Thursday, March 31, 2016

Another "new month, new movies" post

Amazingly, FXM Retro is still going on several years after Fox decided to take the Fox Movie Channel and make the evening half of the schedule commercial. I've mentioned quite a few times that it seems as though whoever programs FXM Retro takes a couple of movies out of the vault each month and runs them a whole bunch of times in a short span before the movies go back in the vault to be replaced by other movies.

Well, tomorrow is April 1, so we're about to get some movies that I don't think have shown up on the channel in a while. The first of them is Untamed, which I blogged about a little under three years ago. You can catch that at 11:20 AM tomorrow, and then 7:45 AM Saturday.

The Friday airing of Untamed will be followed at 1:15 PM by Five Weeks in a Balloon, which as far as I can tell last came out of the vault in March 2013.

Shorts for March 31, 2016

There actually aren't that many shorts on the TCM schedule for the next couple of days. Two today, and then nothing until Saturday morning.

First up, at 3:29 PM today, or just after No Leave, No Love (1:30 PM, 119 min) is I Love My Wife But!. You should be able to guess from the presence of Dave O'Brien in the cast that this is a Pete Smith short, so you can take that into account when you decide whether or not you want to watch it. I think I've stated a couple of times that I'm not the biggest Pete Smith fan out there.

The other short comes on at about 7:44 PM this evening, in the slot between Love Me or Leave Me (5:30 PM, 122 min) and the start of prime time at 8:00 PM is Golden Glamour. I hadn't heard of this one before, but looking at the date (1955), the 15-minute running time, and the subject matter, I guessed that it was one of the RKO-Pathé Screenliners, which from the IMDb pages seems to be exactly the case. The one IMDb review doesn't make it sound very promising, but then these RKO Screenliners can be hit or miss.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Anna Q. Nilsson, 1888-1974

Today marks the birth anniversary of silent-era actress Anna Q. Nilsson, who was born on this day in 1888. One of Nilsson's more interesting roles, however, came later in life, when she was tapped to appear in Sunset Blvd., as one of the old friends of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who visits once a week to play bridge. Nilsson appears along with fellow silent stars Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner; Joe Gillis (William Holden) refers to them as "the waxworks".

Here's a copy of Nilsson's 1912 movie The Confederate Ironclad; I think it's complete and since it's from 1912, it's definitely in the public domain. Nilsson plays the Union spy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Patty Duke, 1946-2016

Patty Duke (r.) with Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (1962)

I was quite surprised to come home today to the news that Patty Duke has died at the age of 69. Duke won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.

What is probably Duke's other best-known film role would be playing Neely O'Hara in Valley of the Dolls, a movie about the pitfalls of Hollywood stardom that was probably supposed to be serious and hard-hitting, but winds up being campy and hilarious. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth a watch.

Duke did a lot of TV work, and you might be able to catch her on one or another of the nostalgia channels. I'm not certain which one, if any, runs The Patty Duke Show. GSN has run some of her appearances on The $25,000 Pyramid, while appearances on Match Game may wind up on Buzzer.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Death in Venice

TCM is showing a bunch of Dirk Bogarde movies this morning and afternoon, concluding at 4:45 PM with Death in Venice. I have to admit to not having seen this movie before, mostly because I've read the original story and was so put off by it that I've never wanted to see the movie.

The basic story involves a Gustav von Aschenbach (played in the movie by Bogarde) whose death is announced at the beginning of the story. In a flashback, we hear how the guy went to Venice for his health, and while people watching at the beach, he saw a young Polish family. This family has an adolescent son who is just impossibly good-looking, so Gustav becomes obsessed with the boy, following him and the family around and trying to steal glances when he can. The story, with its underlying them of repressed pedophilia, is something I found decidedly creepy.

And yet, the people who review movies, be it people getting paid to do so or the well-meaning amateurs on blogs or at IMDb, tend to praise the movie. It's really about the search for beauty and perfection, and not the sexual themes. And the movie just looks so lovely. Or some stuff life that. Like I said, I haven't seen the movie, so I can't exactly jusgt the movie. You'll have to watch for yourself.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Shootist

Last Weekend, or maybe the weekend before, I finally got the chance to watch The Shootist. It's coming up on Encore Westerns today ta 11:30 AM and again at 11:25 PM, and is available on DVD anyway, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Wayne plays J.B. Books, who comes riding in to Carson City, NV, in January 1901. We're at the start of the 20th century, whcih implies that a change is coming, something highlighted by the fact the newspaper is announcing the death of the UK's Queen Victoria. On top of that, Wayne's Books looks an old and tired man. (This was, of course, Wayne's final film; more on that later.) Books is indeed old, and it's that getting old that's brought him to Carson City. He wants to see his old doctor friend Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart). Hostetler examines Books, and gives him the bad news: it's the Big C. This being the early 20th century, cancer was pretty much a swift death sentence. But then, Books already knew he was dying. He had been diagnosed over in Wyoming, and only came out to Carson City for a second opinion. That, and the possibility of dying in a place where perhaps not so many people know him.

Books doesn't want people who know him around for a pretty darn good reason, one which you could probably figure out from the title, and if not that, from the opening scene when Books is heading for Carson City. He was a "shootist", or a gunfighter. Not only that, he was pretty good at what he did and pretty darn famous. He shot a couple dozen men and is obviously still not dead. That notoriety means that there are going to be a lot of people out there who would love to be the man who shot J.B. Books. I suppose it's like shooting Liberty Valance or something. Anyhow, to that latter end of finding nice quite places, Hostetler recommends the rooming-house run by the widow Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall).

Bond doesn't know much about this sort of thing, but she's got an adult son Gillom (Ron Howard) who is interested in it, and is certain to be thrilled to have such a famous guest as Books. Can he keep a secret? Well, that's not necessary since the authorities in the form of Sheriff Thibido (Harry Morgan) already know, as does the press in the form of reporter Dobkins (Rick Lenz). If the press knows, you can be sure everybody else in town who needs to know will. This includes a bunch of people who not only would like to be the one to shoot Books, but also have grudges they're bearing against him.

