Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #154: The Woods

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 "The Woods". As a fan of older movies, I've picked three older (well, at least this time one of them was released after I was born) movies that fit the theme:

Brainstorm (1983). The final film of actress Natalie Wood; she drowned in an incident unrelated to the movie halfway through production. Wood plays Karen, the estranged wife of Michael (Christopher Walken), who is developing a sort of virtual reality device. The other inventor of the device (Beatrice Straight) dies suddenly, but not before hooking herself up to the device to record her thoughts as she's dying. Michael knows he just has to see that recording. Karen and Michael also record their own perspectives, which enables them to see the marriage from each other's point of view and save the marriage.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Ed Wood directed this hilariously awful movie about aliens trying to resurrect dead humans as zombies so that the zombies will take over Earth. Or something; the plot is such a mess as is the directing and the production values. But it's one of those movies that fails so spectacularly that it winds up being a blast to watch.

Fog Over Frisco (1934). Donald Woods plays Tony, a reporter pursuing socialite Val (Margaret Lindsay). Val's half-sister Arlene is a bad girl of sorts, hobnobbing with gangsters but engaged to a stockbroker. When Arlene gets her fiancé mixed up in a stock swindle, Arlene goes missing and Tony gets his chance to crack the case wide open. This is, unsurprisingly, Bette Davis' movie, even though she disappears for much of the movie. It's one of those really zippy Warner Bros. programmers; they always seemed to be better at that style of film-making than any of the other studios.

I hope I understood this week's theme correctly....

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sea Spiders

Another short I'm looking forward to on the TCM schedule is Sea Spiders, a little after 11:30 PM, just after This Is Spinal Tap (10:00 PM, 83 min). The listing says 1932 and a look at the lives of Tahitians.

My first thought when I saw that was another Pete Smith short, but looking at the IMDb page, it isn't. In fact, the IMDb page doesn't mention that it's part of any particular series of shorts, which rather surprises me. And speaking of Pete Smith, one short I wouldn't mind seeing on the TCM schedule is one also from 1932 called Color Scales. It's just a trip to an aquarium, but it was done in two-strip Technicolor which looks surprisingly good.

I'm sure some of the Pete Smith shorts have been released on extras of various movies by Warner Home Video, but there doesn't seem to be any box set the way there is with the Traveltalks shorts. I'd guess the interest isn't there; I know I'm generally far more interested in the Traveltalks shorts than the Pete Smith shorts.

I can't find wither Sea Spiders or Color Scales as an extra, either, although that may have something to do with Amazon's search function.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Louis Wolheim night, and a few other things

One of the things I like about TCM is when they have programming blocks dedicated to people who might have been a reasonably big thing back in the day, but who are little remembered now. Star of the Month Audrey Hepburn is well-known, but how many people remember Louis Wolheim? And so TCM is showing a bunch of Wolheim's movies tonight.

I've blogged about three of them before:

The Racket, a silent in which Wolheim plays a gang boss protective of his kid brother, is on at 9:45 PM;
Two Arabian Knights, a silent comedy set in World War I and long thought lost, will be on overnight at 2:30 AM; and
The Silver Horde, with a very young Joel McCrea, finished up the night at 4:15 AM.

For some reason, I thought I had blogged about Danger Lights (11:30 PM) before, but it looks like I'm mixing up a bunch of railroad-themed movies; specifically this one and Other Men's Women, an interesting movie with a young James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Danger Lights is interesting in its own right, with a young Jean Arthur. The climax is a high-speed rail journey to the big city to save an injured man (Wolheim).

I'd also like to mention the short that follows The Silver Horde: Roseland, a little after 5:30 AM. This one stars Ruth Etting, a popular singer of the 1920s and early 1930s who tried her hand at acting thanks to her gangster husband; all of this was the subject of the excellent James Cagney movie Love Me or Leave Me, which I've also blogged about before. Ruth sings here, and if circa-1930 music is your thing it's good. Circa-1930 music isn't really my thing, however.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Secret Agent (1936)

Some years back I bought an ultra-cheap box set of Alfred Hitchcock movies. One of the only sound movies on the set that I hadn't seen before was Secret Agent, so I finally got around to watching it.

The movie starts off in 1916 with a funeral for the author Brodie. The only thing is, we learn after all the people leave the bier that the coffin is, in fact, quite empty. Brodie is not dead, but somebody wants it known that Brodie is dead. That somebody is His Majesty's Secret Service, who have a job for Brodie (John Gielgud). They tell him that there's a problem with the troops on the eastern front, which in this case means the Middle East. The Germans are trying to agitate against the British forces in the region, and are going to send a secret agent from Switzerland to do so. So it's Brodie's job to go to Switzerland, find that agent, and prevent him from getting to the Middle East.

Brodie has been given a new identity, Ashenden, and a new passport, and in Switzerland he's supposed to look for The General (Peter Lorre), a hired assassin who's actually supposed to do the killing. Oh, and to make Ashenden look innocent, he's in Switzerland on holiday with his wife, who is of course another secret agent real name Elsa (Madeleine Carroll, fresh from The 39 Steps).

Well, wouldn't you know it, but both Elsa and the General reach Switzerland before Ashenden, and when he gets to his hotel room he's surprised to find Elsa with... well, not the General, but with Marvin (Robert Young), an American abroad. Ashenden and the General start to search for the agent, but they're thwarted at various turns. And then Ashenden, and especially Elsa, start to wonder whether killing this guy is really something they can do. They're not secret agents by training the way the General is....

Personally, I found Secret Agent to be one of Hitchcock's weaker efforts in the post-Man Who Knew Too Much era. There are obvious Hitchcock touches, and a whole bunch of nice set pieces (one at a church and another in a chocolate factory), but I found the film dragged despite its shortish running time. And I didn't feel quite the emotional attachment for the characters as I do in other Hitchcock movies. Part of that may be intentional, deliberately showing how dehumanizing spy work can be. But Peter Lorre badly overacts and makes his character irritating. I also didn't like what seemed to be a deus ex machina ending, even if it can be plausibly explained (if, for example, you assume Elsa sent a telegraph to Britain and they were able to notify folks in the east).

Still, Hitchcock completists (now I've got just a bunch of silents to watch) will want to watch it. And as always, judge for yourself.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Something for the Boys

One of my recent DVD purchases was a Carmen Miranda box set, and among the movies on it I hadn't reviewed here before is Something For the Boys.

Carmen here plays Chiquita Hart, a defense plant worker in Indiana at the start of the movie -- you can tell this is one of those World War II movies. She's one of three Hart cousins, the other two being showgirl Blossom (Vivian Blaine) and schemer Harry (Phil Silvers), which makes you wonder about the family tree if these three are married to each other. (Well, they're cousins, so various siblings a generation above could just have married oddly.) Anyhow, the three all find out that their grandfather has died, leaving them an inheritance! Chiquita, for her part, finds out through radio broadcasts she receives because working at the defense plant has left just the right combination of metal residue in her dental work or something; it's a running joke used later in the movie.

Anyhow, the three cousins who don't know each other at the start of the movie have to travel down to Georgia to receive their inheritance, as Grandpa had one of those big old plantation houses. And when I say old, I mean old, as it's fallen on hard times and sorely in need of a renovation. And there's no money for that; they've only inherited the house. But they're in luck. The house is near an army base, and Sgt. Fulton (Michael O'Shea) comes over from the base to visit. Everybody gets the idea that the house would be a perfect place for soldiers' wives to stay so they can be close to their husbands while they're at the base. It's an income stream for the cousins, and a win win for the soldiers and their wives. Plus, the soldiers can do the work fixing up the place. And, unsurprisingly, Sgt. Fulton and Blossom fall in love along the way.

But there are complications. Sgt. Fulton has a girl in his past, Melanie (Sheila Ryan). He's probably willing to dump her, since she seems to be really high-maintenance, but she thinks she's his fiancée, and dammit, she's going to run everything in everybody's life. She gets to the manor and decides it's hers, trying to tell the cousins what they should be doing. Why they don't just throw her out of the place then and there makes no sense, but Melanie does more or less disappear toward the end. The other complication is that the place gets declared off-limits to the soldiers because Harry is running a craps game, and then the army wants to use it for war games.

In and among all this, there are a lot of musical numbers, although they're the sort of songs that for the most part aren't memorable. Perry Como plays one of the singing soldiers, which should tell you something about the songs. And the plot is a bit of a mess too. Finally, it doesn't help that the Phil Silvers character is constantly irritating.

The DVD itself, however, is a lovely transfer, with very nice Technicolor. This particular DVD has a couple of trailers, one with scenes from the movie and one with just title cards. There's also a Carmen Miranda documentary that I haven't watched. The cover art, however, leaves something to be desired, as the blurb on the back mentions a song I didn't hear, and claims that the house is in Texas, when it's clearly in Georgia. One of the songs is even titled "Eighty Miles Outside of Atlanta", for heaven's sake.

