Monday, November 30, 2015

Another sign that FXM Retro is still going

Going back to the earliest days of this blog, when there was the Fox Movie Channel that was commercial-free and relatively classic movie oriented 24 hours a day, I pointed out that whoever programs the channel likes to take a small number of movies out of the vaults, run them into the ground, and then take a different set of films out of the vault and run those into the ground. It seems to be the beginning of the month that we see some movies return from out of the vault.

As you'll have noticed if you look at a calendar, tomorrow is December 1, which means the first day of a new month. Once again, we get a couple of movies that haven't been on FXM Retro in some time. The first of them is Swamp Water, coming up at 8:25 AM tomorrow. I blogged about it in June 2010, and then noticed that it was coming back out of the vault in June 2013, something that I have to admit I'd forgotten about.

The other one is Moontide, which I've mentioned on a couple of occasions, most recently in February 2013 which is when I think it had its last batch of airings on what was still the Fox Movie Channel at the time. That immediately follows Swamp Water, at 10:00 AM.

If you don't believe me that FXM Retro likes to run movies into the ground, look at the schedule for Wednesday, December 2. There's Swamp Water at 6:00 AM, followed by Moontide at 7:25 AM.

The Apu Trilogy

TCM is running Indian director Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy tonight in prime time. I have to admit that I've only seen the first of the three movies, back when TCM was doing the Story of Film series and ran a whole bunch of interesting foreign movies around the otherwise bland documentary. So I can't really comment about the trilogy as a whole.

As for the first movie, I'd have to say that for me it was the sort of thing where it was nice to mark it off the list of things I haven't seen before that everybody says is a classic that anybody who claims to be a film buff should have seen. But at the same time, it's also the sort of thing I wouldn't go out of my way to watch a second time. Not that I disliked it; instead, it's more that I found it a bit too slow moving and having the sort of "slice-of-life" theme where you really have to care about the characters presented. Other "slice-of-life" movies have had much more interesting characters from my point of view.

Also note the starting times. Apparently TCM is running a brief piece on the restoration of the films that will run after Robert Osborne's introduction, followed by the first of the three movies. However, both that brief piece and the first movie are listed as starting at 8:00 PM. So if you're looking to record the movies, you're definitely going to have to record the first one manually.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coming up on November 30, 2015

Tomorrow, November 30, marks what would have been the 95th birthday of actress Virginia Mayo, so it's not surprising that TCM is spending a morning and afternoon with her. Mayo might be best known for playing James Cagney's moll in White Heat, but that's not airing. She was also Dana Andrews' wife who enjoyed the good times in The Best Years of Our Lives, but that one is also not airing.

Instead, I'll make brief mentions of a couple of other movies. First, at 11:00 AM is Colorado Territory. This one is a remake of High Sierra, except that the action is moved back a couple of decades to make it a western. Joel McCrea plays the Humphrey Bogart character, that being the criminal who does "one more" robbery that ultimately costs him. Mayo plays his girl, who goes all the way to the end of the line for him.

If you want something lighter, you could try The Girl from Jones Beach at 2:15 PM. Mayo plays that girl, but more on her in a minute. Ronald Reagan is an artist who has come up with a drawing of an ideal girl by drawing the body parts of a bunch of different girlfriends. And then he meets Mayo at the shore, and finds that she looks just like his drawing. How to meet her? Well, she teaches English as a second language at citizenship classes for immigrants, so Reagan tries to pass himself off as a Czech immigrant! Reagan was always reasonably OK at light comedy, and thanks to having Eddie Bracken as a sidekick, the movie does ultimately work.

Over on FXM Retro, you've got one more chance to watch The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, tomorrow at 11:30 AM. I briefly summarized this one at the end of October 2014, and stand by what I said in that post. It's more than pleasant if you like the Fox style of musicals that they were putting out in the Betty Grable era, but if that's not your thing, it's a very trifling, albeit utterly inoffensive, trifle. As I also mentioned in the October 2014 post, the movie was based on an idea from silent movie screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who lived to be 111, but Fox changed Maas' ideas beyond all belief.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Another heads-up for fans of shorts on TCM

Unfortunately, it looks as though there's another glitch with the TCM on-line schedule in that the shorts aren't showing up. I was looking through today's schedule, and noticed that there weren't any shorts scheduled. I was slightly surprised since following Monkey Business there was about a 12-minute gap before the next feature, the first of the Dick Tracy movie started. And then I noticed that there was about 12 or 13 minutes between the end of Dick Tracy and the Bowery Boys movie that was following. I also saw that the Bowery Boys film was just under 70 minutes and put in a 90-minute time slot, which obviously leaves 20 minutes for TCM to film. Surely during at least one of those slots there would be a short scheduled?

My first thought was that there was just a problem with the schedule for today. So I switched to the weekly schedule, and lo and behold, there wasn't one short on the schedule for the entire week! That has to be a misprint, I thought. I know the shorts are scheduled fairly shortly before they air, maybe a week or so, and that often times if you look at the weekly schedule only the first four or five days will have shorts on it because TCM hasn't necessarily decided what short to put in what slot in the last couple of days. But this time, there was nothing at all for any of the seven days.

Anyhow, I decided to stick around for the end of Monkey Business to see if TCM would run a one-reeler. No; we got an interesting piece on George Cukor. Wait an hour and change for the end of Dick Tracy. (Well, I actually watched something off the DVR.) This time there was the promo for the TCM wine club, and a trailer for something. Certainly there was going to be something in that 20-minute slot between the end of the Bowery Boys movie and the start of The Poseidon Adventure at noon. Well, first up was the piece Nancy Sinatra did on her father Frank the last time he was Star of the Month back in 2008 on the 10th anniversary of his death. He's going to be Star of the Month in December since that will be the 100th anniversary of his birth, but this one wasn't branded as a Star of the Month piece. Interestingly, there was what looked like a newly-made Star of the Month piece for Sinatra that came up after either Monkey Business or Dick Tracy, I can't remember which. But then finally, around 11:45 AM, there was the Traveltalks short on Bavaria.

But when I went back online, it still wasn't in either the daily or weekly schedule. So for the time being it looks as though either somebody's forgotten to update the schedule to include the shorts, or we'll no longer be getting them. A shame either way.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dick Tracy redux

Back in 2012, I mentioned the 1937 Dick Tracy serial, something which I had completely forgotten about. I didn't mention back in 2012, but I did know then and would have recalled now that there was a series of B movies about the famous comic strip detective made in the second half of the 1940s.

Well, that series is starting this Saturday on TCM, what with the Batman and Robin serial having ended last Saturday. Of course, since these are full-length movies, and not a serial, the start time is a bit earlier, at 9:15 AM, so that it'll end in time for the next of the Bowery Boys movies to begin at 10:30 AM.

