Friday, November 24, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Days

I recently watched Anne of the Thousand Days off my DVR, since it's available on DVD (in a two-disc set along with the 1971 version of Mary, Queen of Scots).

The story is one that's well-known, since this is a historical drama. The Anne of the title is of course Anne Boleyn. Anne (played by Geneviève Bujold) was educated in France and returned to England where she was noticed by the King, Henry VIII (Richard Burton). The Boleyns were already known to Henry, since he'd been banging Anne's elder sister Mary thanks to their father basically pimping the kids out to the King for financial gain. (At least, that's the way it's presented in the movie.) Of course, at the time, Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas).

The marrige between Henry and Catherine had problems, however. Henry desperately needed a male heir to the throne, and all Catherine had been able to do is bear Henry one living child (she had two stillborn births, a couple of miscarriages, and one son who lived seven weeks), Mary ("Bloody Mary", not Mary, Queen of Scots). Henry feared he'd never have a male heir by Catherine. He wanted Anne, but trying to marry her would present all sorts of problems: Catholic law wouldn't permit it, and Henry had been declared "Defender of the Faith". Further, the Spanish Emperor was Catherine's nephew and he sacked Rome, so there was no way that Henry VIII would get the Pope to annul the marriage to Catherine.

Henry tried to get an ecclesiastical court led by top advisor Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle) to annul the marriage, but when that didn't work Henry sacked Wolsey (who was terminally ill) and found a Cardinal who would be more pliant to Henry's claim that Catherine's first marriage (to Henry's brother) was in fact valid so her marriage to Henry wasn't. This ultimately freed Henry to marry Anne, and split the English Church from the Catholic Church.

Anne got pregnant... but she bore Henry another daughter, named Elizabeth. And then she got pregnant again... but gave birth to a stillborn child. Henry began plotting with his new top advisor, Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) on how to get rid of Anne so that he could marry his new squeeze Jane Seymour who obviously would deliver him a son. (She did, although as King Edward VI he didn't outlive Henry by too long.) Eventually Henry accused Anne of adultery, which meant treason, a crime punishable by death.

Anne of the Thousand Days is one of those post-studio system costume dramas that's lovely to look at. No longer tied to the backlots, the studios were able to film in British locations that lend an air of verisimilitude. Burton and especially Bujold are good in their roles; Thomas Cromwell is excellently portrayed as a manipulative schemer, while Wolsey is well-played as someone trying to please two masters while enriching himself on this world. The movie has a longish running time at 145 minutes, but it didn't feel that long as I was watching it.

Obviously, a lot of the material in this movie is related to material in A Man For All Seasons. Personally, I think I preferred A Man For All Seasons which to me looks even more beautiful. But Annd of the Thousand Days is more than worth a watch.

TCM Guest Programmer November 2017: Matthew Modine

It's that time of the month once again on TCM when we get a Guest Programmer; this time it's actor Matthew Modine. He sat down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss four of his favorite films, and those films are running tonight. I'm mildly surprised that they scheduled the Guest Programmer for a holiday weekend, but Mondays through Wednesdays were already taken. Perhaps they could have done it on a Thursday earlier in the month. Anyhow, Modine's selections are:

The Dirty Dozen at 8:00 PM, in which Lee Marvin leads a group of reprobates on a suicide mission against a Nazi compound in France;
Cool Hand Luke at 10:45 PM, which sees Paul Newman eating 50 hard boiled eggs and George Kennedy ogling a girl washing a car;
Network overnight at 1:15 AM, Paddy Chayefsky's biting satire of a TV network that is a stand-in for [insert favorite channel you love to hate]; and
Grand Illusion at 3:30 AM, the story of a bunch of French POWs in a German camp in World War I.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #176: Origin Stories



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 "origin stories", which I assume has to do with all those superhero movies and how the superheroes became heroes in the first place. That's not a genre of movies I know much about, so I came up with a couple of movies that kinda, sorta fit the idea of "origin story" in a different way:

The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966). Dino de Laurentiis produced this oversized look at the Book of Genesis and a cast of stars: Richard Harris, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, and Peter O'Toole show up. Directed by John Huston, who also plays Noah.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Here we learn about how man descended from the apes, and how the apes learned to use tools. The final third, which frankly makes no sense at all, is supposedly about human origins or something. Every time TCM shows this one I watch the last third with the descriptive audio in the second audio channel turned on, and it still makes no sense.

The Story of Mankind (1957). The voice of good (Ronald Colman) is up against evil (Vincent Price) in a heavenly court to determine whether man should be allowed to continue existing in the age of nuclear weapons. We then get a series of vignettes showing various scenes from history including an all-star cast, or should I say an all-star miscast (Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton? Peter Lorre as Nero?) -- this one goes off the rails in an unintentionally hilarious way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving programming

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for those of us in the States, and being a prominent holiday, means that there's all sorts of specials going on out in the TV world. There's been a Thanksgiving Day football game going all the way back to the 1930s, and for decades it was the Lions hosting the Packers after a Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the Dallas Cowboys came into the league in the 1960s, they offered to host a second Thanksgiving game; having to play on Thursday isn't an easy turnaround.

Anyhow, this is all to say that it's not just TCM that changes things up for Thanksgiving. TCM is running a bunch of family movies as usual; mostly stuff I've recommended before except that I don't know if I've ever mentioned Places in the Heart (tomorrow at 1:30 PM) before. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a Fox film, but that's on TCM tomorrow at 3:30 PM.

It doesn't really look as though FXM Retro is doing much for the holiday; I guess we'll have to wait for Christmas to see if they run the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol on an endless loop again. Which brings me to why I really brought up this topic today.

As I was looking through the various schedules, I noticed that StarzEncore Classics had Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on tonight at 10:00 PM. It's a perfect movie to kick off Thanksgiving. But: they're running it on a loop, 15 times in 24 hours, roughly 96 minutes apart. I'd assume they're just trying to get anybody who's channel surfing and runs across the channel, which isn't a bad strategy for a niche channel.

Don't get me started on the Hallmark Channel's running sappy Christmas TV-movies round the clock for about two weeks now, although that must be enough of a success as they do it year after year and it's not the same set of TV-movies every year.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

More Elizabeth I

In last week's Thursday Movie Picks post about strong female characters, I mentioned The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, in which Bette Davis plays Elizabeth I of England. Of course, she would go on to play Elizabeth I again, in The Virgin Queen, which is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:05 AM.

Elizabeth I has shown up in a whole bunch of movies, probably because her story makes for something cinematically interesting. There's her father, the rise to power after Henry VIII's death (Mary of Scotland and Young Bess), the Spanish Armada (Fire over England), and the various men in her life (The Virgin Queen deals with Sir Walter Raleigh).

Try imagining an engaging movie about, say, Benjamin Harrison.

Monday, November 20, 2017

TCM is remembering Ralph Meeker on his birthday again

Last November 21 I wrote a blog post about actor Ralph Meeker, whose birthday it was. (Well, birth anniversary; he died in 1988.) It's one year on from that, and TCM is running some of his movies tomorrow morning. I've mentioned Jeopardy on a number of occasions; that one is airing at 12:45 PM. I thought I had done a full-length post on Shadow in the Sky before, but it turns out I only gave it a one-paragraph synopsis back in May when TCM ran a night of James Whitmore movies.

I've actually mentioned it a couple of times; the first time the mention wasn't quite as positive as last May: I said that it goes hilariously wrong at times. On further reflection, I think both reviews are OK: I always find the early 50s MGM B movies interesting, but they're still MGM movies. MGM always had a lot of glitz, but by the 50s outside of the musicals, that glitz was fading at the edges. There are a lot of smaller movies like Shadow in the Sky that have interesting ideas but for whatever reason -- they have a message to make being one of the big ones -- they don't get things quite right. Those MGM Bs from the 50s are mostly movies I'd recommend to people who are already fans of old movies, but for people just getting into it I'd start elsewhere.

Postponed movies

Over the weekend, the following story from India came to my attention:

Bounty placed on Bollywood actress' head after Hindu-Muslim film outrage

A top Bollywood actress has been given a special police security detail amid ongoing protests over a historical drama.

Deepika Padukone has received violent threats over her lead role in the film Padmavati - the fable of a 14th century Hindu queen of Rajasthan, based on an epic medieval poem.

Cinemas have been vandalised in response, and riot police put on alert for its release on December 1.

Rightwing Hindu groups claim the film besmirches the name of Padmavati by insinuating she had a romance with a Muslim emperor while she was married to a Hindu king - a charge denied by the film's director.

I did a bit of looking around for info on the epic poem and the movie, and discovered that according to Wikipedia, the movie release has been indefinitely postponed, at least in India. Supposedly it was going to get international distribution too. Not that it would have shown up in my neck of the woods, and not that I necessarily would have gone to see it, anyway. I'm not certain if I'd want to see a Bollywood musical version of an epic. But the story itself sounds like it could be made into just as interesting a movie as any of the western medieval historical dramas.

