Monday, October 14, 2019

The Long Ships


I'm working my way through the movies that TCM ran for Sidney Poitier's turn as Star of the Month back in September. This time out, the entry is The Long Ships.

The actual star here is Richard Widmark, playing Rolfe, the captain of a Viking ship raiding somewhere in the Mediterranean in an opening sequence. The ship gets destroyed in the fog on some shoals, and Rolfe is the only survivor. There's then a non-live-action sequence talking about Rolfe's rescue by some monks who brought him back to health. They were also looking for gold to make a giant bell, which when it is finally cast and rung makes a thunderous sound.

Cut to some Moorish city. Rolfe is in the town square, eking out a living telling fabulous stories, notably the story of that bell, which by now is a legend since nobody really quite knows what happened to that bell if it even existed. But the legend is well known, because the ruler of that town is interested:



Sidney Poitier plays Aly Mansuh, burdened by a desire for that bell and by one of the most horrendous hairdos known to man. He's wanted that bell, and when he hears about Rolfe the storyteller, he puts two and two together to determine that Rolfe must know where the bell is. So he brings in Rolfe, threatening to torture Rolfe if he doesn't reveal where the bell is. Rolfe jumps out a window, and escapes.

Somehow, he makes it back to his home fjord, washing ashore and finding that his family has all sorts of problems. Rolfe would like another boat to go find that bell, but the last boat nearly bankrupted his family, including his father Krok (Oskar Homolka) and brother Orm (Russ Tamblyn). They're making a ship for the king that will be the king's funeral ship, but they're so indebted that the king gives them a measly two gold pieces, saying that's all that's left for them after paying off their debts.

Rolfe gets the idea we all have, which is to steal the king's boat and sail off in search of the bell. To ensure their safety, they kidnap the king's daughter Gerda (Beba Lončar). But it's not going to be easy, and unsurprisingly the boat crashes again, very near where Aly Mansuh is. So he finds Rolfe again. How are the Vikings going to get out of this one?

The Long Ships is one of those sit back and relax movies. There's nothing in this one that would be considered high art, but it entertains. To be honest, some of the entertainment value comes from the misfires, including some terrible dialog as well as that horrendous wig Poitier has to wear. There's also no semblance of historical reality, and don't even think about continuity.

Jack Cardiff directed, which is part of the reason the movie looks nice visually, he having been noted as a cinematographer for the color movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. He's also helped by some nice locations; watch the opening credits and you'll see enough foreign names to figure out this was an international co-production filmed in Yugoslavia, which wasn't as closed a Communist society as the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

The Long Ships is available on DVD.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Briefs for October 13-14, 2019


It looks like whoever is programming FXM has finally decided to go back to vaults and pull out some stuff that hasn't been on the channel in ages. Normally, I'd always notice that happening at the beginning of a month, but for the past few months that doesn't seem to have been happening. But this week is going to see a change. It starts off with The Boston Strangler, which I blogged about back in 2011. It's going to be on Monday at 1:00 PM and again at 11:30 AM Tuesday. Other movies showing up for the first time in a while are The Robe, and Daddy Long Legs, with more to come the following week.

About a year and a half ago, I mentioned the mediocre movie Millie, and stated that it seemed to be out of print on DVD. It was on again recently and I was thinking about watching it on Watch TCM to do a post on, having forgotten I'd done the previous post. (The opening seemed oddly familiar.) Anyhow, I looked up the DVD, and it's actually from Grapevine Video on a DVD-R, so available.

I don't understand the ways of Amazon and the TCM Shop. I've pointed out multiple occasions where there's something on the Warner Archive which, being a MOD scheme, should be available at the TCM shop, but isn't, even though it's still available over at Amazon. This time, it's the other way around. I had reason to mention Laughter in Paradise somewhere else, and so looked for the Amazon page on it since I actually bought the DVD there back in 2017. It's a MOD DVD from Reel Vault, but it's somehow no longer availalbe at Amazon. It's not as if Reel Vault is no longer at Amazon at all, as my most recent order at Amazon earlier this month included three Reel Vault DVDs.

The Defector


A few weeks back, TCM ran what would turn out to be Montgomery Clift's final movie, The Defector. Not having done a post on it here before, I decided to record and watch it.

Clift plays James Bower, an American physicist who has flown to Germany with the intention of going to Esat Germany to see a few museums and how some art restoration is going on, fine art being his hobby. In Germany, he's met by Adams (Roddy McDowall), an agent for the CIA. It wasn't Bower's idea to meet with Adams, and when he finds out why Adams wants to meet him, he's really unhappy.

Apparently, prominent Soviet physicist Groschek is in East Germany, and he has some important information about the Soviet space program that he wants to transfer to the west. Since Bower is going to East Germany anyway, and since he translated Groschek's books into English, Adams would seemingly be a natural person to meet with Groschek in the East and bring that information back to the West. Bower isn't a spy (and indeed, that's part of the reason why his being the one to get the information from Groschek is a plus), and doesn't want to do spy work. But Adams blackmails him, saying that if Adams doesn't do it, his government funding for research will dry up. (This is one of the many reasons government shouldn't be in the business of funding science.) So Bower reluctantly accepts.

The Communists already know that Bower is coming, and that he's going to be getting this information from Groschek. Commander Orlovsky (David Opatoshu) is nominally in charge of the operation, but he's given a lot of responsibility to one of Bower's fellow scientists, Peter Heinzmann (Hardy Kruger). Heinzmann's job is not only to prevent Bower from getting that information from Groschek, but to try to get Bower to defect to the East.

To do this, there's both physical violence brought to bear against the people Bower meets, as well as mental violence against Bower, who is subjected to some sort of psychedelic-looking trip in his hotel room. Bower eventually decides that he wants to get back to the west, but trying to get there is going to be extremely dangerous.

I stated above that The Defector was Montgomery Clift's last movie; it was four years after his previous work and released four months after he died. That is probably the biggest reason why the movie is still known today. To be honest, it's not particularly memorable for any other reason. The Defector came across to me as a very formulaic movie in the 1960s spy genre, with absolutely nothing to make it stand out against any of the other movies. It's not bad, mind you, even though it does have a few flaws in its slow pacing. It's much more that there's nothing memorable about it other than the trivia surrounding Clift.

Still, The Defector is available on DVD from the Warner Archive, and the vintage cinematography of 1960s Germany is mildly worth mentioning. So watch and judge for yourself.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Wonderful Country


Not too long ago, TCM ran the new-to-me western The Wonderful Country. It being available on DVD from MGM/UA's MOD scheme, I decided to record it to do a post on it here.

Robert Mitchum plays Martin Brady, who at the start of the movie is accompanying a wagon of goods north from Mexico across the Rio Grande into the United States. Brady is American, but living in Mexico because a past brush with the law forced him to flee. Unfortunately, his delivery doesn't go well, as he reaches a small town and a tumbleweed spooks his horse, bucking him and leaving him with a broken leg.

The town has a fort where Brady meets the new commander, Maj. Stark Colton (Gary Merrill). Colton has a job for Brady, if Brady is willing to take it, which is to go back into Mexico and convince the Mexican authorities to let the American soldiers come in and help deal with the Apache raiders which are causing more difficulty for the Americans than for the Mexicans. Of course, the local governor, Cipriano Castro (Pedro Armendáriz) is the one who was paying to delivr that wagon full of guns, and Brady knows that Castro is going to be none too pleased that the delivery didn't go off as planned, never mind that it would be perfectly understandable for the Mexicans not to want American soldiers on their territory.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Brady's life is about to get a whole lot more complicated. When visiting the Major, Brady runs into Mrs. Colton (Julie London), who is just getting settled and is not particularly happy with her marriage to the major and starts puting the moves on Brady. Then there's kindly German immigrant Chico, who gets harassed by a drunk man who breaks a bottle and slashes Chico to death. That guy then turns on Brady, who kills the man in self-defense, if anybody in a court of law would believe that. So it's back to Mexico for Brady.

Things aren't any better back in Brady's adopted homeland of Mexico. It turns out that Gov. Castro has been in a dispute with his brother, a general in the Army, and the Governor wants Brady to be a hired gun to kill the General. And the US Army is going after the Apache in Mexico anyway, including bringing in the Texas Rangers, which is an even bigger problem since they're not military.

I had a fairly big problem with The Wonderful Country in that it seems a lot less like a coherent movie than a bunch of episodes that are supposed to be related but really just made it more difficult to follow what was going on. In particular, the synopsis I saw suggested that the relationship between Brady and Mrs. Colton was going to be much bigger than it turned out to be. The dispute between the Castro brothers also seemed to arise out of nowhere. Maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention.

Those problems aside, Mitchum gives a good performance and Brady, while there's some nice cinematography in the area around Durango, Mexico. But for me that wasn't enough to save the movie from its flaws. Some people may have a different opinion, however, so as always you should judge for yourself.

Friday, October 11, 2019

I'll cry some day or another


Susan Hayward made a whole bunch of melodramatic potboilers in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them were even based on real events, such as I'll Cry Tomorrow.

