Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Interesting scheduling for fans of remakes

Tonight's theme on TCM is "June Brides", which is really movies about weddings; I don't know that all of the movies claim to be set in June. But that's beside the oint of the night's lineup or the subject of this post. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with the 1940 movie The Philadelphia Story, a wonderful comedy that I'd highly recommend if you haven't seen it.

THe Philadelphia Story would be remade in 1956 as High Society, starring Bing Crosby in the Cary Grant role of first husband; Grace Kelly as the bride; and Frank Sinatra as the journalist. If you've watched enough TCM, you'll probably have seen the "Word of Mouth" piece with Celeste Holm (taking the Ruth Hussey role) talking about the diamond ring Grace Kelly came in with that was the engagement ring from Prince Rainier of Monaco. Anyhow, High Society will be on tomorrow at 1:30 PM as part of TCM's "Mad About Musicals" spotlight, which by this point has reached the 1950s.

But wait, there's more! Tomorrow's look at 1950s musicals also includes the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, at 10:00 PM Thursday. I'm not a fan of Judy Garland's singing, but I mention the movie since, as you are probably aware, this is a remake of an earlier version of A Star Is Born, released in 1937 and starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. (There's also the obligatory mention of What Price Hollywood? from five years earlier, in 1932.) And wouldn't you know it, the 1937 A Star is Born is on the schedule for 6:00 AM Sunday.

Oh, there's also an upcoming remake that I might have mentioned briefly once before. No, not the Barbra Streisand version; but yet another remake staring Lady Gaga as the singer and Bradley Cooper as the alcoholic boyfriend. IMDb says that's scheduled to be released to theaters in October.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Clay Pigeon

TCM ran World War II movies over Memorial Day weekend. When you think of traditional war movies, you don't necessarily think of noir, which brings up the question of what sort of movie Noir Alley would run over the Memorial Day holiday. But there are some excellent noir movies with war themes, specifically the theme of the returning soldier in a jam. Act of Violence is probably the best such movie that I can think of, but this Memorial Day, Noir Alley decided to run The Clay Pigeon.

Bill Williams plays Jim Fletcher, who at the beginning of the movie is in the naval hospital in Long Beach, CA, coming out of a coma. Another patient, now blind, tries to strangle Jim, saying that he wants to know what a traitor looks like! Poor Jim. Considering the whispers of the doctors and nurses, it's pretty clear that the navy is going to court-martial Jim when he gets well. Jim doesn't know why he's going to be court-martialed, so he knows that he has to escape.

Jim gets out of the hospital and makes his way to San Diego, where he knows that Martha (Barbara Hale), the widow of his navy buddy, lives. However, she wants nothing to do with him, because her husband and Jim were POWs together, and the official story is that Jim's actions while they were POWs got the other guy executed for trying to steal food from the Japanese guards. Jim decides to call up the third member of his old clique, Ted Niles (future director Richard Quine) and seek out his help. Of course, Quine is back in Los Angeles, and if Jim leaves Martha in San Diego, she's immediately going to sic the police on him, so he takes her and her car hostage to drive to Los Angeles.

However, along the way, another car which is not a police car comes and tries to drive them off the road, after which Martha has the illogically sudden character development of deciding that Jim must be innocent, and dammit, she's going to help him. Ted's assistance eventually leads Jim to Chinatown and a web of people who want to seem to do away with Jim for more than just his alleged war crimes. But who, and why?

The Clay Pigeon is a good idea, but I couldn't help but think while watching it that it has some flaws. It only runs 63 minutes, which I think is the main reason behind those flaws. Characters, notably Martha, have sudden character developments that deem nonsensical. There's also the trope of Jim suddenly getting key points of his memory back, which I don't think would happen in real life. And if Jim didn't have his memory, would he even be fit to be court-martialed? The plot veers from scene to scene a bit too quickly, making things confusing at times. If you're going to write a 63-minute movie, the script had better be very tight. I think The Clay Pigeon would have been helped by being 15-20 minutes longer, which would have given it time to flesh things out a bit better.

