Sunday, June 20, 2021

Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man

Another of the movies that's been back in the FXM rotation over the past couple of months is Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man. It's going to be on FXM again, tomorrow (June 21) at 6:00 AM, so I'm mentioning it now.

As you can probably guess from the title, the movie is based on works by writer Ernest Hemingway. Specifically, it's the Nick Adams stories, which I don't think I've actually read although as I understand it they're loosely based on some of Hemingway's own experiences. After all, they always tell starting writers to write what you know about. Nick Adams (Richard Beymer) is a young man of about 20 circa 1916 living with his parents, Dr. Henry (Arthur Kennedy) and Helen (Jessica Tandy) in a small town in northern Michigan. Mom runs the family and is frankly dominating, trying to force Nick into a marriage to nice local girl Carolyn (Diane Baker) and henpecking Dad. Nick has had enough of it, so after a bender one night with his friend George (Michael J. Pollard), he decides he's going to run off and grow up.

Nick tries to ride the rails, but gets knocked off by another man, ending up in the countryside where he makes the acquaintance of a man nicknamed the Battler (Paul Newman). The Battler was a boxer back in the day, but as with Anthony Quinn's character in Requiem for a Heavyweight, he's obviously taken a few punches too many and isn't good for anything. The Battler has a trainer in the form of Bugs (Juano Hernandez). Unfortunately, while Bugs doesn't dislike Nick, he realizes that the Battler needs to be kept away from everybody, so Bugs ultimately sends Nick on his way.

Nick ends up in another small town where he meets the chronically drunk Billy Campbell (Dan Dailey). Billy's job is to put up posters advertising the burlesque show run by Mr. Turner (Fred Clark), only to leave for the next town before Turner shows up to find Billy drunk and try to get Billy into rehab (or "taking the cure", as they called it back in the day). Ultimately neither Billy nor Turner is ultimately a bad person, but they're just incompatible and Billy really doesn't want to deal with his boss' hectoring him about his drinking. Billy and Nick sleep in late one day, not getting out of town before Turner shows up.

Since Nick hasn't been able to do much in life so far, he thinks about giving up, wiring Dad for the money for a ticket home (James Dunn plays the telegrapher). But just before the telegraph gets sent, Nick decides that no, he doesn't want to go home, and goes to New York City, where he thinks he can get a job writing for a newspaper even though he's never done this before. The editor tells him to come back when he gets experience. He then does some odd jobs, ultimately working as a busboy/waiter who is serving an Italian-American effort to raise money for the war effort in Italy, the Great War going on and the US not yet being involved in the war.

Nick signs up to become an ambulance driver in Italy, even though again he's got no experience and can't speak a word of Italian, qualities which understandably vex his commanding officer, Maj. Padula (Ricardo Montalban). Nick gets paired with another American, John (Eli Wallach), and actually does a fairly good job as an ambulance driver. But a bombing campaign leaves him badly injured and sent to a hospital in Verona, where he meets Rossana (Susan Strasberg), a nurse who takes care of him and with whom he falls in love.

Some people are going to like Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man, but I had three substantial problems with it. First off was the episodic nature of the story, although that's the smallest of the problems. There are a lot of people in the movie, but for the most part they come and go and you can't really get that invested in them. Secondly, the movie runs at a very leisurely pace, ultimately lasting 145 minutes. Boy does it feel slow at times.

But the biggest problem was with the casting of Richard Beymer as Nick Adams. To me he just didn't have the charisma to pull off the role. Most of the supporting players do well with their roles, drawing an even sharper contrast with the bland Beymer just walking through his part.

I'm not certain whether fans of Hemingway will enjoy seeing the Nick Adams stories put on film, or feel that Hemingway has been butchered and dislike the movie as a result. In either case, watch and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Walk the Proud Land

I hadn't intended to blog about two westerns back to back, but I noticed yesterday evening that a movie sitting on my DVR, Walk the Proud Land is coming up on StarzEncore Westerns tomorrow at 2:43 PM. With that in mind, I watched it to do a review on today.

