Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another set of new-to-me shorts

Coming up early tomorrow (or overnight tonight depending on your point of view) on TCM, you can catch Holland Sailing at 3:35 AM following Tea For Two (1:45 AM, 96 min). Given the date (1956) and the subject (boat racing in the Netherlands), I figured this had to be another of the RKO Sportscopes I've mentioned on the site before. Sure enough, IMDb says that's what it is. Specifically, they say it's #6 from the 1956-57 season, which makes me wonder just how many of these Sportscopes were made. I'm sure there's a complete list somewhere but up until now I haven't bothered to look for it. I just did a cursory search, and couldn't find much.

I was only going to mention two shorts, but I just noticed earlier in the overnight, at about 1:25 AM, there's Mr. Whitney Had a Notion. From the title and date (1949), my first guess was John Nesbitt's Passing Parade, confirmed by looking at IMDb. (Passing Parade No. 71, no less; my goodness a lot of these were made.) But I mention this one about Whitney's invention of the cotton gin because the part of Eli Whitney is played by... a young Lloyd Bridges.

The other short I had planned to mention is For Your Convenience, at 7:34 AM after Speedy at 6:00 AM. The subject here is inventions that presumably make things more convenient, and since it's from 1939, my conclusion was that it's another Pete Smith short. But it's not. It's from Warner Bros. And it's in color. Unfortunately, the one IMDb reviewer claims it's not any good.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Back on FXM Retro: April 24-25, 2017

For some reason, I thought I had mentioned recently that The Roots of Heaven is bck in the FXM Retro rotation, as it's been running for a month or two. It's going to be on at the end of this morning's FXM Retro block, at 12:50 PM, and then starting tomorrow's at 3:30 AM.

Coming on immediately before today's airing of The Roots of Heaven is Guns at Batasi, at 11:05 AM today. Both movies are overlooked, although you could argue that The Roots of Heaven deserves to remain overlooked.

Both movies have received DVD releases in the past, and The Roots of Heaven even got a Blu-Ray release. It's also available from Amazon's streamin service. I don't think the DVDs are still in print, however.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


This morning I watched The Confession on my DVR, having noticed that it's available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. You can get it at Amazon and the TCM Shop, although being the Criterion Collection, it is a bit pricey. If it shows up again as a TCM Import, watch it.

The movie starts off in Prague in early 1951. Gérard (Yves Montand), nom de guerre of Artur London, is an undersecretary at one of the Communist government ministries, and a dedicated Communist. The movie is based on the real-life story of Artur London, and in one scene in the movie the character of his wife Lise (played by Simone Signoret) is referred to as Londonová which would be the proper Czech surname for her, but IMDb and my box guide refer to Gérard's actual name as Anton Ludvik. For what it's worth, the character is almost exclusively referred to as Gérard. Anyhow, when Gérard leaves the office for home, he notices he's being followed by another car. And it's been going on for a couple of days.

So that night at his house he meets several other Communists with whom he shares something in common: they all fought in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War against the Falangists/Fascists. Although they fought against Fascism, and some of them including Gérard wound up spending time in Nazi concentration camps as a result, they're all in danger. As we learned from the movie Dark Blue World, those who fought Fascism on the western front came back to Czechoslovakia not to be hailed heroes, but considered enemies of the state by the Stalinist Communists. Such was eventually to be the case for the International Brigade members, too.

Gérard finally gets picked up off the street one day and taken to a special prison, where he's subjected to torture in the hopes of extracting a confession from him. He's not the only one, of course, and any time one of them makes a confession, regardless of whether the confession is at all truthful, that material can be used against the others. Artur seems to hold out the longest, because the film implies he was arrested in January 1951, while the show trials were held in November 1952.

We know he survives, however, because halfway through the movie the action briefly switches to France in 1965 and Gérard is seen telling his story and being told he should write a book about it. That did eventually happen and the movie is the result of that book.

The Confession was directed by Costa-Gavras, and as I was watching it I couldn't help but think of the similarites to his previous movie Z. They both deal with political intrigue and totalitarianism, and both of them have a slightly non-linear storytelling process that at times makes you question reality. Having said that, I'd introduce people who aren't well-versed in foreign films to Z first. The reason is that The Confession is unrelentingly brutal, in a way that really made me uncomfortable at times. Oh, the movie is well made, and Montand and Signoret are both quite good; it's just that the totalitarianism is harsher and more disturbing here than in Z, making it a bit harder to watch. At least for me. As I said at the beginning, however, definitely make it a point to watch it if it ever shows up on TCM again or if you can do the streaming thing; Amazon seem to imply it's available from them courtesy of streaming as well as DVD and Blu-Ray. It's too bad that Criterion price their DVD's so expensive.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison

So I watched Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison off my DVR this morning since I saw it's available from the Warner Archive. It's worth a watch, but I don't know that it's worth buy at Warner Archive prices.

The movie starts off with an overview of California's Folsom State Prison, and a narration from the point of view of the prison itself of how conditions were much more inhumane in the past. Cut to the 1920s, and a prison riot in which they take one of the guards and Warden Rickey (Ted de Corsia) hostage. The riot, of course fails, and the warden concludes that the way to get people to stop rioting is to be more brutal, which gets a reporter to show up for one throwaway scene.

That reporter is apparently what leads to the state authorities taking notice of the prison conditions, because they decide to send a new man Benson (David Brian) to head up the prison guards. Benson is a college man, and has "modern" ideas on how to treat prisoners, ideas that mean not being so brutal. Needless to say, this ticks Rickey off to no end, and he tries to undermine Benson at every turn.

Meanwhile, among the prisoners, we get several tropes of the genre, with about the only one I didn't see being the new guy who just doesn't know how to handle prison life. There's Daniels (Steve Cochran), the guy who's planning a breakout, and Red (Philip Carey), who is marking time until he can get out and go back to his wife and kids. They're actually friends, even if they have different ideas on how to get out of the place. As for Red, he's trusted enough to drive with a guard out of the prison to pick up dynamite for the prison's quarry operation. Unfortunately, hiding in the truck is another prisoner (William Campbell), and Red decides to alert the other guards in order to prevent his parole from getting hung up. Of course, he's considered a stool pigeon for this....

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a movie I found to be standard-issue prison fare. There's nothing new here, and it's all done with a B-list cast. Most if not all the tropes are here; including the ones I've already mentioned there's the brutality of solitary. Indeed, when I was watching one scene of the warden roughing up a prisoner for information, I couldn't help but think of Hume Cronyn and his truncheon in Brute Force. Looking at the IMDb reviews, I'm not the only person to have that thought.

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a perfectly competent movie, and another of those that would probably be best served by being on one of those four-movie TCM box sets -- say, with a prison theme. Unfortunately, it only seems available as a standalone from the Warner Archive collection, with the commensurately higher price that I'm not certain I'd want to pay for what is essentially a B movie.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Briefs for April 21, 2018

I see TCM is airing an RKO Screenliner I don't think I've seen before: The Beach of Nazaré, at about 7:50 PM, following Dear Heart (5:45 PM, 114 min). This one is about a Portuguese coastal village.

For anybody who wasted their money on TCM's Now Playing magazine, don't do it any longer. TCM has announced that they're discontinuing it and doing an email version. Now that there are no longer any Robert Osborn articles and with schedules available online so much easier, what's the point? Heck, what was the point ten years ago already? Unsurprisingly ome of the TCM Message Board commenters are in a tizzy.

TCM is bringing back The Essentials starting in May, hosted by Alec Baldwin and a changing lineup of guests accompanying him. As I understand it, the first three guest hosts will be, in order, David Letterman, Tina Fey, and director William Friedkin. The less said about the Essentials mini site, the better.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #145: Disappearances

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is disappearances, and once again I've picked three older movies. Well, technically four, since one of them was remade.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). An early British example of Alfred Hitchcock's mastery of suspense, this tells the story of a family (father Leslie Banks, mother Edna Best, and daughter Nova Pilbeam) on vacation in Switzerland. Somebody gets killed, and with his dying breath tells Dad an important international secret. There are nefarious people who don't want that secret falling into the "wrong" people's hands, so they kidnap the daughter and take her to England. Mom and Dad go around London separately trying to find her. This was of course remade by Hitchcock in Hollywood with James Stewart and Doris Day as the parents, but the original is a fun little 75-minute affair. Actually, I could have done an entire entry using only Alfred Hitchcock's movies, as others that fit include The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur and, I suppose, The Trouble With Harry.

Les diaboliques (1955). Michel (Paul Meurisse) is a martinet of a school master at a French boarding school, with both a wife (Vera Clouzot) and mistress (Simone Signoret) who are unhappy with him. The two women decide to gang up and murder him, drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping the body in the school's swimming pool. When it comes time for the police to search for the body, they drain the swimming pool... only for there to be no body! Needless to say, this is quite a shock to the women, one of whom handles it less well than the other. For those who are frightened by the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, this one is a perfect antidote. This one was remade in Hollywood in the 90s with Sharon Stone, but the less said about the remake, the better.