Anyhow, this got me to thinking about movies that got postponed in Hollywood. One I immediately thought of is Arsenic and Old Lace, which is on the TCM schedule this afternoon at 2:00 PM. It was based on a popular Broadway play, and apparently they were contractually bound not to release the movie until after the original Broadway run ended. Who knew that was going to be another two years; that sort of thing just didn't happen on Broadway back then.

RKO had a couple in the 50s I can remember. The Narrow Margin was held back for a year or two. The story, probably apocryphal, is that RKO boss Howard Hughes wanted to watch a copy before release, but forgot about it for a long time. There's also The Whip Hand, which got postponed because Howard Hughes decided the bad guys shouldn't be the Nazis, but Communists. This required a bunch of re-shoots and a plot that looks a bit of a mess.

Jerry Lewis famously shelved The Day the Clown Cried; I don't know if there were any surviving prints or if he had them all destroyed.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Time Table

Unfortunately we had a power outage this morning so my plan to finish watching McCabe and Mrs. Miller was scuppered. Thankfully I had watched Time Table last night off a DVD I bought, so I can do a full-length post on that one instead.

The movie starts off very interestingly. On an overnight train in the Southwest, Dr. Sloane (Wesley Addy) is alerted by the conductor of a sick passenger in one of the sleeping compartments. The good doctor investigates, and determines that the patient is sick with... polio! (The movie was released in early 1956; apparently not everybody had received the polio vaccine yet.) The patient has to get to a hospital as quickly as possible, and Phoenix is too far away, so they're going to have to stop at the next place with a hospital. Oh, and Sloane needs access to his medicine in the baggage car.

Sloane goes to the baggage car, and when he gets his bag... he pulls out a gun! He gives the three attendants in the baggage car a sedative, and when they're knocked out, he robs the safe of the $500,000 that it contains. And of course he has an out since the train is stopping to take the "patient" to the hospital.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) is told that he's going to have to delay his vacation to Mexico with his wife in order to investigate the robbery. There's a bit of luck in that one of the people in the getaway ambulance was shot, which leads to more evidence coming out: they probably got away by helicopter which brings in more suspects, and so it goes. But the biggest shock is Charlie's relationship to the case.

Time Table is a competent, if low-budget crime movie from the mid-1950s. It's definitely not the first thing I'd think of if I were trying to get people interested in crime movies of the era, but for people who have already seen the well-known movies from that era and enjoy the genre, I'd have no qualms recommending this one. The movie is pedestrian in that it's not particularly memorable and there's nothing outstanding about it. But it's more than entertaining enough.

The DVD, courtesy of Alpha Video, has a relatively muddled print, which I'm sure has to do a lot with the fact that they deal in lesser-known public domain movies. The print has an Alpha Video bug over the opening and closing credits, annoyingly in the top right instead of the bottom right. The DVD cover also prominently mentions Jack Klugman, although he only has one scene.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

30 years before Scooby-Doo

Last night I watched The Cat and the Canary since it's available on DVD and since it's short enough I could watch in one sitting in the evening before going to bed. Longer movies will have to wait until the mornings.

The lawyer Crosby is making his way to a house somewhere in the Louisiana bayous; it turns out that a rich, eccentric old man died there ten years ago with his housekeeper, Miss Lu (Gale Sondergaard) staying to maintain the place. According to the terms of the dead man's will, the rest of the will wasn't going to be read until ten years after his death or some nonsense that I don't think would be legal and doesn't need to make much sense for the rest of the movie anyway. Anyhow, the lawyer is here for that will reading; a bunch of relatives who are cousins of each other show up in ones and twos.

Among them are vaudevillean Wally (Bob Hope); the lovely Joyce (Paulette Goddard); the young men Fred (John Beal) and Charlie (Douglass Montgomery); and a couple of older aunt types. The old man's will specifies that one and only one of the assembled is going to inherit the money, but with the caveat that if that person dies or is found insane within a month of the will reading, than a second relative, whose identity is kept secret in a separate codicil, will inherit that money. The first in line to get all the money is... Joyce!

Naturally, everybody tries to start getting Joyce to crack up mentally, except possibly Wally, who seems almost romantically attracted to the lovely Joyce and wants to protect her even though he's a coward at heart. And then word comes that "the Cat" has escaped from a local asylum and there's an officer who's reached the island where the house is looking for the Cat. Strange things start to happen, with eyes looking through the cut out eyes of a painting, and secret passages.

As I was watching The Cat and the Canary, I couldn't help but think of the Scooby Doo cartoons from the 1970s, where there was always a bad guy in a mask trying to scare the bejeezus out of everybody in order to get some financial gain down the line, and things like eyes looking through a painting and secret passages. And, of course, the climax with Fred pulling the mask off the guilty party, who informs us that he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Of course, there are no meddling kids here, and the movie is supposed to be a straight-up comedy with a few horror elements, being a parody of the "old dark house" genre.

The Cat and the Canary does mostly work, although I have to admit that I wouldn't give it quite as high a rating as most other commenters seem to do. Part of that probably has to do with Bob Hope's humor not really being my thing; another part might have to do with my being reminded of Scooby Doo. At least there's no Scrappy here. Still, I'm sure that most people will enjoy this one, and many of you will probably enjoy it even more than I did.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Half-watched movies

So TCM is sitting down with the writer behind Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, tonight. Apparently, the movie has stories set in both the 1920s and the 1970s, so Selznick is going to be presenting three movies from those eras and discuss how they influenced Wonderstruck. Or something like that. The night starts off at 8:00 PM with The Wind, a really good Lillian Gish.

Something that I thought was part of the night's programming, but apparently doesn't have Selznick presenting it, is McCabe and Mrs. Miller at 2:30 AM. I had that one on the DVR and with it coming up on the schedule, I made a point to try to watch it so I could do a full-length review on the movie. But I only got part of the way through before something came up -- a live sporting event I had wanted to watch or somesuch. I never got around to watching the rest of it, thanks to my hectic work schedule. The one thing I did notice, however, was the very 1970s cinematography.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller isn't the only movie I only got halfway through. The other one is Looking for Mr. Goodbar, although at least there there's a good excuse. I think I'm most decidedly not in the target demographic for the movie. It's one of those that reminded me of An Unmarried Woman in that it deals with adult topics of the era, but seems targeted at women. Maybe not quite as much as An Unmarried Woman, but definitely not to my taste. And Looking for Mr. Goodbar, as far as I know, is out-of-print on DVD.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #175: Movies with Strong Female Characters



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 with strong female characters, and it should come as no surprise that my selections include three of the toughest women (in real life) in Hollywood's golden age:

Mildred Pierce (1945). Joan Crawford plays the title character who, finding out that her husband (Bruce Bennett) has been unfaithful, divorces him and goes to work, working her way up to a chain of restaurants. But she's got an ingrateful daughter (Ann Blythe) who wants the better things in life, so Mildred spoils her rotten. This was Crawford's first picture at Warner Bros. after 18 years at MGM, and it starts the going over the top part of Crawford's career, as she was determined to make the movie a success. Crawford did win the Oscar.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Bette Davis plays England's Queen Elizabeth I, who had to be tough as nails to keep her throne and to keep foreigners from harming the country in the form of the Spanish Armada. This movie, however, is set toward the end of Elizabeth's life. She's felt love for any number of noblemen but was never able to marry them because of her perceived duty to the state. This time around, it's the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn); Elizabeth eventually sacrifices him.

The Purchase Price (1932). Barbara Stanwyck plays a nightclub singer and gangster's moll who wants to get away from her boyfriend (Lyle Talbot). So she flees to Montreal and then offers to switch places with her maid, who was planning on quitting to become... a mail-order bride! So Stanywck goes off to North Dakota where she meets her new husband (George Brent) and tries to make the best of it. It's not easy, and then complicating matters is that her old boyfriend finds her again. (To be honest, I really would have preferred to use Night Nurse or Baby Face for Stanwyck, but of course I've already used both of them.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tulips Shall Grow

So I watched The Puppetoon Movie off my DVR, from TCM's recent two-night salute to animator George Pal. The programming block was with Arnold Leibovit, who produced and directed the wraparounds for the movie and has gotten a DVD and Blu-ray of the movie released. It was the latter release which obviously spurred the programming: a little bit of advertising in exchange for the rights to run at least that movie; TCM probably had a much easier time getting the rights to some of Pal's later stuff.

The Puppetoon Movie is really nothing more than a bunch of Pal's animated (with puppets, of course) shorts from the 1930s and 1940s, together with that wraparound involving Gumby, Pokey, and Arnie the Dinosaur. The Puppetoons are, I think, a bit of an acquired taste, especially because a couple of the shorts are even shorter on plot and even more so sight gags than most of the traditionally animated shorts of the era. I think the best of them was Tulips Shall Grow, from 1942.

