Monday, August 21, 2017

Oh that solar eclipse

If you're in America, then you've undoubtedly heard the news that there's going to be a total solar eclipse across a swathe of the country this morning or afternoon depending on your time zone. I don't get totality; maybe 60% up here in the Catskills.

But of course it made me start thinking about eclipses in the movies. Using IMDb's keyword search isn't perfct, because it fails to get a lot of movies. There weren't that many classic movies I could think of, though. The first that came to mind was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I knew that the original Twain story had a key scene of a guy from the present day remembering there would be an eclipse (how convenient) I haven't actually seen the Bing Crosby movie, but apparently the eclipse is in that one, at least according to the keywords and an internet search.

Another movie that does have a solar eclipse but which didn't make it into the IMDb keyword search is Out to Sea, the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau movie from about 20 years ago. Of course, they get the astronomy wrong, since the movie also includes a scene with a full moon. A solar eclipse can only take place at new moon, so about two weeks after the full moon, and the cruise in the movie wasn't that long.

And then there's the stuff you never even knew about. Gotta love Georges Meliès, who did a 1907 film called The Eclipse. Since it's in the public domain, it's available in several prints on Youtube. This one is a bit blurry, but the few intertitles are in English:

Note that the English word "planet" comes from an ancient Greek word for "wanderer", since the planets in the sky didn't move in nice circles around the sky the way the stars did, which would explain "the wandering stars". The French term for "meteor shower" doesn't use a French word for bath, at least according to Wikipedia, so the celestial bath card is a bit odd. And of course there's really not a whole lot happening on earth in this one. I also note that this is five years after A Voyage to the Moon, but Meliès doesn't seem to have advanced much technically.

(NB: L'Éclisse is not French for "the eclipse".)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 1926-2017

Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960)

The death has been announced of actor Jerry Lewis, who died this morning at his home in Las Vegas at the age of 91.

Lewis is known for a lot, which is unsurprising considering his career lasted close to seven decades. The first big thing was the pairing with Dean Martin that led to a series of comedic films in the 1950s until their acrimonious breakup. Lewis continued to act in zany comedies such as the pictured The Bellboy as well as The Nutty Professor.

But of course, he also became the spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosting their annual Labor Day telethon which ran for decades, lasting 21 hours from Sunday night through the dinner hour on Monday. I think it was only after Lewis was let go that they started to truncate the broadcast since telethons are really part of another era; a few years ago the telethon was finally discontinued. But for those of us born after Lewis' string of comedic successes, it's probably with the Labor Day telethon that we first remember him. (And he was famously reunited with Dean Martin on the telethon.)

Of course, Lewis continued to act, with one of his memorable turns being as a late-night talk show host who gets kidnapped by Robert de Niro in The King of Comedy.

I don't know if TCM has planned a tribute, and to be honest it might be a bit tough considering that a lot of the movies he made were at Paramount. And besides, I doubt they've had time to announce it considering how recent the news is.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stuck in Massachusetts

I'm stuck in Massachusetts at a wedding, so I decided to watch the Traveltalks short Visiting Massachusetts off my DVD set of Traveltalks, Vol. 2 to put up over the weekend.

James A. FitzPatrick visited Massachusetts without spending a single minute in Boston. Instead, he spends most of his time on Cape Cod, as well as visiting the buildings in Sudbury that Henry Ford helped restore, and Clara Barton's birthplace in Oxford, which is just west of Worcester and about as far west as FitzPatrick goes, I believe. (My sister lived in a place one or two towns north of Oxford, so I know right where that is, but my knowledge of the other smaller towns in the state is relatively off.)

Of course, there's all the usual stuff here, like photos of people doing their stuff with FitzPatrick's commentary, like the town crier or the lady who does glass art. Provincetown is interesting since this is before it became known as a haven for gays. There's one amusing scene of a whole bunch of artists painting the same subject. And there's also the beach accommodations:

This is a screenshot directly from the DVD, and I think it shows fairly well the quality of the prints that the Traveltalks shorts have. The blues are very blue, but I've never really found the other colors to be particularly vibrant, and that's not just because this particular scene is blue what with the ocean and the sky.

I've always loved the Traveltalks shorts, and even though you know what you're going to get, they're always worth a watch.