I picked up the box set for The Gang's All Here, figuring that everything else would be a bonus. Something for the Boys isn't quite my thing, but people who like World War II musicals will probably enjoy it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Old Glory

The ghost of Uncle Sam about to teach Porky Pig a lesson in Old Glory (1939)

I have a feature to blog about, but not really the time to write a full-length post on it, so I decided to look through the shorts on some of my DVDs to see if I could find anything worth blogging about. It turns out that on the disc of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex that's part of the box set I bought (the same one with Dodge City), there's the interesting animated short Old Glory>

I was surprised that Warner Home Video would include a Porky Pig short on one of these cheap DVDs, but then this isn't a typical short that would have any of the Looney Tunes characters. Porky Pig starts off trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance (no Bellamy salute here) but, being bored with it, decides to take a nap.

Porky then has a dream sequence involving a rotoscoped Uncle Sam (voiced by Shepperd Strudwick), who teaches Porky about parts of American history that made America the bastion of liberty it is today (well, the bastion of liberty it was in 1939). All of these scenes are rotoscoped, and feature Patrick Henry (John Litel, who had played Patrick Henry in Give Me Liberty; that earlier short is in fact the source of Litel's audio here), George Washington, Paul Revere, and the Lincoln Memorial.

The rotoscoping is one of the things that makes this a strange short by Warner Bros. standards. None of the standard Chuck Jones stuff we'd see, even though he did direct. Having said that, the rotoscope animation is excellent and makes the short visually arresting to watch.

The other thing about it that's so strange is the utter lack of humor. That's by design; it's not as if the jokes failed as sometimes seems to happen when watching things 70 or 80 years after they were made. This is a straight-up patriotic history lesson, with obvious propaganda overtones.

The final interesting thing is that this came out in 1939. It's the sort of material that would have been extremely obvious to make three years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II. It would fit in with other shorts like MGM's You, John Jones! But this one was released in July 1939, before the war begain in Europe. Granted, there's no open propaganda about any of America's future enemies. But still, this all seemed a bit out of place.

Not that the short is terrible if you know what you're getting into. As I said above, the rotoscoping is excellent. But if you're looking for Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes humor, you're not getting it. Then again, Elizabeth and Essex is worth the price, so this extra is a bonus.

John G. Avildsen, 1935-2017

Director John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for directing the 1976 movie Rocky, has died aged 81.

Avildsen started his directorial career in the late 1960s, and quickly made a name for himself by directing Jack Lemmon to a second Oscar in Save the Tiger. (Lemmon won the Best Actor Oscar; he had won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Mr. Roberts.) In between Save the Tiger and Rocky, there was the quirky little W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, a movie I really enjoyed but which doesn't seem to be very well remembered.

Avildsen would go on to do three of the Karate Kid movies as well as Rocky V, as if there weren't enough Rocky movies. Apparently he also did Neighbors, John Belushi's last movie and one I could never stand. And he was also supposed to direct Saturday Night Fever. There's an interesting set of movies.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Scandal in Paris

Another recent watch off my DVR was A Scandal in Paris. It's available on DVD as part of a two-movie set of early Douglas Sirk movies, the other being the excellent Lured. So I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

A Scandal in Paris is loosely based on the life of Eugène Vidocq (1775-1857), played here by George Sanders. The real-life Vidocq was a criminal in Napoleonic France who went straight, eventually reforming the Paris police force and starting his own private detective agency. That story is made rather more fanciful in this telling, with the later-life part about the detective agency completely ommitted.

The story begins with an exaggerated introduction with voice-over by Sanders, leading up to Vidocq's escape from jail, which is how he meets Émile (Akim Tamiroff) who becomes his lifelong right-hand man. The two make their way to the south of France to serve in Napoleon's army, which is how Vidocq meets Loretta (Carole Landis). She's the late 18th century equivalent of a nightclub singer, and she's got a garter with precious stones that Vidocq is of course going to steal.

After serving in the military, Vidocq and Émile make their way back north to Paris, meeting the Pierremont family. The father Houdon (Alan Napier) is roughly equivalent to an Attorney-General type or a European Minister of the Interior. The women in the house: the grandmother/marquise (Alma Kruger) and daughter Thérèse (Signe Hasso) have lovely jewels, and Vidocq plans to steal those. The theft creates a scandal, and the Prefect of the Parisian police, Richet (Gene Lockhart), is unable to solve it. Of course, Vidocq can. Riche resigns, and Houdon names Vidocq the new Prefect.

Of course, this was all a ruse for Vidocq, Émile, and Émile's family and friends to rob the vault at the Bank of Paris. Along the way to robbing it, however, a couple of things happen. The first is that Vidocq begins to fall in love with Thérèse. Secondly is that one day, Vidocq runs into Loretta in Paris. That would be bad enough. But far worse is that she's married to Richet! Richet knows that something is up with Loretta, and that she must be seeing another man. He sets out to find out who she's seeing, and that of course threatens to unmask Vidocq.

A Scandal in Paris is well-enough made, although it doesn't really seem like what you'd normally think of when you think of Douglas Sirk, that being the combination of lush melodrama and social commentary. This is pretty much a straightforward costume drama. George Sanders is quite good as Vidocq, as the same sort of charm mixed with stealth that he brought to so many roles is something he puts to excellent use here. Everybody else ranges from adequate to the quality you'd expect from the great character actors.

Ultimately, however, there's something I can't quite put my finger on that to me keeps A Scandal in Paris from rising above the good and well-made to the point of greatness. Perhaps Sanders is just a bit too smarmy this time. We're supposed to view him as a hero, and not a threat like his later Addison DeWitt. Hasso is also slightly off. Still, A Scandal in Paris more than succeeds in entertaining and keeping you guessing until the end.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #153: Based on a True Story

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 movies that are based on true stories. Unfortunately, I used They Won't Forget at the beginning of the year, which is based on the trial of Leo Frank. But I've got three (well, technically four since two are based on the same event and came out within a year of each other) other movies that are worth a mention:

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936). Joan Crawford plays Peggy O'Neal, the daughter of a Washington DC innkeeper who meets and marries a naval officer. He dies at sea and Peggy later remarries Senator Eaton (Franchot Tone). Eaton is named to President Jackson's cabinet, but the other Cabinet wives don't like Peggy and this threatens to cause a scandal.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and Hitler's Madman (1943). Both of these movies are based on the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, who was the Nazi governor of the protectorate of the Czech lands during World War II. The events in these movies might be a bit fresh to fans of more recent movies, because there was another movie Anthropoid released last year about the assassination of Heydrich. Hangmen Also Die! was directed by Fritz Lang, while Hitler's Madman was a low-budget affair directed by Douglas Sirk and released by PRC, the same company that put out Edgar Ulmer's movies.

Compulsion (1959). Based on the thrill killing committed by Leopold and Loeb, the names of the guilty are changed because Leopold was still alive at the time the movie was made. The two killers, college students at the University of Chicago, are played by Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman; they're defended at trial by Orson Welles. In the real case Clarence Darrow was the defense attorney; his name is changed too.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Man of the World

Another of my recent DVD purchases was the ultra-cheap Carole Lombard Glamour Collection, a box set of six movies on two double-sided DVDs. (I said it was cheap; no extras as far as I can tell.) The first of the movies I watched off it was Man of the World.

The movie is old enough that Lombard isn't the star; that honor goes to William Powell who would become Lombard's future husband. He's seen in the opening scene walking along a Paris boulevard, where he's stopped by an American abroad asking him, "I remember you! Aren't you so-and-so?" Powell insists that no, he's actually Michael Trevor, and not this other guy. And Michael actually has the identification papers to prove who he is. But the exchange foreshadows that Michael Trevor isn't all he's cracked up to be.

The next scene confirms it, or should to anybody with normal intelligence, that Michael isn't the best of people. He meets with another American abroad, Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee). Apparently, Michael knows of a scandal sheet in Paris that prints stuff about Americans for the benefit of those Americans living in the city. They have some information on Harry that Harry wouldn't want to see in print, and Michael can fix it with the publisher that the story won't get printed. It's just going to take a tidy sum of money.

Any sane person would recognize that this is blackmail, and unsurprisingly, we later learn that Michael is one of the publishers of the scandal sheet. Harry seems too stupid to understand this, however. Not yet related, Harry is in Paris with his niece Mary (that's Carole Lombard), who is engaged to Frank (Lawrence Gray). She's lovely, and interested in learning a bit more about Paris from Michael.

Michael, meanwhile, isn't alone at the scandal sheet. He's got two partners in crime in Irene (Wynne Gibson) and Fred (George Chandler). They find out about Mary, and they want Harry to con her, because there's much more money in conning a young woman than in conning her fiftysomething uncle. Michael doesn't want to do it, but eventually does, only to find himself falling in love with her.

