Thursday, December 31, 2015

Briefs for a Happy New Year 2016

TCM is ringing in the New Year 2016 with a showing of the six Thin Man movies airing in order, starting at 8:00 PM with the 1934 original. William Powell and Myrna Loy are great, and the first movie certainly fits on New Year's Eve since the movie is set around the holiday season. But sometimes I wonder whether TCM could come up with something different to show. I don't know how many times they've put all the Thin Man movies together. The second one, at 9:45 PM, should also be seen for the presence of a young James Stewart as well as actress Elissa Landi, who as I think I've mentioned before died in the same town where I was born. She's got a street named after her; one of these days I'll have to get over there and photograph the street sign.

New Year's Day on TCM brings several science fiction movies, with Time After Time at 1:45 PM deserving another mention, even though I blogged about it just a few months ago. It's one of the lesser-known movies on tomorrow's schedule. I suppose in that regard I should also mention Things to Come at 6:45 AM, although that's not a movie I particularly care for.

Watch movies for the acting talent of the celebrities therein, and not for their political views. Jewish comic actor Jerry Lewis appeared on Catholic cable channel EWTN, where he had a rather interesting interview, apparently. It's been covered by outlets of all political stripes; probably the most irreverent one I've seen would be at Reason magazine. (Warning: the habitues in the comments are a very saucy lot.)

Here's to a happy and healthy 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Juvenile talent shows

I've mentioned a couple of shorts in the past that are basically a bunch of different kids each showing off their talent, be it singing or dancing; collectively, all the kids do enough to make a one- or two-reeler. Among the ones I've blogged about are the slightly odd Show Kids and the odder Bubbles, the latter of which has a very young Judy Garland. Perhaps even weirder than these two is Kiddie Revue, which TCM is running tomorrow at 1:44 PM, or following A Night at the Opera (noon, 91 minutes).

This one is, like the other two, a revue of child talent acts and, like the other two, has a framing story. Where Show Kids is about kids trying to save a theater and Bubbles is presented by the man in the moon, Kiddie Revue is presented by a rather adult-acting master of ceremonies. The reason for that is that this short is supposed to be a spoof of The Hollywood Revue. That feature, which was basically a sound test for MGM's stars, was emceed mostly by Jack Benny, whose humor was already on full display. Benny wasn't dirty, but there's certainly a grown-up sensibility about his routines that makes seeing a kid try to imitate it reminiscent of Bugsy Malone. Weird and off, but also compelling and fun.

Go West, Young Lady

If you happen to have the Encore package, you'll have a chance to catch the entertaining comic western Go West, Young Lady, tomorrow morning at 6:20 AM. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so this wil be your only chance to catch it.

Penny Singleton stars at Belinda Pendergast, although everybody calls her Bill. Bill is on a stagecoach out to the old west town of Headstone, where she's going to live with her uncle Jim (Charlie Ruggles), who ones the local hotel. She happens to be on the same stage as Tex (Glenn Ford), who has been sent out west to be the town's new sheriff, the town having problems keeping a sheriff thanks thanks to Pete and his gang constantly terrorizing the town in an attempt to get everybody to leave so they can have the land. (Where's James Garner when you need him?) Anyhow, the stagecoach gets attacked by Indians along the way, which is where we learn that Tex isn't the greatest of shots, while Bill is a crack shot.

The stagecoach arrives in Headstone, and Jim is thrilled about two things. First is that his nephew Bill is on the coach; second is that the not only is the town going to get that new sheriff, that sheriff is going to be his nephew to boot! Well, isn't Jim in for a surprise. (Jim hadn't seen his late brother for decades, and so apparently didn't know that Bill is female; why Jim's brother never told him about this is not answered.) Jim is none too pleased when he learns that Bill is in fact a woman, as he thinks that a town like Headstone is no place for a nice woman like Bill.

Meanwhile, Tex and Bill begin to fall in love with it being obvious they should wind up together in the last reel, even though they have some problems along the way. Tex keeps taking a licking from Pete, while every time Bill tries to help him, things somehow backfire. And there's also a bit of a conflict involving Bill and Lola (Ann Miller), the saloon singer at Uncle Jim's hotel. She's taken a yen to Tex as well even though she's secretly in cahoots with Pete, and she too isn't happy with Bill's presence.

Go West, Young Lady isn't so much a western as it is a comedy set out west I suppose it could just as easily have been small-town New England or something similar. That having been said, it's successful as far as it goes, which isn't very far. The movie is only 70 minutes, clearly conceived to be a B movie without any pretensions of greatness. Still, it does try to pack quite a bit in. Among all the comedy and fights, there are also a couple of musical numbers, including a particularly humorous one with Miller dancing around Allen Jenkins, playing a deputy who's clearly a fish out of water. He'd be terribly miscast if it weren't the point that he's thoroughly unsuitable to be an old west deputy.

Go West, Young Lady is good, pleasant fun, if nothing that will ever be remembered as one of the all time greats. It's too bad Columbia/Sony hasn't figured out a way to put this on a Glenn Ford box set.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A night of dead people

Well, a TV channel like TCM running a bunch of old movies, it's only natural that a lot of the people you'll see have already died. More specifically, tonight's lineup looks back at some of the people who died in 2015, with six films each looking at one such person:

First, at 8:00 PM, we'll remember Louis Jourdan in Gigi. Well, the rest of you will; it's not one of my favorite musicals.
Then, at 10:15 PM, Lizabeth Scott gets to be a bad girl in Too Late For Tears.
At midnight, Theodore Bikel goes after Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.
Colleen Gray plays the good girl in Kansas City Confidential at 2:00 AM.
Anita Ekberg plays a plane crash survivor in Back From Eternity at 3:45 AM; this one is a remake of Five Came Back.
Finally, at 5:30 AM, Betsy Drake, who was one of Cary Grant's wives, stars opposite him in Every Girl Should Be Married.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Children's Hour vs. These Three

Tonight is the last night of the December spotlight on TCM, looking at girlfriends. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Children's Hour, the 1961 movie in which Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine are accused by a malicious child o having a lesbian relationship. Well, not quite that accused; the kid only claims to have seen them kissing. But as I've mentioned on a couple of occasions, this movie was based on a play by Lillian Hellman that had already been made as a movie once before, that being the 1930s film These Three starring Miriam Hopkins and Frances Dee as the teachers.

Well, tonight you're in luck, as These Three will be following The Children's Hour at 10:00 PM, giving you a chance to catch both of them and compare and contrast, as well as to decide for yourselves which one is the better movie. As I mentioned back in 2009, These Three had to be changed from Hellman's play somewhat thanks to Production Code strictures, so there's definitely enough different to make watching both of them worthwhile.

Haskell Wexler, 1922-2015

Cinematographer Haskell Wexlerhas died at the age of 93. Wexler worked with many of Hollywod's great directors from the 1950s on, winning two Oscars for his work on the movies Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Bound For Glory. Among other recognizable feature films Wexler did, there's:

The Best Man, the interesting political drama looking behind the scenes of a brokered political convention;
In the Heat of the Night, with black Philadelphia police detective Sidney Poitier helping white southern cop Rod Steiger solve a murder;
The caper movie The Thomas Crown Affair; and
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Miloš Forman's disturbing look at a mental facility.

Wexler was also the director of a number of documentaries, with probably the most famous of these being Medium Cool, about the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

I presume TCM is going to run a programming tribute to Wexler sometime in January, but I haven't looked at the website yet to see if they've announced anything. Probably not, since Wexler's death was just announced yesterday evening and there's nobody around to schedule it and get the rights to the movies on a Sunday evening.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Request for information

What website do you use on your computer to get schedule information?