Still, The Clay Pigeon is an interesting idea and a look back at a time that no longer exists. It's available on DVD, from Warner Bros. "Film Noir Archive Collection", which means that the movie is a bit pricey. But judge for yourself.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hanover Street

A few weeks back TCM had a night of movies starring 1970s British actress Lesley-Anne Down. I've already blogged about The Great Train Robbery; I hadn't blogged about Hanover Street before. So, I made it a point to DVR it and watch it so I could do a post here, since it's on DVD.

Harrison Ford plays David, a bomber pilot in the US military in World War II. Since he's going on raids over Europe, he and his crew are stationed in England, and he goes to London on his days off. On one of those days off, he gets caught in a Nazi bombing raid in the titular Hanover Street, which is where he meets Margaret (that's Lesley-Anne Down); the two had been waiting for the same bus. Anyhow David saves Margaret during the raid, and the two immediately strike up a relationship from that instant emotional bond.

There's only one problem: Margaret is already married and has a daughter. Her husband Paul (Christopher Plummer) works for military intelligence, although he works in the boring part of it back in the offices in London rather than doing the risky work. As such, Paul begins to feel that he's not his part in the war effort. Back to that later, however. Margaret, for whatever reason, just couldn't bring herself to tell David that she's already got a husband. Maybe she figured the relationship was going to end whenever David went back to the US and didn't want to hurt him, but for whatever reason she's stuck between two lovers, neither of whom is really guilty of anything.

Things take a dramatic turn, however, thanks to Paul's feelings of inadequacy. British intelligence needs to get a file out of Nazi headquarters in one of the French cities, and to do that they're going to have to parachute a man into France to pretend to be an SS agent and get that file. Paul's job is to train that man for his mission. It's a vital role, although you can see why Paul might feel he really isn't doing enough. So when the time comes for the mission to parachute the guy into France, Paul gets on the plane. And it's piloted by David and his crew.

Things get much more complicated when that plane then gets shot down by the Nazis, forcing David and Paul to bail out. David intends to go one way to get to that part of the Resistance that's going to get him out of the country, while Paul goes in the other direction toward his mission. But Paul badly sprained his ankle during the landing, to the point that there's no way he's going to be able to carry out his mission alone. The only problem is, David doesn't speak a word of German, which is a problem since they're going to have to deal with Nazis at the headquarters.

I won't say where it goes from here since I don't want to spoil the ending. I can say, however, that the movie does ultimately wind up being successfully entertaining. I have to admit that I didn't care as much for large portions of the first half, which include some love scenes from David and Margaret, as well as some scenes at the air base showing the crews' briefings; those scenes I felt went on too long. But the movie really picks up once the mission over France starts. All three actors are more than capable, and I found the set design really looked nice.

Hanover Street is available on a standalone DVD, while Amazon and the TCM shop each list as being available in a different box set too.

Leslie Howard: The Man who Gave a Damn

Leslie Howard is this month's Star of the Month on TCM, with his movies running every Monday in prime time. Two weeks ago, they ran the 2016 documentary Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn. That documentary is going to be on again, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. It's well worth watching.

Apparently the documentary took quite a few years to bring about, because the main interviewee is Leslie's daughter Leslie Ruth, who died in 2013. But it's pretty well researched. Narration is handled by Derek Partridge, a British TV presenter who had an interesting connection to Howard: he was supposed to be on a BOAC flight from Lisbon to London, but was pulled off of it because VIP passenger Leslie Howard needed a seat. That was the ill-fated flight that was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. The documentary then mentions Gone With the Wind, since that's probably the role for which Howard is best known -- even if it's one Howard really didn't like doing as he felt he was all wrong for the part of Ashley Wilkes.

From that point, the documentary goes into a standard birth-to-death narrative, interviewing film historians and, in archival footage, people who knew him. (Olivia de Havilland is the one notable person I could think of who was missing.) One interesting interviewee is an assistand director who worked with Howard, Norman Spencer, who is apparently still alive a couple of months shy of his 104th birthday.

Anyhow, I didn't know that Howard's parents wanted him to go into banking, or the difficulties in his marriage: he apparently had an affair with Merle Oberon, and then another with his personal secretary, who died of meningitis about six months before Leslie, although he never got around to updating his will according to a bit on IMDb's "Trivia" section for Howard.