Man of the World is in many ways predictable, at least up until the last reel. I don't know if it's fair to call the movie formulaic if only because it was early enough that this was before there would have been a formula to follow. Still, the movie meanders slowly before getting to its destination, which I found a bit of a problem. It just doesn't sparkle the way many of the other early 30s movies about con artists; it feels a bit flat. All of the actors do a professional job, so I'm not quite certain why everything feels a bit off.

Having said that, though, the movie is one of six on a cheap box set. If you don't care for this one, you're probably going to like at least another of the six.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A heads-up on Marlene Dietrich night

Tonight's prime time lineup on TCM is several Marlene Dietrich movies which get varying degrees of airplay on TCM. Universal seems more willing to let TCM get the rights to the Paramounts that Universal has, but not so much the movies Universal produced back before about Universal-International. So we don't get Destry Rides Again, while we do get a couple of Paramounts from the era, including Desire at 8:00 PM and The Song of Songs at 10:00 PM. TCM has two synopses for the first movie, and that's where the heads-up comes in. Apparently the one-sentence synopsis about a rich couple marrying down instead of each other comes from the plot of an earlier movie titled Desire. If you look at Leonard Maltin's brief review when you expand the title, you'll find what IMDb agrees is the plot of the Dietrich Desire, a romantic crime movie.

In between the two features, at about 9:50 PM, is a short that I've never seen before and sounds interesting: Leo Beers, World Renowned Whistling Songster. Well, he's not world-renowned any more. This is an early Vitaphone short from 1928, and I'd guess that the title implies exactly what it's about.

This theater and booze

So the local news on TV last night had a story about how movie theaters are lobbying state government to allow them to sell alcoholic beverages. I couldn't help think of a couple of shorts in which movie theater owners talk about the public service that their theaters provided for their patrons, such as The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres.

Movie theaters, at least here in New York State, aren't allowed to sell alcohol mostly because the US has wacky alcohol laws. For the benefits of non-US readers, when Prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment, that amendment clearly left alcohol policy up to the states. (This is why getting the wines from the TCM Wine Club delivered to your home is not an option in some states.) So we have a patchwork of laws depending on whether the producers, the distributors, or the anti-alcohol people have the biggest pull with the government. But in any case, nobody must have thought back in 1933 that people would want to have a drink while they watched a movie. Home viewing wasn't a thing outside Hollywood and the rare print collector, and dinner theater always seems to mean the stage, not a movie.

But why not try to make the movie going experience a little more like watching it at home? Heck, on weekend nights when I'm watching a DVD or something off the DVR I have a drink and some ice cream or something. And what parent forced to take their kid to the latest mind-numbing animated thing wouldn't want to get buzzed to deal with the puerile nature of some children's movies?

Sure, there are potential problems: spilled alcohol is probably just as bad as spilled soda, and the possibility of somebody getting drunk is always there. People talk to each other and yell at the screen as it is when they're quite sober. And I can't imagine the chain sixtyplexes wanting to sell alcohol to patrons anyway.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Short Point

So I watched La Pointe Courte off my DVR over the weekend. It's available as part of a pricey Criterion Collection set, so I'm reasonably OK doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with a bunch of people in a small fishing village in the south of France going about the daily things they do when they're on shore after having caught their fish; at least, that's what the men are doing. The women don't do the fishing but raise the families with lots of children in tiny homes. To add to the stress of such a life, the government is on their case as apparently they're fishing in an area the government has deemed unsafe.

None of the people in the above scene are professional actors; it's the people of "La Point Courte", which is technically not so much a village as it is a section of the French municipality of Sète, a real city on the western part of France's Mediterranean coast, and nowhere near as glamorous as the Riviera. Their little bit of land forms a lagoon, and it's in the lagoon that they do the fishing. The scenes of La Pointe Courte dealing with the fishermen and their families are pretty much like the Italian neo-realism style.

Into all of this comes a man (Philippe Noiret; his character's name is never given), who stops at the nearby train station to pick up his wife (Silvia Montfort, whose character's name is also not given; the two are referred to as "Him" and "Her"). The man was born in this town but moved north to Paris, which is where he met his wife. However, he's cheated on her and she's thought about cheating on him, to the point that she thinks the love may have gone out of their marriage and she might want to divorce him. He asked her down here to show her where he came from and presumably to help her gain a new perspective on him.

The film alternates between the lives of the villagers, with the married couple talking and talking and talking, sometime joining the two together as when the town has its water jousting festival (which is actually a real thing that still goes on to this day). Eventually the couple comes to an agreement about where their lives are going to go, and leave town while the villagers go on living as before.

La Pointe Courte is a movie that I find difficult to rate. That's largely because it's really two movies in one. Director Agnès Varda had gone down to Sète to take still photographs on an assignment, and found the place so visually arresting that she decided to make her first movie there, and this is the result. The scenes with the villagers are interesting, helped by outstanding cinematography; Varda's early career as a still photographer probably helped out in that regard. There's a lot of striking black-and-white imagery and camera angles.

But then we gets scenes of the married couple. La Nouvelle Vague translates as "The New Wave", and this movie is generally considered a precursor to the French New Wave. But the French vague can mean the same thing as the English vague, and scenes like the ones in this movie with the couple make me think that calling it the French New Vague wouldn't be so inappropriate. These scenes drag the film down and make it tedious to the point that you want them to leave so we can see more of the lives of the villagers.

If the DVD weren't so damned expensive I'd give La Pointe Courte a higher recommendation. But if you can do the streaming thing and it's on Filmstruck (I don't do streaming video thanks to a lack of bandwidth), that might not be such a bad option for watching. Because the movie really is worth at least one viewing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thoughts on Adam West

By now, you've probably heard that Adam West, the actor who played Batman in the 1960s TV series, died on Friday night aged 88. West will always be remembered for that role, and for some of the other TV work that he did, but he also appeared in some serious movies. Chief among these would be a small role in the Paul Newman movie The Young Philadelphians.

West's death makes me think of some other actors who started off doing work in serious movies, but wound up becoming best remembered for roles on TV series. The best-known of these would be William Shatner, although I suppose most of the cast of Star Trek would fit here. Shatner had a smaller supporting role as an adjutant to Spencer Tracy's judge in Judgment at Nuremburg. He does just fine, although to be honest it's not a particularly difficult role. He also played one of the brothers in The Brothers Karamazov. DeForest Kelley had a slightly longer film career before Star Trek came along, mostly because Kelly was several years older.

Carroll O'Connor will be best remembered for playing Archie Bunker, but he had some pretty good film roles before that, probably most notably in Point Blank. His All in the Family co-star Rob Reiner would become a prominent director, much like Happy Days star Ron Howard.

Raymond Burr will probably always be most famous for Perry Mason, but he actually had a very substantial career playing heavies in the decade before Perry Mason, as I've mentioned when blogging about a bunch of his movies -- and he was quite good as the heavy.

It makes me wonder what would have happened to a lot of these actors had TV never come along.

Oshima double feature

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup is a pair of movies directed by Japanese director Nagisa Oshima. The first of them is Cruel Story of Youth at 2:00 AM. The second movie is Boy at 4:00 AM.

I only saw this one once almost four years ago when TCM ran it as part of the Story of Film series. It's based on a true story of a family in which the father ran a series of scams setting up hit-and-run "accidents" and scamming the innocent drivers into paying hush money to make things go away. The only thing is, the family uses their 10-year-old boy to fake the hit pedestrian.

The lifestyle means that the family has to move from one place to another, leaving the child rootless. Also, Dad treats Mom (actually a stepmother) badly, which further screws up the child. It's a disturbing but fascinating little movie. It also doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Laughter in Paradise

I mentioned yesterday that I had recently picked up Laughter in Paradise on a cheap, bare-bones DVD. It's more than worth a watch, and worth a buy at the low price.

Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith), one of those people who is known for being known; in this case, he's a famous practical joker. Or, more accurately, was known, since he's on his deathbed and his death is what kicks off the action of the movie. It turns out that Henry had four relatives of various closeness, and he's included each of them in his will. Henry has left each of those four relatives the princely sum (for the early 1950s) of £50,000. But there's a catch. Each of them has to perform certain actions to earn the money, and for all of them, those actions are out of character:

  • Agnes Russell (Fay Compton) is Henry's sister. She lives alone, childless, with a maid whom she treats like dirt. Henry's task for her is to take on a job as a domestic servant and do it for a month without getting fired.
  • Deniston (Alastair Sim) is a successful writer, except that he writes pulp fiction under a series of aliases. He's engaged to Elizabeth (Joyce Grenfell) who doesn't know anything about Deniston's real job. His task is to get himself arrested and spend 28 days in jail in the manner of the characters he writes about.
  • Herbert (George Cole) is a distant cousin who works as a bank clerk, and is very meek, constantly badgered by his boss. Henry wants Herbert to don a mask and get a gun, and then hold up his boss without being discovered for a full two minutes.
  • Simon (Guy Middleton) is a smarmy Jack Carson type who mooches off of everybody and uses women and discards them. Henry's job for Simon is to marry the first unmarried woman he talks to.

