Monday, February 29, 2016

The Jim Fisk story, more or less

Over the weekend, I got the chance to watch The Toast of New York off my DVR. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Edward Arnold stars as Jim Fisk, who at the start of the movie is seen in the old South just before the Civil War began. He's there with his business partners Nick Boyd (Cary Grant) and Luke (Jack Oakie) selling soap in a scam. Just as the scam is about to be discovered news arrives of the firing on Fort Sumter, and the three northerners have to beat a hasty retreat north. Jim, however, gets an idea: with the Civil War, the North is going to blockade the south making it difficult to get cotton out of the South. Jim can smuggle to cotton out, and make a financial killing doing so.

Fisk and Boyd do more or less make a killing, but after the war is over they return to Luke in Boston, only to find out that he was stupid enough to invest all of their profit in Confederate war bonds. So, the partners are more or less broke, unless they can use those bonds to scam somebody, which of course Jim is fairly easily able to do, getting involved with the shipping company of Daniel Drew (Donald Meek, wearing one of the worst fake beards you'll ever see in the movies). Fisk uses his new partnership with Drew to go up against the magnate of the time, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Meanwhile, Fisk and Co. go to the theater to see the latest sensation from Paris, Fleurique. Fisk wants to meet her back stage, but due to an error, he really winds up meeting Fleurique's maid, Josie (Frances Farmer) who is a maid only because it's what's getting her into the theaters. She really has dreams of becoming an actress. Jim falls in love with her, but she's really in love with Nick, who has ambivalent feelings for her. Fisk is rising in the business world at the same time he's carrying on the romance with Josie, and Nick is worried that Jim is letting his love for Josie blind him to the financial perils he's going to face.

Eventually Jim develops a serious case of hubris, deciding that he can corner the gold market. Nick thinks this is a step too far, since the US Treasury is bound to release gold into the market, thereby driving down the price of gold and bankrupting Jim. And while the attempt to corner the market is going on, it's going to create a market panic anyway. As the movie presents things, Fisk's attempt to corner the market is what finally ticks off his shareholders irrevocably.

Too bad it didn't quite happen that way. In real life, James Fisk did indeed love a Josie Mansfield. But he could never marry her because he already had a wife. They weren't living together, but were enough of friends that they'd spend the summers together at their old summer place. And Josie was also seeing another of Fisk's associates, the one that the Nick Boyd character is more or less based on. Well, that's a bit off too, since the movie completely omits Diamond Jim Brady from the plot. It's this other business associate who finally puts an end to all of Fisk's dealings because of the relationship with Josie. Fisk, in fact, came out of the gold panic relatively unscathed.

But while The Toast of New York gets some key points of history wrong, it's still a pretty entertaining movie. Edward Arnold brings a lot of energy to the role of Jim Fisk, something that's necessary for a man who wanted to be bigger than life. Grant is pretty good in what is clearly a supporting role, something he was soon to graduate from. Jack Oakie provides the comic relief very comically, and Frances Farmer does OK as the love interest. RKO also went to great expense by RKO standards to make this movie look good, and succeed there too.

I'd recommend both watching this movie, and reading up on the real Jim Fisk.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Yet another year I'm not watching the Oscars

Today is the day Hollywood is giving out its biggest awards, with that big show on TV. I'm not watching it, for several reasons.

First, I haven't actually seen any of the nominated movies. I don't get out to the movies much, in part because I spent the last several years taking care of an elderly relative until she died about a year ago. There was a lot of time to watch movies on TCM, but no time to go out to the movie theater. Never mind that where I live generally only has the mall mutliplexes, so lots of comic-book themed movies and other blockbusters and less of the stuff that gets Oscar-nominated.

After I went back to work, it's at a job working the early shift, which means I get up every morning at 4:30 AM. No big deal, except that it makes staying up late something I don't normally do. There's no way I'm staying up to midnight to see which movie won the big prize.

Even if I did care, I'd really only want to watch the overlong awards shows for the annual "parade of the dead", or the memorial tribute to those who died since the previous awards show. I don't feel like sitting through the musical numbers or the interminable commercial breaks. I feel bad for the people at the event who have to sit through all this stuff.

Finally, this year, I wouldn't be looking forward to all the jellybean-counting speeches there are likely to be from people who claim to be concerned about so-called "diversity", where "diversity" is really represented by the acronym "LETELU": "Looks exotic; thinks exactly like us".

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Upcoming Robert Osborne sighting

Well of course Robert Osborne is presenting movies on TCM four or five nights a week, but you can also catch him tomorrow morning on CBS Sunday Morning. With tomorrow being the Oscars, the show is doing its annual Oscar show. Mo Rocca, who was a Guest Programmer on TCM some months back, interviews Osborne.

In my neck of the woods, CBS Sunday Morning airs at 9:00 AM ET Sunday; you'll have to check your local listings to see what time it's on in your area. Also, I have no idea which portion of the show the interview will be in.

Get 'em while you can

Back at the beginning of the month, I mentioned the film All This and World War II, and how somebody had posted it to Youtube. Unsurprisingly, in the couple of weeks since then, it's been taken down for copyright violations. (I have no idea whether it's the holders of the Fox copyrights or the Beatles copyrights who requested the takedown.)

Of course, it was a massive copyright violation. But then, there are a lot of much older movies out there that are still on Youtube and which in theory could be taken down tomorrow. You can argue it's a bunch of nonsense, because there was a long time when the copyright term was only 28 years, renewable for another 47; I think I've mentioned in the past that lack of copyright renewals was how many films fell into the public domain (including, for a while, It's a Wonderful Life). It's a Wonderful Life, however, fell back out of the public domain due to copyright issues surrounding the underlying story, if memory serves, which is why some other movies never show up on TCM.

But even with that old 75-year copyright term, just think of all the old movies that would now be in the public domain that aren't. We'd be getting into movies from 1941 being public domain, so the entirety of "Hollywood's Greatest Year", 1939, would be out of copyright for over a year, and stuff like Citizen Kane would be soon to follow. But as the law stands, stuff going back to 1923 is still under copyright, with the term being 120 years, so expect the next big push for copyright term extension in the 2040s, just before Steamboat Willie would otherwise fall into the public domain.

The upshot is, if you see any movie from after 1923 on Youtube and not put there by the studios, don't expect it to stay up very long. Anything before 1923 should be safe, with the caveat that they may have mistakenly used music that's under copyright, something which has screwed up a lot of Youtube posters -- I've read of things like political campaign rallies that accidentally leave in some of the music before the candidate comes out to deliver the stump speech, and wouldn't you know the copyright holder gets them for that.

Friday, February 26, 2016


I notice that overnight tonight, TCM is running a pair of Nelson Eddy movies: Bitter Sweet at 2:00 AM, followed by Balalaika at 4:00 AM The first of the two movies also has Jeanette MacDonald, who was probably Eddy's most frequent co-star, appearing in a whole string of MGM musicals in the latter half of the 1930s.