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). Carol Lynley plays Ann Lake, a young American single mother with a daughter who decides to go to visit London to visit her brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Ann puts her child in a preschool, but when the time comes to pick the daughter up, the daughter isn't there... and there's no record that the daughter was ever at the school. Steven takes the case to the police, led by detective Laurence Olivier, but nobody is ever able to find any evidence that the kid existed. Is Ann going insane, and never even had a child? Or is something more nefarious happening? Noël Coward plays an upstairs neighbor.

Emperor of the North (Pole)

Coming up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and available on DVD, is Emperor of the North.

The movie starts of with a scrolling intertitle telling us that the time is 1933, which means the Great Depression, and a lot of hobos riding the rails. We then see one particular hobo trying to hop a train, except that this time there's a bit of a difference. The conductor, named "Shack" (Ernest Borgnine) is more vicious in getting people off his train, and responds by hitting the guy in the head with a hammer, killing the guy as he falls off the train.

After the credits roll, accompanied to some horrible music by Marty Robbins, we met another hobo, A Number 1 (Lee Marvin). He's one of the more experienced hobos, and knows how to evade detection. He hops on an empty car in Shack's train. And he'd be able to get where he's going too, except that not long afterward, another idiot, young Cigaret (Keith Carradine), insists on getting on the train in the same car as A Number 1. Cigaret is an obnoxious jerk, and thinks he can be just as "good", or renowned, a hobo as A Number 1.

The two hobos eventually have to burn their way out of the boxcar they were riding in after Shack locked them in, but Cigaret decides he's going to tell anybody who will listen that he rode Shack's train. And dammit, he's going to do it again, just to show proof of concept of something, not that they used that phrase back in the 1930s. A Number 1 is none too happy about this, and decides he's going to be the one to show everybody how it's done, although he's going to have to take Cigaret under his wing since Cigaret isn't going to stop following him.

Shack, of course, is brutal, as we already saw from the way he hammered a guy to death. And when Shack finds he's got a pair of hobos riding his train, he's going to try any means he can to get the bastards off. And they're going to try anything they can to stop the train and get on it, leading to the climactic fight scene....

Emperor of the North is entertaining enough, although not without its problems. It runs a shade under two hours, but is the sort of story that could probably have been told in only a 90-100 minute running time. Parts of the story really drag. The bigger problem, however, is the Cigaret character. He's one of those obnoxious jerks constantly screwing things up for A Number 1. Sure, there are characters you want to see get their comeuppance, but good writing can make such characters fun: think the way southern sheriffs are often portrayed as buffoons. Cigaret isn't so well written, and the result is the sort of character I wanted to see A Number 1 smack.

Overall, however, if you haven't seen Emperor of the North, it's a movie well worth a watch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Claude Rains double feature: They Won't Forget/They Made Me a Criminal

Back in January when I was doing a Thursday Movie picks post on legal thrillers, one of my choices was Claude Rains as a prosecutor in They Won't Forget. I mentioned in that post that you might think Rains is miscast as a southern prosecutor, but then he was just about as good playing a police detective from Queens in They Made Me a Criminal.

I didn't know it at the time -- and I'm not certain if the April TCM schedule had been released at the time I wrote that post -- that the two movies were going to be on back to back. Tonight, TC is looking at a bunch of movies Rains made in the 1930s, not even including The Adventures of Robin Hood. Among those movies are They Won't Forget overnight at 1:30 AM. That wil be followed at 3:30 AM by They Made Me a Criminal, which has Rains investigating boxer John Garfield who is on the run for a murder he didn't commit.

Both movies are well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hollywood Handicap

Another new to me short is Hollywood Handicap, which will be on TCM today at about 5:45 PM, or following What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? a(3:30 PM, 134 min).

The plot involves a group of black stable hands who form a singing group and pool their money to put a horse into the Hollywood Handicap horse race at Santa Anita. But it really seems to be an opportunity to show a bunch of stars enjoying a day out at the track. The cast list includes a whole bunch of stars, from multiple studios. The short was distributed by MGM and so has Mickey Rooney and Robert Montgomery. But there's also Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour who I think were both at Paramount at the time; I think Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson were with Warner Bros. Or, at least, they had been. Oliver Hardy appears; Stan Laurel doesn't. The short was also directed by Buster Keaton in that sad period of his life when he was no longer starring in movies and reduced to stuff like this.

The short has been released on DVD as an extra. IMDb says it's the 2007 release of The Jazz Singer, which I think would mean this set from the TCM Shop. It's also currently on Youtube here, although it's not in the public domain and the screenshot that accompanies the short (the one you'd see over in the sidebar) looks to be in rather poor quality.

Monday, April 17, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer April 2017: William Daniels

Tonight sees the monthly Guest Programmer segment on TCM. That programmer is William Daniels, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Daniels is probably best known for his roles on the TV series St. Elsewhere as well as Knight Rider, where he provided the voice of the car KITT. TCM's site is listing Daniels as having selected only three movies, which makes me wonder if he had selected a fourth but for some reason TCM wound up hitting a snag in getting the rights to it.

Anyhow, Daniels has actually selected two of his own movies, both of which are roles he had done earlier on the stage. First, at 8:00 PM, there will be the musical 1776, about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence; Daniels plays John Adams.

That will be followed at 11:00 PM by A Thousand Clowns; Daniels plays one of the social workers. But I have to admit I haven't seen the movie in ages. The kid was so obnoxious that one viewing was more than enough for me.

The third film is Dodsworth, at 1:15 AM. Walter Huston plays a retired businessman who finds that spending retirement with his wife isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Presumably, the last movie of the night, Cass Timberlane at 3:15 AM, is not being presented by anybody.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Another movie I didn't realize is available on DVD is Tish, which you can find at the TCM Shop courtesy of the Warner Archive. To be honest, however, Tish is really a movie that's only worth buying if it were part of one of those four-film sets TCM/Warner Home Video put out, likely focusing on one of the character actors who populate this film.

The star is Marjorie Main, playing Letitia "Tish" Carberry, a spinster aunt in one of those New England towns who's raised her nephew Charlie (Lee Bowman) from a young age. He's gone on to become the editor at the town newspaper, and if he could work up the courage, would finally propose to Kit (Virginia Grey), who is the daughter of the town's Judge Bowser (Guy Kibbee).

The judge, for his part, doesn't really like Tish, mostly because Tish insists on trying to run everybody's life in that small town. Tish, for her part, is slightly helped by her two widow friends, Aggie (ZaSu Pitts) and Lizzie (Aline MacMahon), who live at the local boarding house now that they're on limited incomes. Also living there is young orphan Cora (Susan Peters), who thinks she's in love with Charlie and who Tish thinks would be much better for Charlie than Kit would. However, the one who really loves Cora is the judge's son Ted (Richard Quine, who would later quit acting and become a director).

Tish tries to set up Charlie and Cora, but it turns out all she's really able to do is make life difficult for everybody. And it's at this point that the movie takes a surprisingly dark turn. Ted wants to make a man of himself, and since the opening part of the movie is presumably set before Pearl Harbor (the movie was released in September 1942 and the action covers well over a year), Ted signs up to train to be a pilot and fly Lend-Lease planes from Canada to the UK. And once he gets that job, Cora realizes she loves Ted, so elopes with him, to follow Ted to Toronto once he gets settled and the good salary starts rolling in. Cora runs off to Canada stealing some money Tish had in her purse that actually belonged to the church's organ fund, and Ted's boat gets torpedoed on the way back across the Atlantic. And Tish winds up with temporary custody of Cora's baby....

Tish really isn't a bad movie, a good example of the sort of B movies that MGM was producing back in the day. I generally prefer Warner Bros. B movies, but this one is one of the better-made and more interesting ones to come from MGM, with a bit less of the treacly moralizing that I often find in MGM's B movies. Marjorie Main dominates, of course, and not just because she's the leading character. Aline MacMahon and ZaSu Pitts are both quite good in support as Tish's two best friends. Lee Bowman is OK but his character is supposed to be a bit mousy so he comes across as bland. Not Bowman's fault, but more the way the character is written. Poor Susan Peters wound up with a tragic life; she sparkles. Guy Kibbee doesn't have all that much to do.

Tish, as I said, is pretty good, so it's a bit of a shame that it's only available in a standalone format from the Warner Archive. Those discs can be pretty pricey, and for a B movie, there should probably be something in a budget option available.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I looked through my DVR and saw that Tension is available on DVD from the TCM Shop (the same DVD can be had at Amazon), so I figured I'd watch that one in order to have something to blog about today.

Los Angeles police lieutenant Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan) tells us a good portion of the story in narration. He's a homicide detective who likes to up the tension on the people in a case until the key people snap and the details are revealed, enabling him to find the killer. And boy has Bonnabel got a doozy of a story this time....

Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) is a pharmacist at one of those all-night drug stores, working the night shift because somebody's got to be open to handle any emergency prescriptions that have to be filled. He's also doing it because the money's good and he wants to buy a house to satisfy his wife Claire (Audrey Totter). They're living in an apartment above the pharmacy, and she doesn't like it. Then again, she doesn't like much of anything, since she's perfectly willing to leave her husband behind to spend evenings with people like Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough) and his beach house.

Eventually, Claire leaves Warren for good to live with Barney, and Warren's none too happy about it. But he's the stereotypical 98-pound weakling, complete with glasses, while Barney is a much biger and more virile man. One day, however, Warren gets an idea while at the eye doctor. Soft contact lenses are a new thing, and Warren figures if he gets himself a set, he can completely change his identity, and use the new identity to kill Barney and leave Warren in the clear!

To that end, Warren takes the name Paul Sothern, and takes an apartment in a complex along with shutterbug Mary (Cyd Charisse in a non-dancing role). She falls for him, and eventually the feeling is mutual. And then the day comes when Warren intends to carry out his plan to murder Barney. He goes to the house, only to find that Claire is out with yet another man, meaning that Claire is going to treat Barney the same way she treated Warren. That seems to Walter like punishment enough for Barney, so why compound it by murdering him. Just get a divorce from Claire and let other people suffer with her.

When Warren gets back to his apartment over the pharmacy, apparently planning to come clean to Mary or something because he can't go on as Paul, he's in for a surprise. Claire shows up, saying that Barney has been murdered! Now, we know that Warren didn't do it. But since everybody knew this Paul Sothern had threatened Barney, all the suspicion is going to fall on Paul, which ultimately means it's going to fall on Warren....

Tension is entertaining enough, despite the fact that it's wildly unrealistic. Richard Basehart is quite good as somebody much wimpier than he played in He Walked By Night, while Audrey Totter gets to be a fun over-the-top as the nasty, nasty wife. Surely Warren would have figured out long ago that she wasn't worth marrying, but noooooo.... Barry Sullivan as the head detective, and William Conrad as his partner, are both more than adequate in supporting roles. There's nothing special here that hasn't been done in other noirs, but it all does work, and is more than worth a watch.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Organ Grinder

So I watched another short off the DVDs in the Warner Bros. Gangsters collection Vol. 3. This time, I took out the DVD of The Mayor of Hell and watched the short The Organ Grinder. This is another of the Harman and Ising Merrie Melodies from before they left for MGM; I'd guess Warner Bros. didn't want to put more prominent cartoons on this inexpensive DVD box set.

As you can guess, the subject is an organ grinder (complete with creepy vaguely ethnic smile) and his monkey. The monkey performs, and this gives the opportunity for a bunch of sight gags. Several involve the monkey's prehensile tail, and when he steals a banana from one of those sidewalk fruit vendors, the banana has zippers to open it.

Later in the short, the monkey does a Harpo Marx impersonation, followed by his impressions of Laurel and Hardy. There's even a playing of the music from 42nd Street. But one scene shocked me. The organ grinder wants the monkey to take the can of coins and shake it to get more people to donate. Oh, the monkey shakes the can, all right:

And then there's the scenes of the monkey using a cat's tail as a crank. Boy are these old cartoons interesting.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #144: Rivals

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is rivals, and as a fan of and blogger about older movies, it's no surprise that I've piced three older movies:

Front Page Woman (1935). Bette Davis plays a lady journalist who has a rival in George Brent in that each of them tries to scoop the other. Bette and George get involved in a fire that turns out to be a red herring for the murder of a gangster, and engage in all sorts of shenanigans to try to break the case, much of which would be illegal. It's a routine programmer, but with Bette Davis and George Brent involved, you get a lot of entertainment value.

School for Scoundrels (1960). Ian Carmichael plays a man who loses his girlfriend to Terry-Thomas, and decides he's going to take "lifemanship" courses from Alastair Sim to gain confidence and get the girl back. These courses really just teach people to be even more smarmy and scheming than the characters Jack Carson played (watch Mildred Pierce for an excellent example). Complications ensue. If you enjoy watching the sort of characters portrayed, you'll love the movie; I find them a bit more grating.

The Wrong Box (1966). Two elderly brothers (Ralph Richardson and John Mills) are the last surviving members of a tontine, a sort of insurance scheme/lottery in which the money put in is paid out to the last survivor. Mills wants to kill off his brother so his grandson (Michael Caine) can get the money. Richardson doesn't seem to care about the money, but his nephews presumably on his wife's side (Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) do care about the money. Caine falls in love with Richardson's niece (Nanette Newman). Again, all sorts of complications ensue. Another movie where there were parts that irritated me, but that a lot of people will really, really love.

Obituaries for April 13, 2017

German-born cinematographer Michael Ballhaus died on Tuesday aged 81. He started his career in Germany with Rainer Fassbinder in the 1970s, and in the 1980s started working in Hollywood, with such famous directors as Martin Scorsese. Ballhaus was nominated for an Oscar on three occasions, but never won the big prize.

Charlie Murphy died yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was only 57. He was an actor in a whole bunch of smaller roles, as well writing a screenplay; he was also the elder brother of the much more famous Eddie Murphy. I didn't realize Eddie Murphy was that young; it means Eddie wasn't even 20 when he started on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not just a beach bum

It's probably natural when one thinks of Frankie Avalon to think of of two things: his singing, and the movies he made with Annette Funnicello. TCM is running a night of Avalon's movies tonight, and there is one of those on tonight's lineup, Beach Party at 10:00 PM. Also appearing in that movie is Joel McCrea's son Jody.

I mention him because it's not the only movie in the lineup with Frankie and the child of a famous Hollywood star. Beach Party will be followed at midnight by Guns of the Timberland, in which lumberjack Alan Ladd gets in a range war with a bunch of ranchers, led by Jeanne Crain. Avalon shows up, and as a love interest, he gets Alan's real-life daughter Alana.

Jody and Alana had appeared with Robert Mitchum's son James in a movie, Young Guns of Texas which at one point was in the FXM rotation, I think back when they were still the Fox Movie Channel. But it hasn't been on in a while.

And as for Avalon, don't forget Panic in Year Zero! kicking off the night at 8:00 PM. Poor Ray Milland.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Out of Darkness

Looking through the shorts that are coming up on TCM in the next day, one that's new to me but looks interesting is Out of Darkness, which will be on at about 11:45 PM tonight, after The Bride Came C.O.D.. (The feature is well worth watching, as Bette Davis and James Cagney do comedy together.) This one is part of the Passing Parade series, and from the IMDb synopsis, looks at the Germans trying to shut down the Belgian press that isn't toeing the line after the Germans occupied Belgium in both World Wars.

The short was released in March of 1941, so it was several months before the US joined the war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I've mentioned a few times in the past how Hollywood had begun to make a few movies very critical of the Nazis, and how this nearly got them into trouble with the Senate. (I linked to an academic paper some years back, but the academic died and the link to that paper changed.) I'd think it would have been obvious to audiences back in 1941 how a short about the Kaiser's government going after Belgian papers in the first World War was really just a veiled attack on what the Nazis would have been doing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

That Midnight Lace box set is out of print!

So I was thinking of what to watch off of my DVR yesterday to make way for new stuff, and I decided on Doris Day's Midnight Lace, because I remember the promo TCM was running for a box set of, if memory serves, Day's films at Universal. The one TCM ran so they could get the rights to some of the Paramounts that Universal has the rights to now, considering how few Universals show up on the TCM schedule.

Anyhow, I was looking on Amazon and the TCM Shop, and it turns out that the movie is available... but for preorder. Well, at Amazon you can get the old out of print copies for a ridiculous price, but that box set doesn't seem to be available.

The DVD on preorder is coming out in early June, so if you really want to see the movie, you won't have to wait too long. But I was hoping to do my post today on the movie. I guess I'll have to write up that post and stick it in the draft queue to show up when the new DVD comes out.

It also turns out that this past weekend was John Gavin's birthday, and he's in the cast of Midnight Lace. Still alive too, having just turned 86. And married for over 40 years to Constance Towers.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Rare" animation shorts

TCM's prime time lineup for tonight is listed on the online schedule page as Rare Animation. It's a whole bunch of shorts, running from 8:00 PM until Silent Sunday Nights at 12:30 AM. Now, I've mentioned before that when TCM runs blocks of shorts, there's always a problem. The box guide has the shorts separately, and in a different order from the TCM schedule pages. As for the TCM schedules, they list a bunch of shorts all beginning at 8:00 PM, followed by further bunches at 9:00 PM, 10:15 PM, and 11:30 PM. So if you want to record one individual short, you're out of luck.

I also couldn't find anything on TCM's main site about whether this is hosted by Ben Mankiewicz alone, or whether he's interviewing somebody who's an expert in animation history and why these shorts are being singled out. So I had to go to the message boards, to see if somebody else was able to find it. It turns out that yes, they were. This is the page, which is apparently a night of animated shorts from the National Film Board of Canada.