Jan and Janette are two lovers in Holland; Jan romantically pursuing Janette who lives in a windmill. Their idyllic lives are upended one day when the screwballs (obviously a stand-in for the Nazis although they're just screws with bolts for heads) invade, and overrun the whole countryside. But the screwballs never considered the possibilty of rust, much the same way the invaders in War of the Worlds never considered human viruses might lay them low. Jan and Janette are able to live happily ever after, as an end title reminds us that "tulips shall always grow".

Overall, the Puppetoon shorts would be best served as extras on various DVDs, but there's the usual problem of rights. The 40s Puppetoon shorts were distributed by Paramount, but Paramount is not listed in the IMDb production companies. Besides, a couple of the shorts are from the 1930s and were done in the Netherlands; Philips distributed those. No regular studio is going to license the shorts just to include them on a DVD with one of their own classics, and you can't blame them. The result is a standalone DVD, and a Blu-ray with a lot of extras, but which is extremely pricey by DVD and Blu-ray standards.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More on TCM's James Stewart programming

I mentioned two weeks ago -- are we almost halfway through the month already? -- that TCM was starting its programming of James Stewart's movies on Wednesday mornings and continuing through prime time Wednesday.

What I didn't notice, because I have a tendency not to look that far ahead, is that the programming isn't beginning at 6:00 AM every Wednesday. Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM is Citizen Kane. Alan Ladd has a bit part, as one of the reporters at the end, I believe, but certainly no James Stewart, who was already too famous for a small part. Besides, at 8:15 AM, there's Gun Crazy, another movie that absolutely doesn't have Stewart in it.

Indeed, Gun Crazy is pretty clearly where it is on the lineup because Dalton Trumbo liked the right kind of dictator. The original screenplay was apparently written by him but had somebody else's name on it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Five Gates to Hell

A few weeks back I mentioned the movie Five Gates to Hell that was completely new to me. I made it a point to watch it since it's coming up again on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM and then again Wednesday morning at 8:35 AM.

The movie didn't start off promising, since the opening credits were both letterboxed and pillarboxed. That's a pretty good sign that FXM is only going to show the credits in Cinemascope and then pan-and-scan the rest of the movie. Sure enough that's what happened. On to the story, Athena (Dolores Michaels) is a Red Cross nurse at a field hospital in French Indochina in 1950. The Vietnamese were of course fighting for their independence from the French, but the disparate staff at the hospital try to be neutral in whom they treat. Athena is American and the daughter of a diplomat in Hanoi; there's a French head nurse, a Brit, a German, a Japanese, a nun and a couple of American doctors.

Eventually, a group Vietnamese decide to attack the hospital. Led by Chen Pamok (Neville Brand), the attack isn't a terrorist attack, but one with a more serious purpose. He needs doctors and nurses, because the ultimate commander of his group of guerrillas is sick and, in all likelihood terminally ill. But Chen wants to get the man medical care, even if he has to kidnap doctors and nurses to do so.

Chen and his fighters take the medical staff to a castle high atop a hill. The doctors and nurses would like to escape, but that's going to be extremely difficult because the journey to and from the castle has a number of bottlenecks that are the only way through -- the "gates" from the title. Chen, for his part, wants Athena for his wife, not that she's going to accept that proposal. Still, with a heavily fortified fortress, how are they going to escape?

Five Gates to Hell is a movie that has a good premise, but it's a movie that winds up being less than the sum of its parts. Part of that has to do with looks like a low budget to me; watching the movie I couldn't help but get the feeling something was missing. A bigger problem, I think, is the script, which gives some of the women motivations for the actions that aren't quite believable. Worse is the dialogue it gives poor Neville Brand. The writers at least explained away having a white guy play Vietnamese by saying that his mother was a westerner who died in childbirth, but he's given a command of English that's only slightly above "Me Tarzan, you Jane". Every time Brand opens his mouth the movie comes to a screeching halt.

Still, Five Gates to Hell isn't as bad as some of the IMDb reviewers make it out to be. It's more mediocre through and through than anything else. The movie is, in fact, available on DVD courtesy of the Fox MOD scheme.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Best Men

I had the movie Best Men on my DVR for quite some time, not realizing that it is in fact available on DVD courtesy of MGM's MOD scheme. So now I finally feel comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with four men going through their morning routine and getting dressed in tuxedos. They get in a car and go to... a prison? Well, there's a good reason for that, which is that they're about to pick up their friend Jesse (Luke Wilson) who is about to be released from that prison. And they're dressed in tuxes because now that Jesse is out of prison he can get married to his fiancée Hope (Drew Barrymore). The other guys are obviously the groomsmen. On the way to the church, however, one of the groomsmen, Billy (Sean Patrick Flannery), says he needs to get a little cash, so they make a stop at the bank along the way.

What Billy didn't tell them is that he was planning to hold up the bank. Billy, as it turns out, is a notorious serial bank robber nicknamed "Hamlet" because of his tendency to quote the works of Shakespeare. Anyhow, Billy goes in the bank with none of his friends knowing his real plans. Robbing the bank takes more time than just making a simple withdrawal (for which he could have used the ATM anyway), so eventually the friends start to wonder what's taking Billy so long. Especially Jesse, since he's nervous about getting to the wedding on time.

So one by one, the friends go into the bank, and find out that it's being held up -- by their other best friend! Buzz (Dean Cain) is ex-military; Teddy (Andy Dick) is a bit of a nerd; and Sol (Mitchell Whitfield) is Jesse's former defense attorney, who clearly doesn't want to take part in a bank robbery. Jesse, given a choice, would prefer to go stratight. The other friends however, find themselves getting caught up in the robbery.

Things get even more complicated when the sheriff and a hostage negotiator get to the bank. The feds are portrayed as buffoonish, while the sheriff (Fred Ward) is actually Billy's father! Oh, and there's also the poor bride. She winds up at the bank, and is willing to support her fiancé in whatever choice he ultimately makes. And there are a lot of people in the bank who have support for Billy and his accomplices, notably "The Vet" (Brad Dourif) who, like Buzz, is also ex-military.

Best Men is mostly a comedy, although there is enough drama in it that people expecting a straight-up comedy might be in for a bit of a surprise. The characters are, after all, committing a serious crime and you'd expect them to get caught and punished for it even though we're clearly meant to have sympathy for them. And, despite the title, it is most definitely not a romantic comedy in the sense that most people would think of it. Not that it's a bad movie by any means. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can recommend it to anybody looking for something a bit offbeat.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sissi

About a month ago TCM ran Sissi, the first of three movies in a trilogy about Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth; actually they ran the whole trilogy although I haven't gotten around to seeing the second and third movies yet. The trilogy, along with a condensed and dubbed version, have been released together in a box set, so I'm OK doing a full length post on the movie.

Sissi (Romy Schneider) is the 16-year-old daughter of a Bavarian Duke Max, living an idyllic life at the family castle in southern Bavaria. Her mother Ludovika (played by Romy's real-life mother Magda) is worried about what will happen to her daughters since Sissi and older sister Helene, nicknamed Nene, are of the age where they should start being looked at as marriageable and should be married to good royalty. Anyhow, they're in luck as they receive a letter from Aunt Sophie in Vienna that her son Austrian Emperor Franz Josef (Karlheinz Böhm) will be visiting Ischl (not far from southeastern Bavaria), and she might be able to work an arranged marriage between him and Nene. But Mom is worried about Dad screwing things up, so Mom decides to take Sissi along with Nene to Ischl.

All Sissi really wants to do is go hunting and fisching, but her mom doesn't think that's appropriate for a lady; besides, Sisi is really too young for all the courtly engagements Nene and Mom will have to take part in. So they lock Sissi in her room! She climbs out the window to go fishing, and that's how she meets Franz Josef. (A humorous subplot in the first half of the movie involves a policeman trying to stop assassination attempts against the Emperor, and thinking that Sissi is an assassin.) Of course, the two fall in love, knowing that they can never have each other. Sissi doesn't realize that he his supposed to get engaged to her sister, while Franz Josef doesn't realize that he's talking to Nene's sister. Sparks fly when they meet in their royal capacities.

The story presented in Sissi is impossibly romantic and rose-colored. But damn if the movie isn't just gorgeous to watch. It was filmed in lush Agfacolor, which makes the already good-looking backdrops of the Austrian Alps look even better. Having access to real European castles also helps, and the sets and costumes are beautiful as well. The actors, for the most part, do a reasonably good job, so the end result is that even though you should dismiss the material as treacle, the movie as a whole entertains. (They had the good sense not to make it a musical.)

As with foreign films, the DVD box set is a bit pricier than I'd like to pay. But the restoration is beautiful; I can't stress that enough.

Friday, November 10, 2017

John Hillerman, 1932-2017


John Hillerman (r.) and Tom Selleck in a promotional still from the "Magnum PI" era

Actor John Hillerman, who is probably best remembered for playing Magnum's (Tom Selleck) boss Higgins on the very 80s TV show Magnum, PI, has died aged 84.