Originally, I used to use Zap2It, as they had a nice schedule that was almost in the old-fashioned HTML table style so that it loaded easily. And if you clicked on an individual channel to get that one channel's schedule, you'd get the two-week schedule in one long list you could scroll up and down, which made finding an entire set of programming for one channel exceedingly easy. But a few years back, they redesigned their website to focus more on TV gossip and made the schedule more difficult to navigate. Finding one's customized channel lineup became a pain in the ass.

So I started using TitanTV. Their schedule design wasn't quite as good, and if you wantd one channel, you could only get three days at a time and had to click through to get future days. They now have a "14-day" option, but it only shows a three-hour period for each of the 14 days. However, there's something far worse about TitanTV, which is that it seems to add arbitrary channels to my custom channel lineup. As a DirecTV subscriber and a movie buff, I've got a custom lineup of TCM, FXM, and the premium movie channels in the 500s, and nothing else. But if I don't use the cutsom lineup for a while (I generally use it once a week), I find that other channels start creeping in to the formerly customized lineup, to the point that I get a whole bunch of unwanted cruft and removing that is exceedingly tedious.

Most of the websites have the same information, since there are two or three companies that aggregate all of the schedule information and deliver it to the schedule sites or your box guide. But I'd like something that's efficient, not tablet-optimized, and not full of social networking garbage. (Really, who wants to "like" an "edit your customized channel lineup" page?) Any good ideas?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Lady of Chance

I finally got around to watching A Lady of Chance, which I DVRed back at the beginning of November when Norma Shearer was TCM's Star of the Month. Thankfully, it's been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can catch it any time you want.

Shearer plays Dolly, whom we first see working as a switchboard operator at a swanky big-city hotel. However, that is just a front for what she really does, which is wooing the rich guys who stop by the switchboard desk to ask for a number or place a long-distance call. She then intends to get money out of them, if not quite honestly. In fact, she's definitely quite a bit less than honest, as we learn when Brad (Lowell Sherman) and Gwen (Gwen Lee) come into the hotel. Brad used to be Dolly's partner in crime, back when she was going under the alias "Baby Face" (watch for a great process shot of her with her old Baby Face hairdo). Well, Brad figures that Dolly is angling to get a bunch of money from one of the rich men, and wants some of it for himself. So he blackmails her: she either involve him in her scheme, or he'll go to the police since she's violated her parole.

Needless to say, Dolly eventually decides to go along, if not without a little more "persuasion" from Brad. They bilk th eman out of $10,000, but Brad is just as honest as Dolly, giving the cash to Gwen to hide under the pillow, while telling Dolly that the man stopped payment on the check! She knows better, and beats Brad at his own game, snatching the money with a ploy of her own and running out on the two of them, getting out of town before the two of them realize what happened.

Cut to Atlantic City, which is where Dolly is now plying her trade. That's because there's a cement convention going on, and she figures there have to be some rich men at the convention. Sure enough, while at the telegraph stand, she spots a man named Steve Crandall (Johnny Mack Brown) writing a letter to his mother that he's looking to put through a million-dollar deal. Ah, here's a rich man! Dolly runs into him again and he's clearly smitten with her, it being love at first sight for him and just another job for her. Eventually he proposes marriage to her, which is how Dolly is going to get rich.

Except that she's not. They get back to his home town in Alabama and find out that he's living in a run-down house with a start-up business that hasn't actually made any big deals yet -- he's only invented a better type of cement and is hoping to sell the rights to manufacture it on a large scale. Dolly, realizing that she's not going to be rich, says that she's going to leave. But then she has a change of heart and actually returns home, much to Steve's surprise. Brad and Gwen don't realize either that Steve isn't rich or that Dolly actually does love him. They've tracked her down again, and plan to get some of the money that Steve doesn't have. Except that before Dolly can tell them Steve doesn't have the money, Steve comes home with the good news that he's sold the rights to his concrete for $100,000. So he's going to be rich after all; Brad and Gwen can bilk him; and dammit, they expect Dolly to be in on the act. But of course, she really does love him by now.

A Lady of Chance is a fun movie, if fairly predictable in its plot and with an ending that doesn't quite fit and leaves a gaping plot hole. Norma Shearer is good; Lowell Sherman is wonderful playing the sort of role that a Jack Carson might have had a decade later; and Johnny Mack Brown is extremely photogenic and does a good enough job with his aw-shucks character. All in all, there's not much to complain about here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Saturday schedule alert

Those of you enjoying the Bowery Boys movies are out of luck, at least for one week. This Saturday being part of the Christmas weekend, TCM has decided to put the normal 10:30 AM movie series aside for a week, instead running East of Eden at 10:00 AM tomorrow.

The Bowery Boys movies will return on Saturday, January 2. The Dick Tracy movies, however, have reached the end of the series, not that there were many in the series. On January 2 in the slot before before the Bowery Boys movie, TCM will be running the first of the Rusty the Dog movies; this series will be running at least through the end of January. I haven't checked to see whether it will be picking up fter the end of 31 Days of Oscar.

Merry Christas to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas on FXM

I've blogged a couple of times this month about TCM's Christmas programming. FXM, on the other hand, is doing about as much as they did last year. That is, they'll be running the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, the one starring Alastair Sim, several times.

There will be four back-to-back showings this evening, starting at 7:00 PM and running every two hours, ie. at 9:00 PM, 11:00 PM, and 1:00 AM. The movie is only 86 minutes, but there won't be quite that many commercials as there will also be an 11-minute "FXM Presents" installment at the end of each two-hour block promoting some upcoming movie or a show on one of Fox's other channels. There will also be three airings on Christmas day, two in the FXM block at 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM, but one immediately before that in the FXM Retro block at 1:30 PM, which implies that this one airing will be commercial-free.

Last year, I commented that I thought they would be running a colorized print, but it turns out that the print was in black-and-white, although it wasn't exactly a high-quality print. I would presume that they'll be running the same print this year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Schedule notices with Christmas Eve coming up

Frank Sinatra is this month's Star of the Month on TCM, and his movies are airing every Wednesday in prime time. He made enough movies that the continue on to the Thursday morning TCM schedule, except for this week, since tomorrow is Christmas Eve. TCM is showing a good 38 hours of Christmas movies through to 8:00 PM Friday. But before that, however, even Sinatra is getting in the Christmas spirit, as TCM is running a Christmas special he did with Bing Crosby at 8:00 PM, followed by the religious-themed Miracle of the Bells at 8:45 PM.

As for the Christmas features, Thursday morning kicks off with Bush Christmas at 5:15 AM. This is an interesting Christmas movie, what with its Australian setting.

But I'd really rather mention some of the shorts that are on the schedule, since TCM's online schedule page has started listing them again. There aren't too many, or prehaps I should say too many unique shorts, as what they have are all airing several times. The four most common ones are:

Mario Lanza singing "Ave Maria" in a clip from The Great Caruso, which first shows up just after King of Kings, a little after 7:40 PM this evening or even before all the Sinatra stuff;
Judy Garland singing "Silent Night" following Lanza, or again in between King of Kings and Sinatra;
Lewis Stone wishing everybody a merry Christmas all by his lonesome self in between the Sinatra Christmas special and Miracle of the Bells; and
Stone as Judge Hardy with the rest of the Hardy family wishing everybody a Merry Christmas, which you can first catch in between Miracle of the Bells and the next feature, High Society.