Silent Sunday Nights comes on at 12:30 AM with Fatty Arbuckle's 1921 feature Leap Year. Since it's in the public domain, you can find it on Youtube:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Briefs for April 8, 2017

I forgot that this weekend sees this year's TCM Film Festival. I didn't notice until after The Bad and The Beautiful (or maybe it was just before the Friday Night Spotlight), and noticed today's "update" from the Festival, which is being held in memory of the late Robert Osborne. The brief shot of Sidney Poitier they showed from the 50th anniversary screening of In the Heat of the Night showed he looked good for a man of 90. Norman Jewison was there, too, I believe, and he's even older.

As for the Friday Night Spotlight, it was hosted by Michael Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Why the TCM site didn't seem to mention this is beyond me. He did a good enough job introducing Love Letters at 8:00 PM, and I didn't watch any later movies or record them. I'm out of room on my DVR right now.

I probably should have mentioned Don Rickles, who died earlier in the week aged 90. Here's a clip of him from Kelly's Heroes:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Post-war melodrama

Since we're in the first full week of a new month, it's time for a new TCM Spotlight, which this month sees a bunch of post-war melodramas. When I think of the genre, I tend to think of either Douglas Sirk (who gets a night next Friday) or a lot of the over-the-top stuff Joan Crawford did. Harriet Craig and Mildred Pierce are paired together, although I don't quite think of the latter as post-war since as far as I know a lot of the work on it was still going on while the war was stil on. After all, it premiered only a couple of weeks after the war ended. But there are also a couple of other Crawford movies in the spotlight, such as Autumn Leaves and Queen Bee, both of which definitely fit.

Tonight's theme is melodramas set in World War II, although it includes The Best Years of Our Lives (10:15 PM) which I wouldn't really consider a melodrama. Neither is From Here to Eternity (1:30 AM). And I don't think I've ever seen The End of the Afair (1:30 AM).

The TCM page doesn't mention if there's going to be a guest host and, if so, who it is. Or whether it's going to be Ben Mankiewicz interviewing somebody.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #143: Cars/Car racing

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is cars and car racing. I being a fan of older movies, am selecting three older movies:

Angel Face (1953). Robert Mitchum plays a paramedic and would be mechanic who meets Jean Simmons when her stepmother tries to commit suicide. Mitchum falls for her, and she starts asking him "innocent" questions about the workings of cars. It seems those questions might not be so innocent, however, and that perhaps Jean is trying to engineer a car accident that would kill Jean's father and stepmother. Nice daughter there. Mitchum is his usual self here, and the movie is entertaining if not without its problems.

If I Had a Million (1932). Anthology movie about an extremely wealthy man who, told he's going to die, starts picking names at random from the phone book and giving $1 million to each of the people he picks. One of the recipients is a couple played by W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth. She doesn't like the way other people drive, so he buys a whole bunch of automobiles and engineers car crashes, just to tick the other people off. Even though a million went a lot farther back in 1932, you'd think they'd burn through that money pretty quickly.

The Hitchhiker (1953). Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy play a pair of friends who are driving down to Baja California for a fishing trip, in the days when driving through Mexico was still safe. Except of course in this movie it isn't safe. The two men pick up an American hitch-hiker (William Talman), who turns out to be an escaped convict, and a psychopath to boot. If the two men try not to drive him where he wants to go, he'll kill them and take the car; if they do driv him, he'll kill them at the end of the ride! Directed by Ida Lupino.

Report from the Aleutians

TCM is honoring Walter Huston today, even though I think it was yesterday that was his birth anniversary. I probably should have mentioned Report from the Aleutians a bit earlier, but it's on at 3:00 PM today as part of the salute.

This is another of those movies that was made during World War II by the filmmakers who were enlisted into service; in this case it's John Huston who directed. Japan actually captured two of the Aleutian islands off the coast of Alaska at the start of the US involvement in World War II, and so the US stationed a whole bunch of men on the other Aleutians to stem Japan's advance, and possibly as a precursor to the eventual invasion of Japan's Home Islands that never occurred. Charlton Heston was stationed on the Aleutians, and he mentioned in the Private Screenings interview he did with Robert Osborne that he thinks the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved his life: being stationed on the Aleutians, he knew that he'd be in the early waves of forces invading the Home Islands and that meant a likely death.

As for Walter Huston, he's here in voiceover. The movie is worth a watch for its historical value, and for its Technicolor photography. If you've got Amazon Prime and do the streaming thing you can stream it for no additional cost, but there are also DVDs available.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I watched Lawman over the weekend since I saw that it was coming up on StarzEncore Westerns for those of you who have the Encore package (or however your cable provider packages the premium channels). It'll be on tonight at 8:10 and overnight at 2:45 AM. The movie has been released to DVD, but as far as I can tell the DVD is out of print: it's available in limited quantities on Amazon and not available at the TCM Shop.

The movie starts off before the opening credits with a bunch of guy shooting up a town somewhere in the west. Then come the opening credits, with a man riding horseback with a dead man on the horse behind him, coming into another town, which is how we learn about both towns. The first own was Bannock, with Marshal Jared Maddox (Burt Lancaster). He's bringing the dead body back to Sabbath, as well as to see Sabbath's marshal, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan). Maddox informs Ryan that there are a bunch of people that Maddox wants to bring to trial in Bannock since the guys who shot up the town killed a man. Oh, and you can strike one of the men off the list, since that was the dead guy Maddox brought into Sabbath during the opening credits.

Ryan kindly informs Maddox that it's going to be kind of difficult to bring in those men, since they all work for Bronson (Lee J. Cobb). Bronson effectively owns Sabbath, having built it out of nothing with his cattle ranching. The townsfolk all feel they owe their livelihoods to Bronson, so there's no way any of them are going to turn his men in. Oh, and Ryan happens to consider himself bought by Bronson too. He's OK with it, since he's at the age where he just wants to lead a quiet life, and Sabbath is quiet as long as nobody crosses Bronson.

Of course, Maddox's arrival is going to cross Bronson, but not for a while yet. Bronson, despite having built up Sabbath, also sacrificed a lot in doing so, and given a choice would prefer not to have to resort to violence. He'd rather deal with his legal problems by buying Bannock, too, if that were possible. But the men who rode through Bannock are convinced that they're going to be made to hang for it, and naturally they have no desire to be stretched at the end of a rope. So Bronson's right-hand man Harvey (Albert Salmi) comes into town to try to deal with Maddox, and gets himself killed for it.

At this point, everybody starts gunning for Maddox in ones and twos. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, some of whom have a past with Maddox, also decide to form a citizens' committee to ride Maddox out of town. Most interesting among these are two people who weren't in Bannock at all. First is Laura (Sheree North). She's the common-law wife of one of the men who was in Bannock, and she was in love with Maddox way back when. But Maddox didn't want to settle down. The other is one of Bronson's younger workers, Crowe (Richard Jordan), a hothead who is confronting Maddox when somebody else tries to ambush Maddox.

The movie has an intersting plot, although it ultimately winds up in a less than satisfying place. The ending feels rushed and illogical. But what I found more jarring was the cinematography. Lawman dates from 1971, a time not long after more zoom lenses came into use. Directors starting using zooms incessantly, something that can really be noticed in many 60s and 70s films once you learn to watch for it. In Lawman, it's particularly noticeable, and used to ill effect a lot of the time. The cutting doesn't work as well as the director would hope for. I think it's notable that I recognized these things, as this is normally the sort of stuff I'm not paying such close attention too (especially the cutting), so if I see it, it's pretty blatant.

Overall, western fans and fans of Burt Lancaster or Robert Ryan will like this one. If I were going to introduce people to later westerns, I wouldn't start with this one, however.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What a character!

Back in the day, TCM used to run pieces to fill the time between movies called "What a Character!" These were five- or six-minute pieces, each on a different character actor. I haven't seen any of them in quite some time, but then, I haven't been watching TCM as religiously as I used to. At any rate, I bring them up because this month, instead of having a traditional Star of the Month, TCM is having a month of character actors.

Every Tuesday and Thursday this month, TCM is going to bring up a bunch of character actors, with each one getting one movie. So, there are going to be 32 of them in all, starting at 8:00 PM tonight with Guy Kibbee who gets a mention in Gold Diggers of 1933. Character actors are going to be spotlighted on each of the four Tuesdays this month, and actresses on Thursdays; four a night.

In addition to Kibbee tonight, there's Edward Everett Horton in Holiday at 10:00 PM; Walter Connolly in Fifth Avenue Girl at midnight; and Franklin Pangborn in Turnabout at 1:45 AM.

As far as I know there aren't any special pieces being made like the old "What a Character!" bits, or even what were done for traditional Stars of the Month back in the day.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Doris knew

So today is the birth anniversary of both Doris Day and Marlon Brando, and TCM spent part of the day with each. But Doris Day's age is apparently not what we thought it all was. Newspapers are claiming Birthday surprise for Doris Day as she discovers she is 95 - two years older than she thought.