There was a lot of stuff I didn't know about Howard or his career in the documentary, and I think it's something that anybody who's a fan of old movies will enjoy. I don't know that it's available on DVD, because of all the rights issues surrounding the clips used. One of the IMDb reviews implies that's why it took so long for the documentary to see the light of day.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two Father's Day downers

Happy Father's Day for those who celebrate it on the third Sunday in June, which according to Wikipedia is not quite as many places as I thought. They claim that Australia and New Zealand celebrate in September, while a surprising number of Catholic countries in southern Europe and Latin America celebrate on St. Joseph's Day which is March 19.

Anyhow, since the day is celebrated today here in the US, it's unsurprising that TCM is spending the day with a bunch of father-themed movies. As with Mother's Day a month earlier, there are any number of movies that are old chestnuts for the day. As I write this there's an Andy Hardy movie playing, and tonight at 10:15 PM there's going to be Life With Father.

But I was surprised to see a pair of movies that I was a bit surprised to see show up today. First, at 3:30 PM, is The Entertainer. It's a really good movie; it's just that I wouldn't have thought of it as a Father's Day movie. Laurence Olivier plays a father and husband who's still trying to make it in the British summer resort music hall scene because that's the only life he knew, and that's what his father (Roger Livesey) did.

The Entertainer is followed at 5:30 PM by a TV movie version of Death of a Salesman. It's certainly got a family in it, but is it a movie that I'd think of when I want to think fondly of Dad? Um, no. Apparently, TCM has never been able to get the rights to the Fredric March movie version from the early 1950s, either. What's next for Father's Day? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Le salaire de la peur noire

Some months back TCM ran a night of movies featuring British actress Diana Dors. One that is currently available on DVD is The Long Haul.

Victor Mature plays Harry Miller, an American GI stationed in Germany who married an English woman Connie (Gene Anderson). His hitch is almost up, and he's got an offer from one of his best friends Art to go work at Art's company back in America. However, Connie doesn't want to uproot herself and son Butch to go to America, so it's back to Connie's old home of Liverpool. Harry doesn't exactly have much in the way of talent, but he's able to get a job as a truck driver since that apparently doesn't take too much work.

Harry starts driving on the Liverpool-Glasgow route, but he finds that he's unable to get a load to take back to Liverpool because Joe Easy (Patrick Allen), the transport man in Glasgow, only seems to want to give work to people he already trusts. Indeed, when Harry tries to press the issue, he's met with violence. This, to the horror of Joe's assistant Frank (Peter Reynolds) and Frank's sister (and also Joe's girlfriend) Lynn (Diana Dors).

Eventually, Harry gets a special job from his boss in Liverpool handling one of Joes's loads that's supposed to go to Glasgow; apparently, the trucker originally supposed to take it, the man Joe would have hand-picked, showed up late. There's a good reason Joe picked that particular trucker: Joe is engaging in insurance fraud, and is planning on robbing this particular shipment. So he's going to have to stop the shipment from going through, by hook or by crook.

It results in Harry meeting Lynn again, and this time the two beginning to fall in love as they wind up spending a night together in what passes for the British version of a motel. But that's also an opportunity for Joe to waylay Harry and steal the shipment. The police wind up investigating which puts some heat on Harry, and a whole lot of strain on Harry and Connie's marriage.

The result is that Harry wants to get back to America, but to do so he's ging to have to accompany a shipment of stolen furs first by trucking it to port through the middle of nowhere, and then on the ship. Joe is along for the ride, and is rather more willing to use force to make certain the shipment gets there, and to make sure Lynn doesn't do anything untoward.

I mentioned The Wages of Fear in the title to the post because the scenes of Harry, Joe, and Lynn having to transport the furs over a mountain really reminded me of that earlier trucking film. The rest of it isn't very alike, which isnot meant in either a good way or a bad way. As a whole, I found the movie a bit perfunctory, as if it was conceived as a second-tier production. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case, since it was filmed in the UK but used an American actor in Mature to have somebody relatively bankable for distribution to the US. Agood portion of the movie feels a bit rushed, and some threads could, I thought, have been handled better.

The overall result is that The Long Haul is moderately entertaining, and one I'm glad I saw. I don't feel as though I wasted my time having seen it. But I've seen better and would recommend other films in the genre first.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Decision at Sundown

Not too long ago I recorded a night of Randolph Scott westerns on TCM. There were three with director Budd Boetticher and Colt .45. I've blogged about two of the three Boetticher movies, and all three of them are on a box set I recently bought off of Amazon. The third Boetticher movie TCM ran was Decision at Sundown.

