Tuesday, May 31, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer May 2016: Matthew Broderick

Today being the last day of the month, we're finally getting to the Guest Programmer for the month: Matthew Broderick. He sat down with Robert Osborne some months back obviously, considering how long Osborne has been absent from TCM. (We'll see if Osborne is back tomorrow; supposedly he's going to be back in June.) As always, Guest Programmers select four of their favorite movies. Broderick's selections are:

Doorway to Hell at 8:00 PM, a gangster movie made interesting by a supporting roles from James Cagney at the very beginning of his career (this is even before The Public Enemy);
Breaking Away at 9:30 PM, a cycling movie I've never really been able to get into;
The 400 Blows at 11:30 PM, François Truffaut's classic about youth alienation; and
Yankee Doodle Dandy at 1:30 AM, with James Cagney playing George M. Cohan.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The King of Comedy

A movie I watched over the weekend that does seem to be avaliable (and in print) on DVD and Blu-Ray is The King of Comedy. Due to that availability, I feel comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie.

Jerry Lewis plays Jerry Langford, who is the most popular late-night TV talk show host in the country. His New York-based show is so popular that he's got a whole bunch of groupies who crowd the entrance to the studio where he does the show. One evening as he comes out of the studio after a show, not only are they mobbed at the entrance; one of the fans, Masha (Sandra Bernhard) has somehow gotten into his car. (How she did this considering there's a chauffeur, is a mystery.) She harasses Jerry, who is unsurprisingly uncomfortable about it. But he's fortunate in that somebody else pulls her out of the car.

That someone is Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), another big fan. Rupert would like to be a stand-up comedian, and to that end has been working on his act, although apparently he's never actually done stand-up in front of a live audience. Indeed, he lives with his mother over in New Jersey, and does his routines in front of a cardboard audience, as well as doing stuff on a cardboard version of the Jerry Langford Show set. Still, he tells Jerry about his dream, and even tries to get an audience with Jerry for a possible audition to appear on the show. Jerry, basically to get the guy away from him, says to call his secretary at the office.

Rupert, pushy and deluded blankety-blank that he is, goes to the Langford offices and says he already has an appointment to see Jerry, which is of course not true. Given the difficult task of dealing with Rupert and getting him to just go away is Jerry's personal assistant Cathy (Shelley Hack), who eventually takes an audition tape from Rupert and says she'll listen to it. A few days later back at the office, Cathy tells him the tape wasn't good enough, and to get some experience on the stand-up circuit.

Hell hath no fury like a groupie scorned. Or two groupies scorned. Rupert has been telling Masha he has an in with Jerry. Well, not just Masha, but also Rita (Diahnne Abbott), a girl he knew from high school. Indeed, Rupert has been so pushy that he takes Rita to Jerry's house out on Long Island for the weekend, something which Jerry obviously didn't approve of. Eventually, Rupert is unable to take the rejection, and comes up with a plan: he and Masha will kidnap Jerry, and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to appear on the Jerry Langford Show. And they'll keep him hostage until the show actually goes over the air.

The King of Comedy, despite its title, isn't really a comedy. There are some comic moments, but in general it's more of a drama than a comedy. It's a movie I found difficult to watch at times, if only because the Rupert Pupkin is written to be such an arrested-development case that I just wanted to reach through the screen and smack him upside the head. He's an utter jerk, and at times unsympathetic. Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, is excellent. He's nothing like the manic character he played in all those comedies with Dean Martin, and then throughout the 1960s. He's restrained and in some ways bitter, and plays it very well. Bernhard is also quite good, although I think her character is a bit underused.

Also making the movie worth watching are the cameos. Ed Herlihy plays himself as Jerry Langford's announcer. Fred De Cordova, who was the director on The Tonight Show, plays the producer of the Jerry Langford Show. Tony Randall gets to play himself as a substitute host for Jerry's show, and gets to do his stickler for elegance thing. Joyce Brothers also appears, as does Liza Minnelli (I think it's just her voice, although we see a cardboard cutout of her on Rupert's set).

If you haven't seen The King of Comedy before, I can highly recommend it.

Complaining about TCM's Media Room

So I watched Babes in Arms over the weekend. I was going to do a full-length post on the movie, but amazingly, it seems to be out of print on DVD. Amazon lists a standalone DVD from 2007 that has a few copies available, and one of those TCM four-film box sets (this one featuring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland), but that one also has only a few copies available. And neither one is available from the TCM Shop.

So I was going to post a clip from the movie, preferably, one of them singing the song "Good Morning", which originated here but was reused in Singin' in the Rain. The links at Youtube seemed to be a bit short, so I went over to the TCM Media room, and eventually found this link. But....

First, I had a fun time trying to find the clips. There's a search box on the TCM Media Room page that says "Search the Media Room". But when you enter your search terms, it sends you to the main TCM search page, which combines all of the stuff. The TCM Database for the main information on a movie (think doing an IMDb title search), the TCM Shop, and TCM's articles on a given movie are there. It turns out that the videos are there also, but you have to look for a sidebar which, on my browser, was on the left side, allowing you to filter out what you want to show in the results. You'd think the search box on the TCM Media Room would do this for you by default, but nooooooooo....

Second, I can't find where the links to embed media clips from the TCM Media Room have gone. There's a whole bunch of "sharing" crap, if you want to share the link on Twitter or any of those other allegedly-social networking sites. But the embed links, if they still exist, didn't seem to show up. Then again, it takes the Media Room forever to load, because of all the bloated advertising stuff they're trying to cram down your throat. More interestingly, there was also a link to the "Classic Film Union", which closed quite some time ago.

Back in November, 2012, I embedded the Babes in Arms trailer.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The latest film festival you've never heard of

Radio Prague on Friday did a piece on the 56th Zlín Film Festival For Children and Youth, which opened on Friday and will run through June 3. Hollywood made a lot of movies suitable for children, but of course a festival like this looks more at the films of today. The fesitval's website, however, does list the French 1950s classic The Red Balloon as being part of the program, as well as a 1961 Czech version of the Baron von Münchhausen stories that I'd never heard of. (The film, that is, not the stories.)