To be honest, I've never gotten the appeal of either of them, especially Eddy. MacDonald does a good enough job in San Francisco, although I don't like her style of singing. Eddy, on the other hand, I've always found incredibly bland, and I don't like his style of singing. And yet the two of them were enormously popular in the 1930s. If they hadn't been popular, MGM wouldn't have cast them in the big-budget musicals they got.

So why was operetta so popular in the 1930s? Or, at least, why were Eddy and MacDonald so popular? I mean, other musicals had the Busby Berkeley numbers, or had Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers. There was some serious opera, too, with Grace Moore in One Night of Love or Lily Pons, or even Deanna Durbin showing off her coloratura, at least the professional opera singers tended to get cast as opera singers, with their movie careers not really going anywhere.

I have to admit that I don't really care for the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre, either, so it's not just Eddy and MacDonald.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Modern color article

I could swear I've mentioned quite a few times on this blog how I'm not particularly enamored of the way in which latter-day movies seem to have a color palette consisting mostly of blues and teals, with orange for all the explosions, and a bunch of browns too. It's a color scheme that looks almost as artificial as the William Wellman used austere colors in Track of the Cat to highlight the red coat. It's also something that always gives me the impression of today's movie makers being derivative and unoriginal. The color also really pales next to the eye-popping dye-imbibition colors of the old three-strip Technicolor.

Over on the TCM boards, somebody started up a discussion about the color films of the 1940s, and another poster (not me) also mentioned the color schemes of today's movies. I'm not the only one to notice it, and indeed, people who actually get paid to write have noticed it, too. It's interesting, with quite a lot of pictures, and some interesting stuff in the comments too. (Note, however, that the article is from 2014, so responding to the comments now is probably pointless.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Shorts for February 25, 2016

The same shorts get shown over and over on TCM during February, since they want to restrict themselves to shorts that were Oscar-nominated, and een then they don't have access to all the shorts. Just imagine if they still had the rights to the Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons.

Take Seeing Hands, which is airing just after midnight tonight, following MASH (10:00 PM, 116 min plus an intro and outro). This Pete Smith short about a blind man who has become useful in the war effort is one I blogged about back in 2014, and mentioned again last year. It's interesting not only for the subject material, but also because it's one of the more serious Pete Smith shorts. I think I've mentioned more than enough times that I'm not the biggest fan of Smith's brand of humor.

Tomorrow morning at about 6:37 AM, there's The Man Without a Country, which was the subject of a blog post back in February 2013. It's been a while since I've seen this one, to be honest.

There's one that I don't think I've seen at all: Beyond the Line of Duty, at 12:36 PM tomorrow. This is one of the many military-themed shorts Warner Bros. released during the war. If memory serves they're the ones who did the shorts of the various military bands as well. This one looks at a real Air Corps (there was no separate Air Force until after the war) pilot who signed up after Pearl Harbor and one of the missions that made him and his crew a hero; the pilot apparently plays himself and went on to become a lieutenant general.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Brief Blogger question

Does anybody else here have a Blogger/Blogspot blog and post to it using a browser other than Chrome?

This morning, I had been logged out of Blogger, so when I tried to post that blog post you see immediately below this one, I was told to log in again. I did, and got sent to a page telling me they wanted my cell phone number as a convenience for me if they needed to send me any important messages about the system being down, or some such. Screw it, I thought, since it's not a requirement of blogging on Bloger that you give them your cell number. So I clicked on the equivalent of the "no thanks" button, at which point I was sent into some sort of loop. On multiple browsers. It turned out that when I shut down the browsers and restarted them, I was in fact logged in to Blogger now, but darn if that wasn't annoying.

I don't have Chrome on my desktop computer since it's an aging computer and I've had memory problems trying to run Chrome. (I don't particularly care for it on my phone, either.) But since Chrome is owned by Google, who also own Blogger, I presume they've made Blogger such that it works just fine with Chrome, and wouldn't be surprised if has problems with other browsers to try to get people to switch to Chrome.

Thus why I was wondering if anybody else uses something other than Chrome, and if they had had the same problem I had this morning.

Douglas Slocombe, 1913-2016

British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe died yesterday at the age of 103. His is one of those names that I'd seen on the screen a bunch of times, but otherwise knew next to nothing about. It turns out he had a pretty interesting life.

Slocombe started off as a photojournalist, which is how he wound up in Poland with a movie camera at the end of August 1939. You should be able to figure out that the date September 1, 1939, is when the Nazis invaded Poland, setting off World War II, so Slocombe was a first-hand witness to the start of the war as he tried to escape the country. Making propaganda movies for the British government during World War II is what got himhis entry into the regular movie business, getting off to a pretty big bang with his first real feature film being Alberto Cavalcanti's horror classic Dead of Night.

A decade of work at Ealing followed, where he was behind the camera for some of the greatest movies to come out of that studio, such as Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob. After the demise of Ealing, Slocombe worked, making a number of British movies distributed by Fox, such as Guns at Batasi or A High Wind in Jamaica. Slocombe's career continued through the 1980s when he did the first three Indiana Jones movies.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tonight's lineup, however....

I mentioned yesterday that there are actually times on TCM where I haven't seen a bunch of the movies that they're showing. Tonight, on the other hand, is the opposite story. The night is kicking off at 8:00 PM with A Foreign Affair, an OK Billy Wilder comedy set in Berlin just after the end of World War II, with a US Representative (Jean Arthur) getting involved in with a US serviceman (John Lund) who is supposed to be investigating the troops' relationships with the locals, specifically Marlene Dietrich. I was thinking that this would be a good movie to blog about if I hadn't done so already, but sure enough, I had done a full-length post on the movie back in October 2010.

Even earlier are the posts I did on the night's next two movies. Following A Foreign Affair, at 10:00 PM, is The More the Merrier, a Jean Arthur movie I much prefer to A Foreign Affair. This one has Jean Arthur working in Washington DC during World War II, a time when there was a severe housing shortage in the city. She lets out half her apartment as part of the war effort, only for a man, aging businessman Charles Coburn, to rent the place. And then he sublets half of his half to a US soldier (Joel McCrea) in town on some secret business, and starts playing matchmaker between the two. Never mind the fact that Jean Arthur's character is already engaged. I really like both this movie and its remake, Walk, Don't Run.

Then, at midnight, you can catch Joel McCrea again in Foreign Correspondent. This is a really underrated Alfred Hitchcock movie, released the same year as his Oscar-winning Rebecca. It's a fun thriller about a journalist (McCrea) who goes over to Europe just before the outbreak of World War II to report on what's really going on over there, only to get involved in the kidnapping and faked murder of a prominent Dutch politician. Why this one doesn't get the attention of some of Hitchcock's later movies, I don't know, but the movie deserves to be more prominent, I think.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Some people complain about 31 Days of Oscar...

...but there are actually quite a few movies running on TCM this month that I haven't seen before. Just in the next 24 hours:

I haven't seen The Slipper and the Rose, which you can catch at 8:00 this evening.
Then there's the Albert Finney movie Under the Volcano, which is also new to me; that one is on overnight at 1:00 AM.
Finally, I haven't seen the Greta Garbo movie Romance, airing tomorrow at 11:00 AM, but then I'm not a huge fan of Greta Garbo.