Meanwhile, Books is trying to die in dignity, and developing a bit of a friendship with Bond, even if it's not a particularly warm friendship. To be fair, when some would be killers try to kill Books at the Rogers place, who could blame Bond for not liking this? Gillom, of course, has a rather different opinion of Books than his mother. And a bunch of people around town who don't want to kill Books just want to cash in on his fame.

I mentioned fairly early in the post that The Shootist was John Wayne's final film, and I think that's what it's generally best known for. That, I think, is a shame, since the movie is actually better than that and could stand on its own. Everybody gives a good performance, doing material where it feels as though they've already done the stuff a whole bunch of times and are familiar enough with the themes to be as comfortable with them as they would be with an old shoe or something. In addition to the people I've mentioned above, there's Scatman Crothers as the livery stable worker; Sheree North as a woman trying to get Wayne to marry her; and John Carradine as an undertaker; and Hugh O'Brian and Richard Boone as bad guys.

If you haven't seen The Shootist before, do yourself a favor and see it. It's a pretty darn good movie.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Speaking of King of Kings

A few days ago, when I blogged about the death of Rita Gam, I mentioned that she was in the early 1960s version of King of Kings. I probably should have mentioned then that with Easter coming up, it was goign to wind up on TCM's Easter schedule, but I failed to look ahead. At any rate, it's going to be on on Easter Sunday (that's tomorrow!) at 5:15 PM.

Speaking more of Rita Gam, I could swear I saw Sierra Baron show up on FXM Retro's schedule within the past few weeks. But a search on my box guide this afternoon doesn't show it to be coming up in the next week or so (I'm not certain precisely how far ahead the new box's guide looks).

More Harold Lloyd, just because

TCM is showing what is probably Harold Lloyd's best-known film, Safety Last!, tonight at 1:00 AM. For anybody who doesn't know, this is the one with the iconic image of Harold hanging from the hands of a clock as he's trying to climb up the side of a building. The movie does seem to be available on Youtube, although since it was released in 1923 it's technically not in the public domain as far as I know.

So I decided that I was going to link to a different Harold Lloyd movie, one that is in the public domain. My first choice was going to be Get Out and Get Under, but it turns out I already did that one back in March, 2015 when Lloyd was the subject for TCM's Silent Sunday Nights. So instead, I'll present Never Weaken from 1921:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Briefs for March 25-26, 2016

Season in Tyrol is back on the TCM schedule, for tonight at 7:41 PM, or following Watership Down (6:00 PM, 92 min). Other than the fact that this doesn't seem to have been filmed in widescreen and looks as if it is in need of a restoration, it's actually a pretty decent short, helped by the fact that its subject matter is just so darn picturesque.

A short that I've mentioned quite a few more times, Calgary Stampede, will be on tomorrow morning at 11:40 AM, following the Bowery Boys movie Master Minds (10:30 AM, 64 min). This one shows up every February on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar since it was nominated for an Academy Award. But if you haven't seen it during February, it's still worth watching.

Easter is this weekend, coming early due to vagaries in the calendar. TCM isn't doing anything until Sunday morning itself, when we get the sort of movis you'd expect TCM to air. FXM, of course, isn't doing anything either. ABC should be airing The Ten Commandments at 8:00 PM Saturday Eastern and Pacific. The movie is, according to IMDb 220 min, and ABC is running it in a slot that runs until 12:45 AM, or 285 minutes. Either that's quite a bit fewer commercials than normal, or ABC is cutting some stuff from the movie. The movie was also in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, so what's cropped from the sides shouldn't be that much worse than when an Academy-ratio movie would air in the old 4:3 days.

Earl Hamner, Jr. has died at the age of 92. Hamner wrote the material for Spencer's Mountain, which would later be reworked and made into the popular 1970s TV series The Waltons.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Twice Upon a Time

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, TCM is spending a lot of time with movies that combine animation with live action. Perhaps the most interesting is Twice Upon a Time, which comes on at 9:15 AM.

A little bit of background to help explain the plot. The earth that we know is referred to as Din, with people being the Rushers of Din because we're always in a hurry. But we're not the point of the plot. In fact, a lot of the Earth/Din scenes are reminiscent of La Jetée in that it's almost still imagery and not, technically, live action. But we're the battleground for what drives the plot. At night, we earthlings dream. We have pleasant dreams which are brought to us courtesy of the fine folks from Frivoli, while we also have nightmares supplied by Synonamess Botch, the leader of the Murkworks. Botch, the bad guy in the piece, wants to prevent humans from having pleasant dreams.

So far, Botch has been trying to capture the little creatures that literally bring the dreams from Frivoli, and also the man, Greensleeves, who sends those creatures out. But he's got a much more diabolical plan. There's apparently one clock, known as the Cosmic Clock, that has a mainspring. If Botch could get control of that mainspring, he could stop time, and thereby fill the humans' heads with nightmares in perpetuity!

Back to Frivoli, however. Mumford is a humanoid of the thoroughly incompetent sort. He and his companion, Ralph the all-purpose animal who can change shape, are toiling away in a less desirable part of Frivoli that's needed to make the place run. But their incompetent work eventually gets them out of Frivoli and into the Murkworks, which is where they meet Botch. Botch tells them that he needs the spring from the Cosmic Clock, but of course doesn't tell them why. They, idiots that they are, go get it. And then they have to get it back when they learn what Botch really plans to do with it. Along the way, they meet Greensleeves' niece, Flora Fauna, who helps them. She, in turn, is helped by Rod Rescueman, a would be superhero who seems as much interested in Flora as in doing superhero things.

That, more or less, is the gist of the movie. But in fact, Twice Upon a Time is the sort of movie that is difficult to explain in print and really needs to be watched to get; the visual presentation makes things much easier to follow. It's also quite a fun and intriguing movie. The characters are in many ways archetypes. Mumford and Ralph come from a long line of incompetent characters; Botch is your standard-issue cartoon villian (not that this is a bad thing). Rescueman is a parody of the superhero, while Flora Fauna is the damsel in distress. Having said all that, however, the movie isn't derivative at all; in fact it's highly inventive. There's one scene where Mumford and Ralph accidentally release a nightmare in a place where time is stopped that's particularly visually impressive.

