Monday, February 27, 2017

Radio station Oscar trivia

So somebody at work mentioned during the lunch break that they were trying to win concert tickets or something and were able to call in to the radio station whereupon they had to answer a trivia question. That question just happened to be Oscar-related: Who is the only person named Oscar to win an Oscar?

Now, the guy told us this after he had called in, which was during the morning break, so it's not as though there was anybody to help him. But I thought about the question for several seconds, and came up with the right answer. And then I thought, what movie did this Oscar win for? The second question, it turns out, is rather harder; the next answer is in the next paragraph and should be spoiled if I've formatted the HTML correctly. You'll have to highlight the text to read it:

Oscar Hammerstein II is the Oscar-winner. Now, figuring out what he won for was more difficult since he was a lyricist and original songs have to be, well, original. All those musicals he wrote with Richard Rodgers? The ones that premiered on Broadway wouldn't be eligible for the Oscars. It turns out that Hammerstein won two Oscars, for co-writing the song "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good (with Jerome Kern) in 1941; and then for the sont "It Might As Well Be Spring" from the 1945 version of State Fair (with Richard Rodgers). Oscar Homolka was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for I Remember Mama but lost, which I knew; there were two screenwriters named Oscar who were nominated but lost. And there's on Oskar, Oskar Werner, who was nominated but lost for Ship of Fools.

Bill Paxton, 1955-2017

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the deat of Bill Paxton, who died on Saturday of complications from surgery aged 61. Paxton had a long career as a supporting actor, in a bunch of films that are blind spots, and a few I really have no desire to see again. Why did I sit through the '97 Titanic, for example?

Paxton's career was also quite varied. Among the early movies are The Terminator and Weird Science, before showing up in the 90s in the westerns Tombstone (as Morgan Earp) and Frank and Jesse (as Frank James). And then there are the prestige films, like Titanic (much as I hate it) and Apollo 13. And big-budget stuff like Twister. Apparently, storm chasers honored Paxton yesterday.

Maybe one of these years I'll get around to seeing a bunch of his movies.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dangerous Dan McFoo

Some months back I purchased an Errol Flynn box set (it's also available at the TCM Shop) for a couple of the movies. I watched Dodge City this morning, and will probably review it later in the week. One of the extras on the Dodge City DVD was a Merrie Melodies short called Dangerous Dan McFoo.

The first thing to notice is that this was directed by Tex Avery, who directed cartoons at Warner Bros. before Chuck Jones came along and Tex left for MGM. Because of this, there are none of the Looney Tunes characters and the cartoon as a very different visual look from the Chuck Jones cartoons at Warner Bros. The action as set at some saloon in the northern part of the Old West in the dead of winter, where it's snowing heavily. Dan, voiced by Arthur Q. Bryan, sounds a lot like Elmer Fudd, in no small part because it was Bryan who voiced Elmer Fudd up until his death and Mel Blanc's taking over the part. Dan, and most of the rest of the characters, look like dogs.

As for Dan, he's a little short guy, in love with Sue. Then another guy (unnamed, but voiced by Mel Blanc) comes into the saloon, sees Sue, and imagines her as Warner Bros. contract player Bette Davis. This is, in fact, a photo of Bette cropped onto the character's head, and not an animator's representation of Bette, which is another interesting thing. The ne guy challenges Dan for Sue's hand; Sue obviously supports Dan. This being a one-reel animated short, that's pretty much all there is.

Dangerous Dan McFoo was released in 1939, the same year as Dodge City. The cartoon, predating Looney Tunes, very much has the feel of other 1930s cartoons. It's very staid; in fact I think it was the introduction of the Looney Tunes characters that resulted in cartoon characters being more manic and wisecracking. That makes it feel old-fashioned, but even the Disney cartoons of the era -- including the ones with Mickey Mouse and the other recognizable characters -- seem genteel by later standards. The visual look, as I mentioned above, is also not like what you're probably used to since for the most part we grew up with post-war Looney Tunes cartoons on TV. It's really jarring to hear Elmer Fudd's voice coming out of Dan.

I'm glad, however, that Dangerous Dan McFoo was on this DVD. It's a look at an era of animation we don't get to see all that much.

She Likes Movies

Now that I'm participating regularly in the Thursday Movie Picks blogathon, I'm finding blogs of other people who are also participating in the blogathon. Some of them are interesting enough to ad to the blogroll. This week, that blog is She Likes Movies. A blog post about Icelandic movies? Interesting.

As always, the way to wind up on my blogpost is to write a blog that's both interesting, and updated relatively regularly.

I intend to have another post up today, but the mext movie I was looking to watch off my DVR is in fact out of print on DVD so that post went right out the window. And then the next one I looked up is out of print, too. That and my weekday work schedule means I don't stay up too awfully late on weekends. I think I'll finally watch one of my DVDs, I've probably got about 20 movies I haven't watched. Heck, some of them I haven't even unwrapped.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A not-so-fine pair

I was looking through my DVR to see which of the unwatched movies on it were avilable on DVD for me to write a post about. Among them was A Fine Pair, which has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive. I don't think I'd spend that kind of money on this movie, however.

The movie starts off with one of those obviously 1960s scores, this one courtesy of Ennio Morricone, and scenes of an airplane landing in New York. Italian woman Esmeralda Marini (Claudia Cardinale) goes through customs, and then gets in a cab and orders it to follow another car! She winds up at police headquarters. The man she was following is Capt. Mike Harmon (Rock Hudson), whom she had met in Italy a dozen years earlier when he was working with her late father, also a police detective.

It turns out that she has a reason for seeing Harmon again after all these years. She was stupid enough to become a crook, engaging in a jewel heist. Not just that, but a particularly daring jewel heist, robbing the villa of the Fairchild family in lovely Kitzbühel, Austria. The Fairchilds are back in New York for the time being, and Esmeralda has decided she's got remorse about being involved in the heist. So she figures that the best way to get out of it is to put the jewels back, Jack of Diamonds style. That way, when the Fairchilds return, nobody will be any the wiser. A good police detective like Harmon is the only person who could get around the alarm system, which, combined with their previous relationship, is why she's picked him. (He's married, now, of course, although we never see his wife.)

So Harmon goes off to Austria with Esmeralda, falling in love with her along the way. He learns about the alarm system, and eventually comes up with some ridiculous plot to defeat it, which involves heating the room to 194 degrees Fahrenheit (I think that's what he said; one of the IMDb reviewers lists it as 134 degrees), making it like a sauna. But if he had to heat the room up like that, why wouldn't the alarm go off at room temperature, or while it was being heated up? It's all an excuse to get Cardinale to strip down to her bra in a scene filmed through an orange filter.