Hayward plays singer Lillian Roth, although we don't see Hayward at first, as the story briefly starts with Lillian's childhood. Her mom Katie (Jo Van Fleet) is a stage mother, pushing Lillian into performing on Broadway, even though Lillian would rather play with neighborhood friends like David. If there was any upside to the pushing, it was that it provided Lillian with the opportunity for a career, as she would become a successful singer and actress.

Adult Lillian still loved David (played as an adult by Ray Danton), and he can help her career because he's an entertainment lawyer. But Mom doesn't like him, thinking he'll slow down Lillian's career, so she tries to sabotage their relationship. Worse, David gets some sort of sickness that kills him at a young age, dying in hospital while Lillian, who was going to marry him, is performing so she can't be by his side when he dies. She drowns her sorrow in drink, meeting hard-drinking serviceman Willie (Don Taylor). Their nights out on the town lead to more drinking with the two even getting married one one of those benders, Lillian only realizing the next day that she's married.

But the drinking is beginning to have a negative effect on Lillian's life. Eventually the marriage breaks up at which point Lillian meets Tony (Richard Conte), who is also an alcoholic but who knows that he can't have another drink. If she learns one thing from her relationship with Tony, it's not that she shouldn't be drinking, but that she should be hiding her drinking so that everybody will be thinking she isn't drinking when in fact she is. (Good luck with that.)

Lillian's life gets enough out of control that she thinks about throwing herself out of the window of one of those crappy old hotels that seemed to dot New York in old movies, but of course she doesn't do it. Instead, she winds up going to Alcoholics Anonymous.

I'll Cry Tomorrow is a movie that I found a bit odd for a whole bunch of reasons. It was made at MGM, and despite Hayward's scenery chewing, the MGM portrayal of alcoholism seems a bit too neat and tidy. Hayward's acting also causes the movie to veer into unintentional comedy at times, and the movie is certainly unsubtle. Hayward also did her own singing, which isn't bad but not something she could have made a career out of.

I'll Cry Tomorrow is certainly worth one watch, although I'm not certain it's one I'd want to revisit. It got a release to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, but oddly enough it's one of those that's available at Amazon but not currently at the TCM Shop.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #274: Teen Horror





This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. There's still three more weeks until Halloween, so there's a lot more horror to get to. This week, the theme is Teen Horror, which I assume isn't meant to mean acne or finding that your steady is dumping you. I had to think quite a bit to come up with three movies that fit the theme this week, but eventually did so:

The Seventh Victim (1943). Kim Hunter plays a student at a boarding school (Hunter was actually 20 at the time, but being a student I'll assume she was playing a character still in her teens) who finds that her sister in the big city has gone missing and stopped paying the tuition for the last six months. So she goes in search of her sister and finds that the sister sold off her profitable beauty salon and joined what seems to be a satanic cult, which leaves big sister's life in danger. This is one of those Val Lewton-produced horror films at RKO that rely more on the viewer's own imagination than showing blood and gore.



The Blob (1958). 27-year-old high school student Steve McQueen (yeah, I know, but again a high school student implies teenager) finds a meteorite that's actually some sort of alien space craft containing a life form that looks like pie filling. The alien life gloms on to human skin, killing the humans in the process and becoming bigger, until threatening to take over the whole town. And the darn teens can't get the responsible adults to believe the town isn't in danger. The special effects look silly nowadays, but it's actually a fun little movie.

House (1977). A Japanese schoolgirl gets a letter from her grandmother in the country whom she hasn't seen in a long time asking to come and visit. The girl goes with several of her classmates, and the girls find there's something up with the house, which seems to be killing them one by one. The production design is garish and stylized with the "horror" being deliberately over-the-top, but that makes the movie more fun.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Goodbye Charlie


One of the movies in the current FXM rotation that I haven't blogged about before is Goodbye Charlie. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:15 AM and again at 7:45 AM Friday.

The movie starts off with Charlie, who isn't really seen as he's partying with a bunch of other people on the yacht of wealthy movie producer Sir Leopold Sartori (Walter Matthau). Eventually, Charles goes into Mrs. Sartori's cabin and starts putting the moves on her, leading Sir Leopold to go below decks and shoot Charlie, who falls out the porthole into the ocean, obviously dying in the process although since he's lost at sea his body isn't found.

George Tracy (Tony Curtis) was one of Charlie's best friends, and is now living in France as a writer. However, Charlie had named George as the executor of his will, and Charlie's manager Morton (Martin Gabel) wants George to speak at the memorial service, so George comes from nine time zones away to fulfill his solemn duty. Unfortunately, George was also one of Charlie's only friends, as there's only him and two women at the memorial service. Charlie, you see, was a real smooth operator who used and dumped women like tissue paper.

George is going to be in the Los Angeles area for some time settling the estate, which is a mess since Charlie was effectively broke, but George is able to live in Charlie's beach house. That night, after the memorial service, a man comes knocking with an obvious emergency. Bruce Minton (Pat Boone) is a wealthy heir living in another beach house up the coast, and as he was driving to see his mother he ran across a naked and incoherent woman. The most Bruce could make out is that the woman wanted to be dropped off at Charlie's house; presumably she was one of Charlie's many ex-girlfriends.

Except that she regains her identity overnight, and realizes she's not in fact one of Charlie's ex-girlfriends, but Charlie himself, reincarnated as a woman (played by Debbie Reynolds). Charlie is none too pleased at first, knowing how he treated women, and George doesn't believe it anyway until Charlie tells George too many personal things that only Charlie could have known. And eventually, Charlie, if he's not exactly comfortable being a woman, at least figures he can put his womanly body to good use, what with those breasts and sex appeal.

Although Charlie has been reincarnated as a woman, he obviously hasn't learned anything from the whole experience of getting shot, as his plans are to use the womanly form to get close to men and blackmail them, having Charlie's knowledge of everything he did to women. Charlie does need money, after all, even if this isn't a particularly honest way of going about getting it.

Complications arise, however, when Bruce shows up again, having been captivated by this woman that he doesn't realize is actually a former man. Bruce could even marry the new Charlie, and while Charlie might like Bruce's money, he still doesn't want to be a wife till death does them part. There's also Sartori and the question of what will happen to Charlie if Sartori ever learns the truth or the new Charlie releases any information about Sartori.

Goodbye Charlie is a movie with a very funny premise, but one with doesn't quite live up to the potential of its premise. I think the problem is that both of the leads are miscast. In a movie without a gender-bender premise, it would be Tony Curtis who's the unctuous manipulator, not the Reynolds character. Curtis doesn't work so well as the straight man to such an operator. Reynolds, for her part, is entirely the wrong actress to be playing manipulative; I'm not certain who had both the comic chops and the reputation to pull it off at that point in the 1960s. Goodbye Charlie also goes on too long at just a shade under two hours.

As always, however, it's the sort of movie where you may want to watch and judge for yourself. In addition to the upcoming FXM showings, it's available on DVD if you want to watch it that way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Parnell


The movie Parnell has a reputation for being a huge misfire for its star, Clark Gable, during his days as the king of the MGM lot. It aired on TCM not too long ago and, not having done a post on it before, I decided to sit down and watch it.

Gable plays Charles Stewart Parnell, an Anglo-Irish politician who served in Parliament in Westminster in the 1880s, this being the era when all of Ireland was still a part of the UK. One of the key issues in Ireland at that time was the question of "home rule", which would have meant something somewhere betweem what Scotland has now and full independence. Parnell is seen in the film's opening raising support for the issue in America, before returning to Ireland and being arrested (at least in the movie; I can't tell whether he was arrested in real life).

There's a general election coming up, and an ambitious politician named William O'Shea (Alan Marshal) gets Parnell to endorse him. It's also here that Parnell meets William's wife Katie (Myrna Loy). She no longer loves her husband, but he's not about to give her a divorce because she's got an elderly aunt "Ben" (Edna May Oliver) and knows that Ben is going to leave a substantial inheritance to Katie that he wants to get his hands on.

The election of 1885 produced a hung parliament, in which William Gladstone's (Montagu Love) party won the most seats but did not have a majority, in no small part because the Irish party that Parnell led won the vast majority of the Irish seats. Parnell used this to try to get Gladstone to get a home rule bill passed. However, it wasn't going to be easy as Parnell had some powerful political enemies.

One was a man named Pigott, who forged some letters ostensibly from Parnell that showed Parnell supporting the murder of a prominent British official in Ireland, something that could have had Parnell facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder himself. He calls for a trial in the Commons and wins. The other enemy turns out to be William O'Shea.

Katie, as mentioned, felt herself in a loveless marriage to William that she could not get out of. She sits in the gallery in the Commons and watches Parnell's great speeches, and when the two meet again a friendship develops that grows into something more than friendship. Now, this is a 1930s MGM movie, so they weren't about to give the whole story, which is that Parnell was the father of three of Katie's children while she was still married. Eventually, William has had enough and tries to blackmail Parnell, who refuses, letting William make the affair public.