Scott plays Bart Allison, who at the start of the movie holds up a stagecoach he's riding on so that it will stop in the middle of nowhere. Eventually meeting him at the hold-up point is his old friend Sam (Noah Beery Jr.), and the two ride together into the town of Sundown. The arrive just in time to find out that town boss Tate Kimbrough (John Carroll) is about to marry lovely Lucy (Karen Steele), daughter of the largest landowner (John Litel). Everybody in town is going to be going to the wedding.

Indeed, that's why Bart came to town. He has some unfinished business to attend to at the wedding, which soon comes to light when the JP performing the ceremony does the "speak now or forever hold your peace" bit and tries much too fast to go on to the next part of the ceremony. Oh hell no, Bart isn't going to stand for that. Bart asks Tate if he remembers a woman named Mary at Sabine Pass. Ultimately, we learn that while Bart was off fighting the Civil War for the South, Tate met Mary, who was Bart's Mrs. Bart Allison. The encounter eventually led Mary to commit suicide, and Bart naturally blames Tate for what happened. Bart plans to get revenge, and since Lucy doesn't want to be a widow, she runs back home to Daddy to await further developments.

Tate is none too happy, forcing Bart and Sam to make a quick getaway back to the livery stable, where they are besieged by Tate and his men. In addition to being the town boss, Tate apparently controls half of the men in town and they're able to draw their guns on the stable although it's easy enough for Bart and Sam to barricade the one entrance. However, it turns out that the other half of the town that isn't controlled by Tate has always resented him, as he's an interloper who only came to Sundown after whatever happened with Mary all those years ago. They might be willing to find a way to try to stand up to Tate for once.

That's pretty much all there is to Decision at Sundown. Or, at least, that's all I got out of it. There is in many ways a lot less action here than in a lot of other westerns, even than in most of the psychological westerns. When there is action, it seems a bit illogical. Tate says he'll let the two men out of the stable if they leave town, and Sam is willing to leave the stable. But then he gets the idiotic idea that Tate is going to let him back in. Even if there were an important message to sent to Bart, it would be done through a neutral intermediary like the JP or maybe even Lucy's father. I also found there to be a lot of backstory that probably could have been fleshed out more.

Overall, of the Scott/Boetticher westerns I've seen, I'd consider Decision at Sundown to be the least of them. Fans of Randolph Scott will probably like it, although if I were introducing people to Scott's westerns it's not the first one I'd pick. I wouldn't say that I didn't like it -- there are some movies I've seen recently that I had much more severe problems with -- it's just that I found something bigger lacking than in a fair number of other movies. It's on a box set, though, so even if you have more problems with it that I did, you can consider it a bonus movie.

New to TCM Saturday Mornings

Back in March after the end of 31 Days of Oscar, TCM started a new programming block from 8:00 to noon on Saturday mornings that tries to imitate the old Saturday matinee experience of a feature, a serial, a bunch of shorts, and so on. The serial in question was Red Barry, and last Saturday was apparently the final chaper of that serial. (I wasn't watching, and the TCM monthly schedule doesn't say much in the way of a synopsis.)

That means it's time for a new serial, which is Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery: Wreck of the Dirigible, at 9:30 AM Saturday. This is actually the second Tailspin Tommy serial. I had never heard of it, but apparently Tailspin Tommy was a comic strip from 1928 to 1942, and the popularity led to one serial in 1934, the one that TCM will be showing in 1935, and then a couple of one-hour feature movies. There don't seem to be any other changes to the Saturday lineup, in that they aren't through with the Tarzan movies, while we still get another Popeye short. The John Wayne westerns ended some time back, I think, and we've had other B westerns for a while.