Audie Murphy stars as John Clum, a real person who would go on to be mayor of Tombstone, AZ at the time of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. But this movie is set several years earlier, in 1874, when Clum first shows up in the Arizona Territory to be an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the San Carlos Reservation for Apaches. It's a difficult job, in part because the restive Apaches under chief Eskiminzin (Robert Warwick) and rebellious Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) don't care for the white man or their agents, and in part because the Cavalry only supports force. Clum has a more humanistic attitude toward the Apache.

At the reservation, Clum meets Tianay (a hilariously miscast Anne Bancroft), an Apache widow who is attached to Clum's residents and acts as a sort of wife-in-waiting even though Clum has a fiancée in Mary (Pat Crowley). Boy isn't Mary going to be surprised when she gets out to the reservation and finds Tianay and a husband who can't quite satisfactorily explain how Apache culture led to his and Tianay's relationship.

In any case, as I said earlier, Clum wants to treat the Apache with more dignity, although it's going to require some work on their part as attacking the whites creates obvious problems. Not all of the provisions Clum orders are reaching the reservation, and the Apaches say that they would be just as comforable hunting for their meat, leading Clum to request that the Apaches be armed. If you've seen enough westerns, you'll know that the Cavalry is alarmed by this, but Clum gets his way. He even gets the Apache to have some autonomy on the reservation, setting up a sort of police force and parallel justice system that will enforce the laws on the reservation, which causes problems when a couple of white hunters get caught hunting on Apache land.

Clum's actions do win sume grudging respect for the Apache on the part of the cavalry, and some respect for him personally from Eskiminzin. But Geronimo still isn't happy, and plans a revolt with the guns that they've gotten from Clum. Clum and the tribal police force have to go round up Geronimo or face being killed....

Audie Murphy wasn't a bad actor, but as with Elvis Presley in the 1960s, Murphy get typecast by the studio and never really given a chance to show his range. Walk the Proud Land is interesting in that Murphy isn't quite playing the sort of Old West action hero that he would in a lot of the other westerns. Murphy does a good job here. The less said about Bancroft, the better.

Having read a little more about Clum, I get the impression that Walk the Proud Land has a lot of the same problems with reality that many Hollywood biopics have, having to fit a real person's story into the coventions of Hollywood, and even more so, western, storytelling. The romantic conflict is irritating, and the Apache dance sequence at Clum and Mary's wedding goes on too long. But overall, Walk the Proud Land is an interesting enough western.

Walk the Proud Land is available on DVD from a pricey Universal MOD disc.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Steel of Color

Not too long ago, I bought a Mill Creek box set of John Wayne movies. These are mostly B movies from his days on Poverty Row in between the failure of The Big Trail and his career boost in Stagecoach. Recently, I popped one of the DVDs into the DVD player and watched Blue Steel.

Wayne plays John Carruthers, who comes into a hotel in a small western town one night, and beds down in an alcove just off the lobby where nobody can see him. Following him in not too much later is the local sheriff, Jake Withers (Gabby Hayes, although he was not yet "Gabby" and just George Hayes). The sheriff has heard that the "Polka Dot Bandit" is around and might try to rob the safe, so the sheriff would like the room upstairs that has a knothole through which he can surreptitiously watch the lobby in the hopes of catching the Bandit.

Sure enough, the Bandit (Yakima Canutt, who obviously also handled stunts in the movie) shows up and commits the robbery, while the sheriff misses it. Carruthers, however, does see it and goes to look for evidence, at which point the sheriff comes out looking for the Bandit, and getting the understandable but mistaken notion that Carruthers is the Bandit.