Twice Upon a Time is different from anything I'd ever seen, and that, combined with the fact that it's actually quite a good movie, makes it well worth watching. The movie has also received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rita Gam, 1927-2016

1950s actress Rita Gam, who never really hit star level but had some interesting things about her, has died at the age of 88.

It's been ages since I've seen Night People, and I wish Fox would take that one out of the vault. She also played Herodias in King of Kings, a movie I remember more for screenwriter Philip Yordan's "Word of Mouth" piece that he did about finding producer Samuel Bronston with a script that was screwed up beyond repair.

Gam might be best known for her friendship with fellow actress Grace Kelly, which resulted in Grace asking her to be one of her bridesmaids at her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Gam had an on-and-off screen career which continued into the 1980s, mixed with time on the stage.

Oh, another comic-book movie

I see even TCM is getting involved with the latest Superhero A vs. Superhero B craze. The latest installment apparently had its premiere in London last night, as Batman is fighing Superman for... why, really? What is the point? Did Batman try to sleep with Lois Lane or something? Anyhow, the London premiere was toned down because of the bombings earlier in the day in Belgium. Apparently Warner Bros. (ah, that would explain why TCM can get in on the action) decided to do away with the red carpet interviews in front of a screaming crowd. Darn; we don't get to see Ben Affleck have his Vickie Lester moment.

Anyhow, TCM's way to cash in, or more accurate cross-promote the latest release from its corporate overlord, is to show snippets of the old time comic-book serials. It looks as though we're getting two parts from each of ten different serials. Roughly one an hour, although not quite, as the night is going to end with the first of the Dick Tracy feature movies at 5:00 AM.

I'm not certain what to make of the programming. It seems like an interesting idea to look at the old serials, and TCM has aired some of them on Saturday mornings at roughly 10:00 AM, or just before the movie series spot currently being occupied by the Bowery Boys. With each chapter in a serial running about 20 minutes, that's time to get one episode a week, and come back to this theater at the same time next week for the next exciting chapter. But two chapters and then we don't get to see the rest? I'm not certain.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer: Richard Kind

I have to admit that with being sick for the past several days and with working the early shift, I haven't been paying as much attention to the TCM schedule as I should. But when I was looking through the TCM schedule on my box guide, I was trying to think what, if anything, tonight's movies had in common. So it hit me that perhaps tonight was TCM's Guest Programmer. I don't know how far in advance Robert Osborne sits down with his Guest Programmers to do the segments, but apparently while he wasn't able to do the Essentials segments with Sally Field in time, he was able to do this Guest Programmer segment with comic actor Richard Kind. I don't watch much episodic TV and haven't in 20 years at least, so I wouldn't recall Kind in shows such as Mad About You. Anyhow, he's picked four of his favorites, and is presenting them tonight:

First, at 8:00 PM, is The Apartment, the Billy Wilder classic in which Jack Lemmon is letting his boss use his apartment to entertain his (ie. the boss') mistress, only to fall for the mistress himself.
Then, at 10:15 PM, you can catch Soldier in the Rain, in which "young" soldier Steve McQueen admires his superior officer (Jackie Gleason) too much.
At midnight is the anti-war comedy MASH; I'm probably too biased by the TV show which would explain why I've never particuarly warmed to the movie.
Finally, at 2:15, there's the overlong Lawrence of Arabia.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The latest "Back on FXM Retro" selection, March 21, 2016

I can't believe it's been over five years since I blogged about it, but there's another movie showing up on FXM Retro again after a long absence: Destination: Gobi. You can catch it tomorrow at 1:15 PM, and again Wednesday at 11:35 AM (I think; I'm going by memory on the latter showing).

When I blogged about it back in 2011, I pointed out that it wasn't available on DVD. According to Amazon, it received a DVD release in 2012 from the Fox MOD scheme.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Some months back I bought Mahogany on DVD. I finally got around to watching it, and since it's clearly available on DVD, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off promisingly enough. Diana Ross plays Tracy Chambers, who is a secretary in a Chicago department store by day, working for Miss Evans (Nina Foch, in a small role). However, Tracy dreams of better things, and wants to be a fashion designer, to the point that she's taking night classes. However, she wants to design glamorous things, much more glamorous than the basic sketches her teachers want her to start off with. But Tracy isn't going to let little things like this stop her. Nor is she going to let stop her the fact that she's living in the grinding poverty of Chicago's ghettos. One day on her way home she meets Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams), a local activist who is running for alderman and giving a political speech. Of course you know they're eventually going to fall in love despite their differences.

However, there are other problems. Brian thinks that people should be focused on helping the downtrodden, as he's doing with his political campaign, while Tracy simply wants to get out. She wants to make it for herself, and while she probably doesn't have anything against her fellow people from the ghetto, it seems to be no skin off her nose if they can't lift themselves up the way she wants to do for herself. She's not goign to sacrifice her dreams for them. And she gets the chance to live her dream when the fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins) comes to the department store where she works:

Oh, the outfits get much worse

Tracy's outfit grabs Sean's attention, to the point that he wants her to model for him. She does it around Chicago, but Sean is based in Europe, so he wants her to follow him to Rome. Obviously, Brian wouldn't like it one bit, but this is Tracy's dream, so she follows Sean to Rome.

Once the movie switches action to Rome, it really starts to go off the rails. Sean names Tracy "Mahogany" because he gives all his discoveries the names of inanimate objects, and obviously Diana Ross as a black woman has all the qualities of mahogany wood. Mahogany becomes a success as a model, but still Tracy wants to be a successful designer, which she tries to do by showing off a series of increasingly outrageous outfits. Sean turns out to be a manic homosexual, getting in a hilarious fight with Brian when Brian tries to convince Tracy to return home. Jean-Pierre Aumont plays a rich man who buys one of Mahogany's designs so that he can buy her to have as a mistress. And then the movie ends abruptly with a cop-out ending.