Somehow I doubt Doris was surprised by this. It was common for actresses to use different ages; I remember reading when Jane Wyman died that her driver's license confirmed her year of birth as 1917 and not 1914. Some actresses who started off young wanted to pass themselves off as adults; others want to seem younger than they really are.

But certainly Doris would have remembered when she started school, and remembered certain historic events from early in her life. I can't believe she didn't know -- certainly not when she was starting out in Hollywood -- how old she really was.

At any rate, a happy 95th birthday to Doris Day.

Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival: Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway was back in the news recently for screwing up the Best Picture Oscar award. A year ago, however, she was at the TCM Clasic Film Festival, where she did an interview with Ben Mankiewicz. That interview is running tonight at 8:00 PM as part of a night of Dunaway's movies.

Actually, the interview is airing twice, as is common practice for premiere documentaries/interviews when TCM has them any more. There's the 8:00 airing for the folks on the east coast, on feature movie, and then a second airing of the interview for the folks on the west coast. The feature film in between is Bonnie and Clyde at 9:15 PM, co-starring Warren Beatty, who helped screw up the Oscar award alongside Dunaway, with the interview being repeated at 11:15 PM.

Dunaway's Oscar-winning role in Network comes on at 12:30 AM.

I, for one, am always pleased to see these interviews showing up on TCM.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Raising Arizona is 30 years old

I was looking for a movie on my DVR that I hadn't blogged about before, and which is in print on DVD, to do a full-length post on. (And, I didn't feel like sitting down with any of the well over two-hour movies on the DVR.) I wound up picking Raising Arizona, and it just happens that the 30th anniversary of the release is coming up in a few weeks.

Nicolas Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, a career criminal, if you can call it a career since he's still so young. But he's been in and out and in and out of prison a bunch of times. Every time, he's booked into prison by booking officer Edwina, nicknamed "Ed" (Holly Hunter). Eventually, H.I. gets so enamored of Ed that he proposes marriage to her while being booked, pointing out that he actually paid for the ring. In prison, H.I. meets fellow repeat offenders, brothers Gale and Evelle Snopes (John Goodman and William Forsythe respectively).

After proposing marriage to Ed, H.I. decides that he's going to try to go straight, living in a starter house with Ed and getting a legitimate, if boring, job in a machine shop. Ed, for her part, wants to have a child, and the two go about tring to get Ed pregnant. But it turns out that she's barren, which causes all sorts of problems. Adoption isn't an option what with H.I.'s criminal past. Contrast them with Nathan Arizona and his wife. Nathan, a magnate in unfinished furniture, had been trying to start a family with a similar lack of success, but was able to get his wife on fertility drugs. This resulted in Mrs. Arizona giving birth... to quintuplets!

Ed reasons that, if there are people who have "too many" children like the Arizonas and others with "not enough" children, there's an obvious solution, which is to take one of the children from the family with too many and give it to the other family. Of course, what this means in practice is kidnapping, and Ed gets H.I. to kidnap one of the Arizona quints.

It sets off a whole chain of problems. H.I. loses his job, meaning that he's forced to start robbing convenience stores again to get the things the baby needs. Another couple, who have been able to adopt chilren, want an infant and wouldn't mind taking the Arizona kid that H.I. and Ed kidnapped. Gale and Evelle break out of prison and show up at the McDunnoughs' front door unannounced one night. And then there's bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb), who knows how to find people and wants that $25,000 reward that Nathan put up for the safe return of his child.

This is all a premise for a wild farce. To be honest, however, I found large parts of the movie to be zany in an over-the-top way that personally didn't suit me. Everybody seems to do a pretty good job with their roles; I think it's more that the script requires them to be zany. Leonard, the bounty hunter, is also written as a really irritating character. So is the father in the family with the adoptive children, who takes to telling Polish jokes that just make you want to smack the guy. He's not funny at all.

This is one of the earliest movies from Joel and Ethan Coen, and I wonder if they were still learning their style while they were making this movie. Overall, it's a pretty good movie, but that are parts that will probably irritate some people. The Coens certainly seemed more polished by the time they made Fargo a decade later.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I've never been a big fan of Sleeper

I see that Woody Allen's Sleeper is on tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM. I saw it once, well over a dozen years ago, and to be honest I've never had a desire to see it a second time.

Sleeper is well enough known that you probably all know the basic story already. Woody Allen plays Miles, a man who dies in the early 1970s and gets cryogenically frozen, in the hopes that scientists in the future will be able to solve his medical problems and bring him back to life. Two hundred years later, medicine has advanced to the point that this is possible, so Miles is brought back to life.

Of course, there's all sorts of culture shock, and that provides much of the humor for the first half to two-thirds of the movie. The historians get a warped view of 1970s America from Miles, while he's shocked to find that things like nutritional science have changed in the intervening 200 years. And then there are future things like the "Orgasmatron".

But the other half of the plot is where I found problems with the movie. The future world is a dictatorship, and Miles has to flee because the future would people want him for nefarious purposes of their own. Those fighting the dictatorship want him, as well, as he's the one person who really can take down the dictator, something having to do with the dictator's nose. When the plot moves to getting the dictator's nose, I found that th emovie really lost whatever steam it had built up. It's not as irritating as Annie Hall and the rest of the nebbish Woody Allen stereotype, but you can see the seeds of it.

But, of course, there are a lot of people who like Woody Allen movies and who will like Sleeper.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Back on FXM Retro, April 1, 2017

I'm looking at the upcoming schedule of FXM Retro, and see a couple of movids that came up in the past few weeks at least, although I don't think I mentioned any of them on the blog the most recent time they showed up.

First up, at 9:45 AM tomorrow, you can catch Man on a Tightrope. Actually, you can catch it today at 1:10 PM as well. It showed up in 2010 and 2013, and I think is available on the Elia Kazan box set.

Man on a Tightrope will be followed at 11:35 AM by Caprice. Doris Day does her 1960s spy spoof, and does a capable job of it, in a movie that's entertaining enough without being great. Caprice will also be on on Sunday.

FXM's Saturday lineup concludes at 1:15 PM with a movie I'm not certain I've gotten around to seeing before, Bedazzled. Dudley Moore sells his soul to Satan, played by Moore's comedic partner Peter Cook. These two weren't quite as good in The Wrong Box as Michael Caine and Nanette Newman, or especially the two old guys, Ralph Richardson and John Mills, but certainly not as irritating as Peter Sellers was. So I can see the Moore/Cook team being an acquired taste.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #142: TV Period Dramas

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is one of the monthly TV-themed editions, looking at TV shows set in a period past. Now, period drama usually has a specific meaning, but I decided to stretch it by picking a western as well since I don't watch too much episodic TV.

The Rifleman (1958-1963). Chuck Connors plays Lucas McCain, who has a way with his rifle, while teaching his son a moral lesson in under a half hour. This one is currently on MeTV during the Saturday dinner hour, at least if you eat early like old people. I helped Dad take care of Mom for quite a few years before Mom died, so I live with him and we eat an early dinner every night, so this one is always on during Saturday dinner. (Well, I also work the 6:00 AM - 2:30 PM shift, so I have other good reasons for eating an earlier dinner.)

The Waltons (1972-1981). Family drama about a family living in West Virginia during the Depression era. Former movie star Ellen Corby played Grandma Walton, with Will Geer playing Grandpa. The movie was based on the works of Earl Hamner; the material had already been turned into the movie Spencer's Mountain starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. If you've seen the TV show The Waltons, you'll recognize some of the scenes in the movie, especially the one when everybody goes to bed for the night. Except that the eldest son in the movie is named "Clay-boy", not "John-boy".

All Creatures Great and Small (1980s, BBC). Based on the books by James Herriot (real name James Whyte), a veterinarian in northern England in the 1930s, the end of the era when veterinarians were more involved with agriculture and less with people's pets. Herriot wrote several books, which did have plots although they're generally thought of as being collections of short stories. Mom had the books (formatted differently in the States from the UK) when I was a kid in the 1970s, and the TV show showed up on PBS. I think there are some PBS stations that still run it.

Post race-films

I'm looking at tonight's lineup on TCM, and the prime time theme is "African-American Independents". However, most of the lineup is from after what would be considered the "race film" era. Of the first four movies, the only one I've tried to sit down to watch is The Learning Tree at 10:00 PM, which aired on TCM one Martin Luther King Day. Well, probably more than one MLK day, since TCM seem to wind up with the rights to the same limited selection of films seen as fitting the day. I'm sorry to say that I found the first half-hour or so of The Learning Tree slow and meandering, and I found myself unable to sit through the rest of it.

At the end of the evening, there are two films from the race film era. First at 3:00 AM is The Symbol of the Unconquered, an Oscar Micheaux movie about a light-skinned black woman inheriting her grandfather's farm, only to have to face prejudice when she actually tries to run the place. Unfortunately, not all the reels survive, or at least didn't when I watched this one on TCM. There was an intertitle at the opening about how some of the deleted scenes have been replaced by other intertitle descriptions, but what should probably be the best parts, the climactic fight with the Klan, are on the missing reels.