But the plot to put the jewels back works, and we're not even an hour into the movie! What's going on here? Of course, this means we have a twist, which is that Esmeralda tells Mark that she committed another heist in Rome. So off to Rome we go. But we also learn that perhaps getting into the Fairchild villa was a ruse so that Esmeralda could actually rob it. It all gets needlessly complicated with a bunch of twists and turns that continue once the action leaves Austria.

It's those twists and turns that make the movie a huge mess and ultimately a flop. Well, that's the big reason, I think; there's actually a lot more wrong. Esmeralda is such an annoying compulsive liar that I can't imagine anybody liking her. Even though the scenes at the Fairchild villa are over by the hour mark of the movie, the movie already then feels a lot longer than it is. And then there's the TCM print I watched. IMDb lists a running time of 113 minutes, which is also what's mentioned for the DVD release. The print TCM showed only ran 89 minutes, so I have no idea what was in the 24 minutes that were cut. Also, the print was panned-and-scanned down from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1, so the cinematography that should be lovely looks terrible. Jack of Diamonds is stylish and charming, if a mess; A Fine Pair is just a mess.

I'm sorry to say that I just didn't like A Fine Pair at all. I do like to say judge for yourself, and I suppose it would be nice if this had wound up in a box set of heist movies, or Rock Hudson movies, or something. But at the Warner Archive price?

Friday, February 24, 2017

23 Paces to Baker Street

I watched 23 Paces to Baker Street off my DVR recently because I knew it was coming up on the FXM Retro schedule. In fact there are two airings: today at 11:15 AM and tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM.

The movie starts with Phillip Hannon (Van Johnson) dictating into a tape recorder in his flat in London. Obviously he's a writer of some sort; although we never see the outcome of his writing we learn pretty quickly that he's a playwright, and that his latest play was a hit on the other side of the Atlantic and is now being produced in London. We also learn that he went blind from some sort of accident. This blindness has turned him bitter, because he had a fiancée in the States, one Miss Jean Lennox (Vera Miles), whom he dumped after going blind because who'd want a blind guy like him? Anyhow, Phillip leaves his secretary Bob (Cecil Parker) to do up the typing while Phillip nips off to the pub down the street.

While at the pub, Phillip sits next to a glass wall dividing two parts of the pub, so we can see two people come in on the other side, and start talking. Phillip only hears part of the conversation, but it's clear that the woman in the conversation is being asked to do something that she doesn't want, and something that sounds as though it could be criminal! And since Hollywood has the trope of the blind man who can see more than all the sighted people put together, we know that Phillip's belief that there's a criminal plot afoot is going to be borne out to be true. This even though he goes to the police and is rebuffed.

Phillip is undeterred, and sets out to stop the crime himself, with the help of Bob, who can see and follow a nursemaid who might have something to do with the plot, as well as Jean, who clearly still carries a torch for Phillip, having come all the way over from the States at a time when transatlantic travel wasn't so easy to be here. Of course, it's not an easy search, as this nursemaid could be working for any of dozens of people. It also doesn't take all that long for the bad guys to figure out that somebody is on to them, leading to one killing and another attempted killing. But will Phillip be able to stop the plot before it happens?

Actually, the part of the story about uncovering the criminal plot is wrapped up a good 10 minutes before the end of the movie, except that one member isn't caught, giving us ample time to have a climax reminiscent of the later Wait Until Dark. But you know that Phillip is going to survive and wind up with Jean, because Hollywood wouldn't give us a movie that offed him after making him the unbelieved hero for the rest of the film.

If 23 Paces to Baker Street has problems, it's that it's treading territory that's all too familiar. I mentioned the trope of the blind man who sees more than everybody else; there's also the trope of the person nobody believes, but is of course right, and the nefarious plot, and Hollywood's stereotypes of London. That having been said, everybody plays their parts well and the result is a movie that works without being anything special. I think you'll be entertained, but left with a feeling that there are movies out there that are a lot better.

There's one other problem, and that's that the print FXM showed the last time they ran it was panned and scanned from Cinemascope (which we see in the opening credits) down to 4:3. The movie did get a DVD release from the Fox MOD scheme, and is even on Blu-Ray. Amazon reviews say that the DVD is panned-and-scanned; I can't tell about the recent Blu-Ray release.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #137: TV Superheroes and Superpowers



This being Thursday, it's time for another Thursday Movie Picks, run by the Wandering Through the Shelves blog. This week is a TV edition. Normally I don't know that I would take part in a TV edition since I don't watch much episodic TV any more. But the theme is Superheroes and Superpowers, and I had some fun thinking of old TV shows and looking for clips on Youtube:



(The New Adventures of) Wonder Woman (1975-1979). Lynda Carter spinning. What more needs to be said? This one showed up on MeTV on Saturday nights some time back -- heck, it might still be there as I haven't paid that much attention to the schedule. I know The Rifleman is on during Saturday dinner and The Love Boat during Sunday dinner, but that's about it. Lynda Carter played the superhero who changed into her skimpy outfit by doing a ballet/figure skating spin, combined with ultra cheesy music and effects. But with Lynda Carter, what's not to love?



I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). Barbara Eden in those skimpy outfits. Well, genies aren't superheroes, but she certainly had supernatural powers that mere mortals don't. Oh, and as a kid watching syndicated rerums, I noticed that they had that guy from Dallas. I also recognized the name of the show's creator, Sidney Sheldon, from trashy novels like "Rage of Angels" (full disclosure: I've never actually read any of Sheldon's novels; I just recognize the names from the advertisements). It was only much later that I learned Sheldon won a screenwriting Oscar for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.



Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001). Lucy Lawless and Renée O'Connor are both lovely to look at in outfits that seem inspired by the tunics male leads wore in all those old Hollywood sword and sandal epics. I don't think anybody was actually supposed to take this one seriously.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Another set of movies I've blogged about before, February 22-23, 2017

Normally, I like to mention the movies that are coming up on FXM Retro after being off the channel for a while, what with their habit of running a movie into the ground, locking it away for a longer period, and then taking it back out of their vaults to run it into the ground again. I have no idea how effective this programming strategy is, but then I'm not in the TV business. But considering the number of movies I've blogged about, it shouldn't surprise me that there are a lot on the TCM schedule that I've already blogged about.

I thought I had blogged about The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond before, but a search of the blog claims I've only mentioned it once, back in 2010. I think I wouldn't have seen the movie since that airing either, so I don't really want to do a full-length post on it at this point. Too long since I've seen it. Anyhow, it's coming up on TCM at 12:30 PM today

Roman Holiday comes up at 8:00 PM, and is a great selection for the "start of prime time" slot, I think. It's been almost eight years since I blogged about it, although I think I may have watched since, in whatever year, Essentials Jr. had the child actress co-hosting. How long has that been? The franchise was even discontinued last summer. But it's a great movie and certainly suitable for older kids. (Younger kids may find it has a relative lack of action.)