Naturally, all four have difficulties fulfilling the terms of their job. Agnes winds up working for an irascible Scot; nothing goes right for Herbert; and no matter what Deniston tries, he can't seem to get anybody to notice him and arrest him. There's a lot of scope for comedy here, and much of that scope is utilized. Sim is delightful as always, while Cole and Compton both do well too.

The movie is overall strong, with a well-handled ending, although there are some problems. First of all, I can't imagine any jurisdiction making it legal to have a will that forces the beneficiaries to commit crime in order to receive what's bequeathed to them, as two of the characters here have to do. But that's minor suspension of disbelief; the bigger problem I had was with Simon's character, who is really an obnoxious jerk. You want everybody else to smack him.

TCM ran Laughter in Paradise recently as part of their Star of the Month salute to Audrey Hepburn. She's in the credits under "Introducing", and she only gets one scene as a cigarette girl Simon talks to (and by the terms of the will, he should be marrying her).

Friday, June 9, 2017


One of the TCM themes this night is the European vacation. No; they're not showing the Chevy Chase movie by that title; they're running a bunch of movies about people travelling mostly to Europe, although I think there are one or two movies like M. Hulot's Holiday (early tomorrow morning at 3:45 AM) about Europeans on vacation within the continent.

Anyhow, I bring this all up because I wasn't paying attention two weeks back when I blogged about The Pleasure Seekers. That movie, about three young American women working in Spain (well, two of them are working and a third joins them for a sojourn), will be on tonight at 10:30 PM as part of the European vacation theme.

The other thing I didn't notice was that Laughter in Paradise was on the TCM schedule early this week because Star of the Month Audrey Hepburn has a very small role as a cigarette girl. I just bought the movie on DVD from Amazon because when I was looking something up Amazon suggested a lot of British movies on inexpensive DVDs. So I picked up this one, a couple I already blogged about, and another one I haven't as well as some other box sets like an ultra-cheap Carole Lombard box set with movies that I don't think I've seen at all. All of the DVDs had been in my shopping cart for several weeks, and I bought them, including Laughter in Paradise, without realizing it was on the TCM schedule. At any rate I know what I'm blogging about this weekend.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #152: Double Features

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 double features. I used Diabolique a couple of weeks ago, so there goes my dobule-bill of that and Psycho, but I've got some other perverted ideas rattling around in my brain:

One Foot in Heaven (1941) and One Foot in Hell (1960). These two movies share nothing in common other than the title. The earlier movie is a nostalgic biopic about a Methodist minister who received his calling at the beginning of the last century, and spent the next several decades serving the church, and dealing with parishioners who don't really want to engage in Christian charity. The latter is an enjoyable western about a man who wants to rob a bank to get back at the town that he feels negligently killed his wife.

Perhaps I should have paired One Foot in Hell with the latter of the movies in this double-bill: Thank God It's Friday (1978) and Violent Saturday (1955). You probably know Thank God It's Friday; Violent Saturday is about three men who come into a town in Arizona to rob the bank, not realizing that everybody in town has their own dirty secrets. It's not particularly good to be honest, but it's one of those movies that's a hell of a lot of fun. One of the really fun things is Ernest Borgnine playing the part of... an Amish farmer! And he might be able to be the hero if only he could be un-Amishly violent himself.

Finally, there's The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and Soylent Green (1973). I don't think anything more needs to be said. Everybody was fed up with (or is that fed on) Sheridan Whiteside by the film's denouement.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer June 2017: Billy Bob Thornton

So we've reached that point of the month where we get another Guest Programmer on TCM. This month, it's Billy Bob Thornton, star of movies like Sling Blade and former Mr. Angelina Jolie; he sat down with Ban Mankiewicz to present three of his favorite movies. Those movies, with the intros, are running tonight:

The Man With the Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra as a heroin addict, kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
Giant, yet another overrated James Dean movie about the sprawling life of a Texas family, follows at 10:15 PM; and
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Sam Peckinpah's version of the western story of Billy the Kid, comes on at 2:00 AM.

I note that once again there are only three movies. I suppose that with Giant in there you could say there are time constraints, but I seem to recall Donald Trump selecting Gone With the Wind when he ws part of the month of Guest Programmers in November 2007, and he still presented four movies. I don't know if this is a permanent change or not.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Midnight Lace

I watched Midnight Lace some months back because I'd seen TCM hawk that four-film Doris Day box set from Universal and figured since I hade Midnight Lace on my DVR, I'd watch it and do a full-length post on it. It turned out that the box set is now out of print. But a standalone DVD was in the works, and that DVD is being released today.

Doris Day plays Kit Preston, an American in London who's living there because she got married a few months back to businessman Anthony (Rex Harrison). They're well-to-do, as Kit doesn't need to work, and they even have a maid. Anyhow, today she's dealing with her new passport and then is going to do some shopping. But she's warned that it's one of those days where London's stereotypical fog has rolled in, and if she wants they'll call a taxi for her.

Kit decides to walk home, which sets in motion a series of events that changes everybody's lives. While going through Grosvenor Square, she hears a voice that tells her he's watching her, and that he's coming to get her. Needless to say, this sends Kit into a panic -- I mean, who wouldn't be shocked by some strange voice calling you out in the fog where you can't see it?

So Kit tells everybody when she gets home, but of course people don't particularly believe her. At most, it's just the sort of practical joke that people play on each other when the fog rolls in and nobody can see who's doing what. But then Kit gets a call at home from the same guy, which really stuns her. After all, who has their phone number? And why would anybody call her at home. But still it always seems to happen when there's nobody else around to confirm it.

On Kit's side are her husband, fellow tenant Peggy (Natasha Perry), and Kit's Aunt Bea, about to visit from London (Myrna Loy). Oh, and there's the Scotland Yard inspector (John Williams). And of course, there are several obvious suspects. First off is the son of her housekeeper, Malcolm (Roddy McDowall). He seems to be short of money all the time, and frankly, his constant attempts to grasp for money bother Kit. She liks the housekeeper, but not Malcolm. Then there's Brian (John Gavin), a construction foreman at a building site next to the Preston's building. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Finally, there's a man who seems to be following Kit, but always just out of sight.

Doris Day didn't get too many chances to do serious drama, and for the most part she does well. This is a part in which the character has good reason to question her own sanity, which is a tough role for anybody to play. It's easy to go too far over the top and turn things into an unintentional parody. Day comes close to the line at times, but generally gives a good performance. (It may just be that I don't like her vocal quality and it's this that makes her sound like she's going over the top.) Rex Harrison is good but nothing special. Myrna Loy does her usual fine job in a supporting role while John Gavin is solid in a role that calls for him to be nothing more than solid. McDowall probably comes closest to going over the top, as he makes his character too much of a jerk. Herbert Marshall and Richard Ney also lend support.

Midnight Lace is a pretty good thriller. Sure, there are plot holes, but it entertains right up until the end. And the standalone DVD is relatively inexpensive.

Monday, June 5, 2017

TCM Star of the Month June 2017 Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn (the only woman in the scene) in Roman Holiday (1953)

We're in the first full week of a new month, which means that we're going to get a new Star of the Month on TCM. This time, it's Audrey Hepburn, whose glamour always shone through even in roles that don't quite call for it, such as Wait Until Dark. Audrey's films will be on TCM on Mondays in prime time, and it's reasonably appropriate that the month starts off with the film that won her an Oscar, Roman Holiday at 8:00 PM. The photo at left is a publicity shot from How to Steal a Million, which is going to be on the 19th at 8:00 PM. In fact, that's right before the aforementioned Wait Until Dark, which will show up at 10:15 PM that night.

One notable absence is Sabrina, although that's not one of my favorite movies, so I'm not as disappointed by its absence as a lot of people might be.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Private Property

I watched Private Property off my DVR today because I noticed that it was rediscovered and got a DVD release at the end of last year. I'm sorry to say that I wouldn't pay the prices they're asking for the DVD.

The film starts off with a pair of drifters showing up at a gas station on the coastal highway somehwere north of Los Angeles. Duke (Corey Allen) is clearly the stronger personality in the pair, while the more submissive is Boots (Warren Oates). Duke is also something of a petty criminal, as he initiates what would be a hold-up if it weren't for the fact that the gas station attendant wisely gives in and lets the two guys have the bottles of soda they want. At the station, they run into a nice mid-50s car being driven by appliance salesman Ed (Jerome Cowan who only has the one scene) down to a convention in Los Angeles. They basically carjack him, as they're going to Los Angeles too.