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2017

I mentioned a week or so ago that Dell on Movies and KG's Movie Rants are co-hosting the Against the Crowd blogathon. The point is to pick a movie that everybody loves but you hate, and one that everybody hates but you love. I've decided to put up an entry this year because it falls on a weekend where I need some potted posts to cover being away.

First up, the movie everybody else loves that I can't stand: Being There (1979). Peter Sellers plays Chauncey, a simpleton who works for a rich guy as a gardener, but the old guy dies, and stupidly never thought of taking care of Chauncey in his will. So poor Chauncey is thrown out of the only home he's ever known (where the hell did his salary go), only to be picked up by a wealthy political family. Chauncey learned a lot of vapid slogans from watching TV, and the politicians are captivated by this shit. It's all complete detached from reality, and incredibly aggravating. How could anybody believe Chauncey? I hated this so much I had extreme difficulty making it all the way through the movie.

Then there's the movie that has a low rating that I really liked: Night of the Lepus (1972). Of course, Night of the Lepus is more one of those movies that's "so bad it's good", except that it's not nearly that bad. Rabbits are a pest in the southwest, and the ranchers want something done about it in a way that won't ultimately poison their livestock. Scientists try some sort of hormone-based experiment, but the scientists' idiot daughter released one of the bunnies before it could be determined that the experiment would have been a failure. What happens is that that one bunny becomes supersized and passes this trait on to all the other rabbits, who turn on the humans. What makes the movie so bad is the footage whenever the rabbits go on a rampage. It's set against miniatures, incredibly slowed down, and set to an overpowering score. It's all so dumb that it winds up being hilariously funny.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Belle of the Nineties

I mentioned a few months back that I picked up a cheap box set of Mae West movies, and have done posts on a couple of films in the set. Recently, I watched Belle of the Nineties off it.

The plot here has Mae as Ruby, the burlesque queen of St. Louis in the 1890s. She could have every man eating out of the palm of her hand, but is in love with Tiger (Roger Pryor), a boxer who's hoping for a chance at the title. Things happen and Ruby winds up decamping for New Orleans.

Once in New Orleans, she meets Ace (John Miljan), a club owner who promotes Ruby, and millionaire Brooks (Johnny Mack Brown), who really falls hard for Ruby, buying her jewels and the like. Oh, and then Tiger shows up again, because he's been able to work his way into getting that title fight, and Ace is promoting it. All sorts of complications ensue over Ace hiring Tiger to play highwayman and rub Ruby of those Jewels, and Ruby finding out what's really up. And will the title match be fixed?

I have to admit that I found Belle of the Nineties to be less entertaining than most of the other Mae West movies I've watched. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it got its release in September, 1934. This is a couple of months after the crackdown by Joe Breen and the institution of the new and improved (for some values of "improved") Production Code. Mae West is still saucy, all right, but there's just something of the earlier attitude and raciness that I found lacking here, and I can't quite place my finger on what that is.

Still, Belle of the Nineties isn't bad, just pedestrian. And the bare bones box set is cheap and you're getting a bunch of other good movies with it for the price.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: #162: Rescue

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 rescues, and there's a theme within a theme for me this time around. As is generally the case, I've picked three older movies:

Kameradschaft (1931). German film about a mining area that straddles the German-French border in the years after World War I. The French and Germans don't let each other work in the other country, and have even blocked off an parts of the mines that would cross the border underground. And then there's an explosion on the French side, and the German miners go in to help despite their management not being happy about it.

The Clairvoyant (1935). Claude Rains plays a phony mentalist who when he meets one particular woman, finds that he becomes a real, no fooling clairvoyant, and not just making it up. Unsurprisingly, this causes all sorts of problems, especially when he predicts that a disaster will befall the site where a tunnel is being constructed.

Ace in the Hole (1952). Kirk Douglas plays a disgraced big-city reporter who winds up in a smaller city, Albuquerque. While working his new job at the paper there, he runs across a guy who's gotten trapped in an abandoned mine. Douglas decides to milk the story for all it's worth, even though there are easier and probably quicker ways to rescue the poor trapped guy. But those wouldn't make news.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oh, those Elvis Presley movies

Today being the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, TCM is using the day in Summer Under the Stars to run a bunch of his movies. Well, a smaller bunch than I would have thought. I'm looking at the TCM schedule, and every single movie during the daytime lineup is followed by a short. All but one of them in prime time are too.