I think the other big point is that pretty much for any movie fan there's a whole lot of stuff that's going to be new to us. Hollywood was putting out so much stuff in the studio era that it's nigh on impossible to see all of it unless it's your job to watch movies eight hours a day. And that doesn't even count all the foreign stuff.

Marilyn Monroe photo exhibition

If anybody is lucky enough to be in Poland in the next couple of weeks, here's an interesting item I heard on podcast from Radio Poland's English service. Apparently, some American who wound up in a fraud case in Poland a decade or two ago had a collection of vintage Hollywood photos which he used as an asset to pay off the debts to Poland in the fraud case. So, a museum in Poland has wound up with this collection of a couple thousand photos. That museum is putting a couple dozen on display, specifically a couple of dozen taken of Marilyn Monroe during the shooting of Bus Stop. If you're in the Polish city of Wrocław, the exhibition is on until March 24.

The official site for the exhibit, at least in English, is here, I believe.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A couple of dead writers

I'm sure that by now you've heard about the death of Harper Lee. Lee was famous for her one* novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960, turned into the Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus Finch, and became a staple of junior-high English classes everywhere. I know I read it back in 8th grade for my English class, which is also where I first saw the movie, probably over three days since class periods were only about 40 minutes. I only read the book the one time, and it's also been several years since I've watched the movie.

*It was only last year that Lee's second novel, long unpublished, was finally published; Go Set a Watchman was apparently released to quite a bit of controversy. I also didn't realize that Lee helped Truman Capote out quite a bit with the research for what was to become In Cold Blood. I can strongly recommend the film versions of both To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood.

The other death is that of Italian novelist Umberto Eco, who wrote a bunch of long, critically acclaimed novels that I've never gotten around to reading. At least one of them, The Name of the Rose was turned into a movie in the 1980s, starring Sean Connery as a medieval priest who solves a murder mystery at an Italian monastery. I don't think I've seen the movie since I was in college, which would mean it's been well over 20 years.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Southerner

A few months back, I recorded The Southerner and finally got a chance to catch it. It's going to be on TCM tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, so if you haven't seen it before, you've got a chance.

Zachary Scott plays Sam Tucker, who at the start of the movie is a white sharecropper working the land -- not his, of course, since he's only a sharecropper -- that his family has worked for generations. There's his wife Nona (Betty Field), two children, Granny (Beulah Bondi), and an Uncle Pete. However, while working in the field picking cotton, Uncle Pete falls ill and needs a rest. Actually, he needs a lot more than a rest, since he's pretty much worked himself to death. Pete's death makes Sam realize that he doesn't want to wind up like this. Sam's old friend Tim (Charles Kemper) has a good idea: the family could move to the city, since the factory where Tim works has jobs aplenty.

But Sam just can't do that, since he's always felt like he belongs to the land and the land belongs to him, or some such nonsense. And, I suppose, he couldn't do that to Granny. Indeed, Sam has dreams of farming his own plot of land, except that he doesn't have any money or any other way of procuring land. But he's in a bit of luck, as it turns out that the man he works for has one piece of land that's lying fallow, and that piece has a farmhouse on it. Sam offers to work that land in exchange for the opportunity to buy it outright at some later point. The boss agrees, but not without warning Sam of the difficulties inherent in such an undertaking.

That's putting it mildly. The first thing Sam discovers is that the "farmhouse" is a shack in worse shape than the house Mr. Blandings wants to buy, only to have to demolish and build from scratch. Oh, and there doesn't seem to be a working well, so fresh water is going to be a problem. And Granny doesn't like the idea. But Sam is determined, so he soldiers on. He's going to have to do a lot of soldiering, since it seems as though every problem you could think of that might befall a farmer happens to him. There's flooding rain, a sick child, and Devers, a neighbor who doesn't warm to Sam (J. Carroll Naish). Devers keeps Sam in his place by repeatedly sending his farmhand Finlay (Norman Lloyd) after him.

And that's pretty much all there is to the plot. This is more of an episodic movie than one with a real plot. For the most part, that structure works. Sam's scenes with Tim provide one outlet of relief from the unrelenting grind of farming one's own land; another good scene is when Sam's mother (Blanche Yurka) gets remarried, to poor Harmie (Percy Kilbride). These are two people who don't have the typical romantic love you see in the movies, but instead the experience to know they can make it work through the tough times.

That having been said, I find The Southerner to be a mixed bag. Perhaps I think of Zachary Scott too much as Monty Beragon in Mildred Pierce, but I found it hard to believe him as a sharecropper, or Betty Field as a sharecropper's wife. And Beulah Bondi is given an absolutely thankless role as the grandmother from hell. But there are bright spots, such as the wedding scene and all of the scenes with Finlay, who just has something really odd about him. It's as though Norman Lloyd decided to play the part by channeling Frye from Saboteur.

Overall, I'd say that The Southerner is certainly worth making the time for one viewing. And some of you will probably be more interested in a second viewing than I might be.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Briefs for February 18-19, 2016

Wikipedia's obituaries page is reporting the death of a man named Jesús Barrero. If you've never heard of him, you're not alone. He was a Mexican voice actor who did the dubing for a whole bunch of Hollywood pictures, including voicing Luke Skywalker in the Mexican versions of the Star Wars trilogy (the first three from the late 1970s and early 1980s). It's a vocation that I think is going out of style thanks to an increasing amount of foreign films with subtitles instead of dubbing. Some DVDs at least give you the option of whether to have the foreign voice track or the subtitles; I know given a choice I'd rather have the subtitles.

Speaking of DVDs, I used some gift cards I got at Christmas to get myself a bunch of DVDs. I note that the DVD of G-Men which is part of a TCM/Warner Home Video four-film box set of James Cagney gangster movies includes as an extra the 1935 goof reel. However, regarding that box set, I have to complain about the packaging, that being not putting anything between the DVDs, which I'd think is an invitation to get them accidentally scratched. This is actually the first of the TCM box sets I've gotten. I presume this bad packaging is standard operating procedure for the box sets?

Speaking of DVDs, I wonder if there's a problem between my DVD player and TV set. The set is a 2008 16:9 HDTV, but when I stuck the DVD of Ordinary People in my player, the aspect ratio seemed all off. The TV was set for "full", which should stretch out any 4:3 programming to fill the whole screen, while the DVD claims to be in 16:9 format for widescreen TVs. Well, when the TV was on "full" the image filled the whole screen, while when I changed the TV format to "regular", the DVD was only in 4:3. But: the opening credits, or more specifically the Paramount logo, looked as though it had been put through what I like to call the Cinemascope Diet, that being when back in the old days they would just take Cinemascope formatting and scrunch it to fit a 4:3 TV image, so that everything looked extrememly thin. My satellite box has its own TV format settings which override the ones on the TV, and I don't normally watch over-the-air channels on that TV. Any ideas what might be going on?

