Monday, January 24, 2022

Allotment Wives

I mentioned at the start of the month when I did the first post on Kay Francis being this month's Star of the Month on TCM that she had been featured in Summer Under the Stars back in August, and I had recorded the movie Allotment Wives. That movie is finally showing up in Francis' spotlight, tonight at 12:45 AM (so technically early Tuesday in the east, and Monday night in every other time zone).

The movie was released in late 1945, but presumably conceived at the start of the year, before both Germany and Japan surrendered in World War II. A docudrama-style voiceover at the beginning informs us about the Office of Dependency Benefits, which aided families on the home front during the War. When the men would go off to fight, they would surrender some of their pay, since they presumably didn't need it at the front (although of course when they had leave they could certainly use it). The ODB would match this money and give it to the wives/families of the soldiers, a practice called "allotment checks". Naturally, this huge pot of money was ripe for scams, especially with all those quickie marriages before the soldiers went off to fight. Supposedly, crime syndicates were getting women to sign up for bigamous marriages in order to get multiple allotment checks, with the syndicate raking off some of the money. General Gilbert (Jonathan Hale) asks Col. Martin (Paul Kelly), who had been a reporter before the war, to do some undercover investigating to find the people running the syndicates, not the women at the bottom cashing the checks.

Sheila Seymour (Kay Francis) runs a swanky beauty salon by day, and operates a charity canteen for soldiers about to go off to war by night. But we see right away that this isn't all she's doing. She's got a neat revolving wall in her salon office which is a secret entrance to the syndicate office. There, she and her right-hand man Whitey Colton (Otto Kruger) are running one of the allotment check scams, and doing it fairly ruthlessly as they have someone bumped off early on.

However, thanks to the presence of the Production Code, we know that poor Sheila is going to get her comeuppance by the end of the movie. Two things cause this to happen. First is Sheila's daughter Connie (Teala Loring). Connie doesn't know what her mom really does; at least, she only knows about the legitimate businesses. Connie is supposed to be off at an exclusive boarding school. But she's rebelling, showing up at a restaurant Mom visits and getting quite drunk. This understandably displeases Mom to no end.

The other problem comes at the canteen. One of the volunteers, Gladys Smith (Gertrude Michael), thinks she recognizes Sheila as some other women, making things mildly awkward for Sheila at the canteen. Of course, we know that Gladys is right. Sheila grew up poor and was determined never to be poor again, changing her name after getting out of the reform school she and Gladys were in together, and making a new life for herself. But Gladys is here, and working for another syndicate. She's able to blackmail Sheila in the worst possible way.

Allotment Wives is an interesting little movie, even if it never really rises above B movie status. This was several years after Francis left Warner Bros., and her movie career was nearly at an end, being reduced to working on Poverty Row. But she still had enough influence that she was able to get a producer's credit, and we get some folks here who were never stars of A movies, but solid supporting actors like Kruger. And the plot is pretty good for a B movie. One thing that did amuse me was a scene of Sheila slapping Connie that seemed as though it could have been lifted straight from Mildred Pierce, although Mildred Pierce only premiered a few weeks before Allotment Wives.

If you want an interesting example of the way in which B movies could be pretty good, you could do a lot worse than to watch Allotment Wives.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Tread, Don't Walk

Not being certain what I wanted to watch off my DVR but needing a movie to blog about today, as opposed to the next few days when I'm going to be blogging about stuff that's coming up on one or another of the movie channels, I decided to go back to one of my DVD box sets of British public-domain movies, and watch Tread Softly Stranger.

The movie (or at least this print) starts off with a pre-credits scene. Johnny Mansell (George Baker) is living in London, but unfortunately he's living by playing the horses. He's run up some gambling debts to the bookies, and they'd like their money back, thank you very much. So he walks out on his current girlfriend and heads up north to his old home town of Rowborough to escape.

Rowborough is one of those industrial towns in the North that populated British movies of the late 50s and 1960s, when British cultural norms were changning. The blue-collar types live in depressing row houses as we'd say in the US (I think the British term is terraced housing), or renting out individual rooms of accommodation. Johnny finds his brother Dave (Terence Morgan), who works as a bookkeeper at the local factory, and gets a room next to Dave's in the same building, one that has rear access to a "garden" which other buildings also have access to. When Johnny goes out to the "garden" one day, he finds a young woman exercising. This is Calico (Diana Dors), who works at the local night spot, a dive bar catering to the blue-collar workers. There's obviously some sparks immediately between Johnny and Calico, because what man wouldn't be interested in Calico?

Of course, that means not only Johnny is interested in Calico; Dave is, too. And Dave has been showering Calico with the sort of gifts that there's no way somebody on a bookkeeper's salary could afford. And indeed, he's just as much in debt as Johnny is. Well, technically he's not in debt, as he's embezzled the money from the company, which there's no possibly way he could ever pay back. Worse, the auditors are coming in a couple of weeks, so Dave has a deadline for getting the money back lest he be noticed.

Johnny has learned of a horse that's a sure thing, and he could get the money, if only he has enough of a stake to begin with. The one way to do that is to pawn off the watch that Dave bought Calico, and use that as a wager, not that Calico is happy with it. But she agrees. And the horse does win, giving Johnny the money to pay back to the company. Unfortunately, he's spotted at the race track, some ways away from Rowborough, by a couple of the bookies from London whom he owes money, and they waylay him.

Johnny doesn't return home when he was scheduled to, having been waylaid, so Calico puts it into Dave's head that perhaps he should hold up the payroll. With a lack of cash to pay the payroll, nobody's going to look for an extra £300 that Dave had embezzled. Dave isn't particularly bright, and isn't thinking with his right head anyway, so he heads off to the factory. Johnny returns home with his winnings and, finding out what Dave is doing, rushes off to the factory to try to stop Dave.

