Sunday, June 25, 2017

Såsom i en spegel

So I watched Through a Glass Darkly off my DVR. It's available on DVD as part of a pricey three-movie Ingmar Bergman set courtesy of the Criterion Collection. I'm glad I've knocked it off my list of to-see movies, but I don't know that I'd spend Criterion Collection money on it. I didn't realize when I watched it that Bergman Week begins tomorrow.

The movie starts off with a bunch of people getting out of the water after going for a swim. It turns out that those four people are the only characters in the movie. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is married to Martin (Max von Sydow), and is visiting her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand) and younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård) at the family's summer house on the island of Fårö, off the northern coast of Gotland, the largest island in the Baltic Sea.

Everything seems happy at first, but we quickly realize that there's a lot going on beneath the surface. Karin just got out of the hospital. In fact, it was a mental hospital, and there's the question of whether she's truly cured of her disease, which I don't think the movie openly names but is presumably schizophrenia. Minus is a teenager and going through what nowadays would be considered teen angst. And neither child has as good a relationship with their father as they'd like. Dad is an author who is commercially successful but who feels artistically blocked. Dad goes off to the rest of Europe for various work-related reasons, leaving the kids alone -- you wonder who's taking care of Minus all this time.

Karin starts to act just strangely enough that it's easy to wonder whether this is a relapse. Eventually, she finds her father's diary and reads it, finding out that her schizophrenia is most likely incurable, and that Dad is nuts enough that he wants to chronicle the course of the disease. Minus continues to feel unappreciated. And Karin's behavior continues to become even more erratic.

There's not much action in this movie, but a lot of talk. And talk. And more talk when they're done talking. Frankly, I found it all to be the sort of psychological mumbo-jumbo that people who like to pan foreign movies as being "pretentious" would probably find stereotypical. That having been said, this one isn't anywhere near as bad as Bergman's later Cries and Whispers which I reviewed here some months back. The black-and-white cinematography is also lovely, stark at times and making me want to visit Gotland to see it in living color. (Fårö was a military zone closed to foreigners during the Cold War but is apparently open now.) Ingmar Bergman liked the area so much that he eventually moved there, dying on the island in 2007.

If you're a fan of Bergman, you'll probably enjoy Through a Glass Darkly. If not, I'd suggest starting with something conventional like The Seventh Seal.

Briefs for June 24-25, 2017

I didn't realize that last night was the first night of Tina Fey presenting The Essentials alongside Alec Baldwin. At least, I think it was; I didn't watch the previous Saturday's movie. But there she was, talking about Rear Window and doing a good job of it.

Speaking of Hitchcock, somebody elsewhere posted this story about a Welsh village not named Bodega Bay. Where have we seen this one before? (NB: The source is from the British tabloid The Sun, so who knows just how true the story is? A Google News search, however, does yield the same story in several other sources.)

The local classical music station airs a syndicated program on Saturday mornings about film music. This week's program was dedicated to a documentary I hadn't heard of called Score: A Film Music Documentary. The presenter made it sound as if the film just came out, but in fact it was released last November. I don't think I'll be seeing it any time soon, then, only because it won't be in theaters around here and I don't know that it's available on DVD. I can only imagine the music clearance issues.

When I was looking up the Score documentary to see when it was released and if it was still in theaters, an IMDb search led me to this 2010 movie I had never heard of. Yikes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Culpepper Cattle Company

I noticed that The Culpepper Cattle Company is coming up on FXM Retro this morning at 9:25 AM and tomorrow morning at 8:05 AM, so I made it a point to watch it off my DVR last night so I could do a review on it here.

Gary Grimes plays Ben Mockridge, a young man in Texas who is ready to make his own way in life as a man. He's heard that Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) is going to be driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Colorado, and Ben is determined to get a job as part of the cattle drive. Of course, he's never done such a thing before, and doesn't know what a cattle drive is really like.

It turns out that a cattle drive is brutal, and if you're not enough of a man, nobody is going to accept you. Things first go bad when somebody rustles a bunch of cattle and the Culpupper crew lose some men in a gunfight to get the cattle back. Ben is sent off to a town well away to recruite replacements, but along the way his horse and gun get stolen by a couple of trappers. He is fortunate, however, to get them back on the way back courtesy of the men he recruited, who seem rather violent.

Then again, everybody in The Culpepper Cattle Company, more or less, is violent, with the exception of Ben and a group of religiously-motivated settlers the cattle drive meets in the run-up to the film's climax. There's one shootout after another, becoming increasingly inexplicable. The last one even has Ben seemingly in the middle, with none of the bad guys thinking to shoot him; it's not as if they have any compunction about shooting everybody else.

I had some big problems with The Culpepper Cattle Company. Not because of the violence, but because the movie never really seemed to be going anywhere. I understand that it's part of the film's point that the cowboy lifestyle wasn't romantic and in fact would have been nasty, brutish, and short. But I found the movie to be incoherent at times, with an ending that makes little sense. Then again, I also have to admit that westerns have never been my favorite genre.

With that last caveat in mind, you may want to watch and judge for yourself. The movie seems to be out of print on DVD, however, although it does seem available from Amazon streaming if you can do that thing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

If I Were a Conventional Blogger

So yesterday's installment of the Thursday Morning Picks blogathon was on "the woods"; wanting to be different I decided to turn the theme on its head by going for people named Wood or Woods. (I suppose I could have used Woody Strode or Woody Allen instead.) Of course, the theme was supposed to be about the forest, and if I had done it that way, I would have had to do some thinking.

That's because the first movie I would have thought of A Midsummer Night's Dream, is one that I already used when the subject was Shakespeare. As you may recall, the characters in the movie are all going through the forest on the way to a wedding when the fairy Puck (Mickey Rooney) puts spells on all of them and makes them fall in love with the wrong people.

I think I would also have used Ring of Fire, a reasonably good drama about a cop (David Janssen) who gets carjacked by thieves on the run, who force him to take them through the forest to their escape. Except that the forest is ridiculously dry, which means there's a risk of forest fire, which unsurprisingly happens. Unfortunately, the print TCM shows is panned and scanned. Sydney Pollack is getting the heebie-jeebies in heaven right now.

And for a third movie? It's been ages since I've seen God's Country and the Woman, one of the earliest three-strip Technicolor movies and possibly the very first to make extensive use of external scenes. I believe this is the movie that Warner Bros. wanted to cast Bette Davis in and she, being sick of the idiotic (in her view) programmers they were giving her, decamped to the UK and sued.

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

Serendipity

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.