The Narrow Margin is running on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I suppose it's unsurprising that this is one of the earlier movies I blogged about, all the way back in April of 2008, since this is a movie I really enjoy. In case you're wondering, the Oscar nomination was in the Best Original Story category.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

That other version of A Star Is Born

I've posted on the classic 1937 film A Star Is Born before. It's a movie I really enjoy for a bunch of reasons. It's been remade, of course, notably in 1954 with Judy Garland taking the star honors and taking over the movie because, well, she's Judy Garland. (I have to admit I've never been a fan of Judy Garland's singing.) There's a third version that seems to show up even less. No; I'm not talking about the movie What Price Hollywood which came out in 1932 and which is often looked at as an original version of A Star is Born since so many of the plot elements are there.

In 1976, a third movie titled A Star Is Born was released, starring Barbra Streisand and moves the movie into the world of pop music. Here, she meets a rocker on the way down (Kris Kristofferson) while she's on her way up. Naturally, they fall in love, but the results don't turn out so well. I'm talking about the results of their relationship, not the results of the movie, although that's a problem too since with a star like Streisand you know the movie is going to be hers all the way as it was with Garland. I'm not a huge fan of Streisand, since a little bit of her goes a long way; I'm especially not a fan of her singing.

But at any rate, the 1976 A Star Is Born was nominated for an Oscar thanks to the Best Original Song category. In fact, the song won the Oscar. At least Paul Williams got a statuette. And because of that Oscar nomination, the movie can be shown in TCM's 31 Days of Oscar. It's coming up overnight at 12:15 AM.

Now if TCM could just get the rights to the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer, although I don't think that one was Oscar-nominated, not even for any of the songs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I was wondering when it would show up

This being February, TCM is running the annual 31 Days of Oscar. Not only are all of the feature films Oscar-nominated, so are the shorts (well, there are a few that are about the Oscars themselves). And with that in mind, I always wait for certain shorts to show up on the February schedule, since there's a fairly limited number of shorts TCM can run during the 31 Days if they want to restrict themselves to Oscar-nominated shorts. Especially since they no longer have the rights to the MGM and Warner Bros. animation.

I was surprised on the several occasions I looked at the weekly schedule for the upcoming shorts -- I only need to look two or three times a week since the shorts are usually scheduled at least a couple of days in advance -- not to see perennial 31 Days of Oscar short Stop, Look, and Listen which, as you can see, I blogged about during 31 Days of Oscar back in 2010. Well, it's on the schedule now, airing this evening at around 7:43 PM, or just after Grand Prix (4:45 PM, 176 min). If you haven't seen it before, I strongly recommend it.

Other shorts airing in the next day or so:

The Battle of Gettysburg, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. As you can guess, this half-hour short is about, well, the Battle of Gettysburg, the pivotal battle in the US Civil War.

Stairway to Light, tomorrow afternoon at 12:17 PM. This is an entry in the Passing Parade series, looking at late 18th century doctor Philippe Pinel, who was one of the pioneers in the treatment of the mentally ill.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Immortal Sergeant

Ooh, there's a movie coming up on FXM Retro that I haven't blogged about before: Immortal Sergeant, airing at 8:00 AM tomorrow and again at 6:00 AM Wednesday.

Henry Fonda stars, but he's not the title character. Instead, Fonda playsa corporal, Colin Spence. Cpl. Spence is a Canadian who was in London when World War II began and who signed up with the British, so now he's serving somewhere in North Africa, under the titular Sergeant Kelly (Thomas Mitchell). The start of the movie sees the regiment in a bit of down time, with the mail arriving. Spence gets a letter from his old flame Valentine (Maureen O'Hara), begins to read it, and begins to have a flashback....

Spence is going to have a bunch of flashbacks over the course of the movie, intertwining with the action in North Africa. As for this first one, we see that before the war, Spence was an unsuccessful writer living in London and having fallen in love with Valentine. Spence's old friend Tom Benedict (Reginald Gardiner) also writes, and has become a much more successful author and war correspondent. And when he sees Colin and Valentine show up for a function, he takes more of an interest in Valentine than in Colin....

Anyhow, back to the present day. The soldiers' downtime turns out to be all too fleeting, as they're forced to go back on patrol. Sgt. Kelly's band of 14 men are given the task of going out in the desert to do reconnaissance. For Colin, it's just another mission, as he seems to be trying simply to serve out the war, doing whatever is asked of him and little more, since by nature he's a very reserved man. For Sgt. Kelly, however, this is his life, which is why he stayed in the army after the first World War and is such a good commanding officer, to the point that everybody has extreme respect for him. Kelly actually has respect for Spence, too, believing that Spence could command men effectively if he ever had to.

Meanwhile, we learn in the flashbacks more about Spence's past and his reserved nature. I'd almost compare Spence to the James Cagney character in The Strawberry Blonde, with Tom Benedict being the Jack Carson character. Well, minus the criminality. Spence gives an excuse about finding somebody he knew in Paris getting it from the Gestapo as to why he joined the British, but that's probably just an excuse; in reality it's losing Valentine to Tom that would make him want to join up with the British to get away from London.

As you can probably guess, Colin is going to have to command men eventually. Nazi warplanes come overhead while Kelly's men are out on their patrol, and the Nazis shoot all but one of the vehicles, killing eight of the men and leaving the remaining one with fairly little gas. That, and Kelly's compass is broken, so in a featureless desert, it's going to be hard to find one's way. To make matters worse, the soldiers come upon a Nazi armored vehicle. They're able to ambush and kill the Nazis, but in that ambush, Kelly gets a fatal injury. Now Spence is in command with a limited amount of food and even less water, miles and miles from nowhere....

Immortal Sergeant is a movie that has some good ideas, but ultimately comes up as being rather less than the sum of its parts. I think the big reason for this is the fact that we're constantly going from the present day to flashbacks, to the point that it makes the action a bit harder to follow and really breaks it up. That, and we don't really get Spence fully fleshed out in the flashback, as opposed to the way that the flashback in The Strawberry Blonde gets right at the heart of the matter. Maureen O'Hara and Reginald Gardiner are both underused, and the way Spence basically uses the voice of Sgt. Kelly to help him in command (hence the title) is overused. Still, I think that Immortal Sergeant is a movie that deserves one watch.

Immortal Sergeant does seem to be available on DVD.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

They're on DVD now

I'd like to point out a couple of movies coming up on the TCM schedule that I blogged about years ago, when there were a lot fewer, if any, movies available from the Warner Archive. Back when I blogged about them, they weren't available on DVD, but since then, the Warner Archive has added them to their catalog and they seem to be available for purchase from the TCM Shop:

Of Human Hearts, at 12:15 PM. James Stewart stars as a man from the frontier in the mid-18th century who studies to become a doctor and winds up serving with distinction in the Civil War, except that he's had to sacrifice his relationship with his parents to do it. Beulah Bondi received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing Stewart's mother

George Washington Slept Here, at 2:00 PM. Ann Sheridan and Jack Benny star as a couple who have to vacate their New York apartment, and Sheridan thinks she's found just the place to move to; unfortunately, she discovers that the house (where apparently George Washington spent one night, hence the title) is a severe fixer-upper.