As I said at the beginning, Parnell was Gable's biggest flop during his 1930s stardom at MGM. To be honest, though, it wasn't nearly as bad as I would have thought. It's certainly not without its flaws, notably that it's way too talky and Gable was probably not the right actor to be playing Parnell. He really should have been playing somebody more radical. The love affair isn't much of a love affair, and the Irish scenes are your typical Hollywood doe-eyed view of Ireland.

Still, if you don't know much about the drive for "home rule", which I didn't, a movie like Parnell isn't a bad place to start before looking for the real history. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive should you wish to watch it for yourself.

AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: Denzel Washington


There isn't all that much time on TCM this month for special programming what with four nights of the week being taken up by various regular(ish) programming: the Star of the Month on Mondays; the "Short and Sweet" Spotlight on Wednesdays; and the horror on Thursdays, and Fridays with the "Monster of the Month". So everything is going in on Tuesdays. This Tuesday brings TCM's salute to this year's recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, Denzel Washington.

TCM is running the show that the AFI produced for the occasion. As with a lot of new-to-TCM specials, it's getting run twice, once at 8:00 PM and then after a showing of one feature, for the benefit of people out on the west coast, at 11:45 PM.

That doesn't leave so much time for actual movies, so we only get three: Glory, about a black regiment in the Civil War, at 9:30 PM;
Devil in a Blue Dress at 1:15 AM, with Washington as a detective in 1948 Los Angeles; and
The Mighty Quinn at 3:15 AM, starring Washington as a police chief on a Carribean island who gets involved in a murder investigation with an old friend as a suspect.

Monday, October 7, 2019

TCM Star of the Month October 2019: Paul Muni


October started last Tuesday, but thanks to the way that TCM decided to schedule its Star of the Month, it meant that we didn't actually have a Star of the Month in last week's programming. Oh, we've got Godzilla as the Monster of the Month on Friday nights, but not the traditional Star of the Month until tonight. Every Monday in prime time, TCM is going to be running the films of Paul Muni. Muni was nominated for the Best Actor five times, only winning for The Story of Louis Pasteur which doesn't air until the 21st. Tonight, we get two of his Oscar-nominated roles, starting at 9:45 PM with I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, in which Muni is pictured at left.

The other Oscar-nominated role is a very early talkie, The Valiant at 11:30 PM. In this movie, Muni plays a man who comits murder in a big city because the guy needed dying, or at least that's what Muni says, not saying any more. News of his story his the press, and a family out in the midwest is convinced this is the son who left for the big city many years earlier.

One other movie that's worth mentioning is Hi, Nellie, which is on overnight at 2:30 AM. Muni plays a newspaperman whose constant campaign against corruption gets him in trouble with his bosses and the political powers, to the point that he gets demoted to writing for the "Miss Lonelyhearts"-style column. No big deal; Muni will find a way to keep up the campaign from there! I mention this movie because it's a hoary chestnut that is the first of its kind; Warner Bros. would remake it three more times in the next 15 years. The second version, called Love Is on the Air would move the action to radio and feature the movie debut of actor Ronald Reagan.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Papillon


Continuing to get through the backlog of movies I recorded during Summer Under the Stars, I recently watched Papillon to do a post on it here.

Steve McQueen plays the title character, a man whose real name is Henri Charrière but who has the nickname "Papillon" (French for "butterfly" because of the butterfly tattoo he has on his chest). At the beginning of the movie, he's being marched the the streets of a French city sometime in the 1930s on his way to a boat, which is going to transport him and a bunch of other prisoners to the notorious Devil's Island prison colony off the coast of French Guyana.

Papillon's reputation precedes him; one of the other prisoners who makes his acquaintance is the bespectacled Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). While Papillon is going to Devil's Island for a murder he insists he didn't commit, being a safe-cracker by trade, Dega is going for having forged French bonds and bankrupting a whole bunch of people, so there are many on the transport and at the prison who are going to have it in for Dega. He needs protection and has a wife and money at home; perhaps he could use some of that money to get protection courtesy of Papillon and help fund an escape attempt for the two of them.

Devil's Island is uncompromisingly brutal. A passing reference is made during the transport that 40% of the people sent there don't survive the first year, and even if you do there's terrible humidity and malaria out in the work camps. But trying to escape may be even worse, as the warden tells them when they first arrive that getting caught trying to escape means two years in solitary confinement the first time, and five years the second time.

Even having said that, prisoners think they might actually have a shot of escaping, and Papillon sets out trying. He gets caught a first time and sent to solitary, which is of course even worse than the regular prison conditions. It's a tiny cell where the guards look down on him; complete silence; and, when Papillon breaks the rules, screens put over the top of the cell to leave him in complete darkness. For months at a time.

Papillon's indomitable spirit is going to lead him to try to escape again, while Dega has tried to make the best of a bad situation by working with the authorities to the extent it won't get him in trouble with the other prisoners. Indeed, Dega has been helping Papillon out to the extent possible while Papillon was in solitary and in the prison hospital after being released from solitary. So when circumstances threaten to bollix Papillon's second escape attempt, Dega helps him out and eventually goes along on the escape attempt.

Papillon is based on a book by the real-life Henri Charrière, who wrote the book based on his experiences in Devil's Island. I don't know how accurate the book (which I haven't read) is or whether his stories and the adaptation of them for film are him embellishing what happened at Devil's Island. One thing that I have seen is that the Dega character is actually quite a small one in the book and that in the movie he was built up out of several characters from the book because the movie needed a second star.

In any case, Papillon is a pretty darn good movie. It has a languorous pace which at times seems as though it could have been sped up, but considering how much of the movie is about the isolation and tedium of prison, and especially solitary, the slow pace isn't as much of a problem here as it is for some other movies. McQueen and especially Hoffman give good performances, and the locations (mostly Jamaica according to IMDb) are sufficiently forbidding. Papillon is more than worth a watch.

Papillon has been released to DVD. Note, however, that the story was remade a few years back, so you'll want to make certain which version you're getting (I haven't seen the remake).

Saturday, October 5, 2019

No Snickers, please


During September's TCM salute to the 100th anniversary of United Artists, one of the movies shown that I hadn't blogged about before was the 1921 version of The Three Musketeers. A recently-restored print is available on DVD, so I recorded it and sat down to watch.

The time is France in the 1620, and there's palace intrigue going on. Louis XIII (played by a young but recognizable Adolphe Menjou) is the King, although the real power behind the throne is Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier). Louis' wife Anne (Mary MacLaren) is in love with England's Duck of Buckingham (Thomas Holding), but apparently the King doesn't yet know about it. Richelieu does, though, and one can guess is planning to reveal it at a time that would be advantageous to him.

The Cardinal seems to have decided that that time is coming up soon, as the Queen's seamstress Beatrice has a boyfriend in D'Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) whom she calls to Paris for help. There's a big dance coming up, and Louis wants Anne to wear a particular piece of jewelry. But Anne gave it to Buckingham as a token of remembrance since they really shouldn't be having a relationship. He's taken it back to England, and Anne needs it back.

D'Artagnan has wanted to join the King's Musketeers, a defense force that's been clashing with the Cardina's defense force. When D'Artagnan gets to Paris, he calls on the musketeers, which is where he meets three of their number, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, whom you'll remember from the book. (Aramis is played by a young and unrecognizable Eugene Pallette. I knew he was thin in a previous life before he became the portly character actor with the memorable voice; I didn't know just how unrecognizable he was.) Eventually, D'Artagnan and the musketeers set off for England to get the jewel, while Richelieu tries to stop them.

This version of The Three Musketeers is moderately interesting, but it also has problems that have nothing to do with the fact that it's a 1921 movie that was limited to the filmmaking capabilities of that era. There are plot holes galore, with the big one for me being that news somehow travels much faster than the musketeers. Somehow, Richelieu is able to keep getting news to people further ahead of the musketeers, despite that it would take time to get news from the musketeers' location back to Paris, and then have Richelieu decide something and get that news out. I suppose carrier pigeons might have been faster than men on horseback, but I'm not convinced.

Also, for as much as Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s reputation is predicated on being a swashbuckler, and how much this story in any of its adaptations should be built on swashbuckling, the sequences we get here are surprisingly tame. Last, but not least, the pacing is slow. Fairbanks, now being at a studio of his own, was able to make this as an epic and it runs right about two hours when maybe 90 minutes would have been better to keep things from dragging.

Overall, this version of The Three Musketeers is an interesting little curio, but if it comes to Fairbanks I'd recommend The Mark of Zorro first.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Baby Dull


I've mentioned on a couple of occasions that I'm not the biggest fan of Tennessee Williams, or overheated Southern Gothic in general. A good example of this phenomenon is Baby Doll.

Carroll Baker plays "Baby Doll" Meighan, a virginal bride just shy of her 20th birthday. She lives with her husband Archie (Karl Malden), in a decaying Mississippi manor house, in a town where Archie runs one of the cotton gins. Except that business is lousy, as we can see not only by the fact that the house is decaying, but the furniture company is repossessing the furniture. Anyhow, Baby Doll is still virginal because Archie promised her father that he would have sex with her until she turned 20, in exchange for being allowed to marry her. Since that birthday is coming up, he's very eager to be be able finally to have sex with her.