All of the daytime movies would fit into a 105-minute slot, which means you could get eight of them in between the 6:00 AM start of the day and prime time start at 8:00. But instead, there are only seven movies, all put into two-hour slots, with a short to pad out the time. It makes me wonder whether TCM couldn't get the rights to any more Elvis movies. It also doesn't help that there are two concert movies and a documentary sprinkled throughout the day.

Having said that, I notice that primetime tomorrow (Rosalind Russell) day has a short after every feature. There only seems to be one on Rod Taylor day, and that follows a movie listed with a 105-minute runtime. By the time you add the little animation at the beginning, and the announcement of the upcoming movies, you're probably just past 105 minutes and have a good 14 to fill.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I didn't realize Rodan is out of print

I watched Rodan over the weekend, having DVRed it back in May when TCM was doing the "Creature Features" spotlight. I was figuring on doing a full-length post on it, but was very surprised to see that the DVD releases are out of print. You can, however, stream it at Amazon.

TCM ran the American version, dubbed from Japanese and, as I understand it, some changed footage. The establishing monologue certainly seemed like something that would be added for an American release.

To be honest, the American version left me underwhelmed. There are two different monsters here, and neither gets enough time to work well. I have a feeling that would be a problem with the original as well, so some of the problems have nothing to do with the dubbing. And I didn't really have a problem with the American version of Godzilla, the one with Raymond Burr added into the movie.

But the dubbing is something I also found distracting. Not so much the fact that the words don't match the lip movements; I've never been anywhere close to having an ability to read lips. The problem is more that the voices don't match up with the faces on screen. I'm reminded of the "No, no, no", "Yes, yes, yes" bit in Singin' in the Rain where the main characters' voices in the movie-within-a-movie get out of sync.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Briefs for August 14, 2017

Oscar-nominated writer and sometime actor Joseph Bologna died over the weekend aged 82. The Oscar nomination came for the screenplay to Lovers and Other Strangers, along with his wife Renee, who survives him. I feel like I should recognize Bologna better, but surprisingly I don't. Then again, of the movies he acted in, I've mostly only seen bits and pieces.

I mentioned not too long ago that the IMDb wasn't serving me those ads for movies along the side of the page, but had started with pop-out videos in the lower corner. Apparently other people complained (I don't bother because it's rare that people take my complaints under advisement at large sites like IMDb), because it's reverted fairly quickly to the way it had been. The only bad thing about the ads (which are for upcoming movies and so should be relevant) is that you can't really tell what the movie is since the important part seems to be in the top center.

As Young as You Feel is back on the FXM Retro schedule, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I thought I saw Roxie Hart coming up on the schedule sometime, but it's not in the next seven days. Then again, I was looking at the schedule past next Monday recently since I've got to do some things before I go off to that wedding this weekend.

One, Two, Three got a DVD and Blu-Ray release a few months back. It's such a good movie, and I remember when I blogged about it an age ago being surprised that it was out of print on DVD. I've been meaning to mention this one for a while now, too.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


So I watched the movie Chisum when TCM ran it yesterday as part of their salute to John Wayne in Summer Under the Stars. I knew that TCM had put it on one of those four-film box sets, although that set is apparently out of print. However, there is a stand-alone DVD or Blu-Ray available, and not particularly expensive.

I didn't know going into the movie that it's based on a real person, John Chisum. The movie Chisum, played by John Wayne, has him in 1878 New Mexico (still a territory), where he's owned almost an entire county for 15 years, having been one of the early pioneers west from Texas. Here he raises cattle for the military. However, in the movie there's a malevolent presence in L.G. Murphy (Forrest Tucker), who is starting a whole bunch of businesses, as well as buying out those that would otherwise be competing with him. So you know you're going to get the stock story of the old-time rancher up against the newcomer, with one side being obviously good and the other side obviously awful.