So if you're not able to catch either of these movies on TCM tomorrow, at least you'll still be able to get them on DVD if you so desire.

That crap going on in Washington

So a Supreme Court justice dies in a presidential election year. Oh boy is the political wrangling for months on end going to be fun. If we do get any confirmation hearings before the election, I think I'd rather watch Advise and Consent than the real thing which will just be a bunch of grandstanding.

Of course, Advise and Consent isn't about a Supreme Court nomination, but the principle is the same. As for the Supreme Court, it doesn't show up that much in the movies just because, I think, the Supreme Court really isn't that exciting and therefore it's not well-suited to movies about it. Trying a case before the Supreme Court isn't like in a regular court, and even in those regular courts Hollywood's portrayals of trials is notoriously inaccurate. But as for the Supreme Court, as I understand it, the arguments are just a half hour a side, with the justices asking questions. One justice notorious for not asking questions says it's fairly pointless and that reading the briefs filed beforehand is more important.

Gideon's Trumpet, about the workings of the case that became Gideon v. Wainwright as it made its way through the court system and ultimately to the Supreme Court, was a TV movie and really less about the Supreme Court than about the people aruging for Gideon (played by Henry Fonda).

First Monday in October stars Walter Matthau as a Supreme Court justice who winds up sparing verbally with the first female justice (Jill Clayburgh), although I have to admit to not having seen this one before.

The Magnificent Yankee stars Louis Calhern as Oliver Wendell Holmes, the fourth-generation imbecile and Supreme Court justice who famously wrote in a Supreme Court decision allowing the government to use the power of the state to forcibly sterilize women that "three generations of imbeciles is enough". No, those old time justices weren't paragons of virtue.

The Chief Justice of the United States is the person charged with presiding over the Senate trial of any President who should find himself impeached, so in Tennessee Johnson, about the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson (Van Heflin), we get to see Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase (Montagu Love).

Finally, I distinctly recall a Looney Tunes cartoon where Daffy Duck is up against Bugs (or possibly Porky Pig, but more likely Bugs) and, in a moment of exasperation, exclaims, "I'll take this to the highest court in the land!" the joke, of course, is that we expect this to be the Supreme Court, where in fact the next scene shows Daffy trying to get to a courthouse that's 10,000 feet above sea level. Anybody remember which cartoon this was?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lyle Bettger, 1915-2003

Lyle Bettger (center) being followed by William Holden in Union Station (1950)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Lyle Bettger. He's one of the many people who started on the stage, in the 1940s, before making it to Hollywood at the end of the decade. One of Bettger's earliest films was Union Station, a movie I thought I had done a full-length blog post on. In this one, Bettger plays a kidnapper, although the story starts earlier, with Nancy Olson playing a woman on a train who sees the kidnapping victim and sees she's disappeared, so when she gets to the big-city train station, she enlists the help of station-master William Holden in solving the case. Olson and Holden had appeared earlier in 1950 in Sunset Blvd., and they have good chemistry in this one which has an interesting story. (And, as I blogged about once, a character who dies in an interesting way.)

Bettger, for whatever reason, kept getting cast as villainous characters, such as the bad elephant trainer in The Greatest Show on Earth, or the Nazi chief officer in The Sea Chase, or in a whole series of westerns in the 1950s. Bettger also did a bunch of TV work.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kramer vs. Kramer

Coming up on TCM this evening at 10:00 PM is Kramer vs. Kramer.

Ted Kramer is played by Dustin Hoffman. Ted works as an adman in New York, earning a good enough salary that he can live in a pretty reasonable Manhattan apartment with his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) and their young son Billy (Justin Henry. In fact, the salary is good enough that Joanna doesn't need to go out to work to help support the family, something which has left Joanna feeling unfulfilled, a fact that Ted seems to know fairly little about. Joanna apparently spends her days having a lot of time to talk to the Kramers' mutual friend Margaret (Jane Alexander), who lives in the same apartment building. Margaret is also a recent divorcée.

Even if Kramer vs. Kramer weren't such a well-known movie, you might have been able to guess what was going to happen just from the title. Certainly the presence of Margaret should make it obvious that Joanna is going to get ideas, and sure enough, one day she just gets up and leaves, leaving poor Ted to pick up the pieces of a shattered marriage while also trying to raise a young son. It's long been a trope, especially of TV adverts in the US, that men are incompetent when it comes to domestic matters, so it's certainly not an easy task for Ted, especially because Billy had gotten used to, and liked, the way Mom did a lot of the domestic things. Ted may have strong negative feelings for his wife, but Billy isn't really old enough to develop them for Mom independently.

Still, Ted does the best he can, and while developing a closer (but still platonic) friendship with Margaret, he does become a competent single parent, to the point that Billy is at least halfway OK with the whole relationship, not that there's a whole lot he can do about it anyway. The bad news is that Ted's focussing on his son is causing problems in other areas of his life, problems that are all about to come together in one fell swoop.

Ted's boss at the ad agency points out to Ted that the time spent taking care of his son has been taking away not just from time at the office, but from focusing on the duties of the job, to the point that his job performance is really suffering. So the boss just up and summarily fires Ted. Meanwhile, Joanna (whom we've been seeing in a series of long shots throughout the movie watching Ted and especially Billy) has met another man and has gotten it in her mind that perhaps now should be the time for her to get custody of Billy.

And so, we get a custody hearing in which each of the parties gets its chance to tell the judge just why the other party is so horrible. Sure, Joanna just up and left, but then, it was apparently Ted's idea for her to be a stay-at-home mom, not hers. Unfortunately, the judge here isn't going to be able to convince the Kramers to come back together the way the judge in The Marrying Kind did with the Keefers.

Kramer vs. Kramer is an outstanding movie filled with good performances, and one that for the most part seems highly realistic (other than the scene of Dad running through the streets of New York carrying his injured son, which I found a bit silly). Marriages don't always work, and this can be difficult on everybody, not just the children. Poor Billy certainly isn't old enough to comprehend why Mom should suddenly come back into his life and decide that he should be forced to live full-time with her, especially after he's grown to form a fairly strong emotional bond with Dad. And Mom and Dad both take a long time to learn how they've screwed up each other's lives. I think that the film does ultimately want us to have a little more sympathy for Dad considering how long he had to spend raising Billy alone, but Ted Kramer is certainly not a flawless character.

If you haven't seen Kramer vs. Kramer before, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The latest "back on TV" update

Tonight at 8:00 PM, TCM is running the 1934 version of Imitation of Life. This is one that doesn't show up on TV very often, although it has been released to DVD along with the late 1950s remake. I didn't check this morning to see whether or not this DVD is still in print. Besides, I really wanted to write this post in order to look at a couple of the things that are back on FXM Retro after some time off.