Mahogany was blasted by the critics when it was released, and it really put the kibosh on Diana Ross' film career. It's easy to see why. But dammit, the movie is just so much fun. The outfits are terrible, and there's so much awful dialog that would be easy to laugh at. And the plot really is a mess at times too. But there's some beautiful photography. It's hard to go wrong in Rome, and the bleakness of the Chicago ghettos is also well-captured. Diana Ross actually doesn't do that badly, although she's better as the clothes-horse than as a serious actress in this one. Billy Dee Williams isn't much to write home about, but Anthony Perkins is hilarious in his over the top performance. The movie also resulted in one of Ross' more famous songs, one that will probably stick in your head long after the closing credits wrap up.

If you like campy moives, than Mahogany is definitely for you.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Apologies for the poor posting

This being the weekend, I should have more time to do a full-length blog post on a movie or two, instead of the short and frankly not very good posts I've been putting up all week. Unfortunately, Thursday morning I started feeling a sore throat, and then Thursday night I was tossing and turning all night, clearly not feeling well. Last night I didn't have the energy to do anything after dinner except lie in bed and try to get some sleep. I still didn't sleep very well.

I'd like to hope that by later today I'll be feeling better and up to doing a full post, but who knows?

Friday, March 18, 2016

The latest film series on TCM

TCM was running the Rusty the Dog movies in the 9:15 AM Saturday time slot, just before the Bowery Boys movies. But the last one aired last Saturday, so now it's time for a new series. That series is the Lone Wolf movies, at least the ones starring Warren William. TCM will be running The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM.

The Lone Wolf character was the subject of a couple of movies at the end of the silent era, and then Melvyn Douglas actually played the character once in 1935. But this 1939 film starts the most productive, if you will, period for the character, as Warren William would make nine Lone Wolf movies in about a five-year span.

I haven't checked out the schedule far enough into the future to see if all nine are airing, and what's following them. But if TCM do air all nine, that would take us through to mid-May.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Frank Sinatra Jr., 1944-2016

Frank Sinatra Jr., son of the famous entertainer, and a moderately successful entertainer in his own right, has died at the age of 72.

Sinatra Jr. didn't do all that much acting, but his death makes me think just how old I'm getting, and I'm more than young enough to be his son. In the time since I've started this blog, several children of classic movie stars have died, at reasonably advanced ages. Joel Dee McCrea, son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee who went by the name Jody, died several years ago, as did Spencer Tracy's son. Loretta Young's daughter, the one Loretta had by Clark Gable, died a few years back too.

Some I can think of who are still with us as far as I know would include Frank's elder sister Nancy, who should be turning 76 later this year, and Pat Hitchcock, who's in her early 80s. Liza Minnelli, who's only pushing 70, is a spring chicken by those standards.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Just a friendly reminder for those who care

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day again. This means that after tonight's second night of the 90th birthday salute to Jerry Lewis, TCM is going to be giving us a bunch of Irish-themed movies. Not that I particularly care, but I'm sure there are some of you who do.

Meanwhile, FXM Retro is unsurprisingly doing nothing for the occasion, since they do next to nothing for any occasion! Instead, their lineup is going to have a couple of baseball-themed movies, another Sonja Henie musical, and Bigger Than Life finishing the day at 1:20 PM.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Jerry Lewis at 90

Tomorrow is going to be the 90th birthday of comic actor Jerry Lewis. Of course, I'm of the age where my first exposure to Lewis would have been the annual Labor Day telethon that he emceed to raise support for research into the fight against muscular dystrophy, this back in the day when telethons were a thing in the US. The MDA telethon was probably the biggest of them all, running 21-1/2 hours from 9:00 PM Sunday night to 6:30 PM the next day, although there were breaks for Jerry and his assorted guests out in Las Vegas when the local stations would run segments. In the age of the Internet and the 500-channel cable universe, there just doesn't seem to be a place for telethons any longer, and the MDA onsistently shortened its own telethon to the point where it was just in the evening hours, finally cancelling it altogether after 2014. Lewis had been replaced as host several years before all that. But it was on the telethon back in 1976 where Jerry Lewis was reunited with his old comedy partner Dean Martin, courtesy of their mutual friend Frank Sinatra. (Being Jerry Lewis and working out of Vegas, he apparently had considerable pull.)

Anyhow, TCM is celebrating Lewis with two nights of his movies, and the TCM website says the Jerry himself is actually co-hosting. Tonight's first night of the salute will see a night of Lewis' films with Dean Martin, while tomorrow will see some of the movies Lewis made after the split. (The Day the Clown Cried is not on the schedule.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Girl From Missouri

Over the weekend, I watched The Girl From Missouri, having recorded it on my DVD as part of the TCM salute to Jean Harlow a week earlier. It seems to have gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, since it's availalbe at Amazon. (Strangely enough, the TCM Shop lists it as being on back order.) So I can feel comfortable doing a full-length post on it here even though I don't think it's on the TCM schedule again any time soon.

Jean Harlow of course plays the titular girl from Missouri, although she doesn't spend much of the movie in Missouri. It's only the opening scene that's set there. Harlow plays Eadie, a young woman whose father died at some point in the past and whose mother apparently went through a succession of men. Mom, along with the current stepfather, run what is presumably a roadhouse-type night spot, but that's not the type of life for Eadie. So her friend Kitty (Patsy Kelly) is going to help her escape from the roadhouse, and take a train to New York.

Eadie intends to find a rich man and marry him, since that's the best way to get money. Even if there's love, Eadie still feels she can make it work. So she takes a job as a show girl, begging her boss to let her be part of the show that's going to a private party being given by the wealthy Frank Cousins (Lewis Stone). Boss relents and Eadie eventually wangles her way into Cousins' private office, where he eventually offers her his ruby cufflinks as a sort of engagement gift. What she doesn't know is that Cousins is actually bankrupt, and he's giving her those cufflinks as a parting gift since he plans to commit suicide! The police notice that the cufflinks are missing, and it's going to be Eadie's word against common sense as to how she got those cufflinks. Still, another rich man, banker T.R. Paige (Lionel Barrymore) helps her out, and even gives her some money to get by.