I know I saw at least one of these the last time TCM ran all of them, but I can't remember which one and would probably blur all the plots anyhow since it's been several years I think since TCM ran them.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving night with Tracy and Hepburn

After you've finished your Thanksgiving turkey, if you don't like football you can always spend the evening with TCM, who are counterprogramming with five of the nine movies to pair Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Desk Set, one that I've never actually blogged about in full and would do so if today weren't Thanksgiving and I didn't have a bunch of other things to do. The movie stars Hepburn as the head of a TV network's research library; into that library comes computer expert (for 1957 computers) Tracy, who's trying to sell the network a computer that will help in research. Unsurprisingly, the research librarians think the computer is going to replace them. Complicating matters is that Tracy and Hepburn's characters fall in love along the way. Pay special attention to the computer. It's the same one that would be recycled by Fox several years later in the Dick Van Dyke section of What a Way to Go! which was just on TCM earlier this week. I suppose that vintage computer could be the subject for a post of its own if I had good screencaps of it.

Coming up at 10:00 PM is Woman of the Year, which I blogged about four years ago. Political columnist Hepburn meets sportswriter Tracy; the two fall in love despite their differences.

At midnight is State of the Union, which has Tracy running for the presidency with his wife Hepburn as support; unfortunately the campaign threatens to take his humanity away from him.

You can catch Pat and Mike at 2:15 AM; here Hepburn plays a female athlete who is discovered by Tracy who becomes her manager; again the two fall in love along the way.

Finally, at 4:00 AM is Adam's Rib, with Tracy and Hepbrn playing married lawyers who wind up on opposite sides of a criminal trial when Hepburn takes the defense of Judy Holliday, who is on trial for shooting her husband.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Imagine this happening to you at Thanksgiving

If you've got the Encore package and can get Encore Classics, you'll have a couple of chances to catch Seems Like Old Times, at 2:35 PM Thursday and 5:50 AM Friday.

Chevy Chase stars as Nicholas Gardenia, who at the start of the movie is at a mildly isolated beach house some place in Northern California. He's a writer, and looking for some solitude for his next project. A couple of guys come knocking at his door, and they make it known in no uncertain terms that they need Nicholas' help for their next project. Of course, they do it in those "no uncertain terms" because their project is bank robbery! They've got their eyes on one of the bank branches in another of those seaside towns, and they expect Nicholas to pass the hold-up note and drive the getaway car for them. It sounds like a daft idea, but it is their plan. The robbery goes about as well as can be expected, in that it goes according to plan, nobody gets hurt, and the bankers get away with the money. They don't even show up on any of the security cameras; the only one who does is poor Nicholas. And the only getaway he can make involves getting pushed out of his own car at high speed by the two bank robbers, which leaves Nicholas stranded in the middle of nowhere and injured.

Meanwhile, down in the Los Angeles area, getting news about this is District Attorney Ira Parks (Charles Grodin). He's in the running to be his party's nominee for Attorney General, and this bank robbery could cause some problems for him, even though he's several counties away. The thing is, Ira Parks' wife, a public defender named Glenda (Goldie Hawn), just happens to be the ex-wife of one Nicholas Gardenia -- yes, the very same man who was seen on that bank security camera footage. Even though Ira is clearly innocent of any wrongdoing, having a wife with a former husband who is a bank robber is obviously going to cause a problem in trying to run for higher office., as his right-hand man Fred (Robert Guillaume) points out.

Getting back to Nicholas, he's been trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities, while dealing with his other problems, namely that injury and the fact that he's hungry. So he's desperate for help. Desperate enough, in fact, that there's one place he decides he can turn to: his ex-wife Glenda! Oh, that's bad, but making matters worse is that Nicholas shows up at the Parks place just as they're holding a party for a bunch of political hot-shots. Having an alleged bank robber be seen there would be disastrous for everybody, especially the Parkses.

From here on out we get Nicholas trying to figure out a plan of escape, while Glenda is piling one lie on top of another trying to keep Nicholas from being caught, since that would cause bigger problems for Ira than just allowing Nicholas to go about his merry business. Now, as you may know from reading my earlier blog posts, I tend to have a problem with the comedy-of-lies in that I find the non-stop lying grating. Won't anybody see through these obvious lies? And to be perfectly honest, there are points during Seems Like Old Times where I get incredibly irritated with Goldie Hawn's character. And yet, ultimately, the movie does work for me. Glenda is part daffy in a screwball way, what with all those dogs and with trying to reform the people she's defending, and that helps the movie. Nicholas is basically honest, if just dumb enough to get himself into some bad situations. And Ira, well, you have to wonder what made him decide to marry Glenda. But thanks to the writing of Neil Simon, everything comes together well enough. Not as well as several of his other movies; if I were going to recommend one of his films I'd start off with The Sunshine Boys, followed by The Odd Couple. Still, if you like Neil Simon, I think you'll like this. Especially if you don't have the problems with the comedy-of-lies that I do.

Seems Like Old Times does seem to be available on DVD at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The final night of Norma Shearer

Today sees the final night of TCM's Star of the Month treatment for Norma Shearer, looking at the movies Shearer made after the death of her husband, MGM producer Irving Thalberg.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Marie Antoinette, a movie that I've briefly mentioned a couple of times. MGM spared no expense in trying to make a movie that would give Shearer a triumphant comback, and that shows. The movie runs over two and a half hours and is filled with all the gloss that MGM was known for back then compared to the other studios. Who ever knew the French Revolution could look that good. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of the movie, mostly because I find it bloated. It's one of those two and a half hour films that could really use some cutting down to get it under two hours, I think.

That's followed at 10:30 PM by The Women, which is unsurprisingly another movie I don't particularly care for. But then again, as a man I'm clearly not in the target demographic for this movie. There's a reason I've never particularly cared for movies like Random Harvest, either, or laughed at inappropriate times during Dark Victory.

I'm going to have to cop to never having seen Idiot's Delight before. That one comes on at 1:00 AM. Not having seen it, there's obviously not much I can say about it.

The only one of the night's movies I've blogged about before is Escape, at 3:00 AM. It's another movie that's interesting, but does show the MGM gloss on the issues of the day, in this case being that the Nazis were putting dissidents in concentration camps. It's the same issue I have with The Mortal Storm.

Norma Shearer's time as Star of the Month concludes with Her Cardboard Lover at 4:45 AM, and We Were Dancing at 6:30 AM.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Annie, Are You OK?

One of the movies currently being rotated through the FXM Retro lineup that I haven't blogged about before is Anne of the Indies. It's on tomorrow at 11:50 AM and again at 9:35 AM Wednesday.

The movie opens with a ship making the Atlantic crossing circa 1700, which is a dangerous undertaking considering that there are pirates afoot. Sure enough, the ship gets waylaid by a pirate ship, specifically one captained by the notorious Captain Providence, whom the autorities have never seen. It turns out that Captain Providence is a woman! (The role is played by Jean Peters.) Captain Providence takes a prisoner, Captain Pierre LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan). However, she takes a liking to him, and he's willing to gain a small measure of freedom by working in her crew. After all, he's French, and his ship was impounded by the English in Jamaica.

