I was looking at the TCM schedule to see if there was anything interesting worth blogging about. There don't seem to be too many shorts on the schedule right now, which was the first thing that struck my eye. The second was tonight's prime time lineup: Haunted Houses.

And that's when it hit me. Now that we're in October, we've got Halloween rapidly approaching, which means that all sorts of channels are going to be bringing out their horror-themed stuff. Why should TCM be any different? Indeed, it looks as though every Friday in prime time this October is going to be given over to nights chock full of horror films. In addition to this first Friday's theme of haunted houses, the other themes as best I can tell:

October 9: Disfigurement
October 16: Children playing a large part
October 23: Literary adaptations
October 30: Val Lewton

Also, much of the morning and afternoon schedule will be horror films on the 29th and 30th, with all day Halloween also being given over to horror.

A few of the Friday night selections might not be traditional horror, especially The Hunchback of Notre Dame on the 23d, but there's still some moderately frightening visuals or characters in these films, I think.

I just hope you all like horror films or female directors since those are taking up so much of this month's TCM schedule.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

October Spotlight: Female directors

It looks as though TCM may be getting away from the standard "Friday Night Spotlight", instead having a spotlight each month, but not necessarily having it on Fridays. September's spotlight was on Tuesdays, in part because the theme was about five directors who served in World War II and there weren't five Fridays in September.

October, however, has a bigger spotlight. The theme is women directors, and the spotlight is big enough that it's going to be on two nights each week in October, all five Thursdays and then the four Tuesdays. As I understand it, there's also going to be a second installment next year.

This first night of the spotlight looks at some of the early female directors, of whom the best known would probably be Alice Guy-Blaché. The short Falling Leaves, which I mentioned in that post from two years ago, is on the night's schedule, airing sometime betewen 8:00 PM and 9:30. This portion of the lineup is another one where TCM has schedule a block of shorts, which means the schedule isn't always clear. The TCM monthly schedule implies it'll be the last film of the block; my box guide suggests it'll be in the middle. Record the whole block.

Perhaps more interesting personally for me will be The Love Light at midnight. This one was directed by Frances Marion. Marion is probably much better known as a screenwriter, coming up with some great screenplays at the end of the silent era and the beginning of the sound era. That movie will be followed at 1:45 AM by a documentary on Marion.

John Guillermin, 1925-2015

British director John Guillermin had died at the age of 89. Apparently he died on Monday, but the obituaries I've seen were only published on Wednesday.

Guillermin is probably best known for his big-budget movies of the 1970s, of which the most notable is The Towering Inferno. It's one of those fun all-star disaster movies that were popular that decade, not that you couldn't figure it out from the title. Another all-star movie was his adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile. In between those was the 1970s remake of King Kong, a movie that I think is forgotten in part because the original is the best, and because the original was remade again several years ago.

One Guillermin film that I've blogged about is the underrated Guns at Batasi.