Roman Holiday is followed by the Pete Smith short Seeing Hands, which I think is one of the best of the series. It's about a blind man who wound up being able to do his part in the war effort thanks to his seeing-eye dog.

I'm also looking forward to another airing of Sadie Thompson, although it's one I haven't blogged about. It'll be on early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM. It is, I think, the first screen version of the Somerset Maugham story which would eventually get titled Rain; under that title there was a prominent early 1930s movie with Joan Crawford. Here, Gloria Swanson plays the title role, a woman of ill repute fleeing the US who winds up stuck on a South Pacific island and raising passion in all the men in her life, including the man of the cloth who's trying to reform her. I've also mentioned the story in the form of the race movie Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

So Miloš Forman turned 85 over the weekend

I didn't realize that director Miloš Forman, who started his career in Communist Czechoslovakia before fleeing to the west and making such classic movies as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, had a big birthday over the weekend. The folks at Radio Prague, unsurprisingly, did know, and ran a piece on it.

The piece is an interview with a British author, Peter Hames, who wrote a book (I haven't read it) on the Czechoslovak New Wave, of which Forman was a part. The interview covers Forman's work both in Czechoslovakia and Hollywood, and is generally interesting and informative, certainly I'd think for people who don't know much about Forman. I liked his comments about Loves of a Blonde and especially The Firemen's Ball, and agree with the author that especially in the latter movie the universality of Forman's humor comes out.

If you want to listen to the interview, the page linked above offers a streaming option. There's also a link to download the MP3 file here; that link is about 5.0MB and a little under six minutes. And as usual Radio Prague's articles are transcripts of the story.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins

I don't go to the movie theater very often, but when I had an afternoon off last summer, I took the chance to watch Florence Foster Jenkins. With it being up for a couple of Oscars this week, and with it now available on DVD, I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

It's based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Merrill Streep), a musical prodigy who when she was about 9 or 10 years old performed a piano recital in the Rutherford Hayes-era White House. However, she contracted syphilis from her first husband when they got married, and that led to hand injuries that scuppered any piano career. She became a patron of the arts and fancied herself a singer.

Most of that, however, is backstory to where the movie begins, which is in 1944. Jenkins and her second, common-law husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) run a private club that puts on elaborate performances called tableaux vivants that to me look like a high-class version of vaudeville, but that's beside the point. St. Clair also manages the occasion recital for Florence, which is by invitation only. The reason why these recitals are invitation-only is because Florence turns out to be the world's worst singer. (Whether she knew it and was in on the joke, or whether she was truly serious, is a question for some debate.)

St. Clair manages Florence's career, as well has her personal life, trying to shield Florence from any criticism, and dealing with Florence's advancing syphilis. Meanwhile, St. Clair has a woman on the side, since he and Florence have a tacit agreement that he can never have sex with her, what with that syphilis. How aware she was of any such relationship (represented here by Rebecca Ferguson as Kathleen) is probably a matter for debate too. And then there's getting a new accompanist for Florence. All the pianists are horrified by her singing and most of them don't play in her style, such as it is. The only one who can is Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg), although he's quite frankly incredulous that Florence plans to sing.

While St. Clair goes off to Long Island to spend some quality time with Kathleen, Florence decides to surprise him. First, she makes some recordings, ostensibly for her patrons, although we know those recordings are going to make it out into the public. More worringly for St. Clair is that Florence, of her own accord, decides to rent out Carnegie Hall for a public concert! There's no possible way St. Clair can keep Florence from learning the truth about what everybody thinks of her singing now, and Cosme is worried that this will ruin his career.

Florence Foster Jenkins is ultimately at its heart not a biopic; it only covers two or three years of Jenkins' life and compresses them into a few months. It's more of a love story, with St. Clair having to face the question of how far he's going to go to make his wife happy. He doesn't ever want to hurt her with knowledge of his mistress Kathleen, and he doesn't want her to have to deal with the withering criticism of her singing that's sure to come. But at the same time, he doesn't want to steal her life's ambition, and it makes for an interesting conflict, open to both humor and drama. Having a story set in the 1940s also affords the opportunity for some nice set and costume design; the costumes received an Oscar nomination.

The movie's other nomination went to Meryl Streep (yet again) for Best Actress. Not a surprise, I suppose. But to be honest I found Hugh Grant to be the real revelation here. His St. Clair is no lightweight, but a fully-realized character full of the natural emotional conflicts that somebody would have in his situation. Grant effectively lets us see all of this. Simon Helberg also does surprisingly well as the pianist who is kind of confused by everything, but who ultimately doesn't want to hurt a kindly old lady like Florence either.

I can highly recommend Florence Foster Jenkins.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remakes on the premium channels

I noticed that those of us with DirecTV have a Free Preview weekend running through the 20th, which I would presume means the midnight between Monday and Tuesday. So I was paying a bit more attention to what's on those channels, and noticed a couple of American remakes of British classics.

First is the Tom Hanks version of The Ladykillers, which will be on Showtime Women at 3:00 PM today, and again at 1:35 AM tomorrow, or overnight tonight, since that would be Sunday evening Pacific time if you've got the east coast feed. I haven't seen this version of the Ealing Studios classic about a bunch of guys who plan to rob a bank, and hole up in the boarding house of an elderly lady to plot the robbery, only for things to go awry when the elderly woman figures out what's going on. I have to admit that I personally prefer some of the other comedies to The Ladykillers, but that a whole lot of people consider it to be one of the very best movies from Ealing's output. (I prefer The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets.)

Tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM on TMC Xtra you can watch the 2006 film School for Scoundrels. I haven't seen this remake either, so I can't comment on it any more than the plot synopsis and reviews I've read. Jon Heder plays a New York parking cop who loses his girl, and takes an assertiveness class from Billy Bob Thornton to try to get the girl back. Only, he apparently finds out that the Thornton character also wants to win the girl's heart, so Heder and the rest of the students try to turn the table on Thornton. IMDb reivews vary widely on this one. Then again, I had significant problems with the original, too.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Throw Momma From the Train

So I got around to watching Throw Momma From the Train again for the first time in quite a few years, having DVRed it some months back. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and not overly expensive, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

Billy Crystal stars as Larry Donner, a writer with a serious case of writer's block. He can't even figure out the right adjective to use to describe the night in the opening sentence of his story. (Not dark and/or stormy, I presume.) His life is a mess in a bunch of other ways. He's a divorcé, and his ex-wife (Kate Mulgrew) authored an extremely successful book that Larry insists was his idea. Meanwhile, he teaches creative writing a bunch of inept misfits a the local college, and is trying to start a romance with anthropology professor Beth (Kim Greist).