As for John Chisum, he's welcoming his niece Sallie (played by Pamela McMyler) from back east, and works with fellow rancher Tunstall (Patric Knowles; also a real person in case you're wondering how an Englishman wound up in New Mexico) to deal with the depredations of Murphy. Tunstall has hired William Bonney (Geoffrey Deuel), better known as Billy the Kid. Murphy has brought Alex McSween (another real person, played by Andrew Prine) to be his lawyer, but McSween is one of those rare honest lawyers, so he winds up working for Chisum.

Much of the movie deals with the speculative nature of what Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett did as their part of the Lincoln County War. Billy was certainly involved, and a lot of the events in the war are portrayed in Chisum are based on real events from the Lincoln County War. However, the real aftermath of the war seems to be more ambiguous than the one in the movie.

As for the movie, I was left underwhelmed by it, although would raise my assessment a bit now that I know it's based on a true story. Part of the problem I had is that it came across as formulaic, and the other huge problem I had was the music. It starts with the awful song playing over the opening credits, and there are one or two other songs in the middle that grind things to a halt. Oh, and there are also the zooms that were a thing back in the late 60s and early 70s.

But anybody who's a fan of John Wayne will probably like this one. It's more than competently made, and the story really doesn't have much wrong with it other than the fact that we all know the formula having seen a hundred similar movies about ranchers vs. settlers.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

KG's Movie Rants

Dell on Movies is co-hosting the fourth annual "Against the Grain" blogathon next week, along with KG's Movie Rants. The idea behind the blogathon is to pick a movie that "everybody loves" (at least as determined by its rating on Rotten Tomatoes) that you hate, as well as one that "everybody hates" but you love.

I'm going to be participating in it again this year, with the post going up on Friday or Saturday. I'm going to a wedding next week and as a result have to put stuff up ahead of time for Blogger to auto-schedule. At least I already know what movies I'm going to be blogging about.

Dell is, of course, already in my blogroll. KG wasn't, but the site fits the two main rules of being added to the blogroll: that it be interesting, and that it be updated often enough. So I've added the site to the blogroll.

Having said that, I should probably cull a few sites since they haven't been updated in years, literally.

I thought I'd seen it before: Me and My Gal

I was thinking of doing a blog post on Me and My Gal today, since I saw that it was coming up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. However, as I was watching the movie, I began to get the strange feeling that I had seen it already. Two things particularly stuck out. One was a father-in-law character, who was a paralyzed World War I veteran and communicated by blinking his eyes. A key plot point involves him blinking his eyes in Morse code, when I would have thought it would be easier for the characters to suss it out by asking him yes/no questions about the next letter.

The other thing was the fact that a gangster was being hidden in a loft, and the stairs to that loft seemed mighty familiar, as was the fact that the guy was able to hide out there at all. (It's this hiding out that the veteran communicates about, which he first tries to do by signalling toward the loft entrance with his eyes.)

So I looked it up on the blog, and it turns out that I already blogged about Me and My Gal back in February 2010, when it was still the Fox Movie Channel and ran old movies 24 hours a day. On last night's movie I once again found the movie had some interesting stuff (the Strange Interlude sequence), but was overall a bit mediocre. That pretty much matches my 2010 opinion, and I watched the movie not having remembered I'd blogged about it already.

Having said that, though, I note that the movie is now available on DVD, which was not the case when I blogged about it back in 2010. The fox MOD scheme has released it individually, as well as part of a three-movie set along with The Power and the Glory (one that I'm really glad to see on DVD) and Stanley and Livingstone. As always, though, I wish the MOD prices weren't so high.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Wizard of Oz Contest I didn't know about

It's easy to forget that there were all sorts of movie promotions back in the day, just like that midnight premiere of Dick Tracy I mentioned in the blogathon yesterday. One of today's shorts on TCM is a new one to me, and deals with one of those promotions: Houston Post Contest Winners Arrive in Los Angeles, at abut 5:44 PM.

This is apparently a short short that was made to document a contest that MGM had in which the babies who won got to come to Los Angeles with their parents to see MGM and some of the stuff going on around the then-upcoming film The Wizard of Oz. This must have been fairly early, since the IMDb credits list Buddy Ebsen as himself. He was supposed to be the original Tin Man, but he was allergic to the make-up and had to be replaced.