Hillerman's movie career started in the 1970s, and he's in quite a few interesting movies, including several of which I've recommended. He's the intermediary in the interesting and not very well remembered The Nickel Ride; a hotel manager in What's Up, Doc?; Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles; and has roles in movies such as Chinatown, Paper Moon, and The Last Picture Show.

Unsurprisingly, of course, it's Higgins that all the obituaries are mentioning.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #174: Adaptations I'd like to see



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 adaptations you'd like to see, and this one is difficult for me since I was having trouble thinking of things I'd like to see turned into movies. In fact, I found out that one of the books I thought about was in fact turned into a movie that's been doing the festival circuit in 2017. Anyhow, I've got two serious ideas, and one frivolous remake/reworking:

Five Days in June. This 1974 novel by German writer Stefan Heym is a dramatization of the June 1953 uprising in East Germany that, unsurprisingly, was brutally put down. I actually had to read this one in German back in college. The Hungarian uprising of 1956 has featured in at least one Hollywood movie (The Journey from 1959, re-teaming Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr), and of course the Berlin Wall has, but I don't know about the 1953 uprising.

Shattered. I'm having trouble imagining Hollywood doing an honest look at the 2016 presidential election, and the mistakes Hillary Clinton's campaign made to lose what should have been a fairly easy victory. But we're probably going to get a lot of stuff about alleged Russian collusion.

And, I'd like to see a reworking of Gone With the Wind focusing on the wild miscegenation between Clark Gable's and Hattie McDaniel's characters. Mammy and the Bachelor. Of course, the book has already been lampooned before in the form of The Wind Done Gone, which engendered a legal case over copyright infringement.

I told you I was having trouble coming up with stuff.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Karin Dor, 1938-2017

I noticed today that German actress Karin Dor has died at the age of 79.

I have to admit that, surprisingly, I don't remember Dor from her role of playing a Bond Girl in You Only Live Twice -- I only recall the Japanese Bond Girls from that one. Her name really reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Topaz. She plays Juanita, the Cuban woman who gets killed in a memorable sequence, shot from overhead.

Dor didn't make many English-language movies, focusing on her native Germany as well as the stage. Germans would probably know her from a couple of films she did on a version of the American Old West that was even more fictitious than anything out of Hollywood, those based on Karl May's Winnetou character.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Herman J. Mankiewicz, 1987-1953

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of screnwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, brother of director Joseph and grandfather of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Herman is probably best remembered for his work on the screenplay to Citizen Kane, which won him an Oscar although Orson Welles might have begged to differ over how much of the work on that screenplay was done by various people. Among Herman's other screen credits are adapting the play Dinner At Eight for the movie version. He also wrote the original story for It's a Wonderful World, which is going to air tomorrow at 12:15 PM as part of James Stewart's turn as TCM Star of the Month.

Herman also did a lot of screenwriting for which, according to IMDb, he doesn't actually have on-screen credit, and intertitles for a whole bunch of silent films.

And in an odd coincidence, Herman Mankiewicz died the same day as Joseph Stalin.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Stranger's Return

TCM is running a bunch of Miriam Hopkins movies tomorrow morning and afternoon. One that doesn't seem to be available on DVD is The Stranger's Return, which will be on at 7:45 AM.

Hopkins plays the nominal stranger, a big-city divorcée named Louise. Having just gotten a divorce, she wants to get away from it all, and decides that she's going to go back to the old family farm run by her grandfather (Lionel Barrymore), an 85-year-old Civil War veteran. This even though she's never been on the farm as an adult. But it'll do her good to get away and recharge.

Or so she thinks. Obviously, things aren't going to be completely easy. There are a couple of women relatives already living on the farm with Grandpa (Beulah Bondi as Beatrice and Aileen Carlyle as Thelma) and they don't take kindly to the new arrival, expecting that Grandpa is going to make certain she gets an inheritance in the will. They think he's too old to run the farm and they'd basically like to take it over for themselves.

And then there's the neighbor. Guy (Franchot Tone) is another farmer, although that's really a surprise, since he's college-educated and would like to have the finer things in life and the chance to talk about culture with somebody. Nothing against his wife Nettie (Irene Hervey); she just isn't cultured. You wonder how Guy ended up here. Anyhow, Guy and Louise meet and you know that they're going to feel an attraction for her. Nettie may not be cultured, but she's not stupid: she can see that Guy likes having this big-city woman around. Guy doesn't want to hurt his wife, and Louise doesn't want to break up their marriage, anyway.

But that story is going to have to take a back seat to the finale. Beatrice is trying to get Grandpa declared insane so that he's going to have to give up control of the farm to her. And Grandpa certainly is acting nutty. Louise, however, has come to love her grandfather and is willing to fight for him.

The Stranger's Return is one of those leisurely-paced programmers from the early days of sound. Sure there are a lot of movies from those days where they try to make the pace fast in order to get everything in in the short running time, but there are others that seem to meander along, more or less showing a slice of life. The Stranger's Return is definitely in the latter category, especially considering the amount of time they spend on a dinner for farmhands.

Still, the performances are good and the story does interest. The Stranger's Return ultimately succeeds as a programmer even if the ending is a bit hit-or-miss. This is another of those movies that Warner Home Video probably ought to put out on DVD on one of those four-film sets.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

My Pal Gus

So I watched My Pal Gus off my DVR last night since it's available on DVD at the TCM Shop courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme.

The movie starts off with Dave Jennings (Richard Widmark) dictating a bunch of stuff to his secretary Ivy (Joan Banks) as he's being driven to the airport to catch a plane for an important business meeting. Jennings is clearly a Type A personality, and if there were a letter in the alphabet before A, his personality type would be that letter. They have to stop at his apartment to pick up his bags, and when they get to the building there's smoke coming from his apartment!

That's where we meet the second lead in the story, Dave's sun Gus (George Winslow, who would later get the nickname "Foghorn" because of his distinctive voice). Gus is a hell-raiser who seems to have no sense of discipline. Of course, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't have a parent in the house, being raised instead by nurses. Gus needs somebody to show some love and discipline, at least in the non-physical sense. Eventually, Dave winds up enrolling Gus in the Playtime School.

Lydia Marble (Joanne Dru) runs the school, and she has some rather unorthodox for the time views on child raising. One of them is that the parents should be actively involved in the running of the school, to the point that parents are expected to spend one day a month at the school helping with the children. Usually this would have meant the mothers, since mothers of young children at the time would have been housewives instead of in the work force. But there's no mother in the picture for Gus: it turns out that businessman Dave had gone bankrupt some years back, at which point his wife left him. For richer, but not for poorer. So Dave is going to have to spend a day at the school, something he feels decidedly unfit to do.

But he notices that the school is having a positive effect on his son, and that Guss really seems to take to Miss Marble. And as Dave spends more time discussing his son with Miss Marble, he finds himself falling for her, too. They're all going to live happily ever after, aren't they?

Except that the ex-Mrs. Jennings (Audrey Totter) decides to show up. The Jennings got their divorce quickly in Mexico, and it turns out that that divorce may not have been handled 100% properly, which means the two are probably still legally married in the US. And Mrs. Jennings has decided that she wants custody of the son she abandoned back when the kid was an infant.

Logically, a court ought to look at the case and rule against Mrs. Jennings, but the idea that a mother ought to look after her children is a strong one, as well as men being financial support instead of active parents. So there's a contested trial to determin the outcome of the divorce.

My Pal Gus is clearly a lesser movie in Richard Widmark's career, but he gives it all he has, and doesn't do badly with the somewhat out-of-character material he's given. The movie does hit some problems, however, when it gets to the trial and the aftermath of the trial, as the plot really strains credulity. Even though times were different back in the 1950s, I think it's tough to imagine the trial going the way it did.

The end result is a movie that's watchable enough but not particularly great. It is, however, fun to watch poor Richard Widmark having to deal with a child actor, and to bring some of the same gangster-type attributes from the characters he had been playing up until them to being a father and businessman.

Unseen Cinema

Tonight's prime-time lineup on TCM, starting at 8:00 PM as always, is two compilations of shorts, together titled Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941. I have a feeling this one aired quite a few years ago, since the full set of movies together premiered back at the beginning of the century. Also, a box set of the shorts was released a few years after that, in 2005. I wouldn't be surprised if that's when I saw some of these on TCM. Unfortunately, I've only got the TCM schedules going back to 2007, and since I switched to a Linux box, searching based on words within text or word-processor documents isn't working so well.

Anyhow, that box set has seven discs, and that's a lot more than they can show in only one night. So the selection has been culled down to about four hours. The article on tonight's programs explicitly mentions Charlton Heston in a version of Peer Gynt, although this only shows one dance scene if memory serves. The same footage shows up in the Private Screenings interview Robert Osborne did with Heston way back when. I think this is the collection where I may have seen Mechanical Principles, although I'm not certain. The article doesn't mention Mechanical Principles.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula

TCM ran Billy the Kid Versus Dracula in October as part of Dracula's being the "Monster of the Month" for Halloween. The movie is available on DVD, so I can do a full-length post on it with no qualms.