Eadie's plan, after Cousins offs himself, is to snare Paige! So she takes that money and follows him down to Palm Beach. When she goes to Paige's office in Palm Beach, she meets a young man who is interested in her, although the feeling isn't mutual. Still, the young man says he can get Eadie onto Paige's yacht. It turns out that the young man is in fact T.R. Paige, Jr. (Franchot Tone). He doesn't care about Eadie's background, since he believes she's really got a heart of gold, and dammit, he's going to keep pursuing her until she finally says yes. Dad, however, is none too happy about it, and does everything he can to put the kibosh on it....

The Girl From Missouri was released in August, 1934, about a month after Joe Breen started enforcing the stricter Production Code. That, I think, is to the movie's detriment. Harlow tries, but she's faced with material that doesn't really seem to know what to do with itself. In particular, it can't decide whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy. Franchot Tone is more than suitable as the young playboy type who falls for Eadie, and Patsy Kelly provides comic relief without going over the top. Barrymore is probably the weakest of the four leads here.

All in all, I think The Girl From Missouri is a movie that Jean Harlow fans will like. But if I were going to introduce people to the movies of Jean Harlow, I can think of several other movies I'd pick first.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

City for Conquest

Since I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas, I used it to buy, amont other things, the TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection: James Cagney, one of those four-movie box sets TCM promotes. I'd already seen three of the movies, but I wanted White Heat on DVD, and certainly didn't mind having the other three on DVD too. The one I hadn't seen before is also one that's not really a gangster movie (although there are a few gangsters in smaller roles): City For Conquest.

We start off in New York City in what looks to be about the turn of the century, maybe a bit later (the presence of gaslights in some scenes makes a bit fuzzy the exact dates the various scenes are supposed to be set). An omniscient narrator type (Frank Craven) talks up the city, and then introduces us to three kids: Googi, who's already a bit of a thief; Danny, who's already good with his fist; and their female friend Peggy. After this brief expository scene, we fast forward to sometime close to the present day (that being 1940, when the movie was released).

Danny is all grown up, and likes to practice boxing at the gym. He's a darn good boxer, having won the amateur Golden Gloves. But he has absolutely no desire to go into the professional game. Instead, Danny lives with his younger brother Eddie (Arthur Kennedy at the beginning of his film career), a gifted musician who is studying at the music school while trying to write his symphony to the "city of conquest", obviously meaning New York, and obviously patterned on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". To help support himself, Eddie gives music lessons. Danny, for his part, drives a truck on construction jobs to support himself and Eddie. Unfortunately, Eddie is about to have his scholarship to the music school cut due to the economic situation. Googi (Elia Kazan when he was acting before he became a director) continued with his petty crime, eventually becoming a gangster and getting sent up the river, although he's about to return home much to the delight of Danny. Peggy (Ann Sheridan)became an excellent dancer. She's also become Danny's girlfriend, much to the disappointment of her mother.

Things are about to change for all of them, when Peggy goes off to a dance competition at one of the night spots, where she dances with Murray (a very young Anthony Quinn) and does such a good job that Murray wants to take her on the road with him, the way that Vernon and Irene Castle did back in the 1910s. Danny eventually decides to get into the professional boxing game in order to support his brother, since Danny believes in Eddie's symphony. And Googi, decidedly a supporting character, helps support Danny's boxing career as best he can, to the point of betting against the champion who is backed by another gangster, when Danny finally does well enough to get a title fight. Unfortunately, the title fight goes badly because the champion's trainer cheats and puts rosin on the boxer's gloves, resulting in Danny's vision being completely screwed up during the fight and Danny going blind afterwards!

There's a happy resolution at the end, as you can probably guess. But getting there is supposed to be the fun. The getting there, however, is where I had some problems with the movie. Danny and Peggy are supposed to be a romantic item, but the spend much of the movie apart, and the way the movie switches back and forth between their stories came across to me as disjointed enough to me to result in a bit of a mess. That's a shame, because the movie is actually filled with solid acting performances. Cagney is as good as ever, while Ann Sheridan is good too. Anthony Quinn is wonderfully slimy, and Arthur Kennedy immediately shows why he was to become such a successful supporting actor. One name I haven't mentioned is Donald Crisp, playing Danny's boxing manager.

Ultimately, City for Conquest is the sort of film that I don't think I'd pay the bigger price tage that the Warner Archive Collection would want for a single movie, but one that I'm more than happy to have as part of a box set that doesn't cost much more than any of the Warner Archive discs.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The annual daylight savings time reminder

Here in the US, it's the day on which we'll all be setting our clocks one hour forward when we go to bed, well with the exception of people in I think Arizona and Hawaii. It's normally a problem for schedule programmers, since those grid schedules have a nice empty one-hour space.

TCM's monthly schedule actually gets it right this time, although it's probably a bit easier than the schedule at the end of daylight savings time when you have two 2:00 AMs. Tonight's schedule sees A Little Romance overnight at 12:15 AM. That's a 111-minute movie. So the next movie, the second part of the Decline of Western Civilization series looking at the Los Angeles music scene of the 1980s, comes on at 3:15 AM, not 2:15 AM.

Huzzah! The schedule is so much easier for me to work out this time!

(Seriously, I've watched a couple more movies off my DVR recently and will probably get around to blogging about one of them this weekend unless somebody famous dies.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Wandering Through the Shelves

I noticed yesterday that a couple of people in my blogroll had posts called "Thursday Movie Picks", both looking at the same theme. So I finally went and looked at one of those posts, and it turned out that those "Thursday Movie Picks" posts are part of a theme. There's a blog called Wandering Through the Shelves that's been running the weekly "Thursday Movie Picks" for closing in on two years now, with all the themes through the end of 2016 picked out already.