That will be followed at 4:15 AM by Go Down, Death!, from director Spencer Williams. Williams also directed Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA, a race film version of Somerset Maugham's "Rain"/"Miss Sadie Thompson", except that Williams had to change the ending of that one for the sensibilities of black audiences. Go Down, Death! sounds interesting, about a juke joint owner who tries to frame a preacher by having loose women cavort with him. It's not the one I wanted to see, however. The original selection for the night, or at least what was on the monthly schedule when I downloaded it at the end of February, was Blood of Jesus. I ran across the ending of that one in a previous TCM airing, and was pleased to see it on the schedule, but when I looked at the end of last week, it had been replaced by Go Down, Death!.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bicycle film festival?

So the following item appeared in my RSS feeds this morning, courtesy of Radio New Zealand:

Sound Archives: the Bicycle Film Festival

It's 200 years since the first bike was built, and in New Zealand, we've been using them for more than 140 years. Nga Taonga Sound and Vision is celebrating bikes with a film festival devoted to cycling, which opens tonight. Di Pivac from Nga Taonga talks us through the programme.

The website for the festival is here; the Nga Taonga archive has a page about last year's festival, not this year's. Radio New Zealand's page allows you to stream the audio (just under 10 minutes) or download it (just under 10MB).

As for the festival itself, there's an amazing amount of buzzword crap on it, which to my eye comes across as directed at a stereotype of a class of people who would attend film festivals. Those old saws about foreign films being pretentious and only liked by a certain class of English-speakers? Yeah, that class. Do you know anybody who "demands" to have their bicycle story told on film? Seriously? And they're making it difficult to find what movies are being shown?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

George Francis Barnes Jr.

I've been watching some of the extras on DVDs hoping to come up with ideas for blog posts. The Picture Snatcher DVD that I've mentioned a couple of times already has a newsreel on it in addition to the shorts I've blogged about and a couple of trailers. Well, actually it only has a piece of a newsreel, since the clip is just under a minute. It's about the arrest of George Francis Barnes Jr., better known as Machine Gun Kelly. That's him in the photo above, about to be put on a plane to Oklahoma City to stand trial. Note that it's an American Airways plane, and as you can guess from the clip, it's the sort of smallish plane that seems standard from movies of the 1930s; two wheels on the front and what looks like one under the tail, with the floor of the fuselage on an angle when people board and only needing a couple of steps up from the ground.

The other interesting thing to note from the newsreel clip is that it was made by "Hearst Metrotone News". William Randolph Hearst had also founded Cosmopolitan Productions, in part as a vehicle for his mistress Marion Davies, and Cosmopolitan Productions were distributed by MGM until 1934, when Cosmopolitan switched to distribution by Warner Bros. The newsreels, however, were actually distributed by Fox (not yet combined with Twentieth Century of course) until 1934, at which point distribution switched to MGM. Kelly was arrested in September 1933, so I'd assume that the newsreel clip on Picture Snatcher was released by Fox, with Hearst Metrotone retaining ownership. I don't know how Warner Home Video ended up with all of these. They could have been part of the MGM holdings Ted Turner acquired, or perhaps ended up with Warner Home Video some other way.

Bob's Picks

I was looking at tonight's TCM lineup, and the website lists the theme as "Bob's Picks". In some ways, it seems rather morbid, considering that Robert Osborne died earlier this month. But of course, the schedules are done a couple of months in advance, and at the time these were done, management at TCM probably had no idea Osborne was going to die. (I have no idea how sick he was for how long.)

Stil, it will be interesting to see if tonight's intros have been redone following Osborne's death, since I think all of the intros would have been done sometime in February.

And ooh, there's a Hugo Haas movie in tonight's lineup.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Briefs for March 27-28, 2017

For those of you who like opera music, you're in luck, as tonight's TCM lineup is a bunch of Kathryn Grayson movies. One of them even has Mario Lanza. I'm one of those people who runs screaming from singers like Grayson and Jeannette MacDonald, but surely there have to be people out there who like them, since the movies were so popular back in the day.

Apparently there's a new book on Lana Turner coming out next month. This one is going to make the claim that it was actually Lana who stabbed Joey Stompanato, not her daughter Cheryl. Apparently everybody got the idea that it would be easier to claim Cheryl did it because she was a juvenile and the defense would be easier. To be fair, though, Lana probably could have claimed self-defense even if she did do it. By all accounts Stompanato was quite violent with Turner.

There's a rather nicer book from Robert Wagner, together with his literary collaborator Scott Eyman. This one is apparently a more nostalgic look at old Hollywood and all the women Wagner new back when he was a dashing young actor. Wagner is also scheduled to appear at a book festival in Palm Beach, FL, in April. I won't be able to make it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Legend of Hell House

I noticed that The Legend of Hell House is on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 11:55 AM and again Tuesday at 7:30 AM. So I made a point of watching it off my DVR today so I could do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a pre-opening credits sequence. Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) meets British millionaire Deutsch, who has recently purchased the notorious Belasco House. The house is known as "Hell House" because not only is it presumably haunted, the last time anybody tried to investigate what was haunting the place, only one member of the expedition survived. So Deutsch has hired Barrett for the princely sum of £100,000 to figure out what is really going on and rid the house of whatever is "haunting" it.

To that end, Barrett, a physicist by training and not really a believer in the paranormal, has been given leadership of a team involving a "mental" and a "physical" medium. The mental one is young Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) who, despite being just a girl in Barrett's mind, is one of the best in her field; the physical guy is Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who also happens to have been the one person to survive the previous investigation. Rounding out the team is Mrs. Barrett, who has no expertise but dammit, she's not going to be left alone.

The four get into the house, and it doesn't take long before things start happening. Not only that, but it really does seem to be things that could only happen because the house is well and truly haunted; it's not one of those "I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids" things where the team is going to find a bad guy and literally unmask him. Making things particularly creepy is that Belasco ran the house as a house of debauchery, so the haunting begins to make the female members of the team do some oddly sexual things.

The Legend of Hell House is a tough one for me to grade. I have to admit that I'm not a particular fan of this genre of movies in general. I've given a positive rating to The Haunting, but I tend to prefer other types of horror to the "lock everybody inside a house for a week and see what the experience does to them" genre. So there were times when I was laughing at the ludicrousness of some of what was going on. Ultimately, however, I think The Legend of Hell House does succeed, at least for fans of the genre. If I were going to introduce people to vintage horror, I'd start with a lot of other things. But for people who like horror and want something they're likely not to have seen before, this isn't a bad one.

The Legend of Hell House does seem to be available on Blu-Ray from the TCM Shop.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Glengarry Glen Ross

Tomorrow is apparently Alan Arkin's birthday. I had been looking through my DVR for something available on DVD to do a post about, and decided upon Glengarry Glen Ross before realizing Arkin's birthday was coming up, and it was pure serendipity that Arkin happens to be in the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross.

The setting is an office of a real estate/property development company. The office is a run-down dump, with four agents and their supervisor working it. The agents haven't been all that successful, as the head office brings in a top guy from the corporate office (Alec Baldwin, who only gets the one scene) to shake things up: at the end of the month, whoever has the most in closings gets a car as first prize. Second place gets a set of steak knives, and last place gets fired. Oh, and there's a set of promising new leads -- but you'll only get them if you can close on the old leads we're giving you.

As for the four salesmen, there's Ricky (Al Pacino), who misses the meeting with the guy from corporate because he's trying to close a deal with Mr. Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) at a restaurant. There's also Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), the old guy who used to be the top seller but has fallen on hard times; mousy Aaronow (Alan Arkin); and manipulative Dave Moss (Ed Harris). Their immediate boss Williamson (Kevin Spacey) frankly supports the scheme since he sees how worthless the office is and his job is probably on the line too.

None of the three guys who actually shows up to the meeting is happy about it, although Shelley seems to be the one who's actually going to try to close a deal however difficult that might be. Dave, for his part, hits upon the idea of stealing the new leads, and selling them to a competitor and going to work for that competitor. To that end, he's really putting the moves on Aaronow to break in and steal the leads. After all, everybody knows Dave has the motive, bo he needs an alibi while somebody else goes in on the deal with him.

The next morning, everybody shows up to work to find that the place has been burgled and if not quite ransacked, at least disturbed. Meanwhile, two of the salesmen have actually been successful in closing deals: Shelley and Ricky. But as it turns out, both of their deals have catches....