Except that it turns out that he's not quite working for Captain Providence. That's just a ruse so that he can get information on the pirate captain for the English authorities, in exchange for which they will release his ship. And that's not the only lie he's keeping from Providence. When he goes ashore in Jamaica to talk to the English authorities, he also goes to see Mrs. LaRochelle (Debra Paget). Wait until Providence finds out about that!

And don't say she wasn't warned. Her first officer is wary of LaRochelle, while her mentor Blackbeard also wonders whether she's falling too much in love with LaRochelle and whether that will ultimately be to the detriment of her and her crew. The answer is that of course it will; Providence isn't a privateer, the sort of pirate who was actually working for a government. In that case, the Production Code could have forgiven her "crimes" which would be presented as part of a war between various countries.

But along the way we get nice Technicolor and a surprisingly harsh climax. When Providence learns the truth about LaRochelle, she decides to take him and his wife, and leave the two of them on an island that has no water or shade. They'll die of thirst, but they're more likely to go mad first. How will LaRochelle get out of that?

Anne of the Indies is a fairly pedestrian movie. It's one that entertains, but it doesn't do anything special. It's nice to look at, but probably won't be particularly memorable that long after you've watched it. But if you do like pirate movies, I think you'll like Anne of the Indies.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walter Pidgeon at the drive-in

On the TCM schedule today at about 3:45 PM, or just after The Pirate (2:00 PM, 102 min plus an intro and outro from Ben Mankiewicz), is a short called The Management of Metro Twin Drive-In, Chullora, Is Proud to Introduce Mr. Walter Pidgeon.

I haven't seen this particular promo from MGM, but there is a long line during the studio era of the studios making shorts designed with the purpose of having stars promote either new movies or going to this theater in general. One that TCM shows often enough for it to stick in my memory involves the Hardy family coming down to the living room, enjoying their Christmas presents, and thanking the viewers for spending time with them.

Other shorts that TCM has run repeatedly include one announcing the opening of a Loew's picture palace in Cairo Egypt, and all the fabulous movies that MGM is going to be running there, with the movies being late 30s fare about a year behind what was being shown in America. Of course, World War II would have put the kibosh on all of that.

When it comes to the exibitors and not the studios, I'm reminded of the two interesting low-budget shorts This Theater and You and The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theaters. In some ways they're both hilarious to look at over 60 years on, but they're also for their historical value for what the movie theaters tried to think of themselves.

Getting back to Walter Pidgeon, I thought it would be odd to imagine him promoting anything at the drive-in, since he's not the sort of person the teens would have wanted to go see. But then I noticed that the date of this short (1956) is the same year as Forbidden Planet, which I think might just be the sort of movie that people would go to a drive-in to see. At least, it's in the same science fiction vein, although the production values are quite a bit better than what would normally be shown at the drive-in.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

That blogathon of my own

Welcome to those of you visiting from the "What a Character!" blogathon! Having decided to take part in that blogathon, I also finally decided to take one of the ideas I've had running around my brain for a while and turn it into a blogathon of my own. With that in mind, I'm reposting the original information from the first time I put up the "Ego Trip Blogathon" page:

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!

So the blogathon was actually this week

So I posted last Saturday about character actor John Qualen for the What a Character! blogathon. Well, since the blogathon had been scheduled for the weekend of November 14-16, I wrote the post a bit early and scheduled it to post on the 14th.

It turns out that the blogathon was pushed back a week, so that I should have published my post today instead of last Saturday. One of the nice things about the Internet, however, is that the stuff is always archived and it's always easy to put up a hyperlink. The first link above is to my blogathon post, but if you're not certain which link it is, here it is again: What a Character: John Qualen

Friday, November 20, 2015

Batman and Robin heads-up

TCM has been running the late 1940s serial Batman and Robin for the last couple of months. Tomorrow is the finale, although if you've been recording it you'll want to pay close attention to getting the finale.

The episodes have been airing every Saturday morning at 10:00 AM, since they're a little under 20 minutes each. But tomorrow's finale begins at 10:15 AM. That wouldn't be a big deal, except that the final chapter is listed as being 17 minutes, and the next Bowery Boys movie is listed at beginning at 10:30 AM. The Bowery Boys movie, Bowery Bombshell, is listed at 66 minutes, with another short following at 11:45 AM.

The 10:15 starting time for Batman and Robin is, I think, not a mistake either. The previous movie, Seven Seas to Calais starts at 8:30 AM and runs 102 minutes, which puts the ending of that fairly close to the 10:15 AM start time for the Batman and Robin serial.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TCM's Maureen O'Hara tribute

Maureen O'Hara died last month at the age of 95. TCM has put aside its regularly scheduled programming for tomorrow, November 20, in order to air a 24-hour salute to the actress with a dozen of her movies.

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with Jamaica Inn, from which the above photo is taken. The rest of the schedule includes:
The Deadly Companions at 7:45 AM;
Spencer's Mountain at 9:30 AM;
McClintock! at 11:30 AM;
Battle of the Villa Fiorita at 1:45 PM;
Big Jake at 3:45 PM;
The Wings of Eagles at 5:45 PM;
The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 8:00 PM;
The Quiet Man at 10:15 PM;
At Sword's Point at 12:30 AM;
Sinbad the Sailor at 2:00 AM; and
The Spanish Main at 4:00 AM;

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. night

This past summer during Summer Under the Stars, TCM spent a day with actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Tomorrow evening (November 19), they'll be spending the prime-time lineup with his father, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. I've only mentioned Fairbanks Sr. a couple of times, mostly because his career was in the silents and TCM tends to put its silents in the Silent Sunday Nights block just that once a week.

Fairbanks Sr. was of course the original swashbuckler, long before Errol Flynn. You can catch some of that swashbuckling in The Mark of Zorro at 10:00 PM. I think this is the only one of the night's movies that I've seen in its entirety, having watched it some time back when it was being run as part of some other prime time theme that had a bunch of silents. At that time, the print they showed was excellent for a movie from all the way back in 1920.

I've also seen the beginning of The Thief of Baghdad, which follows at midnight, but that one runs nearly two and a half hours, so I couldn't bring myself to sit down for the whole thing. I think that might have been during its airing as part of the "Arab Images in Film" spotlight back in 2011, when it began at 10:30 PM and I wasn't going to stay up until 1:00 AM. I've got a DVR now, but it's almost full. :-(

Briefs for November 18-19, 2015

Tonight's TCM Spotlight on Southern writers continues at 8:00 PM with Reflections in a Golden Eye. I'm sory to say that this is one of those movies for which I have a profound dislike, probably in no small part because it stars Marlon Brando. Well, that and the yellow filter it was filmed through, which I find makes it even more tedious of a viewing experience. But for all I know, there might be somebody out there who actually likes it.

If you want a better movie from a Southern writer, try In Cold Blood, which follows at 10:00 PM. Southern author Truman Capote gives us a movie not set in the south, but then this one is based on the true story of two young men who killed a Kansas farm family back in the late 1950s.

I thought I had done a brief blog post on Stop, You're Killing Me before; that one's airing at 3:00 PM tomorrow. The reason I was pretty certain of it is because it's a remake of the wonderful Edward G. Robinson comedy A Slight Case of Murder.