There's a text transcript of Radio Prague's piece on the festival, along with a few photos, at the first link above; if you want to listen instead, you can download the MP3 directly here; it's 10 minutes and about 5MB.

Memorial Day 2016 on FXM

I think I mentioned yesterday that FXM Retro is getting in on the action on Memorial Day, although they don't go for three full days the way that TCM does. In fact, they're showing three World War II movies, all made during the war and all worth at least one watch if you haven't seen them before. It also turns out that I've blogged about all of them:

The Immortal Sergeant at 7:25 AM
The Purple Heart at 9:00 AM
Crash Dive at 10:45 AM

Note that Crash Dive will be showing up a further three times this week.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Briefs for May 28-29. 2016

I was looking through the shorts on TCM to see if there was anything interesting to point out, but all there is today is a Ryan's Daughter featurette, overnight following A Bridge Too Far. There's nothing else until late tomorrow afternoon.

Working on my new computer is progressing apace. Trying to get the proper drivers for Linux to recognize wireless, however, is a dickens and it doesn't help that I haven't had a lot of free time to tinker with it. (Edge as a browser sucks; apparently there's no option to choose where you download stuff.)

With the three day weekend, I did get the opportunity to start watching some stuff on my DVR, although I have to see which stuff is available on DVD before I can do a full-length post on the movies. There is at least one I'd like to do a post on, but it doesn't seem to be available. I've also got a backlog of DVDs to get through.

Friday, May 27, 2016

It's Memorial Day weekend again

TCM usually spends Memorial Day weekend showing a bunch of war movies. This year is no different. Well, perhaps there is one small difference, which is that it looks like the war movies are actually beginning in prime time tonight instead of 6:00 AM Saturday. That's because Robert Ryan, the Star of the Month, made several war movies, and TCM is showing those in prime time tonight.

Granted, Ryan's performance in The Dirty Dozen isn't particularly big, although it is memorable....

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The latest round of movies back on FXM Retro

By the time you read this post, you'll likely have missed this morning's airing of Young Jesse James on FXM Retro. But fear not: it's going to be coming up again tomorrow morning at 3:30 AM. It's one of those movies that Fox made around the time they were also making the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra. The Taylor movie was a huge budget suck for a bunch of reasons, and one of the result is that a lot of other Fox movies from the time period look as though they're done on shoestring budgets. (I just watched Battle at Bloody Beach, for example, and there's another film with the same problem.) That having been said, the story in Young Jesse James isn't that bad.

Later on, you'll have a chance to catch Way... Way Out, tomorrow at 1:10 PM and Saturday at 11:10 AM. As I said back then, there's Jerry Lewis, but there's also 60s style, or at least the 60s impression of what the future would be like. That's just as far out as the lunar settings.

In and among those, there's going to be Sea Wife (mid-morning Friday) and These Thousand Hills (I think following this morning's airing of Young Jesse James). My set-top box was acting up, only showing listings for the next 24 hours or so, as though either the power went out for a bit -- it didn't since I didn't have to reset all the clocks in the house -- or something interrupted the satellite signal briefly. So you'll have to check the local listings for those two.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Burt Kwouk, 1930-2016

British character actor Burt Kwouk has died at the age of 85. Kwouk is probably best remembered for playing Cato Fong in several of the Pink Panther movies. He also had a small part as Ling in Goldfinger.

One movie Kwouk was in that recently showed up on the FXM schedule again is Satan Never Sleeps. I thought it was on this week's schedule, but apparently it must have been earlier this week. The satellite box guide says the next airing won't be until June 6, or a week from this coming Monday. (Now if FXM can bring back The Chairman, in which Kwouk also appears.)

Monday having been mentioned, that's Memorial Day, and TCM is showing 55 Days at Peking, to which Kwouk apparently lends his voice, at least according to IMDb. That'll be on at 11:30 AM on the 30th.

TCM has a new host

Apparently TCM put out a press release yesterday that they're going to be bringing in a new full-time host. Tiffany Vazquez, who won one of the TCM fan contests for the 20th anniversary of the channel in 2014 and who then got to present a TCM Spotlight last December. Starting in June, she's going to be presenting the Saturday afternoon lineup on a permanent basis.

This, of course, frees up some time for Ben Mankiewicz, who has been taking over more of the prime time hosting duties as Robert Osborne has been increasingly absent. Sooner or later, most likely sooner, Robert Osborne is going to retire permanently, at which point one presumes Mankiewicz is going to take over all of the prime time duties. Well, all of them except for when somebody's doing the Spotlight all by themselves. That wasn't this month which had Ben interviewing Roger Corman, but there are going to be months in the future that do have a lone Spotlight presenter.

I don't particularly remember Tiffany from the December spotlight; in fact, I don't recall actually watching any of the movies in the spotlight that month. (Well, I'd seen a bunch of them already; I just didn't bother to watch the rest of them.) So I can't comment on how she may be as a presenter, which I know isn't as easy as it looks. I read the news on my college's radio station, and just reading from a script like that with no cameras around, and sounding right at the same time, is harder than you'd think. For what it's worth, some of the regulars at the TCM boards seem to be up in arms.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

North Dallas Forty

Over the weekend, I finally got around to watching North Dallas Forty which I DVRed months ago. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length blog post on it.

The movie starts off with a scene I found reminiscent of Fat City: Phillip Elliott (Nick Nolte) gets out of bed clad in just his undies to go about his morning routine. Unlike Stacy Keach, however, Phillip's routine is rather more painful, and punctuated by memories of a football game. That's because Phillip Elliott is a wide receiver for the North Dallas Bulls, a professional football team. Phillip apparently both had a big drop and caught the winning touchdown pass in the last game, and that's what he's remembering. Eventually, some of his friends from the team come to pick him up to spend time together on their off day.