I generally have two criteria for adding somebody to my blogroll (well, three, with the first being that the blog is movie-related, of course), which are that the blog seems interesting, and that it's updated regularly. The Thursday Movie Picks sound interesting, and are obviously updated regularly, so onto the blogroll it goes.

I may wind up joining some of the Thursday Movie Picks themes, but not all of them, because some of them look like they'd be a bit tough for me since I generally feel more comfortable talking about older movies than more recent movies -- my knowledge of more recent stuff simply happens to be lesser.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Another pair of obituaries

Richard Davalos (l.) and James Dean in East of Eden

Richard Davalos died on Tuesday at the age of 85. He started his film career with a bang playing Aron Trask, brother to James Dean's Cal, in East of Eden. He also had important roles in Cool Hand Luke and Kelly's Heroes among others, as well as playing a German cadet in The Sea Chase, but never really became a big actor.

Sir Ken Adam died today aged 95. Adam was one of those people who don't get enough mention, a production designer. Adam may be best remembered for his work on several of the James Bond movies (the last one he did was Moonraker), as well as for designing the war room set in Dr. Strangelove, but he won his two Academy Awards for other movies: Barry Lyndon in 1975, for sets of 18th century England, and 1994's The Madness of King George, which is set in early 19th century England.

Coming up for March 10-11, 2016

Tonight sees the second night of TCM's Spotlight on films condemned by the Legion of Decency. This week, we have some Code-era Hollywood movies that were condemned, as well as a couple of foreign films. The night starts off with the 1951 version of M at 8:00 PM. I've got it on my DVR, although I haven't gotten around to watching it since the last TCM airing earlier this year. I can't remember the last time I saw it before then. But considering the themes of this movie, one can think of some good reasons why the movie would be condemned. Vigilante justice? As if the Church would like that.

That's followed at 9:45 PM by The French Line, which was of course advertised with Jane Russell's assets. I can't imagine the Church caring for those, even though there are all sorts of naked women and men in the Vatican frescoes.

And God Created Woman sounds like it would the Church would recommend it, I mean, would the Church think woman was created by something other than God? Well, that's until you actually watch the movie, which has Brigitte Bardot using her sex appeal to get the things she wants, much like Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face 20 years earlier. You can catch And God Created Woman at 11:45 PM.

Lastly, at 1:30 AM, you can watch Untamed Youth. There's a lot for the Church to condemn here, from Mamie Van Doren's assets to out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the things the youths do at night. Ah, but it's so much fun.

Returning to FXM Retro after a couple of years is The Revolt of Mamie Stover, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, which you can catch twice, at 4:30 AM and 9:45 AM. Like I say, FXM like to repeat their offerings, although it's usually not this close together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The next installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault

Once again, tonight brings a night of "Treasures from the Disney Vault" to TCM. For anybody who hasn't seen it before, the highlight of the night should probably be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, airing at 8:30, after a could of cartoon shorts. Much of the night deals with the sea, although I have to admit to not having heard of a lot of the other movies. Well, I've heard of The Man From Snowy River before, but TCM is showing the sequel, Return to Snowy River at 3:00 AM. There's also a variation on the Robinson Crusoe theme in Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, concluding the night at 4:45 AM.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bob's Picks: Several Premieres?

Tonight is a night of "Bob's Picks" on TCM, when Robert Osborne picks four movies more or less the way a Guest Programmer would, except of course Robert doesn't sit down with himself to present them. The films Robert Osborne has selected are:

8:00 PM Frenchman's Creek, a pirate movie with Joan Fontaine;
10:00 PM My Cousin Rachel, based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier;
Midnight Who Done It?, with Abbott and Costello becoming detectives; and
1:30 AM The Ritz in which Jack Weston, trying to escape from his gangster brother-in-law, accidentally winds up in... a gay bathhouse!

I have a feeling the last three movies may be TCM premieres. Normally, when you look at the printable monthly schedule, there's a nice one-sentence synopsis of the movie. For Frenchman's Creek, for example, that's "A British noblewoman flees the life of the court to run off with a French pirate." But for the last three films, there's no synopsis. That's a sign that the movies haven't been on TCM before.

The folks on the TCM boards claim that the last time Frenchman's Creek aired (I didn't see it), TCM had a very bright print, so be warned.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sun Valley Serenade

A movie I got around to watching off of my DVR over the weekend is Sun Valley Serenade. It's showing up tomorrow morning at 7:25 AM on FXM Retro, so you have another chance to catch it.

The movie starts off at what looks like a recording studio. A big band is auditioning for the had of the Sun Valley, ID ski resort, hoping to win the lucrative contract to perform over the Christmas season. However, there's a dispute between the arranger and their singer, Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari). By a stroke of good luck, another orchestra, led by Glenn Miller (although he actually has a character name and technically isn't playing himself) showed up. And when Vivian stiffs the first orchestra, Glenn's arranger and pianist Ted Scott (John Payne) offers Vivian a song to sing with them. This gets Miller's band the job, much to the delight of all the members and their manager Nifty (Milton Berle). Especially deligted is Ted, who is clearly in love with Vivian. She likes him, but isn't necessarily ready for a permanent relationship yet.

So they're off to Sun Valley. Well, not just yet. They had been out of work for a while, and to try to drum up publicity and possible work, Nifty came up with a publicity stunt that's about to turn around and bite them in the rear end. With the war going on in Europe (Sun Valley Serenade was released a few months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor), Nifty got Ted to sponsor a refugee, thinking that the band helping raise a refugee child would be great publicity. And now with them about to set off for Sun Valley, they've been informed that their refugee is arring in New York soon. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, at least until they get to the harbor and meet their refugee. She is an all grown-up Karen (Sonja Henie). Karen makes matters worse by deciding, when she finds that Ted doesn't have a wife, that she's going to convince him to marry her. Vivian isn't going to like that.

Nifty tries to get Karen to stay with his aunt so that she won't screw things up for the band, but Karen convinces Nifty to let her go to Sun Valley too, although they don't tell anybody else about this. They're right not to tell anybody else about it, since Ted's none too pleased when he finds out, while Vivian really starts to get ticked when she sees how much time Karen is spending with Ted. Of course, since Sonja Henie is top-billed, you can probably guess what's going to happen in the last reel. Well, the last reel before the ice capades begin.

