Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Airport '77

Some time back I bought the box set of the four Airport movies. Having done reviews of Airport and Airport '75, it's now time for the third movie in the series, Airport '77.

James Stewart plays Philip Stevens, an extremely wealthy businessman who is taking some of the fine art that he owns and has stored up north, and opening a museum down in Palm Beach, FL. Not only that, but he's inviting a galaxy of VIPs to the opening of the museum and flying both them and the artwork in on his lavishly appointed private 747. Christopher Lee plays businessman Martin Wallace, married to nasty Karen (Lee Grant); Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten are a pair of elegant passengers who last met in London in 1936; Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) is the pilot; and Eve (Brenda Vaccare) is his girlfriend.

Anyhow, with all those rich folks and artwork on the plane, you know it's going to attract people who want to steal the stuff. This time, there's an inside plot involving to co-pilot Chambers (Robert Foxworth). They install some anesthetic gas that they'll be able to run through the ventilation system (they, of course, will be wearing gas masks), knocking the passengers out, and enabling Chambers and his men to fly the plane to a small abandoned airfield in the Bahamas where the paintings will be unloaded.

Or, at least, that's the plan, and it's one that doesn't quite go the way the bad guys had it figured out. After knocking the passengers out, they have to fly low in order to evade radar detection, and when they get into a fog bank, they find an oil platform sticking up out of the ocean at a height where they could run into it. Ultimately, they clip a wing, and are unable to correct out of this, resulting in the plane crashing into the ocean and sinking to the bottom.

Thankfully for the passengers, the bottom isn't so deep that the water pressure would crush the fuselage. That's the one piece of good news they have when they wake up. Well, the other one is that the hijackers are either dead or severely injured so they don't have to worry about that. However, they do have to worry about the panicking passengers; the ticking time bomb of being underwater; and the fact that they're off course so rescue crews don't know where to look. To save the plane, Capt. Gallagher and scuba diver Wallace are going to have to get a dinghy with a rescue beacon to the surface.

Airport '77 is a worthy entry in the disaster genre. It's entertaining, if not particularly great. Still, seeing all the grand old stars together with some then-new ones is always fun. Stewart is underused and given a boring role, almost as if he came in for one or two days to film all of his scenes. Lemmon is surprisingly interesting in a sort of role he never really essayed before. De Havilland and Cotten are nice throwbacks, and Lee Grant is a hoot.

As for the plot, sure it's full of holes and unrealistic, but a movie like this you watch for the stars and the disaster, and in that regard both of them come through. I can certainly recommend Airport '77.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Nybyggarna

I can't believe it's been a year since I blogged about The Emigrants, the first film in Swedish director Jan Troell's two-movie story about a family of Swedes who, unable to make a living in Sweden, decide to emigrate to America circa 1850. I finally got around to watching the second film, The New Land, over the weekend.

The New Land begins pretty much where The Emigrants leaves off. Karl-Oskar Nilsson (Max von Sydow), patriarch of a family including his wife Kristina (Liv Ullmann), their children, and Karl-Oskar's brother Robert (Eddie Axberg), has just reached Minnesota (still a territory and on the frontier at the time) and selected the plot of land that he and his family are going to settle. They don't even have a real house, and have to build one as well as do a bunch of other things before winter sets in. Also, since they're on the frontier, they have to worry about the Sioux in whose area the incoming immigrants are settling.

Robert, meanwhile, is chafing under his older brother's presence. Robert wanted to make his own fortune in America, which is why he and his friend Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt) eventually decide to leave and head west to California where, as far as they know, there's abundant gold. Also leaving, but not quite so far away, is Kristina's friend, the former prostitute Ulrika (Monika Zetterlund), who has married -- horror of horrors! -- a Baptist minister. (Recall from the first movie that part of the reason they all left was because they practiced a sect of Lutheranism that wasn't quite in step with the official Swedish Church. But still, it was a hell of a lot closer than the Baptists!)