Phillip is rather blasé about the whole thing. His quarterback, Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis, whom I'd always thought of as a singer/songwriter, not an actor) is driving Phillip in a car, with linemen Jo Bob (Bo Svensson) and O.W. (John Matuszak, who really was a pro football player earlier in his life) drunk on the hood shooting at cattle. You can see why a non football player would be uncomfortable with the situation, but for a pro player? Well, that's because Phillip is getting on in years as far as football players go. He's not ready to give up the game since that's the only thing he knows, but he does seem to have a sense that his time will be coming.

That night, there's a wild party at one of the player's houses, which is where Phillip meets Charlotte (Dayle Haddon). She's just as blasé and ill at ease with the whole party as Phillip. But you wonder why she even came to the party. Phillip having to show up to his teammate's party is understandable; Charlotte claims she doesn't even like football. You get the sense, however, that the two are bound to wind up together, even though Charlotte leaves the party alone. Sure enough, Phillip leaves the party early and shows up at Charlotte's place, promptly falling asleep on the couch.

Meanwhile, there's a game to prepare for. Phillip's general manager Strothers (I think he's the general manager; he might be the head coach although I don't think he's ever referred to that way, unlike Coach Johnson, played by Charles Durning) tella Phillip that he's not playing as part of a team, and that he has to be more mature. He certainly seems more mature than the rest of the players, who like to carouse in the locker room and at film sessions. But there's also the physical therapy, which is where we can understand why Phillip is getting uncomfortable about the game. The trainers strongly encourage the players to take all sorts of pills and injections. Some players not only do so willy-nilly but are willing to raid the trainer's medicine cabinet for more pills; other players want to treat their body like a temple. All of this is in preparation for the big game in Chicago on Monday night, which is for the conference championship apparently. That game takes up the most of the last third of the movie.

North Dallas Forty is based on a book written by former professional football player Peter Gent; supposedly it's a pretty accurate look at what the NFL was like back in the early 70s. I haven't read the book and so can't comment on it, but I found that this movie version falls flat in spots. First, I found some of the characters intensely unappealing, particularly Joe Bob. Somebody injure him and get him on IR so we can be done with him already. He's a jerk, and not very funny. I also found a lot of continuity issues, for lack of a better description. The film may not actually have any continuity problems, but there's a lot that the screenplay doesn't present so well. It wasn't until near the very end of the movie that I realized the action had all taken place over just one week. There's also the problem with the "conference championship" game, as the movie implies that there will be another game next week for North Dallas regardless of the outcome. I also mentioned the issue with Strothers' position on the team.

Allthat having been said, I think Nolte gives a pretty good performance, and North Dallas Forty is certainly worth one viewing. It's also a movie I would definitely include if TCM were ever going to do one of its monthly spotlights on football. It's just not one I'm particularly interested in watching for a second time.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Peabody Awards

Wrong PeabodyTCM's prime time lineup tonight honors movies that won the Peabody Award, an award that recognizes meritorious public service by the media. I always thought it was an award for TV, but apparently they have awarded some movies too. The one of the movies that I've seen on tonight's schedule is Hoop Dreams at 10:00 PM, although it's probably been a good 15 years since I've watched the movie.

For those who haven't seen it, it's a documentary looking at William Gates and Arthur Agee. These two young men are basketball players from the Chicago housing projects, both of whom have incredible talent. Enough talent, in fact, that the people who can open doors for them by ultimately getting them a college scholarship are interested, although they of course are just as much interested in how much revenue adolescent basketball players can make for them. Apparently not only is college basketball big business, so is high school basketball in some areas. It's not an easy ride for the two men or their families, who go through all sorts of trials and tribulations on their way to... well, I won't say exactly where the journey ends up. The two documentarians spent years with the basketball players, eventually editing all of the material down to a three-hour story that never feels like it's three hours long, that's how gripping it is.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Apologies for another round of poor posting

I've decided finally to enter the 21st century and get a modern computer, but of course, setting it up is a dickens. Or, more appropriately, getting all of my data from the old computer to the new is a big part of the dickens; Windows 10 actually went surprisingly well. But then I also want a dual-boot system and trying to get Linux and Windows 10 to play well with each other is the other dickens.

I should probably take this opportunity to do another list post on vintage computers, with one of the earlist I can think of offhand being the one in Desk Set, which was recycled for What a Way to Go!. I think I made a point to mention the vintage computers in Jumping Jack Flash when I blogged on that several months ago. Ah those green-only screens!

I have watched a couple of movies off the DVR recently, but I'd have to check which ones are available on DVD before doing a full-length post on any of them.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Alan Young, 1919-2016

Alan Young, the actor who is probably best known for playing the businessman who owned talking horse Mr. Ed, died on Thursday at the age of 96.

British-born Young started his movie career at Fox, in the late 40s, but for the most part spent more time on the small screen than the big screen. He was the title character in Androcles and the Lion in the early 50s, and played opposite Rod Taylor in The Time Machine. Later in his career, he gained new fame for playing Scrooge McDuck in Mickey's Christmas Carol, a half-hour version of the classic Dickens story.

Friday, May 20, 2016

One I think I've seen, and one I know I haven't

Robert Ryan's turn as TCM Star of the Month continues tonight with a movie that sounds familiar: The Outfit, at 10:00 PM. A different Robert -- Duvall -- plays a small-time criminal who robbed a bank, only for that bank to have been a front for the Mob, who killed his brother in return. Duvall wants revenge, and Robert Ryan plays Mailer, the head of the outfit responsible for the brother's killing. A year or two back I watched a movie that I think was from the very end of Ryan's career, and I know it's not one of the others, so I think this is the one. But from the plot synopsis, I don't really remember the Joe Don Baker character.