It's not a hitch-hike because at the station they also meet Ann (Kate Manx), who is driving down to Los Angeles and only stopped to ask directions. Duke makes Ed drive them to Ann's house, high in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. As they're dropped off, they notice another house further up the hill that doesn't seem to be occupied, so they take up squatting.

Duke and Boots start ogling Ann from afar. Duke kindly tells Boots that Boots can have the sexual conquest, because Boots has never actually had sex before, somthing that will surprise audiences watching today that they'd talk about something liek this in a movie from 1960. However, it turns out that Duke is just as interested in Ann as he thinks Boots is. Duke goes down the hill to visit Ann several times. Of course, Ann already has a husband, which is going to cause problems. Fortunately for Duke, however, that husband is going away on a business trip of his own....

As I implied in the opening paragraph, I'm not particularly a fan of this movie. There's something about Duke's manipulativeness that really turned me off. There are certainly some good characters who can be manipulative; I'm reminded of Alan Arkin's Roat in Wait Until Dark. But Duke comes across as a creep. The fact that it's Duke who dominates proceedings throught the movie makes it a bit of a slog for me. Warren Oates is good as Boots, and there's some lovely black-and-white cinematography of the way the Los Angeles suburbs looked back in 1960. But that wasn't enough for me to make the movie one I'd like. But watch for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Captain's Paradise

Alec Guinness in The Captain's Paradise (1953)

About a year ago, I mentioned this five-movie Alec Guinness set. It still seems to be available, but I don't know if they're running out of stock since it says there are only three left. Anyhow, I watched The Captain's Paradise off of it this morning.

The opening scene has Guinness being taken to a firing squad for execution, although it doesn't exactly say where. Cut to his funeral aboard a ship, with a Mr. St. James (Miles Malleson) interrupting. St. James asks the captain Ricco (Charles Goldner) about a nephew, one Henry St. James, who was supposedly the captain of the ship. Ah, but he was, and it turns out that it was Capt. St. James for whom they were holding the funeral.

Mr. St. James was asking about his nephew Henry because Henry was apparently searching for the secret to happiness, and Rico claims that Henry had in fact found that secret. So why the execution? Well, you'll have to watch the rest of the movie for that. At any rate, Henry's ship, the Golden Fleece, is a ferry running from Gibraltar to a place across the Strait of Gibraltar the name of which I didn't recognize. (Tangier would be the obvious choice since that's the big city, although the nearest port of call would actually be the Spanish exclave of Ceuta, and this would also explain the fact that the customs agents all speak Spanish.) In port, Henry has a wife in Nita (Yvonne de Carlo). She enjoys the night life, going out with Henry every time he's in port.

But then he goes back to Gibraltar. And when he gets back to Gibraltar, he goes home to his wife Maud (Celia Johnson). Yes, that's right, Henry has two wives, one in each port. And Maud is the exact opposite of Nita, in that she seems to be extremely domestic and the other half of what Henry wants in a wife. Now, as you can probably figure from a guy having two wives, you have to assume that somehow this is all going to be found out. And as it turns out, Ricco already knows about ti, but he seems to be the only person who knows. One day, Maud decides to go across the strait to Africa and suprise Henry, which is most certainly a surprise! It's up to Ricco to keep the two wives from finding out about each other.

I have to admit that I found The Captain's Paradise to be the weakest of the five movies in the set. In part that's because the other four are all so good, but the other part is that I found the movie to be meandering, with the type of main character I don't find particularly sympathetic. I've stated quite a few times that I don't really care for the plot line that has a character lying and then telling ever bigger lies to keep people from finding out. The Captain's Paradise isn't quite like that, but is a main theme. Something about the whole production just comes across as not quite right to me.

Of course, the box set contains those other four movies, so if it's still in stock for you, you could do worse to get those four movies at a good price. And who knows; maybe you'll enjoy The Captain's Paradise a lot more than I did.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Treasures from the Disney Vault, June 2017

It seems to be once every three months that TCM runs another installment of Treasures from the Disney Vault. Not that we get the real treasures, of course; Disney wants to keep the animated features for itself. But at any rate, once every three months seems to be a good schedule since it's easy to put these in March, June, September, and December, and not run afoul of 31 Days of Oscar or Summer Under the Stars.

Tonight's lineup has two themes: Hayley Mills and horses. Unless, I suppose, you think Hayley Mills has something to do with a horse. Hayley Mills' best-known movie is probably The Parent Trap, which isn't on tonight's lineup. Instead we get a pair of small-town movies in Summer Magic (which I hadn't heard of) at 8:00 PM followed by Pollyanna at 10:00.

The rest of the lineup is horse-themed, with one traditional Disney cartoon short (in the sense of having Mickey Mouse and his friends) at 12:30 AM followed by a bunch of stuff I haven't heard of. Looks like a couple of TV episodes and a couple of lesser-known live action features.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #151: Tall Buildings

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 tall buildings, and being a fan of older films, I've picked a couple of older movies once again:

Skyscraper Souls (1932). Warren William plays a businessman who owns the tallest building in New York, and is trying to keep control over it. Meanwhile, he's also trying to balance a love life against his business interests. That's the main plot thread; there are several sub-plots involving people who work in the building. Maureen O'Sullivan plays one of the love interests.

Baby Face (1933). Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman who, having been pimped out by her own father, is told by a fan of Nietsche, "Use men to get the things you want. Stanwyck then proceeds to go to the big city and sleep her way to the top, discarding one man after another along the way. (John Wayne, early in his career, is one of those men.) Every time she sets off on a new conquest, there's an establishing shot of the façade of the building where she works, panning up a few more stories, to show that yes, she really is working her way to the top.

An Affair to Remember (1957). Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr meet on board a transatlantic cruise and fall in love although each is already engaged to another outside person. They agree to meet six months later on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Grant makes it, but Kerr gets hit by a car and winds up in a wheelchair, leaving Cary to wonder if Kerr remembered or not. It's a sappy love story, but I didn't want to use King Kong for the Empire State Building.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Or, perhaps, a "Back on FXM Retro" post. It's been about six years since I mentioned the Kirk Douglas/Amy Irving movie The Fury. Well,tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which to me seems to mean some movies that haven't been on FXM in a while (perhaps not even since it was still the Fox Movie Channel 24/7) show up. The Fury gets an airing tomorrow at 1:00 PM, with another one at 9:55 AM Friday. And then it will get two more airings the following week.

This means that FXM Retro is still going, which I've mentioned quite a few times has always surprised me, at least pleasantly. Now if FXM Retro could just broadcast in the proper aspect ratio, rather than making me futs with the TV's aspect settings to get the old movies to show up properly. (It's most obvious with the old Academy ratio movies, which should be pillarboxed, but on FXM's broadcast are stretched instead.)

Immediately before tomorrow's airing of The Fury, at 11:00 AM, there's Quintet, a post-apocalyptic film starring Paul Newman and directed by Robert Altman. Frankly I don't care for this movie one bit, but if you read the IMDb reviews, it's amazing how many people not only like it, but give it very high praise. So you may want to watch it and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hugh Griffith, 1912-1980

Hugh Griffith in Tom Jones (1963)

Today marks the birth anniversary of British supporting actor Hugh Griffith, who was born on this day in 1912. Griffith started his film career in earnest after World War II, showing up in small parts in some well-known British movies, such as Kind Hearts and Coronets. Eventually he wound up doing bigger films produced by the Hollywood studios, such as smaller roles in The Story on Page One, Ben-Hur, Lisa, and How to Steal a Million. I'm not certain what his best-remembered role is, but it might be Squire Western, father of the girl (Susannah York) Tom Jones (Albert Finney) loves in Tom Jones, a role which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Circle

The latest movie I watched off my DVR because it's avaialble thanks to the Warner Archive is The Circle.

This silent movie starts off with a prologue in the 1890s. Lord Clive Cheney is married to Lady Catherine (a young Joan Crawford at the beginning of her career), but doesn't realize that she's in love with another man, Lord Hugh Porteous. Lady Catherine runds off with Lord Hugh, leaving Lord Clive to raise their son, young Arnold, alone.

Fast forward 30 years. Arnold is all grown up and looking old before his time, with a lovely young wife of his own in Elizabeth (Eleanor Boardman). But what he doesn't know is that like his mother, Elizabeth is in love with another man, the dashing Teddy (Malcolm MacGrgegor). Indeed, Elizabeth is thinking of running off with him, just like Arnold's mother did 30 years earlier.

But Elizabeth wants to find out if running off for happiness instead of stability is really the right thing to do. To that end, she's invited Lady Catherine over for a visit, with Lord Hugh. Elizabeth wants to see how the 30 years have changed Catherine and Hugh, and whether they're still in love with each other. After all, if they're not happy, then perhaps Elizabeth will get the idea that she should stick with Arnold after all.