I first blogged about Dangerous Crossing back in 2010, and then took another look at the movie in 2015. Two and a half years on, and it's back on FXM Retro, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

It hasn't even been a year since I blogged about The Mudlark, which comes on at 8:45 AM tomorrow. Irene Dunne heavily made up to play Queen Victoria in a movie that has an interesting premise but doesn't really wind up going anywhere.

Finally, following The Mudlark at 10:20 AM is Island in the Sun. It's a fairly overheated movie about some British possession in the Caribbean that's about to become independent, and how this affects the power structures on the island. There are several substantial names in the cast, but there's a lot more heat than light in this one.

I'm sorry I couldn't recommend better movies today. That's going to change tomorrow, though.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The notorious ranch

Another of the movies I finally got around to watching off of my DVR that just happens to be available on DVD is Rancho Notorious.

The movie starts off the opening credits, over some some about the "legend of Chuck-a-Luck"; more on that later. After that, we get to some town in Wyoming where Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy) in town at the bank, where he sees his fiancée. However, she's not long for the world, as some criminal comes into the place and while she's alone in there, gets her to open the safe, at which point the criminal steals all the gold and kills Vern's fiancée! Needless to say, Vern is none too happy about this.

So Vern vows to find the man who murdered his fiancée. His initial investigations run in to the murderer's partner in crime, who has just been shot for wanting to split the gold now instead of at Chuck-a-Luck. Vern meets up with the shot partner-in-crime just before that guy finally kicks the bucket, and his last action is to whisper the word "Chuck-a-Luck" to Vern. Obviously, this is a reference to something other than the gambling game, but what?

Vern goes around the West, getting from one place to another amazingly quickly it seems and eventually finding out that there was some woman named Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and that apparently, Chuck-a-Luck is her ranch near the border, a place where various criminals hide out from the authorities in exchange for giving a portion of their loot to her. Vern only learns the story in dribs and drabs, until one night in prison he meets outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer). Frenchy is on his way to Chuck-a-Luck to escape the authorities as well as to see Altar again, since he likes to think of himself as her romantic interest.

Things change, of course, when Vern gets to Chuck-a-Luck. He's trying to find the guy who killd his fiancée, but while at the ranch, he begins to fall in love with Altar, which needless to say causes all sorts of problems, since Frenchy is none too happy about it and all the other outlaws there don't exactly trust Frenchy for having brought Vern here. Eventually Vern does find the guy who killd his fiancée and there's a showdown....

Rancho Notorious is a film that, I think, should be better than it is. It's a western directed by Fritz Lang, a fact which by itself ought to make the movie an interesting proposition. And yet, I was underwhelmed by it. I think part of the problem is with the casting. I find Mel Ferrer and especially Arthur Kennedy to have all the charisma of a wet sponge. Kennedy is supposed to play the romantic lead here? Seriously? The plot also came across to me as a bit pedestrian, and not in a good way. Sure there are a lot of formulaic westerns (well, in every genre) that manage to be quite entertaining; the last western I blogged about, The Train Robbers, is one that I think ultimately succeeds more than it fails. Rancho Notorious, on the other hand, never game me that vibe.

Which brings me to the other big problem I have with the movie, which is that theme song. It's terrible, and badly used. There are odd songs that can make a movie interesting; the song about the "woman with a whip" in the Barbara Stanwyck western Forty Guns, and its placement in the movie, is a good example. But the "Legend of Chuck-a-Luck" is didactic at best and heavy-handed at worst.

Start with Lang's other two westerns, The Return of Frank James and Western Union.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Anybody got a pair of 3-D glasses?

Tomorrow morning at about 11:35 AM, TCM is running the short Audioscopicks, following The Broadway Melody (9:45 AM, 100 min). This is a Pete Smith short, looking first at the way human vision works, and then showing us the magic of 3-D, using those old glasses, I suppose. TCM obviously doesn't provide anybody with the glasses when they show this, but a good story doesn't need to be in 3-D to tell it. Not that a Pete Smith short is a good story, so here you probably would be better off with the glasses. As I've stated on several occasions, I'm not the biggest fan of the Pete Smith style of narration.

The Broadway Melody was one of the movies parodied in the old Dogville shorts, as The Dogway Melody. That short wasn't nominated for an Oscar since the Academy wasn't honoring shorts yet. There are several clips available on Youtube, but not the full thing, apparently.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Mark

I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to do a full-lengnth blog post on the 1961 film The Mark before. It's airing tomorrow at 1:15 PM on TCM, and is certainly worth seeing.

Stuart Whitman stars as Jim Fuller, a man living in the UK who has just been released from prison after a couple of years after being convicted for attempted child molestation. Back then, they didn't have registries they stuck people on for every "sexual" offense under the sun, and once somebody had served one's sentence, there wasn't all that much the authorities could do. Except that at least in this case, Jim has spent a lot of his time in prison in group therapy led by Dr. McNally (Rod Steiger), woh thinks that Jim is ready to be re-integrated back into society. Jim has been found a job at a firm where the only two people who know about Jim's past are his boss Clive (Donald Wolfit) and his secretary Ruth (Maria Schell) who knows he was in prison but not why.

Jim tries to turn his life around, and seems to be doing reasonably well. He's found a nice place to stay, lodging with an older couple (Brenda de Banzie and Maurice Denham), doing a capable job at work, and even starting a tentative relationship with Ruth. There's a bit of a problem, however, in that Ruth is a widow, a Swiss woman who married an English man, and who has a daughter who is about the same age as the little girl Jim tried to molest back in the day. Compounding the issue is that the little girl genuinely seems to like Jim.

But, of course, you know that something is going to go wrong. Jim still feels uncomfortable if he goes past a schoolyard, but it's really events on the outside that are going to come after him. There's a brutal case of a child being lured and ultimately killed by some sort of adult male predator, so the authoities start calling any leads they can think of for questioning, which pretty much includes anybody who had been in prison for predatory actions against children, something which includes Jim. That's an inconvenience, but far worse is the fact that there's a newspaper reporter around who sees Jim and puts two and two together. Jim doesn't want the reporter to cover the story, but the reporter writes for one of those British-style tabloids where scaremongering stories are the order of the day, so of course the story becomes public, turning Jim's life upside down.

The Mark is, I think, the sort of movie that would never get made these days. We are clearly meant to have sympathy for Jim despite his past, especially because he's trying to put his life in order and deal with whatever it is inside him that caused him to do the things that sent him to prison. Today, he'd be on a register and doomed for life, and anybody who suggested he should be would be hectored by bunches of mothers screaming why do you hate children. Still, Whitman gives an excellent performance, one which earned him an Oscar nomination. Ironically, he lost to the brother of his co-star, Maximilian Schell, for his performance in Judgment at Nuremburg. The story in The Mark also has an ending that I think is a bit too pat, but the way the story gets where it's going is still pretty darn good.

I don't think The Mark is in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the all-too-rare TCM showings.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Trail of '98

Another movie that I finally got around to watching off of my DVR is the late silent The Trail of '98. As an MGM movie, it's been made available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive MOD service, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length blog post on the movie.