The reason that Archie's business has been falling off is that there's a better businessman who's recently entered the area, Italian-American Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach). He's set up his own cotton gin, and it's been taking business away from Archie's. Archie responds as any bad businessman would: he burns down Silva's gin.

Silva is pretty darn sure who did it, but he needs to get evidence. So he decides to go to the Meighan place, having met Mrs. Meighan. His plan is to get an affidavit from her. Not that she realizes this; in addition to being virginal, she's also a bit naïve. Of course Silva doesn't make things easy on Baby Doll by moving thing as though there were a ghost in the house. Eventually, the two play a game of hide-and-seek that results in Baby Doll cowering in an attic she's afraid is going to cave in.

When Archie finds out what happens, he's pissed, more about Silva's pursuit of Baby Doll because it's not until a bit later that he finds out about the affidavit. How Archie reacts provides the climax of the movie.

Baby Doll is one of those movies that has a repuation because of is controversially lurid-for-the-times presentation. To be honest, however, I found the whole thing a bit tedious. The characters are obnoxiously loud, they're unsympathetic, and the story came across to be as being rather unrealistic. Still, it has its reputation for a reason, and a lot of other people really like this one.

Baby Doll is available on DVD, so you can watch and judge for yourself.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #273: Period Horror





This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. We're into October, which means Halloween is coming, and everybody starts thinking about horror. So the themes for October are all horror-related, and this first Thursday in Octobr has the theme "Period Horror". Now, my first thought was of the scene in An Unmarried Woman where Jill Clayburgh is talking to her psychiatrist and talking about getting her first period, something that I as a guy have no desire to listen to. (Sorry ladies.) But that's not really what the theme means. Instead, we're looking for horror movies set in various past historical eras. I could have gone for simple stuff like Frankenstein, but I wanted to go for things that were a bit more out there, and came up with three:

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961). Roger Corman's take on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, starring Vincent Price as a 16th century Spanish inquisitor visited by his brother-in-law (John Kerr) after Kerr's sister dies. Kerr wants to know what happened, and finds your typical horror tropes of hidden passages and the like.

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1971). A retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, updated to the 1920s and starring Shelley Winters in the role of the evil witch. It's a relatively cartoonish horror so not overly frightening, but Winters' relentless overacting makes this one a lot of fun.

Häxan (1922). Swedish silent film (the name means "The Witch") that is also known as Witchcraft Through the Ages after an edit that added narration from William Burroughs. That latter title accurately states what the movie is about; various vignettes that look at how society has ever feared odd, unexplainable behavior and called it "witchcraft" -- and is still doing it today. It's just that what gets called "witchcraft" changes from one age to the next.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

High Pressure


I mentioned some time back that I picked up a box set of William Powell at Warner Bros. since I hadn't ctually seen any of the movies on it. I recently sat down and watched another selection off of it, High Pressure.

Powell plays a man named Gar Evans doesn't show up at first; instead, his friend Mike Donahey (Frank McHugh) is looking for him on behalf of another man, "Colonel" Ginsburg (George Sidney). It seems as though Gar has been on the bender to end all benders, and nobody knows where he is, especially not his long-suffering girlfriend Francine (Evelyn Brent).

The "Colonel" wants to find Gar because Gar is a business promoter, and Ginsburg has come across a great invention that just needs venture capital: an inventor has figured out a way to take sewage and turn it into synthetic rubber. It's an idea that's guaranteed to make millions, if it will pan out. And one of the catches is that the inventor has gone missing. But more importantly right not, the first thing is setting up a business and making it look as though there's a lot going on.

You see, Gar is a rather less than honest promoter, skirting the edge of illegal activity. As part of that skirting, he does like Warren William in Lady For a Day and hires a bunch of Runyanesque characters to work in executive positions under him, most notably Clifford Gray (Guy Kibbee) to be the president of the new company. There's also a secretary (Evalyn Knapp) who's secretly engaged to a man Gar takes on as a salesman; these of course were the days when women commonly quit working once they got married. As for Francine, she's Gar's good luck charm, but she's finally decided to leave Gar for good and marry another man -- if Gar can't sweet-talk her out of that.

As I said earlier, the inventor is nowhere to be found, so the folks from the natural rubber companies don't believe this ridiculous scheme is real. (To be fair, the movie was made before the invention of nylon, so synthetics outside of the hard plastics weren't quite so well known.) And if they can't get proof, they're going to go to the authorities and have Gar's stock float be stopped as fraudulent.

High Pressure is a movie that's firmly a product of the early 30s, with the Depression going on and get-rich quick schemes and shady stock schemes being things. For me, the movie barely worked, almost entirely thanks to the energetic performance of Powell. This is the sort of material that I'm often not a fan of since Gar is such a shady character. It's not quite what I call the comedy of lies, but it's close. Also, Ginsburg and the inventor (once he's found) are irritating characters. Finally, I would have liked a different ending.

Still, High Pressure is part of a box set, and some of you will probably like it more than I did, so I'd certainly recommend giving the movie a try.

Short and Sweet

Now that we're into a new month, it's time to start getting new spotlights on TCM. One of them is "Short and Sweet", which will be looking at movies that run under 75 minutes. They'll be running all morning and night on Wednesdays in October. Actually, they're running into Thursday morning's, as tonight's lineup concludes tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM with Nothing Sacred.

The movies are arranged mostly by genre, which may be a bit off-putting for some people who don't want to watch one movie after another in the same genre. And of course since they're all so short, there will be a lot of movies. Today's genres are romantic dramas in the morning and afternoon leading into romantic comedies in prime time. I'd pick Ever In My Heart at 12:15 PM as a highlight of the day, and Rafter Romance at 11:45 PM as the highlight of the night.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Silence of the Lambs


One of the movies I DVRed when DirecTV had the free preview of the Epix channels was Silence of the Lambs. I'd never done a post on it, and it's already 28 years old. When TCM started, it was movies released in 1966 that were 28 years old, so Silence of the Lambs is certainly beginning to get up there in terms of "older" movies.

Anthony Hopkins is well-remembered for his turn as Hannibal Lecter, but we start with some of the other main characters, notably Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). She's going through her training to become an FBI agent, hoping to work in Behavioral Science. She's in luck, as the head of that unit, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), calls her in from training with a special assignment. She's to go see Lecter, who is in a maximum-security facility in Baltimore, and do a scientific survey on him.

Starling realizes this is a ruse, but for what she doesn't know. And Crawford doesn't tell her until later because he says that if she had known, Lecter would have realized what she was really there for and there goes Crawford's work. As for Lecter, he's in a basement behind a bunch of glass because he really is a dangerous figure, a psychiatrist who can be a master manipulator, extremely bright, and convicted of cannibalistic murders.

Anyhow, the reason why Crawford sent Starling is because he's trying to get information on another serial killer, known as "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). He's killed several young women, and when the bodies are found, they're all missing large patches of skin. And Buffalo Bill is at it again, having kidnapped Caroline Martin (Brooke Smith). It's bad enough that there's a serial killer on the loose, but this time he's gone and kidnapped the daughter of a sitting Senator, Ruth Martin (Diane Baker).

Crawford comes up with a bold gambit, but one that ultimately backfires. Lecter unsurprisingly hates being not just in a cell, but one that's underground and offers no natural light, so Crawford claims the Senator has agreed to a deal to let Lector be kept in a prison on an island where the US military has done animal testing. However, the head of the facility, Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald), has it in for Crawford and wants personal glory, so he scuppers the deal and gets Lecter sent to Sen. Martin's home state of Tennessee.

Dr. Chilton being an officious jerk, his scheme fairly quickly goes awry, leading Lecter to escape while Starling and Crawford are in different parts of the country still trying to find Buffalo Bill. No spoilers; I won't give the rest away.

The Silence of the Lambs is well-known for having swept the Oscars, a fact which, after watching, somewhat surprises me. Not that the movie isn't good enough or not Oscar-worthy, but because it's a genre of movie that I wouldn't have expected the Academy to like. Foster and Hopkins are both excellent in their roles, although I was surprised that Hopkins' role seemed relatively smaller than I would have expected.

I can enthusiatically recommend The Silence of the Lambs, which you can find in several DVD and Blu-ray releases as well as various streaming services.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Honey Pot


Another of the movies that I recently watched to get off of my DVR is The Honey Pot, which is available on DVD courtesy of MGM/UA's MOD scheme.

Rex Harrison plays Cecil Fox, a wealthy man living in Venice, Italy, watching a staging of the early 17th century Ben Jonson play Volpone. Fox goes back to his palatial villa, where he meets with William McFly (Cliff Robertson). McFly is responding to an ad Fox put out looking for a personal secretary, although McFly realizes something is up and that Fox doesn't really want a secretary, but some other sort of help.