Of course, things don't go so smoothly. First off, Lord Clive shows up unexpectedly, and everybody is naturally terrified of how he'll react to his ex-wife's presence. And then there's Catherine and Hugh. They've both become decidedly middle-aged. Time takes its toll on everybody, and it really seems to have taken its toll on the couple, especially Hugh. But while the couple argues bitterly at cards and Catherine thinks it would be a mistake for Elizabeth to leave, Lady Catherine still loves Lord Hugh....

The Circle is well-made, but I had a problem with it in that it didn't seem to go anywhere. I really found it difficult to care much what happened to any of these people. There's also an extra house guest added who doesn't seem to have much to do in the second half of the house party. But the story takes some pleasing twists and turns, and people who like silents will probably enjoy this one more than I did.

The Circle is another of those movies that only seems to be available on a standalone DVD and would benefit from being part of a set of some sort. At the Warner Archive price and the short running time (66 minutes), I'm not certain if the DVD is worth it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Laughing Sinners

Another movie I watched off my DVR because it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection is Laughing Sinners.

Joan Crawford plays Ivy Stevens, whom we see at the beginning of the movie rushing to catch a train back to one of the midwestern big cities. She's got a job as the lead act in a nightclub. She's also catching the train because her boyfriend Howard (Neil Hamilton), nicknamed "Howdy", is on it. Howdy is a travelling salesman along with several of his friends like Fred (Roscoe Karns) and Cass (Guy Kibbee).

Anyhow, poor Ivy doesn't know that back in his hometown, Howdy has gotten engaged to a wealthy man's daughter, and that Howdy is planning to let her know that he's dumping her for the (only seen in a newspaper photo) rich woman. This devastates Ivy, to the point that she doesn't want to dance any longer despite attempts from her friend Ruby (Marjorie Rambeau) to change her attitude.

Eventually, Ivy decides she's going to end it all by jumping off a bridge, and we see a scene reminiscent of the one at the beginning of Mildred Pierce. Only this time, there's no cop to bank his nightstick against the railing. Instead, there's Carl (Clark Gable), a Salvation Army officer. He sees what Ivy is about to do, and convinces her not to do it. He also tells Ivy that the Salvation Army folks are holding a day out in the park for the disadvantaged kids, and he'd love it if she came along to help. We wouldn't have much of a movie if she didn't help out, and she finds that she likes what the Salvation Army is doing, to the point that she joins herself and starts going from town to town with Carl and the rest of his merry men and women.

Now that Ivy is an itinerant worker of sorts, we know that sooner or later, she's going to wind up in the same town as Howdy. And wow is Howdy a creep when he sees Ivy in the Salvation Army band. He hounds her in her hotel room until she joins him, and he tries to put the moves on her, convinced that she'll start being his mistress again if only she gives him another chance! And surprisingly, she gives in. Can Carl save her soul again?

Laughing Sinners is an odd little movie. Who would ever have expected either Clark Gable or Joan Crawford to play Salvation Army workers? And Neil Hamilton as a creep? Crawford is clearly more in her element when she's the dancer, even though she can't dance to save her or anybody's soul. But she tries, bless her heart, and her dance numbers in any film are worth it for that. This one has her in backless overalls, with detachable legs for the second half that's surprisingly revealing.

The film itself lurches from place to place and the pacing is all wrong, going from tedious to overwrought in the blink of an eye. If it weren't a Clark Gable/Joan Crawford movie, there would really be no reason to watch it. It's too bad that the movie only seems to be available on a standalone DVD as the Warner Archive DVDs are overpriced. This is another one that needs to be part of one of those four-movie sets along with some other dancing Joan Crawford pre-Codes.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Pleasure Seekers

So I noticed that The Pleasure Seekers is available on DVD from the Fox MOD scheme, and decided to watch it off my DVR so I'd have something to do a full-length post on and clear up a bit of space on the DVR.

The movie starts off with Maggie (Carol Lynley) taking a taxi through the streets of Madrid to pick up her friend Susie (Pamela Tiffin) at the airport. Maggie is an American ex-pat working in Madrid for their bureau of America's "Continental News" orgainzation; Susie doesn't seem to have any plans for Spain other than to see all the art. Susie already has another roommate in the form of Fran (Ann-Margaret), who's studying flamenco dance but works doing nightclub-type shows at private parties..

Anyhow, when Susie arrives at the apartment where she's going to live with Maggie and Fran, she starts asking Maggie about her life, and specifically the "problems", which all seem to be man-related. In fact, Maggie thinks a lot about men and gives Susie advice on the topic, such as not to look directly as Spanish men lest they think they're interested in you and start looking back. Like, for example, the guy in the aparment across the way from theirs, which is a running joke throughout the movie (and actually handled quite well at the end).

So you can guess that a major theme in The Pleasure Seekers is going to be the men the three women meet. And you'd be right. Fran has the simplest relationship. While she's rushing to rehearsal, she nearly runs into a moped being driven by Andres (André Lawrence). Andres is a doctor in a small Spanish seaside town who wants to open up a clinic of his own there and is visiting Madrid to learn about how clinics are run. The only problem is, he seems to be more in love with his clinic than he ever could be with any woman. He doesn't want Fran to know his full identity, and at first doesn't want to see her again, even though he really does like her.

Slightly more complicated is Susie's relationship. She goes to the Prado one day and, while looking at the paintings, finds two men talking about her. One of those men turns out to be Emilio (Anthony Franciosa). He doesn't seem to be working right now, but that's in part because he comes from a family that's wealthy enough for him to be able to do the playboy thing while he apparently lives off his investments or plans to go into some family business or something. (His father is apparently dead; we do meet his mother who likes Susie.) Complicating things is the fact that Emilio was "last year's problem" for Maggie, and she keeps telling dumb Susie what a cad Emilio is. But Susie keeps pursuing the relationship.

And then there's Maggie and this year's problem. She works with a lazy reporter in Pete (Gardner McKay) who would be right for her, although neither of the two realize this in each other. Meanwhile, Maggie's boss Paul Barton (Brian Keith) feels as though he's trapped in a loveless marriage to Jane (Gene Tierney) and decides he's going to pursue Maggie for a mistress. It's a problem when you're going after your secretary, and a further problem that another of your employees is actually the right man for your secretary. But Maggie goes back and forth with Paul and Pete.

The romantic plots are reasonably well-handled, and make the movie competent if a bit old-fashioned. It's a remake of Three Coins in the Fountain and still seems to be going for that 50s innocence vibe. But it bears repeating that there's nothing in terms of plot that's actually bad about the movie. The other big plus about the movie is the cinematography. Madrid looks gorgeous and everybody is well-served by all the location shooting. If there is one big problem, it's the fact that Fran is a singer and dancer, and so given several musical numbers. These all drag the film down, slowing it to a screeching halt, when you just want them to get on with the story.

The Pleasure Seekers does succeed as entertainment, even if it is nothing special.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903)

Because I can't think of anything else to blog about today, and because I have to do a ridiculous amount of work before I actually get a three-day weekend (surprise surprise), here's the 1903 version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, in the public domain on Youtube:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thrusday Movie Picks #150: Time Travel (TV edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this month's TV theme is time travel. Eh, it's not a topic I'm that well versed on, but I've got three shows that kinda sorta qualify.

Rocky and His Friends (1959). I'm not quite up on all the various names of the shows that featured Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, but one of the recurring skits was Sherman (the boy) and Mr. Peabody, who would get in the Wayback Machine and view various events in history through a rather humorous and not particularly accurate perspective. Movie fans will enjoy Edward Everett Horton's narration of "Fractured Fairy Tales". In fact, it's from the various Bullwinkle incarnations that I first learned about Horton, before realizing he had a distinguished career as a character actor.

A Piece of the Action (1968 episode of Star Trek). Kirk and company wind up on a planet that somehow learned all it knows from 1920s gangsters, led by Vic Tayback. Actually, this is a theme the Star Trek franchise used a lot. There was literal time travel in a few episodes, both back to earth and one other society that was about to go supernova; episodes that techincally weren't time travel included visits to a Roman-era planet (they couldn't figure out why Romans worshipped the sun) and a Nazi planet. And The Next Generation did an episode based on a planet that learned everything they knew about earth from one pulp novel.

Otherworld (1985). Technically, this is interdimensional travel, not time travel. A middle-class American family visits the Pyramids in Egypt and wind up going through a portal to another dimension and in the Otherworld find a place that has a bunch of provinces based on different periods, such as the 1950s but with the gender roles reversed. The poor family was always being chased as they tried to get to the portal back to the Earth they know and love. This one lasted all of eight episodes, which was a shame since it's an interesting premise and I liked it as a 12-year-old.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer May 2017, and a short

Tonight sees this month's TCM Guest Programmer: Humberto Martinez. You've probably not heard of him, because he's the winner of a TCM Backlot contest to select a Guest Programmer. I suppose it's nice that the Backlot members can have the chance to appear on TCM, but the Backlot is still overpriced. Unless they get some free wine from the Wine Club, I suppose.