I am sorry to say that there don't seem to be any interesting shorts on the TCM schedule right now, with the exception of those airing in the Underground block early on Sunday morning.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mischa Auer, 1905-1967

Mischa Auer (standing) with Alice Brady in a scene from My Man Godfrey (1936)

Today marks the birth anniversary of comic actor Mischa Auer. At least, it does according to most sources. Auer was born on this dy in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was still using the Julian calendar at the time, and none of the sources mention whether it's November 17 according to the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. But in any case, it's today that his birthday gets marked.

The IMDb biography claims that Auer had a pretty interesting childhood, at least in the sense of the old Chinese proverb of "May you live in interesting times". He had already lost his father by the time of the Communist revolution in 1917 just before his 12th birthday, which eventually led to his mother taking him and fleeing the country for Turkey. Eventually he wound up in New York, workign in the Yiddish theater there, which is how he got noticed by Hollywood.

With his looks and accent he was a natural for playing openly Russian or other nebulously Eastern European types. His most famous role, however, gave him the Italian name Carlo, as the protégé of family matriarch Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey. He does, however, get to sing the Russian folk song "Ochi Chernye" during the movie. This is the movie that made him a comic actor. He received an Oscar nomination, which led to producers wanting to use him for his comic value as a daffy Eastern European type. Well, it paid the bills. Perhaps Auer's other best-known role would be as the dance instructor in You Can't Take It With You.

Auer returned to Europe after World War II, so his film career obviously went south after that. But at least we have those wonderful 30s comedies to watch him in.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Easy Living (1949)

TCM is running a night of Victor Mature movies tonight, ending at 4:30 AM with Easy Living.

Mature plays Pete Wilson, who is the quarterback for the New York Chiefs, in an era when professional football was not king and the players didn't make all that much. That having been said, Wilson has done about as well as one possibly could out of football at the time, with a trophy wife Liza (Lizabeth Scott) who has become interior decorator to the smart set, and a presumptive offer to become the next coach at his old alma mater. That latter is apparently a big deal considering that college football was still a bigger thing than the pro game back then.

But there's a problem. Wilson isn't feeling well, and when he goes to a private doctor, it's discovered that he's been carrying a heart murmur all these years. Nowadays, they could probably do surgery to correct the problem, although the player would have to miss the remainder of the season. In 1949, however, medicine wasn't quite so advanced, and the diagnosis would have meant retire from playing football forthwith or else risk death. Well, it would be fairly easy to retire mid-season, especially considering that the ailment has already degraded his play to the point that the team is thinking of replacing him as the starting quarterback.

Again, however, there's a problem. Liza has liked living the good life in New York getting to meet all those high-class people when she does their redecorating for them. This even though she's really not all that good at it and is only getting the jobs because of her name. At any rate, however, she doesn't want to leave New York City for the life of a coach's wife at a midwestern state university. And dammit, she's going to do whatever it takes to make certain her husband is still living the good life for her sake, never mind what his sake involves!

There's even more going on with all of this. Lloyd Nolan plays Lenahan, the team's hands-on owner who sees Wilson's play degrading and is one of the people who wants to switch quarterbacks. His daughter-in-law Anne (Lucille Ball) is what seems to be a sort of executive assistant to him. She's a widow, and not certain she'd want to fall in love with another football player. But she is falling in love with Pete even though he's already married.

If you're a football fan, there's a lot interesting here to see how Hollywood looked at professional football before television (and then especially the Sabols and NFL Films) came along and revolutionized the game and made it a big money affair. I don't know how realistic it all is -- probably not very. I also found most of the performances apart from Mature's to be quite good. Scott turns out to be nasty as the grasping wife; Nolan is as good as ever playing his tough but ultimately sympathetic authority figure; and Lucille Ball in a drama is always something nice to see. Ball didn't get enough chances to show off her acting chops, but she really coud act.

It looks as though Easy Living is available from the Warner Archive collection. But make certain you're getting the 1949 film. There's also a 1937 screwball comedy called Easy Living. While it's a really good movie, it has nothing to do with the 1949 movie other than sharing a title.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Traffic in Souls

This week's Silent Sunday Nights feature is the very early feature Traffic in Souls, at midnight tonight.

The titular traffic here involves what was known back in the day as "white slavery", that is, people tricking pretty young white girls into engaging in prostitution, and not letting them go. Mary Barton (played by Jane Gail) is a young woman engaged to a policeman (Matt Moore) when, one day, her kid sister Lorna (Ethel Grandin) goes missing. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that she's been lured by those white slavers.

Mary goes to work for the "Purity League", one of those do-gooder organizations that rail against whatever is the moral panic of the day that is seen to be threatening the virtue of young pretty white girls. A generation later, it would be marihuana with an H as seen in movies like Reefer Madness; nowadays there are alleged threats like sexting. So it's something that's been going on for ages. The league is run by Mr. Trubus, with the help of his wife, since it was the upper-middle-class wives of the day who had a lot of time on their hands who came up with a lot of these vile ideas like the temperance movement or the latter-day war on drugs.

But, it turns out that Trubus isn't quite what he seems, and is in fact in cahoots with the guys running the white slavery ring! It's up to Mary to get the goods on him.

Traffic in Souls is one of those early silents that I first saw several years ago on TCM when they were running some sort of programming feature that included a night full of early silent movies. It's from 1913, even before Birth of a Nation, and one of the earliest feature-length silents out there. So obviously the camera work and production values are primitive even compared to the movies that would come toward the end of the silent era. Still, it's quite interesting for the story that it tells and for its look at the cultural values of the day. That, and it was also done before most of the studios left for Hollywood. Remember that, with Edison being based in New Jersey, a lot of the early film production was done there and in New York (which, after all, did have all those stage actors). So we get some looks at vintage New York City as it was in 1913 as well.

Traffic in Souls should be in the public domain although, as with In the Land of the Headhunters which I mentioned the other day, I don't know about the surviving prints and whether its access to those that have led to the movie only being available on an expensive DVD box set, at least according to the TCM Shop. (Amazon lists an out-of-print cheapo version available.) It doesn't seem to be on YouTube either, which is really surprising.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

What a character: John Qualen

Ah yes, I signed up to do a blogathon back in September. And now the time has come to actually put up the post. Aurora's Gin Joint, among other blogs, has organized the What a Character! Blogathon, in which the point is to pick a favorite character actor and do a post on that actor. I've selected one of my favorites, John Qualen.

Qualen is one of the many Hollywood actors who was actually born in Canada, having been born in 1899 in British Columbia to Norwegian immigrant parents. He was actually born with the surname "Kvalen" but anglicized it and eventually used the English-language "kw" sound for the Q rather than the original "kv" sound. It was in college that he began his acting career, which eventually took him to Broadway, where he played the part of the janitor in the stage version of Street Scene. When the movie version was made in 1931, Qualen was selected to reprise his role, and thus began a long career in the movies, and later on TV.