Owen (Danny DeVito) is one of Larry's students. He's a man-child, living with his mother "Momma" (Anne Ramsey). She's a handful, in need of quite a bit of attention and constantly hectoring Owen when he doesn't give him that attention. In fact, Momma is so bad that Owen has fantasies about killing her. But he could never bring himself to actually do the deed. Meanwhile, he's also perpetually pestering Larry to read and critique his terrible stories, not giving Larry a moment's peace.

And then, one day, Owen overhears Larry talking to Beth, talking about his ex-wife and how he wishes she were dead. Owen talks to Larry, and learns that neither of them could really kill somebody (and this is also why Owen's mystery stories don't work) because both of them have too obvious a motive. Figure out a way to obscure the motive, and come up with a plausible alibi, and you've got your murder mystery. Owen, for his part, goes off and sees a revival theater's showing of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Well, if you know the plot of that one, you'll already know what idea Owen is going to get: Owen could kill Larry's ex-wife for him, and in exchange Larry can kill Momma.

Naturally that's utter nonsense and wouldn't work in real life. But Owen isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and goes off to Hawaii where Larry's ex-wife is now living. He's on a boat to Maui with her, and sees her leaning over a railing to retrieve an earring, giving Owen the perfect opportunity to.... (I was reminded here of Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black here; that movie just happens to be Truffaut's homage to Hitchcock.) The next morning, Owen calls and says he's killed Larry's ex-wife, and he'll introduce Larry to Momma so Larry can fulfill his part of the bargain. Not that Larry realized he had entered into any bargain.

Meanwhile, suspicion for the ex-wife's disappearance and presumed death falls on Larry, so he has to get away, and winds up spending time at Owen's house, which is where he meets Momma. Larry could never kill anybody, but then he'd never met Momma before.

There's a lot to like about Throw Momma from the Train. This starts with the characters, who are reasonably well-drawn. Billy Crystal has no difficulty with his writer/professor, while Danny DeVito is also well-suited to playing Owen; both do a fine job. Kate Mulgrew's role is smaller, but watching her you can understand why Larry hates his ex-wife so much. Larry's students other than Owen are mostly stock characters, but those characters are there in clear supporting roles and they all fit their parts just fine, as does Branford Marsalis as Larry's neighbor. Stealing the show is Anne Ramsey as Momma. She's vicious, nasty, and non-stop at it, making it easy for even somebody with the patience of a saint to get fed up with her and wishing her dead. Ramsey was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for this, and richly deserves the nomination.

Everybody's helped by a well-written story. This is a black comedy, and boy are there a lot of laughs here. If there are any weakneses, it's a few of the scenes between Larry and Beth. I'm not certain if it's because of Kim Greist's performance, or because of the way the character is written. But these spots don't bring the movie down very much.

The next time Throw Momma From the Train comes up on TV, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Newtork again

I never did do a full-length post on Network, before, and to be honest, I haven't watched it since before the last time I mentioned it at any reasonable length. Because of that I don't really want to do a full-length post on it now, as there's so much that I'd miss. But I do want to point out that it's running again tonight at 10:30 PM on TCM. The movie is available on DVD, although Amazon's current low price seems to be for Prime members only, which does not describe me. The TCM Shop does have it, too, for a slightly higher, but not outrageously high price. Nothing like the Criterion Collection prices.

If I were going to make a comment about Network, it would be more or less the same thing that I said when I wrote about the movie five years ago. There's a lot to be said in favor of the movie and its utterly sardonic look at the world of television, a world with which screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was intimately familiar. Indeed, much of that dark humor can also be found in his earlier movie The Hospital. It's fun to see how everybody wants to use a movie like Network to confirm their political biases, but a bit tedious when so many of the people doing it are doing it toward one particular channel that didn't exist back in 1976.

In reading a little bit more about Network this week, I noticed that Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Beatrice Straight gets surprisingly little on-screen time for it. I don't remember all of the other peformances, although I probably should have seen all of them at some point or another, unless I have one of those blind spots that that other blogathon is about. (Come to think about it, I don't think I've seem Carrie, for which Piper Laurie was nominated, before.) But she beat out Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Some brief updates

In looking through the bloggers who, like me, are taking part in the weekly Thursday Movie Picks blogathon, I've realized that there are more people to add to the blogroll. I intend to get to that over the weekend.

I've also got a few more movies to do full-length posts about over the weekend. My schedule has been a bit hectic the past week or so, but is finally returning to normal and I have a full weekend all to myself. Monday's a government holiday here in the US, but it's not as if I get the day off.

And most importantly, thankfully nobody big has died necessitating a blog post recently, looking for more pictures. I actually keep a running deadpool in my head of which stars are most likely to be the next one to die. Pathetic, isn't it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #136: Shakespeare Adaptations



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of the Thursday Movie Picks Blogathon, run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme for this week is adaptations of Shakespeare, and there are a lot of good movies both directly based on Shakespeare's dialog, and those that adapt loosely. Once again, I've picked three older movies.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). For my money, this might be the most beautiful Shakespeare ever put on screen. Based on the Shakespeare play about a bunch of people going into the forest and winding up touched by the magic of love in various ways, Warner Bros. rounded up every star in their stable, and then some. James Cagney plays Bottom the weaver, leading a troupe of actors to a royal wedding; he winds up with an ass' head at one point. Olivia De Havilland is the then some; sure she became a big star but this is the first movie she made. And then they borrowed Mickey Rooney on MGM -- about the only time Mayer and Thalberg loaned him out -- to play Puck. The dialog may be tough at times, but the movie is so beautiful. And to top it all off they used Felix Mendelssohn's wonderful incidental music.

Forbidden Planet (1956). Loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, this one stars Walter Pidgeon in the Prospero role, here Dr. Morbius. His daughter (Anne Francis) has grown up with him alone on a distant planet where there had been a party of columnists, of whom these two are the last remaining. Leslie Nielsen plays the leader of a spaceship sent to discover what happened to the colony. Morbius is none too happy about it. This was one of the first big-budget science fiction movies, with an electronica score and Robby the Robot. MGM's classy production values show, helped along by a good story.