TCM actually did a month-long spotlight quite a few years back, before Robert Osborne's first hiatus created a need for the official "Spotlight" series, about advertising in the movies, with things like radios and phonographs having been among the things apparently included as product placement. Or at least, that's the one thing I remember from the series.

As for the short, a cursory internet search couldn't find anything about the contest. I assume Google's newspaper archive is separate from the Books archive, and the search I did at Google didn't bring up any matches.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #161: Summer Blockbusters

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 summer blockbusters, a theme that I have to admit is a bit tougher for me since I don't go to the movie theater that much. And I'm generally not a fan of the blockbuster type of movie anyway. But I'll pick three summer movies that more or less fit the category:

Jaws (1975). Jaws is generally considered to be the first summer blockbuster in that before then, wide releases weren't as common, although it actually only opened in about 400 theaters. Nowadays releases are much broader. Of course, you all know the story about the shark that attacks people and the desperate attempt to deal with the shark so as not to ruin people's beach holiday.

The Living Daylights (1987). Most of the Bond movies in recent decades have been summer releases, at least here in the US. This is the first one I was really paying attention to when it was released and reviews and whatnot. My brother-in-law is a much bigger Bond fan so he'd know all the trivia about the releases and not. It turned out this isn't the strongest entry among the Bond movies, although Timothy Dalton really wasn't that bad.

Dick Tracy (1990). OK, this isn't exactly a blockbuster. But I was finishing my senior year in high school when this one came out, and I remember they had a promotion for a special midnight premiere (I don't think that was very common especially in those days). I would have liked to go, but I didn't live anywhere near the nearest theater showing the premiere, and my parents would have nixed the idea anyway.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Another pair of obituaries

Glen Campbell (l.) and John Wayne in True Grit (1969)

Glen Campbell, best known as a singer but who appeared in a handful of movies, has died aged 81 several years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Of course, more people will remember him for that music. He also hosted a TV variety show for several years in the late 60s and early 70s.

Haruo Nakajima died on Monday at the age of 88. I hadn't heard the name before, but it turns out Nakajima was the first actor to don the Godzilla costume, going on to play Godzilla in about a dozen movies. Here's hoping he gets mentioned in TCM's year-end retrospective of the people who died.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

There were two of those shorts?

TCM is showing the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty this afternoon at 5:30 PM as part of Franchot Tone's day in Summer Under the Stars. Before the film, at about 5:18 PM, they're running Pitcairn Island Today, a short looking at Pitcairn Island, where the HMS Bounty ultimately wound up, and the small number of people living on the island circa 1935. It's a Carey Wilson short, he being the guy who went on to do the Nostradamus shorts among others.

I thought I'd seen it before, but then I noticed that following the feature presentation, at about 7:45 PM, there's Primitive Pitcairn. This is another Carey Wilson short and, as you can guess from the title, it's also about Pitcairn Island and the descendants of the mutineers. I know I've seen at least one of the two. And maybe I've seen both. But especially when you get two shorts like this the shorts tend to blend together.

One unrelated note is that when I was looking up these shorts on IMDb, the site served me up a pop-out video for a trailer of some new Jennifer Lawrence movie, the sort of video that suddenly shows up on the side of the screen and you have to hunt for where to click to close the damn thing. The ads on the side don't seem to be there, probably because you couldn't tell what movie they were for. The ads on the side going are a bit of a shame, because I found those unintrusive. And those pop-out videos are obnoxious everywhere they show up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A pair of related obituaries

Ty Hardin (1930-2017) and Robert Hardy (1925-2017) both died last Thursday.

Hardin was an American who came to fame on the TV western Bronco, although he had quite a few supporting roles in the movies in the late 1950s and 1960s: I Married a Monster from Outer Space, PT 109, and the like.

Hardy was British, did a lot of Shakespeare and TV work, but also played Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies, for those of you who watched them. (I haven't, so I really have no idea what I'm talking about here.)