All of these will be airing a bunch of times over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TCM Guest Programmer December 2105: Tina Fey

Once again, we've reached that time of the month here somebody sits down with Robert Osborne to present four of their favorite movies. This month, that Guest Programmer is Tina Fey, the comic actress who can see Russia from her house. Like other Guest Programmers, Fey has selected four of her favorite films. They are:

Desk Set at 8:00 PM, in which computer expert Spencer Tracy upends the lives of research librarian Katharine Hepburn and her staff;
My Favorite Wife at 10:00 PM, starring Cary Grant as a man about to get remarried after his missing first wife was declared legally dead, only for that wife (Irene Dunne) to show up suddenly;
The Goodbye Girl at 11:45 PM, with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss sharing a New York apartment and falling in love; and
That's Entertainment! at 1:45 AM, the first of the clip movies looking at MGM's musicals.

There will be another chance to catch Part 2, but not Part 3 of the series, as the second film follows at 4:15 AM.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Birthdays and non-birthdays

TCM has been spending this morning and afternoon with a bunch of Jane Fonda's movies, since today is her 78th birthday. Birthday programming is an easy thing to do, as I know when I can't think of something to post about and look to see who was born on this particular day.

But spare a thought for the people who were born in either February (31 Days of Oscar) or August (Summer Under the Stars). The ones in February for all intents and purposes never get a birthday salute, which it would be fairly easy to do a salute for the ones who were born in August and have enough status to merit getting a day in Summer Under the Stars will sometimes get the star treatment. I know that Lucille Ball got a full day on her 100th birthday back in August 2011, which was even rarer due to the fact that the day fell on a Saturday. (In case you're wondering, the Lucille Ball movie that was considered a TCM Essential was Stage Door.) Ingrid Bergman's centenary also fell on a Saturday this year, but she was honored the day before. (Bergman, of course, has lots of films that would fit right in with The Essentials.)

Anyhow, I mention all of this because some August birthdays can't get the Summer Under the Stars treatment. I suppose there are some people who didn't make enough movies to receive a full 24 hours. Then there are the people who weren't big enough stars. But probably the biggest category of all would be people who worked behind the camera, and so for far more obvious reasons couldn't be stars. One such person is director Alfred Hitchcock, who was born in August 1899. TCM is running a morning and afternoon of his movies tomorrow, kicking off at 6:00 AM with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. TCM is showing mostly the better-known Hitchcock movies, although The Wrong Man is also airing at 3:30 PM. I could have sworn I did a full-length post on it before, but apparently not. Henry Fonda plays a man who gets arrested because he looks a lot like a guy who really did commit an armed robbery. It turns his life upside-down. It's apparently based on a true story.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Second Run DVD

Courtesy of the fine folks at Radio Prague, we have a story about a company called Second Run DVD, a company that specializes in bringing foreign films, especially films from the former Czechoslovakia, to the UK:

The UK's Second Run DVD recently celebrated 10 years of existence and 100 releases. About a quarter of the reissue company’s titles have been Czechoslovak films, ranging from the relatively famous Intimate Lighting by Ivan Passer to Adelheid, a lesser known work by František Vláčil, director of the classic Marketa Lazarová. When I met the company’s founder Mehelli Modi at a busy London café I wanted to know how he selects the Czechoslovak movies he releases. As he explained, it all springs from his own life-long passion.

The link above includes the text of the interview, which gives an interesting explanation about how the founder came to learn about Czechoslovak movies. There's also an MP3 of the interview here; it's a 4.9MB, 11-minute file.

Dennis Morgan, 1908-1994

Today marks the birth anniversary of singing actor Dennis Morgan, who was born on this day in 1908. Morgan was never quite a big leading star, although he was successful enough for about a dozen years that he get to play the sort of male lead who was clearly in support of a powerful female lead. Good examples of this phenomenon included:

Playing opposite Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle;
Getting shafted by Bette Davis in In This Our Life;
Having to deal with Ida Lupino in The Hard Way;
Being the man who softens Joan Crawford in This Woman Is Dangerous; and
The soldier hand-picked for Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut, from which the above photo is taken.

When he did get a lead all to himself, he was in dire crap like Tear Gas Squad where he plays a singing Irish-American cop. Awful, awful, awful.

Christmas in Connecticut, as you might be able to guess from the title, is a perennial Christmas favorite, and will be getting another airing on TCM on Christmas Eve at 2:15 PM.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ordinary People

Last weekend, one of the many films sitting on my DVR that I finally got around to watching was Ordinary People. I thought it was supposed to be on one of the premium channels this weekend, but I think I might have missed the airing by a day or two since my box guide isn't showing it coming up any time soon. Thankfully it's available on DVD (and in print) so you can catch it whenever you want.

The movie starts with some idyllic autumnal images of an upscale suburban town (specifically Lake Forest, IL, although it could be anywhere) with a bed of piano music that one quickly realizes is Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D, a famous piece of classical music that you'll instantly recognize. This is an arrangement that has had words added, as we see when the montage of images eventually winds its way to a high schol choir. The camera focuses on one particular member of that choir. Cut to a shot of him waking up in a cold sweat.

That young man is Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton), and the shot of him waking up like that implies that there is something wrong with him. Oh yes, there is, but that's something we'll get to over the course of the movie. Connie comes downstairs for breakfast, and in that scene and one inbetween, we get subtle hints that part of what's wrong with Connie involves his parents. Conrad's friends on the swim team pick him up to go to school, and as they're stopped at the train tracks along the way, Conrad has another flashback, this one involving images of a cemetery.

It's all enough that Conrad finally decides that afternoon to make the difficult decision of calling Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch), a psychologist whose name Conrad was given while he was in the hospital. Conrad makes an appointment to see Dr. Berger, and it is here that we finally begin to learn what is truly wrong with Conrad. To make a long story short, Conrad and his older brother Buck went boating on Lake Michigan, a squall came up, and the boat overturned, an accident in which Buck died while Conrad obviously survived. This tragedy hit Conrad hard, and eventually, for reasons we'll discover later in the movie, Conrad attmpted suicide. (The accident and Conrad's suicide attempt are only shown in fragmentary flashbacks; the movie starts some time after Conrad returns home from the mental hospital after his suicide attempt.) Conrad says he wants to be "in control", in the sense that he doesn't want to have these dreams and flashbacks, but Berger perceptively figures that Conrad is really looking for something else, mainly not to have to feel the negative emotions that come from having been in such an accident.

Meanwhile, Conrad returns to a lovely upper-middle-class home where just because he was out on the boat when the accident happened doesn't mean that he's the only one who had to confront a sense of grief and loss. The death of a brother (from Conrad's point of view) means that there are also two parents who lost their son, which has to be one of the most difficult things for anybody to endure. Mom Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) has decided to handle it from the point of view that life must go on, and putting on a brave face and showing everybody what a good mother she is; never mind that this might be a problem for Conrad and she doesn't realize it at all. Dad Calvin (Donald Sutherland), on the other hand, realizes that something is wrong but can't put a finger on it, and wants what's best for Conrad. Dad loves his wife, and compensates for her lack of affection toward Conrad since the accident by trying to be the "good cop".

Conrad continues to see Dr. Berger and begins to come to grips with the real reasons why he tried to commit suicide and why he's having so much trouble emotionally with his parents. He's also getting a bit of support from two girls in his life. Karen (Dinah Manoff) spent time with him in the hospital as she too had attempted to commit suicide and sometimes it seems as if Conrad wants to remain there emotionally with Karen. Just as important is Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), who is in the choir with Conrad and has taken a bit of a liking to him. But as Conrad begins to improve, it seems as though his family life is getting worse, with Dad and especially Mom showing an inability to deal healthily with one son's death and the other's current problems.

Ordinary People is an amazing movie in so many ways. First-time director Robert Redford won an Oscar for his direction, getting excellent performances from all of the main cast members without any of them lapsing into overwrought histrionics. Timothy Hutton does have one or two scenes with Judd Hirsch where he comes close, but to be fair the script requires it as Hutton is clearly a broken young man. Hutton won an Oscar, but it was in the Supporting Actor category presumably due to Academy rules regarding his billing. Hutton is the central character in the movie, and to call his character a supporting role is ludicrous.