Qualen's distinctive voice and his ability to do the Scandinavian accent got him a lot of roles as ethnic types. One of my favorites is in Our Daily Bread, which has him playing a Swedish-immigrant farmer who shows up on the land owned by Tom Neal who is trying to make a go of farming during the Depression; Qualen helps turn the land into a sort of commune. It's a really interesting low-budget movie. Qualen played Finnish (technically not Scandinavian, although Finland does have a Swedish-speaking minority) in Ski Patrol, a 1940 movie about the Winter War; Danish in Danny Kaye's Hans Christian Andersen; and Norwegian as Knute Rockne's father in Knute Rockne, All-American. Qualen has another Norwegian role in a more famous movie, that being Casablanca:

Here, Qualen plays the man from the Norwegian resistance who presents a signet ring to Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried). If memory serves he's only in that one scene, but he's as professional as ever.

Qualen's career continued with a long series of smaller roles in big movies. He appeared in John Ford's Arrowsmith back in 1931, which began a long association with both the director and, later, the director's favorite actor John Wayne. I don't quite remember Qualen's roles in The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, but there he is. And with John Wayne he was also one of the passengers in The High and the Mighty.

I was looking for a good photo of him in one of his later works A Patch of Blue, in which he plays Faber, the man who gives Elizabeth Hartmann's character the beads that she strings together to make necklaces. It's another small role with only two or three scenes, but again he does a very good job.

If I had to pick one movie in which Qualen's role is most essential to the plot, I think it would have to be His Girl Friday. Here, Qualen plays Earl Williams, the man who is scheduled to be executed for a murder, and where the mayor is trying to make certain that execution is carried out as scheduled for political reasons. The main, story, however, involves editor Cary Grant's attempt to get his star reporter (Rosalind Russell) to get the story of Earl Williams, especially once he escapes. The movie is most definitely a comedy, but there are also very dark undertones, and Qualen plays Williams as a befuddled man who seems not to quite understand why he's scheduled to be executed.

Qualen retired in the early 1970s and died in 1987, survived by his wife of 63 years.

Friday, November 13, 2015

One more chance to watch Make Mine Mink

I first blogged about the movie Make Mine Mink in the early days of this blog, all the way back in February 2008. (My goodness, we're almost on the eighth anniversary of this blog.) The movie aired again on TCM two years ago, and at that time, I mentioned that the DVDs available all seemed to be from Europe, and that what TCM showed on their schedule page linking to the TCM Shop was a DVD that was out of stock.

Well, Make Mine Mink is back on the schedule for overnight tonight at 3:00 AM as part of a night of Bob's Picks. This time, however, viewers seem to be in a little more luck. The schedule page is advertising the same two-movie box set as they did back in 2013. But this time, the TCM Shop lists it as being in stock, and available for purchase for about $15, which isn't that bad for two movies. And two pretty darn good movies at that.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lewis' films are, surprisingly, absent tonight

TCM is putting the spotlight tonight on Milestone Films, a company that distributes otherwise hard-to-find films on DVD. They specialize in early movies, independent, and foreign films, and it's perhaps appropriate that tonight's lineup contains a series of documentaries that I think befits Mileston's ambit.

The night starts off at 8:00 PM with In the Land of the Headhunters, in which still photographer Edward Curtis went to northern Vancouver Island to film the native tribe that was still living there, with a way of life relatively close to what they'd had for centuries. In theory, this movie, made in 1914, should be in the public domain, but very few prints survived and it was re-edited with new music added, and the music would definitely not be in the public domain. So there are a few clips on Youtube, but not the whole movie.

Mikhail Kalotozov, whom I remember best for The Cranes Are Flying, follows at 9:15 PM with I Am Cuba, his docudrama about how wonderful the Communist revolution of 1959 was., that will be followed by a couple of independent documentaries from Americans looking at experiences ranging from modern-day (well, early 1960s modern) Native Americans to South Africa under the early days of apartheid.

I didn't check on the TCM website, but I'd presume that since the night is dedicated to a company which distributes movies, that all of the movies should be available on DVD from Milestone Films.

(Apologies for the otherwise brief post, but I'm feeling rather sick today.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Secret Fury heads-up

Three years ago, I blogged about The Secret Fury, not realizing that it had in fact been pulled from the TCM schedule. It's coming up again tomorrow (November 12) at 12:15 PM, and since it still doesn't seem to be available on DVD, this is about your only chance to catch it.

Between Heaven and Hell

Even though today was Veterans' Day, TCM decided to spend the day showing other stuff, which doesn't particularly bother me although it's agitated a bunch of people who sounded off on the Internet, apparently. FXM Retro did run some war movies, although I think I had already blogged about all of them. One Fox war movie I finally got a chance to see recently that didn't air today is Between Heaven and Hell. It does seem to be available at Amazon, so you can get a copy there if you do the streaming video thing.

The movie opens with army private Sam Gifford (Robert Wagner) just having been busted in rank and lucky not to face a court-martial for apparently having struck a senior officer, Since it's World War II and they're all in a combat zone on some God-forsaken island in the Pacific, it's apparently the least bad thing that he simply be demoted and sent to serve in a different company, which is how he gets sent to Company G. This company is headed by Captain "Waco" Grimes (Broderick Crawford), who has some peculiar rules of command. Specifically, he wants to be called "Waco" instead of "Sir", being afraid that the Japanese snipers will learn that he's the commanding officer and try to kill him. And Waco is a bit of a martinet, thinking Gifford's middle name Francis is a bit effeminate.

And then we begin to learn a bit about how Gifford got here. Some other soldiers in the company mention the former commander, Col. Cousins, and how sad it was that he got killed in battle. It was especially difficult for Gifford because he married Cousins' daughter (Terry Moore). Cue the first of the flashbacks.... In the flashbacks, which start off before the war, we learn that Gifford was a rich landowner down south, and had a bunch of white sharecroppers working his land. Gifford pushes them hard to get the most out of them, something that bothers his wife Jenny.

Back in the present, Gifford winds up serving with a guy from Chicago and another man, Pvt. Crawford (Buddy Ebsen) who just happens to be from a sharecropper family himself, close enough that he knows all the places Gifford talks about, but not close enough to have worked for Gifford. Gifford takes a liking to Crawford, and this combined with his war experiences begins to temper Gifford's outlook to the point that perhaps things will be different back on the farm if he survives the war.

Of course, to survive the war, he has to deal with Waco, which is a problem. Waco has Gifford command a sortie that is risky enough that you wonder whether Waco is deliberately trying to get Gifford killed. Gifford does a good job, but Waco doesn't want to believe him. Meanwhile, Waco is becoming more and more a difficult person to be around, to the point that you hope he's the one to get relieved. But not before Gifford has to go out on one last difficult mission, this time doing scout patrol up in the mountains.

Between Heaven and Hell is well-enough done, although there are a lot of the tropes of war movies that, I suppose, it's difficult to avoid falling into simply because there's only so much you can do and still be a realistic war movie. Robert Wagner does reasonably well in what is a somewhat atypical role for him; I think he was generally the sort of actor better suited to lighter material. Broderick Crawford shouts and gesticulates much the same way he did in Born Yesterday and All the King's Men, but these are things that befit his character. Unfortunately, the print that FXM Retro showed was panned-and-scanned from Cinemascope down to 16:9.