To Be or Not to Be (1942). OK, technically I'm cheating since this isn't quite a Shakespeare adaptation. Jack Benny plays Josef Tura, a prominent Polish actor reduced to doing Hamlet in August 1939 thanks to the political situation -- don't dare offend the Nazis. Robert Stack plays Sobinski, a dashing officer in the Polish Air Force who gets up at the start of Hamlet's soliloquy every night to go see the actress playing Queen Gertrude, he being in love with that actress. The problem is that Gertrude is played by Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), the wife of Josef. Then the Nazis invade and Sobinski goes off to London to fight with the Free Polish. When he hears of a Nazi plot, he offers to go back to Poland, which gives him another chance to meet Maria. The Turas and their acting troupe get the chance to do their part for Poland as well. This is a wonderful farce, and sadly, the final movie Carole Lombard made before her untimely death.

Alfred Hitchcock, Best Original Song

When you think of Alfred Hitchcock movies, you don't necessarily think of songs. Oh, you may think of the Bernard Herrmann scores, or in some cases other composers, like Miklos Rozsa's memorable score to Spellbound. But songs? With lyrics?

Of course, one Hitchcock movie did win the Oscar for Best Original Song, and that one, the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, is on TCM tonight at 8:00 PM. That song is "Que Sera Sera", sung by Doris Day, with the Oscars going to songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. I thought I had done a full-length version of it before, but it looks as though I've only posted more extensively on the 1934 version.

Both versions are worth watching. The 1950s version clearly has the better production values, but there's something about the tauter storytelling of the 1930s that I really like. There's something to be said for telling your story in 80 minutes instead of 120.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The latest pair of movies back on FXM Retro

In looking through the various schedules, there's some things I wouldn't mind writing briefly about, and a lot of movies I've done full-length posts on before. So I notice again that there are more movies that haven't been on FXM Retro in some time that are back on.

Two of them are back-to-back tomorrow morning. First up, at 8:45 AM, is Apartment for Peggy. Jeanne Crain plays Peggy, wife to William Holden, who is trying to get his college degree on the GI Bill. Thanks to the housing shortage, they need a good place to stay, and professor Edmund Gwenn has a big house much of which he's not using. So Crain finagles her way into Gwenn's attic. Much charm ensues.

That's followed at 10:25 AM by Love Nest. June Haver plays a wife whose husband has been serving overseas in the military and, needing to make an extra buck, invested in an apartment building. She and her husband (William Lundigan) can live in the basement apartment, while making some extra income off of the tenants. Of course, the buiding turns out to be a fixer-upper, and hubby isn't quite happy with the surprise sprung on him. There's a nice set of character actors playin the tenants, and Marilyn Monroe in a smaller role that's been played up in DVD releases because of what Monroe became.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The ductwork is acting up

So there was the awful metallic sound at work on and off today. Last week the air conditioning ducts started to leak and now we've got a bunch of ceiling tiles down with a clear look into the stuff above the ceiling. It's not a pretty sight -- I keep wondering when the building is finally going to collapse in on itself. (Work makes me think of 9 to 5 and Jumping Jack Flash a lot.)

But since my job requires me not to use my brain, I started trying to think of scenes in old movies that had characters trying to crawl through those big ducts surreptitiously. I could swear there are some comedic scenes that involve the people trying to be surreptitious actually making a lot of noise, but nothing comes to mind offhand.

There's a scene in Make Mine Mink in which the characters reference going through the ducts to get to the opposite side of a locked door, and the punchline is that they use the fattest of the fur thieves to do it.

For something more serious, I seem to recall Sean Connery as James Bond in Doctor No tring to get into the ductwork to get out of his cell. And then there are people who go through various maintenance spaces, as in The Andromeda Strain.

I think the ductwork is also shown in the otherwise lousy Outbreak to show the germs spreading throughout a movie theater.

One other thing is that the noises reminded me of those old "haunted" houses in movies which are, of course, not really haunted. I found myself thinking of the organ in Murder, He Says.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Guardian interiews Kirk Douglas

Somewhere else this morning I came across a link to an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian:

Kirk Douglas: ‘I never thought I’d live to 100. That’s shocked me’

There's a lot of interesting stuff in the interview, from Kirk's early days, to his friendships with Burt Lancaster and John Wayne, to hiring noted Communist Dalton Trumbo to do the screenplay for Spartacus. Apparently Dalton's daughter was an ingrateful blankety-blank who hated that Kirk took credit for getting Dalton's on-screen credit in Spartacus. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I guess.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

They've restored Beat the Devil

I noticed this morning that there's a story on the sidebar of TCM's schedule page about a restoration of Beat the Devil. For those of you in the New York City area, the Film Forum is going to be screening the film from February 17-23.

Apparently this is the "original" cut from the original negative. Several minutes of it were cut and a flashback framing device was added. I blogged about Beat the Devil two and a half years ago, and as I pointed out then, I didn't particularly care for it. It's trying too hard to be funny, and I think it mostly falls flat on its face. I'm not certain what the restored footage will add to the movie, as the article doesn't really say. And somehow I doubt that the several minutes will solve the problems I find the movie has.

But, as I also mentioned back in 2014, Beat the Devil certainly has its fans, and they'd probably be thrilled to see this restoration.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Briefs for February 12-13, 2016

I notice that Hold Back the Dawn is airing at 12:30 PM today, just before Honeysuckle Rose. Apparently I've never done a full-length post on the movie before, although I though I had done so. Unfortunately, I found out lunchtime Friday that I was going to be working a half day Saturday, and that completely fouled up my weekend schedule. Charles Boyer plays a Romanian refugee stuck in Mexico on the border with the US, until he meets spinster schoolteacher Olivia de Havilland. Marriage to her would be a good way to get citizenship, after which he can divorce her and marry his real girlfriend. But the two fall in love along the way, complicating matters....

Coming up among the shorts is the 1941 short The Tanks Are Coming at 8:19 AM tomorrow following Ice Station Zebra, not to be confused with the later feature film bearing the same title. This one talks about the new tank corps the US Army is coming up with, and how it's going to be a boon to our defense. This months before the attack on Pearl Harbor sent the US into World War II and showed just how unprepared our military really was. The short is in lovely Technicolor and filmed largely on location at Fort Knox with the full support of the US government, although it uses real Hollywood actors. I'm not quite certain of the public domain status since both Warner Bros. and the US Army are listed in the production credits. But it's currently up on Youtube:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Honeysuckle Rose

Sometimes an otherwise average movie gets an Oscar nominations for one of its original songs. A good example of this is Honeysuckle Rose, which will be airing on TCM on Sunday at 2:45 PM.

The movie opens up with a concert bus going down the road, and the Willie Nelson song "On the Road Again" playing. That's the song that was Oscar-nominated, and it absolutely fits what the movie is all about. Willie Nelson himself stars, as Buck Bonham. Buck is a country musician with a backing band of people who have been with him for quite some time. One of them, old Garland Ramsey (Slim Pickens), is to the point where he wants to retire and spend more time with his family.