Mary Tyler Moore is a revelation as Beth. I'm sure everybody recalls her from her comic roles on TV in The Dick Van Dyke Show and then her own Mary Tyler Moore Show. There's nothing comic here as she plays the emotionally cold mother. It would have been all too easy for her to play the role as a sort of Stepford Wife, but that would be entirely the wrong way to play it. Beth may be just as emotionally broken as Conrad, if not more so: at least he's trying to fix himself, while Beth goes on blithely because she doesn't want anybody to see that there might be something wrong. Moore was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but lost to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, who had the sort of role where it's much easier to see just how good an acting job the person is doing.

Donald Sutherland, I think, doesn't get enough credit for the job he does here. He has a difficult task playing the character who seems the most normal, but only begins to realize all too late that perhaps he might have had a part to play in his son's suicide attempt. Even more than with Moore's role, it's easy to overlook the acting job it takes to play a part like this. The supporting characters also barely put a foot wrong in the color that they add to the movie.

Perhaps most to the movie's credit, it all rings so real. There have been a lot of movies about teen angst over the decades. The Production Code, I think, prevented a lot of the reality of teen angst and even more seriously depression from making it to the screen. James Dean's histrionics in Rebel Without a Cause come across as utterly phony. Even in a later movie I really like such as The Breakfast Club, there's a big scene with Judd Nelson talking about his home life that comes across as overdone. In Ordinary People, however, I saw so much that comes across as genuine. There's the scene at McDonald's where Conrad is finally beginning to open up in a non-clinical environment to somebody (possible girlfriend Jeannine) about what the suicide attempt was like and how it felt, only for his former swim teammates to come in ebullient after a victory and break the atmosphere. Nobody but Conrad has any idea what's going on at that particular moment for him and what a disappointment this utterly normal act is. There's another sequence involving Conrad, his parents, his grandparents, and taking Christmas pictures that could almost be funny since it's such a ludicrous little thing, but again plays out as something that would happen in real life.

If Ordinary People has any flaws, they're minor. I already mentioned above that Conrad gets close to being unrealistically overwrought in some of his scenes with Dr. Berger, but because of the severity of his emotional difficulties, the ultimate catharsis is expected to be emotionally wrenching. There's also one phone call when Conrad calls Karen and her parents answer where the dialog seems all wrong, but that's an exceedingly minor quibble. The movie does end on uncertain note, and some viewers may not like the lack of real resolution, but it's in keeping with the rest of the movie. Life doesn't always go where we expect, or even go anywhere. Ordinary People reflects that.

I don't think I can recommend Ordinary People highly enough. It really is that good.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Briefs for December 18-19, 2015

First, I'd like to apologize for overlooking the presence on the TCM schedule of The Nitwits, airing at 6:00 AM on the 18th, or before most of you will be reading this. It's another Wheeler and Woolsey movie, and that pair is always worth mentioning just because they don't get the attention that, say, Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello do. Unsurprisingly, The Nitwits is not on DVD, even though Warner Home Video has the rights to all the stuff since they worked at RKO. Cary Grant or Elizabeth Taylor and a whole host of other people merit those four-DVD sets that TCM hawks in between movies, but not Wheeler and Woolsey.

More Christmas movies are on the TCM schedule tonight. I've mentioned that TCM re-runs some of these during December since there's a more limited number of Christmas movies to which they have the rights. I think Remember the Night is only getting one airing, and that's tonight at 11:30 PM. If you haven't seen it, it's well worth a watch.

TCM is running It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World tomorrow at 2:15 PM. Once again, they're listing the running time as 159 minutes. That implies it's the edited version, as I pointed out back in 2012.

As for FXM Retro? Well, they're showing Trouble Man tomorrow at 4:00 AM.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Disney Treasures, round 5

Or, I think it's the fifth round of Treasures from the Disney Vault on TCM tonight. I may have missed an installment and it's actually the sixth. But in any case, those of you who like the Disney programming on TCM are getting another night of it.

There's one change, however. In the past, the night has started off at 8:00 PM with three cartoon shorts, which just nicely fits into a half hour. (I think I've said it before, I remember growing up how those one-reeler cartoons fit perfectly three in a half hour with space left over for the commercials. Woody Woodpecker and the Pink Panther were done this way; I can't remember what Tom and Jerry and the Looney Tunes shorts did outside of the Looney Tunes shorts being in a longer show on Saturday mornings.) Anyhow, back to the Disney programming.

The night begins at 8:00 PM with So Dear to My Heart, a feature reminiscent of The Yearling in that a young boy (Bobby Driscoll) adopts a black lamb. He wants to show it at the county fair, but there are a lot of obstacles to doing so. However, with the help of some Disney animation, he vows to overcome those obstacles. Only after that, at 9:30 PM, do we get the first round of animated shorts.

The second half of the evening deals with a bunch of movies set up in the Arctic, starting at midnight with Never Cry Wolf. I seem to recall this one engendering a bit of controversy back when it was first released -- I was only 10 or 11 at the time. Apparently it contained a shot of one the scientist's buttocks. I've never actually seen the movie.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Shorts back on the TCM schedule!

Well, the shorts were still being run, but at least now they're back on TCM's schedule page. As I look right now, there are shorts through Saturday night, not including anything TCM might run as part of TCM Underground -- I mean the traditional shorts they use as filler between features. I probably should have blogged about this yesterday, since there are one or two worth mentioning on today's daytime schedule. I suppose I could mention another airing of The House I Live In early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, which is clearly being shown because it's got Frank Sinatra in it.

I should also like to point out that TCM has started running the annual TCM Remembers piece, which looks back at the people who have died since the last year's TCM Remembers piece. Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects at the TCM boards bitch and moan that the piece isn't being run in January, the way no other media outlet looks back at the previous year, or that somebody went by too fast for them. Judge for yourself:

The only major problem I had is that Movita Castaneda's name was origianlly spelled "Motiva"; I didn't watch the Youtube posting to see if that's been edited.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The People Without a Future

Not that anybody here is in Poland, but a report from the English Service of Polish Radio shows the importance of film preservation and the serendipity that not every lost film is lost:

Rediscovered Polish film set for 21st century premiere

A Polish silent film that had been considered lost for close to 100 years is to hit the silver screen once again after a print was found in Germany.

'People with no Tomorrow' ('Ludzie bez jutra') explores actual events that took place 125 years ago, namely the ill-starred love affair between Polish actress Maria Wisnowska and Russian cavalry officer Alexander Bartenev.

The Russian hussar killed his lover in a notorious crime passionnel in June 1890 at the actress's Warsaw apartment.

The film, by noted director Aleksander Hertz, premiered in 1921, but it was only recently rediscovered in Germany's Bundesarchiv.

A freshly restored copy will be screened on 15 December at Warsaw's Kino Iluzjon and on 16 December at Kraków's Kino Pod Baranami.(nh/rk)

Obviously I haven't seen the movie. Somehow, however, I doubt Bartenev wathces Wisnowska's husband playing Hamlet and gets up to go see Wisnowska every time her husband starts that famous soliloquy.

More seriously, it's wonderful to see that another film previously thought lost has been found. I'd presume at some point it's going to become available for the rest of the world, although I'd also guess that any DVDs are likely to be pricey, even though the movie should theoretically be in the public domain.

Although I quoted the entire text of the article, the link above also does include a still from the movie.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Men Must Fight

A really interesting and little-seen movie is coming up overnight on TCM: Men Must Fight, at 4:45 AM tomorrow morning.