If you like war movies, I think you'll like Between Heaven and Hell.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I Blame Dennis Hopper

Sometime TCM co-host and granddaughter of actor Melvyn Douglas has apparently written a book, titled I Blame Dennis Hopper. In my Radio New Zealand podcast feed this morning, I came across the following item:

Feature Interview -- Illeana Douglas

When director Martin Scorsese heard actress Illeana Douglas scream, he cast her in his movie "The Last Temptation of Christ". Her unique look landed her roles in movies like "To Die For," and "Picture Perfect" and she had recurring roles on "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Six Feet Under". She and Scorsese were partners for several years , giving her a front row seat to the best and worst in Hollywood. She writes about her love for movies and film making as an actress and a fan in her new book, I Blame Dennis Hopper. Jesse Mulligan talks to Illeana Douglas.

I'm a ways behind in getting to all the podcast feeds I've downloaded -- I think I've got a good 60 hours worth of stuff backed up to listen to! So I haven't listened to this one yet and can't comment on it. I also haven't read the book. Radio New Zealand's page with the interview doesn't contain any more print information than the above quote; no photos or anything like that. But there's a link to listen by streaming audio, as well as an MP3 download. The MP3 file is 28:20 in length and about 10.3 MB.

Their Own Desire

Norma Shearer's turn as Star of the Month on TCM continues tonight with her early talkies. One I don't think I've ever mentioned here before is Their Own Desire, at 2:15 AM.

Shearer plays Lally Marlett, the sort of twentysomething woman who populates early talkies like this: carefree and born to wealthy parents (Belle Bennett and Lewis Stone). Her life seems happy, until one day when Dad suddenly comes home and tells his family that after many years of marriage, he's running off to marry Mrs. Cheever (Helene Millard). Lally, unsurprisingly, blames Dad entirely and she and Mom write Dad out of their lives.

Lally goes on being part of the wealthy set, however, which is where she meets Jack (Robert Montgomery). The two falls in love, because really, what woman in an early talkie isn't going to fall for a dashing young Robert Montgomery, who seems to have been born to play roles like this? They love eatch other, but there's a minor problem. Well, not all that minor. It turns out that Jack is Mrs. Cheever's son. Mrs. Marlett, as you can probably guess, is horrified at the idea that her daughter might run off with the son of the woman who took Mr. Marlett away from her. It's illogical since the affair wasn't Jack's fault, but it's the way human nature works.

There are histrionics, and Lally runs away from Jack to be by her mother's side, but the love that she feels for him can't keep her away from Jack too long. So after Mom recovers from the shock, Lally runs back off and elopes with Jack. They'll live happily ever after. Except that when they take Jack's boat out on Lake Michigan, a storm comes up and strands them on an island. Everybody thinks they're lost if not at sea, then at least at lake.

Their Own Desire is one of those very typical, at least to my thinking, early talkies. Melodramatic, and looking at the idle rich as though everybody really cares about them. (I always find it interesting when an establishing shot uses the "society" column in a newspaper.) It's not a bad movie, however; it's just very dated. Shearer and Montgomery aren't quite as good as they'd be a year later in The Divorcée and The Big House respectively, but Shearer was already an established star and Montgomery shows how capable he was going to be at playing the society types he'd spend a lot of the 1930s doing. It's also fun to watch Judge Hardy being the bad guy.

I think Their Own Desire has been released by the Warner Archive, but for a short early talkie like this, it's a bit pricey.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Black Sheep

Those with access to FXM Retro will be able to see a movie that doesn't show up very much other than there: Black Sheep, at 6:00 AM.

Edmund Lowe plays John Dugan, a man who has spent the last two decades of his life or so plying the international cruise trade and making a living gambling against the wealthy passengers. But now he's reduced to travelling second-class, which is where he meets Janette (Claire Trevor). She's an actress returning home from England, and she too is travelling second-class. So John decides to be kind to Janette and break the rules by taking her to parts of the ship that are only for first-class passengers. It's there that they meet Fred (Tom Brown) for the first time. He's a troubled young man from a well-to-do famliy, and as we first meet him he's getting his shirt handed to him by a couple of professional gamblers working in tandem (Eugene Pallette and Jed Prouty). John takes pity on the poor boy, and joins the game to win back the money Fred lost.

It turns out that Fred has much bigger problems, ones that lead him to try to climb over the ship's railing and jump overboard! When John and Janette question him about this, we learn that Fred has lost so much gambling that he's severely indebted to his girlfriend, the widow Bath (Adrienne Ames). Except that she's not much of a girlfriend; she's a thief who has been stealing all sorts of jewels from the wealthy people of Europe. Indeed, she's smuggling some of those jewels from Europe even as we speak. In exchange for cancelling the debt, Bath wants Fred to smuggle the jewels through customs.

John is willing to help Fred, but it turns out that there is a big complication. While talking to Fred in Fred's cabin, John sees a picture of Fred and his mom. John immediately recognizes the woman, which is unsurprising considering that John was married to her twenty years earlier and is in fact Fred's father! John was pretty much asked to leave the relationship quietly because, as a man given to gambling, he was entirely unsuited to the social standing of the Curtis family.

So we've got a bunch of things going on here, including one that I haven't mentioned, which is that Janette has taken a liking to John and wants to reform him, getting him to quit plying the cruise ships and settle down with her. There's the jewel heist, which is going to get somebody in trouble at customs. And there's also the relationship between John and Fred, which John understandably doesn't want revealed, even though Fred's mother is definitely going to be there at customs and spot John i he and Fred go through customs together.

All in all, Black Sheep is a movie that I think Fox intended to be a B movie but which rises above that to an extent. There's a lot of the same formula that we can see in different arrangements in all those other 1930s B movies, but something about this one seems to be a bit better. I think I'd put that down to the job Edmund Lowe does. He carries the movie and makes the otherwise well-worn material succeed. Tom Brown doesn't do much here, while the two women are good if not quite as good as Lowe. There's also the presence of all those character actors, which always adds a nice touch.

I don't think Black Sheep has ever received a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch it on FXM Retro before they put it back in their vaults.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I apologize for only giving a couple of hours warning about the upcoming airing of Kaleidoscope, which you can catch at noon on TCM. However, it does happen to be available from the Warner Archive Collection.

Warren Beatty plays Barney Lincoln, who at the start of the movie is heading toward an industrial site somehwere in Europe. He gets up on the roof, and breaks in! He goes to the safe, so presumably he's going for the case or some other valuables like jewels. But he just takes out a couple of printing plates, alters them, and leaves. To do something that crazy, somebody has to have a pretty good reason.

And Barney certainly does have a good reason. Those factory was at the company that makes the playing cards for all the great casinos of Europe, and Barney's alterations of the printing plates subtly marked the backs of the cards so that Barney could see what everybody else was holding. This obviously would enable him to defeat the people he was gambling against, and win large sums of money.