Garland isn't the only one who wants the family to be together more. Buck's wife Viv (Dyan Cannon) is thrilled to have her husband back home, and unhappy that it's only going to be for a couple of weeks before Buck goes out on tour with the band again. The two have a son who also misses Dad. And Viv going out on tour with the band is out of the question; apparently she tried that in the past and can't hack that lifestyle. Further complicating matters is that their son feels he just doesn't have Dad's musical gift and he's almost letting Dad down by not having it.

Back to Garland's family. He's got a daughter Lily (Amy Irving), who is back for the summer from college, and who clearly does have the musical gift. Buck is able to hire somebody to replace Garland, but the replacement is going to have to miss the first couple of weeks of the new tour. Viv comes up with a brilliant idea: why not have Lily fill in for those few weeks, since she's home from college and the band needs a short-term replacement?

You can guess what happens, especially since Viv has already asked Buck if he sleeps with other women when he's out on tour. Not that she's happy with it, but she's grown up enough to know that adults do have sex drives. And once Lily winds up with the band -- and especially after she and Buck are the last two not partying one night -- it's obvious that Lily and Buck are going to wind up with a relationship that's more than platonic.

Honeysuckle Rose comes across, to me, as a movie that's really treading no new ground. It's not a bad movie, and I wouldn't say it's unoriginal; it's more that it feels like it's telling a story about a part of the human experience that we all already know. Successful person finds it's lonely at the top (even though Buck really isn't at the top per se), finds someone new to share the loneliness with, and it screws up the rest of his relationships. The other problem is that the film has a very leisurely pace, taking nearly two hours to tell a story it probably could have told easily in 90 minutes.

Somehow I don't think Willie Nelson ever would have had much range if he tried to become a real actor, but he's not being asked to play anything that has much more range than being himself, so he pulls it off with no problems. Cannon and Irving are both good too. And of course there's "On the Road Again" which has become a standard.

One other really nice thing about the movie is that it tells its story in the context of a culture that doesn't get much screen time in an authentic way, that of rural Texas. Hollywood's portrayals of the state always seem to me to veer more toward the stereotype that Gary Cooper claims is not real in It's a Big Country, while the party scenes that cover a good half hour early in the movie seem at times almost like documentary footage. These extras seem real in a way that Hollywood never captures.

Blaxploitation movies streaming; minority women and children hardest hit

I didn't realize it since I don't have an affiliate in my market, but broadcast digital subchannel Bounce TV apparently started a streaming service called "Brown Sugar" a few months back. Somebody on a non-movie-related site linked to a New York Times' blogger's take on the channel that was published a few days ago.

Bounce TV is one of those channels you find on the .2 or higher subchannels of your local broadcasters, much like nostalgia channels MeTV or Decades or the game show channel Buzzer, and is aimed at black audiences. Brown Sugar apparently will have a focus on blaxploitation movies of the 70s. I couldn't actually find the link to "Brown Sugar" on the Bounce TV site, so I'm not certain what all is on offer. And I don't do streaming video anyway, since I don't have the bandwidth for it.

God love the Times, though, printing all the news that's fit for white, upper-middle-class Manhattanites to read. I have no idea about the blogger, whether he's white, black, or even a woman using a man's name, but boy do all those criticisms sound like things a certain segment of the white population thinks black people should have. The writer obviously knows his audience. The Urban Daily and Hip Hop Wire seem rather more positive to the service.

Friday, February 10, 2017

31 Days of Unoriginality

So TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar this year is running the features in alphabetical order by title, something I don't think they've done in the past. We're up to the letter G, which will be continuing until Saturday afternoon. One thing that doesn't seem to be original, however, is the shorts programming.

Tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, TCM is running The Green Goddess, a lesser George Arliss movie, or at least one I consider lesser just becuase Arliss is miscast as an Indian raja. I was thinking of doing a full-length post on it even though I haven't seen it in quite some time. But a search of the blog reveals that I did one of those one-paragraph summaries of it a year ago. I'm guessing that's the airing I DVRed and then watched.

But note that in that post I mentioned how following it is the short Romance of Radium, a Pete Smith short on the discovery of radioactive elements. Tomorrow morning at 8:19 AM, following The Green Goddess, is... Romance of Radium! Don't they have any other Pete Smith one-reelers to show?

Why yes, yes they do. At about 10:19 PM tonight, following The Grapes of Wrath, is Quicker'n a Wink, looking at slow-motion photography, specifically the work of Harold Edgerton, an MIT professor who pioneered the use of stroboscopic photography. As you can see, I've mentioned that one already. And at about 3:50 AM, following The Great Waltz, there's Audioscopiks, which is Pete Smith's first look at 3-D movies, all the way back in 1935. There was a sequel, The New Audioscopiks, a few years later, but I don't think that one was Oscar-nominated.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thursday movie picks #135: Prodigy/Genius



This being Thursday, it's time for another Thursday Movie Picks, run by the Wandering Through the Shelves blog. This week's theme is movies about prodigies and geniuses. I shouldn't have used up Running on Empty earlier, since that one would fit in well here. But I've got three other movies that fit the theme well.

First is Bobbikins (1959). The prodigy here is a kid who can talk, but only talks to his father (Max Bygraves). The kid overhears politicians talking about business deals, and uses the insider information to tell his father what stocks to buy, these being the days when stock ownership wasn't so common, especially not among people of this family's economic status. Of course, nobody believes Dad. Shirley Jones, presumably brought into this British production distributed by Fox so that there would be appeal on this side of the Atlantic, plays the baby's mother.

Village of the Damned (1960). I don't think the these says the prodigies have to be fully human children. Here, the children are aliens who are born of the women of a rural English village. The children evolve frighteningly quickly, to the point that anybody who questions them is in for severe punishment, as they can read minds. George Sanders plays a scientist and foster father of one of the children who thinks science should research the children, while most people think the children need to be destroyed.

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). This is the more or less true story of Joshua Waitzkin, who was recognized as a chess prodigy at a very young age. Joshua's father wrote the book when Joshua was 11; a time when Bobby Fischer was remembered for his brief stint as world chess champion and then becoming a crazy recluse. Fischer himself doesn't appear in the book and it's not really about the search for Bobby, but about Joshua's attempt to become the US scholastic chess champion. That, and the strains put upon a family who have a child prodigy. Ben Kingsley plays Waitzkin's coach, Bruce Pandolfini.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Charlie Ruggles, 1886-1970


Charles Laughton (l.) and Charlie Ruggles in Ruggles of Red Gap

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actor Charlie Ruggles, who was a character actor in a whole bunch of movies in the 1930s and 1940s. We don't get to see all that much of him on TCM, mostly because he worked a lot at Paramount, as in the above-pictured Ruggles of Red Gap (which I've actually blogged about twice, the second time not realizing I'd already done one. Ruggles is also the put-upon worker in the first sequence of If I Had a Million, a clerk in a china shop who uses his newfound million dollars to, well, you can probably guess. He does show up in Bringing Up Baby, however, and that one shows up on TCM often enough.