Diana Wynyard plays Laura, who at the start of the movie is a nurse in the World War I; the movie having been released in 1933, the was was of course known as the Great War. She's serving over in France, which is where she meets dashing young American flyboy Geoffrey (Robert Young). They fall in love, but he being a fighter pilot, he's in a dangerous profession that killed a lot of men at a young age, and Geoffrey winds up being one of those casualties. Still, before his death he was able to get Laura nice and pregnant, leaving her a never-married woman who is about to become a single mother. Feeling for Laura is a man who could love her but knew he was taking a back seat to the pilot, young diplomat Edward (Lewis Stone) Seward. He marries her to help solve her problem, and the two go back to the States after the war ends.

Fast forward to 1940. Notice the date; that's seven years in the future from the point of view of when the movie was made. Laura wound up having a son Bob, who is now all grown up (Phillips Holmes). Bob is working as a chemical engineer, while Dad has risen to become Secretary of State. And when I say Dad, I mean that Mom never told Bob the truth about his background and that the man he's considered his father all these years is only his adoptive father, not his biological father. Dad, with his wife soon to follow, are dealing with a serious issue: war looks as though it's coming to Europe again, and how should America navigate those troubled waters?

Sure enough, war does come, despite Dad's best efforts to keep the peace. If America does get into the war, however, Dad is going to make certain the Americans win, no pacifist he. Mom, however is going to do everything she can to keep America out of the war, going so far as to organize a coalition of the mothers of America to stand up against the drive to get America into the war. Bob, for his part, also takes a radical step: he's willing to quit his job when his bosses think the solution to the war problem is to create more effective poison gases. There's no way Bob wants to create weapons of mass destruction, not that they use that term.

The problem for the Seward family is that the war has already come to America in the form of an aerial attack on New York, and there's no way the people of America are going to stand for that. Laura and Bob's pacificsm threatens not only to tear the family apart, but hurt both of them physically. While Bob has a girlfriend Peggy (Ruth Selwyn) who fully believes in the war effort to the point that she's willing to dump him for being a pacifist, there's a more immediate probem of that braying mob of Americans which is fine not only with attacking Laura's pacifist speeches, but also stoning the Sewards' swanky New York apartment.

Men Must Fight is interesting in that it takes a reasonably fair look at both sides of the issue of whether to go to war or not. Equally interesting, looking back, is the movie's look at the future. Sure, Japan had already attacked China by the time the movie was released, but the Nazis had only just come to power, and nobody could know yet that war was coming back to Europe in six years time. They certainly couldn't know what was eventually going to drag America into that war. In addition to that, the movie also shows television, which was a nascent technology at the time the movie was made with the first experimental broadcasts having been made just a few years earlier. That broadcasting technology was also shown in the use of video phones, which of course would be much further down the pike if we ever got them at all. (Sure we have videoconferencing and Skype and things like that, but I don't think the idea of a standalone video phone ever really took off.)

I don't know if Men Must Fight has gotten a DVD release, but I don't think so considering that it doesn't seem to be available from either the TCM Shop or Amazon. That's a shame since the movie is so interesting.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

School for Scoundrels

Some months back, I bought a DVD of the 1960 British film School for Scoundrels. I finally got around to watching it, and since it's available on DVD what with my having bought a copy, I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length blog post on the movie.

Ian Carmichael stars as Henry Palfrey, a man who in the opening scenes of the movie as the opening credits are playing is getting off a train in Yeovil, a middle-of-nowhere town in Exeter, on the way to the southwestern counties of Cornwall and Devon if you were going that far. But Henry isn't. In Yeovil, he follows his signs to the "lifemanship" college run by one Mr. Potter (Alastair Sim). Potter teaches courses in how to be more confident and a winner in life, not unlike what we've seen in The Magnificent Dope, but these classes are on steroids compared to anything Don Ameche's character would have thought up.

First, though, we learn why Henry wants to take these "lifemanship" classes. Everybody's been beating him at life recently, starting when he met lovely April (Janette Scott) while taking the bus to work. He was going to take her out to a nice place for dinner, but his business associate deliberately made the reservation for someplace else. At the dinner reservation, however, he meets old friend Raymond (Terry-Thomas), who graciously lets Henry and April sit at his table and have dinner as a threesome. Except that Raymond has other ideas, pretty much taking Henry's girl right out from under his nose. Henry tries to buy a car to impress April, but he's too stupid even to take the car for a test drive so he ends up with a lemon. You can see why Henry would want at least some assertiveness training.

However, what he gets isn't so much assertiveness training as a way of fleecing people, socially at least if not monetarily, into making oneself appear to be the top man. Through a series of classes with humorous titles like "Gamesmanship" or "Woo-manship", Potter teaches men to be rather ungentlemanly in getting what you want, which apparently works even though I'd think everybody would see through this crap.

Eventually, having gone through the courses, Henry is deemed ready to put these ideas into practice in real life, albeit under the watchful eye of Potter. The ideas work successfully, as Henry fleeces the car dealer, his business partner, and even gets revenge on Raymond both with April and on the tennis court. But perhaps he's a little too successful, as Raymond begins to discover there might be something hinky going on....

School for Scoundrels is one of those little British movies that a lot of people will probably like. I have to admit, however, that I have rather more mixed feelings about it. The thing is, I found Potter's ideas to be so obnoxious that as I said above, anybody would see through it and they'd fail. I'd rather smack people like Potter and Henry, not root for them. (To be fair, however, Raymond is also a jerk.) Still, the movie is more than well enough made, even if not nearly as enjoyable for me as many of the other British comedies of the 1950s and early 1960s.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

70 years before AMC

Coming up overnight tonight (or very early tomorrow morning, I suppose) at 3:30 AM as part of TCM Underground is The Walking Dead. No, not the AMC TV show, but a 1936 movie with a completely different premise.

Ricardo Cortez plays Nolan a defense attorney we see at the beginning of the movie defending a guy who is ultimately convicted and sentenced to a long sentence by Judge Shaw. The man whom Nolan was defending was apparently part of the racketeering gang that seems to plague cities in films of the 1930s, and Nolan isn't just the defense attorney, but the brains behind the criminal organization. (What sort of criminality they engage in isn't exactly explained.) So when one of their men gets sent up, they're none too happy about it, and want to get Shaw out of the way.

Cut to the institute of one Dr. Beaumont (Edmund Gwenn). He'd probably be a mad scientist in any other movie, but he's supposed to be the good guy here, having an animal heart beating under glass in his laboratory, with assistants Jimmy (Warren Hull) and Nancy (Marguerite Churchill) who are in love with each other. This brief scene is only an establishing scene for Beaumont's presence which is to be much bigger later.

Meanwhile, back to our racketeers and their plan to do away with Shaw. They hire one John Ellman (Boris Karloff), who had been sentenced by Shaw a decade ago and only recently got out of prison. He's to work ostensibly for a private detective, watching Shaw's house, but what he doesn't know is that he's being set up as the patsy for when Nolan's men murder Shaw and dispose of the body in Ellman's car. However, Jimmy and Nancy see the bad guys putting Shaw's body in Ellman's car, and Ellman sees them drive off, so he knows he's got witnesses who can prove his innocence, if only they'll show up at his trial. Yeah, right. They're too afraid to speak up, so Ellman is convicted and sentenced to the electric chair, with Jimmy and Nancy only showing up to clear Ellman on the night of his execution.

They're too late, but Dr. Beaumont makes a special request. He wants the body, and brings Ellman back to life! Like I said, he is a mad scientist, but he's supposed to be the good guy here. He's just doing research, wanting to find out from Ellman what death is like, and what there is on the other side. Ellman is having none of that. Although he claims Beaumont, as well as District Attorney Werner are his friends, he also knows his enemies when he sees them, as when he first meets Nolan after being brought back to life. Not that Ellman has any idea how he knows any of this. And not that Ellman is even fully alive. He really is the personification of the "walking dead", looking alive but only being there to make certain the bad guys get what's coming to them, which starts to happen with one fishy unexplained death, and then another.