Time passes, and eventually Robert returns from California, bringing a bunch of paper currency and saying that Arvid stayed behind. Karl-Oskar isn't so sure, since he feels Robert has always been a teller of tall tales. Robert relates a story that may or may not be real in what plays out as an extended dream sequence.

Life continues to be difficult as the Civil War comes, although Karl-Oskar is to Kristina's great relief declared unfit for duty; Kristina grows increasingly homesick and then learns she can no longer have children or else it will kill her; and the Sioux start raiding, presumably figuring that with the Civil War on, there won't be as many soldiers to fight the Sioux. Of course, we can look to the America of today to see what happened with all these events in the grand sweep of history, but as to exactly how it affects the individual dramas, that you'll have to watch.

When I blogged about the The Emigrants, I felt (although I see I didn't quite say it) that the material would have worked better as a TV miniseries: the movie develops at an extremely leisurely pace. This is even more so for The New Land. To be honest, I think I would have looked for a way to edit out Robert's gold rush sequence, or at least handle it much differently, since it doesn't quite work as a dream sequence. Other than that, there's really nothing wrong with the material other than the pacing. Where The Emigrants was shown in a version dubbed into English (which as I understand it was the way the movie was originally shown in the US), The New Land was shown mostly in Swedish (when the emigrant characters talk to each other), with some scenes in English when the Swedes are dealing with people born in America.

The two movies have been released together to DVD and Blu-Ray on a pricey Criterion Collection set.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Operation Crossbow

One of the movies I watched off my DVR over the weekend was Operation Crossbow.

By 1943, Nazi Germany was losing World War II after defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad. Without the ability to win with conventional forces, they were going to have to turn to something unconventional, which would eventually be the V1 and V2 rockets. At the start of the movie, they're doing research at their facillity at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast, when British intelligence picks up aerial images of strange activity going on there.

British command back in London tries to figure out what's going on, but experts like Professor Lindemann (Trevor Howard) disagree with more political men like Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson) who wants to bomb Peenemünde. Eventually, Sandys' views prevail, and the British divert some bombing runs toward the facility at Peenemünde. It causes damage, but also causes another problem for Britain when the Nazis decide they're going to move as much of their research underground, and make mobile launching platforms for the V1 and V2.

The only way the British are going to be able to figure out what the Nazis are doing is to get first-hand information out of the Nazi facility, which is going to be difficult, since it's not as if the British can get a hold of anyone there what with the war going on. Instead, they're going to have to send in spies who can play the role of engineers, which considering that they need people with real scientific experience (otherwise their lack of knowledge will be discovered even more quickly than Paul Newman's in Torn Curtain) as well as a damn good command of the German language. Eventually, the British assign three men: Lt. Curtis (George Peppard), Capt. Bradley (Jeremy Kemp), and Henshaw (Tom Courtenay) to parachute into Belgium and from there, get themselves hired at the the Nazis' underground facility.

Now, in order to do all this, they have to take on the identities of real people from occupied countries who have died but whose deaths won't be noticed by the Nazis what with all the confusion going on. Since these are real people, that poses its own set of problems, starting when a woman (Sophia Loren) shows up at the hotel where Lt. Curtis is, and claims to be the wife of the man Curtis is impersonating. Henshaw's man, meanwhile, is wanted for murder in Germany.

Two of the men do get into the underground Nazi facility for the climax, although even then it's not so straightforward since one of them has to work as a janitor since his academic credentials aren't quite clear. But they're able to discover that the Nazis are trying to come up with a weapon that can reach New York (I don't know if the Nazis ever seriously tried that), forcing the British and Americans to act quickly.