Glengarry Glen Ross is a movie I have big problems with, mostly because of the way the characters are drawn. I've mentioned several times in the past that I'm not a fan of what I call the "comedy of lies", where somebody gets in comedic trouble by telling a lie, and then gets in ever bigger trouble by expanding on those lies. Glengarry Glen Ross isn't a comedy by any means. But the characters all lie incessantly to try to close the deals, and they're all so thoroughly dishonest that it's difficult to like any of them. Ricky, in particular, isn't just dishonest; he's a blowhard spewing philosophical nonsense. They also swear all the time, to the point that the dialogue gets tedious. It's a shame, because Lemmon and Pacino both actually put in good performances.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a movie that probably will appeal to people who like intelligent drama and character study dealing with difficult situations. But I think it's also the sort of movie that's liable to produce a sharp divide in opinions, even more than the sort of movie that could be described as not being very good.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Shorts report: March 23-24, 2017

In and among the March Malice movies there are a bunch of shorts, some of which are worth mentioning.

First up at about 10:10 AM is You Bring the Ducks. This one is a Hal Roach short starring Irvin S. Cobb, who is probably best known as the writer who introduced the character Judge Priest. He did some acting, but not a whole lot.

Electrical Power comes on a little after 7:45 PM tonight, and ostensibly tells us about Hoover Dam. The dam was always legally known as Hoover Dam, but it's called Boulder Dam here because Franklin Roosevelt and the rest of the New Dealers were petty little shits who didn't like that the dam had gotten named after Hoover. Of course, a lot of the New Deal was about petty power that continued into World War II as you can see in Marjorie Main's character in Rationing. Anyhow, back to the short, although it's supposedly about Hoover Dam and its production of electricity, it's really a promotional short for upcoming MGM movies in the 1939 season, with a bunch of recognizable clips.

Night Mail. I mentioned this one a couple of months back. TCM's online schedule has it in between Soylent Green (4:00 AM tomorrow, 97 min), and After the Thin Man at 6:15 AM. There certainly is enough time, then, for a 25-minute short. However, the TCM schedule claims it's starting at 6:13 AM. I'm guessing it will run, but starting a good half hour earlier.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #141: Underdogs

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is underdogs. I being a fan of old movies have once again picked three older movies:

National Velvet (1944). Elizabeth Taylor plays Velvet Brown (Velvet is a girl, not a horse), an English girl with a beautiful horse that she thinks is fast, and can jump. So she gets the idea of entering it into the Grand National, the big British steeplechase. Mickey Rooney plays Mi Taylor, a former jockey who helps train the horse as well as getting the horse into the race. It's an absurd dream, but this is a Hollywood movie, so of course little Velvet is able to ride the horse in the race. Actually, this is a pretty good family movie, and the Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous.

The 300 Spartans (1962). The legend of the 300 Spartans who held the pass at Thermopylae long enough to allow the Greeks behind it to build up adequate defenses against the Persians is one of the underdog stories of all time. In this "sword and sandal" version of the story, before special effects and impossibly buff men, Richard Egan plays King Leonidas, who leads the 300. There's some location shooting, which is a plus.

Marie: a True Story (1985). I thought I had done a full-length post on this one, but apparently not. Sissy Spacek stars as Marie Ragghinatti, a single mother who got a job in Tennessee's Parole Bureau, only to find that there was corruption going on as the governor was selling pardons to politically favored people. Marie tried to expose this, and of course the government (including her boss, played by Jeff Daniels who is pretty good here) goes after her. Fred Thompson plays Fred Thompson, the lawyer who took Marie's case in the wrongful-termination suit. (Yes, Thompson plays himself.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Week End in Hollywood

It's only Wednesday, but I see TCM is running a new-to-me short, Week End in Hollywood, today a little following 1:30 PM, or just after Gaslight. This one was apparently originally produced back in the late 1940s as a tourist promotion to get people to visit the place, what with tourism becoming rather more common as the economy improved after World War II.

I don't think I've seen this one before. I've seen a whole bunch of shorts, and I know in some movies such as Bette Davis' The Star, there are scenes doing the the tour of actors' homes. But this title sounds unfamiliar to me, but the actual name and the brief IMDb synopsis.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Every Day's a Holiday

If the introduction of the Production Code in 1934 affected anybody, Mae West would probably be near the top. A good example of this can be seen in Every Day's a Holiday. It's part of that nine-film box set I've mentioned a couple of times, so you should be able to pick up a copy fairly cheaply.

West plays Peaches O'Day, who is expected to show up in New York City on December 31, 1899 as the movie opens because she's got a repuation. Not that the police want her there, since she's somewhat of a con artist. Indeed, she sells the Brooklyn Bridge to Fritz (Herman Bing). Police Chief Quade (Lloyd Nolan) tells Capt. McCarey (Edmund Lowe) to arrest Peaches and makes certain McCarey has a warrant to do so.

Meanwhile, Peaches passes by Lamadou Graves (Charles Butterworth), who happens to be a butler but isn't letting that on. Graves invites Peaches to "his" house (really his boss' house of course), where a committe for clean government just happens to be meeting, led by Graves' boss Van Reighle Van Pelter Van Doon (Charles Winninger). Graves and Van Doon, like every other man in New York, is taken with Peaches' charm. Even McCarey is, as though even though he's supposedly an honest cop, he pays Fritz out of his own pocket so that there's no longer a charge against Peaches.

The political machine intends to run Quade for mayor, and the reform committee eventually gets the idea of running McCarey, but that comes later. McCarey finds Peaches and politely suggests she get out of town, which gives her, Graves, and her partner in crime Nifty an idea: pass her off as Mademoiselle Fifi, the great French actress and put her in a show. The show is a success, but of course McCarey recognizes Fifi (in a dark wig) as Peaches. Quade doesn't and starts a vendetta against Fifi when she doesn't want to meet him, which ultimately leads to McCarey's running for mayor.

I think the problem with Every Day's a Holiday is that it's all over the place. The plot swings wildly from the Peaches as con artist part to Fifi to the mayoral election, and I can't help but think a lot of that is due to having to obey the strictures of the Production Code. Crime isn't supposed to pay, and yet it does seem to pay for Peaches. I also found some of the humor a bit too over the top. But everybody gives it a good shot, which ultimately does make up for the movie's flaws. It's also very interesting to see a young Lloyd Nolan with hair. I saw his name in the opening credits, and didn't recognize him at first.

As I said in the opening, the Mae West box set I have this one on is cheap and has nine movies, some of which are better and are alone worth the price of admission. Every Day's a Holiday isn't bad, but it's not nearly as good as some of West's earlier stuff.

Monday, March 20, 2017

March Malice

I think I posted some years back that there aren't that many classic movies with basketball scenes, mostly because basketball was invented later than football and baseball so it would have taken time for the sport to be enough a part of the culture to show up in movies. But with the big basketball tournament, known as "March Madness" being on now, some programmer at TCM decided to riff off of that with "March Malice".

Starting tonight in prime time and going straight through for five and a half days until the end of TCM Underground, TCM is running 64 movies, grouped into 32 double bills, each given a different theme, and all more or less in the area of villains. There's nothing mentioned about a guest host, so I'd assume it's Ben Mankiewicz, or possibly whoever this month's regular guest host is.

Tonight, for example, starts off with "Psycho Killers", which come at us in the form of Psycho (8:00 PM) followed by Peeping Tom (10:00 PM). Of course, some of the pairings seem a bit similar, such as "Aliens Among Us" and "Space Monsters". But that's a quibble. I've always kind of liked the idea of double-bills in terms of TCM programming, since it's a lot easier to come up with just two films that fit a creative theme, and because there's a natural time slot for them on Sunday evenings just before Silent Sunday Nights.

There's nothing really new in terms of the movies running, but a lot that's worth watching especially if you haven't seen it before.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Both on, not together

Back in 2008, I made mention of ho Alfred Hitchcock made two short films with exiled French actors in London during World War II. Aventure Malgache was on at that time; the other one, Bon Voyage, wasn't, and I wouldn't get to mention it again until last October.

Now, they're both on the TCM schedule. Aventure Malgache is showing up tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, while Bon Voyage will be on tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 PM. They did get released to DVD at one point, but that DVD is out of print. They deserve another release, either together on one standalone DVD or as an extra somewhere else. But I have no idea what the rights situation is with these.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Taiga Road Truckers

The low-budget B movie Alaska Passage is coming up on FXM Retro again tomorrow at 4:45 AM and again on Monday at 7:25 AM, so I made it a point to watch the copy on my DVR to be able to do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with an opening title card that mentions it's in "Regalscope", although of course FXM are running this one panned and scanned down to 4:3. After the credits, full of a bunch of names you've probably never heard of, we get a brief scene that would have fit in a Traveltalks short if it were in color and made over at MGM. US Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 and, as the movie opens, it's recently become the 49th state. Alaska isn't contiguous with the rest of the US, which wasn't that big a deal until World War II, when the US was worried about the sealanes getting cut off, at which point a road connection was deemed vital. So the US and Canada got together and made what would become the Alaska Highway, stretching well over 1,000 miles from eastern British Columbia through Yukon and eventually to just southeast of Fairbanks Alaska. (I'm not giving the exact length because many curvy sections have been straightened out over the years, reducing the length of the highway.)