But what makes the obituaries related is not the fact that they both died on August 3. It turns out that both of them were also in Berserk opposite Joan Crawford. Hardin is the male lead, or at least as much of a lead as you can be in a Joan Crawford movie, while Hardy played the police detective.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


TCM's Summer Under the Stars is currently spending the day with the films of Robert Mitchum, and the synopsis for one airing this morning intrigued me: When Strangers Marry (renamed Betrayed for a re-release). The movie is available courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with with a prologue of an obnoxious drunk at a hotel where a Lions convention is being held. The man is for some reason carrying $10,000 in cash on him, which is a substantial sum today, and ridiculous for 1944. A traveling salesman seen only from the back spots that the Lion has dropped some cash, and winds up following the Lion to his room. The next morning, the maid finds the Lion dead.

Cut to a train heading for New York City. Mildred Baxter (Kim Hunter) is off to New York to see her husband, whom she hasn't seen since they got married. It was a whirlwind romance, and Mildred doesn't know as much about her new husband as she probably ought to. Indeed, he can't be bothered to show up at the hotel where he booked a room for her. Fortunately, though, she's able to meet her old boyfriend Fred (Robert Mitchum) who, like her husband, is a salesman. When the husband doesn't show up for over 24 hours, Fred gets the idea to take Mildred to the police, in the form of detective Black (Neil Hamilton).

Eventually, Mildred does meet her husband Paul (Dean Jagger, unrecognizable since he had a head of hair still), and he's acting very mysteriously. He seems to be lying about his past, and he really doesn't want Mildred to be seeing strangers. It all leads to Mildred drawing the obvious conclusion: Paul is the killer of that Lion in a hotel in Philadelphia. But what's really surprising is that when the police close in, Mildred decides to protect her husband!

So how is Mildred going to get out of defending her husband this way since the Production Code doesn't want people abetting crime? Well, you'll have to watch the movie to see how everything is resolved, but it resolves itself fairly quickly, since the movie clocks in at a whopping 67 minutes.

William Castle directed this one early in his career, and it's an excellent example of a surprisingly good movie directed on a shoestring budget. Kim Hunter is excellent as the naïve girl who learns too much about life in the big city, while Mitchum does a very good job early in his career in a supporting role. Jagger isn't at his best here, although I think that's more because he's given the weak part of the script. The demands of his character and the plot require Jagger to play a transparent liar, and that's something that it's difficult to play with any subtlety. But then, I'm also not a fan of the constantly lying character. Castle already shows that he had a clear talent for directing, when he wanted to use it for something other than schlock.

When Strangers Marry is the sort of movie that I wish were on a less expensive DVD than what the Warner Archive puts out.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Back Door to Hell

I DVRed the movie Back Door to Hell this morning because I saw that FXM Retro was going to be running it again tomorrow at 6:00 AM.

In the late 50s/early 60s tradition of trying to make pop singers into movie stars, this one star Jimmie Rogers as Lt. Craig. He's leading a mission with Burnett (Jack Nicholson) and Jersey (John Hackett). The three of them are to land on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in 1944, when it was still under occupation by imperial Japanese forces. The Americans are of course now winning the war, and since the Philippines were an American colony before Japan invaded, and Doulas Macarthur vowed to return, the Americans are planning to invade. They'd like to know more about how the Japanese are going to defend against a possible US invasion.

The three men are supposed to meet a particular contact, but instead meet guerrilla leader Paco (Conrad Maga). Maga executed that contact because Maga couldn't trust him, so obviously it's going to be tough for Craig and Paco to work together. Add to this the fact that the cynical Jersey thinks that Burnett is losing his leadership capbilities. It's partly because Craig sees the Japanese as human, so by the same token he doesn't like it when Paco tortures a Japanese commander to get information, and then executes one of the commander's underlings.

The ultimate goal is for the Americans to radio their information back to their superiors, because there's no way they're getting off the island. To that end, there's another underground group that would like the radio so they can use it for their own broadcasting needs. And they end up sabotaging the Americans' radio, so Craig and his men have to take over a Japanese shortwave transmitter in the climax of the movie.

Back Door to Hell is another of those short movies that Fox seemed to distribute a ton of in the era when they were making Cleopatra; I'd assume it was an easy and cheap way for the studio to have content. One thing that's particularly interesting about this one is that it was a co-production between an American and a Filipino company, filmed on location in the Philippines. There's really not much happening in this one, unsurprising when you consider it clocks in at a brief 68 minutes. But it's adequate for what it does.