Operation Crossbow is surprisingly subdued for a 1960s World War II movie. A lot of the movies in the genre have a lot more action, but this one is rather slower developing until the climax. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, just that it's different than what you might expect. Also, some of the characters have unexpected story arcs, which is actually a bit refreshing. There's a solid, if not great, movie lying beneath the surface of Operation Crossbow.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Guru (1969)

A movie FXM put in its rotation recently that I had never heard of is The Guru. It's going to be on FXM again tomorrow at 6:00 AM, and is on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

There's not all that much of a plot here. Michael York is Tom Pickle, a popular British singer who decides that he's going to go to India to study sitar under the great guru Ustal Khan (Utpal Dutt). Journalists in India aren't so sure that Tom gets the significance of the sitar to Indian traditional culture. And, to be honest, Tom seems to get the feeling that he's more there to learn how to play the sitar, and less for any sort of religious enlightenment.

Also there is Jenny (Rita Tushingham), who showed up in India and with guru Ustal specifically looking for enlightenment. She's taken with the guru, and he seems to be beginning to form an attachment with her. (One wonders how much these gurus ever took advantage of the people coming to "study" under them.) It's with that in mind that Ustal decides to take Jenny with him when Ustal goes to the holy city of Benares to visit his guru. Tom also goes along, and the experience changes both of them.

The Guru was an early film from the producer/director pairing of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, filmed on location in India; their frequent screenwriting collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is also the screenwriter on this one. It's those Indian settings that are the best thing about the movie, since the plot is badly dated and threadbare. I'd also say that it's at least moderately interesting for the look at the time and the era's odd idea that people would just go off to India to try to find enlightenment. The final point of interest is because it's early Merchant/Ivory.

FXM ran it in a 4:3 print which I would assume was panned and scanned, although I don't know what (if anything) it was panned and scanned from since I couldn't find the original aspect ratio on IMDb. I'd think that by the late 1960s, everything was in something wider than 4:3, but with low-budget movies in out of the way places (in cinema terms), one never knows.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Atlantic City is back on

Almost at the beginning of this blog, I watched the TCM premiere of Atlantic City, a movie that I wanted to do a full-length post on but didn't because it's out of print on DVD. It's still out of print, although you can apparently see it via Amazon's streaming service. Anyhow, it's also going to be on TCM again tonight, I think for the first time in 11 years, overnight at 2:00 AM.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie since the last TCM showing, so you're only going to get a briefer synopsis here. It's 1980 Atlantic City, NJ, so the era when the city was in decline and they were trying to use the casinos to bring it back to life. Burt Lancaster plays Lou, a former low-level gangster who has fallen on hard times, earning extra money as a sort of gigolo to an older lady. Across the way in his apartment building he can see Sally (Susan Sarandon), who is trying to improve her lot in life by learning how to be a blackjack dealer.

Sally's estranged boyfriend shows up, and he's learned of a drug-running scheme; more specifically, he's learned where a stash is going to be dropped for somebody to pick up. So he picks up the drugs himself and figures he'll make a killing dealing them. As we saw in Stakeout on Dope Street or even Wait Until Dark, that's a really brilliant idea. The higher-up bad guys come after Sally's boyfriend, putting Sally in danger. Lou realizes he's got a chance to help Sally, and relive some of his old glory.

I remember really enjoying the movie, so I'm happy to see it back on for everybody else to get a chance to catch it.

I wonder what Hitler's reaction will be

Bruno Ganz dies at 77



And then there's this other parody:



(Although, you have to have a good command of German to get it's a parody since otherwise you won't notices that the subtitles don't match what Ganz is saying.)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Two years before The Spoilers

One of my recent DVD purchases at amazon was this two-disc Marlene Dietrich set. This past weekend, I decided to watch a new-to-me movie off it, Seven Sinners.

Dietrich stars as Bijou, a nightclub singer who's been plying her trade in the islands of Southeast Asia. Based on the language used being American English, one might guess it's pre-war Philippines (which was an American territory at the time), although a shot of a map early on suggests she might have done some work in Dutch Indonesia or British Malaya. (Most other synopses claim it's the South Seas, which would make more sense if it weren't for that map.) Anyhow, her beauty cosistently causes the sailors to go riotously mad, something that the the authorities don't like for understandable reasons. So she's about to be deported from yet another island. She leaves with her two friends, dishonorably discharged US sailor Ned (a young Broderick Crawford), and magician/pickpocket Sasha (Mischa Auer). They're going to an island that Bijou has been to before, but the island is getting a new governor in Henderson (Samuel S. Hinds), so she figures she can go back there and fly under the radar as they say nowadays but didn't then since radar wasn't a thing.

