Friday, August 31, 2018

End-of-the-month briefs, August 2018

The time flies by as we've reached the end of another edition of Summer Under the Stars. The last star to be honored is Joan Crawford, and I should probably have mentioned the prime time lineup a bit earlier. It starts with Sudden Fear at 8:00 PM, a movie that almost never aired until a few years back, I think because of rights issues. It was distributed by RKO, but produced by Joseph Kaufman Productions, and having such an independent production company probably had something to do with it. Those got cleared up and a new Blu-ray was released, so TCM can run the movie once in a while.

Sudden Fear will be followed at 10:00 PM by Harriet Craig, a fun movie that got more airing on TCM when they had greater access to Columbia's back library. Crawford plays the title character, one of the most controlling wives you'll ever meet, and by that end of the movie everybody just wants to be done with her. Crawford near her over-the-top hissably hateful best.

The Saturday morning block returns tomorrow. I can't remember what episode of Tailspin Tommy they're up to, although I think it runs through the end of September -- the episode on September 29 is titled "The Last Stand". The 10:00 AM Saturday slot has been running the Tarzan movies, and they're up to the Gordon Scott Tarzans of the late 1950s.

I'm looking forward to getting a couple of things off the DVR in September. The last time I checked Criterion, they're putting out a new disk of Andrei Rublev at the end of the month, so I plan to watch that at some point. For some reason, I thought Bright Victory was an MGM movie that should have gotten a release from the Warner Archive. But it's from Universal, and they haven't put it out on their MOD scheme yet. That too is coming up at the end of the month, so I'll have to get around to watching it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #216: College (TV edition)



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Since we're at the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition. College students are going back to school, so an appropriate subject for this month is college. I had a bit of difficulty thinking of three TV shows, but eventually came up with three:



Coach (1989-1997). Craig T. Nelson plays Hayden Fox, coach of the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles, at least until the NFL came calling late in the series' run. Jerry Van Dyke played his assistant coach, Shelley Fabares his wife, and Bill Fagerbakke another assistant.



The Paper Chase (1978, 1984-1986). John Houseman spent much of his career as a producer, but in 1974 Fox gave him a plum acting role as law professor Charles Kingford in the law-school movie The Paper Chase. It earned him an Oscar, and made him an actor the rest of his life. A few years later, TV, as bereft of new ideas as always, decided to turn the movie into a TV series, with Houseman reprising his role. The network run lasted one season, and then a few years later cable brought it back.



A Different World (1987-1993). Before we learned about things like Quaalude-laden Jello pudding pops, Bill Cosby was the king of comedy, with his Cosby Show being the #1 TV show in the mid-1980s. Just like movies get remade as TV shows, characters in successful TV shows get their own spinoff series. Daughter Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) goes from New York City to a historically-black college in small-town Virginia. Bonet left the show after one season, and it continued on for another five with Jasmine Guy taking the leading role.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Dogville DVD

I've mentioned the Dogville shorts several times in the past. In 1930 and 1931, MGM released a series of shorts spoofing genres and certain movies in particular, using dogs in all the roles. For some reason, I never noticed until recently that the shorts are available as a collection via Warner Home Video's MOD scheme. The TCM Shop says it's been available since September 2009.

Anyhow, I bring this up since I recently watched The Big Dog House which was on TCM to fill out the time slot that had Secret of the Blue Room in it. As you can probably guess from the title, it's riffing off of MGM's seminal prison movie, The Big House, although the plot is rather different.

This one has working girl Trixie being a co-worker of her boyfriend Fido. Both of them work at the same department store; she as a clerk and he in the accounts department. Their boss has a thing for Trixie, and he'll stop at nothing to get Trixie. Ultimately, that means attempting to cook the books, killing the night guard, and then framing Fido for it! Fido gets sent to prison and sentenced to the electric chair, but there's a deathbed confession allowing Fido and Trixie to live happily ever after.

I don't think The Big Dog House is quite as good as The Dogway Melody in part because it's a pastiche rather than just spoofing one particular movie, and in part because it's not really spoofing prison movies at all. There are scenes in prison in the last half of the short, but the sorts of tropes you'd see in The Big House just aren't there. That having been said, there was a scene of Trixie and Fido getting caught making out in the department store, which rather surprised me.

Some of you probably won't like how they had to treat the dogs to get them to do all the things they do in the movie, and I'm sure a lot of the people will find the Dogville shorts extremely old-fashioned. Yet I've always found something fascinating about them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Secret of the Blue Room

A few weeks back when Lionel Atwill was the star of the day in Summer Under the Stars, there was the TCM premiere of a new-to-me movie, Secret of the Blue Room. It's available on DVD from Universal's MOD scheme.

The movie starts of with a group of people assembled at a castle. Irene von Helldorf (Gloria Stuart) is celebrating her 21st birthday along with her father Robert (Lionel Atwill) and three men who are all more or less in love with her: young and ardent Thomas (William Janney), reporter Frank (Onslow Stevens), and Capt. Walter Brink (Paul Lukas). Everybody is toasting Irene and wants to say something about her, when Thomas decides he's going to ask about something that happened 20 years earlier, when Irene was just a baby.

Apparently, one of the rooms in the house is closed off because of a series of tragedies that happened back then. One night, a woman was in the "blue room", only for her to have disappeared and her body found the next morning in the moat. Another guy was shot, and a third died in bed. All of them died right at 1:00 AM. Thomas is curious about what's in that blue room that's been closed off these last 20 years, so he proposes that each of Irene's suitors should spend a night in the blue room.

Dad thinks it's a bad idea, and the obvious answer is that if they want to investigate, they should do it together. But we wouldn't have a movie if they did that. So of course the three younger men agree, and Thomas goes off to the blue room, opened by the only key which is in the possession of imposing-looking butler Paul (Robert Barrat).

The next morning comes, and Thomas doesn't show up for breakfast. The others go up to investigate, and... Thomas has disappeared, the bed unslept in, implying that Thomas disappeared overnight, quite possibly at 1:00 AM. Now, the obvious thing to do would be to start looking for secret passages into and out of the room. You'd also think Dad would have blueprints of the place what with all those disasters that happened 20 years ago. Even if there aren't blueprints, they could measure and figure how much space is where. But nobody bothers to look for a passage, and Frank goes up to the blue room the next evening.

Frank is shot at 1:00 AM, which leads Walter to bring in police commissioner Forster (Edward Arnold). Walter doesn't want to die the next night, so he plans to get to the bottom of things once and for all....

Secret of the Blue Room isn't a bad little movie -- if you can suspend disbelief. The main problem I had with it is that I was spending the brief (66 minutes) running time of the movie poking through all the plot holes, the biggest of which I mentioned above. These people are preternatuarlly nonchalant about not investigating. And it doesn't seem as if there was much investigating done 20 years earlier. (As you can guess, there is a secret passage. Who's using it I won't say.) There were also a bunch of unexplained plot lines, such as a guy who comes knocking on the servants' entrance.

Still, fans of Universal movies of the 1930s will probably enjoy this one. It's not a horror movie despite many of the elements leading one to think there might be some horror. The movie just requires you to watch, not think so much.

Monday, August 27, 2018

11 Harrowhouse

A lesser-seen movie coming up on FXM Retro is 11 Harrowhouse, which you can catch tomorrow at 11:55 AM.

Charles Grodin plays Chesser, and his character provides the narration as well. In the opening, he describes some people who tried to pull off a daring diamond heist at some point in the past, something much more daring than Chesser would ever think of trying in those moments he imagines himself to be like the Alec Guinness character in The Lavender Hill Mob. Those diamond thieves wound up paying for it with their lives, and little does Chesser knows he's about to get on the illicit side of the dimaond industry...

Chesser is a diamond broker traveling between the US and London, where the exchange is at 11 Harrowhouse (hence the title) and run by Meecham (John Gielgud). One day, Chesser and his girlfriend Maren (Candice Bergen) get an invitation to cisit the estate of the wealthy Massey (Trevor Howard). Of course, there's business involved. Massey has a big uncut rock that he wants cut, and he wants Chesser to do it. Chesser isn't quite exactly skilled in cutting diamonds, more in buying and selling, but this provides Chesser a chance at a big payday, so he bluffs it as agrees.

Of curse, he doesn't realize it's a ruse, as two guys waylay Chesser and Maren on their way back to London, finding and stealing the diamond. Massey ofers Chesser a chance to make it up -- but that chance involves robbing the surplus from 11 Harrowhouse! You see, De Beers in South Africa and the dealers around the world control most of the world's diamond supply, and they keep the supply artificially low to keep the price up. There's a lot of supply in the vaults at 11 Harrowhouse that would be worth billions on the market (well, never mind the possibility of a diamond glut).

Chesser has never tried a heist, but it's not as though he's got options, so he tries to learn as much about the security system as he can. Fortunately, he's got a new friend in the form of vault worker Watts (James Mason). Watts is dying of cancer, so he doesn't have to worry about any consequences of getting caught -- he'll be dead soon, anyway. But if he can get away with it, he'll be able to leave his family financially secure. So with that, they get the idea to run a small hose through the electrical conduit, and vacuum out the diamonds into a truck across the street! It's an audacious plan, but it might just work.