The Walking Dead is a weird little movie, the sort of thing you just know that Warner Bros. churned out simply to have enough material to play as the second bill under one of their prestige movies, and probably never gave another thought to. The people actually working on the movie, however, clearly did care. Karloff is good in a difficult role that requires him to be befuddled in the first half and have a mostly blank expression in the second half. Ricardo Cortez is slick as usual, which perfectly fits the character. Gwenn is oddly cast, but it's the sort of casting that works for the movie. Direction is handled by Michael Curtiz who could simply have done a workmanlike job and have the movie look like any other B movie, but decided to use a bunch of interesting camera angles and lighting techniques. Sure, the plot of The Walking Dead is nuts and takes too much time to get to the good part, but the movie is still quite interesting.

I'm not certain whether The Walking Dead is available on DVD. Unfortunately, the Amazon link at IMDb leads to a search on the phrase "walking dead", which of course yields a ton of hits for DVDs of the TV series. TCM's schedule page, as well as their search, also leads to hits on the TV series.

Frank Sinatra Centenary Blogathon: Sinatra meets the gays

I have to admit to never having been the biggest fan of Frank Sinatra, and certainly not the biggest fan of his singing. But today is the 100th anniversary of his birth, and like a lot of other movie bloggers, I'm taking part in the Frank Sinatra Centennial Blogathon. One of his movies that has intrigued me for a long time is The Detective, which I think is generally not as well known as many of Sinatra's other movies.

I blogged about the movie back in June 2010 at the link above, but I first learned about the movie many years before that. My grandparents subscribed to Reader's Digest, and we got the back issues; with my mom being a hoarder, we had the back issues dating to the late 1960s in the house even though this was several years before I was born and by the time I was able to read them they were even older. One of the issues from about 1968 had an article discussing the need for a movie rating system, this being the period just after the end of the Production Code and just before the rating system we have today really came into effect. The article specifically mentioned The Detective as one of the movies that made the case for the necessity of a rating system, since Sinatra utters a line you wouldn't want your children to hear: "Penis cut off". Having read that article, I always wanted to see The Detective simply for that odd line.

It turns out that the line comes near the beginning of the movie. Sinatra plays New York police detective Joe Leland, who is investigating a murder of a man. Leland finds in the man's apartment a bunch of the sort of oil bodybuilders use to oil themselves up with so they glow, as well as the murder victim naked, and with that penis cut off. All of this means one oh-so-obvious thing, at least by 1960s standards: the murder victim was gay and there was probably some homophobic motive behind the murder.

Leland's investigation brings him first to a common thug (Tony Musante), but after that thug goes to the electric chair, another man (William Windom) jumps off the roof of the Aqueduct race track. Leland investigates that death, and it turns out that it is not only possibly related to the first one, but also related to some high-level corrption going on; corruption that could put Leland in danger which is why he's relying on help from his partner Dave (Jack Klugman).

The Detective is interesting in part because of its portrayal of gays, a year or two before the Stonewall riots. There's one scene that looks bizarre looking back on it close to a half century later, of a bunch of gays being caught in the back of a tractor trailer, because that's where they apparently go to have a little affection without getting caught by the police. It's also interesting for its look at New York City as it was back in the late 1960s.

But as this is a post for a blogathon on Frank Sinatra's centenary, it's more appropriate to talk about his performance. I think Sinatra was a bit miscast as a detective in the same way that John Wayne would be in movies like McQ and Brannigan. They were both good actors, but a gritty police detective is something that doesn't play to their strengths. Sinatra does a good job, first in being tough while going after the Musante character, and then in having to do a 180 after the William Windom character dies, forcing Sinatra to take another look at his career. Although The Detective has a lot of stereotypes due to the gay murder plot, stereotypes that threaten to drag down the movie, Sinatra rises above those.

Friday, December 11, 2015

That's Entertainment Parts 2 and 3

Last Saturday at noon, TCM aired the 1974 film That's Entertainment!. It's a good movie to watch for the actors talking about their time at MGM in between the clips from the classic movies. I figured they used up all the good material in that movie, since one of the tag lines from the trailer is that it will never happen again.

Of course, just two years later, there was a sequel, That's Entertainment! Part II, and that one is airing tomorrow at noon on TCM. (Part III, which only was released in 1994, will be on next Saturday the 19th at noon.) I have to admit to never having watched Part II, and only the ending of Part III. As I said in the first paragraph, the natural assumption is that since there was originally no plan for a sequel, the studio would pull out the best scenes they could find for the original movie, and when it did come around to making a sequel, they only had the dregs left.

Many of the IMDb reviews suggest that Part II is nowhere near as good as Part I, although MGM did have so much material to work with that they could still come up with enough good stuff to make a movie. After all, Part I deals mostly with the musicals, so if you look at the other stuff, you're going to have a lot left over. And Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire work together.

So perhaps this is a movie that I should give a bit of a chance, and any of you should watch for yourselves rather than relying on the other reviewers.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Claude Chabrol night

I have to admit that my knowledge of foreign film is a lot less than my knowledge of Hollywood movies, even though I think most of the folks who read here may wish to point out that my knowledge of Hollywood film doesn't seem particularly vast.

But nights like tonight are one of the things TCM is very good for. Tonight, they're putting the spotlight on French director Claude Chabrol with a night of his movies. I think I've seen some of Story of Women, on at midnight, but that's about it; I know next to nothing about any of the other films. So tonight might be a chance for me to catch up on a bit of film knowledge I've heretofore missed. That is, if there's enough space on my DVR which is almost full, or if I can stay up long enough to catch any of the movies, since I work the early shift and get up at 4:30 or earlier every morning.

In the past, it's been thanks to TCM that I've been able to acquaint myself with several of the French films of Louis Malle, or the centenary salute to Akira Kurosawa which enabled me to catch things not as well known as Rashomon or The Seven Samurai. There's also been the Pierre Étaix night, and chances to see the works of Luís Buñuel. Now, I have to say that I haven't necessarily liked all the foreign films I've gotten to see thanks to TCM; just wait until the next time they show The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie for evidence of this.

But before TCM was around, if you didn't live in a big city or perhaps near a college that had enough foreign-language departments to show foreign films, good like trying to find them. I think I've mentioned that it was thanks to the PBS station showing movies late on a Saturday night that I got to see things like Ikiru or The Seventh Seal for the first time, but the range of foreign films shown to mass American audiences is pretty narrow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Margaret Hamilton, 1902-1985

Margaret Hamilton scaring the bejeezus out of people in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

TCM is celebrating the 99th birthday of actor Kirk Douglas today. While they're celebrating him, I'd like to mention somebody else whose birthday is today: Margaret Hamilton, born on this day in 1902. Hamilton actually started her adult life as a kindergarten teacher before getting into the movies as a character actress, with her first film coming in 1933. Hamilton had smaller roles in quite a few well-known movies, such as These Three and A Slight Case of Murder. But, at the end of 1938, MGM came calling with the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, and it was the role of a lifetime, and the one for which Hamilton is by far best remembered. Hamilton continued to work steadily for decades, making the transition to television in the 1950s and doing both TV and movie work into the 1970s, with her last movie being The Anderson Tapes.

It's ironic, though, that Hamilton was so well remembered for The Wizard of Oz, due to that early career as a kindergarten teacher and the fact that by all accounts she loved children -- to the point that she was concerned that children were so scared by the witch which, after all, was just an acting role. But that's the power of movies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

One of the films that I DVRed some time back and only recently got around to watching is The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

Jack Lemmon stars as Mel Edison. He's an ad exec in New York City in the era just before, as I like to put it, President Ford told the city to drop dead. It's tough living in the city, as it's suffering from a terrible heat wave, while the city seems almost to be falling apart. There have been rolling blackouts, and Mel just can't seem to catch a bus. And, it seems, the Edisons' apartment is falling apart too. There are cracks in the walls, they've had water problems, and the like.