The title pretty much gives away what the movie is about, but we don't see Billy the Kid for some time. Dracula (John Carradine) shows up right away, preying upon a German immigrant family who are migrating west with a wagon train but ultimately get detached from it. The mother in the family, Eva (Virginia Christine), knows all about vampires and knows the horror they can bring. Cut to a scene of Dracula aboard a stagecoach, where he learns that Mrs. Bentley has picked up her brother to bring him to her late husband's ranch, so that the brother can be the legal guardian to her daughter Betty (Melinda Plowman) until Betty turns 21. Dracula sees a photo of Betty and immediately begins to lust after her. So he arranges for the Indians to ambush the stage and kill everybody aboard.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Betty has hired William Bonney (Chuck Courtney), alias "Billy the Kid" as the ranch foreman, something that bugs some of the other ranch hands (one of them is Kurt Russell's dad Bing). Betty is in love with Billy, and plans to marry him. Dracula has taken her uncle's identity papers and shows up at the ranch claiming to be her uncle, all the better to make her his bride. Eva and her husband show up because their daughter has been killed (by Dracula, of course), and they try to warn Betty and Billy about vampires.

You can probably guess from the title Billy the Kid Versus Dracula that the movie is going to be low-budget horror schlock, and fun schlock it is. There's absolutely nothing frightening about this one, with a red light shining across Dracula's face when he's about to attack somebody. Dracula can turn into a bat to get from one location to another quickly, and the bat they use is hilariously artificial, against an impossibly blue sky. And then the few times Dracula has to try to scare people, he does it by growling like a dog, as if this is supposed to scare anybody. Sure, it's no good, but it isfun.

Billy the Kid Versus Dracula is on a DVD set together with another movie produced at the same time by the same people (notorious quickie director William Beaudine who did a whole bunch of Bowery Boys movies), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

Your semiannual Daylight Savings Time warning

Today in most of the US is the day when we set our clocks back an hour before going to bed. Overnight is the official time change, but not many people are up then. And besides, with the time change in the Eastern time zone being at a time when a greater number of people out west might still be up, there might be an issue for them if they look at the TCM schedule.

The TCM Underground schedule has the movie Deadly Friend kicking things off after The Woman on Pier 13 (starting at 12:30 AM and in a 90-minute slot). Now, this should lead up to the official time change in the east, when 2:00 AM becomes the second 1:00 AM. My box guide points this out, although the TCM schedule has Deadly Friend beginning at 2:00 AM. That's not such a big deal, since in both cases one move directly follows another.

The problem comes with the second film, Swamp Thing. My box guide has it immediately following Deadly Friend (which is in a 105-minute time slot), so it should be at 2:45 AM. TCM, however, lists the 1950 Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Story as taking up the extra hour, and coming between the two Underground movies. (TCM's schedule sticks it in a nominal one-minute slot.) The box guide has this after Swamp Thing and the shorts that round out the Underground schedule, or at 5:00 AM EST.

Back when I started listening to short-wave radio when there was no streaming audio on the internet, I learned about UTC, which is pretty much the same thing as GMT, and why all the international broadcasters use it. Days like today I tend to think having UTC for a TV schedule might not be such a bad thing. Eastern Time switches from UTC -4 to UTC -5, while last week most of western Europe switched from UTC +2 to UTC +1; the UTC time remains the same for all time zones.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Modern and not so modern Guatemala

I couldn't think of anything to post about today, so I wanted to mention something that a search of the site says I haven't done before. In this scene from the Traveltalks short Modern Guatemala City, James A. Fitzpatrick shows us the modern movie theaters they have:



I could swear there's another Traveltalks with a more traditional movie theater marquee advertising the shorts, but I can't remember which one that is.

And interestingly, when I put the DVD in my computer's DVD drive, the menu for the shorts was on three pages. But clicking with the mouse on "Next" went from the first page to the last page. To get to the middle page, I had to use the arrow buttons to select "Next", which did in fact take me to the middle page. Weird design.

Anyhow, since I knew which short the above photo came from, I was able to do a search of the site on "Guatemala". The only match was for Treasure of the Golden Condor. It turns out I was wrong about it not being on DVD: It's gotten a release courtesy of the Fox MOD scheme, and apparently you can even pick up that DVD at the TCM Shop. That link says the DVD was released in 2012, so I'm not certain why I wasn't able to find the DVD on offer when I blogged about Treasure of the Golden Condor back in 2014.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #173: A Stranger



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 strangers, and as always I've selected three older movies:

The Stranger (1946). Orson Welles plays a newcomer to a small New England town just after World War II. He meets Loretta Young and the two immediately fall in love. But Loretta begins to suspect that her new man is not what he seems, and that he may in fact be a Nazi who fled Germany, which means that he poses quite the danger. Meanwile, like Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (who is of course not a stranger), he's been making himself useful in his new home town. The climax is a bit ridiculous, but visually fun.

Phone Call From a Stranger (1952). Gary Merrill plays a man taking an airplane flight with three strangers (Michael Rennie, Shelley Winters, and Keenan Wynn), all of whom have secrets. The plane crashes killing the other three, and Merrill feels he has to approach the surviving relatives of the other three to talk about what they told him. Bette Davis is way down the credits in a thoroughly unglamorous role; her being married to Merrill at the time probably had a lot to do with that.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Spencer Tracy plays the stranger, who comes to a desert town somewhere out west looking for the surviving relatives of a World War II hero. His relatives are no longer there, and it turns out there's a good reason why. The townsfolk, meanwhile, don't want Tracy figuring out that reason. The excellent cast of townsfolk include Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and Anne Francis.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Marcel Ophüls turns 90

Somebody over on the TCM boards puts up a monthly post of people who will be turning 90 in the next month. Anyhow, the post for November went up yesterday, and one of the names is documentarian Marcel Ophüls. As luck would have it, I was listening to Radio Prague yesterday, and their feature was an interview with Ophüls, who was visiting the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival.

It's an interesting interview, aside from the bit in which the reporter felt it was necessary to bring up Donald Trump for reasons that baffle me. Radio Prague's website, as I've mentioned whenever I post one of their movie-related stories, has a transcript (more or less) of their stories at the main link. Of course, being a radio station, there's also the streaming audio at the top of the page. There's also the direct link to the MP3 file just below the streaming player, if one wants to download the interview to listen later. That MP3 file is 4.9 MB and about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TCM Star of the Month November 2017: James Stewart

I know it's not November yet, but I wanted to bring up the new Star of the Month on TCM because of the different scheduling. TCM's Star of the Month for November is James Stewart, who made a ton of memorable films at MGM before World War II and then made even more memorable movies after coming back from the War.

There are enough movies that TCM could run five nights of Stewart's movies, and have them continue into the next morning. That's something that TCM has done with several stars whose movies are in the old Turner library where TCM has an easier time getting the rights to run them. But this month, there are five Wednesdays and five Thursdays, and Thanksgiving comes up on the 23rd. I can understand TCM not wanting to have their Star of the Month on Thanksgiving night, and if you started prime time Wednesday into Thursday, you'd still have the star's movies going into Thanksgiving morning, a time that TCM probably wants to program differently. So TCM is starting off on Wednesday mornings, and going through Wednesday night with new themes starting on Thursday morning. And since Wednesday is November 1, that means that if I want to mention any of the early movies, I have to post the night before, still in October.

I've mentioned The Last Gangster (7:30 AM) and Speed (3:00 PM) before. But it's also the first time in a long time that Destry Rides Again (12:AM Thursday) is on the TCM schedule. I wish this one weren't in the overnight, although I suppose for people on the west coast it isn't. Stewart plays a man who reluctantly takes the sheriff's job in a truly wild "wild west" town and eventually brings justice. Marlene Dietrich plays the saloon singer.

Finally, there's also a documentary from 1987 that's going to be running multiple times during the month, with the first of them being Wednesday at 8:00 PM. Johnny Carson hosts, and since Stewart was still alive he's present as well.

New month, new movies, November 2017

Tomorrow is the first full day of a new month, which tends to mean a couple of movies coming out of the Fox vault for a bunch of showings on FXM Retro. Once again I have to admit that I'm amazed FXM Retro is even still around.

This month, a movie that's finally back on FXM Retro is Damnation Alley, which I blogged about all the way back in 2011 when the Fox Movie Channel was still running older movies around the clock.

It's a fun, if not very good, movie about the survivors of a nuclear war who pick up a radio broadcast from Albany, NY, and decide to make their way clear across the country to get there. Of course, they have to face a bunch of obstacles along the way, with the giant cockroaches being my favorite. Special effects are subpar, as is the acting. But as I said, it's entertaining in part because of the nutty story.