Of course, something is going to go wrong, and that something is that Massey is never going to let Chesser get away with it. Having gotten the diamonds, Chesser and Maren now have to run for their lives....

11 Harrowhouse is a fun little heist movie. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but it's not as if there's really anything wrong either. It's just solid entertainment, with a nice amount of humor to lighten the proceedings. I have no idea why this movie isn't better known than it is.

The bad news is that the movie seems to be out of print on DVD (although available on Amazon's streaming video). The print FXM ran (at least on DirecTV; I don't know if this is an FXM problem or a DirecTV issue) was both letterboxed and pillarboxed. If you have a big enough TV, that shouldn't be too much of an issue, but I don't. Even with that said, the movie is well worth a watch.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Neil Simon, 1927-2018

Neil Simon, the playwright who turned a bunch of his plays into movies and who wrote several original screenplays, has died at the age of 91.

Simon's writing career started in radio and TV, notably on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows where he worked not only with Caeasar, but also his own brother Danny, and Mel Brooks among others. Eventually, Simon turned to writing plays, with his first, Come Blow Your Horn, becoming a big hit on Broadway in 1961. (Come Blow Your Horn would be turned into a movie in 1963, although that screenplay was written by Norman Lear, not Neil Simon.) A string of successes on Broadway followed, and quite a few of those plays were turned into movies with Simon writing the screenplays, starting with early successes Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, the latter probably being Simon's most-remembered work.

Among the other plays that were turned into movies with Simon writing the screenplay are Plaza Suite, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and The Sunshine Boys, the last being one of my favorites. But in addition to writing all those stage plays, Simon wrote several screenplays directly for the screen. The Goodbye Girl comes across as a play in many ways, but it was actually written for the screen. Seems Like Old Times and The Out-of-Towners do seem a bit more open than the stage plays.

Simon was nominated for an Oscar four times, for The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl, and California Suite, but he never won. Simon is survived by ex-wife Marsha Mason (also the star of a couple of Simon's screenplays), and last wife Elaine Joyce.

A few notes about Anthony Quinn's day in Summer Under the Stars

Perhaps I should have written this last night, especially since the recently blogged about Warlock kicked off Quinn's day this morning. Anyhow, coming up at 6:00 PM is what I believe to be the TCM premiere of A High Wind in Jamaica, a movie I mentioned a good five years ago. I'll assume that TCM's broadcast is not going to include the technical glitches that the FXM airing did.
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(Speaking of that, the past few movies I've watched off of FXM have been both letterboxed and pillarboxed, with no way to expand the print to take up more of the screen. As far as I can tell the movies are in the proper aspect ratio; it's just that there's a lot of black space.)

Overnight at 2:15 AM, there's La Strada, a movie that I actually haven't seen in its entirety. I sat down to watch a previous TCM airing, but it was interrupted by the weather, which is the one problem with having satellite.

There are two movies that are new to me, The 25th Hour at midnight and Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears at 4:15 AM, although I don't know that I've got the space on my DVR to record everything I'd like to.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Rio Conchos

FXM Retro has brought the western Rio Conchos out of the vault. It's on DVD too, so I watched it to do a review on it.

The movie starts off with a bunch of Apache Indians having a ceremony, only to be approached from behind by a guy on horseback, who shoots a bunch of them! The cavalry is sent to investigate in the form of Capt. Haven (Stuart Whitman), and they come upon what looks like the partially burnt-out ranch house of Major Lassiter (Richard Boone). Haven finds a repeating rifle on Lassiter's porch, and realizes that it's one that had been stolen from the army. So Haven naturally wants to know where Lassiter got it. Even if Lassiter didn't steal it, perhaps they can trace the chain back to the actual thieves.

Lassiter doesn't want to tell, which you can understand since he's full of vindictiveness. He was a Confederate Army major, so he doesn't particularly care for the US Army. More than that, the Apaches didn't just kill his wife and son, they tortured the two, which would explain why he's going off and hunting down any Apache he can find. Still, that does present a problem that the Army doesn't want to deal with. But since Lassiter has no plans to divulge where he got the rifle, Haven has him put in jail.

Eventually, Lassiter does open up about the provenance of the rifles: Confederate Col. Pardee Edmond O'Brien, who is operating from a hideout in Mexico and who is pining for the lost cause, which is why he's doing gunrunning, to try to get the arms necessary to conquer the US army. At any rate, Lassiter has a chance to gain his freedom if he goes on a mission with Haven find Pardee and get the weapons back.

Lassiter accepts the terms, and the two men set off along with Haven's junior officer Sgt. Benjamin Franklyn (Jim Brown), and another prisoner, Mexican-American Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa). The plan is to bring along a wagon load of gunpowder for Pardee to use in the guns, cargo which will lead them to Pardee. But it's not going to be an easy mission, since they can't go dressed as Army officers what with their having to go into Mexico. Plus, Haven sems to be a bit to hot-tempered to deal effectively with the locals. Since it's only two years after the end of the Civil War, there's still a lot of animosity between northerners and southerners.

Rio Conchos was a good enough movie, but I didn't find it anything special. That's mostly because it's treading over material that's been done quite often. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie, but there's also nothing that to me made it stand out as particularly memorable. That doesn't mean I had problems with it. If you want to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and be entertained, and you're also a fan of westerns, then Rio Conchos is a great movie to do that with. And on that grounds I certainly have no qualms recommending it.

Friday, August 24, 2018

More on Merian Cooper's military experience

So I was listening to Polish Radio's English-lanugage broadcast from this past Wednesday, and there was a story that by itself would be interesting enough: Poland honors American pilots for help decades ago. But the reason I'm talking about it here is because much of the story talks about Merian C. Cooper, probably best known for producing and directing King Kong.

The documentary I'm King Kong, about Cooper's life, does talk some about Cooper's time serving for Poland against the Soviet Union in the war just after World War I, but one thing I didn't know is that one of Cooper's ancestors was apparently a Revolutionary War colone who tried to save Polish general Casimir Pulaski during the Battle of Savannah; remember that Tadeusz Kościuszko had brought over a legion of soldiers to help the colonists fight. Family legend supposedly had it that if Poland were ever fighting for its freedom, that one of the Coopers should come to their aid. Or at least that's the story Polish Radio is telling. Cooper's experiences formed the basis for a Polish movie of the interwar period, but the Soviets destroyed all known copies of it after World War II.

The first link above has an option to listen to the story via streaming audio, but you can also download it directly here, a 4.5 MB MP3 file that should run a little under five minutes.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Barbara Harris, 1935-2018


Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern in Family Plot (1976)

1970s actress Barbara Harris, who appeared in a diverse string of movies, died on Tuesday at the age of 83.

I didn't realize that she was in the original Second City along with Alan Arkin, or that she was nominated of an Oscar for Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, one of those movies that I've heard of but never gotten around to seeing. Her film career actually started in the mid-1960s with A Thousand Clowns where she plays the social worker who takes an interest in Jason Robards' obnoxiously precocious child. Another prominent role was as Jodie Foster's mother in Freaky Friday.

But I think the role I'll remember Harris for is in Alfred Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot. Harris plays a phony psychic who sees her chance to get rich when a rich old lady is looking for her missing heir. Her and her boyfriend's (Bruce Dern) search for this heir leads them to cross paths with a pair of kidnappers who get paid off in diamonds (William Devane and Karen Black). It's not Hitchcock's best work -- unsurprising considering his body of work -- but it's entertaining and not a bad way to go out.

Thursday Movie Picks #215: Discovery/Exploration



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 Discovery/Exploration, and this time, the theme was easy enough that I was able to come up with a theme within a theme, as you'll quickly discover:

With Byrd at the South Pole (1930). Admiral Richard Byrd led an expedition to Antarctica in 1928 with the aim of flying over the South Pole. Paramount sent along two photographers, and in the extreme weather conditions of Antarctica, it's amazing that they were able to get any footage whatsoever. But they got enough to come up with a usable narrative, even if I'm not certain just how much of it was staged. Regardless, it's an impressive look at a very harsh land.

The Hidden Land (1948). After World War II, the US military decided to undertake another expedition to Antarctica, code-named Operation High Jump, with Richard Byrd on hand again. They took along a couple of Technicolor cameras, while MGM lent the talents of three of their stars who had served in World War II to provide narration: Cmdr. Robert Montgomery, Lt. Robert Taylor, and Lt. Van Heflin. The expedition visited what was left of Admiral Byrd's base camp from the 1928 expedition, after Mother Nature had her way with it for 18 years, and flew over various parts of the continent.

Scott of the Antarctic (1948). John Mills plays Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer who led an expedition in 1911-12 to become the first team to reach the South pole. Unfortunately, when Scott's team reached the pole, they found a Norwegian flag, which was a sign that they had been beaten to the pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Scott also erred in his planning and provisioning for the expedition, with the result that they fell behind schedule and didn't have enough supplies to make it back to base camp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Marathon Man

Some time back, I purchased a two-DVD set of Marathon Man and Black Sunday. That set seems to be out of print, but Marathon Man is available as a standalone, so I finally got around to watching it over the weekend.

The movie starts off interestingly. Two old guys are driving in the Manhattan traffic of the mid-1970s when they get into a fender-bender. As happens in such things, the two men get out and bicker, at which we learn that they're both of German descent. One is a Jew, and the other apparently a Nazi sympathizer, which makes things a little more heated. A chase ensues, which results in the both of them driving into a tanker truck and getting killed in the resulting explosion.

We then get several other scenes that will wind up being related, but don't seem like it at first. One is of a man nicknamed Babe (Dustin Hoffman). He wants to run marathons, and he's also a graduate student in history, writing on the Joseph McCarthy era because his father killed himself after getting caught up in the blacklists. There's also Doc (Roy Scheider) who is some sort of spy since he's putting something in the bottom half of a small box of chocolates and transporting it to a go-between in Paris. And there's Szell (Laurence Olivier), who is living in South America but cutting his hair in preparation for a trip to New York.

So how do they all come together? Szell, as it turns out, was a notorious concentration camp commander, but a venal one who would let Jews escape in exchange for huge payouts. At first that meant gold, since it's what the Jews had in their teeth (if that sounds offensive, that's not my thinking but more or less an actual line from the movie), and then working his way up to diamonds. Doc is apparently transporting diamonds to get in Szell's good graces or something in an attempt to bring Szell down. And Doc is also Babe's brother. Lastly, the old Nazi who died in the opening scene? That was Szell's brother, who had one of the two keys to the safety deposit box where the diamonds are being kept. Szell is coming to New York to get those diamonds.

Things get complicated, however. Doc goes to confront Szell, who responds by slashing Doc to death with a retractable knife he's got up his sleeve. It sounds like an even nicer weapon to have than George Macready's little friend from Gilda, or the sleeve gun that Kenneth More had in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw. But before Doc dies, he's able to tell Babe what's going on, in the bizarre hope that Babe will complete the mission, because good comsymps like Babe's father would have wanted the Nazis to get their comeuppance, even 30 years on. But Babe isn't a spy by any means.

The idea behind the story is a good one, but the movie as a whole didn't quite come together for me. There were some scene that I liked, such as the opening leading up to the crash with the oil tanker. But there were others that I found almost pointless, like the flashback scenes to Babe and Doc's father. It also takes all the disparate plot points to come together and get to the real action of the movie. Even then, the plot seems a bit muddled.

I can't blame any of the actors. Dustin Hoffman does OK, even in spite of the apocryphal story about why they call it acting. Roy Scheider is quite good even if he does get bumped off halfway through the film, and Olivier is excellent as the elegant beast. I think the biggest problem with the movie is the script.

I looked through the IMDb reviews, and Marathon Man seems to be a movie that sharply divides reviewers. I think I'd be marginally positive, but not as positive as a lot of the reviewers. So this is one you should certainly watch for yourself if you haven't seen it before.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2018



Each year, Wendell over at the blog Dell on Movies hosts a blogathon known as Against the Crowd. the way the blogathon works is that you're supposed to take one movie that has an extremely high reputation (based on the score at Rotten Tomatoes) but that you hate, as well as a movie with an extremely poor reputation that you love. It's a lot of fun, especially trying to come up with the movies that you love but everybody else hates. With that in mind, here are my selections for 2018:

Everybody else loves, but I hate: Gigi (1958).



Gigi (Leslie Caron) is being raised by two aunts to be a courtesan, or specifically, a mistress to Gaston (Louis Jourdan). Things get complicated when Gigi wants to get married. Maurice Chevalier co-stars as an older man who had a relationship with one of the aunts.

Why I hate it: I'm not a fan of musicals in general. The more I watch, the more I find that while Fox's musicals can be tolerable, I have a much stronger dislike of most of the "Freed Unit" musicals over at MGM, which seem over-produced and increasingly charmless as the 50s rolled on. (Singing in the Rain is the big exception.) The songs don't particularly excite me either.



Worst, however, is the presence of Maurice Chevalier. I wasn't a particular fan of the movies he made at Paramount at the beginning of the sound era, but a quarter century on, it's even worse. Chevalier is particularly creep in the film's opening, when he's going aroiund a Parisian park singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls". The scene makes Chevalier look like a pedophile, and I wonder whether the movie wouldn't be better served with Chevalier riding around in a windowless carriage emblazoned with the words "FREE CANDY". And the movie drags and drags and drags.

Everybody else hates, but I love: Endless Love (1981)



David (Martin Hewitt) is in love with Jade (Brooke Shields), despite the fact that she's underage. Jade's dad (Don Murray) finally puts his foot down, and David gets the brilliant idea to try to show his good character by putting out a fire on their porch. Except he has to start the fire himself, and the fire gets out of control, resulting in David's forced placement in a mental institution. David pines for Jade, and when he is finally released, goes looking for Jade.

Why I love it: Endless Love is endlessly tawdry. All of the main characters are nuts, with a good glimpse of this being seen early on when Jade's mom sees her daughter making sweet sweet love to David -- Mom hangs around to watch surreptitiously, seemingly pleased with her daughter's budding sexuality! And it seems as though, Graduate-style, she's trying to seduce David too. As for David, he doesn't get on so well with his own parents (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight), so he's obsessing with making himself a part of Jade's perfect-to-him family.

The movie goes from mildly nuts to careening off the rails with the fire scene, and then even more once David gets out of the mental institution. And the ending is so fabulously wrong. Is Endless Love a good movie? Not really; Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt make for one of the most wooden couples in screen history. But my word is it fun. Over the closing credits is the famous Lionel Richie/Diana Ross version of the Oscar-nominated title song, which was a huge hit in the summer of 1981, spending nine weeks at #1. Of course, everybody thinks the song is about love, when the movie is really about obsession.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Technically, she could have said no

This past weekend's movie viewing included the pre-Code She Had to Say Yes.

The movie begins with an office gofer looking for Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey), who's in middle management at one of the businesses in New York's garment district. Eventually, Tommy is found -- in a phone booth with another woman! At the meeting, the big bos Sol Glass (Ferdinand Gottschalk) tells management that there's a problem. When the buyers from around the country come to New York to visit the clothing manufacturers, they expect a little bit of "entertainment", which heretofore they've been getting from the models. That "entertainment" comes with an implied expectation of sex, although even for a pre-Code they can't be quite that explicit. Still, the models have reached the point that they're getting sick of it, and some of the models have even locked the buyers out of the buyers' hotel rooms, leaving them to spend hours in the hall in just their underwear.

Obviously that won't do, but how can you get people to show the buyers a good time in the big city with discretion? Tommy eventually comes up with a brilliant idea. The firm has a whole bunch of naïve young women who could provide the entertainment already, in the form of the secretarial pool. Why not use them! The ladies will get a bonus, and the orders will keep rolling in. The only thing is that Tommy is insistent that his girlfriend Florence (Loretta Young), who is one of the secretaries, not be among the women providing the entertainment.

Tommy tells Florence this, and she doesn't seem too pleased, she obviously having no idea what the buyers are expecting out of their night with the women. But there's something more important: we see that Florence is not the same woman who got out of the phone booth with Tommy in the opening scene! So when Florence is given the chance to be one of the escorts, she jumps at it, partly to spite Tommy and partly because the bonus could help the two of them financially.

The buyer in question is Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot), who gives Florence a nice dinner and night on the town, until he tells her that he needs someone to "take dictation", and that this is going to involve her coming up to his room. When she realizes what he really has in mind, she's none too pleased. But then she finds out about Tommy's cheating, and she sees a way to use Danny to her benefit....

She Had to Say Yes is an odd little movie, partly because of the subject material, and partly because it veers from one plot point to the next rather quickly, what with its 66-minute running time. The ending between Florence, Tommy, and Danny is particularly odd. Toomey is OK as the hypocritical boyfriend; Talbot is better as man who obsesses about Florence; and Young is in as fine form as ever. Still, the movie comes across as a bit of a period piece.

The movie is available as a standalone DVD from the Warner Archive, but I think it's another of those movies that would be better served being in a box set.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Man from Snowy River

Another recent movie watch was the 1982 Kirk Douglas movie The Man from Snowy River.

Tom Burlinson plays Jim Craig, a young man living in the isolated mountains of the Australian state of Victoria in the 1880s back when the place was even more isolated than it is today. He lives with his father Henry, making a subsistence existence farming the land and logging. About the only one else up in the mountains is old Spur (Kirk Douglas), a miner prospecting for gold. Unfortunately there's a band of wild horses, and those have been known to spook the Craigs' horse. One day while they're out hauling logs, the horse is spooked again, to the point that he breaks his chains and runs off. That's bad, but worse is that this sends one of the logs crashing down the mountain, killing Dad.

Jim goes down to the lowland to find a job, and eventually he's ble to get a job as a farmhand to Mr. Harrison (Kirk Douglas; he's got a dual role). Harrison is a widower with a daughter of about 18, Jessica (Sigrid Thornton). Jessica is old enough to go off to college and Dad wants to send her away, but Jessica is a budding women's lib type, or at least what passes for women's emancipation in the 1880s, and is a willful child who wants to make her own decisions in life.

Now, with a young man and a young woman that age, you can probably guess what happens next, which is that they begin to fall in love. For fairly understandable reasons, Dad doesn't want Jessica to be in a relationship with Jim. After all, he's looking to live as a hill farmer, which isn't much of an existence considering the fact that the Harrisons have a lot of land and offer a lot of opportunity. Plus, there's a lot of unfinished business between Mr. Harrison and Spur who, as it turns out, is Harrison's brother.

Things get worse when Jim takes it upon himself to try to break a horse for Jessica, and the horse escapes off with the wild horses. Jim has to redeem himself by catching the horse; and perhaps he can get his old horse back too.

The Man from Snowy River is a well-made movie. There's not much new going on here, as it's a coming of age story with a lot of plot points you'd see in other movies. There's Jim's becoming a man; the love angle with a disapproving father; the search for gold in an out-of-the-way location; and the feuding brothers. The one difference, and it's not that much, is that it's set in Australia. But it all comes together for easy-to-watch entertainment. If there's one problem I had, it's that since this was made in the 1980s, technical advances led to some camera shots that look pretentious and artificial. But that doesn't take away from the story.

The Man from Snowy River is available on a modestly-priced DVD, and I can heartily recommend the movie for anybody.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Neptune is the Roman Poseidon

I only did a brief post on The King and Four Queens this morning for two reasons. One is becaus of how long it's been since I watched it; the other is that I was planning on doing a full-length review of a different movie today: The Neptune Factor, which will be on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 3:00 AM and 1:20 PM.

A research group has an Oceanlab on the sea floor somewhere out in the mid-Atlantic. (The latitude and longitude the give place it somwhere not too far northeast of Bermuda, I believe.) Dr. Andrews (Walter Pidgeon) is leading the research on the ship up on the surface, while among others, head of the divers MacKay (Ernest Borgnine) starts off in Oceanlab below. But he gets sent up to accompany a fired guy, and this happens just in time. Just before they surface, there's a giant undersea earthquake! Among the effects of the earthquake is to unmoor Oceanlab and send it... somewhere. They can't locate the emergency beacon.

The emergency authorities are overwhelmed, but there's a nuclear sub not too far off, which could help assist in the search. Andrews and company want to get the search on quickly, since it's theoretically possible that the people aboard Oceanlab survived and they've only got seven days' air supply. (I'd think it more likely that they end up like the Kursk submarine, but that would make for a non-commercial story.) Sadly, the folks in the submarine determine that if Oceanlab is intact, it fell into a fissure, and the submarine is too big to enter the fissure.

So the folks on the ship above need a small, maneuverable bathyscaphe, and quickly. There is one, but who knows if it will be able to find Oceanlab in time. That ship is captained by Commander Blake (Ben Gazzara), and he takes along as a crew MacKay, another diver, and scientist Jansen (Yvette Mimieux), who is clearly along because the movie needs eye candy and presumably Raquel Welch wasn't available. Blake and MacKay argue, and in the fissure the crew finds some marine life the likes of which they've theoretically seen before, but never quite like this....

The Neptune Factor is one of those movies that has a reasonably good idea at the base of it. It's reminiscent of Fantastic Voyage or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea thematically. And yet The Neptune Factor winds up failing pretty badly. I think there are multiple reasons for that, but chief among them is the script. It's slow, slow, slow, and just when you think it's not slow enough it gets slower. Nothing really happens much of the time, as the bathyscaphe crew just sit there and look out the portals.

The script also has some serious continuity issues. There's talk early on about divers being too deep while the Oceanlab is still moored, yet one of the divers is able to exit the submersible when it's even deeper in the fissure. There's also talk about who the pressure that deep would have crushed Oceanlab, but that pressure is apparently not too much for the diver. As with most movies underwater and in caves, the lighting is much too light, but there's not much that can done with this most of the time and still have a movie.

The final problem is the special effects. I know that this was still the early 1970s and effects were nowhere near as advanced as they are now, but the creatures seen at the bottom of the fissure made me think that the makers of The Neptune Factor were borrowing ideas from Night of the Lepus on how to do effects. It's terrible and totally defies reality. Wait until you see the eels.

Still, The Neptune Factor is silly enough for one viewing. Watch and judge for yourself.

A brief mention of Clark Gable day

Today in TCM's Summer Under the Stars brings 24 hours of the movies of Clark Gable. I see a movie in the schedule that I don't think has been on in quite some time, The King and Four Queens, at 4:00 PM.

Gable plays Dan Kehoe, a con-man out in the old west who hears about a ranch run by a bunch of women. Ma McDade (Jo Van Fleet, interestingly playing well above her age as she'd do a few short years later in Wild River) runs the place with her four daughters-in-law (Eleanor Parker among them). Apparently the brothers went off and robbed a bank and made off with a huge sum of money. Three of the four brothers were killed, and nobody knows what happened to the fourth.

So Dan shows up saying while he was in prison, he heard from the fourth brother. In fact, it's just a ruse to get on the ranch (for understandable reasons, these women don't like outsiders), so that he can poke around for a while to try to find out where the loot is hidden. But love and other emotions complicate matters....

I think the last time I saw this was in January 2015, which I think was also the last time it showed up on the TCM schedule. I didn't do a post on it then because when I looked to see if it was on DVD, I couldn't find it. It turned out that it already had gotten a release. Anyhow, I enjoyed the movie then, and it's certainly worth a watch.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Coogan's Bluff

One of the movies that I watched off the DVR recently that's on DVD is Coogan's Bluff.

The movie starts off with an odd-looking guy wearing just a loincloth standing on a mountain somewhere in rural Arizona. He's got a gun, and when a jeep starts approaching the mountain, the guy shoots at the jeep! But the driver of the jeep is able to get out and come up on the odd-looking guy from behind. It turns out that the man in the jeep is sheriff's deputy Coogan (Clint Eastwood), and the odd-looking guy is a fugitive.

Coogan takes the fugitive not to the sheriff's office, but to one of his girlfriends who has a place in the middle of nowhere, mostly because Coogan needs a bath. However, the sheriff (Tom Tully getting one scene) finds Coogan and is pissed. To be honest, the sheriff has apparently never liked Coogan. So the sheriff has a job for Coogan, which is to go to New York City and pick up a guy Ringerman (Don Stroud) who is supposed to be extradited back to Arizona.

Once Coogan gets to New York, all of the big-city types treat Coogan like a rube just for being from the middle of nowhere; this including Coogan's two liasons, NYPD Lt. McElroy (Lee J. Cobb) and probation officer/psychology researcher Julie (Susan Clark). They inform Coogan that he's going to have to wait several days to get Ringerman, because he had a bad trip on LSD -- this is 1968, after all -- and he's in Bellevue Hospital. Coogan can't get him until all the T's are crossed and the I's dotted, which is going to take time.

Coogan doesn't have that sort of time, so he bluffs he way into Bellevue to get Ringerman, which more or less succeeds. Unfortunately, somebody's figured out which airport Coogan is going to go through, and they waylay him, clubbing him on the head to get the key to the handcuffs and Coogan's gun. It's up to Coogan to find Ringerman in the big city, without his gun or official sanction from the NYPD.

Coogan's Bluff combines a reasonably good genre: the cop looking for a suspect movie, with one I've never liked: the generation gap movie. Julie has some unorthodox views, and is probably using unethical methods considering the files she's got. And then there's the nightclub Coogan winds up in where he meets Ringerman's girlfriend. It reminded me of the party scene from Midnight Cowboy, another movie about a small-town guy going to the big city. The final chase in Coogan's Bluff worked reasonably well, but the rest seemed a bit muddled to me.

I think the problems with the movie come down to the script, as I can't really fault Eastwood, who is the main focus of the movie. The supporting actors all do reasonably well. Ringerman is pretty much a cipher, but that's not an issue. All in all, I'd recommend Coogan's Bluff to Clint Eastwood completists, but would recommend Brannigan for starters for the "cops seeking an escaped fugitive" movies.

The Fred Zinnemann report

My podcast listening, as I've mentioned on a bunch of occasions, is largely the sort of international broadcaster that used to be on short-wave radio back when that was the way to broadcast rather than the internet. Polish Radio's half-hour broadcast for Wednesday included this story on the famous Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann:

Polish town remembers US film director Fred Zinnemann

Few people know that US film director Fred Zinnemann, whose credits include such movies as High Noon and From Here to Eternity, was born in Poland – in the south-eastern town of Rzeszów.


Unfortunately, Polish radio doesn't include a transcript of the individual stories the way that Radio Prague's website does, so you're going to have to listen to the report. There's a link at the top to do streaming audio, and if you want to download the MP3, that's available directly here (~3.9MB, a little over 4 minutes).


I couldn't find any link to the actual film festival. If you're interested in more stories from Poland, Radio Poland's English-language site is here, and there's a link to the podcasts in the top right.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #214: Non-English Language Movies



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 "Non English-Language movies", which is an easy one since it's so broad. The only thing I'd have to worry about is not using movies I've already picked before. So, with that in mind, here are three interesting foreign films that as far as I know aren't available on DVD in the States:

Schtonk (1992). German farce about one of the great hoaxes of recent decades, the Hitler Diaries forgery. For those who don't remember, in the early 1980s, a con-artist came out and claimed to have made a startling discovery of a bunch of diaries that were written by Adolf Hitler. The German mass-interest magazine Stern serialized them until the hoax was discovered. It actually got nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar, but the only way I got to see it was ages ago when the college's German Department showed a print.

O Quatrilho (1995). Brazilian movie about Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. One guy is practical and plans to go into the forestry business in the south of the country, but he marries a gorgeous high-maintenance wife. His best friend and business partner is an artist and dreamer who's married a very practical-minded woman. With the four put together in a rural backwater, you can guess that the two dreamers wind up falling in love and eventually running off together, leaving the practical man and practical woman alone together to try to rebuild their lives. Good story with gorgeous cinematography making southern Brazil beautiful.

Louis 19, le roi des ondes (1994). French-Canadian comedy about a boring man who dreams of being on TV and wins a contest that makes him the star of a reality TV show before reality TV was a big thing. Unfortunately, his life makes for a show that would lose in the ratings department, so the producers try to spice up his life. That, needless to say, doesn't make the people around Louis very happy. This one I saw on the old Trio TV channel, which shows how long it's been since it ran anywhere (well, outside Quebec; I have no idea if there are channels showing old French-Canadian movies there).

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A few heads up

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Miriam Hopkins, and TCM is spending most of the day with her 1930s movies. I would love to see another airing of The Mating Season, but alas, that's not on the schedule. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with The Stranger's Return, a movie that I blogged about last November and then used again the next month in a Thursday Movie Picks post on small towns. I know it's the sort of movie most of the people who respond to the TMP posts say they've never seen before, so here's another chance.

Surprisingly, it's only been six months since I mentioned Holiday for Lovers, which kicks off the FXM Retro schedule tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM. Also on the FXM Retro schedule tomorrow is a movie that I mentioned another airing of just last September, As Young As You Feel, at 7:40 AM.

I've actually got a few days off work so I'll be able to get through more movies this weekend. The only problem is that I've recorded quite a few movies that aren't in print on DVD and don't seem to be available via streaming routes either. Or, at least, outlets other than the Watch TCM app, where they're only up temporarily. I was rather surprised and disappointed to find out that Tension at Table Rock is one of the movies not on DVD after I recorded it during Dorothy Malone's Day in Summer Under the Stars.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thoughts on Uncle Tom's Cabin

I recorded the 1927 version of Uncle Tom's Cabin last month when TCM ran it was part of the spotlight on slavery in the movies presented by Ben Mankiewicz and Prof. Donald Bogle. Apparently, this was the ninth version of the story filmed, and focuses more on the relationshpi between Eliza and George than on Uncle Tom, with Simon Legree only coming in the last third. Oh, and with the exception of Tom, all the main characters (notably slaves Eliza and George) are played by white people.

Well, the last third of what I watched. I don't know what if anything was missing from this version. IMDb lists the movie as being 144 minutes, but the print TCM ran was about 115 minutes. Some of that could be down to frame rate or intertitles, but I'm not certain about a whole half hour of the movie. Plus, the print TCM ran had a card about it being a Realart release, and not the Universal logo. That card also looked rather more recent, like this was from a TV print from when movies first started showing up on TV. The Kino Video DVD is also listed as 144 minutes.

Then again, there's also a discrepancy in the running time of some of the other silent versions. IMDb lists the first version, from 1903, as running 13 minutes, but Youtube has a buch of prints (since it's public domain) running from about 12 minutes up to about 19. Not having watched all the prints, I'd assume some of that is down to extra title credits added by the uploader.

I didn't realize until now that there was a 1965 European version with Herbert Lom as Simon Legree. Ooh, there's Vilma Degischer from the Sissi movies as Mrs. Shelby, Eliza's owner from the opening of the movie (at least the beginning of the 1927 version). I don't know that that one is on DVD.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Frightened Man

In my last set of DVD purchases from Amazon, I splurged and spent a few buck on this DVD set of British B movies, none of which I'd heard of before. Over the weekend, I fired up the DVD player and watched The Frightened Man.

Rosselli (Charles Victor) is an antiques dealer in London, although it seems to be a rather unfashionable part of London. He's scrimped and saved, and then some, to send his son Julius (Dermot Walsh) off to Oxford so that Julius can do better than he did. Among other problems, it seems as though one of Rosselli's employees may have obtained some stolen goods and tried to sell them at the store.

Things are about to get worse for Rosselli, though, as Julius has been expelled from Oxford and returned to London. Rosselli would like for Julius to join him as a partner in the store, but Julius would like an easier life than that. It's not as if good jobs are easy to find, however. And it's going to be more difficult for Julius in that he's fallen in love with one of Dad's boarders Amanda (Barbara Murray) and is planning to marry her, this without having a good job.

A friend offers Julius a job driving a truck, but it's really a job driving the getaway truck after a robbery, which is a problem since that's rather illegal. Bringing things full circle, another of the group of people in on the heist is the guy from Dad's antiques shop who was involved with the stolen goods. But the heist pays the rent, so to speak, and Julius gets involved with more stuff, with the climax coming when Amanda's boss is set to handle a shipment of diamonds. The police have been on the case for some time, too....

I had never heard of this movie, and to be honest, I don't think I'd heard of the main cast members. For some reason I feel like I should recognize director Jack Gilling's The Man Inside, but none of Dermot Walsh's movies look familiar at all. That having been said, I found The Frightened Man to be a surprisingly good B movie. It's not as good as A movies and clearly is lacking in production values, but it's not a bad little movie at all.

As for the box set, it's bare bones. The print of The Frightened Man is probably about the best one can hope for, since it's a B movie, but it looks in the opening title as though a very tiny slice of the bottom might have been cut off. It's not also the crispest print, but it's more than watchable. The packaging is pretty good, with three DVDs (two movies to a disc) each on their own spindle although one is a two-sided spindle. The one odd thing is that after The Frightened Man ended the DVD continued into the other movie on the disc. Still, for the price, if the other movies are anywhere near as good, I'd happily recommend the set.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Things I should have written about earlier this week

Actor Robert Dix, son of early talkie star Richard Dix, died on Monday at the age of 83. The younger Dix was in Forbidden Planet although I don't remember his role; and the fun Barbara Stanwyck western Forty Guns. Looking through the obituary, one role that I do remember him in is as Frank James in Young Jesse James, one of those B movies that Fox was distributing in the years while Cleopatra was eating up their budget.

By now you've probably heard about Robert Redford's decision to retire from acting. The guy turns 82 this month, so really nobody should begrudge him a chance to enjoy his retirement. I've always wondered, however, whether voiceover work (for actors, I'm particularly thinking animation) would be a lower-stress way for actors to cut back on their workload and keep working if they like it.

Also on the obituary front is cinematographer Richard Kline, who died on Tuesday aged 91. I don't pay as close attention to the people working behind the camera, directors excepted. But he was the cinematographer on the interesting composition of The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green and the first Star Trek movie. He was twice nominated for an Oscar, for Camelot and the 1976 Jessica Lange version of King Kong.

Over on the TCM boards, somebody posted a link to an interview with script supervisor Angela Allen. That's the person who makes certain the movie keeps continuity, which can be a difficult thing, as Allen mentions a story about The African Queen. It's another of those behind the camera jobs you don't hear much about, so it's a really interesting interview.

Too Hot to Handle

Another movie available from the Warner Archive that I recently watched off my DVR is Too Hot to Handle.

Clark Gable plays Chris Hunter, a newsreel photographer for the Union Newsreel Co. currently working in China, where there's a war going on because of the Japanese occupation of parts of the country. Chris hasn't been able to get any good footage of bombings in part because it's tough to be in the right place at the riht time, and in part due to the new anti-aircraft guns; all this is much to the consternation of Chris' boss Gabby (Walter Connolly). Actually it's not just Chris who isn't getting any usable footage; all the other newsreel guys (who are stationed in the same place and follow a herd mentality not unlike today) aren't getting any footage either.

Chris has an idea to create some fake news (again, not unlike today) by staging an attack with model planes and a phony crying child, but Chris' main rival Bill (Walter Pidgeon) knows about Chris' penchant for fake news. So Bill and his colleagues cook up a story about a cholera epidemic and a pilot Harding bringing in a critical supply of serum; the hope is that Chris will fall for the story. Chris shows up at the airport and gets in everybody else's way, not realizing this was their intention. And Chris' interference results in the plane running off the runway and catching fire. At this point, Chris rescues Harding and discovers that Harding is actually a woman, Alma Harding (Myrna Loy).

Chris falls in love with Alma, and through a series of subterfuges gets her to work for Union, but eventually she's going to find out about Chris' deception at which point she's going to be very pissed with him. She was only in on the fake news story back in China because she was trying to raise the money necessary to start an expedition to find her brother. Apparently, her brother was also an exploring aviator, except that he went down somewhere in the Brazilian rain forest. Everybody else thinks he's dead, but she's convinced he's alive.

Chris engages in some more deception to raise the money necessary for Alma to get down to South America, mostly because he still wants her love and if he helps her find her brother he can win her back. Well, to be honest there's also the possibility of getting a great newsreel out of the story, and heaven knows Chris will do anything for a story. Now, there wouldn't be much of a climax to the movie is Alma's brother were dead, so you can assume that he's alive and that Chris is going to help Alma save her.

Too Hot to Handle is one of those MGM movies that's entertaining and competently made, but at the same time looks like it's got something wrong with it because of the studio gloss. Hollywood's portrayal of China doesn't look like China at all, and it gets South America even more wrong. The natives that captured Alma's brother practice "voodoo", and yet they speak the mix of Spanish and Portuguese that Chris' sound man Joselito (Leo Carrillo) speaks. Oh, and I thought those newsreel cameras didn't necessarily pick up sound without a real mike hooked up.

With that said, everybody does a good job with their roles, at least insofar as the script lets them. Probably best of the whole lot is Marjorie Main playing Gabby's executive secretary Miss Wayne. Connolly has to play Gabby as too much the dyspeptic; Gable starts to annoy as the smooth operator, Pidgeon has to struggle with his character being written blandly, and Myrna Loy is probably a bit too glamorous to play anybody stuck in a tiny cockpit for hours on end.

Overall, you should be aware that you're going to have to suspend disbelief to watch Too Hot to Handle. If you can do that, it's quite the entertaining little ride.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Great Santini

Last night's viewing was the 1979 movie The Great Santini.

The story opens up with an establishing scene in the skies over Spain in 1962. A bunch of Marine pilots (the US had a military base in Spain at the time), led by Lt. Col. Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) doing a training exercise, in which Meechum shows he's a better pilot than the rest of them. Cut to a going-away party for him, since he's getting transferred back stateside; this particular party shows Meechum, nicknamed "Santini", to be a drunken boor and frankly a character I wouldn't want to be around in my life.

Anyhow, when he returns to the US he's greeted by his wife Lillian (Blythe Danner) and their four children, most notably oldest son Ben (Michael O'Keefe). They've been living with Grandma, but Dad's return home means that they're going to be transferred yet again, to Beaufort, SC. It seems like they move once a year like clockwork, something that particularly bugs the second-oldest child, daughter Mary Anne.

What should bother them even more is the way Dad runs the household. He's a Marine through and through, and it's as though that's the only thing he knows how to be. So while he's a tough SOB on base, he's an even tougher SOB with his family, raising them like a drill instructor instead of a father. Unsurprisingly, the kids, as they get older, start to chafe at all of this, and who can blame them.

Ben, for his part, qualifies for the high school basketball team and becomes friends with Toomer (Stan Shaw), the son of the family's black maid. Toomer's basically a decent guy, but he has a stutter and probably an intellectual disability. That, combined with his being a black guy in early 1960s South Carolina, means that there are going to be a lot of white locals who are going to treat him like shit, which ultimately has tragic consequences when Toomer stands up for himself. On the other hand, it also leads to Ben finally standing up to his father....

As I watched The Great Santini, I couldn't help but think of Wings, a movie I reviewed here last September. Both movies present characters who were good at fighting in the military, but who don't seem to be able to handle peacetime life. Both movies are also more character studies, although The Great Santini has a clearer plot than Wings. In that regard, I found it a bit tough to get into The Great Santini.

I think that was even tougher for me, though, is the fact that Bull Meechum is such an unlikeable character that I wanted to see most of the characters act differently than they do around him -- frankly, I wanted somebody to beat the crap out of him early on. Or even better, multiple somebodies. I can't deny, however, that Duvall gives an excellent performance and the rest of the cast is quite good too. The movie as a whole looks technically well-made. In that regard, it reminded me of another character study with a character I loathed, Under the Volcano.

In short, The Great Santini is a movie where it's easy to understand why so many people would consider it a great movie. I wouldn't say it's bad by any means -- it's really quite good. I just think that people ought to know going in that it's a character study of someone uncomfortable to watch.

Friday, August 10, 2018

About that new Oscar

By now you've probably heard the story about how the Academy Awards are planning to come up with an award that honors "achievement in popular film", whatever that exactly means. I've been thinking about it, not quite certain what to make of it.

The first thought is the the glib rejoinder that the current Best Picture award apparently honors achievement in unpopular film, although it is often the case that the sort of prestige movies that get the Oscar nominations are not the sort of movies that pull in the biggest box office. Although, to be fair, getting nominated, and even more so winning, is often a springboard to getting broader release.

The second thought was that having a "best popular picture" or somesuch isn't quite without precedent. At the very first Academy Awards presentation, there were two movies that could arguably have been called Best Picture. One was "Outstanding Picture", which was awarded to Wings, beating out the silent version of The Racket and Seventh Heaven. But there was a second category, "Unique and Artistic Picture", and (possibly deliberately) none of the nominees overlapped, with Sunrise beating out The Crowd and Chang. There were also two directing categories, one for comedy and one for drama, something that I think is still done at the Golden Globes.

I was also thinking about honorary awards being a reasonable way to honor "popular" pictures. For a quarter century, the Academy awarded an honorary Juvenile Award intermittently, something that I wonder if they ought to start doing again. Having an honorary "popular" Oscar is something that isn't terribly unreasonable.

Finally, and this isn't quite related, but there technically wouldn't even have to be official nominations for a special "popular" film award. The Academy for the second edition of the Academy Awards had a different nominating and awarding process, mentioned on their database if you look up nominees from that year:

[NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL NOMINATION. There were no announcements of nominations, no certificates of nomination or honorable mention, and only the winners (*) were revealed during the awards banquet on April 3, 1930. Though not official nominations, the additional names in each category, according to in-house records, were under consideration by the various boards of judges.]

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #213: A Siege



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, the theme is "A Siege". Well, technically, three sieges since we're supposed to select three different movies that fit the theme. I had to think for a bit, but I came up with three movies, each rather different from each other, that I think all fit the theme:

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939). Henry Fonda plays a man in the early 1770s who marries Claudette Colbert (!) and moves west, to what is now western New York. The Revolutionary War comes, and the British attack the settlers, climaxing in the Battle of Oriskany and the siege of Fort Stanwix. It's shot in lovely Technicolor, and earned Edna May Oliver a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, although she's about as much a 1770s settler as Claudette Colbert.

The Big Lift (1950). After Germany was defeated in World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors, as was Berlin. The Soviet sector of Germany surrounded Berlin, so in 1948 they decided they would try to starve the western allies into submission by blockading the land routes to Berlin, which is after all a form of siege. The Americans got the brilliant idea to airlift supplies to Berlin. Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas play a pair of Americans flying supplies to the city, finding out that not all the Germans are as they seem. A lot of real-life US military officers were also used in the filming.

Night of the Living Dead (1968). Something is causing recently deceased people to turn into zombies that need to eat human brains to survive, and a motley group of humans hole up in an isolated house while a bunch of zombies besiege the house trying to get in and eat the brains of the healthy people in the house. The success of this movie spawned the modern zombie film genre we've had since.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Spoilers (1942)

I mentioned over the weekend that I watched the 1942 movie The Spoilers Since it's available on DVD, it's worth doing a full-length post on.

The plot is the sort of thing that's been done in a bunch of movies. It's about 1900, in Nome, Alaska, which as you'll know from my recent review of Klondike Annie, was an era when there was a gold rush going on, so everybody was trying to get to Alaska to strike it rich. Roy Glennister (John Wayne) has been there for a while, to the point that he and is partner Dextry (Harry Carey) have a gold claim that they've been prospecting for some time. However, since the law hasn't quite reached this remote part of the Alaska Territory yet, claim jumpers abound, and people who don't have the means that Glennister and Dextry have had are seeing their claims fraudulently questioned.

That's about to happen to Glennister and Dextry too. Their operation has been financed in part by saloonkeeper Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich), who has been looking forward to Glennister's return from Seattle. Also on the boat from Seattle is the new Judge Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds), who is supposed to bring law to this part of Alaska. But he's accompanied by his niece Helen (Margaret Lindsay), to whom Glennister has taken a shine, much to Cherry's consternation. Rounding out the leads is new claims commissioner Alex McNamara (Randolph Scott). He sees Cherry trying to get Glennister's claim from the current records office; she's worried that the new claim jumpers are going to try to destroy the evidence.

Cherry has good reason to be fearful, as soon enough, there are people trying to dispute Glennister and Dextry's claim. They know they're in the right because they've been mining for years when there was almost nobody prospecting in Alaska, but good luck proving that to the judge. Dextry, for his part, isn't so certain he wants to trust the judge. And for once, his judgment and not Glennister's is more on the mark here. We eventually discover that Glennister and McNamara are in cahoots, perverting the course of justice to try to take Glennister and Dextry's claim away from them.

This sort of thing has been done before both in the guise of a gold rush -- indeed, this is the fourth version of The Spoilers and there was still one more to come in the mid-1950s -- as well as other sorts of westerns. But it's done quite entertainingly here. Wayne is suitably studly; Scott is suitably ambiguous as to whose side he's ultimately on; Dietrich is suitably feisty and sexually charged. There's also Richard Barthelmess at the end of his career as Cherry's second-in-command at the saloon. The romantic story line and the mining story line mesh well, and the movie climaxes with a big extended fight scene between Wayne and Scott.

Even though The Spoilers is treading really old ground, it's still an enormously fun movie, and one that is more than worth the watch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Faithless



Just before the start of Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran a morning and afternoon of pre-Codes. One of them was Faithless, which sounded awfully familiar although I'd never done a full-length post on it before, at least according to a search of the site.

Tallulah Bankhead plays Carol Morgan, a trust fund baby in 1932, which for those of you who know your history you know is deep in the heart of the Depression. Don't worry if you don't know your history; the film makes very clear there's a depression on in the opening montage. Carol, having that trust fund, believes herself immune to the Depression and spends profligately because she wants to have an enjoyable time in life.

One day, Carol meets Bill Wade (Robert Montgomery), who isn't quite in Carol's social class although he earns the princely sum of $20,000 a year in the advertising business, which was quite a bit in the early 1930s when you consider that Jim Blandings in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House 15 years later was upper-middle class and only pulling down $15,000 a year. But Bill still knows he's got a lot less money than Carol, and he's insistent about living on his money, not hers, which is why they have an on-again, off-again relationship.

But Carol keeps spending like there's no tomorrow, and sure enough, tomorrow comes. The administrators of her trust tell her that her father put the money in the trust in stocks instead of government bonds back in 1929, so she's wiped out too, and she's borrowed to the hilt against the her assets. She decides that now would be a good time to go marry Bill and live on his money, since she doesn't have any money of her own to live on. But she waited too long, because just as she's about to tell him she's ready to marry him, Bill informs her that the ad firm has gone under, so he's without a job too.

Bill goes off to Chicago to find a new job, while Carol starts mooching off all her old society friends, but eventually one after the other realizes what's going on and dump her from their social circle, to the point that she's left in Chicago with no money and seemingly no hope. Finally, when all hope is lost, she runs into Bill again, who by now is working in trucking. Or was, for the very day the two meet again, the trucking company for which he was driving goes bankrupt, leaving him without a job.

Bill does get one more job, but he realizes too late it's as a scab, and the unionized workers are willing to resort to violent means to keep the scabs from working. Bill winds up injured and unable to work, and poor Carol doesn't have the money for any medical bills....

Faithless is an interesting movie, albeit one that's not without its flaws. Tallulah Bankhead is, I think, not quite the right person for the part of Carol. She comes across as too stupid and spoiled before going broke, to the point of being unsympathetic. She also doesn't look unglamorous after the fall. Montgomery fares better, although his role is a bit less demanding. The bigger problem both face is that they're at MGM, a studio where the gloss always shines through, even if it's in a movie that probably shouldn't have any gloss. I mentioned that recently with East Side, West Side, and it's even more evident here. This is supposed to be a tough Depression movie, and where Warner Bros. could do it well with its social commentary films, it's not something that ever came naturally to MGM.

Still, Faithless is more than worth a watch. It's available on a Robert Montgomery box set at both Amazon and the TCM Shop, although when I searched for it at Amazon, I had to search on "Robert Montgomery Collection" instead of the title Faithless.

Monday, August 6, 2018

City That Never Sleeps

Last month, TCM ran a night of "prestige" movies from Republic Pictures that aren't very well known. One of the night's offerings that's available on DVD is City that Never Sleeps, so I DVRed it and watched.

Chill Wills, who shows up later as an actual character, gives us an opening monologue about Chicago and everything that goes on in the city at night, also introducing us to the main characters. Among the things going on are the sorts of nightclubs where you get dancers like "Angel Face" (Mala Powers) as part of the stage show. She's the girlfriend of cop Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), except that Johnny actually has a wife in Kathy. Kathy makes more money than Johnny, which puts a strain on their relationship, especially because her mom reminds him of that fact. And Johnny never really wanted to be a cop anyway.

When he stops off at home between going to the club and to roll call for the night shift, Johnny gets a call from prominent lawyer Penrod Biddel (Edward Arnold). Apparently Biddel isn't completely on the up-and-up, as he keeps important documents that he can use to blackmail people, aided in obtaining those documents by failed magician Hayes Stewart (William Talman). Biddel thinks Stewart is getting too big for his britches, so Biddel wants Johnny to catch Stewart in flagrante delicto and "extradite" him to Indiana, since if he goes straight to the police station he'll reveal what information he has on Biddel.

Johnny, for his part, is going to be willing to do this because Penrod has a lot of money for him for doing this job. Johnny wants the money because he's planning on leaving his wife, marrying Angel Face, and moving out to California to start a new wife. Yeah, that sort of plan seems real good, doesn't it.

Anyhow, before Johnny can get to Penrod to find that this is the plan, he has to go through roll call, where he finds out his regular partner is sick, and he's going to work with an old guy he doesn't know called Sgt. Joe (that's Chill Wills). This Sgt. Joe seems reminiscent of Spencer Tracy's Joe in A Guy Named Joe, in that he winds up being almost a sort of guardian angel for Johnny in that he's impossibly virtuous.

Things take a twist, however, when Stewart decides to rob Biddel's safe earlier than Biddel was expecting it, so while Johnny and Sgt. Joe are the ones who get the call to go to the office building, they're not going to be able to catch Stewart. Worse is that Johnny doesn't know Stewart has a protégé in the form of Johnny's kid brother Stubby.

Ah, but there are more twists, in that Stewart cracks the office safe, only to find out that the document he's looking for isn't there, and that Biddel has hidden it somewhere else. This is only one more in a series of twists that's ultimately going to involve murder, another boyfriend for Angel Face, and Johnny's decision of whether he wants to remain a cop after all.

City That Never Sleeps has a pretty good story at the heart of it, although I have to admit that I didn't care for the Sgt. Joe character or the general cop worship that was such a common theme for movies of the time thanks to the Production Code. I've rarely found Gig Young to be particularly noticeable in the movies he's in, and he does a capable job here but nothing spectacular. Edward Arnold is also quite workmanlike, while Talman is probably the most interesting character. Marie Windsor gets one scene as Mrs. Biddel. The one thing that really does help the movie is that it was shot on location and not a backlot, which gives the whole thing much more vitality.

On the whole, City That Never Sleeps is a worthwhile watch, although it feels like a whole bunch of movies that are good, but not quite great.

For those who miss Silent Sunday Nights

One of the bad things about TCM's Summer Under the Stars is that the regular programming features mostly go missing. Now, in the case of Noir Alley it's not such a big deal, as there's a fair amount of noir in the schedule outside of Eddie Muller's regularly scheduled spot. Audrey Totter is today's star, and Muller has already presented her film Tension (on tonight at 8:00 PM) before.

In the case of Silent Sunday Nights and the TCM Import, it's different. Maybe one day during the month there will be a day dedicated to an actor who made mostly foreign-language films, and one day dedicated to somebody who made a bunch of silents. Marcello Mastroianni will be coming up at the end of the month, but tomorrow is given over to the films of Harold Lloyd. There are a few talkies from the end of his days as a star, the feature favorites like Safety Last! (8:00 PM tomorrow), and at the start of the day, some even older shorts. I'm not certain if I'd heard of Ask Father, which kicks off the day at 6:00 AM, before. It's from 1919, so the print should be in the public domain. The music? Well, fortunately I was able to find a print on Youtube that was uploaded by the people who commissioned the new score, so it probably shouldn't be facing copyright issues. and get taken down:



Enjoy the Harold Lloyd silents, because they're the only ones on TCM this month.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vitaphone Pictorial Revue

I was watching The Spoilers off my DVR, having recorded it when it was part of Marlene Dietrich's turn as TCM Star of the Month back in May. (Full-length post to come later in the week.) The movie plus an intro and outro, comes to just over 90 minutes, so TCM had to put it in a 1:45 time slot, which gave them room to include a one-reeler, which in this case was Vitaphone Pictorial Revue (Series 2, #6)

I don't think I'd heard of the series before seeing this short, and based on what I saw, I think there's a good reason why I hadn't heard of it. This particular entry includes three short segments, one on Arabian horses, one on ice hockey, and one on the making of shoes that was truncated in TCM's print. The narration was terrible, and the print was a poor image, never mind the cutting off of the shoe segment.

The one thing interesting was that the horse segment was obviously done at some stables that were the stables to the stars, or at least B-movie stars who hadn't made the A list yet. There's a brief shot of singing cowboy Dick Foran, a very young Lana Turner, and a young Warner Bros. B star named Ronald Regan. Yes, that's how they actually pronounced poor Ronald Reagan's name. But they were all shot from a distance.

As far as I can tell none of the Revues are on DVD. I wouldn't be surprised if one or more were an extra somewhere, although finding extras in Amazon and TCM Shop searches of DVDs is quite difficult. Even though this one was lousy and doesn't give me any hope for other entries in the series, they would still make interesting extras on a DVD of whatever feature.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Eternally Yours

1939 is commonly referred to as Hollywood's greatest year. A movie from that year that is generally overlooked is Eternally Yours.

Anita (Loretta Young) is the granddaughter of Episcopalian bishop Peabody (C. Aubrey Smith), and is having a luncheon with some of her girlfriends when her boyfriend Don Burns (Broderick Crawford in a very early role) shows up to pick her up for an afternoon out. They go to see a show from master magician Arturo the Great (David Niven). He's so magical that he's able to steal Anita's heart right out from under Don.

Fast forward a year and a half, and Anita is working as her husband's partner in those illusions that need a lovely woman as the magician's assistant. They're currently performing in London, which one assumes is home for Arturo, although it certainly isn't for Anita. She's decided that she'd like to settle down, and to that end has had plans drawn up for a small country house in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut, or at least as middle of nowhere as you can get there. She's especially unhappy that Arturo talked himself into an escape act involving being handcuffed and thrown out of a plane!

Not that Arturo wants to do that. Arturo feels he needs to keep making money to make Anita happy, and to that end he's signed the two up for a two-year tour. (The movie was released in October 1939, after World War II had already begun, so presumably this world tour wouldn't take them to Europe.)

At any rate, they set out on the tour, but when they get to South America, Anita decides that she's had enough, and that she's going to go home to get a divorce. (Well, actually, she has to go to Reno and serve Arturo the divorce papers, but Arturo could only get the slow boat back to the States.) Anita gets the divorce and marries Don, while Arturo is stuck doing vaudeville-type shows. Until a charity function winds up with his meeting Anita again, giving him a chance to win her back.

Eternally Yours is one of those competently-made movies that unfortunately winds up adding up to less than the sum of its parts. I think that's in part because so much of the material feels formulaic, in that we've sen this type of story before. A big entertainer falls in love, and then has to decide whether the love can survive a life on the road. I think the most recent post I did on such a movie was for There's No Business Like Show Business a few months back, but I can think of a bunch of movies in the genre. Eternally Yours feels like everyobdy is going through the motions, which is a bit of a shame because it actually has quite a bit of star power in the supporting roles: C. Aubrey Smith is criminally underused, and when you see names like Billie Burke, ZaSu Pitts, and Eve Arden on the second card, you might expect a lot.

Not that Eternally Yours is bad; it just feels like it could have been better. The movie is available on DVD, though, so you can watch and judge for yourself.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Briefs for August 3-4, 2018

I probably should have mentioned the passing of Mary Carlisle earlier. Carlisle, who died on Wednesday at the age of 104, was a supporting player in quite a few 1930s movies, although they were mostly lower-budget films I don't recall so well. One title that did stick out is Should Ladies Behave, if only because every time I see that title I immediately want to respond "No!" She was also the last of the surviving WAMPAS Baby Stars, a group of young actresses picked by the West coast distributors who felt these actresses were about to become stars. Many did (one of the fellow Baby Stars the year Carlisle was picked was Ginger Rogers); others didn't.

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Clint Eastwood, whose day kicks off at 6:00 AM with The First Traveling Saleslady. I thought I had done a full-length post on it since that apology post, but dammit, I never did. Eastwood plays a supporting role in which he winds up romantically involved with Carol Channing. The actual star is Ginger Rogers, playing a woman selling barbed wire out west. A check of the TCM shop today suggests that the movie is still not on DVD.

The First Traveling Saleslady is in a two-hour slot even though the movie isn't that long. That gives time for a short, and that short will be the recently mentioned Beauty and the Bull, at about 7:39 AM. Bette Ford, before she became an actress, spent some time as a bullfighter, and this is a dramatization of that story.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #212: Body Switch



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This time, the theme is "Body switch", which I presume was supposed to mean two characters swapping bodies. However, as I was thinking of the theme, I was having trouble coming up with enough movies. Now, there were some movies I'd like to use, such as The Wrong Box, since one of the boxes supposedly contains a dead body, but I used that in April 2017 for a "Rivals" theme. Then there was Dead Ringer which got taken in May 2017 for a Clones/Dopplegänger theme. Eventually, though, I was able to come up with three movies:

Turnabout (1940). Carole Landis and John Hubbard play a husband and wife who bicker a lot. One evening after hubby returns home from work, the two get into an argument that results in both of them wishing they could have the other's life. Wouldn't you know that they made that wish in front of an enchanted statuette of a Hindu god, and that statuette grants them their wish, which leads to all sorts of comic complications. This was a step up in class for producer Hal Roach, who got Adolphe Menjou to play one of Hubbard's business partners and Mary Astor to play Menjou's wife.

Nora Prentiss (1947). Kent Smith plays a doctor who meets nightclub singer Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) and, as in any good noir, falls in love with her. Of course, he's already married, so what's a guy to do? One day as he's working late at his practice, a patient comes in and drops dead of a heart attack. The not-so-good doctor decides that he can use the dead stranger's body as his own, faking his death and allowing him to go across country to start a new life with Nora. Of course, how was he going to be able to practice medicine with a new identity?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Kevin McCarthy plays a doctor who returns to his small town in California only to find that people are beginning to act strangely. He and his girlfriend (Dana Wynter) begin to investigate, and discover that some entity is importing pods, leaving them in houses overnight, and the pod entities take the bodies of the people. Can this doctor get the warning out before the pods start spreading beyond the borders of his little town?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Heavens Above!

Some time back, I bought a five-film Peter Sellers box set. I've blogged about all of the movies in it, except for Heavens Above!, so over the weekend I watched that final film in the set.

The scene is Orbiston Parva, a company town that has made its living from the Despard family factory for who knows how long, although it seems like several generations at least. The factory produced "Tranquilax", one of those phony pep pills that probably didn't work any better than a placebo. Anyhow, the local Church of England church is currently without a minister, so the next level up in the Church hierarchy arranges to get a new minister. The Rev. John Smallwood is known the the guy doing the appointment, so he has his secretaries get in touch with Smallwood since they have his contact information on file.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there are two John Smallwoods in the file. The one they wanted was a middle-of-the-road minister who would be thoroughly inoffensive. The one they call up (played by Peter Sellers) works as a prison chaplain. It's a noble enough calling, but one that's going to color a man's view on Christianity, and one can only wonder what that's going to mean for a hidebound town like Orbiston Parva.

In fact, we soon find that the Rev. Smallwood they get takes his Christianity rather seriously, believing in the value of good works. When he gets to town he finds that there's a family, the Smiths, squatting on a plot of land next to the factory that the Tranquilax people intend to use for their expansion plans. The Despards have gotten a legal order to evict the Smiths, who are going to be put into council housing with apparently some of the children going into foster care. When Rev. Smallwood discovers this, he decides to let the Smiths live in the vicarage, since it's got a lot of space thanks to the Despards, and he doesn't need much. What he doesn't realize is that the Smiths are a bunch of grifters.

Meanwhile, Smallwood gets Mrs. Despard (Isabel Jeans) more interested in charity, to the point that she starts a charitable venture with her farmland that threatens to put all the other local producers out of business! Smallwood, for his part, is horrified to learn that Tranquilax is advertising itself as the "three-in-one restorative", since to him the only three-in-one is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He starts campaigning against Tranquilax and this, combined with Despard's selling her shares for the charity project, threatens to put the company out of business.

I found myself having rather mixed views on Heavens Above! as I watched. Pretty much everybody gets skewered here, from the Church to the aristocratic types in the form of the Despards, to the underclass, as the Smiths are pretty ruthlessly portrayed as scamming layabouts. But the movie also has a lot of problems. It shouldn't have taken very long to discover that there were in fact two John Smallwoods (the other one is played by Ian Carmichael in one scene), which would have led everybody to be able to figure out what to do. As it stands in the movie, the powers that be come up with a solution that frankly makes no sense. Heavens Above! also veers too much from a gentle comedy to manic, and not to good effect.

Three of the five movies in the box set are quite good, however, so I can certainly recommend the box set as a whole, with Heavens Above! as a sort of extra. Amazon also says the movie is currently available on its streaming service.