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM, TCM is showing the 1965 British movie Ten Little Indians. This is one that I know I haven't seen, because I have to admit to not knowing that this particular Agatha Christie story had been done in the 1960s. (This one doesn't have either Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford in four films in the early 1960s, or Hercule Poirot.) I do, however, know the story, since I've seen and blogged about the 1945 movie, which carries the other title for the story, And Then There Were None.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Shorts for May 19-20, 2016

TCM has a short that I think is new to me not only in the sense that I haven't seen it before, but in the sense that I don't think I've even heard of it. Sure, I haven't seen all the Traveltalks shorts or the Riple's Believe It or Not shorts, but if one of those shows up on the TCM schedule, it's usually pretty obvious what sort of short is on the schedule. But today a little after 5:30 PM, or just after Crisis (3:45 PM, 96 min), TCM is showing Spotlight No. 3. This one, produced in Canada by a company called "Associated Screen Studios" per the IMDb credits, apparently has four vignettes about interesting things in Canada. I'd never heard of the studio, and IMDb doesn't list any other production company distributing the short, but then by this time the US studios no longer ran the theater chains, too.

Tomorrow morning at about 10:59 AM, there's another chance to catch Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow. This one showed up a couple of weeks ago, and I also mentioned it a year and a half ago when I did a post on some of the RKO-Pathé shorts of the 1950s showing up on TCM. I find all of the RKO-Pathé shorts to be worth at least one watch, just for the historical value even if they turn out to be boring.

In between, there are several of the promo/featurette type shorts. The one that I've mentioned before is The Bounty Sails Again!, which you can catch tomorrow at 8:35 AM. There's also a short on Ice Station Zebra following Wild in the Streets a little after 3:00 AM, and one on Oliver! following Three in the Attic, around 4:50 AM.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Several upcoming movies I've blogged about before

I was looking at doing a post on a movie I recently watched, but it seems the movie in question is out of print on DVD. So instead, in looking through the TCM schedule, I find quite a few movies I blogged about a long time in the past.

The morning and afternoon schedule deals with plastic surgery. I wrote a whole post on the idea one time when Dark Passage showed up in the past. That film is coming up at noon today. I'm not a huge fan of the Bogart-Bacall pairing, but the movie does more or less work once we actually get to see Bogart's face.

His Kind of Woman is a lot of fun, especially for the performance of Vincent Price as a ham actor. He has so much fun in what is supposed to be a serious Robert Mitchum movie. That one you can see at 4:00 PM.

The day of plastic surgery movies concludes at 6:15 PM with Eyes Without a Face, a French horror movie about plastic surgery used for entirely the wrong reasons, and on people who aren't exactly consenting adults. If you haven't seen this one, I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow morning and afternoon has a bunch of Cary Grant movies, some of which aren't as well known. Among the lesser-known movies are The Howards of Virginia at 7:45 AM, and the dreadful Once Upon a Time at 2:00 PM.

Over on FXM Retro, they're bringing back Of Love and Desire, which will be on tomorrow at 1:45 PM.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Corner in Wheat

I was going to post today about the birthday of actor Jean Gabin, but it turns out that I already did that in 2014. I suppose I could talk about tonight being a night of Bob's Picks on TCM -- or is that tomorrow; I'll have to look it up again -- except of course that Robert Osborne isn't going to be there to present the picks. So I decided to think about some old silents that are in the public domain.

With that in mind, I'm posting an early D.W. Griffith effort, A Corner in Wheat. This 1909 short is about a man who tries to corner the market in wheat, which would of course make him a wealthy man. That attempt, of course, has consequences. The one actor you might be likely to recognize is Henry B. Walthall, who plays the assistant to the "Wheat King".

Monday, May 16, 2016

Some more Fox films coming up

Tonight's lineup on TCM is listed as "short stories". It could, however, be more accurately portrayed as anthology movies, with the caveat that all of the movies are based on short stories from famous writers, as I understand it. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with O. Henry's Full House, which I think is a TCM premiere. (Being a Fox film, it of course showed up on the Fox Movie Channel several times in the past.) That will be followed at 10:15 PM by Quartet. This one is the first of three films based on four short stories by Somerset Maugham; the movie was successful enough that two sequels were released, Trio and Encore. I know I've seen Trio in its entirety; I can't recall whether I've seen either of the other two in their entirety.

As for the movies that follow Encore on TCM tonight, I don't think I've seen any of them before.

And then we get to the irregular "movies showing up on FXM after a long absence" part of the post. This time, that movie is The Visit, tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM. I'm pretty certain that the last time this one showed up on FXM Retro, or maybe it was still called the Fox Movie Channel back then, it was panned and scanned down to 4:3. The movie was based on a play by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt; the play was recently (around 2014) revived on Broadway with Chita Rivera as the old woman coming back to her homeland, so those of you who are Broadway fans may recognize the material. As I understand it, the ending of the play was changed for the movie; I don't know if it was changed for the Rivera revival.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Assault on a Queen

TCM aired Assault on a Queen back in December when Frank Sinatra was Star of the Month, and I recorded it back then. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length blog post on the movie now.

We'll get to Old Blue Eyes in a bit. The movie starts off with a boat coming into port in the Bahamas. Vic Rossiter (Tony Franciosa) owns the boat, although he's being financed by Rosa Lucchesi (Virna Lisi). Unfortunately, the boat has a dead guy on it: Vic had hired a diver, the diver's suit failed, and he drowned. So they need a new diver. And that's where Sinatra comes in.

Sinatra plays Mark Brittain, who captains a small boat that he uses to take rich tourists out on the open ocean to do some deep-sea fishing; he's also an accomplished diver. Vic would like to hire Mark, because Vic has a map which he just knows has the site of a sunken Spanish galleon marked on it. If he can hire a competent diver, he'll find the sunken treasure and make off like a bandit! It's a reasonable movie plot, although you have to wonder how somebody like Vic could be so damn gullible. Mark doesn't want to take the job at any price, since he's smart enough to realize Vic is gullible if he believes in the map. But he's got a business partner Linc (Errol John) to take care of, and a marina bill totaling several hundred dollars in 1966 dollars. So Mark decides to take up Vic on his offer. Rounding out the gang of characters is former Nazi U-boat captain Eric (Alf Kjellin), who makes for a good companion for Mark since Mark served on a submarine in the Pacific theater in World War II.