Such winnings, unsurprisingly, brought him to public attention, especially from the various authorities, who aren't so stupid that they can't figure out something hinky is going on. Eventually, Inspector McGinnis from Scotland Yard (Clive Revill) pieces everything together and brings Barney in. The bad guys always go down, don't they? Except, that's not what Kaleidoscope is about. McGinnis understands that if the arrest of Barney were made public, along with his scheme to defraud the casinos, it would cause a great loss of confidence that would result in bigger problems than not prosecuting Barney would.

With that in mind, McGinnis gives Barney a different sort of punishment. Serve the authorities by helping bring down Dominion (Eric Porter). Dominion is a smuggler who has made a bundle of money doing that, and has moved into more "legitimate" businesses as well to keep himselve ever so slightly above the law. So McGinnis figures that the way to go after Dominion is financial. Dominion is known for his love of gambling, so what better than to put him up against Barney in a high-stakes poker game? Barney can win Dominion's money since Barney knows the cards are marked, and that money can go to pay back the casinos he defrauded. Of course, there are a couple of problems. One is that along the way, Barney falls for McGinnis' daughter Angel (Susannah York). Another is that at a key point in the poker game, the cards are changed out -- and by this time, the factory figured out what was going on and the new cards are unmarked!

Kaleidoscope is one of those movies that fits in with all the other heist and caper movies of the 1960s. It's stylish to look at, even though there might be even less here than in most of the other films in the genre. But it does succeed in entertaining the viewer, and in that is more than worth a viewing.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

One Sunday Afternoon (1933) vs. The Strawberry Blonde

I've mentioned the movie One Sunday Afternoon a couple of times in the past, although I've only mentioned it is the first film version of the better-known The Strawberry Blonde. I DVR'ed One Sunday Afternoon back when Gary Cooper was in Summer Under the Stars in August, and finally got around to watching it.

For those who don't know the story, Gary Cooper plays Lucius "Biff" Grimes, a dentist in some nondescipt midwestern town at the turn of the last story. He's spending his Sunday afternoon at his home dentist office with his best friend, sign painter Snappy (Roscoe Karns). It's clear from their conversation that Biff is an embittered man, with a wife Amy (Frances Fuller) whom he considers second best, and still thinking about the woman he loved, Virginia (Fay Wray) but lost to his former friend Hugo (Neil Hamilton). It turns out that Hugo is back in town, and it also turns out that he's got a dental emergency that only the town's dentist can handle. Biff has a chance to get back at Hugo....

With that, we get a flashback to how Biff and Hugo, back when they were friends, met Virginia and Amy at the park one day. Biff wanted Virginia, but Amy wanted Biff. Virginia really preferred Hugo, and hugo is at every oppourtunity trying to take Virginia away out of Biff's reach, which obviously does happen eventually and leads to Amy's snookering Biff into a marriage proposal. Hugo goes on to big things, while Biff is still hoping to do his correspondence training to become a dentist. But for that he needs money, so he's doing a series of menial jobs including working for Hugo, which brings the two into more conflict with each other and eventually has Hugo committing perjury to put Biff in jail!

Of course, if you've seen The Strawberry Blonde, you'll know much of the story line. I think that I prefer The Strawberry Blonde, but as with The More the Merrier and Walk, Don't Run, I think both films have their strong points. Gary Cooper is excellent as Biff, the man with a dark past. James Cagney is good and of course played all those gangster roles, but I think it's with good reason that The Strawberry Blonde has a bit lighter tone what with Cagney as the star. That lighter town, however, really helps for the other man. The Strawberry Blonde cast Jack Carson in that role, and he's at his oozy, smarmy best here. Neil Hamilton is a bombast, but often comes across as ill at ease with that bombast. Carson is also a much more effective smooth operator while Hamilton is more direct. Rita Hayworth plays the object of James Cagney's affection, and while it's easy to see when any man would be infatuated with her, I think Fay Wry is better suited to play the sort of woman who would marry a man like Hugo. And as for the story, I think The Strawberry Blonde does it a bit better since it has longer to flesh everything out. I found the ending of One Sunday Afternoon to be a bit abrupt and unsatisfying.

Still, both versions are worth a watch. One Sunday Afternoon was made by Paramount, but it ended up in the Warner Bros. vaults when they purchased the rights to the story to make The Strawberry Blonde, which would explain how One Sunday Afternoon ended up getting a release from the Warner Archive.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Bowery Boys

TCM showed the last of the Bulldog Drummond movies the week before last, and since last Saturday was Halloween they didn't run either the Batman and Robin serial or any of the movie series they've been running in the 10:30 AM Saturday slot. So they're starting a new series this week, which is the Bowery Boys. I don't know if they'll be running all of the Bowery Boys movies, but if they do, you'll be seeing the boys for ages.

What became the Bowery Boys actually started off back in 1937 is the Dead End Kids, from their memorable roles in the movie Dead End. they were such a hit in that movie that Warner Bros. snapped them up, putting them in relatively prestigious movies like Angels With Dirty Faces and They Made Me a Criminal. Eventually, they would morph into the "East Side Kids", but ended in 1945 when their contract wasn't renewed. So they struck out on their own, rechristened themselves as the Bowery Boys, and made a long series of films, of which Live Wires, tomorrow at 10:30 AM, was the first.

I haven't seen too many of the Bowery Boys movies, but the ones I've seen are all reasonably pleasant B movies, the sort of thing that would be threatened by episodic television once that became a hit a few short years later. There's nothing spectacular here, and the production values are certainly a lot lower than what the major studios were doing.

One thing of note about Live Wires is that it was directed by Phil Karlson very early in his career. Karlson would go on to direct some of the more interesting lower-budget films of the 1950s, notably the noirs Kansas City Confidential and 99 River Street, as well as the docudrama The Phenix City Story.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer November 2015: Greg Proops

Once again, we've reached that time of the month when TCM gives us its monthly Guest Programmer. This time it's Greg Proops, a comedian I only remember from those snarky list shows like I Love the 80s where they have a bunch of Z-listers make not-very funny comments about whatever set of items they're listing. It's a lazy style of program making, but in this day and age of 500 TV channels plus all the internet streaming options, there's a big need for programming. Anyhow, Proops is on tonight, presumably with Robert Osborne and not Ben Mankiewicz, to discuss four of his favorite movies and discuss them. Those choices are:

Grand Illusion, Jean Renoir's drama about French POWs in a German World War I camp, at 8:00 PM;
The 1973 version of The Three Musketeers at 10:15 PM;
Out of the Past, in which gas-station owner Robert Mitchum has former associates Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer draw him back into their world, at 12:15 AM; and
Dog Day Afternoon at 2:15 AM, starring Al Pacino as a man who robs a bank to pay for his lover's operation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A couple of apologies

First, I should apologize for not realizing that in this month's TCM Spotlight on southern writers, John Grisham would be sitting down with Robert Osborne to be presenting the movies, much in the way Osborne sits down with a Guest Programmer or with Sally Field when he does the Essentials. I'm mildly surprised by this, since I always figured the main point of the monthly spotlight was to have somebody else present it in order to lower Osborne's workload. After all, the guy is 83 years old.