IMDb says that there are 12 chapters in the Tailspin Tommy serial, which means that including the break for Summer Under the Stars, the last episode should be airing on Saturday, Sept. 29: three chapters in June, four in July, none in August, and the last five in September. Indeed, a quick look at the schedule shows that the 9:30 AM slot on September 29 is taken by Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery: The Last Stand, which certainly sounds like the last chapter. (I believe the October schedule hasn't been announced yet, so who knows what the next serial will be.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks #205: Myths and Legends

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week the theme is myths and legends. There's a fair bit about Greek mythology and it would probably be easy to do this using three movies on Greek myth. But I decided I'd go with three different traditions this week, that is, one Greek myth and two others:

Down to Earth (1947). Rita Hayworth plays Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, who discovers that a Broadway producer (Larry Parks) is using the Muses in a completely bogus way for his show. So she insists on going down to earth and show him what the Muses were really about. Of course, Terpsichore falls in love with the producer along the way. Complicating matters is the fact that the audience doesn't want what Terpsichore claims the Muses are really about. This is a sort of follow-up to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and the idea of a Greek muse going down to earth would be used again 30 years later in Xanadu.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Based on the legends surrounding King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his search for the Holy Grail, the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe inject all sorts of zaniness into the search for the Grail, including a knight who describes having an arm cut off as "just a flesh wound", and a nunnery full of nuns who want to be spanked.

The Manitou (1977). Phony psychic Tony Curtis finds that his ex-girlfriend (Susan Strasberg) has a lump on her shoulder that might actually be a "Manitou", a Native American legend about a spirit that has supernatural powers. Unfortunately, this one is an evil Manitou, and all attempts to deal with it will be hazardous to the people trying to destroy it before it destroys a large part of civilization. This is one of those "so awful it's funny" movies from the era, and Tony Curtis gets to go way, way over the top.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Three Strangers

I've mentioned any number of anthology movies, and movies will all-star casts and intertwining stories. A movie that combines elements of the two is Three Strangers.

Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Crystal Shackleford, a woman living in London in 1938. (The film was released in 1946, but was presumably set before the war so as not to deal with it and its aftermath, and because the original story was conceived in the late 1930s.) It's Chinese New Year, and she goes out on the street looking for a stranger, which she finds in the form of Jerome Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet). She takes him back to her flat, where it turns out there's another stranger, Johnny West (Peter Lorre). Crystal brought the two men there because of a superstition. She's got a statue of a Chinese idol, and legend has it that if three strangers all make the same wish in front of it at midnight on Chinese New Year's, that wish will come true. Johnny has an Irish Sweepstakes lottery ticket, so the other two buy a one-third share and then they wish for the ticket to win.

If the ticket does win, each of them will come into £2,000, which was quite the sum back in 1938. And each of them needs the money. Crystal's estranged husband David (Alan Napier) is in Canada, and if Crystal can show she's got some independent money of her own, she thinks she can win him back. Jerome is a solicitor who would like to become a barrister, but there's a character exam, and right now there's no way Jerome can pass it. He's been embezzling a client's money to speculate on the stock market, and the £2,000 would cover the money he embezzled. As for Johnny, he's got some legal issues.

And so the movie goes back and forth between the three stories. Johnny is trying to stay one step ahead of the law: he's been implicated in a murder committed while he was too drunk to remember what really happened, and he and another witness are in hiding. That money could get him out of the country. But the one who needs the money right now is Jerome, and he becomes increasingly desirous of selling off the ticket after it's picked but before the race.

Three Strangers is a movie with an interesting idea, but one that I found had a big flaw for me. An idea like this is something that could work well as a traditional anthology movie, along the lines of If I Had a Million. Having the movie be an anthology with discrete stories would also help since none of the main characters knows each other. In, say, Phone Call From a Stranger, the characters spend the first half of the movie getting to know each other, but the susperstition is expressly supposed to disallow that here. And the stories really don't intertwine the way the plots of Grand Hotel or Dinner at Eight do. Something like The VIPs had all the strangers be trapped (more or less) together for a night, like the later disaster movies, so a device like that can also make the disparate stories work.

Three Strangers, however, has nothing like that. It goes back and forth between plot lines the way that a Dinner at Eight does, except that none of the characters ever winds up becoming part of another character's story in a way that would make the movie come together as a coherent whole. Which is why, I think, the movie really needed to be written as a traditional anthology. Each of the three strangers could talk in flashback about what happened that makes them need the money now, although again the constriction on the strangers being supposed to not know each other makes that difficult, too.

All in all, there's a fair bit to recommend about Three Strangers, especially the performances from the three leads. But there was something about the script that left me wanting something different.

Three Strangers is available on DVD from the Warner Archive collection.