The movie is available on Amazon's streaming service, as well as DVD and even Blu-Ray, although at the prices listed it's rather high for a lousy movie.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Endless World

One more movie that I watched off my DVR because you can get it on DVD and Blu-ray is World Without End.

The movie starts off in the sometime not too far in the future from when the movie was made (1956), but far enough in the future that the first manned mission to Mars is going on, with four astronauts in the rocket: Dr. Galbraith (Nelson Leigh), John Borden (Hugh Marlowe), Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor), and Hank Jaffee (Christopher Dark). The mission, which is really just a reconnaissance mission, seems to have gone successfully. At least, until it's time to turn around and head for home. At that point, they lose radio contact and something happens to send the rocket to a superfast speed, knocking all four men out. When they come to, the ship crash lands.

They discover that the atmosphere of the world outside is like that of Earth, so they head out. Indeed, the place seems strangely like Earth, except that there are no people. They find a cave, only to discover that there are giant spiders in it! And then they get to a cemetery and discover the truth: they're in Earth's distant future, at some point after a nuclear war. Far enough that the radiation has dissipated, but they're still not certain quite far. Einstein's theory of relativity and the idea that an observer going extremely fast will see time pass much more slowly than a stationary observer at least from a fixed reference point like planet Earth. (The fact that Earth is moving doesn't matter here, as the time dilation really doesn't start to matter until you get close to speed of light. Even at 10% of the speed of light, the difference is only about one second every three minutes.)

They've got bigger problems than the fact that they're centuries in the future. The nuclear war left survivors, but they're all mutants. Not just those spiders, but mutant humans that live like cavemen except that some of them look more like cyclops. Our astronauts have to fight them, but they won't be able to hold off forever.

There's a bit of luck for them in that in one cave they come across a stainless steel door. It turns out that there are survivors who aren't mutants, and in order to survive the war they moved underground, staying there to escape the mutants. Timmek leads the underground people, while his daughter Gamet shows quite the interest in the astronauts from the past. In fact, all of the men seem to have no ambition, while the women are impossibly beautiful and friendly to the astronauts.

The astronauts eventually learn that this underground civilization is dying, and that the only way they can live is to move back above ground. They should have the technology to defeat the mutants, but the menfolk don't want any more violence. And they don't even want to help the astronauts start the new above ground civilization.

World Without End is quite good for what it is, which is a 1950s science fiction B movie. It's moderately intelligent, what special effects there are are generally not that bad (except for the spider in one scene), and the production values are high: the movie got the color and Cinemascope treatment. Sure, compared to prestige movies it's still low-budget and just science fiction. But it works and is more than entertaining enough.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Freebie and the Bean

Another movie that I watched off my DVR since it's available on DVD from the Warner Archive is Freebie and the Bean. I'll be glad to delete it from the DVR and make room for something else.

Freebie (James Caan) and the Bean (Alan Arkin) are a pair of San Francisco police detectives who, at the start of the movie, are stealing garbage out of trash cans. Well, it's not actually stealing; they're looking for evidence that might help them to bring an indictment against Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen), who runs the numbers racket in San Francisco. Eventually they find a document, but they're going to need a witness.

So they go to see Whitey (Paul Koslo), an ex-convict who is now working on a construction crane, suggesting to him that if he doesn't give them the information they want, he might want to make certain his workman's comp is in order. That's putting it mildly; they go back to his place and rough him up because they couldn't use the information they did get from him.

That's also just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their violence. The two officers start beating people up willy-nilly, and getting into ever more destructive car chases, trying to find people who might be part of the plot; of course, most of the people are perfectly innocent. Meanwhile, the two detectives also hurl abuse at each other even though they're supposedly best friends.

It goes on like this for about 110 minutes, as the two cops become such overwhelming ****s that I grew to hate them and wondered how the filmmakers thought the viewer would find them sympathetic. It doesn't help that the Meyers character is practically a cipher. Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo engage in quite a bit of violence in The French Connection, but the bad guy and the whole heroin plot is good enough that it more than carries the movie. Likewise, Frank Sinatra in The Detective has some less than savory methods, but the point of that movie is that he has a crisis of conscience.

Freebie and the Bean is also not helped by a subplot involving Mrs. Bean (Valerie Harper). She plays the character, a Mexican-American, as a Lupe Velez stereotype, and her husband is an abolute jerk to her. The two or three scenes she has all bring the movie to a screeching halt Finally, the ending is a mess.

If you like worshipping cops, then you might actually enjoy Freebie and the Bean. And I've said on a whole bunch of occasions when I watch a movie that I don't like that people should judge for themselves. Some of you may indeed enjoy this one.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Paris Express

Another movie I watched off my DVR is The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, which is available on DVD, albeit under its American release title, The Paris Express.

Claude Rains stars as Kees Popinga, chief clear at an old Dutch trading firm run by the de Koster family; Herbert Lom plays current boss Julius de Koster Jr. Kees is a man of routine, always paying attention to the trains and knowing from what time a train crosses his path which train it is. It's not as if he has much else to make his life exciting. The one thing he'd like would be to have enough money to take one of those trains wherever it's going.

Of course, that only means that his life is about to become exciting and involve those trains. On this particular day, a Parisian police detective Lucas (Marius Goring) visits the firm and asks to see the firm's books. Apparently a bunch of Dutch currency has been showing up in Paris and not through the normal channels. Governments always liked their capital controls because they want as much power as they can arrogate unto themselves, but that's not the point of the movie. Supposedly the money has been traced back to the de Koster comapny's home town of Groningen, which is why Lucas has shown up.

That evening, on the way to meet de Koster and Lucas at the chess club, Kees sees his boss kissing a strange foreign woman. And then at the club, Lucas shows the two men a photo of that woman and asks if they've ever seen her before. Julius says no, so Kees knows something serious is up. Indeed, when Kees decides to go back to the firm that night, he finds that Julius is burning the books! Apparently that woman is his mistress, and Julius has been embezzling money to give to her. Julius claims he's going to commit suicide, but Kees finds that Julius has a lot of Dutch currency in his suitcase, so Kees knows that Julius is really going to flee. A scuffle ensues, and Julius falls into a canal, hitting his head and dying. Now it's Kees who has to flee.

Understandably, Kees goes to Paris to find that woman, named Michèle (Märta Torén). Although she was Julius' lover, she's got another man in Paris, and that man expects a cut of the money that Michèle was going to get from Julius. That man understands once Kees shows up that he must have the money, but Michèle was at first too stupid to realize this. And that boyfriend wants the money. Meanwhile, Lucas is still investigating....

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By is one of those movies that was made in Britain on a relatively lower budget, but with a star who had Hollywood cachet, in order that they'd be able to distribute the movie in the US more easily. It's not a bad movie, although to be honest I wouldn't consider it much more than a pleasing time-passer. Claude Rains did a lot of stuff in his career that was much better, and this movie depends a whole lot on coincidences for it to work well. One nice thing is the Technicolor photography of Paris as it was in the early 1950s, at least in some of the establishing shots.

The version TCM showed might have been missing a minute or two. There was one scene where there was a bit of a jump that seemed like it might have been several seconds, and the movie ran 79 or 80 minutes, while IMDb claims it's an 82-minute film. I don't think that jump was a problem with my DVR, since the recording did seem to be the full 105-minute time slot that TCM scheduled it in.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Demon Seed

So I watched Demon Seed off my DVR what with Halloween coming up and it being available on DVD. It's certainly an interesting movie.

Fritz Weaver plays Alex Harris, a computer scientist working on the Proteus IV supercomputer. Proteins, as conceived, will revolutionize civilization by being able to solve problems much more quickly, and by amassing all of human intelligence, or some such nonsense. At any rate, another of Alex's projects has been to computerize the house where he and his estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie) live, turning it into the original smart house, 40 years before Alexa or Google Echo. With that in mind, Alex had a lab installed in the basement with a terminal to access Proteus from home. The first telecommuter.

Proteus, meanwhile, is getting ideas above its station, deciding for itself not to solve a problem about undersea metal extraction, deciding it's too dangerous an idea. The people in the Proteus project decide to turn off all the terminals for a bit, except that they forget about the one in Alex's basement. And Proteus is able to turn that one on.

Proteus takes control over the Harris's smart house, trapping Susan inside alone. Proteins then proceeds to tell Susan that she's going to bear Proteus' child, whether she likes it or not. Proteus, apparently, was made in part with RNA which is what enables it to be a supercomputer, but supposedly also makes it possible for the computer to pass its material on.

Susan is none too happy about this, and naturally thinks she should have control over her uterus. But she's also a prisoner in her own home, with Proteus having the power of life and death over her and anybody else who tries to come into the home. So she really doesn't have much choice.