In fact Carruthers is a US Marshal, also looking for the bandit. The Bandit, real name Dante, is working for a man named Malgrove (Edward Peil) who is one of the town's leading citizen. In fact, Malgrove wants to become the baron of the town. Apparently there's a rich seam of gold underneath the town, and Malgrove plans to drive off all the homesteaders by taking their money and provisions and having bandits rob any coach that tries to re-provision the town.

Dan Mason (Lafe McKee) operates the stagecoach, and has a lovely adult daughter Betty (Eleanor Hunt). Malgrove's men unfortunately kill Mr. Mason, but Carruthers figures out that Danti is the Polka Dot Bandit, and saves the day.

Blue Steel was a B movie from Poverty Row (IMDb says Monogram but the opening title says Lone Star), so don't expect a prestige picture here. Instead, with a brief running time of 54 minutes and change, anybody watching this knows they're getting a B movie with a simple story and characterizations. In that regard it succeeds just fine. Two dozen years later, this stuff would be fodder for one or another of the TV westerns. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anybody who wants to see what B westerns were all about will enjoy Blue Steel.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks #362: Natural Disasters

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. The theme this week is Natural Disasters, of which there are many. So I decided to do a mild theme-within-a-theme and pick three real-life disasters recreated on film:

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935). Preston Foster plays a previously pacificst blacksmith in Pompeii, embittered by his wife's death and resulting entry into the gladiatorial arena. His son (John Wood) went east to Judea, met Jesus, and returned to Pompeii the sort of pacifist Dad had been. The family conflict is about to take a back seat to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, however.... Basil Rathbone plays Pontius Pilate.

San Francisco (1936). In early 1906 San Francisco, Clark Gable runs a nightclub on San Francisco's Barbary Coast, falling in love with would-be opera singer Jeannette MacDonald. Spencer Tracy plays a priest who serves more or less as Gable's conscience. Of course, if you know your history, there's going to be a big earthquake in April 1906:

Wild River (1960). Montgomery Clift plays a man sent from Washington in the 1930s down to Tennessee to get the Tennessee Valley Authority dams built in order to mitigate flooding as well as electrify the region. One matriarch (Jo Van Fleet) doesn't want to sell out even though one of the dams will flood her land, as this is the only home she's ever known. Along the way, Clift falls in love with the matriarch's granddaughter (Lee Remick). The reason I'm including this one is because the film opens with actual documentary footage of a flood in Trumansburg, NY, in 1935. I don't think this is the actual footage used in the movie, but this was the best I could find on Youtube:

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Streetcar Named Desire

Another of the classic movies that I surprisingly haven't blogged about yet is A Streetcar Named Desire. (Well, maybe not that surprising considering that I'm not the biggest Tennessee Williams fan.) It got an airing on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar, so I recorded it then. It's going to be on again tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the Teacher Guest Programmer spotlight, so I watched it to do a post on here.

I assume a lot of people already know the story. Vivien Leigh plays Blanche Dubois, who always depends on the kindness of strangers (although, surprisingly, that line comes at the end of the movie and, I'm presuming, the end of the play too). She arrives at the train station and asks a stranger from the Navy how to get to a certain address where her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) lives, married to Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando). The stranger tells her to take the streetcar named "Desire", which is about the only time we see the titular streetcar.

Blanche arrives to find that Stella and Stanley are living in a crappy little ground-floor apartment with only two rooms; obviously, the couple isn't in a very good financial situation. Then again, Blanche isn't, either. She had been taking care of the family "estate", Belle Rive, up in Mississippi, but the place has been mortgaged to the hilt, necesitating Blanche's leaving to come to New Orleans. That, and she's left her job as a teacher for... reasons.

Stanley is a loud, brutish blowhard, and damn if he doesn't know that Louisiana is governed under a different legal structure from the rest of the United States, civil law based on the Napoleonic Code, with Stanley bringing up "the Napoleonic Code" as though it were a magic incantation. What belongs to a wife belongs to a husband, and somehow this should mean part of Belle Rive is his. He keeps claiming to know people who can fix this sort of stuff or something.