Henderson has a lovely daughter Dorothy (Anna Lee) who is the romantic interest for a young navy lieutenant, Dan Brent (John Wayne). When Bijou gets off the boat, she runs into Brent, who understandably find his interest piqued because who wouldn't. All the other navy guys are even more interested. As for Bijou, she goes to the Seven Sinners club, where she worked in her previous stint. The club owner Tony (Billy Gilbert) is none too pleased because he's seen Bijou's reputation first hand. That, and he's got a new patron in Antro (Oskar Homolka) who has a predilection for throwing knives and who thinks he can keep Bijou for himself.

The rest of the plot is predictable. Brent falls fully in love with Bijou and intends to put his navy career in jeopardy in order to marry her, while she winds up in danger from Bijou, as does Brent, leading to the climactic fight scene. (You'd think the Navy would just declaer the Seven Sinners Club off-limits, as they did to various places in Sayonara, which would solve much of the navy's problems.)

Dietrich and Wayne have good chemistry in what was their first film together, and the film is moderately entertaining. But as I watched, I couldn't help but think of The Spoilers which they would make two years later. The characters and plot of Seven Sinners don't feel as fully fleshed out as in The Spoilers. Antro seems like he must have had more of a past with Bijou that isn't fully explained. That, and why he didn't get deported from the island for his criminal activities, since he seems to have an entire gang.

Still, I'd definitely recommend Seven Sinners. Especially on a moderately-priced box set. As for that set, it's got two movies on each disc, with no extras, but you get what you pay for. The image quality seemed OK, but I don't have a TV with high-enough resolution to notice mildly bad images. (It's nowhere near The Walls of Malapaga in terms of image quality, looking like it could air on TCM and not seem out of place.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #240: Romantic Comedies



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. Today happens to be Valentine's Day, so our fearless blogathon organizer came up with the brilliant idea of making this Thursday's theme be romantic comedies. There are a lot of those, so I decided to see if I could come up with a theme within a theme. After a bit of thought, I came up with three movies in which marriages are broken up, which doesn't seem like it's funny, but in these cases it is:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). Not to be confused with the spy versus spy movie from early this century, this one is a screwball comedy (more or less) directed by... Alfred Hitchcock? Apparently, he wanted to try something different, and took on the movie as a favor to Carole Lombard, who plays Mrs. Smith. Mr. Smith is Robert Montgomery. The couple learns that their marriage is in fact not valid due to a mix-up and Mr. Smith, having told his wife he'd do it all over again faced with the chance, in fact has to woo Mrs. Smith all over again. The second time around, it isn't as easy as the first.

We're Not Married! (1952). Yet another anthology movie from Fox, this one is about five different couples who got married by a justice of the peace (Victor Moore) who jumped the gun by performing marriages before his license went into effect on January 1. The idea that their marriages are not valid (as if nobody had ever heard of a common law marriage) does different things to the couples depending on how well their marriages are going. Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Mitzi Gaynor, and Zsa Zsa Gabor play the wives; their husbands are played by (in order) David Wayne, Fred Allen, Paul Douglas, Eddie Bracken, and Louis Calhern.

Let's Do It Again (1953). A remake of 1937's The Awful Truth (which I think I already used before which is why I didn't pick it this time), this one stars Ray Milland as a bandleader who's been lying to his wife (Jane Wyman) about performing gigs. She tries to get back at him but goes too far and a mix-up ensues that results in the couple deciding to get divorced even though they really still love each other. Other people then try to hook the newly-single people before the divorce becomes final.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stir Crazy

I'm still working my way through the bunch of movies I recorded during the Black Experience in Film series that TCM ran back in September. This time, I've gotten up to Stir Crazy.