Supposedly, Ruggles' career in films goes all the way back to 1914, and an appearance in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. You try to find him:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

31 Days of Oscar: E

TCM's 31 Days of Oscar programming this year is running the Oscar-nominated features in slphabetical order by title. Interestingly, they're not showing any movies whose titles begin with the letter E: tonight at 8:00 they're running Dreamgirls; that will be followed at 10:30 by Fame.

It's not that there aren't any. I haven't done an exhaustive search of the Oscar database, but I could think of a moderate handful right off the bat. Probably the most nominated would be E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which received nine nominations and won five. I can think of some other personal favorites, however.

Laurence Olivier was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in The Entertainer, for his brilliant if sad portrayal of a man on the lower rungs of the entertainment ladder who can no longer make it, but doesn't want to give up trying.

And then there's The Egg and I, for which Marjorie Main received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing Ma Kettle; her performance was so popular that it led to an entire series of Ma and Pa Kettle movies.

I know Exodus was nominated for its distinctive Ernest Gold score; I didn't realize until looking it up for this post that Sal Mineo was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

And then one movie that I hadn't heard of is Every Day's a Holiday. This is a Mae West comedy that was nominated for its art direction. I've actually got this one on DVD; it's on the same box set as Night After Night, which I blogged about back in December. I guess I should get around to watching it.

There are some I haven't named. What Oscar-nominated movie beginning with E is your favorite?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ramona (1910)

TCM is running Coquette this morning at 11:00 AM. It's the movie that won Mary Pickford her Best Actress Oscar, although I can't help but think it's a career achievement award since the acting is overwrought and because Pickford made most of her movies before the Academy Awards. But if you haven't seen Coquette before, it's worth at least one watch.

Pickford's career goes back a long way, to when she was an 18-year-old which would mean around 1910. One of her earliest is a version of the oft-filmed novel Ramona. This one was made out in California before the movie community decamped there for the better climate; most of the time D.W. Griffith and the other filmmakers were still back in the New York area.

A lot of Griffith's silent work survives, or at least more than a lot of other directors; as I understand it Griffith donated some of his work to the Museum of Modern Art for preservation. Ramona survives and, being from 1910, is in the public domain, which means that it's unsurprisingly ended up on Youtube:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Black Sunday (1977)

With today being Super Bowl Sunday here in the States, I decided that I'd finally watch Black Sunday off of my DVR. It's available on DVD, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on it even though I don't think it's on TV any time soon.

The movie starts off in Beirut with a bunch of people plotting what could be either a heist or a terrorist act; one of them, the female member Dahlia Iyad (Marthe Keller) shows a film from Vietnam of former US prisoner of war Lander (Bruce Dern). All of this is interrupted by a bunch of black-clad operatives coming in and shooting up the compound and exploding it, killing everybody but Dahlia. OK, we can guess that these are actually terrorists and the the black-clad people were from some country's security service.

Cut to the United States. First, we're introduced to Lander as he is today. He pilots one of the Goodyear blimps, which pioneered hovering over sporting events and giving us aerial footage in exchange for that free advertising. But he's also a divorcé and has psychologicial problems that cause him to see VA shrinks on a regular basis. No wonder Dahlia thinks she can use him to whatever nefarious end she has in mind. And to that end, Lander is busy working on something in his basement.

Meanwhile, we discover that the people who interrupted that terrorist meeting in Beirut were Israelis, and that they found a tape recorded by Dahlia, on which she talks about the Americans starting their new year with the sort of suffering the Palestinian people have known for decades. It's obvious that this is Black September, the people who killed all those Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and that they're planning some sort of operation for early January. But where?

So we get a month and a half or so of Israeli Mossad officer Kabakov (Robert Shaw) working in America in conjunction with FBI man Corley (Fritz Weaver) to figure out what's going on. We get some action, such as a boat chase, and some suspense, such as Dahlia trying to kill Kabakov in hospital, but nothing really happens until just before New Year's. The Israelis, in conjunction with their Egyptian counterparts helping them under the table (this was just before the Camp David accords were signed) have discovered Dahlia's identity and that she's at a hotel in Miami. There, she meets her contact Fasil. She escapes the authorities' net but Fasil doesn't, and when the authorities search Fasil's hotel room, they find a sports magazine with Miami's Orange Bowl stadium and mentions of the Super Bowl on the cover.

Kabakov doesn't know what this Super Bowl is, but the Americans certainly do, and this is of course also where Lander fits in. He's going to pilot the Goodyear blimp over the Orange Bowl during the Super Bowl and detonate explosives, hoping to kill thousands if not tens of thousands in the process! The Americans are of course panicky, since the Super Bowl is coming up in a week's time, this being the era when the game was held in the second week of January rather than the beginning of February. And the President plans to be at the game, too! Can they stop this fiendish plot?

Black Sunday is a good, but not great movie. One problem is that it seems almost interminable, running over 140 minutes when it really should have been plotted to run about two hours. There's also a lot that seems outlandish. Surely Black September would have known it wasn't a definite that Goodyear had multiple blimp pilots and that Lander was not guaranteed to be the one at the Super Bowl. And flying all those explosives? Oh, and the attempt to foil the plot in the climax is fairly ridiculous, too. But the cast does well with the material they're given. They're helped by director John Frankenheimer. There were a lot of points in the final third of the movie, once the action hits Super Bowl week, that reminded me of the Madison Square Garden scenes of The Manchurian Candidate. We also get a lot of vintage footage from Super Bowl X, including play-by-play man Pat Summerall before he worked with John Madden. (Madden at this point was still coaching the Oakland Raiders; Summerall was working with Tom Brookshier at this point.) We also get a cameo from then Miami Dolphins owner Joseph Robbie; when the Dolphins built a new stadium to replace the Orange Bowl they named it after him until corporate naming rights became the big thing.

Overall, Black Sunday is worth a watch, and the DVD I came across on Amazon is very moderately priced. Just don't confuse it with the Mario Bava horror movie also titled Black Sunday.

A new (old) TCM guest host for February 2017


I hope that fits in the column size I've got set up; I can't recall if I've embedded Twitter posts before, and certainly not ones with images. Anyhow, Dave Karger, who guest hosted for TCM back in July, is going to be back on TCM three nights a week during 31 Days of Oscar, Sundays through Tuesdays, which of course means that his first night is tonight.