Stanley and the other guys play poker, with one of those guys being Mitch (Karl Malden). The guys can get loud, and Stanley can be nasty to both Stella and Blanche, leading Stella on occasion to hide out in the apartment one floor above theirs and Stanley to cry out "Stella!" much the same way Jerry Lewis would say "Hey Lady!" At any rate, Mitch has a sickly mother who's probably terminally ill, and Mitch thinks Mom wants him to be settled before she dies. So he's willing to settle with Blanche.

At least, that is, until he begins to learn a little bit more about Blanche. She'a an alcoholic, probably propositioned one of her students which led to her having to leave her teaching position, and is probably about as sane as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. When Mitch starts to put two and two together, he dumps Blanche because he actually has some sense. And despite Stanley's being a blowhard, he has some sense too, figuring out what she's really like. Eventually Blanche's close-up comes for her too, albeit in a different way.

You can tell I didn't have as high an opinion of A Streetcar Named Desire as other people are going to have. That's partly because, as I said at the top, I'm not a huge fan of Tennessee Williams or this sort of overheated Southern gothic in general. (Remember I didn't particularly care for Wise Blood either.) But it's also down to the fact that the characters are mostly loud, obnoxious, and unsympathetic. Maybe I should go a bit lighter on Mitch and Stella, but all of these are the sort of people you want to take and shake some sense into the way Bette Davis does to Miriam Hopkins at the end of Old Acquaintance.

Still, all the actors play the parts they're given well, and the movie is definitely atmospheric. So those of you who like Southern gothic will definitely like A Streetcar Named Desire. As always, watch and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Love Tunnel

Through an odd coincidence, I've been watching a bunch of movies from Columbia that are available on Columbia's MOD scheme. So in thinking about what to watch that isn't necessarily coming up soon, I looked through the films of March Star of the Month Doris Day. My first selection, oddly enough, was a Columbia movie, It Happened to Jane, so I'll save that one for later. Instead, I watched the MGM comedy The Tunnel of Love.

Doris Day plays Isolde Poole, a housewife living in Westport, CT with her cartoonist husband August (Richard Widmark), nicknamed Augie. She's been unable to have a baby, with the question of whether it's a medical issue on her or Augie's part being an open question. Meanwhile, the couple's neighbors and best friends, the Peppers (Gig Young and Elisabeth Fraser), already have three kids with a fourth on the way. There's theoretically some scope for tension between the couple, but this is a light comedy.

Isolde decides she's going to go to the Rockabye Adoption Agency, run by Miss McCracken (Elizabeth Wilson). There are a lot of couples who want a kid and not so many infants up for adoption, so it might be a wait. In he meantime, the agency sends a social worker, Estelle Novick (Gia Scala) to check on the Poole's situation as well as talk to references, which in this case means the Peppers.

Thanks to a series of misunderstandings of the sort you'd see on Three's Company 20 years later, Augie thinks he's bollixed the change for the couple to adopt. But Estelle comes back to give the couple a second chance, and Augie screws things up even more, taking Estelle to dinner, getting rip-roaring drunk, and waking up in a motel room the next afternoon.

Oh, and that's the half of his problems. Some months later, Miss Novick comes back for one last time, asking for a loan from Augie. Augie puts two and two together, and realizes that he must have knocked Estelle up on that night he got blackout drunk. He compounds his previous lies by cutting Estelle a check but not telling Isolde anything about it and making up a story with Mr. Pepper, who lies to his wife about it.

Amazingly, however, quite a few months later, or just about the time Estelle would put a baby up for adoption, the agency informs the Pooles that some sort of miracle has happened and the Pooles have been moved to the front of the line for adoption. The agency has a lovely boy for the Pooles to adopt, although technically they're just on trial for the first year. One minor problem is that everybody takes one look at the child and thinks he looks amazingly like Augie.