So they go to the dive site, and they don't find any sunken Spanish treasure. Not that this is any surprise. What they do find, however, is a surprise. Mark finds a sunken Nazi U-boat! Not only that, but whever made it sink didn't seem to cause that much damage to the sub. Sure, it looks like there might be some corrosion after 20 years, but it looks as if it's in a condition where, if they could salvage it, they could sell it to a museum or something and recoup some of their investment. Captain Eric, however, has a more wacky idea: why not use the sub to become pirates! They can approach ships from under the sea and come up on those unsuspecting boats with a great element of surprise.

If you think that's wacky, they come up with an even wackier scheme: they're going to hijack the Queen Mary, of all ships. They could easily walk away with millions from the bank and the bullion room. So to fix up the engines and batteries they hire Eric's old friend Tony (Richard Conte) and set about refurbishing the ship. Along the way, Rosa starts to fall for Mark, much to the chagrin of Vic, who is insanely jealous. But then it's Rosa funding the whole thing....

Assault on a Queen is reasonably entertaining, although it certainly has its flaws. One is that it's terribly slow-paced. It takes forever to get the the part where they're finally going to go after the Queen Mary, leaving too little time for the actual robbery at sea and the aftermath. There's also the score, which is a problem. Frank Sinatra was probably responsible for that; I'd wager he used his musical talents to get Duke Ellington to provide a score. The music by itself isn't bad; it's just that the music really doesn't fit the plot action. As for the plot action, that's where the movie is at its best.

There are better heist movies, and if I were going to recommend the heist genre to somebody who hasn't seen the comic heist movies of the 1960s, there are other things I'd recommend. Sinatra and his Ocean's 11 would come well before this one. But for people who already have seen heist movies and like them, Assault on a Queen is certainly worth a watch if it comes up on TV. I'm not so sure I'd spend the big bucks on a DVD.

Docs Against Gravity

For those of you who are lucky enough to be in central Europe, you're lucky enough to have another film festival to attend. Polish Radio's English Service helpfully informs us about the Docs Against Gravity film festival, which opened on Friday the 13th and runs through the 25th:

Friday sees the official opening of the 13th edition of the “Docs Against Gravity” Documentary Film festival.

The event will be held in Warsaw, Wrocław, Bydgoszcz and Gdynia and selected films will also be shown in 20 other towns in Poland.

“Docs against Gravity” is the largest documentary film festival in Poland and the third in Europe.

This year's edition has some 130 films in store, 50 accompanying events and over 100 artists visiting, many of whom will be presenting their new productions and also participate in various meetings.

Among the premieres are works by the world's greatest documentary filmmakers like Sergei Loznitz with his “Event” – a documentary on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union and the establishing of the Russian Federation, or Werner Herzog with his latest “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”, where he wonders it is at all possible to escape the surveillance of modern technologies.

Artur Liebhart, the director of the festival points that the idea of the festival is to show films presenting life in various aspects: “we show the best nonfiction, Films which are in fact giant cinema productions, this is our goal, to show how the best of film art can present us the way we are.”

Since this is radio, there's an audio report here; it's about 4.1MB and around 4:30. The English language homepage for the festival is here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My set-top box is acting up

Well, it may not be the box itself acting up, but whatever DirecTV is sending to the box. I turned on the TV this morning to look for what was coming up on FXM Retro in the coming week. TCM was on, and the on-screen display indicated that I was watching Act of Violence. For some reason, I thought that I had seen Act of Violence on the schedule last week, as part of the TCM salute to Star of the Month Robert Ryan. And as I was watching the movie, I realized this definitely wasn't Act of Violence. It took a minute or two to realize I was watching Back from Eternity; sure enough, that's the movie that is listed in TCM's monthly schedule for the time slot when I turned the TV on.

So, what does this mean? When I look to see what's on TCM, I generally use the monthly schedule that I've downloaded for feature movies, and the online daily or weekly schedule for the shorts and just to make certain a feature I might want to mention hasn't been replaced. (I don't download the monthly schedule far enough in advance for it to be a problem the way it might be for people who download the monthly schedule the minute TCM puts it up on their website.) However, I tend to use the onscreen box guide to see what's coming up on FXM Retro, since their online website is terrible and as far as I can tell they don't have a downloadable schedule. Online listing sites like TitanTV and Zap2It are pains to use since they're all about pushing as much advertising and so-called "social" stuff down your throat. So when it comes to posting about what's coming up on FXM, there's the possibility that my post may turn out to be incorrect.

That having been said, right now the problem only seems to be on Saturday mornings. When I was going through the box guide, it looked as though it claimed Act of Violence would be airing yet again next Saturday morning. The rest of the TCM schedule according to the box guide seemed to fit with the monthly schedule. (The one exception is the blocks of shorts in TCM Underground; as I've posted several times the TCM monthly and online schedules and the box guide all seem to have problems with blocks of shorts.)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ring of Fire

TCM is airing the movie Ring of Fire tomorrow at noon. It's worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Frank Gorshin, James Johnson, and Joyce Taylor play Frank, Roy, and "Skidoo" respectively. They're three hoodlums who have recently held up a gas station in the more rural part of the Pacific Northwest. While they're at a diner, in comes police officer Walsh (David Janssen), who learns that these three are the hoodlums. So, of course, he arrests them. But this being one of those small towns, they don't have the more modern police cars that basically turn the back seat into a cage, and Walsh probably doesn't have enough handcuffs for all of them, anyway. So as he's taking them to the police station, one of them grabs his gun and carjacks him, except that back then they didn't call it carjacking.

The three force Walsh to drive, eventually down one of those old logging roads that run into the heavily forested parts of the region. Of course, they don't know any of the trails, which is a problem, while Walsh is the only one who does know them. So their plan is to have him be their guide, at gunpoint, as he takes them through the forest, even though they had never planned to go into the forest and take a long hike. Well, they're small-time criminals; thinking ahead never seems to be a strong suit for such petty criminals.