Richard Pryor plays Harry, who at the start of the movie is working as a server in a catering firm, catering a hoity-toity luncheon in Manhattan. However, he's been dumb enough to bring his stash of marijuana with him, this being 1980 and long before even medical marijuana was legalized. (Why he didn't just leave it at home, I don't know.) But of course it gets noticed and mistaken by his chef boss for oregano (she wouldn't bring her own ingredients?), and uses it in the food she's cooking for the guests. It gets Harry fired.

Gene Wilder plays Skip, a struggling playwright who is making ends meet by working department store security. He makes the mistake of accusing the wrong person of shoplifting, and this gets him fired too. Now, Harry and Skip are best friends, and when they discuss their having lost their jobs, Skip comes up with the brilliant idea of going west to California to make it out there, this again being the time when white people looking to improve their lives were still going to California instead leaving to go to other states.

Anyhow, the two friends are short of money while they're traveling west, so Skip gets them a job "in banking". What they really are are actors doing promotional work for the local bank in Glenboro (Tucson, AZ is used for the growing Glenboro), dressing up as woodpeckers and singing a jingle to entice customers or something. (Why they're doing it inside the bank, I don't get.) But they're an easy mark for bad guys who decide to rob the bank dressed up in identical woodpecker costumes, which obviously makes Skip and Harry the prime suspects. Sure enough, Skip and Harry are arrested and put in prison.

Neither of them knows the first thing about prison, although Skip is obviously far worse off as he's Woody Allen-level neurotic. Harry tries his best to deal with a bad situation and also make things easier for his best friend, but there's not much that can be done as a prisoner.

That is, until the warden (Barry Corbin) tests all the new prisoners on the mechanical bull to see if any of them would be useful in the prison rodeo. Somehow, Skip is perfect for it. Taking part in the rodeo could bring Skip privileges, but it could also get Skip seen as a brown-noser by the other prisoners. But there's one other possibility, which is escaping from the arena where the rodeo is going to be held.

There's a lot to like about Stir Crazy, although in the final analysis I'd also have to say that I preferred their earlier pairing in Silver Streak to this one. Wilder is just a bit too manic here, and I found a few too many plot holes. Also, I really liked the supporting cast of Silver Streak who actually had a lot to do, to the nondescript supporting actors in Stir Crazy.

It's not that Stir Crazy is a bad movie by any means. There are a lot of laughs to be had, and it's always good to see Pryor and Wilder together. It's just that I preferred Silver Streak. Sadly, Silver Streak seems to have fallen out of print on DVD, so if you want to judge between the two, you'll have to go the streaming route. Stir Crazy is available in multiple releases.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Silents apparently still not on DVD

TCM's daytime theme in 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow (Feb. 13) is silents, so they'd all be from the first Academy Awards, I think. Silents had actually gotten quite good as an art form, and I know silent fans lament what was lost when the advent of sound meant that the actors had to focus on where the microphone was.

Anyhow, several of the silents in tomorrow morning's lineup are not available on DVD, so you're going to have to watch or DVR them tomorrow morning:

First, at 6:00 AM, there's The Racket, which was remade in the early 1950s. Louis Wolheim plays the gangster who loves his kid brother, and when the kid brother gets in legal trouble, it gives an upright cop (Thomas Meighan) the chance to take down Wolheim.

Second is Two Arabian Knights at 7:30 AM. Wolheim returns as an American POW in World War I who escapes with his buddy William Boyd, and meets an Arabian princess (Mary Astor) along the way. I'm not surprised this one isn't on DVD, since it was considered lost for a long time, and the surviving print was found in Howard Hughes' archives. Since it's not in the public domain, I wouldn't be surprised if the poor condition combined with rights questions kept it off DVD.

Finally, at 9:15 AM there's a Greta Garbo/John Gilbert movie I haven't seen, A Woman of Affairs. This one surprises me by its lack of availability on DVD, since it's an MGM movie. But it turns out that the book it's based on was published in 1924, so it's possible that rights issues over that -- the book would, I think become public domain next January -- might have something to do with it.