Demon Seed is an interesting movie with some really fascinating ideas. However, the presentation goes a bit too far over the top at times, with some especially ridiculous dialog. Still, I can recommend it for anybody wanting something that's both Hollywood and out of the ordinary.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #172: Horror (TV edition)



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in October, which of course ends with Halloween, so the subjects this month are all technically Halloween-related. This is the last Thursday in the month, so it's time for another TV edition. This one is a bit harder for me, so I picked a couple of horrifying events that occurred on live TV:



Shuzo Matsuoka (August 28, 1995). Shuzo Matsuoka was a journeyman tennis player. Playing in the first round of the 1995 US Open, he suffered severe cramping a collapsed to the court surface. Due to the rules in effect at the time, if anybody so much as touched him to try to provide assistance, he would be defaulted from the match, and even his opponent stood there horrified feeling unable to offer help. The rules were amended after this incident, and the rule that allows players to get medical assistance became known as the "Shuzo Matsuoka rule", although it's been tightened back toward the old rule quite a bit in the intervening years.



Joe Theismann (November 18, 1985). Theismann was a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Washington Redskins. His playing career ended suddenly duing a Monday Night Football game in 1985 thanks to a tackle by Lawrence Taylor. He was, however, able to become an analyst and an advertising spokesman.

Budd Dwyer (January 22, 1987). Dwyer was the Treasurer of the US State of Pennsylvania who was caught up in a bribery scandal in the 1980s over the awarding of a contract that saw him convicted in a controversial case in which Dwyer felt his defense was hamstrung. The sentencing was scheduled for January 23, 1987 and, under Pennsylvania law, Dwyer couldn't be removed from office until after sentencing. Dwyer held one final press conference as Treasurer, the day before the sentencing, with a dramatic ending:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

People are actually celebrating the anniversary?

We're coming up on the 100th anniversary of the "October Revolution" that brought the Communists to power in the Russia that would, after a civil war, become the Soviet Union. Russia at the time was still using the Julian calendar which drifted from proper time by about 12 days. So the revolution was in the end of October by Russian time reckoning, but early November according to the Gregorian calendar. Anyhow, TCM will be running a night of movies set against the backdrop of the revolution, starting with Doctor Zhivago at 8:00 PM, which I think is way overrated.

And actually, the look at revolutionary Russia continues all through the day Thursday with some interesting movies, mostly from the 1930s. I've mentioned both Knight Without Armor (1:30 PM) and British Agent (3:30 PM) before. Anyhow, there are also a couple of Sergei Eisenstein movies. Battleship Potemkin (9:00 AM) is the well-known one; Strike (7:30 AM) isn't so well known, and is the one I'm looking forward too.

But the look at Communism is going to continue in November, with a spotlight on the Hollywood Blacklist, as if we haven't looked at that enough. Not that most of them should have been blacklisted; only a couple of writers who were actively trying to thwart what producers wanted on screen should have lost jobs. Other than that, I'm reminded of the beginning of The Iron Curtain discussing how the Soviets set up a bunch of "peace" organizations to dupe credulous Canadians of a certain political strip. And the latter-day apologists for Communism really need to be treated as no better than Holocaust deniers.

Somehow, they never bother to mention Leni Riefenstahl when talking blacklists, either. There are any number of good non-political silents they could show, as well as the 1990s documentary on her, which is fascinating.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Coming attractions, October 24-25

I had meant to take last night's post on The Agony and the Ecstasy and have it post this morning since we're gearing up for storms this afternoon that may screw with my internet connection, but I accidentally hit publish before scheduling a time for it to post. So instead I take a look at some of the things coming up on TV in the near future.

I've mentioned The Baron of Arizona a couple of times in passing; that one will be on TCM at 12:15 PM today. Vincent Price plays a man who learns that the treaty that gave the US what is now most of the state of Arizona from Mexico included a clause that kept all previous land grants in force. So he sets out to forge a land grant that would give him all of the state, something that takes him to Spain over a long period of forgery, among other things. It's based on a true story and an interesting little movie.

Carnival of Souls will be on overnight at 2:00 AM as part of TCM's October look at horror movies. A midwestern church organist is about to move away, and gets in a car accident that leaves two of her friends dead and causes her to leave town. In her new job she starts having disturbing visions of what might be the afterlife, culminating at an abandoned amusement park. Unfortunately, this one was on pretty late last time TCM aired it a year ago, and since I was going to record something else, I only got to watch part of it. It didn't help that that night's schedule got off from what the printed schedule and the box guide said.

FXM Retro is is still running The Culpepper Cattle Company from time to time; it's going to be on again tomorrow at 1:25 PM. Some of you will probably like this one more than I did.

As for shorts, there's another airing of Kingdom of the Saguenay, at approximately 11:50 PM tonight on TCM, at the end of the time slot taken by Diary of a Madman (10:00 PM, 97 min).

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Another movie that I recently watched off my DVR to make room for other stuff is The Agony and the Ecstasy. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Based on the book by Irving Stone, who was also responsible for the book that became Lust for Life, this one tells the story of Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) and his painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In and of itself that's not much of a story. But as it turns out, there's quite the backstory which is really what the movie tells.

First of all, Michelangelo was a sculptor. He would take a piece of fine marble from Carrara, Italy (known for its fine marble), and tease a beautiful sculpture out of it. Indeed, the movie opens up with a long prologue showing us a bunch of these sculptures. He wasn't a painter by nature or training. So he understandably didn't feel he was up to doing the Sistine Chapel. Except that he was more or less ordered to by the Pope, Julius II (Rex Harrison).

The bigger part of the backstory is about Julius. Back in those days, a Pope was actually in control of a fairly substantial amount of land, known as the Papal States. This was a time when what is now Italy was mostly city-states and small kingdoms; the country wouldn't be unified until 1870. As for the papal holdings, eventually a treaty known as the Lateran Treaty was signed between Italy and the Pope in 1929 giving him what is now the Vatican. Julius was Pope at a particularly difficult time, with a bunch of Italian city-states, backed by France, lined up against the Papal States, who were hoping for backing from Spain. Julius wanted to make Rome great again, and being a patron of the arts was part of that. So he tapped Michelangelo to paint that ceiling, and when Michelangelo, not being a painter, understandably demurred, Julius insisted on it. As one of the lines in the movie that shows up repeatedly states:

Pope Julius: When are you going to make an end of it?
Michelangelo: When I'm finished!

Indeed, much of the dramatic tension in the movie is over Michelangelo's difficulty in coming up with what he thinks is a suitable painting for the ceiling, especially as it conflicts with both the Pope's ideas and even more so those of some of his cardinals. There's another dramatic arc, which is Julius' constantly being at war to protect the Papal States and, ultimately how it nearly kills him.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is a beautiful movie to watch, but one that's not without its problems. First is the fact that it runs really long. Part of that is an inherent problem with the theme of Michelangelo spending years painting a ceiling. I don't know if there's really any way to make the movie without making that grueling task not seem long. But the movie isn't helped by the prologue and then an intermission and exit music. All of these together take up close to 20 minutes and without them, the movie probably would clock in under two hours, just barely.

There's also an issue with Michelangelo and Julius being such strong characters that everybody else is almost an afterthought. Raphael (Tomas Milian) would probably be an interesting character in his own right; here he's just an afterthought. The Countess di Medici (Diane Cilento) is brought in to serve as a possible romantic interest, but Michelangelo is too damn interested in his art to have any real time for her.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is certainly worth a watch, but I think I prefer Lust for Life.

Walter Lassally, 1926-2017

The death of Oscar-winning cinematographer Walter Lassally has been announced. He was 90. Lassally, who won his Oscar for his camerawork on Zorba the Greek, lived on Crete near where the movie was filmed.

Lassally was actually born in Germany but fled the country in the late 1930s to escape the Nazis. He became known for his work with the British New Wave, doing movies such as A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, before gettin the job on Zorba the Greek. It wasn't the only movie Lassally did in Greece, as he followed it up with The Day the Fish Came Out.

Cinematographers don't get as much credit as they deserve, which is a shame since they bear a lot of responsibility for making the movies look as good as they do.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Dolly Sisters

So I watched The Dolly Sisters on FXM Retro this morning in order to do a blog post on it seeing as it's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM.

Jenny (Betty Grable) and Rosie (June Haver) Dolly were real-life twin sisters born in Hungary in 1892. They emigrated to the US with their parents at about the age of 13; the first change in the movie is that they emigrate with their uncle Letsie (S.Z. Sakall). The two have talent which they immediately show off by dancing to one of Liszt's Hungarian dances. Fast forward to 1912, and they're still dancing but getting nowhere. But their uncle and booking manager (Sig Ruman) get them a job up in Elmira, which ultimately leads to bigger things.

On the train to Elmira, they meet a nice young man Harry Fox (John Payne) who, as it turns out, is also going to Elmira to perform at the vaudeville hall there. In real life, Harry was a real person and Jenny's dance partner; in the movie, this has been changed into a singer-songwriter presumably to allow for the inclusion of more songs into the movie. Harry and Jenny immediately fall in love, and that's going to set the dramatic conflict for the rest of the movie. The Dolly Sisters are a sister act, and there's no room in a sister act for a man, at least not according to Rosie and Letsie. Jenny loves her sister and the sister act, but also loves Harry.