Complicating matters are some of Skidoo's actions. She's Frank's girlfriend, but she seems to be less than thrilled at having gotten involved with his scheme. So she starts to take a shine to Walsh, which may be sincere or may be just a way to throw Walsh off his game. In any case, it doesn't make Frank happy, and he's going to be the hothead of the bunch. Roy, for his part is almost as surly. Frank and Roy want a smoke, but Walsh says that's an absolute no-no. It's been very dry, and the slightest spark could be a disaster.

Well, with that foreshadowing, you can guess what's going to happen. Actually, you probably could have guessed it from the title. Needless to say, forest fire does start. It threatens not only the four main characters trying to get out of the forest, but the entire town! OK, it's a bit melodramatic, but it does make for some good visuals. Or, it would make for good visuals if TCM runs a print in the proper aspect ratio. The last time I saw it on TCM, it didn't look like it was in the proper aspect ratio, as everybody looked blown up and grainy, the way a panned-and-scanned print would look. IMDb, however, says that the movie was a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, not Cinemascope or any of the wider-screen processes.

As for the story, it's entertaining enough if a bit implausible at times. The acting is nothing to write home about, but this is an action movie, so the acting is less of a concern than the action, which for the most part does succeed. And some people may enjoy seeing a vintage small town in the Pacific Northwest as it was in the early 60s; a lot of the film was done on location in a small town in Oregon and the forests of Oregon and Washington.

Ring of Fire doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the all-too-infrequent TCM showing.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Briefs for May 12-13, 2016

Tonight's TCM salute to American International Pictures includes Master of the World, airing early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM, or overnight depending upon your time zone. Something about the movie looks really familiar; it's probably the airship. I could swear I saw this one TCM years ago, but can't remember whether or not I actually did.

Amongst the shorts, Yamekraw is airing tomorrow at 7:19 AM on TCM. I mentioned this one about four years ago, not having seen it at the time. It is visually interesting, although the plotting isn't the greatest. Still, if you haven't seen it before, it's well worth a watch.

Following Yamekraw is the feature Play-Girl, which normally is more likely to get an airing on Loretta Young's birthday. When I blogged about it back in 2013, I mentioned the opening, which in and of itself is worthwhile for its pre-Code line. As for Loretta Young in that time frame, I think my first recommendation would be something like Week-End Marriage, although that one isn't coming up any time soon as far as I know.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cries and Whispers

I mentioned yesterday that one of the movies I watched over the weekend, Will Penny, seems to be out of print on DVD. Another movie that I watched which is in print on DVD is Cries and Whispers. It's a pricey DVD, though, since it's courtesy of the Criterion collection.

Harriet Andersson plays Agnes, one of three sisters in circa-1900 Sweden. At the star of the movie, she's in bed, and apparently in some pain. That's because she is in fact dying of cancer, which of course was an early death sentence back in those days, as with James Stewart's character in The Shootist. For some time, Agnes has been looked after at the old family estate by the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), but not that her death is getting closer, her two systers Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) are there as well. What a nice family thing to do.

Yeah, right. This is one dysfunctional family. The sisters all apparently hate each other, but none of them mention any of it to each other. Each of the three sisters gets to have a flashback about something in her past that made her the way she is today. For Agnes, she apparently had some sort of distant relationship with her mother (also played by Liv Ullmann), which I suppose should be a bit creepy, but I didn't notice when I was watching that Ullmann was doing both parts.

Maria seems the most normal, but when she was younger she had a thing for the family doctor, and even though she's since gotten married she still has a thing for the doctor, even though he doesn't find the feeling mutual. In fact, the good doctor shows Maria how she's changed over the years. Maria also some hang-ups about wanting to help people, whether it be her sister Agnes, or her husband.

And then there's Karin. She doesn't like to be touched. She's emotionally cold, even though she too is married. And then one night when she was having dinner with her husband, she accidentally broke a wine glass, and kept one of the shards as a souvenir of how everything is a web of lies, at least in her mind. You don't want to know what happens to that piece of glass.

Agnes finally dies, but no, that's not the end of the movie. Not by a mile. There's a bizarre dream-like sequence involving Anna and Agnes, and Anna wanting everybody to see Agnes again even though Agnes is quite dead.

When people talk about foreign films as being pretentious, I'd think Cries and Whispers is a good place to start. The movie is tedious, the characters extremely unlikeable. And then there's the cinematography. The interiors, I think, deservedly won an Oscar, aided by Sven Nykvist's excellent use of lighting. However, Ingmar Bergman had the idea that everything should be red. Boy does that color dominate. The only good thing about the overwhelming use of red is that at least the movie's color palette isn't teal and orange like most modern movies.

If you want to see all of Ingmar Bergman's work, go ahead an knock yourself out by watching Cries and Whispers. If you want to see Bergman discussing family dysfunction, I think you'd be better starting out with Autumn Sonata.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

William Schallert, 1922-2016

Veteran character actor William Schallert died over the weekend at the age of 93. Schallert was probably best known for the voluminous TV work he did, such as playing Patty Duke's father on The Patty Duke Show, as well as appearing in the Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles". However, he did a reasonable amount of film work, too. Probably his most notable film roles were as the mayor in In the Heat of the Night, and as the doctor in Will Penny.

In fact, I was going to use Schallert's death as an opportunity to do a full-length post on Will Penny, which I just happened to have watched over the weekend, before learning of Schallert's death. Unfortunately, the movie seems to be out of print on DVD. Amazon list a small number of copies available at a higher price, as well as the option to rent or buy it via streaming. It doesn't seem to be available at the TCM Shop at all. That's a shame, since it doesn't seem to be coming on any time soon.

An interesting movie poster

Over on the TCM boards, we were talking about the movie Bad Day at Black Rock, which aired recently on TCM as part of the salute to Star of the Month Robert Ryan. Somebody posted the Spanish-language poster above. It's certainly visually striking, and gives an interesting perspective on what the movie is about. After all, when Spencer Tracy rents the jeep from Anne Francis and drives through the desert, I can't help but get the feeling Tracy is being watched. Then again, they do try to run him off the road.