If you're a Jack Nicholson completist or absolutely love love love World War II movies, you'll want to check this out. It is available on DVD, but the current release seems to be from the Fox MOD scheme, which makes it ridiculously pricey for the brief running time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Born to Kill

Every now and then TCM runs a movie at the end of one month and then early in the next month. Some Like it Hot was one recent example; the same is happening with Born to Kill. It was on this past Sunday as part of Noir Alley, and will be on again at 8:00 PM tonight as part of Claire Trevor's day in Summer Under the Stars.

Trevor plays Helen, a woman from San Francisco who is in Reno getting her divorce. She's been staying in the rooming house of Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a woman who spends a lot of time drinking with next-door neighbor Laury. Laury is about to dump her current boyfriend for a new guy. Anyhow, Helen spends her last night in Reno gambling, where she meets Sam (Lawrence Tierney), a hard man who immediately excites her. She also runs into Laury and her current boyfriend, and Sam sees them. Helen doesn't realize that Sam is the new guy in Laury's life.

Sam, of course, knows, and he's insanely jealous. So when Laury and the old guy return home Sam is waiting in the kitchen. A scuffle ensues, and Sam winds up killing both of them! Some time later Helen returns to the boarding house, where Laury's dog is waiting to be let back into Laury's house. Helen opens the door, finding the bodies. So what does she do? Absolutely nothing. And what happens at the train station? Helen meets Sam again. She doesn't realize he's the killer, and he has no idea she's seen the bodies.

The pair get to San Francisco, where Helen is going to be married to Fred (Philip Terry). Meanwhile, Helen has a foster sister Georgia (Audrey Long) who is ridiculously wealthy, having inherited the money from Dad -- who just happens not to be Helen's biological father, which is why Georgia has the money and Helen doesn't. Sam works his way in to Georgia's life, seeing an opportunity for that money, but of course he'd still rather be with Helen.

Meanwhile, things aren't going well back in Reno. Sam's friend Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) had sent him off to Frisco until things blew over, but in the meantime, Mrs. Kraft has hired the private investigator Arnett (Walter Slezak) to figure out what the police couldn't. Arnett shows up in San Francisco, and suspects both Sam and Helen.

Born to Kill is a surprisingly amoral movie, up until the point where the Production Code kicks in and gives us the ending we all know we're going to get. Lawrence Tierney made a living playing nasty guys like this, and he's as good as ever. Trevor, whom we most recently saw in Baby, Take a Bow, is quite different here, but she also does a great job. Audrey Long and Philip Terry are theoretically supposed to be the biggest support, but their characters pale in comparison to their love interests.

More interesting are Mrs. Kraft, Arnett, and Marty. Marty, you should probably have realized since it's another Elisha Cook role, and he seems to bring something unsettling to everything I've seen him in. Slezak is good although the way his Arnett implies he's a drunk and shiftless makes you wonder how he could ever get anything done. And Esther Howard's Mrs. Kraft is a surprise. I didn't know much about this actress, mostly because she did a lot of shorts, B movies, and bit parts. But here she gets a bigger part, and runs with it for all it's worth.

Born to Kill is an absolute treat, and if you haven't seen it before I can highly recommend it. It's also available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #160: Crime Families

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 crime families, and I'm actually selecting four movies this week since one of them is a remake of another:

House of Strangers (1949) and Broken Lance (1954). In the original, Richard Conte plays a young man who's just returned home from a stretch in prison, having been induced into taking the fall at the behest of his older step-brothers. However, he knows a lot about what his older brothers did, and they want to get him out of the way. Meanwhile, Mom dotes on him and he's got a new girlfriend (Susan Hayward). Broken Lance moves the action out west, with Robert Wagner playing the youngest son, and Spencer Tracy the father. Both of them are good although rather different in tone thanks to the radically different settings.

Young Jesse James (1960). Ray Stickland plays the title role in this quickie that looks at the Civil War period in Jesse James' life. The movie ends before the era in which Jesse becomes the leader of the James gang, something that makes this one interesting. Oh, and there's also a robbery in which Jesse plays the decoy by going in drag. Fox distributed a bunch of shortish movies like this one during the era when Cleopatra was hemmorhaging money, and this might be one of the best.