McFly would be right. Fox had relationships with a couple of women in his life that went sour, and he's looking to get back at them by playing an elaborate practical joke on them. Fox is going to tell them he's dying, and that they need to come to Venice for the reading of the will when he dies, at which point they'll find he's left everything to McFly. Except of course that he won't actually be dead, if any of this makes sense.

As for the women, there's French Princess Dominique (Capucine), now married to another man; fading actress Merle McGill (Edie Adams); and Texan business magnate Sheridan (Susan Hayward), a hypochondriac traveling with her personal nurse Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith). Sheridan, being a hypochondriac herself, immediately takes it upon herself to arrange medical care for Fox in a hospital, even though he doesn't need it since he's not dying. He refuses for the understandable reason, and it's revealed that if power of attorney were a thing in 1960s Italy, Sheridan would have it as she could be considered Fox's common-law wife.

But a strange thing happens. Sheridan is found in her bed the next morning, quite dead. Sarah suspects murder largely because, knowing about her employer's hypochondria, Sarah always had a bottle of placebo sleeping pills nearby. There's no way she would have overdosed them. Sarah also suspects things are not quite on the level with Fox and McFly.

The Honey Pot is another of those movies that has a good premise but doesn't quite add up. I found myself thinking of another Harrison movie, A Flea in Her Ear. That one is set in belle époque Paris, and while this one is set in contemporary times, it has an old-fashioned feel in part because of the presence of the play Volpone and in part because it was released in a turbulent time when Hollywood was changing. The Honey Pot has a really hidebound feel to it.

It also doesn't help that there's a lot of the "comedy of lies" as I like to call it here, and that's something that's never been my cup of tea. Everybody comes across as mildly irritating as they're trying to put one over on one or another of the other characters. Still, the actors all do their best with the material they're given, and the movie is always nice to look at.

So you may want to give The Honey Pot a try yourself as you'll possibly have a rather better view of it than I do.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Blood Alley


Another recent DVR viewing for me was Blood Alley.

John Wayne plays Tom Wilder, a merchant marine captain who has been in a Communist Chinese prison for some time for reasons that don't quite make sense to me. Granted, the US and mainland China didn't have diplomatic relations at the time, but you think they would have deported him. At any rate, Tom isn't going to be in jail much longer as he's sprung by some mysterious Chinese villagers.

They have good reasons for breaking him out of jail, too. They hate the Communist government, and have decided that they're going to try to escape. Their audacious plan is to commandeer a boat and sail it all the way to Hong Kong! (I think Taiwan would have been nearer, so another odd plot point.) They need Tom because he's a ship's captain, which is the one thing they don't have in the village. And indeed, pretty much the entire village is going to try to escape.

They have everything else, from a family that has sided with the Communists, headed by Old Feng (Berry Kroeger), and another American: Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall), who stayed behind with her missionary doctor father after the Communist takeover because she was profoundly stupid. Dad isn't around because he was shanghaied into taking care of a bigwig in the nearest big city; if the bigwig dies, so will her Dad.

Eventually, the villagers are able to get that boat, but getting it to Hong Kong is going to be quite the feat. This is a river ferry, most definitely not designed for an ocean voyage because of how top-heavy it is. The boat is also overcrowded with people, and doesn't have enough food to begin with. Never mind that the Communists decide to poison the food supply since they don't want any of the non-Communists to escape. They even break out of the brig to attack Tom at one point.

And then there's Cathy, who's still stupid. She insists at one point on getting off the boat to go into town to see what happened to her father, even though we all know he's already dead. (Tom didn't have the heart to break the news to Cathy). She's so obnoxious that I would have given serious consideration to letting her strand herself on the mainland.

Blood Alley is a movie in a firm tradition of people trying to escape from various forms of totalitarianism. I know I've mentioned Escape from East Berlin and Man on a Tightrope from among those with people fleeing Communism; there's also The Mortal Storm for people escaping Nazism. So the premise of Blood Alley isn't all that bad.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves something to be desired. Unsurprisingly, there weren't enough Asian actors to give the big villager roles to, so the biggest ones go to Caucasians. In addition to the previously mentioned Kroeger, there's also Mike Mazurki as the muscle behind the escape, and Paul Fix (yes, Micah Torrance from The Rifleman) as the brains. Fix actually does a good job with a silly role. The big problem is that this particular escape is particularly unrealistic. That, and Lauren Bacall's character, who had to have known long before getting off the boat for the last time that she was never going to see her father again.

Still, despite all it's problems, you could find worse ways to spend two hours of your time than to watch Blood Alley if you want something you haven't seen before. But it's not something I'm going to look to rewatch. Blood Alley is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sorry, not my friend


One of the movies coming up on FXM that I haven't recommended before is My Friend Flicka, which will be on tomorrow at 1:30 PM.

Roddy McDowall plays Ken McLaughlin, somewhat irresponsible son of Wyoming rancher Robert (Preston Foster) and Nell (Rita Johnson). As a sign of Ken's irresponsibility, he's gotten ridiculously poor grades in school, as if there were something worse than an F. Robert specifically raises horses, breaking them for people to ride and then selling them off, so Ken would like one of the colts as his own. Fat chance, says Dad.

But Mom thinks perhaps having a colt to take care of will be a good thing for Ken, and she eventually gets her husband to reconsider. One of the problems, however, is that the current crop of horses seems to come from decidedly poor breeding stock. If they're not going to be very good for regular adults, how is a kid like Ken going to be able to handle one?

And to make things worse, Ken falls in love with a horse that's decidedly bad for him: Flicka, son of the wild Cigarette. Cigarette is so wild that when he is taken off into town, he bucks just as the truck is passing under the ranch's sign, hitting his head and killng himself. How can Flicka be broken with a blood line like that?

And she continues to be a problem. In the corral, she runs into the barbed wire, cutting herself. Ken, and Mom take care of the original injury, and Flicka's calmness during that action convinces Ken that Flicka can be tamed. But infection sets in, forcing Dad to consider the possibility of having Flicka put down by being shot, much like Old Yeller a dozen years later.

Frankly, I wouldn't have minded if My Friend Flicka had ended with the horse getting shot, which at least would have made an interesting end to the movie. But that's not what happens. Instead, we get a mawkish ending that caps off an obnoxiously treacly movie. Ken is irritating, and it's easy to see why Dad considers him irresponsible. But we're supposed to have sympathy with Ken. The color cinematography, with Wyoming shooting locations, is nice, but it can't save a terrible plot.

Perhaps, however, kids will like such simplistic stuff, so if you've got kids you may want to record this one and watch with them. The movie is out of print on DVD, so the FXM showing is about the only way you'll catch it.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Don't you cry for me

Another of the stars who got a day in this year's Summer Under the Stars is Dorothy McGuire. One of her films that I haven't blogged about before is Susan Slade, so I sat down to watch that one to do a post on it here.

McGuire is not Susan, but Susan's mother Leah; the part of Susan is played by up-and-comer Connie Stevens. Susan and Leah have been living in Chile's Atacama Desert for the past ten years together with the father in the family, Roger (Lloyd Nolan), who was a mining engineer for wealthy Stanton Corbett (Brian Aherne). They're about to go home to the California coast.

One thing Mom is especially worried about is how Susan is going to handle young men, since she didn't have much chance to deal with men of her social class what with her isolated upbringing in Chile. On the boat home, she meets Conn White (Grant Williams), who is the son of a wealthy man but who spends all his time being a mountaineer. Mom isn't so certain Conn is right for Susan, and is especially aghast when Susan comes back to their stateroom with smudged lipstick: obviously, she's been kissing, horror of horrors.

Back at home, we meet Corbett and his family, wife Marion (Natalie Schafer) and son Wells (Bert Convy), the latter being somebody all the old farts think would be perfect for Susan. The last member of the complicated relationships is Hoyt (Troy Donahue), a struggling writer whose father worked for Corbett but who was arrested for embezzlement and hanged himself in prison. Polite society shuns Hoyt, although Susan doesn't dislike him mostly because she's never been in polite society.

Still, Susan is waiting for Conn to return from his latest expedition, at which point she knows he's going to propose. The only problem is, he dies in a mountaineering accident on Mt. McKinley, which makes him rather unable to propose. Worse, he apparently knocked her up on the boat, which would explain that smudged lipstick. So Susan is pregnant out of wedlock, which would be an absolute scandal in her stratum of society.

So Mom and Dad get a brilliant idea. Dad, despite having foreshadowed that he's got a heart condition that could kill him, decides to take another engineering job in Guatemala. Mom and Susan will go along, which means Susan will be able to have the baby down there. Mom, meanwhile, has been dropping extremely unsubtle hints that she's pregnant. Not that she is; instead, she's going to act as though it's her baby when they get back from Guatemala, and nobody will know the difference.

But then Dad dies of a heart attack, leaving mother and daughter to return home alone. Well, with the baby, which Mom has increasingly decided is mine mine mine, and dammit Susan, I'm never going to let you have it! Susan, understandably, grows increasingly resentful.