Anyhow, Martinez will be presenting three movies; I don't know if this had to do with rights issues or scheduling or what since normal guest programmers generally get to show four movies. Martinez prefers musicals (not my genre), and has selected:

Pal Joey at 8:00 PM;
The Eddy Duchin Story at 10:15 PM; and
Bye Bye Birdie at 12:30 AM.

In between Pal Joey and The Eddy Duchin Story, there's a short of the actual Eddy Duchin, but that's not the one I was thinking about mentioning today. The one I'd like to mention comes just before prime time: The Forest Commandos, at about 7:38 PM. This one looks at the firefighters who fight forest fires in Ontario. It was originally filmed in Technicolor, although apparently accoring to IMDb the only surviving prints are in black-and-white, which is a shame, because I'd bet a subject like this would really benefit from color photography. There is a Youtube version, but it's watermarked and I don't know if it's been colorized or not; the uploaders don't mention.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roger Moore, 1927-2017

Roger Moore (r.) with Maud Adams in Octopussy (1983)

I didn't think I'd be writing a second obituary post today, but Roger Moore, the British actor who played James Bond in seven films starting with Live and Let Die in 1973 through A View to a Kill in 1985, has died aged 89.

Of course, Moore is best remembered for playing Bond, as will be mentioned of Sean Connery (actually younger than Moore despite having begun playing Bond a decade earlier) whenever he finally dies. But Moore had a long acting career before Live and Let Die, probably most notably for the TV series The Saint in which Moore played Simon Templar.

Fans of old movies may remember The Last Time I Saw Paris. And who could ever forget Moore in the Spice Girls' vanity project Spice World:

Dina Merrill, 1923-2017

Actress Dina Merrill, who was born an heiress but wanted to act, has died at the age of 93. The daughter of Marjorie Post (of the Post cereal family) and E.F. Hutton (when he talked, people listened), Merrill had a lengthy career starting in the mid-1950s on both TV and in the movies.

Merrill's first role on the big screen was as one of Katharine Hepburn's co-workers in Desk Set. Merrill played quite a few supporting roles, as the other woman for Glenn Ford in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, or as the woman whose fur coat Elizabeth Taylor gets in Butterfield 8. In real life, Merrill was also married to Cliff Robertson for 20 years.

I was looking for a good photo to illustrate this post with, and the image search unfortunately had a lot of watermarked stock photos. One that wasn't was from I'll Take Sweden, which led to this look at Merrill's life where the photo no longer seems to be used. But the appreciation has a number of other good photos.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Now I'm curious

Over the weekend, somebody linked to this review of a DVD called Ozploitation Trailer Exploitation. Unfortunately, the review is three years old, and the DVD is now out of print.

I don't know how much I'd want to buy a DVD of nothing but trailers. But I wouldn't mind seeing some of the titles mentioned in the review. The reviewer talks about "'respectable' Oz features", and names a couple of titles that showed up a few years back when TCM did its spotlight on the Australian New Wave hosted by Jacki Weaver.

A few of the titles have shown up in places like TCM Underground, or the old IFC back when they actually showed independent film and didn't have any commercials, such as The Cars that Ate Paris and, I think The Last Wave. I never got around to watching either of those, however.

And then there's the one title that I've wanted to see for a long time, The Man from Hong Kong. I have no idea if it's any good, but it spawned a big hit, "Sky High", from the group Jigsaw. And ever since I learned that ages ago, I'd been curious to see the movie. There are several movies like that. I was pleased finally to be able to see The Happening (which gave us that great Supremes song); I've never seen Unchained (which gave us the melody later covered by the Righteous Brothers and used in Ghost. I didn't know until after seeing the movies that Percy Faith's A Summer Place theme and Roger Williams' version of Autumn Leaves were not the originals.

As for The Man from Hong Kong, it does seem to have gotten a DVD release at one point, but like the collection of trailers that spawned this whole post, it seems to be out of print.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


So I was looking for something available on DVD to watch off my DVR. Today, that selection is Gymkata.

The opening shots are an intercut between a guy doing a gymnastics routine at a tournament, and another guy in some third world country trying to escape on foot from a bunch of guys pursuing him on horseback. The gymnast is a success; the other guy gets shot by an arrow, falling to his death.

Cut back to the gymnastics tournament. As our gymnast, Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas), is leaving, he's taken aside by a man who turns out to be a federal agent. That agent informs Jonathan that his father was killed. It turns out that his father was that guy we saw in the opening sequence. Dad was not a fugitive so much as taking part in a high-stakes game that is now being used for geopolitical purposes.

It seems that in the far-off country of Parmistan, they have a weird game. (I don't think it's referred to as "Gymkata", only as "the game".) Apparently condemned criminals get a chance at parole, while foreigners get a chance to have one wish granted to them, if only they can win the game. And that game involves a cross-country pursuit in the style of The Most Dangerous Game, with some of the Khan's men chasing after the competitors. And nobody's won this game in like 900 years. But various countries have started training their best athletes to take part, because Parmistan just happens to be the perfect location for a missile base that both the Americans and "the other side" (not mentioned!) want.

Anyhow, Jonathan's father was killed playing that game, and now the government wants Jonathan to train for it, since he's already a world-class athlete and would have the added motivation of avenging his father's death. Plus, there's a Parmistani princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani) to whom Jonathan is immediately attracted, although she is one tough woman. Anyhow, we get a bunch of training before we get to Parmistan.

There's also a meet-up with another agent in a third country somewhere on the Caspian (a fictitious city in a fictitious country), and that poses all sorts of danger for Jonathan even before he can get to Parmistan. Indeed, Rubali is kidnapped, and Jonathan vows to rescue her before heading off to Parmistan. He does this despite taking on about a dozen expert terrorists. You get where this movie is going from the fact that Jonathan keeps facing ridiculously long odds and winning.

Anyhow, Jonathan finally gets to Parmistan, where he finds out that Rubali has been betrothed by her father the Khan (Buck Kartalian) to the Khan's closest advisor Zamir (Richard Norton). And Zamir, it turns out, is actually against the Khan, but the Khan is too damn naïve to understand this. Zamir is intending to break all of the rules of the game to make certain that Jonathan does not in fact win.

It's all utterly ridiculous. While the movie does have a plot, that plot is mostly one trope after another, hanging as a pretext for a series of set pieces that allow Kurt Thomas to use his gymnastics moves. One fight has him improvising a high bar in a narrow alley, while in another fight, there's a prop that just happens to have two handles on the top, enabling Thomas to use it as a pommel horse. While the fight scenes aren't very good, they're good for a laugh. And why does Rubali have a catsuit on under her dress?

But there's also the direction, which at times equally ridiculous. For no good reason, the director decided to have a lot of sections of the fight scenes where the action suddenly switches from normal speed to slow motion and then back to regular speed. And I don't think any direction could have helped Kurt Thomas who isn't much of an actor.

To be fair, it's all so bad that it's good. Go into this expecting a movie that's not going to be any good, and you'll have a blast laughing at how ludicrous it all is. And there's some nice location shooting. This was done as a co-production with a Yugoslav film company back in the mid-1980s when Yugoslavia was the "liberal" Communist country -- remember, they didn't join the boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics, and they gave us the Yugo car. Some of the old towns look like they'd be interesting places to visit, assuming it's not all done on a backlot which I don't think they had.

The TCM Shop has it available at a very low price. If you're interested in really bad movies, you might want to take a flyer on it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bedazzled (1967)

Bedazzled is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 4:00 AM and 11:20 AM. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM showing.

Dudley Moore plays Stanley Moon, who works as a cook at the Wimpy Bar, which isn't a bar but the sort of urban diner people went into in vintage movies to get cheap meals. Stanley flips burgers for waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron) to serve to the patrons. Secretly, Stanley is in love with Margaret, but she has no idea of any of this, as Stanley is too timid to approach Margaret and tell her how he really feels about her. As a result, Stanley feels trapped in a dead-end life.

Feeling that his life is at that dead end, Stanley decides that the only thing for him to do is commit suicide. So he sets up a noose, ties the other end around a water pipe, and prepares to jump off a stool to his death. Except that this succeeds only in breaking the water pipe, spilling water into his flat and making his life even more of a mess, no pun intended.

Into all of this walks George Spiggott (Peter Cook). George seems to know a surprising amount about Stanley and his ancestry, more than Stanley knows about himself. The reason for that is George is in fact the Devil, and it's his job to know about people and use that information in an attempt to win people's souls. To that end, George offers Stanley seven wishes, after which George will be in eternal possession of Stanley's soul.