Meanwhile, this being the mid-1970s, the economy isn't in such hot shape. Specifically, the advertising industry is having difficulties, which manifest themselves first in one of Mel's colleagues being sacked, and then Mel having to pay for his own lunch. But even worse is to come, when Mel is summarily sacked after 22 years. He can't bring himself to tell his wife Edna (Anne Bancroft), but how is a man his age going to get another good job

If having the infrastructure crumble around you and losing your job aren't bad enough indignities, there is worse to come. Mel and Edna go out to visit his brother Harry (Gene Saks), who lives in suburban Connecticut and has done quite well for himself financially, in the lighting fixture business. Who doesn't like good-looking lamps? But Harry's success has always been a sore spot for Mel, who isn't exactly looking forward to the visit.

Much worse is to come, though. Edna goes out to do the grocery shopping, and when she comes home, she finds that the place has been robbed -- not just robbed, but ransacked. Oh, and the elevator is out too, so she had to climb 14 floors to get back to the apartment.

It's all enough to drive a man mad, and that's what happens to Mel, as he suffers a nervous breakdown. How is he going to recover?

That's pretty much all there is to The Prisoner of Second Avenue. It was originally a two-act play by Neil Simon, but it was opened up for the movie. That having been said, I have to say I have a lot of problems with this one. I don't have any animus toward Neil Simon; I like The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, and especially The Sunshine Boys. But as I watched I couldn't help but find the two main characters to be extremely tiresome. They're almost constantly screaming, and the situations aren't nearly as funny as I think Simon intended them to be. Not that it was supposed to be a straight-up comedy, but I don't think it was supposed to be a straight drama either. After all, a lot of the scenes are introduced by news bulletins that are clearly meant to be there for comic relief. Still, I don't want to laugh at these characters as much as I want to grab them by the throat and shake them. That having been said, a lot of the reviews on IMDb are highly positive, so give the movie a try and you may like it a whole lot more than I did.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue did get a DVD release, but I think it's out of print on DVD since it's not available at the TCM Shop. Amazon does offer the DVD, and I think streaming options too if you have the ability to do that.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Back after 32 months

If you don't recognize the photo above, don't be surprised. It's from a little-known movie called Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence. I first blogged about it at the end of 2009, and after however many showings it got on the old FMC back then, it went back in the vault and only returned in March of 2013. Fox also released it to DVD via their MOD scheme. But now it's showing up again on FXM Retro, tomorrow at 6:00 AM, and again on the 18th.

Film buffs should recognize the faces, however; from left to right they're Richard Conte, Jean Rogers, and a very young Glenn Ford.

One of the many, many things I was wrong about

Back on Friday, I mentioned that TCM was putting the spotlight on Christmas movies. That's true, at least insofar as TCM is running Christmas movies every Friday in prime time with a further sprinkling of movies throughout the month.

But, I also implied that this was the monthly Spotlight, the one that has the special graphics package and music. Oh, on that I was wrong. I hadn't seen the TCM promo for what's coming up in December, and if I had I would have known that the spotlight is actually on "girlfriends". Or, I suppose, female buddy movies. Every Monday this month, we'll get two double features (or four films a night) looking at different aspects of female-female relationships.

Host will be Tiffany Vazquez, who won the "Ultimate" fan contest back in 2014 on the 20th anniversary of TCM and was selected to be one of the fan Guest Programmers back in April 2014 for the channels' anniversary.

At least tonight will bring another opportunity to catch Three on a Match, overnight at 1:45 AM.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas repeats

I mentioned back on Friday that TV channels run the same Christmas movies every year, in part because there's a limited number of Christmas movies to run. Well, technically there's a limited number of good Christmas movies to run. Channels can always make new stuff which may or may not be any good.

But the other thing is that when it comes to the stuff they do run, they often run it into the ground during the holiday season. Most cable channels run stuff at the beginning of the prime time block for the benefit of the people on the east coast, and then repeat the program three or four hours later for the folks on the west coast, but when it comes to Christmas movies, they may get sprinkled several times over the course of a month.

Even TCM is not immune to running Christmas movies multiple times during a month. Take this morning's schedule for example. Three of them are showing up this morning and then again later in the month. First up, at 8:30 AM, is the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. This is the MGM version with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, and almost every character actor MGM could get off another project for however long they were needed, or so it seems. This version isn't quite as dark as some of the other versions, mostly because MGM always had the gloss that made so many things look so good but never worked so well when it came to darkness. (Look for my review of Johnny Eager for example.) It'll be showing up again in this week's Friday evening prime time lineup, at the midnight between Friday and Saturday.

That's followed at 10:00 AM by The Man Who Came to Dinner, in which Monty Woolley visits a family, slips and breaks a leg, and winds up spending six months recuperating, taking over the house in the process. That will be up again this Friday at 8:00 PM, or four hours before the repeat showing of A Christmas Carol.

Finally, at noon today, there's Holiday Affair. This warm movie with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh will run again next Saturday, December 19, at 1:15 AM. Or, in other words, it's part of the third Friday of Christmas movies and those of you on the west coast would catch it late Friday evening.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Robert Loggia, 1930-2015

Veteran actor Robert Loggia, who appeared in a varied selection of movies and TV shows over a 60-year career, has died at the age of 85. One of his early films that I recently got around to watching off of my DVR is The Garment Jungle.

Lee J. Cobb plays Walter Mitchell, who owns Roxton Fashions, one of the companies working in the garment district of New York City. His partner Kenner has a serious disagreement with him. The ILGWU has been organizing all of the garment industry, but Roxton hasn't unionized yet. Mitchell wants to make certain it stays that way, but Kenner is willing to unionize. After their argument ends with the viewer getting the feeling that Mitchell is never going to give in to Kenner, Kenner leaves the upper-floor offices to go down to the heart of the business, the lower floors where they actually make the garments. Kenner gets in the elevator and pushes the button to go down... but the elevator never stops until it crashes at the bottom of the shaft, killing Kenner!

It should be plain as day to everybody, even if they haven't read the sort of synopsis that shows up on the box guide or at the various web sites, that this elevator malfunction was no accident. That, and it should be obvious who caused it. No, not Mitchell, but the muscle he's hired to keep the union from organizing Roxton's workers. The head of that muscle outfit is Ravidge (Richard Boone), and he's making a fairly tidy sum off of keeping the union out, although apparently not as much as Mitchell would have to pay out to the workers if they did unionize.

Into all of this walks Walter's son Alan (Kerwin Matthews). He's been of serving in the military for the past several years, and has decided that perhaps joining the family business isn't such a bad idea. So he's come home after all this time and immediately goes to work for Dad. He's shocked by what he discovers going on at the plant, although there's no way he could have been so naïve as not to know that Dad had been paying a protection racket to keep the union from organizing. But now that he finally gets to see it with his own eyes, he sees it's something that really has to end, and if Dad doesn't end it, he's going to find somebody who can stand up to the protection racket.

Which is where Loggia comes in. He plays Tulio Renata, the Italian-American ILGWU man trying to organize the workers at Roxton, with no success so far even though there are quite a few workers who wouldn't mind being part of the ILGWU. He's married to a young woman Theresa (Gia Scala) and has a child. Theresa is worried about Tulio, since he seems to love the union as much, if not more, as he loves her, and fears that the protection rackets are goign to get to Tulio. You could see Alan taking a shine to Theresa if she weren't married.