I should also apologize for the lack of full-length posts on movies in the past few weeks. I've been blogging for close to eight years now, which means that a lot of movies that I might like to blog about, I already have. I was also going to write about something earlier this week, but it turned out that the movie I had in mind was one that I thought was going to be on FXM Retro this week, but in fact won't be showing up again until next week. So that post is going to have to wait.

And there are a couple of lesser deaths that probably deserve a passing mention, although they're people who will only get a brife photo in the annual TCM Remembers parade of the dead that will be come on in December. First up is Colin Welland, who died on Monday at the age of 81. Welland won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay to Chariots of Fire. The other one, also a screenwriter, is Melissa Mathison, who was nominated for an Oscar for her screenplay to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. She also wrote the screenplay to The Black Stallion, and is the mother to two of Harrison Ford's children from their 20-year marriage.

An admission

This month's TCM Spotlight is on Wednesdays, so I think we can finally put to rest the idea of the "Friday Night Spotlight" theme that TCM ran for a good two years. That also means tonight is the first night of the new spotlight, on southern writers. It'll be presented by John Grisham, who is probably a good choice considering that he's a southern writer himself, hailing from Mississippi, and has had a lot of his books turned into movies. (I haven't seen him on TV enough to know whether he'll be a good TV presenter, but I have no reason to believe he wouldn't be.)

Anyhow, one of tonight's movies is Gone With the Wind, airing at 9:45 PM. TCM's schedule, for some bizarre reason, likes to break this movie into two parts, with the schedule claiming Part 2 is airing first, followed by Part 1. It never happens that way, of course. The schedule makes mistakes, of which this is one. The other big mistake that's currently going on is that a whole bunch of the movies are listing people a good ways down the cast list as being the stars. My printed copy of the monthly schedule, for example, lists the stars of Gone With the Wind as being... Fred Crane, J.M. Kerrigan, and Wallis Clark. I have no idea what characters they even played!

But now for the admission. I don't think I've ever actually sat through the entire four hours of Gone With the Wind in one sitting. Oh, I've sat down for the start on several occasions, and have come into the middle of the movie on quite a few others. And just as importantly, I read the book 30 years ago. But spend a full four hours with the movie? I don't think I've ever blocked out that much time.

That having been said, I think the 1939 version of Gone With the Wind is just as much a phenomenon in and of itself as it is a movie. And I'm also not the biggest fan of Vivien Leigh. But I'm sure a lot of you will enjoy it, and there are probably people who like the idea of sitting down and spending four hours with Gone With the Wind for the umpteenth time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

TCM Star of the Month November 2105: Norma Shearer

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being Norma Shearer, who was one of the first big female stars at MGM. I would have said that being married to the best producer on the lot, Irving Thalberg, helped, but in fact Shearer started her career before marrying him, and probably would have been a successful actress at the studio even if she hadn't married Thalberg. I suppose Joan Crawford might have gotten one or another of her roles in that case; if Crawford could do something like the 1931 version of Possessed I think she would have ben able to pull off a Shearer role like the one in A Free Soul without any problems.

The photo above is from A Free Soul, although that movie isn't airing until next Tuesday at 9:30 PM. This first evening of the Shearer salute sees four of her silents, ending at 12:45 AM with He Who Gets Slapped. Perhaps the most interesting movie of the night for me would be A Lady of Chance at 9:15 PM. This one sees Shearer playing a con artist who uses her feminine charms to get well-to-do men into jams and then walks off with their money. That is, until she falls in love with one of them (future cowboy star Johnny Mack Brown) who, it turns out, isn't wealthy at all.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fred Thompson, 1942-2015

Politician-turned-actor Fred Thomspon died yesterday at 73. Thompson would probably be better-known for his political career that included eight years in the US Senate and a run at the presidency, but on either side of that he did a fair amount of acting.

Actually, he started his acting career playing himself. Some years back, I mentioned a movie called Marie, about corruption in Tennessee. It's based on the true story of Marie Ragghinati, played by Sissy Spacek, who discoverd that the governor of Tennessee was selling pardons. When she tried to put the kibosh on that, she was fired from her position on the parole board, so she sued for wrongful termination. Fred Thompson was her lawyer in that case, and in the movie, he plays himself. Interestingly, the movie is on the TCM schedule for 10:15 PM Saturday.

Thompson's most remembered film role might be from the Clint Eastwood movie In the Line of Fire. Or, at least, that's the one I recall being mentioned prominently when Thompson was running for Senate the first time in 1994. Thompson obviously took time off from acting when he was elected to the Senate, and after his Senate career spent several years doing one of the many, many versions of the TV franchise Law and Order.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The US National Park System

I wasn't terribly interested in mentioning any of the movies coming up on TV today or tomorrow morning, so I looked through the list of November 1 birthdays. Today is a day with few if any interesting birth anniversaries, at least from the point of view of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It's one of the few, I'd think, because usually if I'm stumped for an idea to blog about I can look up the birthdays and find somebody interesting to write a post about.

So I turned to my other favorite fallback, the shorts that are airing on TCM. Coming up tonight at about 11:50 PM, or just following The Great Sinner, you can catch Yosemite the Magnificent. You can probably guess from the title of this movie, if you've been to this blog enough times, that it's another Traveltalks short. I written quite a few posts about various shorts from this series, and how I find all of them interesting. With the coming of World War II to Europe, James A. FitzPatrick was pretty much limited to going around the western hemisphere to do his shorts, but that still gave him a lot of opportunities to see interesting places in North and South America.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several national parks that FitzPatrick visited. In addition to the Yosemite short airing tonight, Fitzpatrick started off with Yellowstone, the granddaddy of all the US National Parks, back in 1936. Not long after that came visits to Rocky Mountain National Park (Rocky Mountain Grandeur) as well as a visit to the Grand Canyon, which I think wasn't a National Park yet, in Natural Wonders of the West. This latter short is also interesting because it was made while Mt. Rushmore was still being carved and FitzPatrick discusses that. A visit to Washington state in 1939 brought a visit to Mount Rainier, while a visit to Oregon a few years later also brought a visit to Crater Lake.

Another specific visit to a national park -- two of them in fact -- is 1942's Glacier Park and Waterton Lakes. Waterton Lakes is just across the border from Glacier, in southern Alberta. Back in 1942 the border was quite open (see the opening to Michael Powell's 49th Parallel); I don't know what the events of September 11, 2001 did to the border between the two national parks. That having been said, FitzPatrick visited Alberta's other national parks during the course of making all those Traveltalks shorts. 1935 brought a visit to Beautiful Banff and Lake Louise, while 17 years later, almost at the end of the series, he went to Jasper National Park.

I don't know if all of the Traveltalks shorts survive, but a lot of them do based on how often they show up on TCM. Quite a few of them are on Youtube too.