A documentary about the building of the highway would be interesting, but of course that's not what we get. Al (Bill Williams) runs the local business side of Northern Transport in Alaska, often driving the trucks as well. He's currently on a run with Pete (Nick Dennis), who for whatever reason has a Greek accent. On this trip, an airplane pilot helpfully informs them that the road ahead has been washed out by the spring thaws and snowmelt runoff. So, on the way back to their base in Tanana, they run across... a hitchhiker! Really. Her name is Tina (Nora Hayden), and somebody down in Washington state had offered her a job in Fairbanks, but he was enough of a jerk that she ran off. Tanana is short of women, especially ones as good-looking as Tina, so she'll have no problem getting a job.

Also back in Tanana, Mason (Leslie Bradley) is waiting for Al. He's the lower-48 half of Northern Transport, the one with the capital but not the know-how. He claims to be fair, although he seems way, way, too obsesed with the bottom line, not realizing that often local goodwill trumps what would be "good" business practices down in the 48. Part of the conflict involves Mason's disputes with Al (who has the know-how but not the capital) over how to run the business.

And then Mrs. Mason shows up. It turns out that she used to be Al's girlfriend, and she still has the hots for him, although the feeling may not be mutual. She's also trying to use her position to get a better financial state for the business, but for which partner? Tina, meanwhile, had been falling for Al, and she's not happy about anything that's going on with Mrs. Mason.

Alaska Passage is an ultra-low budget movie, but as far as such movies go, it's not that bad. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near as good as the traditional studios' prestige movies, or even many of their programmers. But when you think extremely low budget and a cast of nobody's, you expect the worst. You don't get that. There's a fair deal of wooden acting, and a plot that meanders for 50 minutes before rushing to a climax in the last 20. But overall it does just about work. Just don't set your expectations very high.

Alaska Passage is, as far as I know, not avaiable on DVD, and wouldn't be worth it if Fox only releases the pan-and-scan version. So you'll have to catch the FXM showing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

TCM's Robert Osborne tribute

As you probably know, long-time TCM host Robert Osborne died last week aged 84. TCM is going to be doing its programming tribute to him this weekend, with a full 48 hours of Osborne related stuff, from 6:00 AM tomorrow to 6:00 AM Monday. For better or worse, there's a lot of stuff that's getting repeated.

If you want to see the Private Screenings interview where Osborne was the interviewee, and Alec Baldwin was asking the questions, you're in luck. It's kicking off the tribute tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and will be on again at 8:00 PM Saturday, among other times. There's also the 20th anniversary salute to him, done I think at the TCM Film Festival in 2014 and hosted by Alex Trebek; that one will be on at 9:00 AM tomorrow and again at 4:15 PM.

Having said that, IMDb claims that there were 28 Private Screenings done, although they don't give an episode guide. Wikipedia claims 27, although they don't mention the one in which Osborne was the interviewee. Looking through the weekend schedule, however, there are only six (including the one with Osborne as the subject) getting shown:

Norman Jewison
Liza Minnelli
Debbie Reynolds
Betty Hutton
Ernest Borgnine

There are so many more TCM could have dug out, assuming movie rights aren't an issue (and I don't see why they should be when it comes to re-running these). I wouldn't mind seeing the one with Mickey Rooney, or the one with Charlton Heston, again. But nope, just the five stars and Osborne.

TCM is showing most if not all of the program-length interviews Osborne did at the TCM Film Festival throughout the weekend, however, which at least is a bit of solace.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #140: The Ancient World (3600 BC-500 AD)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of the Thursday Movie Picks Blogathon, run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is the ancient world. I being a fan of older movies have selected three older movies:

The Sign of the Cross (1932). Cecil B. DeMille's spectacle showing Christian virtue (in the form of Elissa Landi) triumphing over Roman vice (in the form of legionnaire Fredric March). When Richard Barrios appeared on TCM to discuss gay images in cinema a decade or so ago, he mentioned this movie and how DeMille thought the best way to show Christian virtue triumphing over Roman vice was to show lots and lots of Roman vice. (DeMille was not stupid; he knew the audiences would eat it up.) Nero (Charles Laughton) fiddling while Rome burns is mild; we also get Nero's wife (Claudette Colbert) bathing naked in a bath of goats' milk; a torture scene; and a lesbian dance as Joyzelle tries to woo Landi over to the Roman side. And that's all before the gladiatorial combat at the end.

The Egyptian (1954). Based on a popular novel by Finnish author Mika Waltari, this one stars Edmund Pudrom as Sinuhe, a doctor who rises to power in ancient Egypt when he unwittingly saves the life of Pharaoh Akhenaton (Michael Wilding). But what it really does is get him trapped in all the palace intrigue, as there are forces who want to assassinate Akhenaton because he's a monotheist, and having Sinuhe poison him would be just the thing. Sinuhe also gets in a love triangle with a tavern owner (Jean Simmons in a decidedly unglamorous role) and wealthy Bella Darvi. Gene Tierney shows up as Akhenaton's sister. It's in nice Fox Cinemascope and Technicolor, too.

Esther and the King (1960). In this loose telling of the Old Testament book of Esther, and the Jewish Purim story, Joan Collins(!) stars as Esther, the Jewish girl who attracts the attention of Persian King Ahaseurus (Richard Egan), who is looking for a new wife. Esther's Uncle Mordechai (Dennis O'Dea) is one of the King's councillors, but has enemies in the palace. And of course the Jews in general have lots of enemies, and seem to have had them for close to six thousand years now. When it comes to light that there may be a slaughter of Jews afoot, Mordechai wants Esther to user her influence to get the king to stop it. It's not as big as the other biblical epics of the era, but it's entertaining enough, and always fun to see a young Joan Collins for those of us who remember her from her days on Dynasty.

Treasures from the Disney Vault, March 2017

Tonight sees another night of the infrequent (well, it seems to be once every three months) series Treasures from the Disney Vault on TCM. This month, most of the movies seem to be about animals, with the exception of Follow Me, Boys! at 8:15 PM. That's one of those movies Fred MacMurray did for Disney after he decided from doing the TV series My Three Sons that he wanted easy, family-friendly stuff to do when the TV show was on hiatus.

Elsewhere in the evening, we get a block of Chip and Dale shorts at 11:30 PM, followed at midnight by The Incredible Journey, in which three pets accidentally get abandoned on vacation in the wilder parts of Canada and have to make their way home. I recall reading the book when I was in elementary school, but can't recall if I saw the movie. The movie probably made it to Disney's TV show at some point, but that's already decades ago too.

For the traditional Disney characters, you've got Donald Duck in Good Scouts at 8:00 PM.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Plane Crazy (1933)

Dorothy Lee in Plane Crazy (1933)

Since I had the Picture Snatcher DVD at hand from last week, I noticed that it had not just a cartoon short, but a Vitaphone Variety two-reeler: Plane Crazy.

Brothers Arthur and Morton Havel, coming over from vaudeville, play pilot brothers Jack and Bill, who aren't as successful as the other pilots. Pert little Dottie (Dorothy Lee from the Wheeler and Woolsey movies), however, likes the danger they present. Anyhow, Jack and Bill are looking for a way to become more famous, so they decide to do a round-the-world flight. Except there's a catch, which is that they're not really going to do it; they're just going to hide out for a few days and then come back, claiming to have done the flight.

Now, even in 1933 there were telegraphy and other technologies that would have made it easy for correspondents halfway around the world to report on the progress of such a flight, and it would have been ridiculously obvious that Jack and Bill were, in fact, not on their flight. But their plot gets foiled in a different way: Dottie claims she's stowing away on the flight, so she obviously has some sort of plan to spill the beans. It doesn't quite work out that way, but that's part of the meager story.

Plane Crazy was one of those shorts where the point wasn't about the story, but about having musical numbers, with a thin-as-gruel story framing the numbers. I didn't really care for the music here, although it was interesting to see that Warner Bros. cribbed the Busby Berkeley style for one of their two reelers. I'm guessing they had the sets from another of Berkeley's movies at Warner Bros. that year, and decided to put their short subject actors on the set to do a number and help amortize the costs.

Plane Crazy isn't particularly good, although it is a good exemplar of the two-reeler musical short from those days. Catch it if it ever shows up on TCM.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer March 2017: Michael Connelly

I have to admit to not being much of a reader of crime fiction -- well, actually, I don't read too much fiction of any kind these days. So I don't know anything about the works of crime writer Michael Connelly, who is to be the Guest Programmer on TCM tonight. Connelly writes about fictional LAPD detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, and has picked four movies from the 1970s that influenced him as a young man seeing those pictures back in the day:

Klute at 8:00 PM, in which call-girl Jane Fonda finds herself in danger as part of a high-profile murder;
The French Connection at 10:00 PM, with NYPD detectives Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider trying to break up a narcotics deal;
Night Moves at midnight, with Gene Hackman showing up again, this time following a young nymphet from Los Angeles to the Florida Keys as part of a case; and
Shaft at 2:15 AM, in which Richard Roundtree plays the black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks.