Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Inside Story

A year or so ago, TCM ran a night of little-known movies from Republic Pictures. I recorded a couple of them, but held off on doing a blog post on The Inside Story because it's only available on streaming video. However, since I've been running out of space on my DVR, I finally decided to watch it to do a post on it.

The movie starts off with a couple of guys going through their safety deposit boxes in a bank in small-town Vermont. Horace Taylor (Gene Lockhart), who ones the local inn, and "Uncle" Ed (Charles Winninger), who works for Taylor, talk about how keeping stuff in the safety deposit box keeps stuff out of circulation, which reminds them of an incident that happened in their town back in 1933....

Not long after being inaugurated US President, Franklin Roosevelt instituted a "Bank Holiday" that closed all the banks so that people would stop causing bank runs by removing all the money that's been deposited. (You may recall from It's a Wonderful Life when James Stewart talks about the money being invested in the houses of the neighbors of people taking out their money.) Since there were no credit cards back then and people used checks less often, the resulting lack of cash created all sorts of problems, and a whole bunch of people in their town had their own personal money problems back in 1933.

One day, Eustace Peabody (Roscoe Karns), who works for a collections agency in New York, comes with ten $100 bills for a local farmer. However, the farmer can't come into town because his wife is giving birth, so Peabody has to keep the cash in the hotel safe. Uncle Ed puts the money in the safe and gives Peabody a recieipt.

Some time later, grocery store owner J.J. Johnson comes looking for Taylor to pay off his grocery tab. Taylor doesn't have the money to do it, and swears that there's no money in the safe. But he opens it and finds the envelope, with the bills, which is addressed to Waldo Williams (William Lundigan), a struggling artist in love with Taylor's daughter Francine (Marsha Hunt). Waldo owes Taylor money, so he assumes this is the payment for his debt, and pays the cash to Johnson.

Meanwhile, Peabody grows impation that the farmer isn't showing up, and plans to go back to New York. Except that he needs to take the money with him if he can't pay the farmer. Taylor, for the obviously understandable reason that the money isn't in the safe, tries to stall Peabody while he gets the money back from Johnson. Except that Johnson doesn't have it, because he paid off his debt to landlady Mrs. Atherton (Florence Bates). She's hired an attorney, who gives the cash to his daughter to do some purchases. Further complicating things is that there are a couple of bootleggers who want the cash for themselves.

While watching The Inside Story, I couldn't help but think of an older Pete Smith short, The Grand Bounce which has much a similar plot except that it involves a check that's going to bounce if the writer can't get it back. I thought the short worked better, largely because the movie takes a long time to get to the main action of the cash going into circulation. That, and the movie came across as an endorsement of Roosevelt's anti-hoarding assault on private property (which notably included confiscating gold). Once the movie finally does start dealing with the search for the cash, it gets a lot better.

As I said, The Inside Story is as far as I can tell not available on DVD, although you can watch it if you can do the Amazon streaming thing. I couldn't find whether The Grand Bounce is an extra on any DVD.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Not-so-delightful idiots

In July's TCM spotlight of movies from the year 1939, one of the movies they ran that I hadn't blogged about before is Idiot's Delight. So I decided to DVR it and sat down to watch it so I could do a post on it here.

The movie starts off with the end of World War I and soldiers returning home. Among those soldiers is Harry Van (Clark Gable), who had been working in vaudeville before the war. The war has changed things, and he's constantly bouncing from gig to gig, eventually winding up as the straight guy to phony psychic Madame Zuleika (Laura Hope Crews). One night in Omaha she gets drunk and the show goes south. Irene Fellara (Norma Shearer), an acrobat with a different act, figures out what's going on and after the show tells Harry that she wants to learn the secret of the act and be the psychic. Harry says no, and the two eventually go their separate ways.

Fast forward to 1939. Harry has continued to work a series of gigs, with his current one being the front man for a group of chorus girls called Les Blondes. They've been performing all over the place, and are now in the Balkans, returning back to western Europe. But the political situation in Europe is unstable; as we know World War II in Europe would begin in September of 1939. (The movie was actually released in 1939 and is based on a play that hit Broadway back in 1936.) So when the train gets to what would be roughly Slovenia in modern geography if it had been an independent country at the time, they're forced to stop because the borders are temporarily closed.

Harry, Les Blondes, and a bunch of other passengers are forced to wait in an Alpine resort hotel while the uncertain situation resolves itself. Among the passengers are the scientist Dr. Waldersee (Charles Coburn), who is doing cancer research on his rats; the newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Cherry; pacifist Quillery (Burgess Meredith) who used to work in the arms industry; and Achille Weber (Edward Arnold), a titan of the armaments industry who has as his companion Russian exile Princess Irene [sic -- in Russian it would be spelled Irina]. Harry sees Irene, a platinum blonde, and realizes she's a dead ringer for the Irene he knew back in Omaha.

Harry tries to figure out whether Princess Irene is the same woman he had met all those years ago, while some of the other people have their own dramas of greater or lesser importance played out. Weber tries to send a bunch of telegrams, while Quillery eventually goes nuts and breaks up a performance of Les Blondes screaming about the upcoming war, not caring what the authorities are going to do to him.

Eventually, the border is reopened -- but Irene's passport is not in order. She had what was probably a Nansen passport, since her real birth location wasn't known and even if she were Russian she would likely not have been able to bring her passport with her when she escaped and it would have expired anyway. The problem with being forced to remain is that at the bottom of the hill where the hotel is, there's an air base where some of this country's air force has its planes. And they might well have started the war by carrying out an air raid.

I have to admit that I found Idiot's Delight to be a curious misfire. There's a whole lot of nothing going on for much of the movie, and frankly there's not much reason to care about any of the characters besides Harry and Irene. Irene in particular is irritating in the second half of the movie.

But there's also quite a bit interesting. One thing is that the fictional country where everybody is stranded uses Esperanto. (Apparently the original play used Italian and Italy objected when the movie was being made. And since they were still a market for Hollywood movies....) Another interesting thing was that Les Blondes (and Harry) perform Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz", which still has the original lyrics about the hired help going back to Harlem on their night off and voguing. I was surprised to see an Irving Berlin song used like this, since I thought by this point he wanted complete control over how his music was being used, hence the whole creation of the movie Alexander's Ragtime Band.

The final thing of note is that MGM created two endings, one for Europe and one for the US. When TCM ran it, they showed the European ending. But after the closing titles, the print has a card pointing out there were two endings, and proceeds to show the American ending.

Idiot's Delight is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, if you want to watch it and judge for yourself.

Peter Fonda, 1940-2019

Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969)

I suppose I should mention the passing of actor Peter Fonda. Son of Henry and sister of Jane, Peter became famous in his own right for his work on the 1969 movie Easy Rider. I have to admit that Easy Rider is not a movie that particularly interests me, since I was born in 1972 and the whole Boomer counterculture thing hasn't been very appealing.

Fonda received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the script to Easy Rider, but his career didn't quite take off the way his sister's had. He got a second act, though, when he took the leading role in Ulee's Gold, the movie that got him an acting Oscar nomination, although he didn't win.

Peter is the father of actress Bridget Fonda, which makes me want to watch Scandal (the movie about the Profumo scandal in which Bridget plays Mandy Rice-Davies) again, although it doesn't seem to have gotten a US DVD release.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Drowning Pool

Among the movies I recorded back when Paul Newman was TCM's Star of the Month, there's The Drowning Pool.

Newman plays private detective Lew Harper, reprising a role he'd done about a decade earlier. This time, the action is moved from California to Louisiana, with the premise being that one of Harper's old flames out in California is Iris Deveraux (Joanne Woodward), who married into a wealthy family in Louisiana, and who needs a private investigator who's not known in these parts.

Except that his arrival is known, because somebody sends along a piece of jailbait to get in Harper's motel room and try to get him arrested. The police, in the form of Broussard (Tony Franciosa) and his nasty deputy Franks (Richard Jaeckel), do indeed bring Harper in, but let him go in part because he's more useful to them on the outside.

When Harper visits Iris to find out why she wanted him, he discovers there's a lot more than meets the eye. Ostensibly, the family's former chauffeur, Reavis, is sending blackmail letters about Iris having cheated on her husband. But the family's land sits on a whole bunch of oil, which local oil magnate Kilbourne (Murray Hamilton) wants. And when Harper sees Iris' teeange daughter Schuyler, he immediately recognizes her as the jailbait from his motel!

Kilbourne wants Harper to get the Deveraux matriarch to agree to sell the rights to drill oil on that land, which Harper doesn't have any particular desire to do. It's not too long before said matriarch winds up murdered, and the obvious suspect is Reavis.

Oh, there's blackmail going on, but it's much bigger than supposed letters about Iris and any paramour she may or may not have. Harper is getting deeper into the case, to the point that there are lots of people willing to kill him, ultimately leading to the movie's climax, the scene that gives rise to the movie's title when Harper and Kilbourne's wife are locked in the hydrotherapy room of an abandoned mental institution and Harper decides the way to escape is to flood the room and break out a skylight.

There's a lot going on in The Drowning Pool that you're going to have to concentrate to put all the pieces together. And even then, I don't think the pieces really do come together. There are a lot of scenes that are all OK as individual scenes, but the resolution is muddled and fairly sudden. Location shooting was nice, and Newman is reasonably appealing as the cynical and dry-witted detective.

Some people will probably like The Drowning Pool a lot more than I did. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, so you can watch it any time you like.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #266: Witness

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the them is "Witness", which I think is a fairly straightforward one.

Just doing an IMDb search on the word "witness" in the title yields a whole bunch of selections, and two of my three selections actually do have the word "witness" in the title, although I wasn't trying to pick or avoid movies like that. As always, my selections skew just a bit older than the 1985 Witness (which by the way is a pretty darn good movie):

The Star Witness (1931). Grant Mitchell gets about as close to a starring role as he'd have in his career, as a man who witnesses a gangland murder, and is understandably fairly reluctant to testify about what he saw because he knows that he gang members are going to come after his kids (including a very young Dickie Moore) if he testifies. The prosecutor (Walter Huston) tries to put pressure on him. Ultimately it's up to Grandpa (Chic Sale), a Civil War veteran, to save the day.

Shadow on the Wall (1950). I recommended this one recently. Zachary Scott plays a husband who finds his wife is cheating on him with her sister's (Ann Sothern) boyfriend. The two sisters get in an argument about it, and Sothern shoots her sister, with Scott's daughter (Gigi Perreau) witnessing it. She's so traumatized by it she represses the memory, and child psychologist Nancy Davis has to bring the memory back out. When Sothern realizes what's going to happen, she tries to off the little girl.

Witness to Murder (1954). The other 1954 movie about somebody witnessing a killing through their apartment window. She reports the murder to the police, and detective Gary Merrill comes to investigate, but the murderer (George Sanders) realizes what's up and is able to make it look as though there was no murder at all and that Stanwyck must be going crazy. Can she convince the police in time?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

One Wonderful Sunday

I've briefly mentioned One Wonderful Sunday once or twice before, and I finally got around to re-watching it off of Criterion's Eclipse Series box set of early Akira Kurosawa movies.

Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) is a young man who at the start of the movie is waiting for somebody. He's clearly in poor financial circumstances, as he sees a half-smoked cigarette on the ground and thinks seriously about picking it up to smoke. The person he's waiting for is his girlfriend Masako (Chieko Nakakita), and her arrival shames him into not picking up the cigarette even though, as he tells her, he hasn't had a smoke in three days.

This is Sunday, presumably their one day off during the week as it's postwar Japan and I think it wasn't uncommon to work 5-1/2 day weeks. The two plan to spend the day together... but there's one problem. Between the two of them, they only have ¥35 between them, which is a paltry sum. Yuzo clearly feels like he's not enough of a man for not being able to do right by Masako financially.

They start spending their day together, and immediately money -- or more accurately the lock of it -- crops up, as it's going to do again and again throughout the day. They see an open house for a new type of house construction. They'd love to have a place of their own, but even this sort of lower-quality build costs ¥100,000, or far beyond their means. They can't even afford to live on their own, Yuzo living with a friend and Masako living with her sister.

Still, the two try to have fun, but after a series of disappointments, they realize they've got just enough money to get tickets to the concert that includes Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. But just before they get to the ticket window, somebody buys up all the ¥10 tickets and decides to start scalping them for ¥15, right in front of the box office! And, having spent a bit of that ¥35 the couple started off with, they can't afford the higher price for the tickets.

One Wonderful Sunday is one wonderful movie, even though most people talk about it being one of Kurosawa's "lesser" movies. In some ways that's true, if only because on the face of it the movie isn't particularly big in scope. There's also one scene near the end where Masako breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience that a lot of reviewers have some difficulty with. (I didn't.) However, beneath the surface there's really a lot of subtle messages about love and hardship and what money can do to people even though we all need it. The movie is also a nice look at a Tokyo that probably doesn't exist any more.

I don't think that One Wonderful Sunday is available as a standalone DVD, but the Eclipse box set is in my opinion certainly worth it.

August 14, 2019: Liv Ullmann Day

Autumn Sonata (1978); tonight at 9:45 PM

Today's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Norwegian actress (actually born in Japan) Liv Ullmann. I'm mentioning her in part because TCM's schedule suggests a lot of what is showing today is not on DVD. I don't always trust that, however, since the schedule includes Zandy's Bride at noon, and Amazon lists it as being available from the Warner Archive collection.

Just before Zandy's Bride, at 10:15 AM, is The Abdication, which I just mentioned back in June in one of the Thursday Movie Picks posts. So now is your chance to catch it.

There's a documentary at 8:00 PM that I haven't seen before, about Ullmann's work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and those collaborations take up the rest of the prime time lineup, starting at 9:45 PM with Autumn Sonata, as mentioned above.

Now to see what if I can make any room on the DVR.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Alice in Movieland

I had a few things in my queue to blog about, but not having finished up something off the DVR, I decided to watch a short off the Sea Hawk DVD: Alice in Movieland.

Now, the first think I noticed was the copyright date: 1947, which seemed odd considering that Joan Leslie was the star and Jean Negulesco the director. However, it turns out that the short was re-released at the turn of 1946/7, and was originally released in 1940 (see the IMDb page), which makes more sense since by 1946 Leslie and Negulesco had become big enough not to be doing shorts like this.

Anyhow, the story is a fairly trite one that reminded me a lot of A Star is Born. Leslie plays Alice Purdee, a girl from Anytown, USA who wins a beauty contest with the prize of a trip to Hollywood for a screen test. However, she finds that actually becoming a star isn't as easy as she thought. There's even character actress Clara Blandick as her grandmother back in her small town, reminiscent of the May Robson character in A Star Is Born.

One thing that made me wonder whether the release date was correct was a scene where Alice goes to a talent show at a nightclub, and a bunch of Hollywood stars (all Warners stars, of course, since this was made at Warner Bros.!) are out in the audience. They mention Alexis Smith, who I thought wasn't a star yet, although she had made some shorts. I'm guessing they might have redone the audio. Ditto for Craig Stevens. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman are shown together, which made me look up exactly when they got married. That turned out to be about two months before the short was originally released. (They were still married at the time of the re-release.)

Alice in Movieland isn't great but it isn't bad. But The Sea Hawk is worth it, so getting the extras is just a bonus.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tab Hunter Confidential

TCM ran a night of Tab Hunter's movies back in July on what would have been his 88th birthday, and kicked the night off with the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential.

The movie was introduced by Eddie Muller and Allan Glaser. Glaser was the producer of the movie and Hunter's partner for the last 30-plus years of Hunter's life, while Muller actually co-wrote Hunter's autobiography, also called Tab Hunter Confidential, which is the basis for this documentary movie, so it was quite nice to hear the two of them talking about Hunter before and after the movie.

Nowadays, of course, everybody knows a good portion of the Tab Hunter story. He became an actor in the early 1950s, and a teen idol who even sang a Billboard #1 hit. But he was also homosexual in a time when the fear of losing one's livelihood should such a secret came out was a big deal; that's why other Hollywood gays like Rock Hudson or Anthony Perkins weren't known to be gay until much later in their lives. Perkins and Hunter actually did have a relationship.

As for Hunter, he was protected while he was under contract at Warner Bros., as it was the thing at the time for the studios to protect their stars by keeping bad publicity from coming out. But Hunter wanted to more more serious work, so he bought out his contract, after which all that bad publicity came out. Hunter, of course, would have a Hollywood comeback of sorts with John Waters in the 1980s.

But the movie also focuses on Hunter's pursuits outside of Hollywood. I didn't know that he was a fairly accomplished figure skater, at least accomplished enough to get to regional qualifying and be the partner of a contender for the world championship. He was also an accomplished equestrian, and the movie covers that stuff in a fair amount of detail, since it was clearly Hunter's passion after leaving Hollywood.

There are a whole bunch of interiews with people who worked with Hunter, including a few who are no longer with us (notably Debbie Reynolds, and Hunter himself), as well as a great deal of archive footage, all of which combines for a fascinating story and one that's well worth watching. I think anybody interested in Hollywood's past will thoroughly enjoy Tab Hunter Confidential.

Ann Sothern Day on TCM

August 12 on TCM's Summer Under the Stars is given over to the films of Ann Sothern. When it somes to Sothern and TCM, I'd guess the most common thing to see are the Maisie movies since there was a whole slew of them made at MGM and TCM can get the library that Ted Turner bought (the MGM/WB/RKO movies) more easily than the stuff other conglomerates own.

As such, it should be unsurprising that today's lineup includes five of the Maisie movies, running from 9:00 AM through to 5:00 PM. But I'd like to mention some of the dramatic work that follows later in the day. First at 5:00 is another chance to see the recent Noir Alley selection Shadow on the Wall that I blogged about not too long ago.

At 8:00 PM, there's the excellent A Letter to Three Wives, in which Sothern is one of the wives who is informed by an unseen fourth woman that she (the fourth woman) is going to run off with one of the husbands. Sothern actually gets to play the wife of Kirk Douglas, which is an interesting pairing.

Then at midnight, there's The Whales of August, with Sothern playing the neighbor to summer visitors Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. Sothern is the one who got the Oscar nomination, although Gish really deserved one too.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Every Little Crook and Nanny

Another of my recent movie viewings to try to clear some space off the DVR was Every Little Crook and Nanny.

Lynn Redgrave plays Miss Poole, who runs a school that teaches children to be good little ladies and gentlemen, teaching them dance especially, but also comportment and other sundry stuff. One day in the middle of class, a bunch of goons walk in and start dismantling the place! They're from the Ganucci organization, which a Mafia family, but don't you dare say that the Mafia exists. The head of the family, Carmine Ganucci (Victor Mature), has bought the buiding to use for running local numbers games, and poor Miss Poole is out of luck even though she has a lease.

Carmine is planning on going back to the old country with his wife to do some business, and he wants to leave his son Lewis (Phillip Graves) behind since he's been raising Lewis not to know that his dad is part of the Mafia that we all know doesn't exist anyway (this is a running joke throughout the movie). His lawyers Azzecca (Dom DeLuise) and Garbugli (John Astin) are helping him find a nanny. So far, none of the nannies are to Carmine's liking.

That is, until Miss Poole comes storming into the office. She's not a nanny, mind you. It's just that she's pissed about what Ganucci did, ruining her office and injuring her pianist Luther (Austin Pendleton). She wants to be compensated for this, and is out for blood. Carmine sees Miss Poole and, in a case of mistaken identity, immediately thinks she'd make a great nanny for Lewis.

Miss Poole takes the job, if only because it allows her to come up with a ridiculous plan. She'll stage a kidnapping of Lewis, and set a ransom high enough to cover her losses from the school and to be able to start a new life. Of course, she knows nothing about kidnapping, but that's beside the point. She and Luther plan it, and after it goes off seemingly without a hitch, Poole turns to one of Ganucci's low-level gangsters, Barry Napkins (Paul Sand), to help get the ransom.

It's here that problems begin to show up. Benny isn't particularly competent, while nobody else wants Carmine to know what really happened, so they -- especially Garbugli and Azzecca -- try to get the money in a roundabout way. Carmine wants a money transfer for his business deal in Italy and Benny is engaging in petty larceny to raise the money, so there are multiple sets of money in the amount of the ransom going around. Luther is the one holding Lewis, and his wife Ida decides she'd really like a kid.

Every Little Crook and Nanny is a movie that sounds like it has a really good premis, but which winds up not quite working. I'm assuming Redgrave wanted to do a comedy, and she looks like she's having a lot of fun doing it. But the movie is supposed to be a relatively light comedy, at least light for the sort of material it's covering, so something like The Trouble With Harry or Too Many Crooks; not something heavy like a Paddy Chayefsky satire. Every Little Crook and Nanny, however, descends into a much too complex plot to save it as a light comedy.

Every Little Crook and Nanny is available on DVD if you want to judge for yourself.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Melody Cruise

I've mentioned before that I tend to find musicals before 42nd Street to be pretty dire affairs. At RKO, it was really Flying Down to Rio at the end of 1933, with the pairing of Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire, that revived the genre for that studio. Earlier musicals were either not very good, or else an absolute curiosity like Melody Cruise.

Phil Harris, who would go on to be a voice actor in Disney movies, plays playboy and confirmed bachleor Alan Chandler. He's going on a cruise in the dead of winter from New York to Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal. There are of course going to be a lot of eligible, good-looking young bachelorettes on the cruise, so Alan blackmails his traveling companion Pete Wells (Charlie Ruggles) into keeping him on the straight and narrow. Alan writes a letter detailing some of the married Pete's alleged dalliances, and sends that letter to Mrs. Wells (Marjorie Gateson) with a note saying that the letter is to be opened only in the event that Alan gets married.

So of course you know that he's going to get involved with some of the pretty ladies on board the ship. German Elsa (Greta Nissen) love him while he only liks her; Laurie (Helen Mack) is a little more the sort of woman Alan finally decides he's going to settle down with. It's enough to make Pete extremely worried.

Pete, for his part, has his own problems not involving Alan. You've probably seen any number of movies about cruises where the ship has somebody announcing in town-crier style, "All ashore who's going ashore!" Well, two young women at the bon voyage party get drunk enough that they pass out in Pete's stateroom and miss going ashore. So they have no cabin of their own and Pete has a wife. This results in his trying to pass the two young ladies off as his nieces, although when the ship gets to Los Angeles and Mrs. Wells shows up, she's going to know.

I said at the beginning that this is a musical, and that's the curious thing about it. The plot to Melody Cruise is pretty threadbare and not particularly well handled. The songs are one of the things that make the movie more interesting, being with one exception handled in a style pretty close to Rex Harrison's Sprechgesang that you can see in My Fair Lady or Dr. Doolittle. The people's voices, and other sound effects, are carefully edited to sound musical even if they aren't really. It starts off right at the beginning when there's a montage of people trying to avoid the winter, and really continues in the song "He's Not the Marrying Kind". The wipes used for scene transitions are also much better handled than the plain horizontal or vertical wipes used in most early 1930s movies.

Melody Cruise is worth one watch for its interesting use of film techniques much more than for the plot or acting. It would be nicer if it showed up on TV more instaed of having to watch a pricier Warner Archive DVD, since this is the sort of movie I don't have any real desire to watch multiple times.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Joe Kidd

Recently I picked up a box set of seven Clint Eastwood films, divided into three westerns and four other movies; I believe the two haves are available for purchase separately. Anyhow, I recently sat down to watch Joe Kidd off the set.

Eastwood plays Joe Kidd, a man who at the start of the movie is being brought into jail in the Arizona Territory sometime in the early 1890s. Joe is apparently a bit (OK, a lot) of a hell-raiser, and this isn't the first time he's been in jail. But it's only poaching on Indian land, nothing terribly serious.

Joe's perfunctory trial coincides with another event, that of the entry into town of Luis Chama (John Saxon). Luis is the leader of the Mexican-American community, the descendants of the people who were in the region before the Mexican-American War when the US won the land from Mexico. If you recall from The Baron of Arizona, the US was supposed to respect the land claims of the people who lived in the region at the time the treaty was signed. But Chama believes his people have been shafted by the incoming ranchers, especially somebody like Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall). So Chama burns the property deeds and creates a huge stir at the courthouse.

Word of all this obviously gets to Harlan, who shows up in town wanting to find Chama, who Harlan feels is trespassing on his land. To be fair, considering what Chama did in town, the regular authorities want Chama and are offering a substantial reward for him. The only think is that you get the impression Harlan wants him for his own reasons. Joe Kidd is a tracker and bounty hunter, so Harlan would like him to lead Harlan's private posse to find Chama.

Joe reluctantly agrees, and doesn't really trust Harlan. Frankly, he's got good reason not to trust the man. After getting in one skirmish, Harlan and his men finally get to the village that serves as Chama's home base, high up in the mountains. Chama orders all of the locals into the church, where he plans to shoot them in small groups until Chama surrenders. Worse, Harlan takes Joe's gun and makes him stay in the the church with the locals!

I've stated any number of times that I tend to prefer genres other than westers, although I have to admit I've been warming up to them the more of them that I watch. Joe Kidd is another of those competently made westerns that doesn't really have anything wrong with it, but which also won't stand out as anything spectacular compared to all the other westerns out there. Eastwood and Duvall both do well, while the story works and the cinematography is very nice to look at.

I'd guess that most Eastwood fans would probably pick a bunch of other movies as more memorable than this one, but anybody who's a fan of either westerns or Eastwood should probably like Joe Kidd.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #265: The Mrs. Robinsons

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "The Mrs. Robinsons", which I'm guessing is a callback to Anne Bancroft's character in The Graduate:

I decided that that was a bit difficult of a topic for me to come up with three movies, so I decided to go in a different direction, with three suitable movies from the 1940s:

A Dispatch From Reuters (1940). Edna Best plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who stars as Baron Julius Reuter. Reuter founded the news organization that bears his name, first using carrier pigeons and then other means to get accurate news out before anybody else could. Sure, it's typical Hollywood biopic stuff, but with Edward G. Robinson you can't really go wrong.

Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944). Ruth Warrick plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who stars as Mr. Winkle. Winkle is a 40-something bank clerk whom the whole town sees as meek and not particularly deserving of much respect. He somehow gets drafted during World War II and winds up becoming a war hero, which changes how everybody in town looks at him.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). Agnes Moorehead plays the wife of Edward G. Robinson, who this time is a Norwegian immigrant father raising his daughter (Margaret O'Brien) in World War II-era rural Wisconsin. A lot of the movie is about O'Brien's adventures, while there's a subplot involving the town teacher (Frances Gifford) and newspaper editor (James Craig).

Now to see what everybody else has selected.

The Angel Wore Red

Today is Ava Gardner's day in Summer Under the Stars. There's a documentary at 8:00, as well as a movie that aired just last month, The Angel Wore Red. It's going to be on overnight, or early tomorrow, at 4:00 AM.

The setting is an unnamed Spanish city in 1936; if you know your history, that means the start of the Spanish Civil War. This is a city run by the Republican side. Working in the city is American radio correspondent Hawthorne (Joseph Cotten), who wishes that he could get a human interest story to report on. And boy is he about to get one, with the city about to be besieged and a human drama about to break about among all the chaos.

Arturo Carrero (Dirk Bogarde) is a priest in the city, but one disillusioned with the Church taking the wrong side in Spanish politics, since there are lots of poor people that the Church is doing nothing to help. He leaves the priesthood, although nobody outside the bishop (Finlay Currie) and one or two other priests know. This presents a serious problem because the new local administration is seriously anti-clerical, planning to arrest all the priests and destroy the cathedral. The cathedral holds a religious relic, the blood of a local saint, and the bishop gives it to another priest, Canon Rota (Aldo Fabrizi), to store for safekeeping.

Arturo tries to escape in civilian clothes, but the government is spending all its resources on finding the two priests who escaped the government roundup. You'd think they would have more important stuff to deal with. But apparently, that relic is very important, as the locals believe that whoever has it can't be defeated. That may be nonsense, of course, but the fact that the locals believe it is a powerful motivator, which is why the Republicans want it.

Arturo eventually meets Soledad (Ava Gardner), who works in a local cabaret that is still going as though there's no civil war on. She shelters Arturo, at least until the noose become so tight that there's no hope of escape. Arturo gives himself up and Soledad, having sheltered him, is going to be in trouble too.

The authorities at first want Arturo to come up with the goods as to where that relic is, not believing that he had oh-so conveniently left the priesthood and has no idea. Ultimately, with not just Arturo in custody, but a lot others as well, and the Nationalists closing in, the local administration under military commander General Clave (Vittorio De Sica), comes up with an idea: use the prisoners as cannon fodder!

The Angel Wore Red is a perfectly reasonable premise, but one that becomes a bit muddled in the second half, largely because it's trying to do too much. There's the war story, the love story, and Arturo's personal struggles with his faith versus the Church hierarchy. I found it all fell a bit short. Part of that is due to Cotten's character. Cotten himself isn't the problem; it's the fact that this character is too convenient to have and be in places where a real correspondent wouldn't have been allowed. In fact, I think the script as a whole lets everybody down.

But judge for yourself. It's going to be on tonight, and it's avalilable on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Rory Calhoun, 1922-1999

Rory Calhoun and Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return (1954)

Tomorrow (August 8) marks the birth anniversary of Rory Calhoun, an actor who showed up in one western after another in the 1950s. (I entered the wrong date to look up birthdays for a post today, which is why you're getting this a day early. Tomorrow has the Thursday Movie Picks and a movie coming up on TCM for Ava Gardner's day.) Quite a few of those westerns show up on StarzEncore Westerns if you have the Starz Package. The photo above is from one of Calhoun's better-known westerns, River of No Return, which will in fact be on StarzEncore Westners overnight between Thursday and Friday at 12:03 AM, and again later Friday at 8:27 AM.

Before that, however, there are three other Calhoun westerns on the channel -- I thold you he was in a lot of B westerns! Those are Red Sundown at 2:54 AM; The Saga of Hemp Brown at 5:29 AM and Raw Edge at 11:20 AM.

I had forgotten that Calhoun was in How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe. He was in some other early 50s Fox films in a supporting role, such as I'd Climb the Highest Mountain which has been back in the FXM rotation lately, and With a Song in My Heart, which hasn't. Oh, and who could forget Night of the Lepus?

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Imitation General

I recorded a couple of films during Glenn Ford's turn as Star of the Month last month. One that I hadn't blogged about before but is on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive is Imitation General.

The title, as you'll see, is actually fairly descriptive. The scene is France in August 1944, a time when the Allies were busy pushing the Nazis out of the country fur, not having fully done so, still faced stiff resistance. Some pockets of troops got too far ahead of the rest and got cut off and surrounded by the Germans. Glenn Ford stars as Master Sergeant Murphy Savage, driver to Brigadier General Lane (Kent Smith). They meet straggling US Army soldiers, and try to get them to round out as many other officers and soldiers in the area as they can.

Savage and Lane, and the third man in their unit, Cpl. Derby (Red Buttons), eventually come upon a farmhouse, and they check to see if it's safe to enter. Surprisingly, it's occupied not by the Nazis, but by a woman who seems to have been abandoned by events, Simone (Taina Elg), acting almost as if there's been no war in the area. Simone only speaks French, and Gen. Lane is the only one who speaks it.

While doing a bit of scouting just outside the farmhouse, Gen. Lane gets shot by a Nazi sniper and killed. That threatens to destroy the entire unit, until Savage comes up with an idea. Gen. Lane had talked about the importance for moral of having a real general out in the field with the enlisted men, as if that's the only way these separated soldiers would be able to fight their way out of the mess they're in. So Savage decides that he'd better play the part of the general so that the men will hvae a real leader.

There are a couple of problems with this idea, the first being that it's quite contrary to army regulations, to the point that if Savage is found out, he'll be court-martialed. And there are already a couple of people in the area who saw the general; surely they'll notice. More worrisome is that Savage discovers an old rival, Pvt. Hutchmeyer (Tige Andrews) is among the soldiers in the area. Savage was apparently involved in getting Hutchmeyer busted back down to private, so the guy would definitely like some revenge.

Gen. Lane's suggestion that the men seeing a general fighting out in the field would be good for morale actually turns out to be right. Showing up at the farmhouse is Cpl. Sellers (Dean Jones), a man suffering from battle fatigue. Savage as the general is able to whip him back into some semblance of shape and get him out to fight the Nazis. Still, it's going to be tough to break out.

Imitation General is a movie that was billed as a comedy, but one that I found to be more of a light drama. The comedy bits, especially with Hutchmeyer at the end, didn't really work, although the story as a whole does work reasonably well. This is nothing particularly great, but also nothing particularly terrible. It's something that I'd watch once, and have no strong desire to watch again. But judge for yourself.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Tattooed Stranger

Another movie that I watched off my DVR recently was the Noir Alley entry The Tattooed Stranger. To be honest, I don't know that I'd consider it a noir, as it's more of a straight police procedural, but I'm glad that Eddie Muller introduced it since he goes into so much detail about the movies he presents.

The movie starts off with a man walking his dog in Central Park, New York City, one morning. The dog starts scratching at a car door and getting quite agitated. The man goes up to the car and sees a woman inside, and tries to get her attention. Good luck with that one, since the woman is really quite dead.

The police come to investigate, and they can't find anything to tell them who this woman is, and certainly not how she ended up dead in Central Park. The only clue they have to go on is that she's got a tattoo. (Well, they can run the plates, but they'll find the car was stolen so that's not much help.) The case is given over to veteran detective Corrigan (Walter Kinsella) and his partner for whom this is his first case as a detective, Tobin (John Miles).

The case is going to involve a whole lot of legwork. One of the clues from the autopsy leads the detectives to believe the victim might have worked at a greasy spoon, so let's call all the greasy spoons and detective agencies to see who's looking for a new employee. Meanwhile, they'd like to find who did the tattoo, to see if he knows his client. Also, somebody else knows about the death, because a crazy drunk tries to gut off the tattoo so nobody can identify it.

One other clue is some grass, which Tobin takes to the botanical gardens. There he meets Mary Mahan (Patricia Barry, credited as Patricia White), who helps identify the grass, which is not native to New York City, although there have been reports of it being a weed in a few places up in the Bronx. That's a clue. And since there's a lady botanist, you know that Tobin is going to start to develop a romantic attraction to here that's pointless to the plot, but doesn't really take away from the movie.

Eventually, they're able to find from the woman's tattoo, which was modified to look like the Marine Corps logo, that she had a series of boyfriends and husbands all in World War II, from whom she was getting the allotment checks. So perhaps she has a disgruntled ex-boyfriend?

As a police procedural, The Tattooed Stranger would be a fairly pedestrian (but not bad) movie. But what makes it work is the ultra-low budget. This was made by RKO's documentary unit in New York, and with the low budget they resorted to lots of location shooting, in places of New York that no longer exist as they were in 1950. It's an invaluable look at the seedy side of New York. That makes The Tattooed Stranger well worth a watch.

The Tattooed Stranger is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Gunga Din

Last month TCM did a retrospective of the movies of 1939 since this year is the 80th anniversary of what is often considered Hollywood's greatest year. I hadn't blogged about Gunga Din before, so since that was part of the spotlight, I decided to DVR it and watch it.

Based on a character created by Rudyard Kipling, the movie is set in India under the British Raj late in the Victorian era. Parts of the subcontinent, especially those in the northwest near what is now the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are still a fraction region, and there is all sorts of anti-British activity going on.

Cutter (Cary Grant), Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), and MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) are three friends who are serving together in this part of India and also getting in a few scrapes. Apparently, Cutter tried to buy what is purported to be a map leading to a large stash of gold which would leave Cutter set for life, and that's gotten the three in a spot of trouble. But up to this point they've always been able to fight their way out of it in cartoonish fashion.

Currently, a group known as the Thuggees (from which we get the word "thug") is rebelling, specifically downing telegraph lines but also attacking towns where the telegraph offices were. The three friends are given the task of dealing with it. It might just be their last mission together, since Ballantine is planning to get married to Emmy (Joan Fontaine) and leave the service.

Meanwhile, the three soldiers have a friend in their water carrier, the titular Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe). He also has his ear to the ground so knows a bit about what's going on, and also has a strong desire to be more British, specifically to be a British soldier. He helps Cutter escape from the brig after Cutter is put their to prevent going looking for that gold.

What they find is a temple which they ultimately realize has gold-plated (if not solid gold) sculptures, so Cutter would be engaging in a form of looting even worse than just leaving the Elgin Marbles to rot in the elements. But this being a 1939 movie, nobody thought of those things. Instead, this is also the temple where the Thuggees are planning their big rebellion. After Cutter is waylaid by the Thuggees, Ballantine and MacChesney follow to find him. The four eventually realize that when the British army as a whole comes, they'll be walking right into a trap. They have to figure out a way to escape and warn the British.

Gunga Din is a rousing action picture well suited to younger boys who want their action dished out with obvious heroes and villains; anybody looking for cultural subtlety isn't going to find it here. If you know that going in -- and you should probably expect it considering that the movie is from 1939 -- it works. I'll admit that I personally prefer the Errol Flynn swashbucklers for their action to Gunga Din, but this one isn't too bad.

Gunga Din is available on DVD.

Saturday, August 3, 2019


Another recent watch off the DVR was the movie Claudia.

Dorothy McGuire plays Claudia Naughton, a relatively young and naïve bride who has recently moved to a house in the country in Connecticut together with her husband, the well-to-do architect David (Robert Young). Claudia is disappointed that she isn't going to be around her mother, Mrs. Brown (Ina Claire) any more, and also worried when they arrive at the house and she hears what she thinks sounds like a stranger.

One of the things Claudia doesn't realize is just how much she's going to be missing Mom. Mom says that she has to catch the train back to New York, only telling David that the reason she has to get back in now rather than stay over a night is because she's got a weekend doctor's appointment. This obviously means something serious, and in this case, that's a possible case of cancer, which had a much worse prognosis back in those days than it does now -- in fact if she has the cancer she does, it'll be a death sentence.

Meanwhile, there are multiple other subplots running throughout the movie. The first involves David's sister Julia (Jean Howard), who brings a singer Daruschka (Olga Baclanova) with her. The two of them and Claudia start talking, and it results in Claudia thinking she's sold the house to Daruschka at a profit, something that's going to surprise David when he finds out.

Second is a neighbor, Jerry (Reginald Gardiner). He has car problems that cause him to stop at the house, and when he returns the next day, Claudia's flakiness results in her and Jerry winding up in what looks like a compromising situation that David can't understand when he sees them. To be fair, Jerry can't really understand it either.

And then there's the two servants, Fritz and Bertha. They and the noise at the beginning that Claudia thought was a stranger eventually come together, as do a plot point about the money from selling eggs going missing. Further, Bertha ultimately takes enough of a liking to Claudia to realize that Claudia is likely pregnant and should see a doctor, figuring things out before everybody -- including Claudia -- does.

Claudia is an odd little movie, in part because it's so stuck in its time or even earlier. The movie was released in 1943, but there's no reference whatsoever to that war (at least none that I caught), making it feel like it was set a few years earlier. Part of that is likely because it's based on stories first published in the 1930s. The other reason it's stuck in its time is because you'd never meet a woman like Claudia these days. Frankly I found her behavior incredibly irritating, and couldn't figure what any man would ever have seen in her.

The movie was rather popular on release, however, to the point that there was a sequel made, Claudia and David. So obviously some people quite liked it. It and the sequel are available on DVD courtesy of Fox's MOD scheme should you wish to watch.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Inside the Lines

I'm always interested in seeing a new-to-me early talkie, even if the movie winds up being not very good. An example of this is Inside the Lines.

Betty Compson plays Jane Gershon, who at the start of the movie is seeing a man in Germany (Ralph Forbes) in the summer of 1914. He's German and she's English, so this time frame means the war is about to start and she's going to have to leave. She heads off to Paris.

It's clear that she's a spy of some sort, as she had a grille that revealed a hidden message in a letter, that message telling her where to go in Paris to see her spymaster. In a shocking turn of events, her spymaster is German! Jane is going to be working for the Germans, going to Gibraltar which is of course a British possession. There, she's going to pass herself off as the niece of Lady Crandall, which will allow her to get at the Governor's (Montagu Love) safe which holds important state secrets.

Jane arrives at Gibraltar just in time to see another spy get caught out and taken away to be executed, but the authorities don't realize that she's a spy. This allows her to get to Crandall's spacious house. Crandall suspects something since her niece looked rather different the last time the two were together several years ago, but the Germans were quite clever at making certain Jane knew everything about this niece so she could fool Crandall.

And then another house guest comes: British military intelligence attaché Eric Woodhouse. And wouldn't you know it, this is the man that Jane had been seeing in Germany! He obviously knows that this "niece" is no niece of Crandall's at all. Yet rather than calling her out at the first instance, he does nothing at all, mostly because he's in love with her, the idiot. Also, the question of what he was doing in Germany isn't answered.

Anyhow, there's a kabuki theater between Jane and Eric until the final reveal... which I'm not going to give away, but makes no sense. And that's the big problem I had with the movie. The writers came up with an intriguing premise, but one they had no idea how to extricate themselves from, so they brought in a deus ex machina.

Still, the movie is only a little over an hour, and it's available on a cheap Alpha Video DVD, so if you want to watch it, you won't have lost much money or time.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #264: The Great Outdoors

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is The Great Outdoors, which I suppose is a fairly broad theme. My first thought was to take it in a completely different direction and have films about people adrift at sea, but generally "the great outdoors" implies something that you like doing, so I decided to be not quite so unconventional. Still, they're all road trips of a sort:

The African Queen (1951). Katharine Hepburn plays a missionary in German East Africa in 1914 when World War I breaks out and the Germans march into the mission's part of the world, killing her brother. She being in danger, the operator of the mail boat, chronic drunk Humphrey Bogart, takes her down the river to possible safety. Hepburn is a selfish blankety-blank, but Bogart falls in love with her along the way. Filmoed on location in the then Belgian Congo.

River of No Return (1954). Robert Mitchum plays a man trying to put his life back together farming out west, when Rory Calhoun and his wife Marilyn Monroe stop by after losing control of their raft on the river. Calhoun shafts Mitchum, forcing him and Monroe to take a dangerous journey on the raft along with his son. The river scenes are in Idaho, with Canada's Banff and Jasper National Parks also used for some scenes.

Emperor of the North (1973). Lee Marvin plays a hobo during the Great Depression who's a hero to the other hobos for being able to ride trains the others get brutally thrown off of. He plans to ride the most difficult one of all, with nasty conductor Ernest Borgnine. But a young Keith Carradine decides he idolizes Marvin enough that he's going to try to hop a ride on the train too. The train travels through some lovely country in Oregon.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

We're almost up to Summer Under the Stars!

I mentioned briefly in my morning post that tomorrow is the start of Summer Under the Stars, which is why tonight's prime time lineup has to have a pretty hard ending at 6:00 AM. As you'll recall, Summer Under the Stars means 24 hours of movies from a different star each day in the month.

This first day of August will have the movies of Henry Fonda, which is actually somewhat relevant since I mentioned he had an early career at Fox that probably should have been recognized in the TCM spotlight on Fox. And wouldn't you know it, The Grapes of Wrath is among the movies TCM is running for Henry Fonda day. It will be on overnight at 2:00 AM.

A couple of other movies are worth mentioning. First is The Mad Miss Manton, which I blogged about all the way back in November 2013. It's a fun little comedy with Barbara Stanwyck as Manton, a socialite who turns detective when she finds a dead body and then it goes missing. Fonda plays the newspaper editor who winds up becoming her boyfriend.

The Long Night is on at 12:15 PM. This one is a remake of the early French Noir Daybreak (aka Le jour se lève), starring Fonda as a man who starts off the movie holed up in an apartment under siege from the police. He begins to ponder how it came to all this. Apparently the movie got a DVD release from Kino Video many years ago, but it's now out of print.

One that seems to be in print, or at least Amazon says it'll be in stock in a week's time, is Yours, Mine, and Ours, which TCM will be running at midnight. This one, at least, is also available on Amazon's streaming service.

TCM's Salute to Fox, Part 2

Last Wednesday, TCM began a two-night salute to 20th Century Fox studios. With only 11 movies, there's a lot that has to be skipped over, but even with that, there are some things that could have been done differently. At any rate, the second half of the salute is on tonight, with just five movies since they absolutely have to be done by 6:00 AM for the start of Summer Under the Stars.

Kicking off the night at 8:00 PM is the second showing of Star Wars, that being the 1977 original. It's definitely a movie that has a huge place in movie history, although I have to admit I don't really associate it with Fox. I've always thought of Lucasfilm, and was surprised when I realized the movie was distributed by Fox. Of course, Disney had the rights to the franchise for several years before buying up Fox.

Then at 10:15 PM there's Young Frankenstein. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder made quite a few worthwhile movies at Fox from the 70s into the early 80s, and some of Brooks' work remains a large part of the culture. With that in mind, I think I would have picked Blazing Saddles instead of Young Frankenstein, but that's really just my personal preference. Or, there's Gene Wilder in Silver Streak but with only 11 movies, that wasn't going to get selected.

Third up, at 12:30 AM is The French Connection. An excellent choice; it's another of Fox's Best Picture winners and is one of the earliest movies to present the grittier New York City as opposed to the sanitized New York that had been in most mainstream Hollywood movies before this.

Next, at 2:15 AM, is Niagara. Marilyn Monroe was probably Fox's biggest star in the 1950s, and considering what a cultural icon she remains 57 years after her death, you absolutely have to program one of her movies. Although I like Niagara, I think for a limited size retrospective like this I would have picked her in How to Marry a Millionaire. The reason for this is that it was the first movie to be filmed in Cinemascope (although it was released after The Robe), which brought about a major change to the movies as all the studios eventually switched to making movies in one wide-screen process or another. Fox started it, and that is worthy of mentioning.

The last selection is the one that I would delete, that being The Fly at 4:00 AM. As I said last week, there's no Bette Grable in the salute. There's also no Henry Fonda, who was an important dramatic star for Fox before leaving to fight in World War II (granted, Fonda didn't like most of the movies Fox put him in, even if I think he was being too harsh on them). The Grapes of Wrath would have been a good one to include.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Back Street (1961)

Douglas Sirk left Hollywood after making Imitation of Life. Thankfully, producer Ross Hunter stayed, giving us overheated movies like the 1961 version of Back Street.

Susan Hayward stars as Rae Smith, a woman living with her widowed sister Janey (Virginia Grey) in a house in Omaha, NE, working as a buyer of some sort for the family's old department store which is all hers now. One night while she's going to see a client in a hotel, the client tries to accost her. Thankfully, US Marine Paul Saxon (John Gavin), just back in the States after World War II, had met Rae in the lobby and is in the room next door, so he comes to her rescue.

The two start a relationshp while Paul is waiting to get back home (you may remember demobbed military having to wait for transit planes in the opening of The Best Years of Our Lives). There's one catch, which is that Paul already has another woman, so trying to keep the relationship going is going to be difficult, and Rae isn't certain she wants to do it. Finally, Paul buys Rae a plane ticket to go with him, and she ultimately accepts, but just too late to get to the airport on time.

So Rae moves to New York and starts working in the garment district, having dreams like Mahogany of becoming a designer. Her boss Dalian (Reginald Gardiner) is less than sanguine about the prospect, but Rae is so forward about getting what she wants that she eventually becomes Dalian's partner. Meanwhile, one day, what should happen but she runs into Paul again?

Fast forward a few more years, and Rae is transferred to Rome, running a glamorous European operation there. Eventually, Paul shows up to handle the European operations of his family's department store. It's here that we finally see the other woman, Mrs. Liz Saxon (Vera Miles). And boy is she nasty. She's an inveterate drunk, and they have two children, but she vows she's never going to leave him or let him have any happiness. Paul doesn't care, and starts seeing Rae again.

Somehow, both Rae and the Saxons wind up moving to Paris, and the same exact pattern that had gone on in Rome continues here, except that it's gone even further in Paul's having bought Rae a place out in the country. Liz, for her part, finally comes up with a way to get back at Rae....

Back Street is overheated, and the whole time I was watching it, I couldn't help but feel like there was something terribly wrong with the movie. Like all the Douglas Sirk movies (some of which Hunter produced), this one is funny, but not intentionally. The dialog is overripe, and a lot in the movie made me think of other movies. I mentioned Mahogany; there's also Vera Miles' over the top alcoholism that made me think of Deborah Kerr in Edward, My Son. As for the fashion, I couldn't help but think this was the sort of movie being parodied in What a Way to Go! when Shirley MacLaine talks about one of her marriages being like a "Lush Budgett" production.

So sit back, watch with amazement, and laugh and talk back at the screen as you watch Back Street.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Glass Key (1942)

TCM ran the 1942 version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key not too long ago. I had seen the movie quite a few years back but never did a blog post on it, so with the recent airing, I DVRed it to watch again and do a post here.

Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is a "boss" in one of those medium-sized cities that has an underworld problem, and a political establishment that's looking the other way because they're getting paid off by the underworld folks. And in fact, Madvig has been allied with the folks getting paid off. That's about to change, because Paul has met Janet Henry (Veronica Lake). She's lovely to look at, so it's no surprise that Paul has fallen in love with her. She's also the daughter of Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), who is the mayoral candidate of the reform coalition. So to get in Janet's good graces, Paul decides that his organization is going to support the reformers.

The family situation for both of them is complicated, however. Ralph has a son Taylor (Richard Denning) who is an inveterate gambler and heavily in debt to underworld boss Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) as a result. Worse for Paul, Taylor is in love with Paul's much younger sister Opal (Bonita Granville). So there are quite a few people who have good reason to have issue with Taylor. Eventually, he winds up murdered with a lot of people being potential suspects.

Paul has a fixer of his own in the form of right-hand man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd). Ed didn't particularly care for the idea of Paul throwing in with the reformers, but he's the boss. And now Paul has Ed investigate to try to figure out who really killed Taylor (and of course it may actually have been Paul after all). As Ed investigates, Janet begins to fall in love with him. She's never really been in love with Paul, only being polite to him for the sake of her father's political fortunes. Ed rebuffs Janet, if only because he doesn't want to hurt his boss.

Ed faces a lot of other danger, in the form of Nick and his henchman Jeff (William Bendix). Nick would be more than happy to see Paul be the guilty one, since that would doom Henry's candidacy, leaving the city wide open for the underworld bosses like Nick.

The Glass Key is a movie that has a pretty convoluted plot, one which requires a lot of careful attention to watching it. But it's not a bad movie at all. Ladd and Lake were rushed into making this after the success of their first pairing This Gun for Hire, and they have similar chemistry here. Bendix doesn't have the looks or the range to be anything but a supporting character, but given a role that fit, he's able to run away with it as he does here with the brutal enforcer for Nick.

While The Glass Key may be a bit too complicated to be truly great (although that doesn't stop people from overrating the Bogart/Bacall The Big Sleep), it's still a pretty darn entertaining movie. It's available on DVD both in a Universal noir box set, and a standalone.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cold Turkey

Norman Lear, who turned 97 yesterday, is well-remembered for his television sitcoms that are considered groundbreaking, such as All in the Family. Lear and his partner Bud Yorkin made a couple of movies before All in the Family but were never quite successful. Cold Turkey is a good example of this.

The movie starts off with public relations man Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart) talking to a bunch of tobacco company executives headed by Hiram Grayson (Edward Everett Horton in his final film role; the movie was released posthumously) about an audacious scheme that will bring big publicity but can't possibly fail. They'll put up a prize of $25 million to any town that can get every one of its residents to stop smoking for 30 days. So many people smoke, and have such a habit, that there's no way any town can get every last resident to quit, is there?

Needless to say, one town is going to try. Rev. Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke) is the pastor of a generically Protestant church in the town of Eagle Rock, IA (the real Iowa town of Greenfield serving as Eagle Rock). The town is beginning to die, largely because the biggest employer has left. There's a chance that the military could open a new missile plant in town, but that would require investment in infrastructure that the town just doesn't have. That is, until the announcement of the tobacco company's $25 million prize.

Rev. Brooks and the town council decide to go ahead with the attempt to quit smoking. But even qualifying to try is going to be tough, as they have to get four thousand people (well, less since one presumes children too young to sign will be exempt) to sign up before a certain deadline. There are a lot of smokers in town, and some are more reluctant than others to sign up, with the most reluctant being town drunk Mr. Stopworth (Tom Poston). There's also the Christoper Mott Society, an obvious parody of the John Birch Society, who think it's authoritarian to sign up.

But eventually, the down does qualify for the 30-day trial. The first days should be the most difficult with all the people going through withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, to keep contraband tobacco from coming in, the Christopher Mott Society was brought on board with the promise of getting to set up blockades to check all vehicles coming into town.

Eventually, the town's participation becomes national news, to the point that all sorts of gawkers are coming to town to see what Eagle Rock is doing, and that brings in just as much revenue, and a whole lot more of a carnival, than the tobacco company's $25 million jackpot does. And it looks at though the town might succeed, too, so Wren heads to Eagle Rock with a plan to make certain at least one person takes up smoking again....

Cold Turkey is a movie that reminded me of my opinions of the other Lear movies that I saw, those being Divorce American Style and The Night They Raided Minsky's. All three movies have some really good ideas, but at the same time all three also wind up being less than the sum of the parts. In the case of Cold Turkey, I think there were two big issues for me. One is that the satire became increasingly heavy-handed, while the other was camera work that used too much rapid cutting without good effect. The actors -- a lot of people who would be remembered for their TV work including Jean Stapleton and Paul Benedict -- do well with the material they're given, but the material could be better.

Still, I think Cold Turkey is worth at least one viewing. You can get it on DVD if you want to see it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Beauty for the Asking

Many years back when Lucille Ball was TCM's Star of the Month, Carol Burnett did a piece for the channel talking about Ball. One of the things Burnett says is that Hollywood apparently just didn't know how to use Lucy (at least not until she took control over her career by going into TV). A good example of this is the RKO B movie Beauty for the Asking.

Patric Knowles plays Denny Williams, who at the start of the movie is about to propose to Flora Barton (Frieda Inescort), the heiress to a copper fortune and somebody who can leave Denny financially set for life. However, Denny has another woman in his life who thinks he's going to propose to her. That woman is Jean Russell (Lucille Ball), a beautician in a high-class salon. Jean, needless to say, is shocked when she finds that Denny is going to be marrying another woman.

Her shock causes her to screw up on the job and get her and her friend and roommate Gwen (Inez Courtney) fired. Fortunately for Jean, however, she's been doing a bit of amateur chemistry, trying to create a new type of cold cream in the kitchen of their apartment. And she thinks she's finally come up with the perfect formula. The only problem is going to be getting it on the market and getting people to notice it.

Jean, however, has chutzpah, and walks right in to the office of advertising guru Jeff Martin (Donald Woods). After some initial confusion since Jeff, not knowing Jane, expects her to be one of the models he's using for a photo shoot, Jeff learns the truth from Jean. Amazingly, he decides that advertising this untested cold cream is a good idea. They just need a bunch of money to set up shop.

Together, they come up with a plan that has Jean being portrayed as a countess, with free samples of the cream being given out to socialites who might be able to back the product. Eventually, one woman does decide to do it: Flora Barton-Williams. Now, Flora doesn't know Jean at all, and Jean really only knows Flora from the papers and having stopped outside the wedding. Poor Denny begins to realize that he's liable to get in even more trouble for raising suspicion that he only married for the money, since his previous job was selling some of the other products that Jean used.

Still, Jean is able to get the money and make a thriving business in part from selling that cold cream, but just as much from running a high-class salon of her own. At least, until Flora learns about Denny and Jean's prior relationship. Jean responds by trying to make Flora beautiful on the outside, giving up Denny so as not to be seen breaking up a marriage. Still, for much of the movie's running time you wonder whether Jean and Denny aren't supposed to wind up together at the end.

As I said at the beginning, Lucille Ball got put into a lot of movies that today would seem atypical for her, since most people probably first got to know Lucy from her various TV series that showed off her zany side. Beauty for the Asking is a drama with a few laughs. It's also one that suffers from a subpar script. Lucy is the lead here and certainly shows professionalism. I think she does also show that she could do drama, at least lighter drama. She gets about the most you could expect from the script.

Beauty for the Asking is the sort of movie that probably should have been released to DVD courtesy of those four-movie TCM-branded box sets that they used to release through Warner Home Video. Unfortunately, it only seems to be available in a more pricey standalone from the Warner Archive. That's a bit of a shame, because even the atypical Lucille Ball movies deserve to be seen.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Emil and the Detectives (1964)

Having studied German in high school and having a bunch of German relatives, I had read an edited (for the purpose of teaching language students) version of Erich Kästner's book Emil and the Detectives. I later learned that there were multiple movie adaptations of the book, and was always interested in seeing them if they showed up on TV. In the most recent installment of TCM's Treasures from the Disney Vault, they ran the 1964 version of Emil and the Detectives, so I DVRed it to watch.

Bryan Russell plays Emil Tischbein, a young boy traveling alone by bus from his home in Neustadt to visit his grandmother in Berlin. The first thing I noticed is that the movie updates the novel (written in the late 1920s so set in Weimar Germany) to the 1960s, which requires them to overlook the fact that Berlin was a divided city and the wall had gone up. But since the country is reunited it would be easy for today's kids to ignore that. Anyhow, on the bus a pickpocket named Grundeis (Heinz Schubert) sits next to Emil, and after Emil falls asleep, Grundeis robs him of DM 400 that Emil was taking to Grandma.

Emil wakes up just in time to see Grundeis getting off the bus, and gets off himself to give chase. Of course, he's unsuccessful, but during the chase he runs into (literally) Gustav (Roger Mobley). Gustav is a few years older than Emil, and is one of those kids playing at being an adult, by being a "detective", complete with business cards and a team of young boys who work for him at their "secret" headquarters, which is really the apartment of one of the co-workers. It's there that they learn the details of the case from Emil.

They set off to find they Grundeis, armed with the clue that he's to meet some other people at a hotel in the vicinity of where Grundeis picked Emil's pocket. Eventually they find the right hotel, and see but don't hear that Grundeis is talking to a "Baron" (Walter Slezak) and another criminal Müller (Peter Ehrlich). Their plan is to go to one of the bombed-out buildings that still hasn't been cleared up and rebuilt, since it's quite close to a bank. There the three can tunnel under and rob the bank's vault out of a substantial sum of money.

The detectives and Emil set off to find the guys, although there's also one other problem, which is that Emil didn't get off the bus at the main bus station where his grandmother went to pick up Emil. She went together with a granddaughter who is one of Emil's cousins, Pony (Cindy Cassell; called Pony Hütchen in the book because of the hat she wears). When one of the detectives has Emil write a cryptic note to tell Grandma he's OK, Pony intercepts it, follows the juvenile detective-courier, and finds the detectives staking out the ruined building they followed Grundeis to.

It's been ages since I read the book, so I don't remember exactly how much was changed from the plot of the book besides updating it in time; some of the IMDb reviews suggest there were a fair amount of changes. (I actually have a copy of the book in translation to Russian that I bought when I was studying in St. Petersburg ages ago, although I haven't read that in a long time either.) Whatever the changes were, they certainly work at least in the context of a Disney family movie. The movie was made in Germany with a lot of location shooting on the streets of (West) Berlin, which creates a really good atmosphere.

As for the story, this version is, I think, a pretty good entry in the genre of kids playing as adults. They're probably too precocious to be real, but having to deal with Pony (who more or less blackmails the guys by telling them she could let on what's really going on) is handled reasonably well. As I was watching, I was wondering why Grundeis would draw attention to himself by picking Emil's pocket, but even that plot hole is handled in the movie. There's danger, but also nothing that would be particularly frightening to kids. And while the criminals have to have some stupidity, certainly the Baron isn't cartoonish at all, while the other two aren't terribly bad.

Emil and the Detectives seems to be out of print on DVD, but it is currently streaming on Amazon if you can do the streaming thing. In any case, it's a movie I can certainly recommend for the family.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #263: Crime (TV Edition)

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This is the last Thursday of the month, so it means that we get another TV show edition. This month, the theme is "crime", which I assume is supposed to be different than your standard issue police show, which also deals with crime. That also makes it a bit more difficult to come up with three interesting TV shows, other than making the argument that local TV news here in the US is just the police blotter, with them running the mug shots of everybody who's been arrested but not convicted, in an attempt to embarrass the accused. The process is the punishment. Ah, but that rant is not the point of the blogathon either. So without further ado, here are my three selections:

Partners in Crime (1984). Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter play a pair of ex-wives of a detective who got murdered, so they team up to take over the detective agency.

The Fugitive (1963-1967). David Janssen plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He claims he saw a one-armed man leaving the house just before he walked in to find his wife's dead body. On his way to the prison death house, an accident affords him the chance to escape and search for the one-armed man himself.

Murder She Wrote (1984-1995). Angela Lansbury plays Jessica Fletcher, a serial-killer turned mystery writer who uses her detective skills as a writer to get other people to confess to all the murders she committed. Everywhere she goes, somebody else gets bumped off, and her home town of Cabot Cove, ME, is the murder capital of America since there seems to be another murder there every week. OK, Jessica didn't actually kill anybody, although that would have been a great twist to end the series. And the idea has become somewhat of a meme:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Obituaries for July 24, 2018

David Hedison died last Wednesday at the age of 92, although the announcement only came out over the weekend. In my opinion, Hedison probably deserves to be remembered most for his role as the scientist who experiments with matter transporters, only for it to backfire, in The Fly (on TCM during the second half of the prime time salute to Fox overnight between July 31 and August 1). But some may remember him as the star of the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which I've never seen), or his two turns as Felix Leiter, James Bond's CIA contact, in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.

A name that will be better remembered among fans of more recent movies is Rutger Hauer, the Dutch-born actor who came to Hollywood in the early 1980s and performed in a string of movies, most notably Blade Runner, which is one of my blind spots, never actually having seen it. He died on Friday aged 75, although news of his death only came out today. For some reason I thought Blade Runner might have been scheduled as part of the TCM salute to sci-fi, but it's not. A search of the listings shows the recent sequel, Blade Runner 2049, on quite a bit over the next week, but apparently not the original.

TCM's Salute to Fox

Tonight and next Wednesday, TCM is putting the spotlight on 20th Century Fox, which of course is now a part of the Disney conglomeration. I don't know that two nights is enough to do a retrospective for an entire studio, but it's what we're getting. Over the two nights, we're getting 11 movies that cover a 40 span from the 1930s to the 70s. There are 11 films in all, and I've got some brief thoughts on how they fit into a Fox spotlight. I'll spread it out over two parts partly for length, and partly to remind everybody of the movie airing on the 31st closer to the day.

Bright Eyes (8:00 PM tonight). The film that is generally considered to have made Shirley Temple a star, and she was one of the studio's biggest box office draws of the 1930s, so I think this is a worthy selection.

Laura (9:30 PM). Gene Tierney was one of the bigger female stars at Fox in the 40s, certainly when it came to the prestige movies. Laura, while not the first noir and not even the first one at Fox since I think I Wake Up Screaming pretty squarely fits into the noir genre. But I think Laura and Double Indemnity over at Paramount, both released in 1944, really jump-started the noir genre. It also re-introduced moviegoers to Clifton Webb, who was a bankable star for Fox for the next dozen years, so another worthy choice.

All About Eve (11:15 PM). One of Fox's Best Picture Oscar winners, and a landmark film that still stands the test of time. I think it's another Fox essential.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1:45 AM). Another of Fox's Best Picture winners, although if I'm limited to a dozen movies I don't know that this is one of the ones I pick. As we'll see with the next selection, there's a fair amount of legacy from the 40s that's getting glossed over because of the limited number of movies.

The Black Swan (4:15 AM). Tyrone Power was one of the more bankable stars at Fox for about a 15 year period (excluding World War II), but again, this isn't the Power movie I think I'd select. I think that's because the spotlight is overlooking Fox's history of musicals, which included another of the studio's big names of the 1940s, Betty Grable. There's also Don Ameche, which would lead me to pick something like Alexander's Ragtime Band since it has both Power and Ameche. (The female lead is Fox's musical star before Grable, that being Alice Faye.) The spotlight is also overlooking Linda Darnell, but again, if you're limited to 11 or 12 movies there's a lot you're going to have to overlook.

The Agony and the Ecstasy (5:45 AM). Definitely one I'd jettison in favor of something else. Since we're in the 60s now, I think I'd have to pick Cleopatra, which was bombastically large and iconic, and also had a pretty big effect on the studio since it was such a massive money hole. FXM has been running a whole bunch of B movies from the early 1960s that I always think of as the sort of movies they distributed to try to make a buck to help finance Cleopatra.

Next week, the final five movies.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Slap Shot

I still have a few movies to get through from Paul Newman's turn as TCM's Star of the Month back in May. This time around, it's Slap Shot.

Paul Newman, who's really much too old for the role but that's another story, plays Reggie Dunlop, the player-coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, a minor-league hockey team in one of those mill towns in Pennsylvania. (Johnstown, PA was the town standing in for Charlestown.) This is one of the lowest-level hockey leagues out there, and the team is terrible. The GM McGrath (Strother Martin) would probably be OK with trading players for a six-pack of beer; the Québecois goalkeeper (Yvon Barrette) is a head-case, and most of the players seem more interested in drinking and carousing, with the exception of Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean).

It's not bad enough that the team is bad. The company that owns the steelworks is planning on closing the factory down, which probably means the team will go under since the town wouldn't be able to support a team any longer. Reggie hopes that perhaps he can get the owner to sell the team to a syndicate in Florida that's building a rink down there, but who knows. In any case, he's also got an estranged wife Francine (Jennifer Warren) who is just as likely to leave him as to follow him to a new team.

Finally, to top it all off, McGrath has acquired a couple of new players, the Hanson brothers. They all wear thick Coke bottle glasses, and seem very immature, as they'd rather play with the toys they brought with them than do the more grown-up things the other guys on the team do. And to top it all off, the Hansons are utter goons, which is exactly the opposite of how Reggie thinks hockey should be played.

But, strangely enough, the Hansons' goon tactics work, and the team starts winning. Ned thinks it's terrible, and although Reggie would prefer to win by playing traditional hockey, he's got malleable enough ethics that he'll take these wins. Plus, it's an opportunity to gain the notice of folks in higher leagues. The other teams' fans all hate the Chiefs, but the Chiefs have also developed a cult following. If only he can convince the owner to go through with that sale....

I'm not a hockey player, so I don't know how far from realistic the off-ice scenes are. I do know enough about the sports that the Hansons' tactics are things that would have gotten so many penalties called that they'd never see the ice, at least if the referee sees them. With that said, however, Slap Shot is a largely funny dark comedy that plays out like what you might get if Paddy Chayefsky had decided to take what would become Network and write it about hockey instead. The only real problem I had was with Ned's actions in the climactic hockey game at the end. Even if his change of character was realistic, it still wasn't very funny.

All that having been said, however, the movie's is also extremely dirty. Bad languages and sexual themes abound, so the movie definitely isn't one for the kiddies. But not every movie needs to be a family film. I can highly recommend Slap Shot to any sports fan.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Another movie that TCM ran not too long ago that I hadn't blogged about before is Shaft, so I DVRed it and watched to do a full-length post on it.

Richard Roundtree plays John Shaft, a private detective going about his daily routine one day in New York City. He's known to the police, especially Lt. Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), who has a grudging respect for Shaft despite their racial differences at a time when there was still a lot of leftover racial tension from the 1960s. A couple of guys from the black organized crime community try to see Shaft, but it quickly turns into an attack and after one of the two falls through a window to his death, the other informs Shaft that crime boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) wants to see Shaft.

You'd think they could have done it with a phone call, but whatever. Shaft goes to meet Bumpy, and it turns out that there's a big problem. Bumpy's daughter has been kidnapped, and he wants Shaft to find her. The reason it's a big problem is that the police are pretty certain the kidnapping was committed by white mafiosi who are in it for territorial purposes, although everybody else is going to believe it was for racial reasons. This especially after Shaft meets with some black liberation types led by Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) which results in a shootout.

Shaft is able to obtain the location where Bumpy's daughter is being held with a bit of help from the police, who let him question a couple of mafiosi who was surveilling him, but the first attempt to get the daughter goes wrong, with another shootout ensuing. Eventually, Shaft is going to have to team up with Ben and his subordinates to get the daughter's new location and perform a daring rescue.

As I was watching Shaft I couldn't help but think of any number of the white detective films -- both private eyes and police detectives -- that proceeded Shaft by a few years. Although Shaft is generally recognized as one of the earliest blaxploitation movies, I found myself reaching the conclusion that it really fits in well with films like Harper or Coogan's Bluff, or even Point Blank although I'm not certain it's ever really revealed what Lee Marvin's character does. Shaft is a well-crafted movie that has one foot in the blaxploitation genre, and the other in the detective genre, and could almost as easily be seen as a detective film that just happens to have a black protagonist.

Of course, I'm looking at Shaft nearly half a century after it was released. I'm sure audiences -- especially black audiences -- would have had a much different view of the movie back in 1971. And there are some things that separate it from the other movies, since it does deal pretty openly with issues of race. But the character portrayals and the violence are much more grounded in reality than the more fantastical depictions in later blaxploitation films, especially the ones with female protagonists.

Pluses in Shaft go to Roundtree's confident performance as the title character; the cinematography of early 1970s New York City, and the superb score from Isaac Hayes. If there is one minus, it would be the finale, which does strain credulity, with the movie also ending abruptly. But overall, Shaft is quite an entertaining little movie.

Shaft spawned sequels as well as multiple remakes including one earlier this year. If you want to see the original, it's on DVD, but just make certain you don't get one of the remakes.