Obviously, the three nights are because there's no TCM Spotlight during February what with 31 Days of Oscar; otherwise the guest host would get two nights and the spotlight one.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

IMDb closing its message boards

So IMDb announced yesterday that it was closing its message boards and then removing them in a few week's time, the lag giving posters the opportunity to save content and get contact information from other posters they like.

I never used the IMDb message boards, so I can't comment on them. I can certainly understand IMDb's desire not to have to deal with message board moderation. Once you get over a certain size, moderation essentially becomes a nearly impossible full-time job. And just look at the comments on any major traditional news site.

I do, however, find the obsession with so-called "social networking", however, a bit silly. IMDb's announcement mentions all the social networking platforms they're on, most of which seem to make it impossible to do anything other than "like" a posting, instead of carrying on an intelligent conversation. (And I'll point out that I never really cared for TCM's "Classic Film Union", which I thought was overrated.)

As far as I'm aware, all the stuff like reviews on individual movie pages will still be up on IMDb and people will still be able to contribute reviews. For me, that's where the real meat of the IMDb is. I do, however, feel a bit bad for any long-time IMDb message board users who are going to lose something they liked.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The shorts aren't in alphabetical order

This year's edition of TCM's 31 Days of Oscar has all of the features running in alphabetical order. We started with the A's on Wednesday; we've got a couple of long B movies this morning and afternoon, and by Sunday evening well be in the letter C.

TCM is running Oscar-nominated shorts again this year, but those don't fit the alphabetical order scheme. You can't blame TCM, assuming they'd like to have halfway relevant shorts and want everything to time out properly, with prime time starting at 8:00 PM every evening. That, and the fact they don't schedule the shorts at the same time as the features.

Anyhow, there are two worthy shorts on tonight's prime time schedule, one of which I've mentioned before and the other apparently not. First, a little after 10:15 PM, following The Birds, there's Crashing the Water Barrier. This one is about an attempt to break the world water speed record, by a British daredevil on Lake Mead. The movie would probably look better in its original colors, which have faded over the last 50 years, but is still interesting.

Overnight around 3:45 AM, there's Jammin' the Blues, which I thought I had mentioned before. Perhaps it's that apostrophe that's screwing up blog searches. Warner Bros. had a bunch of jazz artists (although not the names non-aficionados would recognize) in studio for whatever reason, and they did a jam session along the lines of all those musical one-reelers the studios were putting out in that era. This one, however, is noted for its atypical and imaginative direction; never mind that the music is quite good too.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #134: Artists/Painters



This being Thursday, it's time for another Thursday Movie Picks, run by the Wandering Through the Shelves blog. This week's theme is movies about artists or painters, and as a fan of old movies, I've naturally picked three older ones.

First up is The Moon and Sixpence (1942). George Sanders plays an artist who is based more or less on Paul Gauguin. He starts the film as a middle-class businessman with a wife and family, but that passion for art consumes him, to the point where he leaves his family and London first for Paris, and then for the South Seas. Herbert Marshall plays the friend of the family (played by Herbert Marshall and apparently based on Somerset Maugham, who wrote the story) who tries to find Sanders.

Next up is Scarlet Street (1945). Edward G. Robinson plays a cashier/bookkeeper for a small business whose passion on the side is art. This even though he's not very good at it and has a wife who treats him like dirt for it. So when he runs into a beautiful woman (Joan Bennett) who tells him he's good, he falls for the woman. He doesn't realize that this is supposed to be a noir and he's the victim of the femme fatale. Dan Duryea plays Bennett's partner in crime. Robinson is as good as ever here.

Portrait of Jennie (1948). Joseph Cotten plays the artist here, a Depression-era man who is struggling because, while he has passion, he can't get anybody to buy any of his work. One day in Central Park, he runs into a young girl (Jennifer Jones) who seems like she's from out of the past. And then the next time he runs into her a few days later, she seems to have aged months if not years. Cotten has to learn what happened to this girl, as he paints her portrait. Ethel Barrymore is excellent as an art dealer who supports Cotten's passion; Cecil Kellaway is her business partner.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Agatha

I watched Agatha over the weekend, having DVRed it back during the autumn or maybe even Summer Under the Stars. (Edit: I just looked it up, and I recorded it on September 11. Yeah, I've got a backlog of movies on my DVR. I think I'm down to about three dozen now.) It's coming up on TCM this afternoon at 4:00 PM, and is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The title refers to Agatha Christie (played by Vanessa Redgrave), the famous British mystery writer. And, it deals, at least peripherally, with a real incident in her life. In late 1926, as her marriage to Col. Archibald (played by Timothy Dalton) was disintegrating, Agatha disappeared for 11 days. She was eventually found at a spa (well, at least, one of those old European-style spas, of the quality of the seaside resorts in movies like The Entertainer, not the resorts of today), and the explanation given for her disappearance was "amnesia". To this day, nobody knows what really happened. This movie comes up with a fanciful guess at what might have happened, or at least something that would have made for an interesting story.

In the movie, Agatha just before her disappearance is invited to promote her new book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (which was published in June 1926). Obviously the press wants a piece of her, including an American in London, Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman). However, she realizes that her husband has a mistress Nancy (Celia Gregory) and even sees her. Archie is in love Nancy who is his secretary and doesn't love Agatha (their divorce would become final in 1928), which is why Archie tells Agatha their marriage is finished and what drives Agatha to do what she does. She goes to Harrogate and checks in as Nancy's cousin.

Wally goes to the Christie home outside London, talks with one of the servants, and puts two and two together, so he shows up in Harrogate, claiming to be a patient too. And then Nancy shows up, which was apparently part of Agatha's plan. Meanwhile, she's taking an interest in the new electrostimulation techniques the spa is using, taking notes on them as if she's going to use those notes as part of her next book. Wally, for his part, falls in love with Agatha, or at least acts like he's falling in love with her; it may just be a ruse to get the story of Agatha's disappearance. And back in the south of England, the police are searching for Agatha with Archie caring suprisingly little about the search.

Agatha has an interesting (if probably utterly fictitious) story, although I felt that it began to go off the rails in the final third or so of the movie, with the ultimate climax being faintly ridiculous. I also had some problems with the way Wally's character was written. He's a self-absorbed, overbearing jerk, and for some of the things he does in the movie he should have been thrown out of the spa. I don't think you can blame Hoffman for this, however, as he's only doing what the script asks of him. Redgrave has a more complex character to play and does well with it.

Overall, I think Agatha will be pleasing to fans of Agatha Christie as well as to people who like movies set in interwar Britain. I don't think the production values are quite as high as we'd get a few years later with Chariots of Fire and then all the Merchant-Ivory productions, but they're more than good enough.