I just wish I could remember when MGM started using that particular logo in the bottom right corner. I seem to recall it being over the main studio building by the time of That's Entertainment in 1974, but not too much before that.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Today and tonight

TCM's daytime lineup seems to have two themes. The first is about things that happen to people on vacation. For some reason the movie Havana Widows at 10:45 AM looks familiar, but I don't think I've seen the others. The second half is supposedly cowboy movies, although in at least one case, I wouldn't call the movie a cowboy movie. That one is The Cowboy Quarterback, airing at 2:45 PM. I've mentioned this one a couple of times before; Bert Wheeler plays a cowboy from Montana who is signed to a contract by a professional football scout. In the big city, Wheeler falls prey to professional gamblers, who want to use the leverage against him to get him to throw the big game. It's not particularly good, but fans of football movies will enjoy it for the vintage (and probably terribly inaccurate) look at pro football as it was in the late 1930s.

Tonight, TCM is looking at celebrity cameos. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Dear Brigitte, in which Brigitte Bardot only shows up for the finale. She's only in the title because apparently she didn't want to be credited or otherwise used in the publicity. So the filmmakers put her name in the title. That way just mentioning the title would get her name out there in the publicity.

Later in the evening, there's The Youngest Profession at 11:45 PM, which for some reason TCM's online schedule is listing under the genre suspense. The profession in question is the autograph seeker, and three teenaged autograph seekers spend the movie trying to get autographs from their favorite MGM stars, much to the consternation of their parents. It's a cheap opportunity for MGM to put a whole bunch of stars into one movie, although perhaps not as cheap as Some of the Best.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

For those who speak German, or at least would like to see some nice pictures

One of the podcasts I have in my RSS reader from Bayerischer Rundfunk (out of Bavaria in Germany, which is where my ancestors come from and two of Dad's first cousins and their descendants still live) included the following this weekend:

The most secret face of German cinema: Actress Sybille Schmitz in Munich

Well, that's a rough translation of the headline; the page is of course in German. But the blurb that accompanied the link continued as follows:

In 1981 in Munich, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made the movie Veronika Voss, inspired by the fate of former Ufa star Sybille Schmitz. Friedemann Bayer seeks to uncover who this woman was, who spent her final years in Munich and died there in 1955 in tragic circumstances.

I haven't seen the movie (in German, the full title translates to The Yearning of Veronika Voss), so I can't comment on the comparison. I also haven't listened to the audio documentary. There's a direct link to download here, which is to a ~24 minute MP3 and about 23 MB. But the page linked above includes a fair amount of text for those who can read German. There's also a photo gallery, and it looks like a video clip that I haven't tried watching.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What can I say about All About Eve that hasn't been said before?

TCM is showing All About Eve tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the Essentials, which may or may not have Robert Osborne back with Sally Field. All About Eve is one of the all-time classics, so pretty much anything that can be said about it already has been said, probably dozens if not hundreds of times.

If, for some bizarre reason, you don't know anything about the movie, the brief plot is that Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is a young woman who comes to New York City with an interest in the Broadway stage and wanting to become an actress. She meets her favorite stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and begins to worm her way into Margo's life, eventually becoming her understudy and leading Margo, who is approaching middle age, to fear that Eve is trying to take her job away from her. There's a subplot regarding the author of Margo's latest play (played by Hugh Marlowe), one regarding Margo's new boyfriend (Gary Merrill, who would become Davis' real-life husband), and then the theather critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) who is the first to see Eve for what she really is.

So what do I like so much about the movie?

First, there's George Sanders' performance. Sanders walked away with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and he's brilliant as the devious critic who knows more than he's letting on. It's in some ways similar to the antagonist he played in Rebecca a decade earlier, and it's easy to tell that he's relishing the part.

There's a brief reference to Poodles Hanneford. Poodles did horse stunts, including some on The Red Pony, although I think most of his work was outside of the movies, in circuses and wild west shows and the like. But there's that name, and the fact that he and I share a birthday. (So now you all know when my birthday is.)

The finale. I don't want to give the ending away, and by this I mean the part of the ending that comes after what the opening framing gives away. (Most of the movie is technically a flashback, although there are a lot of great noirs that use this technique.) But the final shot is visually stunning and, for a movie that's based on interiors and small spaces, that's saying something.

As for the exteriors, there's a scene of George Sanders and Anne Baxter walking through New Haven that's done with rear-projection photography. The rear-projection is stunningly bad, and really sticks out for what it otherwise a tremendous movie. In fact, this scene is notable precisely because of how much it sticks out.

I haven't even mentioned Thelma Ritter yet. She earned the first of her six Best Supporting Actress nominations (she never won) for playing Margo's dresser, and she's good when she appears. Unfortunately, she's more or less written out during the second half of the movie. Marilyn Monroe also has a small role; as with The Asphalt Jungle, it's easy to see the potential.

Friday, May 6, 2016

TCM Star of the Month May 2015: Robert Ryan

We've finally reached the Star of the Month for May 2015, that being Robert Ryan. His films are airing every Friday in prime time, although this week the films actually start early. The first movie up is Woman on the Beach at 11:00 AM, a movie I thought I had blogged about before, but which a search of the blog claims I haven't blogged about. Either the blog search is on the fritz again, or I really screwed up by not blogging about it yesterday. I guess I need to do a database of all the movies I've blogged about with full-length posts, but even of only a third of the posts are full-length reviews of movies, that would be over 1100 movies. Going back and doing it at this late date is a bit of a problem. Then again, Woman on the Beach is also a movie that I have some problems with, as it really loses steam.

Then there's The Set-Up, early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM. I thought I had done a full-length post on this one, too, but again, that's not the case. In this one, Robert Ryan stars as a fading boxer still trying to get to the big time who discovers that his trainer has bet against him in his latest fight and not told him, figuring the guy has become so bad he has no chance of winning anyway: there's also a pay-off if he loses. When Ryan finds out, he's determined to win, consequences be damned. It's quite a good movie, but one of those that, being told in real time, is a bit more difficult to do a full-length post on.