The '98 in the title refers to 1898 which of course was the most recent '98 at the time the movie was made. But let's go back one year further than that, to 1897. Up in distant Alaska, gold was found in the Klondike region. Due to the remoteness of the location and the difficulties of transport, it wasn't until 1898 that the new took America by storm. But as with Sutter's Mill 50 years earlier, once it was reported that there was gold in them thar hills, there were a lot of people who decided that trying to make a fortune in Alaska was no worse than the reality of the daily life they were living down in the lower 48 (technically lower 45 since there were still three territories, but that's neither here nor there). So, the first 20 minutes or so of the movie involves people in various parts of the country learning about the gold strike and deciding that they were going to make their way to San Francisco, from which the boats would leave for Alaska.

Once we get on the boat is when the characters begin to get a bit more fleshed out. Larry (Ralph Forbes) is stowing away on the boat which is how he meets Berna (Dolores Del Rio), who is travelign with her grandfather in order to make it up north with some other distant relatives who are going to be not gold panners, but the people serving the gold panners. Lars (Karl Dane) winds up with a "partner" who is really a lazy git willing to let Lars do all the work. Jack Locasto (Harry Carey) is the villain of the piece as we'll really learn in the third act; he wants Berna and all the gold claims for himself.

Eventually the boat gets to Alaska, which is where the good part of the movie comes: the trek to Dawson and the Yukon. It's an incredibly difficult overland passage, with people having to walk through the long winter carrying a mass of supplies on their back, making it over mountain passes and frozen rivers, at least until the spring came. Once spring hit and the river ice started thawing, there was the even more daunting task of making it down the swollen river and its rapids. (Apparently four stunment died doing some of the stunts we see, although we also see some pretty bad rear-projection photography.) Eventually they do get to the Klondike, only to find that the odds of them striking gold are incredibly long.

It's in the Klondike that we get the third act. Larry fails at striking gold, and is ready to go back to the States with Berna, until he hears of another strike, leading him to leave Berna alone while he goes off looking for that gold. Jack sees this as his chance to get at Berna, who is left with little means to support herself other than the old one you can probably guess. This time, Larry does strike gold, but will his friends be able to save him and get him back to town? And what will happen with him and Berna?

The Trail of '98 is a movie with a lot of well-conceived visuals, but unfortunately is fairly lacking in plot. I found it a bit hard to keep all of the characters straight, and the best action is in the middle third of the movie. (Well, OK, there is a finale involving fire and a big fight between Jack and Larry.) Still, that middle third, with the overland trek across Alaska, more than makes up for the flaws in the other two sections of the movie. In addition to the rapids scene, there's an avalanche and several long shots of a cast of thousands truding through the snow. Overall, if you haven't seen The Trail of '98 before, it's well worth a watch.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

All This and World War II

When I mentioned the death of Earth, Wind, and Fire frontman Maurice White the other day, I of course pointed to his band's work in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. That's a reworking of a whole bunch of Beatles songs. But it's not the strangest use of Beatles music on screen. And no, I'm not counting Yellow Submarine. In 1976, somebody had the bright idea to make the movie All This and World War II.

Made at Fox, the movie combines clips from old Fox movies about World War II with documentary footage from the war. All of this is performed to a soundtrack of Beatles songs, or should I say covers of Beatles songs. The result? Judge for yourself. The movie has, as far as I know, never been released to home video, probably because of all the rights issues with the music. But a very poor copy has made it to Youtube:

Note that the Youtube video is only 82 minutes long, while IMDb claims the movie had a runtime of 88 minutes, so I don't know what if anything was cut out.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A couple of lesser obituaries

I think I've stated quite a few times that I visit Wikipedia's deaths page every time I log on to my desktop computer. Being a movie blogger, I need to see when classic cinema-related people die so that I can blog about it. A couple of deaths of people with greater or lesser ties to the movies have been announced:

I don't remember Kristine Miller, although she appeared in about 20 movies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with the most notable of the films being From Here to Eternity. Apparently she was also in Too Late For Tears, which I have on my DVR. She died late last year at the age of 90, but her family didn't announce the death until a few days ago, presumably in order to maintain their privacy.

Maurice White died yesterday aged 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. White is of course best known as a singer and songwriter, having founded the band Earth, Wind, and Fire and fronting it until his illness hit. The band appeared in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hears Club Band, doing a wonderfully funky cover of the Beatles' song "Got to Get You Into My Life". This is the sort of movie that really needs to show up on TCM Underground at some point.

Finally, there's Joe Alaskey, who died on Wednesday at the age of 63. If you don't recognize the name -- and I know I didn't -- that's because he was a voice actor, taking on the Looney Tunes roles that Mel Blanc had done up until his death in 1989. Spare a thought for the voice actor. It seems that nowadays whenever I see the latest animated movie being advertised, they're also advertising the famous names who are lending their voices to the movie. The people who do multiple voices and did the voices in the old animated movies don't seem to get as much credit. Look at the cast list of any of the Disney movies from when Walt was still alive, and ask yourself how many of the names people recognize. (Yes, I know Sterling Holloway did the voice of Winnie the Pooh.)

Another set of FXM Repeats

I said the other day that there were some movies coming back to FXM Retro after a long absence; indeed, I think one of today's selections might not have been on the channel since the switch from the Fox Movie Channel to FXM Retro.

Today's selection begins with the one airing of The Purple Heart, at 9:15 AM. My satellite box guide doesn't show this one coming up again in the next two weeks or however far out the box guide goes.
That will be followed at 11:00 AM by The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Joan Collins stars as a woman at the turn of the last century involved in a love triangle with Ray Milland and Farley Granger that turns fatal for one of them.
Finally, at 12:50 PM, you can cath The Black Rose, re-teaming Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, this time in China, not Renaissance Italy. Not bad, especially for those who like the Tyrone Power formula.

The last two movies will be getting another airing on FXM Retro tomorrow, with The Black Rose showing up at 6:00 AM and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing coming on at 9:30 AM. In and around those movies, you can catch repeat showings of:

White Feather at 4:00 AM and
A Blueprint For Murder at 8:10 AM.

I have a feeling somebody at FXM tried to come up with a lineup putting all these colors together; it's not as if they do much else in the way of putting thought into their programming, though.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I don't think I've ever done a full-length post on White Heat before

I notice that the classic movie White Heat is on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 10:15 AM. A search of my blog suggests that I've never done a full-length post on the movie, which isn't that surprising since I've always felt a bit uncomfortable blogging about movies that are so well-known that it's kind of pointless rehashing the plot. And I think the famous photo of James Cagney at the end of the movie, with the oil tank burning behind him while he says, "Made it, Ma, top of the world!"

So as I was thinking about the movie today, I found myself thinking whether one should try looking at it once as a character study. Oh, the plot is a pretty good one, but Cagney as Cody Jarrett so overrides all the proceedings that I don't think the nature of the heist at the end is that important. Anyhow, for a brief plot summary, Cody leads a gang that at the start of the movie holds up a mail train. Eventually he gets arrested and sent to prison for another crime; one of the prisoners Vic (Edmond O'Brien) is actually a plant by the cops to infiltrate Jarrett's gang, which happens when Vic helps Cody break out of jail. Jarrett then organizes that climactic payroll heist.