Susan Slade is one of those lush potboilers that were quite common in the 50s and 60s, with upper class people going through all sorts of tribulations for us common people to point at and make fun of. Susan Slade does not disappoint in that manner. It's a mess at times, in no small part due to the acting of Donahue and Stevens, but it's never less than fun. As with All That Heaven Allows, there's some pretty blatant foreshadowing here. A real plus is the cinematography, helped out by being in the Big Sur area, making the movie look lovely even if the story is risible at times.

Susan Slade is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #272: Fantasy (TV edition)






This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV themed edition, with the theme being fantasy. I've said several times that I don't watch much episodic TV at all any more, so this one was a bit tough for me because I couldn't think of that many old shows that plausibly fit the theme. Thankfully there was one obvious choice, a second show with the word "Fantasy" in the title, and eventually I came up with a third that fits:



Fantasy Island (1977-1984). Ricardo Montalbán stars as Mr. Rourke, who ran a resort on an island where a series of wealthy celebrity guests could have their fantasies played out. He was helped by his diminutive friend Tattoo (Herve Villechaize), who left in the last season and was replaced by Christopher Hewitt.



Fantasy (1982). Short-lived NBC daytime show hosted by Peter Marshall and Leslie Uggams (remember her?) in which studio audience members had their dreams made reality with help from some stars of NBC series because they have to do that cross-promotion. Not quite as mawkish and manipulative as Queen for a Day.



Highway to Heaven (1984-1989). Michael Landon, together with his friend Victor French, play a pair of angels sent down from heaven to help a series of Z-listers and over-the-hill actors with their personal problems, with the people they help becoming better people in the process. Reminiscent of the later Touched by an Angel.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Live to Tell


I remember, when I was a teenager back in the 1980s, hearing Madonna's big hit "Live to Tell", and knowing that it came from a movie called At Close Range. I never got the chance to see the movie, but when DirecTV had a free preview of the Epix channels, they ran it. It's going to be on the main Epix channel again tomorrow afternoon at 6:00 PM.



(Madonna's music video for "Live to Tell". WARNING: some key plot points of the movie may be revealed.)

Sean Penn (who was married to Madonna at the time which is why her song wound up as the soundrack to the movie, heard mostly in an instrumental arrangement until the closing credits) plays Brad Whitewood Jr., a recent high school graduate in the more rural parts of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1978. He's a shiftless young man, not having much in the way of prospects and getting into all sorts of low-level trouble, such as shaking down a man who gypped his kid brother out of the $5 to buy a bottle of liquor.

Home life is a bit chaotic, living with his kid brother Tommy (Chris Penn), Grandma (the Penns' real-life mother Eileen Ryan) and mom Julie (Millie Perkins). Mom and Dad got divorced many years ago after Dad got sent to prison, and now Mom shacking up with a series of men, with Dad showing up once in a while to give Mom some money that's likely the product of yet another crime.

Brad Jr. gets into it with Mom's latest boyfriend, so he decides that since he's of age, he's going to go see Dad and perhaps live with Dad for a while. Mom hates the idea because she knows what Dad is really like. Dad, Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken), is the leader of a criminal gang that engages in all sorts of robberies, especially of farm equipment, and it's those robberies that got Dad in jail. But Dad seems to like his son, at least to the extent that he's trying to buy his kid's love and loyalty.

Meanwhile, that first time we saw Brad Jr., he was meeting 16-year-old Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson), and the two fall in love even though her parents hate the idea of the two seeing each other for fairly obvious reasons. Eventually Brad Jr. takes Terry to meet Dad, who isn't so sure of the relationship either, probably seeing Terry as a threat. Eventually, young Brad goes on a job with his father to see if he'd be willing to join the gang full time.

Brad Jr. decides against it, because things go wrong and Dad ends up having a man who could have been a witness. murdered Brad decides instead to start his own gang with his own friends and Tommy. They'd been getting into petty trouble as I mentioned, and being so young definitely aren't ready for the sorts of real crime that his father and the gang have been carrying out. Brad Jr. and friends get arrested.

That gives prosecutors an in to try to get at Brad Sr., whom they know full well is a really bad man but don't have enough evidence on to get him back in jail. Brad Sr. understands the danger, too, and when little Brad figures this out, sparks are going to fly.

The closing credits reveal that At Close Range is based on real people, but the names have been changed and some events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. It's an extremely disturbing story, reminding me in places of Badlands and in other places of Animal Kingdom. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken are both excellent, and I can't help but think it's the subject material of the movie that led to both of them getting ignored by the Academy come Oscar time.

The other acting is good too even if it's mostly in support of the two leads. Among them are a young Crispin Glover and a young Kiefer Sutherland as Brad Jr.'s friends. Another big plus is the cinematography and production design, which does a very good job of recreating lower class rural white America. (Tennessee is standing in for Pennsylvania, however.) Living in a declining town in the Catskills, having traveled around a lot of upstate New York, and through a good deal of northern New England during my time in college, I got to see a lot of the small town centers and outlying residences of the sort that are shown here, and it really brought back memories.

The one irony is with Madonna's song. The lyrics in some ways don't really fit the movie, largely because you've got a woman singing it in Madonna. "A man can tell a thousand lies/I've learned my lesson well" makes it sound like nobody's going to believe a woman who's been harmed by her boyfriend or husband, or something similar. But that's not exctly what the movie is about, since it's a father/son dynamic, no woman here. Of course, that's not really a problem with the movie itself, just something I noticed since I had heard the song so many times before seeing the movie.

At Close Range is out of print on DVD, which is a huge shame. Amazon Prime Video says it's leaving there in a couple of days, while Google Play doesn't say anything about if it's leaving there; I don't know about the rights issues for streaming video. Catch it while you can; I highly recommend At Close Range.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Along the Great Divide

Walter Brennan was one of the stars TCM spotlighted in this year's 31 Days of Summer. However, one of his movies that I recorded was actually run for a different star's day: Along the Great Divide, honoring Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas plays Len Merrick, a US Marshal out on his new assignment. He shows up just in time, as a bunch of cattlemen led by Ed Roden (Morris Ankrum) are about to lynch homesteader Pop Keith (that's Brennan), on the grounds that he rustled cattle and murdered Ed's son. Keith may well be guilty, but the marshal points out that this is for a court and jury to decide. As the marshal, it's his job to bring the accused into town for a trial.

However, it's going to be a difficult journey, as they're all out in a desert area relatively far away from the town and justice. More important, however, is that Roden and his son Dan (James Anderson) are pissed. They want "justice", which for them means hanging Keith right now. Since they can't really start the journey to town at night, Keith offers to let Merrick and his deputies stay at their place before heading off across the desert to town.

It's partly a ruse, of course; Pop has a daughter there in Ann (Virginia Mayo). If she can do anything about it, she's not about to let the marshal bring her dad into town. But of course there's also Roden and his men, and she's not about to let them kill her father, either. It helps that she's at least halfway capable with a shot.

So, there's an uneasy alliance heading off across the desert, with the Keiths going only for their own survival against Roden's men. Eventually, they get ambushed by the Rodens, but they're able to take Dan hostage, making Ed withdraw until the party gets to town -- if they can.

At this point, the movie turns from more action to more of a psychological drama. In the ambush, the marshal and his party lost their water packs that the spare horse was carrying, so there's a darn good chance of running out of water. And now with one of the Rodens in the group, there's even more people working against the marshal.

Along the Great Divide is a pretty good movie that probably would have benefited from Technicolor photography. I'm not certain if Douglas had done any westerns before this one, but he already shows an adeptness for the genre. Mayo, as with almost all Hollywood star actresses, still looks a bit too glamorous for the harsh west, but this isn't her fault. Brennan is an actor I generally find irritating, but at least here that character trait is a plot point as he's deliberately wheedling the marshal, something that's understandable since Pop doesn't want to have to face justice (which he expects to be a miscarriage of justice anyway).

Along the Great Divide is availalbe on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, and is one that I think western fans will really like.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Sid Haig, 1939-2019



Sid Haig (the bald one) in Coffy

I should probably mention the death of Sid Haig. He had memorable roles in cult films, and bit parts in several more serious movies. Haig died on Saturday at the age of 80.

I have to admit that I didn't know much about Haig until TCM started running the Underground block. The original iteration of Underground was hosted by Rob Zombie, and Haig worked with Zombie on several movies playing Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses. One of the promos for Underground talked about things like the blaxploitation movies and used Haig as one of the talking heads. So I wound up noticing Haig in films such as Coffy and Foxy Brown.

Haid did a lot of work in episodic TV, and had bit parts in movies a lot more prestigious than anything that would show up in Underground, such as Point Blank, Diamonds are Forever, or Emperor of the North.

Cinemability

I probably should have mentioned first thing this morning that another of the TCM spotlights is coming up starting tonight in prime time. This time, it's called "Cinenmability", about Hollywood's portrayal of the disabled. I could swear TCM did a month-long spotlight on the same topic near the end of the annual series of spotlights looking at different minority groups. At any rate, this spotlight is two nights, tonight and next Monday, kicking off at 8:00 PM with a documentary called Cinemability: The Art of Inclusion, which will be repeated next Monday.