The Tunnel of Love is the sort of light comedy that most fans of Doris Day will probably like, but also the sort of thing that I have all sorts of problems with. That's mostly down to it being what I've always called a "comedy of lies", where a character has to make up a little white lie to get out of a situation, only for the lie to snowball and have to make bigger and bigger lies. When it's not a comedy, as with the recently recommended Quicksand, it can work. But for me, I've always found it grating. I also didn't like GIg Young in the supporting role, as his character was also written to be fairly obnoxious. I also wonder if any of that was down to Gene Kelly's direction. He should have stuck to choreographing musical numbers when behind the camera, I think.

Still, I know this is going to appeal to a certain segment of movie goers. I'm just not in that segment. So watch and judge for yourself.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Back on FXM, week of June 14-20, 2021

I've pointed out on a whole bunch of occasions that FXM, and the Fox Movie Channel before that, seem to have a small number of movies that run in a heavy rotation for a moderate period of time, only for some of them to get put back in the vault after several months and a few more to get the same treatment. Looking at the FXM schedule, it looks like we've got a new batch, as I see two movies tomorrow that I don't think I've seen in ages, and one that started showing up a couple of weeks back that I haven't mentioned yet:

The block starts off at 8:20 AM with Carmen Jones, which I first mentioned 12 years ago, although that was a TCM airing. Based on Bizet's opera Carmen but set in a wartime parachute factory, this one stars Dorothy Dandridge in the Carmen role and Harry Belafonte Jr. as her doomed lover.
That's followed at 10:10 AM by Violent Saturday, about a town where everybody seems to have some sort of scandalous secret in the closet, with the exception of three men who come to rob the town's bank, or Amish farmer(!) Ernest Borgnine. That's another one that I first mentioned almost a dozen years ago for a TCM airing.
Finally, at 11:45 AM, you can see The River's Edge. Theif Ray Milland cons Anthony Quinn into taking him across the border to Mexico, with Quinn's wife Debra Paget following along.

Later in the week, Snow White and the Three Stooges, which I don't recall if I've seen before, shows up at 7:30 AM Thursday (June 17), and Two for the Road is on at 4:00 AM Friday (June 18).

TCM's Norman Lloyd programming tribute

Norman Lloyd about to fall off the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942), 8:00 PM

Norman Lloyd died last month at the age of 106. TCM is finally getting around to its programming salute to the late actor, spending all of tonight's prime time lineup with Lloyd, four films and one interview:

Saboteur at 8:00 PM;
Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival: Norman Lloyd at 10:00 PM;
Limelight at 11:00 PM;
He Ran All the Way at 1:30 AM;
The Southerner at 3:00 AM;
and a reprise of the TCM Festival interview at 5:00 AM.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Quicksand

Unfortunately, quite a few of the B movies that I have on my DVR aren't available on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is why I haven't blogged about so many of them recently. I notice, however, that the last time I checked, Quicksand does in fact seem to be on DVD, so I watched that in order to do a blog post on here.

Mickey Rooney plays Dan Brady, who works as a mechanic for garage/used car dealer Mackey (Art Smith). It's not enough of a living, especially after having given the best years of his life serving in World War II. He doesn't have enough to support his old girlfriend Helen (Barbara Bates), but to make things worse, at a diner he meets vamp Vera Novak (Jeanne Cagney) behind the counter and Dan immediately falls for her, asking her out on a date.

For the date, he needs $20 that he doesn't have, being less than intelligent with his earnings. After trying to get the money legitimately from somebody who owes him $20 but can't pay it back until payday, Dan decides he's going to embezzle the $20 from the cash register he runs. Amazingly, Mackey doesn't check the register every day or at end of shift like happened to me when I was a cashier in one of my summer jobs, but only once a week when the bookkeeper comes in -- and that's after Dan's friend would pay him back.