But along the way there are a couple of things that are much more important. One is that Jarrett is exceedingly brutal, and the other is that he is incredibly devoted to his mother (Margaret Wycherly). During the train hold-up, one of the underlings is burned by steam, and Jarrett doesn't seem to care. In fact, even though he's married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), he doesn't seem to care for anybody in a positive way except for his mother. Everybody else, he only cares that they don't get on his bad side. Watch, for example, what Jarrett does when a fewllow prison escapee complains about being stuck in the trunk of a car.

But it's that devotion to his mother that gives Cagney as Jarett the other defining moment of the movie. Jarrett is in the prison mess hall when he learns that his beloved mother has died, and he goes mental, climbing atop the table and more or less losing it emotionally. Trying to do away with her is just as bad as trying to do away with him.

In some ways, it's almost a shame that James Cagney so dominates White Heat. The reason I say this is because the other basic story is pretty good, and the other performances are even better. In terms of mothers dominating to a bad end, Margaret Wycherly is up there with Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate or Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom. Virginia Mayo, as the woman who comes second in Cody Jarrett's life to Jarrett's Ma, is coldly calculating when she needs to be, too. O'Brien does well, as does Steve Cochrane, playing the guy in Jarrett's gang who has too much of an eye on Verna for his own good.. Still, it's Cagney whom you'll remember long after the movie ends, for a host of good reasons.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

And coming up on TCM

I did a post the other day about movies coming up on FXM Retro after a long absence, something I do from time to time when I can't think of anything else to blog about. Normally, when I mention what's coming up on TCM without doing a full-length blog post, it's to mention some of the shorts.

There are a couple of interesting shorts that I've blogged about before showing up in the next 24 hours or so. London Can Take It!, which was filmed during the Blitz at the beginning of World War II before the US got involved and is clearly designed to elicit sympathy from American audiences to the plight of the British, can be seen overnight at 3:18 AM, or following Joan of Paris (1:45 AM, 92 min). I have not actually seen Joan of Paris before as far as I am aware.

The other short is Romance of Radium, airing at 9:19 AM tomorrow. This is a Pete Smith short which looks at the discovery of radium, the first of the radioactive elements to be isolated. In addition to its discovery, the short looks at its use in medicine, which as I mentioned once before is something I think would have been a novelty to the audiences of the late 1930s when this short was made. The short would be well paired with the 1943 feature Madame Curie, but instead it comes on after The Green Goddess. This is another movie I haven't seen before, starring George Arliss as a raja in British India (gotta love the casting!) who holds a couple of Brits hostage when their plane crashes. The TCM schedule claims the movie is in color, but IMDb says it's in black and white, and I presume they'd be correct. I've always found George Arliss interesting to watch so I'm going to have to clear some space from my DVR to record this one.

Following The Green Goddess is Stage Door at 9:30 AM, which probably would have been the subject of a full-length post today if I hadn't blogged about it back in 2012. Lucille Ball vs. Katharine Hepburn. Nice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Train Robbers

Yesterday, I mentioned that none of the movies I've watched recently seem to be available on DVD. It turns out that I was wrong. The Train Robbers does, in fact, seem to be available on DVD, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off in some desolate place that is apparently a town where somebody lives, since there's a hotel there, and the train does make a stop. In fact, there are two people waiting for the next train to stop, Jesse (Ben Johnson) and Ben (Bobby Vinton). The train eventually arrives, and off get Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margret) and Lane (John Wayne). It is these two for whom the two men have been waiting, becuase Mrs. Lowe has a job for all of them.

It seems as though a few years earlier, Mrs. Lowe's husband was part of a group of 10 people who robbed a train of its Wells Fargo strongbox, with a large amount of gold in the box. Needless to say, while the robbery itself did go well, the aftermath didn't go so well, and Mr. Lowe wound up being killed. However, his murder wasn't before Lowe was able to hide the money somewhere, and Lowe told his wife about the location. Now, Mrs. Lowe wants to go get the gold and... return it to Wells Fargo so that she can claim the reward and clear her husband's name for the sake of her son! Lane and the rest of the men she's hired will get a cut of the reward.

Of course, such a scheme is not without its problems. Mr. Lowe was killed, but he was part of a group of 10 people, and not all of those 10 are dead. So when Lane and company head south into Mexico to get the location (which not even Lane knows precisely) where the gold has been hidden, the other people who were in on the robbery are bound to take an interest in getting that gold for themselves. And sure enough, every time we get a sequence of the Lane gang on their horses, it seems to be followed by the people chasing Lane and his crew. But there's also one person who seemingly stands alone, as though he may be following both groups, a man played by Ricardo Montalbán who doesn't get any speaking lines until the film's finale.

Eventually, Lane and his group get to where the gold is stashed, and the other men get there too, so there's a shootout as each group tries to get the other group's horses to run off, which would mean the other group can get away and get a good head start. But since Lane is the good guy here, we can probably guess who's going to get the money.

The Train Robbers is entertaining, if nothing new. Well, for the most part it's entertaining. If you've seen a bunch of westerns before and are a fan of John Wayne, then you'll probably enjoy this one just fine, like sitting down with an old friend. If you're the sort of person who's new to westerns, I think I'd recommend quite a few other movies first, only because there are other westerns that are notable, while The Train Robbers is more like pleasant background music. The by-the-numbers production is one of the few problems the movie has; the other one is that it has too many long scenes of the players on horseback. The Train Robbers is only about 90 minutes, and you could probably shave a good 10 minutes off fast-forwarding through all those montages, which have no dialog so you won't miss anything.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Briefs and FXM Reruns

Unfortunately most of the movies I've watched off the DVR recently aren't available on DVD, or at least seem to be out of print, so I wouldn't exactly feel comfortable doing a full-length post on them. It's a shame, too, since for the most part I've been seeing some pretty entertaining movies.

Looking at the TCM schedule, we're into 31 Days of Oscar, which means a more limited lineup, but there are some movies that are going to be new to me. TCM is also re-running the documentary they premiered in 2014, And the Winner Is. It's airing tonight at 8:00 PM to kick off the prime time lineup, and is getting two more airings later in February. I didn't check the first two days of March to see if it's airing in the last two days of 31 Days of Oscar.

Meanwhile, I don't think there's anything on FXM Retro that's new to this blog. There are, however, a couple of movies that I blogged about in the past that I think are back on after an absence.

First at 10:00 AM is House of Strangers, which I last mentioned a year ago. Now it they could only take the remake, Broken Lance, out of the vault and show that too.

That's followed at 11:45 AM by Bigger than Life, a movie I don't think I've mentioned since the summer of 2012. I think it was on at some point in between then and now; I just didn't mention it then.

Finally, tomorrow's FXM Retro lineup concludes with Madison Avenue at 1:25 PM.