The documentary's director, Jenni Gold, will be presenting the series, I believe with Ben Mankiewicz although TCM's article on the spotlight doesn't say this. For whatever reason, a disproportionate number of the movies have deaf people as the subject, those being Johnny Belinda overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning) at 3:00 AM, and two next week, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Children of a Lesser God.

Two movies: The Unknown at 4:45 AM tomorrow and The Best Years of Our Lives next week deal with amputees. The other movies are Freaks, tonight at 10:00 PM; Bride of Frankenstein at 11:15 PM; and The Hunchback of Notre Dame overnight at 12:45 AM (so still Monday night in the more westerly time zones). There don't seem to be any blind people or wheelchair bound, which surprises me.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Marooned

I don't normally like to recommend movies that are only available via streaming, but with how little space I've got on my DVR, I kind of have to. This time out, that movie is Marooned, which is available on Amazon and Google Play among others.

The movie starts off with little establishing action, showing the launch of an Apollo mission, but not one to the moon. This one is taking three astronauts: Pruett (Richard Crenna), Lloyd (Gene Hackman), and Stone (James Franciscus) to an orbiting space station where they're going to spend seven months to observe the effects of long-term space travel on humans, in preparation for the interplanetary space voyages that are supposedly going to become common (the movie was released at the end of 1969, before we knew what was going to happen to the space program). Five months into the mission, however, the folks back down on earth are seeing all sorts of mental issues with the astronauts, so it's decided to end the mission early and bring them home.

The astronauts get into the space capsule to go home, which requires firing the retrorockets. They flip the switch and... nothing happens. So, they try again, and... still nothing happens. This is a serious problem. In theory, the capsule could orbit the earth for decades, even without fuel to adjust the orbit, until the orbit degrades enough for the capsule to burn up in the atmosphere. Of course, the astronauts don't have food for decades, and far more importantly, they don't have oxygen for very long. At the current rate of usage, there's about 42 hours left, after which the astronauts would suffocate to death.

Charles Keith (Gregory Peck) is the commander of the mission back at NASA in Houston. He's got a lot to deal with in addition to the problem up in space. The three astronauts all have wives who know even if they don't want to admit it publicly that their husbands are probably going to die up in space. There's also all the media asking uncomfortable questions since NASA doesn't exactly want to be completely candid about the problems with the mission. And there's still the question of what to do.

Keith's underling, Ted Dougherty (David Janssen), has a daring idea. Apparently the Air Force has come up with an experimental rocket that is more maneuverable. Since the situation is desperate, why not send that up into space and rescue the stranded astronauts? Keith nixes the idea at first, probably because he doesn't want more people to die. But eventually he relents, and preparations are made.

But there are more complications, both on earth and up in space. The astronauts, in looking down at earth, saw the formation of a hurricane before anybody else, these being the days before satellite weather imagery became commonplace. Originally it looked as though the hurricane was going to go out to sea, but it winds up heading straight for Cape Canaveral! Further, the three astronauts up in space are getting antsy and rebelling to the extent they can. Finally, calculations are made that there might be enough oxygen left for two men, but not for three....

I really enjoyed Marooned. It's a gripping, simple story, made before the Apollo 13 mission even happened. The idea of a rescue mission is a bit unrealistic, but it's also not the sort of thing that's so ridiculous that you can't suspend disbelief. One thing that I really liked is that the story doesn't really get sidetracked by any of the characters having back stories. The wives (played by Lee Grant, Mariette Hartley, and Nancy Kovack) are there for the matter-of-fact reason that this was the practice. Nobody's really trying to overcome personal demons or such stuff.

Much is made of the special effects, which won an Oscar, and it's right to mention them. For the most part they seem quite good. The capsule is pretty claustrophobic, and the zero-gravity looks fairly realistic. The one quibble I had was with some of the matte shots of the earth in the background behind the space capsule. It took me a while to figure out where over the earth the capsule was at first, in part because the rendition of the Iberian and Italian peninsulas was rather inaccurate. For everything they did with the other effects, you'd think they would have noticed that. But that's also the sort of stuff I'm normally nitpicky about.

The minor quibble is nowhere near enough for me to give anything less than a high recommendation to Marooned, which I think still holds up well 50 years later. It's also one that really deserves to be on DVD.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

People Should Shut Up


Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, FXM is running People Will Talk.

The movie starts off with Dr. Elwell (Hume Cronyn), a professor at a university teaching medicine, talking to an older lady sent to him by a private investigator. Elwell seems to be trying to get some sort of dirt on one of his colleagues, Dr. Pretorius (Cary Grant), and this woman used to know Pretorius when he was practicing medicine in a small town in the southern part of the state ages ago.

As for Dr. Pretorius, he's lecturing to what is supposed to be Elwell's class, when one of the students, Deborah Higgins (Jeanne Crain), faints. After some discussion, Pretorius takes Higgins to his private hospital, where tests are run to determine that Higgins is pregnant (and that word is actually used in the movie)! Higgins is unmarried and the father of the child is not in the picture and probably a one-night stand, so she tries to kill herself.

Pretorius decides that the best thing to do for Higgins is to marry her, which seems like a rather severe violation of ethics since she's one of the students at the same university where he teaches. But this isn't why Elwell is going after Pretorius. Instead, Elwell seems worried that Pretorius is bringing disrepute on the medical profession through supposedly unorthodox practices. More worrying to Elwell is the presence of Pretorius' mysterious factotum, Mr. Shunderson (Finlay Currie), who has a past that's finally explained at a professional ethics hearing.

People Will Talk is a movie that has a lot going on, and frankly I thought that it didn't handle the clash of styles particularly well. There's no good reason given for Elwell's zeal in going after Pretorius; Shunderson's back story is unrealistic; and the Higgins plot line isn't really resolved. In addition to all of these subplot, there's a fourth involving Pretorius being the conductor of the "student" orchestra whch inexplicably also has a professor on it in the form of Barker (Walter Slezak), who seems there more for comic relief. Cary Grant is either miscast or misdirected, too.

Still, some of you will probably like People Will Talk, so check it out. It doesn't seem to be in print on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Le mépris

There are a fair number of people out there who have this idea of foreign films as being pretentious arthouse stuff. Part of the reason for this is that there are actually a fair number of foreign films treated as all-time classics that are really not a good pick to start watching foreign movies with. A good example of this is Contempt.

Jack Palance plays Jeremy Prokosch, an American producer working in Rome on a new production of Homer's Odyssey, to be directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself). He's having trouble, so he's looking to hire a script doctor in the form of Frenchman Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli). So Paul's wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) has sort of put her own life on hold to be with Paul in Rome.

After watching some rushes, Jeremy plans to go back to his villa, offering Paul and Camille a ride in his convertible. Paul doesn't say much, basically allowing Camille to get in the car alone with Jeremy. She resents this greatly, thinking that Jeremy is trying to seduce her and that Paul is letting her probably to get a better deal on the script. So later in the day when Camille returns to her and Paul's apartment, the two of them get in a big argument about it and a bunch of other philosophical stuff.

They argue for what seems an interminable length of time, pretty much lasting the rest of the movie even though it's not all at their apartment. They go out to see a crappy stage show, and Jeremy invites them to Capri where he and Fritz are going to be doing some of the filming. The philosophical discussion also continues among the men, with Jeremy's real belief that Ulysses spent a decade on the odyssey mostly because he didn't want to go home to Penelope. Paul agrees, but Fritz doesn't. Paul, meanwhile, gets the impression that his own life is beginning to go like Ulysses'.

There's a lot of talking going on in Contempt, and frankly, I found it tedious, especially the argument at the apartment between Paul and Camille. I also really hated the ending, which I won't spoil. The one positive of the film was the cinematography. This looked like a restored print, as the color was eye-popping and the scenery of Capri was absolutely gorgeous. But that's not enough for me to save the rest of the movie.

Amazon is offering a Blu-ray of Contempt, so you can watch and judge for yourself. Oddly enough, the TCM Shop doesn't seem to have the movie available.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #271: Break-Ups





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 Break-Ups. It's going to be a little harder for me than I would otherwise have thought, if only because I used a couple of movies about marriages breaking up -- if only inadvertently -- in the Thursday Movie Picks on romantic comedies back in February. But in the end, I was able to find three movies that fit the theme:



Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Meryl Streep walks out on Dustin Hoffman, leaving him to take care of their son alone. After a while, Streep returns, thinking she deserves custody of the child just because she's a woman, even though Hoffman hasn't been doing that bad a job of parenting.



The Marrying Kind (1952). Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray play a couple who show up at divorce court at each other's throats. The judge (Madge Kennedy), rather than going through the actual trial, decides to find out why they're getting a divorce. Cut to a flashback which shows the couple meeting, marrying, struggling to get ahead in life, and then losing their young child in a tragic accident. Ray and Holliday are both excellent here.