Stanley eventually decides to take George up on that offer. But of course, there's a catch, and here I don't mean the catch about George getting possession of Stanley's soul at the end of all this. Instead, every time Stanley makes a wish, George makes it come true. At least, only as far as Stanley specified things. Those parts of the wish Stanley failed to specify, well, George is going to interpret those in a way that makes Stanley dissatisfied. And when Stanley wants out of his wishes, he finds that George is constantly engaging in all sorts of mischief on the poor people of Earth.

Along the way, Stanley talks a lot with George on why anybody would want to become the devil if it's not as glamorous a life as you'd think, and why he acts the way he does, and George has some interesting -- and at times sensible answers. There are points that could actually be thought-provoking, although the movie is meant as a fairly light comedy in spite of the subject matter.

Peter Cook (r.) having a bit of fun with Dudley Moore explaining why he grew tired with God

In thinking about it more, I think I'd consider Bedazzled to be almost an alternate-universe version of Oh, God!. Where you have a charming George Burns wanting John Denver to let people know that, yes, God is still here; in Bedazzled you have a charming Peter Cook wanting to let at least one person know that yes, the Devil is still here. (The wishes seem detached from reality, and there's no indication that the other characters know what's going on in those wishes.) And indeed, both Cook and Moore are charming in their roles, to the point that you feel sympathetic for both of them even though Moore is on the verge of losing his soul. There are, however, a few points at which the movie feels it's running on a bit much. That criticism aside, Bedazzled is well worth a watch.

Note that Bedazzled was remade in 2000 and updated to have the Devil be played by a woman (Elizabeth Hurley), which I think not having seen the movie that it would add some unwanted sexual tension to the movie. Both versions did get a DVD release somewhere, which is something to watch out for if you're looking for an expensive used copy of the Cook/Moore version. The older one is, I think, out of print everywhere; the remake is not listed at the TCM Shop but seems available on streaming video for Amazon Prime members who can do the streaming thing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19, 1992

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Amy Fisher's shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco. For those who don't remember, Fisher, dubbed the "Long Island Lolita", was a 16-year-old who met auto body shop owner Joey Buttafuoco and began an afair with him that resulted in the shooting of Joey's wife.

Now, I was thinking about which old movie comes closest to the events in the sordid Fisher tale. Of course Fisher was referred to as the "Long Island Lolita" based on the Nabokov book and later movie, but Lolita doesn't shoot Mrs. Humbert or anybody else if memory serves.

Gene Tierney lets Cornel Wilde's kid brother die in Leave Her to Heaven, andn even goes so far as to kill herself and put the blame on her sister (Jeanne Crain) when that sister is found to be in love with the Wilde character. I suppose it's a bit of a reverse of the mistress trying to kill the wife.

Another woman got in the way of Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins in Pretty Poison, but that woman was Weld's mother, not Perkins' wife. Still, Pretty Poison is worth another watch, or a first if you've never seen it before.

Imitation of Life would have been much more interesting if Sandra Dee had tried to kill Lana Turner and run off with John Gavin. And in similar family shootings, there's Where Love Has Gone with Joey Heatherton killing her mother's new boyfriend. But that's a replay of Lana Turner/Joey Stompinato, and not Amy Fisher.

Ah yes, there's also Dead Ringer, in which Bette Davis kills the wife of her former lover, the wife also being played by Bette Davis. But in that one, the husband has already died.

Any other good ideas? There's gotta be a lot of them in noir.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #149: The Renaissance

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This weeks theme is the Renaissance, and once again I've selected a bunch of older movies:

Prince of Foxes (1949). Tyrone Power plays Orsini, a low nobleman in the Borgias' court, Cesare being played by Orson Welles. Cesare has his eyes on another principality up in the mountains, and sends Orsini as his emissary in a complicated plot to take over the place. Of course, Orsini goes there and falls in love with the Count's daughter (Wanda Hendrix), as well as finding out that there are leaders who are nicer than the Borgias. Power is right at home here, and it's a shame that they weren't able to film in Technicolor, since it was done on location in Italy and San Marino.

Carnival in Flanders, aka La kermess heroïque (1935). Set in the early 17th century in Flanders, which at the time was part of the Spanish Netherlands. A troop of Spanish soldiers is coming through a town which is about to celebrate its annual carnival. The town fathers don't want to have to confront the beastly Spaniards, so they come up with a ruse that one of the town fathers has died and the rest of them are in mourning, which is why they can't wait hand and foot on the Spaniards. So it's up to the women to make the soldiers' night in this small town pleasant, and sparks fly as they use their feminine wiles to keep the peace. A delightful little comedy.

El Greco (1966). Biopic about the Greek-born painter (played by Mel Ferrer) who moves to Spain and spends his artistic life there. As is often the case, there was conflict between the painter's artistic desires and what his patrons (this was Spain, where the Catholic church was particularly strong) wanted. Unfortunately, the only time I saw this one on the old Fox Movie Channel years ago, they ran it in a panned-and-scanned print.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Frances Dee night

TCM is spending a night tonight with actress Francess Dee, who in addition to the movies she made was also married to actor Joel McCrea for 57 years until his death in 1990. There's a nice variety of movies here, from I Walked With a Zombie at 11:30 PM, to the Bette Davis version of Of Human Bondage at 2:45 AM.

I think the one I'm really looking forward to might be a TCM premiere, that being An American Tragedy at 9:30 PM. At least, I don't think it's been on TCM in ages, although the daily schedule has a genre next to the movie instead of a "TCM Presents" which tends to show up next to premieres. Anyhow, Phillips Holmes plays the son of a mission worker (Lucille Laverne) who goes off to the big city, gets a job with an uncle's factory, falls in love with a co-worker (Sylvia Sidney), and then meets and falls in love with a rich woman (Frances Dee) which causes all sorts of problems. If all this sounds familiar, it's because the movie is based on a Theodore Dreiser novel and the material was remade into the 1951 classic A Place in the Sun.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Home Movies

Some years back, I briefly mentioned the Robert Benchley short Home Movies. I found that it's an extra on the DVD of My Favorite Wife that's in the four-film Cary Grant box set that TCM (well, technically Warner Home Video) put out, so I can do a full-length post on it. Or as full as one can do for a seven-minute short.

Benchley tells us that he's going to tell us how to make good home movies, if only he can find that camera under all the film stock. Cut to a scene of Benchley hosting a bunch of neighbors and showing his vacation movie. I recall my Dad doing this for people of the pictures he took of his trip to Germany nearly 30 years ago, only my dad didn't have a movie camera; he took slides instead. Does anybody make slides any longer? Nowadays you'd just have the photos on a computer and hook that up to a large screen or a projector. In fact, Dad still has the slides and was in the process of converting them to digital before Mom died. That, and the old computer went belly-up after a lightning strike and I don't know if the software is Windows 10-compatible.

Anyhow, in the Benchley short, we see that all of his "friends" come up with excuses to get home early; apparently the being bored of other people's photos when you visit their home has long been a thing. This is why you'd go to the movies to see a Traveltalks short instead. And all of Benchley's movies are terrible. Benchley tries to make all of this funny, but he doesn't really succeed. The one funny bit comes at the end, but that one would no longer work either now that we have safety film.

I can recommend the feature films in the box set (Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Night and Day, and the aforementioned My Favorite Wife), but as for the short it's one of the worst Benchley shorts I've seen.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Movies I blogged about years ago: May 15-16, 2017

I'm not certain what to blog about today, and with work still being a bitch I don't have as much time to do a good post on weekdays as I'd like. So I was looking at the schedules and saw a couple of movies I blogged about years ago that are coming up:

Seven Days to Noon will be on overnight at 1:45 AM on TCM. This is a nice little British thriller about a nuclear scientist who suddenly decides that Britain's work on the bomb needs to stop, and dammit, he's going to make them stop. It isn't perfect because of its small budget, but if you haven't seen it before it's well worth a look.

Come to the Stable is on FXM Retro this morning at 7:15 AM, but is going to be on again first thing tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM. Loretta Young and Celeste Holm play a couple of nuns over from France who get the small town they go to to put up a new children's hospital and church. Hokey at times, but good for the whole family.

The Big Street will be on TCM tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM as part of a morning and afternoon of Henry Fonda movies. Fonda plays a busboy at a nightclub who accidentally injures moll Lucille Ball, and then vows to take her down to Florida for a cure. It's a movie I have some serious problems with, mostly because it seems not to know whether it wants to be a screwball comedy or a drama, and winds up not succeeding at doing either.

[Edit:] I should have added that there's also a half hour of Lumière shorts overnight at 3:30 AM on TCM. I don't know which ones are in the set, and how they're presented.