Sun Valley Serenade is a movie that I'd have qualms about recommending for its lousy plot. It's predictable, and Karen is frankly a bit of a jerk. She needed Fredric March and Myrna Loy from The Best Years of Our Lives to ask her if she was going to break up Vivian and Ted's relationship with an axe. And yet we're supposed to sympathise with her even though there's little sign that Vivian and Ted would ever have been unhappy if Karen hadn't shown up. There's some good cinematography, at least as well as you can do with black-and-white photography of scenery. The location shooting cries out for Technicolor. But there's also some truly horrible rear-projection scenes.

That having been said, Sun Valley Serenade is still worth watching. That's because it's got the music of Glenn Miller. And you can't possibly go wrong with that. Miller plays his old hits "Moonlight Serenade" and "In the Mood", and introduces "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", which was nominated for an Oscar. This last song is particularly worth mentioning, since it's an extended musical number that, after showing off Miller's orchestra, switches to a dance number with a very young Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. They, like Glenn Miller, are well worth watching.

Overall, Sun Valley Serenade certainly deserves one viewing. You may even enjoy the story a lot more than I did. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch it on FXM before they put it back in the vault.

Nancy Davis (Reagan), 1921-2016

Nancy Davis in The Next Voice You Hear

By now you've probably heard about the death of Nancy Reagan, née Davis, who died yesterday at the age of 94. Of course, the reason her obituaries were so prominent were not because of her acting, but because of what she did after her acting career. She married fellow actor Ronald Reagan, and then in the 1960s helped his political career, all the way to the White House, where she spend two terms as First Lady to his President. It's partly because of that, and partly because she wasn't a star as an actress, that pictures of her work aren't quite as common as many of the other actors of the day.

Davis, I think, wasn't a bad actress, but I also think she never would have become a star even if Ronald hadn't gone into politics. Nancy is one of those many people who provided valuable supporting roles in all of those second-billing movies the studios were putting out. She's more of the female lead in The Next Voice You Hear, pictured above, but that's a smaller movie; I don't think she ever got such a big role in any of the prestige movies. She had a similar-sized role in Talk About a Stranger.

The Nancy Davis roles I've seen tend to have her as a bit stern, but ultimately sympathetic, as with the teacher she played in It's a Big Country, where she has to convince Fredric March that his son needs glasses. It may be that sternness that kept her from becoming a bigger star; it always gives me a vibe of not a true big-time leading lady. That having been said, having watched the movies that both she and her husband made, I've long felt that if they hadn't gone into politics, they could have had a long career playing neighborly grandparent types on episodic TV, things like the Wilsons in yet another version of Dennis the Menace.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The latest block of shorts

I've commented several times when TCM shows a block of shorts that for whatever reason, the daily schedule on their site, the printable monthly schedule, and whatever you get for your box guide seem not to agree on the order in which the shorts are airing. Such is the case tonight. Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup, starting at midnight tonight, contains five Laurel and Hardy silent two-reelers. (They'll be on again next Sunday night/very early morning, too.)

The order on the TCM website:

Angora Love
Big Business
Double Whoopee
Berth Marks
Habeas Corpus

On the monthly schedule, however, it's:

Double Whoopee
Habeas Corpus
Big Business
Berth Marks
Angora Love

The one really worth watching (well, they're all worth a look, but the one that's extra worth giving a look if you haven't seen it before) is Double Whoopee, since it's got a very young Jean Harlow in a brief appearance.

Another pair of obituaries I should have mentioned earlier

Tony Dyson's death was announced on Thursday. Who is he, you may ask? I have to admit I'd never heard of him either, but it turns out that he's the man who designed R2-D2, the Star Wars robot, or at least, the one that looks even less human than C3-PO, if I'm spelling that right. I have to admit that I've never been all that interested in the Star Wars movies. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater with my sister, who I remember had a thing for the Ewoks. But I never went to the theater to see any of the prequels, and haven't seen the most recent one either. Still, R2-D2 is an iconic character, as I think most people would recognize it. Dyson was 68

Author Pat Conroy died on Friday at the age of 70. Several of Conroy's books were turned into movies, with probably the most famous of them being The Prince of Tides since it starred Barbra Streisand. Conroy, in the early 1970s, spent some time teaching on one of the barrier islands just off the coast of South Carolina, and wrote a book about that, which was turned into the 1974 film Conrack. That's one of those Fox films that was in the rotation some years back but hasn't shown up in ages. Conroy is also responsible for The Great Santini.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

TCM's Essentials is delayed

Tonight being the first Saturday after the end of 31 Days of Oscar, it means that it should be the first week of a new season of TCM's Essentials. I was under the impression that Sally Field was going to be returning for another season of presenting the movies with Robert Osborne, but did a bit of googling just to make certain. I was surprised, however, when I went to the TCM page for the Essentials, to get this message:

Due to a production delay, The Essentials with Robert Osborne and co-host Sally Field has been delayed. In the meantime, Ben Mankiewicz will be stepping in every Saturday night in March introducing the classic movies you love, along with the ones you will hopefully come to love.

One of the posters at the TCM boards who apparently follows these things more closely than I do gives the following explanation. Apparently, Fields and Osborne were supposed to record the segments over about a week or so in January. By my understanding, it should take them a good four or five days to do it since they have whatever pre-show preparations they do; I don't know if either of them changes outfits in between each movie they do a wraparound for. Viewers who are more eagle-eyed would spot this. I'd guess scheduling an hour for each movie would be reasonable, and in order not to send the crew into overtime, they, like game shows, would probably tape three or four in one shot before breaking for lunch/dinner and then returning afterwards to do another three or four. With 30 movies, that comes out to four or five days' worth of shooting. I would also think the regular prime time intros go more quickly since the scripts are already prepared, and they're reading off of teleprompters. An hour for one night's lineup sounds reasonable to me.