All Mine to Give (1957). Instead of a marriage breaking up, I decided to have the final film being about a family breaking up. Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns play a couple of Scottish immigrants in mid-19th century Wisconsin. They raise a family, but then Mom dies, followed some time later by Dad. The eldest kid can't take over parenting duties all by himself, so he has to find homes for his younger siblings. On Christmas Eve. Yeah it's a tear-jerker.

Schedule notice for September 19-20, 2019


TCM is showing several pre-Codes this morning and afternoon. I've blogged about a number of them before, although the TCM site suggests a couple of them are now out of print on DVD. One that I haven't mentioned before, I don't think, is The Match King at 8:15 AM, which is loosely based on the story of Ivar Kreuger.

Also worth watching again is the George Arliss movie A Successful Calamity at 12:30 PM, which I used in a Thursday Movie Picks post almost exactly two years ago. A couple of months later, I used The Purchase Price (9:45 AM), a Barbara Stanwyck movie in whch she escapes from an abusive boyfriend and winds up marrying North Dakota farmer George Brent.

Tomorrow's lineup on TCM is a bunch of 60s spy movies, following the night of James Bond films. I've mentioned The Liquidator before; that one comes up at 9:30 AM and is certainly worth a watch. Not a spy movie, but definitely worth a watch, is the short The Your Name Here Story (about 1:10 PM in the time slot for the Montgomery Clift movie The Defector). This one is a spoof of industrial promotional movies, and happens to be on Youtube:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Signpost to Murder


Many years back, I watched a movie that had a very distinctive water wheel in it, but in more recent years I had forgotten the title, forcing me to look it up with IMDb's keyword search. It turned out the movie in question was Signpost to Murder. It was on TCM again recently, so I watched it to do a post on here.

Stuart Whitman plays Alex Forrester, who is locked up in a criminal insane asylum in a small English town, and has been for the last five years after murder his wife and kids. He thinks he's finally sane enough to be released, although that's going to be difficult, despite some support from the psychiatrist managing his case, Dr. Fleming (Edward Mulhare).

Unsurprisingly, at the competency hearing, Alex's application is turned down, leaving him wondering what to do next. That is, until Dr. Fleming rather stupidly drops a hint that the laws on criminal insanity in the UK have only been haphazardly updated, such that there's still a Victorian-era provision on the books that if someone escapes from the insane asylum and isn't caught for fourteen days, that person by law has the right to another competency hearing. So of course you know Alex is going to start thinking about escaping.

That night, he conks Fleming over the head and takes Fleming's coat, helping him to escape into the woods around the asylum. Except that in his haste to run to freedom, he accidentally runs into a branch, temporarily dazing him and giving a convenient excuse for him to not be certain if he really remembered something later in the movie. After a fair amount of running, he winds up at this isolated house with the water wheel, although why it's attached to a residential building I don't know.

Alex breaks into the house, and it turns out that there's currently only one occupant, Mrs. Molly Thomas (Joanne Woodward). Her husband goes on frequent business trips to the Continent as a diamond dealer, and he's away right now, although he's supposed to be back later in the evening. It's a bit of serendipity for Alex, who takes Molly hostage.

The hostage situation that would give rise to the term "Stockholm Syndrome" wouldn't occur for another decade, but Molly seems to begin to develop a bit of a relationship with Alex as the night goes on. In any case, it's clear that her marriage isn't all that it's cracked up to be, once she calls the airport and finds that there was no plane at the time she said her husband was supposed to be arriving.

Perhaps he took an earlier plane, but that would be just as worrying, since then he should be at the house by now. Things take a much more alarming turn when Alex sees a dead body on the water wheel, slashed across the throat just like he had done to his wife all those years ago. And it was supposedly the habit of Molly's husband to take the same lonely forest path back home that Alex was running on, so perhaps that could be Molly's husband and Alex killed him? Not that Molly saw the body, and she naturally begins to wonder whether Alex really is still insane.

Signpost to Murder is an interesting little programmer. It's got a surprisingly star-powered cast for a 1960s movie that runs a little under 80 minutes. Having been made in England, I'm wondering whether MGM had funds they had to use in the UK, or whether Woodward followed her husband over to Europe when he made Lady L and spent her time making this little film instead. The movie is based on a stage play, and the scenes at the house with the water wheel strongly imply that. However, the asylum scenes and some other stuff in town do open up the movie fairly well.

Unsurprisingly, Whitman is good here, although underrated as always. Woodward is good as well, and the supporting cast of British actors make Signpost to Murder a fairly good movie that's well worth a watch. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Old Fashioned Way


Some time back I picked up a box set of W.C. Fields movies. One that I hadn't heard of before buying the set is The Old Fashioned Way.

Fields plays The Great McGonigle, the head of a traveling troupe of actors at the turn of the last century. (Any similarity to The Dresser ends right there.) McGonigle is a bit dishonest, although that's in part because the theater managers weren't always scrupulous either. McGonigle is trying to get out of town not having paid room and board, and the landlady has gotten a sheriff to look for McGonigle as he boards the train. McGonigle burns the summons he's about to be served with his cigar as the sheriff has his head turned the other way.

Eventually the troupe gets to their next stop, where they're going to be putting on a temperance play called The Drunkard. But there are problems. In addition to trying to get the money to put on the play, they're also short one cast member. However, a college boy, Wally Livingston (Joe Morrison), wants to be an actor, so he's willing to accept a tryout. Wally also falls in love with McGonigle's daughter Betty (Judith Allen). But neither Betty nor Wally's father thinks marrying into an acting troupe is a good idea.

There's also Mrs. Pepperday (Jan Duggan), whom McGonigle is trying to get the money from. She has no talent, being able neither to sing nor dance, but is insisting on getting a part in the play. She's also got an infant grandson who makes McGonigle's life hell over lunch.

Eventually the show gets put on, and it's interesting for audiences of today to see such a hoary old production. But there's an encore after the play that's even better: Fields comes back out and does some his old vaudeville stuff, juggling balls, followed by manipulating cigar boxes, the latter of which is really a sight to see.

There's not all that much to the plot of The Old Fashioned Way; like a lot of Fields' work it seems more a hook on which to hang a bunch of sketches than a fully coherent plot. But it all works more or less, and the vaudeville act at the end is worth the price of admission.

The box set as a whole is cheap, so even if you don't like this one, it's not as if you're out very much. But I can certainly recommend it more than some of the other Fields movies in the set.

Monday, September 16, 2019

None But the Brave


I mentioned a week or two ago that I had happened inadvertently to watch several movies set in World War II in short order. One of them was None But the Brave, which I have on DVD as part of a five-film box set of Frank Sinatra movies.

The first thing I noticed was in the opening titles:



My first thought was that the box set must have been produced for the Asian market and that Amazon was selling it on the gray market or something, but a look at IMDb revealed that the movie was a co-production between Warner Bros. (via Frank Sinatra's production company) and Japan's Toho Film:



The movie starts off with the Japanese point of view, narrated by Lt. Kuroki (Tatsuya Mihashi). A bunch of Japanese soldiers are on an isolated island in the South Pacific, abandoned because they have no radio contact with Japan, so they try to build a boat to get off the island. As with Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, though, the war is about to come back to them in the form of an American transport plane that's stricken and forced to crash land, which it does right on their island. The pilot, Capt. Bourke (Clint Walker) tries to keep command of the Marines he's been piloting, as well as a medic, Mate (Frank Sinatra).

However, Bourke and the Marines are about to encounter a bunch of problems, since there are all those Japanese on the island. Lt. Blair (Tommy Sands) wants to attack, and do so in a way that's liable to get them all killed -- and Bourke knows it as does Mate. Eventually, the Americans and Japanese encounter each other, and fighting does break out.

But Lt. Kuroki isn't too thrilled by the prospect. He wasn't a particular fan of war to begin with, since he tends to believing it's futile. But trying to fight the Americans now is going to kill everybody on both sides. More pressing is that the Americans have a medic -- and the stranded Japanese don't. And Kuroki has a man with gangrene that absolutely has to be treated. So the two sides arrange a truce for the time being, so that Mate can treat the Japanese soldier, and all of them can focus on survival. The truce should only end when one or the other country's external forces show up to re-take the island, at which point both groups on the island should feel honor bound to fight with valor.

Not that Lt. Blair likes it, but Bourke isn't about to let Blair scupper things. Slowly, the two sides begin to learn to respect each other, knowing however, that the time is going to come when their little respite from the war is going to be broken from outside.

None But the Brave is a really interesting little movie, showing the war in a way Hollywood hadn't done much up to this point. That's partly because of the co-production, I think. In any case, I think it's greatly to the movie's benefit. Frank Sinatra directed, the only time he did so. He's not terrible as a director, but I think there's a reason that he didn't keep directing. He's also not helped by a shrill and obnoxious performance out of Sands. I don't know if Sands was that incompetent of an actor or Sinatra didn't know how to get a better performance out of him.

Despite the movie's flaws, None But the Brave is definitely worth a watch because of the much more human perspective on the Japanese soldiers.