Animal Kingdom (2010). James Frecheville plays a young man in Australia whose mother ODs to death, so he moves back in with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver). His uncles are living with her too, and they're a gang of criminals in an era when the cops are going vigilante. Grandma may just be spoiling them, or she may be much more malevolent. Weaver got a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and the story is excellent.

Now to see what everybody else has selected.

Another set of early shorts

Today in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is given over to a bunch of movies starring Lon Chaney, a boon for those who enjoy silents. Looking at the schedule, however, I noticed that TCM also included a bunch of early shorts -- no Traveltalks or Pete Smith here.

Two of the shorts are among the earliest talkies, being among the shorts that were released as part of the premiere of Don Juan. The feature was the first movie with a synchronized score, and the shorts were mostly musicians, both instrumentalists and singers. Will Hays did a short intro as well, as I think I've mentioned elsewhere. Anyhow, I'm not certain I've mentioned ukulele player Roy Smeck before; his musical stylings will be on at about 12:20 PM. There's also a female opera singer doing a Verdi aria, which will be on overnight at 1:07 AM.

If you recognize the song "I Ain't Got Nobody" today, it's probably because it got put into a medley with "Just a Gigolo". But the original "I Ain't Got Nobody" by itself is one of two numbers is a Vitaphone short from 1929 called Opry House which will be on at 7:49 PM. (I haven't seen this one before; I'm just going off the synopsis.)

Finally, those of you who remember the name Ruth Etting from Love Me or Leave me may be interested to see one of her shorts, Song of Fame, early tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Briefs for August 2, 2017

I probably should have mentioned the passing of Sam Shepard earlier. He died last week aged 73. He was a playwright and sometimes actor, starting a long romantic relationship with Jessica Lange when they worked together on Frances, and being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar himself for playing Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. That's one of those movies I haven't seen since sometime in the late 80s. My uncle, who managed the local Cinema 1-2-3 back in the days when theaters didn't have 895842758072857842582 screens, got a lot of prints of various movies so I saw a lot of 80s movies I probably shouldn't have seen until later. (I didn't find Neighbors funny; I was probably much too young for it.)

I haven't seen Dunkirk, since I very rarely go to the movie theater. I don't really have the time, and I generally don't have much desire to see movies since the local sixtyplex shows comic book and effects movies that tend to have a teal and orange color palette. But what I find interesting is how it's really riling up certain people for political reasons. Apparently, celebrating the heroism of the little guy in the UK circa 1940 is evil or something. Jellybean counters are whining and shrieking about the fact that the people at Dunkirk were white. And then there are the people whining that the people involved in the evacuation were male. I know that the links don't lead to traditional movie critics, but I've read enough nonsense like that from regular critics over the years that I tend not to care about what the critics think. I think the last straw was the movie critic on CBS Sunday Morning using the movie Con/Air (that's how long ago it was) to go on a rant about education spending.

Having said all that, if I have a furlough day from work I might use it to go see Dunkirk. The other thing that somebody (a regular person, not a paid reviewer) mentioned was being surprised that it's only 107 minutes. I looked at what the local sixtyplex was showing and much of it was two hours and longer.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Under the Stars begins

Ah, we're up to August 1, the start of the annual Summer Under the Stars on TCM, in which each day is given over to 24 hours of films with a different star. The month starts off with Marilyn Monroe, which means that in a couple of the films she's not the star at all, most notably The Asphalt Jungle (9:30 AM). I'm sure this is mostly to cut down on the number of Fox movies TCM has to worry about getting the rights to.

The movie today I'm looking forward to is Ladies of the Chorus, which because it's on at 6:00 AM, is one you'll probably miss by the time you read this. It's one of Monroe's earliest movies, and really only a starting role because the movie was re-released after Marilyn hit the big time. I've kind of mentioned that before, with movies like Love Nest getting Marilyn on the front of the DVD case art even though she's only a supporting player. Anyhow, Ladies of the Chorus is another of those movies I haven't seen since I don't know when, which is why I wasn't comfortable doing a post on it. And surprisingly it doesn't seem to be in print on DVD.

Wednesday's star will be Ray Milland, with some more interesting things I haven't seen before coming up as well.