Anyhow, when the January tape dates came along, Osborne was sick with the flu. The guy is turning 84 in a few months; cut him some slack. So they couldn't tape then, and afterwards, Field couldn't make it because she had other projects on her schedule. So they weren't able to get the production done before March, and here we are. From the TCM boards, it sounds as if the movies on the schedule for Saturday nights this month are going to be a part of the Essentials; after all TCM came up with the schedules before the delay in producing the Essentials wraparounds. But Ben Mankiewicz is going to be presenting them this month, with wraparounds for them being done whenever Osborne and Field are able to sit down and do them.

Friday, March 4, 2016

TCM Star of the Month March 2015: Merle Oberon

Merle Oberon as Cathy in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Once again with 31 Days of Oscar over, we get back into the regular TCM programming features, such as the Star of the Month. This month's star is Merle Oberon, and her films will be showing on Fridays in prime time. Oberon, who was born in British India and had an interesting early life story, to say the least, first appeared on film in the early 1930s, with her role as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII (early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, or overnight if you're out on the west coast) being, I think, a sort of breakout role for her.

Probably her best-known role is as Cathy opposite Laurence Olivier and David Niven in Wuthering Heights (9:30 PM next Friday), a movie that I really don't care for, in part because Oberon really overdoes the death scene at the end. At least, I found myself laughing at how silly it was. But then, I think it's not a story I particularly care for, never mind how well acted it might be.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

This film is condemned

With 31 Days of Oscar over for another year, as I mentioned yesterday, we're getting back into the regular programming feautures. The TCM Spotlight returns tonight, as Sr. Rose Pacette, from the Pauline Center for Media Studies comes on to discuss the Catholic Legion of Decency and the films it condemned. The Legion was founded in 1933, at a time when the studios were flouting the morals code suggested by former Postmaster General turned morals judge Will Hays. For fairly obvious reasons devout Catholics had problems with many of the movies the studios were putting out. To be fair, I can see people being uncomfortable with something like the roller-skating baby peeping Tom in Gold Diggers of 1933 in general, and more specifically with it being portrayed as something funny.

Of course, there were a lot of Catholics, and in those days they were more united, I think, than today, in that more of them went to Mass and listened to what the priests were telling them. So the Legion, getting ticked at the alleged filth in movies, threatened to boycott. And the studios were worried, since something like a quarter of the population was Catholic; that's a pretty big portion of your potential audience to lose. That's what led to the Production Code, with Joe Breen enforcing it, coming into effect in July 1934.

This week sees a couple of pre-Codes, along with some foreign films. Foreign movies weren't subject to the code in the same way Hollywood movies were, in that the foreign filmmakers weren't submitting scripts to the Code office for approval; as far as I know however there would have been the same restrictions on what theaters wouldn't show movies that hadn't been approved and who would run advertisements for them. So in addition to the pre-Codes this week, we're also getting a British movie, Michael Powell's Black Narcissus, in the lineup this week (9:30 PM). That one would have been condemned because of the presentation of nuns as having desires; you can see why the Catholic hierarchy would condemn that. Later in the month we'll be getting And God Created Woman, which has much more traditional condemnable material.

Unfortunately, TCM's website for the spotlight is terrible as always. Although it's not Flash this time, it seems to be just a bunch of images with one link to a PDF. You can get the schedule from the traditional schedule pages.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A once-every-four-years birthday salute

Monday was leap day, the 29th of February. I didn't look up who celebrates a birthday that day, however; if I had wanted to do a post on somebody born on February 29, I would have looked up the birthdays on Monday. Instead, I mention it because I'd like to mention TCM's programming for tomorrow.

Normally, when there are only 28 days in February, TCM's 31 Days of Oscar runs from February 1 through March 3. But this year, with a February 29, means that 31 Days of Oscar ends on March 2 and regular programming resumes on March 3. This is of particular interest considering that March 3 is the birth anniversary of one of Hollywood's legends, Jean Harlow. TCM made her their Star of the Month for her centenary in 2011, but they couldn't run any movies on her birthday.

TCM is running a morning and afternoon of Harlow's movies, including at least one I know I haven't seen before, The Girl From Missouri at 5:15 PM. I can't recall whether I've seen Platinum Blonde before; that kicks off the morning at 7:00 AM. In between are a bunch of Harlow's lesser-known performances. No Dinner at Eight or Red Dust, although we do get Red-Headed Woman (1:00 PM)

Perhaps in four years' time TCM can get the rights to enough movies to run a birthday salute to Edmund Lowe.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

George Kennedy, 1925-2016

George Kennedy, who won a Best Supporting Actor for Cool Hand Luke

George Kennedy, whose long career included a lot of tough guy roles early on as well as comedy later in his career, has died at the age of 91. Kennedy won a Best Supporting Actor for his role opposite Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, pictred above. Kennedy has a wonderful "Word of Mouth" piece that shows up on TCM from time to time in which he mentions the making of one particular scene where he and the other prisoners have the hots for a young woman, helpfully informing us that the prisoners and the young woman doing her thing were actually shot in two completely separate sequences, so all the actors had to show themselves getting aroused without the young woman around. That's acting.

Other roles for Kennedy in the 1960s included one as a cop who makes life difficult for Kirk Douglas in Lonely Are the Brave, as well as a farmhand with a mean streak in Strait-Jacket, pictured at left. Strait-Jacket is one of those movies which isn't all that good, but is enormously entertaining, including Kennedy's performance. I suppose I should also mention The Dirty Dozen, although it's been years since I've seen that one.

Who can't help but love Airport? The first of the great all-star disaster movies of the 1970s, George Kennedy is one of those stars, playing the man whose job it is to keep the runways clear by getting any plane that should get stuck in the snow out of the snow banks, something that puts him at odds with Burt Lancaster.

And then later in his career, Kennedy played Leslie Nielsen's boss in the Naked Gun series of films; that's Kennedy behind Nielsen in the photo above.

As best as I can tell, TCM hasn't announced whether there's going to be any programming change to honor Kennedy. I haven't been watching enough to see whether they've even aired a "TCM Remembers" piece yet.