The Garment Jungle is reasonably well made, but it's formulaic and way too reminiscent of other movies with similar plot lines. It's nowhere near as good as, say, On the Waterfront (which also had Cobb in the cast), but certainly better than something like The Woman on Pier 13. Part of the problem is that the characters are just too sharply drawn, being either unabashedly virtuous or else irredeemably bad. There's none of the complexity in the characters played by Marlon Brando and Eva-Marie Saint in On the Waterfront. Still, The Garment Jungle is certainly worth a watch.

The Garment Jungle did get a DVD release, although I don't know if it's still in print. You can certainly get it at Amazon, but not from the TCM Shop.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Briefs for December 4-5, 2015

Now that we're in December, it's time for Christmas movies. Christmas falls on a Friday this year, so perhaps it's appropriate that TCM's Spotlight this month, looking at Christmas movies, is back on a Friday. Of course, having the spotlight be on Christmas movies also means that I've mentioned most of the movies airing.

For example, tonight kicks off at with It Happened on 5th Avenue at 8:00 PM. I blogged about it in December 2010, and as you can tell from the title of that post, I made the comment back then about how the same Christmas movies get run over and over. If you haven't seen it before, it's definitely worth watching.

The other one I'd recommend fairly highly is All Mine to Give, which comes on overnight at 2:30 AM. Amazingly, I blogged about this one exactly one day after I blogged about It Happened on 5th Avenue. It's pure coincidence that I selected these two movies to link back to today; I had no idea I had originally blogged about them on consecutive days.

Shorts still aren't back on the TCM schedule page. At least, not when I looked at the weekly schedule a few minutes ago in preparation for writing this post.

I did a count at the beginning of the week, and I had 52 movies on my DVR that I haven't gotten around to watching yet. One or two of them I've seen before, but still, that's a lot of movies. I really should get around to watching all of them and blogging about any of the ones that are on DVD. But then I'm working the early shift from 6:00 AM to 2:30 PM, so that wreaks havoc with a movie watching schedule.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Rounders

TCM is running a bunch of westerns with Glenn Ford tomorrow morning and afternoon. One that I don't think I've ever blogged about before is The Rounders, airing at 11:00 AM.

Glenn Ford, who was pushing 50 by the time he made this one, plays Ben, an aging ranch hand who goes from one job to the next but spends a fair amount of time working for Jim (Chill Wills). Ben is best friends, and generally works together with Howdy, played by Henry Fonda who was pushing 60 when he took this part. Together the two of them go through life never having much money but always hoping they can make a buck somewhere.

Much of The Rounders is a simple look at a period of time in these two men's lives, but there are two main plot strands running through the movie. One involves an old horse that Jim had was was unable to break to make suitable for riding. Ben is good at that, so he decides to take on that task. However, this is just about the orneriest horse you ever did meet, and it bucks everybody -- including Ben. Still, Ben wants to make a buck, so he comes up with the brilliant idea of putting this horse in the rodeo as a bucking bronco and taking wagers that people can't stay on the horse for the designated amount of time. Well, that among other schemes.

The other main plot strand involves a pair of women, Mary and Sister (played by Sue Ann Langdon and Hope Holiday respectively) whom Ben and Howdy meet along the way. There's a romantic spark between the men and the women, and the womenfolk wouldn't mind it if Ben and Howdy could finally settle down and do something stable that would alow the guys to be with the two women. But you get the feeling that it just about kill them to settle down.

The Rounders is a comic western, but it's pretty darn gentle in its comedy. I think I've mentioned before that Henry Fonda is more than capable enough at comedy, but is at his best when the players around him are being zany and he has to react to what's going on around him. (This, even though he did The Lady Eve and did a fine job in it.) I'd put Glenn Ford in the same vein, definitely the laconic, laid-back type when it comes to comedy. The script more or less allows both of them to play to their strengths with the horse providing most of the laughs.

The result is a movie in which not much really happens, but which is amiable, clearly well-made, and more than entertaining enough. Nobody would ever think to select The Rounders as the first movie to show if you wanted to introduce people who aren't film buffs to either Ford or Fonda, and maybe not even the tenth movie to show in that regard. But that doesn't mean the movie is not eminently watchable.

The Rounders did get a DVD release from the Warner Archive collection, so you should be able to get it without too much difficulty.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

TCM Star of the Month December 2015: Frank Sinatra

Now that we're in a new month, it's time to put aside TCM's old Star of the Month Norma Shearer and replace her with a new one, this time being Frank Sinatra. It's tough to believe, but I've been blogging long enough that this is the second time since I started blogging that Sinatra has been Star of the Month. Sinatra was given that honor back in May 2008 on what was the 10th anniversary of his death, and he's getting it this month because it's the 100th anniversary of his birth.

It seems as if I haven't put up too many photos from Sinatra's movies in my blog posts, as this one of him and Jack Klugman from The Detective is the only one I could find. That's airing next week. But then, there are five Wednesdays this month, so TCM has five nights to show Sinatra's work. In fact, there's so much of his work available for them to show that the Sinatra movies will be running well into Thursday morning, by which I mean the morning as TCM uses it starting at roughly 6:00 AM. (The exception is December 23, since TCM wants to show Christmas movies all day December 24.)

I'm not the biggest fan of Sinatra, mostly for the same reason I'm not the biggest fan of Judy Garland. I don't care for either of them as singers. Of course, both of them could act, and when they were given a role that didn't have them singing, as Sinatra would get in From Here to Eternity, they showed just how good they were at acting. But Sinatra's singing means that TCM has decided to start each of the five nights of the salute with one of his TV specials, so we don't get the real movies until 9:00 and you have to put up with Sinatra's warbling before that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Stix nix hick pix

TCM's prime time lineup tonight starts with four of the Ma and Pa Kettle series, beginning at 8:00 PM with the first film in the series, appropriately titled Ma and Pa Kettle.

The Kettles actually showed up on screen before they had their own series. In the movie The Egg and I, Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray play a married couple who leave the rat race of the big city to go live on a farm. Their farm is right next to the Kettles' and the characters of the Kettles turned out to be so popular that Universal decided to put them in a series of their own. Marjorie Main plays Ma Kettle, the mother to 15 (or is it 16?) children, married to Pa (Percy Kilbride) who seems to have the basic desire of getting through life as easily as possible. Along the way they're presented as the stereotypical yokels, even if they, especially Ma, have no less common sense than those city sophisticates. But it's OK to laugh at those backward yokels, don'tcha know. Main's performance even earned her an Oscar nomination.

Anyhow, this first movie in the series involves Pa writing in to a slogan-writing contest run by the compnay of the chewing tobacco that he uses; he does it to win a new pouch for his tobacco. However, he wins the grand prize, which is an ultra-modern automatic house with all the latest conveniences that make the push-button drapes from Joan Crawford's Torch Song a few years later seem quaint. Of course, a lot of the humor involves laughing at the Kettles for not being able to navigate such modern conveniences. Meanwhile, their eldest son Tom (Richard Long) has returned from ag school where he's studying more modern farming techniques. On the way home from school he meets Kim (Meg Randall), a journalist doing a story on the Kettles. He falls for her, but she's horrified by the fact that the Kettles live a lifestyle that she doesn't approve of.

After the four Ma and Pa Kettle movies, TCM will be showing four movies in the Five Little Peppers series from a decade earlier, starting with Five Little Peppers and How they Grew at 2:00 AM. The series involves a family with five children in which the father died and Mom, along with help from the eldest daughter, is trying to raise the family. In this first entry, they've inherited a 50% share in a non-working mine after Dad dies, and the man who owns the other 50% tries to take it off of them for a song. But when he tries to do so and his grandson goes to see the Peppers, all sorts of complications ensue.