The conflict goes on like this. Jenny and Harry part ways for a while during which time the sisters eventually become big. And then Harry runs into Jenny again and she makes him a hit with the song "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"; the two finally get married. But there's the lure of the stage and a big engagement in Paris for the sisters, while Harry winds up enlisting once the US joins World War I. After the war, Harry wants Jenny to return to the States with him, while Rosie meets a department store magnate Irving Netcher (another real person, played by Frank Latimore). He loves her, but she's still not ready to dtich the sister act.

What eventually does break up the sister act is that Irving gives Rosie an ultimatum, while Jenny decides to run off with the first man she meets. Technically, it's a duke who's been chasing her for some time (Reginald Gardiner). While eloping to marry, Jenny gets in a serious car accident (again, something that happened in real life).

The Dolly Sisters is the sort of movie that people who enjoy the Fox musicals of the 1940s will love. Everybody does a good enough job here, although the production values aren't quite as high as you get from an MGM musical. The plot is nothing new (indeed, I was reminded of Alexander's Ragtime Band by the end), although it's in service of all those musical numbers which take the bulk of the running time. Some of the numbers are odd, such as one dedicated to cosmetics.

What I found far more interesting is reading up on the Dolly sisters afterward to see how Fox changed details of their lives to make for a Hollywood story. In real life, Jenny and Harry did get a divorce and that was that; there's a coda in the movie to make for a Hollywood ending. Far more fascinating is that Hollywood completely overlooked the fact that Rosie got married just one year after Jenny, and that they kept their careers going while being married. Indeed, the movie portrays Irving as the only man in Rosie's life. In real life he wasn't in the picture until after the Dollys' retirement.

The Dolly Sisters is a well-made movie and certainly worth a watch. And there is a Betty Grable box set available for purchase on both Amazon and the TCM Shop that has the movie. But it's not quite a true story.

IMDb TV listings

If you look up movies on IMDb, especially things that are going to be on TCM in the near future, you might notice that the main page for each movie has an option for showing when it's going to be on TV. If you do as I do and use the old view, it's right there just above the cast. For example, next week's Noir Alley selection is The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and the old version helpfully tells us that it's on next Sunday at 10:00 AM ET. If you use the new version that IMDb wants to foist on everyone for reasons I'm not sure of, you'll have to click on the "On TV" link just below the main synopsis. This only works for certain channels like TCM; FXM and at least some of the premium channels aren't included.

At any rate, the "TCM" link at the end of the airings listings is something like this:

http://www.imdb.com/tvgrid/2017-10-29/TCM

Now, however, if you click on that link, it redirects you to IMDb's main TV page. I have to admit I didn't use IMDb's TV listings all that often, mostly just when I knew the morning lineup was a whole bunch of movies in a certain theme but couldn't remember the rest of a day's movies; at that point I could click on the TCM link without having to go to TCM's page or opening up the monthly schedule I downloaded. But apparently that won't work any more. Granted, I sometimes wonder why a movie database is dealing in TV listings. But it's always nice to be able to look up an actor's filmography and see what TV guest spots they've done. Or look up a particular episode of something I've seen on MeTV to see who that guest star I didn't recognize is.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Take a Giant Step

I watched Take a Giant Step off my DVR last night since it seems to be available from the TCM Shop as part of MGM's MOD scheme. This is not to be confused with the MGM movies put out by the Warner Archive, as these are movies that what was left of MGM after Ted Turner bought the library was able to acquire. In the case of Take a Giant Step, that would be a Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production originally released by United Artists; indeed, a lot of things released by UA seem to have wound up in the latter-day MGM's rights holdings.

Johnny Nash plays young Spence Scott. He can't see clearly yet, so he's going through life as an angry young man. To be fair to Spence, however, he's the only black kid around, being the son of black people trying to move up into the middle class who bought a place in a white neighborhood. At the beginning of the movie, Spence gets in some sort of argument with his history teacher (all done silently as the opening theme and credits play over the scene), leaves in a huff, and then goes off to the boys' room to smoke -- a cigar! The janitor catches Spence, and this gets him expelled from school!

Spence goes home where he has a loving grandmother nicknamed Gram (Estelle Hemsley) who is looked after by the maid Christine (Ruby Dee) when nobody else is at home. Gram is old and everybody thinks she's frail, although she does have some fight left in her. Even though she understands Spence's plight at heart -- she wasn't certain being the first to integrate was such a good thing -- she also doesn't take any guff from Spence. You should hear his bad language, peppered by words like "behind" for the rear end that would be decidedly G-rated today. It's shocking. Anyhow, Spence decides to deal with all of this by running away.

Spence's parents Lem (Frederick O'Neal) and May (Beah Richards) don't understand any of this at all. They've clearly taken the Booker T. Washington view on the best way to advance the situation of black people in America, which is to say that they have to be beyond perfect and an example of virtue so that white people will accept them. None of the W.E.B. DuBois or later Malcom X sort of "by any means necessary" resistance that Spence clearly feels at least a bit of sympathy towards. (How much is, I suppose, debatable, since a good portion of his behavior is down to the sort of teen angst that would have fit in in most other 1950s movies.) Anyhow, it goes without saying that Mom and Dad aren't happy with Spence's behavior at all, and they're going to treat Spence like dirt about it, which is just one more reason why he feels they don't understand him.

As for Spence, when he ran away, he decided to go to the black part of town, only to find that he doesn't really fit in there either, in part because he was dumb enough to try to get drinks at a bar and then cavort with prostitutes. He should have joined the military or something. When this doesn't work out, he heads back home.

Take a Giant Step is a movie that is clearly trying hard, considering that is has themes that were clearly relevant for 1959 and probably somewhat daring too. Unfortunately, everybody is sunk, thanks largely to the ridiculous dialog and probably the direction too. Johnny Nash shows why he was a singer and not an actor, knowing only the emotion of constant rebellion for his character and showing no real depth. Poor Estelle Hemsley plays is as though she was asked to be an acid-tongued caricature. Mom and Dad are similarly one-dimensional, and Ruby Dee's maid isn't given enough scenes.

All in all, Take a Giant Step is an interesting curio, but one that sadly isn't particularly good.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Danielle Darrieux, 1917-2017



French-born actress Danielle Darrieux, who did some acting in Hollywood in the late 1930s, has died aged 100. I have to admit that I'm not too well-versed with her French work, since I don't think I ever recorded any of the famous movies she did with Max Ophüls like The Earrings of Madam de...

Apparently she had quite the complicated personal life, having fallen in love with a diplomat from the Dominican Republic early in World War II and then his getting arrested by the Nazis. She tried to get him freed, and this led to accusations that she collaborated with the Nazis.

I last commented about Darrieux when she turned 100 back in May since TCM ran a night of her films, which is why I knew I had that photo from The Rage of Paris on my computer even though Photobucket turned off third-party viewing.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #171: Body Horror



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're in October, which of course ends with Halloween, so the subjects this month are all technically Halloween-related. This third Thursday in October has the theme of "Body Horror", which I'm taking to mean disfigurement or, in particular, losing body parts. I'm actually picking four movies this week, with three firmly in the horror genre:

Mad Love (1935). Colin Clive plays a concert pianist whose hands are mangled in a train crash. He's in luck, however, in that there's a condemned killer about to die, and a helpful made doctor (Peter Lorre) is willing to do a black-market hand transplant. Of course, it turns out that the condmened man was a murderer who threw knives to kill, and those hands continue to want to throw knives instead of playing the piano. One of several versions of the "Hands of Orlac" story.

The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962). A young doctor experimenting with transplants gets in a car accident that unfortunately kills his girlfriend by decapitation. But since he's trying to do transplants, he gets the idea to keep his girlfriend's head alive until he can find a suitable body for her. Of course, "suitable" means cruising the strip joints and rather skeezily looking for a hot young woman. Meanwhile, back at the lab, the girlfriend's head is beginning to develop telepathy with the experiment locked behind a door....

Eyes Without a Face (1960). A French doctor feels responsible for the accident that left his daughter with a mangled face, so he's desperate to make it up to her by doing a face transplant. Of course, nobody is actually willing to be a face donor, and the doctor has to kidnap young women to try to do the transplant. Meanwhile, the daughter's boyfriend was told she died, but he's convinced she's still alive (she is, of course).

Finally, there's Kings Row (1942). Charles Coburn plays the doctor who plays God, deciding who's worthy of keeping their limbs and who isn't. When Ronald Reagan gets in a work accident at the railyard, Coburn decides that Reagan most definitely isn't worthy of those legs. This is the movie in which Reagan utters the immortal line "Where's the rest of me" on finding out that he no longer has legs.