More traditional would be Bad Day at Black Rock, which kicks off prime time at 8:00 PM. Act of Violence (tomorrow at 5:15 AM) received a blog post at 5:15 AM. And if you haven't seen it before, I'd recommend The Woman on Pier 13 at 12:15 PM today. It's not very good, but it's one to see just to say you've seen it.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

American International Pictures

Since we're in the first full week of a new month, we're going to be getting a new Star of the Month on TCM (that's coming tomorrow), and a new monthly spotlight. That spotlight starts tonight and continues every Thursday this month, looking at American International Pictures.

AIP is the company that brought us a lot of cheap horror films, especially the ones that made Vincent Price nearly synonymous with horror movies, never mind that Price had had a pretty good first half of his career in non-horror movies like Laura and Leave Her to Heaven. AIP also made many of the beach movies of the 1960s which were a popular genre at the time. TCM will be showing Beach Party in a couple of weeks; it doesn't look as though Beach Blanket Bingo is on the schedule.

According to TCM's page, the spotlight is going to be presented by producer Roger Corman, who helped create many of AIP's iconic movies. Corman turned 90 last month and is apparently still going strong; I think I saw him on one of the pieces TCM ran from the recent TCM Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Briefs for May 4-5, 2016

So I watched the intro to Music in the Air last night, and noticed that Ben Mankiewicz was presenting it alone. No guest to help present the movies in the series on people who fled the Nazis, and certainly no Robert Osborne. I wonder whether he'll be back for the Essentials on Saturday, and whether he'll finally call it a career. The guy is 84, and has every right to retire if he wants.

There seem to be a bunch of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy movies airing on TCM tomorrow, although it doesn't seem to be the best of their movies. As for "doesn't seem to be the best", FXM Retro has unearthed The Rookie again; it'll be airing tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM. It's positively awful. I should also add I have no idea what the print is going to be like. The last time I saw it, it was one of those prints that was panned-and-scanned, except for the credits, which put everybody on what I like to call the "Cinemascope diet": rather than having the credits letterboxed as some otherwise panned-and-scanned movies that FXM shows do, they simply compressed the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of Cinemascope to 4:3, making everybody look a lot taller and thinner. That, and I think the movie was panned-and-scanned to 4:3. Fox did seem to pan-and-scan some of their movies from 2.35:1 down to 16:9 once hi-def TV became the norm. That, and when they show the old pre-Cinemascope movies, I have to change the display settings on my TV because otherwise, everything seems to get stretched to 16:9.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A few interesting things on TCM

TCM is running a morning and afternoon of films with Mary Astor today, on the anniversary of her birth in 1906. They're doing it with a bunch of her lesser known movies, which is a nice thing. The day concludes at 6:30 PM with A Successful Calamity, which I think is getting its first TCM airing since I blogged about it two years ago, that's how obscure it is. Actually, as I blogged about at the time, this is the sort of movie you watch for its star, George Arliss, who makes the material so entertaining.

In between A Successful Calamity and the prime-time lineup, there's a short, Martin Block's Musical Merry-Go-Round No. 6, at about 7:50 PM. Yes, there was a series of these (IMDb omits the "Martin Block's" from the title). Warner Bros. had been putting out musical shorts for some time, but this was a series put out by MGM, in which radio host/disc jockey Martin Block presents a couple of musical acts, none of which I think I've heard of.

Prime time kicks off with Music in the Air at 8:00 PM. This is another movie that's new to me, directed by an exile from the Nazis I'd never heard of, Joe May. To be fair, he didn't exactly have a successful career in Hollywood like the well-known exiles, based on a stage show by Oscar Hammerstein who was not yet with Richard Rodgers, but with Jerome Kern; Gloria Swanson stars. I think the reason it's new to me is because it's from Fox (before the merger with 20th Century).

In between Music in the Air and the next feature, Fury at 9:45 PM, there's another short, The Music Makers at 9:29 PM. This is an early talkie, from 1929, and doesn't even have any comments over at IMDb, which makes me wonder how well known it is. It's another one I'd never heard of.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood

Last month, TCM spent three Wednesdays looking at German cinema during the Weimar era. Now that we're in a new month, we get a new look on the topic of German cinema. For three consecutive nights starting tonight, TCM wil be looking at some of the people who fled Europe when the Nazis came to power. There were a lot of people, not only directors, but actors and composers. The all-too-brief TCM page on the subject, however, seems to imply that it's only going to be about the directors.

The TCM page doesn't say anything about whether anybody will be sitting down with Ben or Robert to discuss the subject, and I have to admit to having forgotten to watch any of the intros to last month's look at Weimar cinema to see if there was any expert there. (Then again, it seems to me that TCM's pages have been getting more and more sparse.)

The programming was inspired by a 2009 documentary Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood. That documentary will be airing tonight at 8:00 PM and again tomorrow night at 11:30 PM.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Back on FXM in May

Ah, we're at the first day of a new month, which means that I tend to spot some movies showing up on FXM Retro that haven't been on the channel in a while. The first example of that this month is Man in the Middle, which will be coming up tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM, and again at 6:00 AM Tuesday.

I also mention it because it was directed by Guy Hamilton, and when I posted about Hamilton's death a week and change ago I hadn't seen that Man in the Middle would be coming up on FXM Retro.

Anyone going to be in Korea?

Among the various international broadcasters I listen to is KBS World (Radio Korea), from South Korea. (I was never able to pick up the propaganda from the North on my radio.) Anyhow, Friday's program on Radio Korea mentioned a couple of film festivals in the country, one going on, and one to start next week:

The Jeonju International Film Festival started on Thursday and continues through this coming Saturday. Since this year is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the festive is programming several adaptations of Shakespeare works, including movies originally made in English (such as the Olivier Henry V).

For those looking to shoehorn strident political commentary into their films, there's the Green Film Festival in Seoul, which looks at "environmental" films or films with a subject that is supposedly tangentially related to environmental issues. It will be running from this Friday through next Thursday. Note that the "official" link didn't work for me.

It's too bad I can't afford to take a trip to Korea.