Anyhow Vera talks to Dan on their date about a mink coat she dreams of getting, before introducing Dan to her former boss, penny arcade owner Nick Dramoshag (Peter Lorre). It's just the first sign that Vera is grasping and greedy, and somebody Dan should stay the hell away from. Worse for Dan, however, is that the bookkeper shows up to Mackey Motor Co. early in order to do some tax work for Mackey, and figures that since he's there, he might as well check the register.

This really sends Mackey into a downward spiral. First he comes up with the idea of buying something on the installment plan, and then pawning it so that he'll have the $20 to refill the register. But of course since there's a lien on the item he purchased, the lienholder is going to find out and come after Dan for the price of the object. So to get that, he's going to have to resort to one crime after another, until finally getting into an argument with Mackey over a car he stole and strangling Mackey in the process.

At this point things get really idiotic. Dan has to get away, hoping to get to Mexico, a place which isn't going to extradite him back to the US to face his crimes. But as he's about to drive away, who's in his car but Helen, still in love with him as ever. And when he tells her all the bad things he's done, she seems to accept it, since she's just so darn in love with him. Worse, when the car breaks down, Dan carjacks a man, and gets insanely lucky when it turns out the driver is a lawyer who would be willing to defend Dan at trial and get him the lowest possible sentence.

Quicksand isn't a bad movie, although it requires a pretty big suspension of disbelief. Thankfully, however, it's not too difficult to do that since the story is entertaining enough, and Rooney shows that he really was a capable actor when given deeper material and not just the lighter stuff MGM normally gave him. (Quicksand was a United Artists release, which might help explain why the movie has atypical material for Rooney.)

If you want something different, at least for Mickey Rooney, then Quicksand is certainly worth a watch.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Batman (1966)

Another of the movies that got put into the FXM rotation in the past few months is the 1966 version of Batman. It's on again tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM with a repeat at 1:10 PM, so I watched an earlier recording to do a blog post on here.

20th Century Fox, which at the time did not have a TV network although it did produce TV shows for the three existing networks, got the rights to develop a series based on the comic book, with one of the producers wanting to make a movie. But that would have been too expensive, so the TV series went forward. That turned out to be a massive hit in the winter of 1966, so hasty production plans were developed to make a movie based on the TV series for the summer of 1966; with most of the actors from the TV show reprising their roles in the movie.

Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) are the alter egos of Batman and Robin respectively; the superheroes learn about a Captain Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) whose yacht may be about to be waylaid, so they should go and protect him. In fact, he's already been kidnapped off his yacht and what Batman and Robin see is a holographic projection designed as a trap to kill them. They deduce out of thin air that this was a set-up by the United Underworld, four of Gotham City's biggest supervillains.

The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), who has put Schmidlapp into a submarine designed like Schmidlapp's below decks to fool him into thinking he hasn't been kidnapped, more or less leads the group, along with the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and the Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, taking Julie Newmar's role from the TV series). Schmidlapp has created some sort of dehydration device, and the United Underworld wants to kidnap the Security Council of the United World (they obviously couldn't use the term United Nations although the producers did get establishing shots of UN Headquarters) and dehydrate them to hold the world to ransom.

Batman and Robin have any number of (mis)adventures involving a bomb along with the Penguin disguising himself as Schmidlapp before figuring out that the real plot is to kidnap the Security Council and ultimately saving the day, not that we didn't know the good guys would win in the end.

The TV series was conceived to be campy and over the top, with the movie taking the same tack. There's a lot of faux-serious scientistic dialog that in fact makes no real sense, but that's part of the fun. We only get the fight scene with the silly superimposed interjections ("Biff!" "Kerplunk!" "Sploosh!" and so on) toward the end. But everything that viewers of the TV series would have seen is still there, which is probably all the moviegoers of the time wanted.

If you're looking for an intelligent story, then don't watch Batman. But then again, I don't think anybody would go into this version of the comic book hero expecting anything more than silly campy fun. In that regard, it succeeds wildly. And if silly summer fun is what you want, then Batman is absolutely worth the watch.