Unfortunately, Johnny and Dave get caught by the security guard, resulting in Dave shooting him. But like "The Telltale Heart", Dave starts getting the distinct feeling that somebody witnessed him at the factory, and that that witness is stalking him....

Tread Softly Stranger is the sort of second-tier British movie that's a really good exemplar of British cinema at the time. It's not the greatest movie by any stretch, but it's very competently made, with good, believable performances and a nice atmosphere. Movies like this don't get so much attention in the US since Hollywood would be promoting its own stuff. That's a shame, because Tread Softly Stranger is eminently watchable.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Saint Victoria's Secret

German actor Hardy Krüger died the other day, and when I mentioned it in my briefs post back on Thursday, I mentioned that one of his English language movies is The Secret of Santa Vittoria, which I happened to have on my DVR. So I made it a point to watch and do a review here.

The movie is set in Santa Vittoria, a town in northern Italy, in about the summer of 1943, so when the tide was turning in World War II. It's after they've gotten rid of Mussolini, but the war is still going on enough that the Germans can take over the town and make life difficult for the locals. Not that they seem to care much about the outside world. They produce wine for Cinzano and just want to keep on doing that.

In the chaos over getting rid of Mussolini, Italo Bambolini (Anthony Quinn), who has a long-suffering wife in Rosa (Anna Magnani) and adult daughter Angela, climbs the local water tower with a possible view to killing himself. The local town council, which had supported Mussolini mostly because they were going along to get along, decide to make Bambolini the mayor as they'll have a convenient scapegoat for the next round of political reprisals.

Meanwhile, there's a problem. Word comes that the Germans are going to be coming to town. The villagers could probably handle occupation, considering that they handled life under the Fascists, but they've got over a million bottles of wine stored up that are destined for Cinzano and will provide the town's income for the coming year. The fear is that the Nazis will want to take their wine back to Germany.

Meanwhile, an injured army officer Tufa (Sergio Franchi) has shown up, deserting from the war thanks to his injuries and the collapse of the Fascist government. He's cared for by the countest Caterina (Virna Lisi), who is clearly not native to the town. Tufa also gets the brilliant idea of clearing out the wine from the cellars where it's normally stored, and storing it in the old Roman caves until the Nazis leave. So we get an overlong scene of the locals doing a bucket brigade to move all those bottles. (I have no idea how many horse-drawn carts the town had, but that wouldn't have provided for a weak attempt at humor.) Some of the bottles are going to be left in the cellars however, as to do otherwise would obviously tip off the Nazis.

And then the Nazis come, in the form of Capt. von Prum (Hardy Krüger). His job is to get the wine for the Germans. He's willing to let the locals keep a modest fraction of the 300,000 bottles they've left in the cellars, apparently not knowing about the other million bottles in the caves. And Caterina tries to seduce him as part of diverting the Nazis. The locals would have gotten away with their scheme, too, if it weren't for those meddling SS officers. They come in a couple of days after von Prum, with an agent from Cinzano. The Cinzano bottlers know that Santa Vittoria should have another million bottles they'll be sending, and the SS officers want that. But nobody's revealing the location of the bottles.

Stanley Kramer directed, and the only other comedy he directed was It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Kramer had directed several social message pictures before, some of them quite sprawling, such as Judgment at Nuremberg. The long, slightly sprawling style works for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in part because the comedy is better, and in part because there are so many characters that no one story line dominates the proceedings. But here, Kramer seems to be stuck between two styles, and is further not helped with the ponderous direction that makes the movie come in at 139 minutes and seem longer than that.

The story underpinning The Secret of Santa Vittoria is an interesting one, and the actors do the best they can with the material provided. But it really felt to me like it needed a director who was more attuned to farcical comedy and could make the material move at a more sprightly case instead of Stanley Kramer.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Carousel

A movie that recently started showing up in the FXM rotation that I hadn't blogged about before is the movie version of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Once again, I recorded it so that I could watch in advance of Yet Another Showing of the movie. There's one showing at 9:20 AM tomorrow (Jan. 22), followed by another at 7:35 AM Sunday.

Closing in on four years ago, I did a post on the Charles Boyer movie Liliom. Both that and Carousel are based on the same play by Hungarian-born playwright Ferenc Molnár, so you may already know the basic plot. Gordon MacRae plays Billy Bigelow, who at the start of the movie is up in heaven talking to the "heavenly Starkeeper" (Gene Lockhart), a fairly obvious sign that Billy is already dead. Apparently in this iteration of Heaven, when you die, you get the chance to go back down to earth for one more day, something which Billy hasn't wanted to do so far. But there's rumblings about some problems for his family left behind on earth. Cue the flashback....

Sometime at the beginning of the 20th century, Billy is the carnival barker for a carousel somewhere in coastal Maine. Billy seems unable or unwilling to look for any other sort of work, but for now since he's young it pays enough for him to live. He meets young Julie Jordan (Shirley Jones), who works in one of the mills, and the two eventually fall in love even though as with A Place in the Sun that might be a problem for Julie's continued employment. And it's not as if Billy really wants to settle down. For whatever reason he doesn't feel like he's suited to any other sort of work. To me this would seem like he's no prize whatsoever, but then if we didn't have characters lacking common sense, there are a whole lot of movies that wouldn't work.

So of course Billy and Julie get married, and Billy starts mooching off his cousin Nettie who runs a dockside restaurant. He picks up a friend who's a really bad influence in the form of Jigger Craigin (Cameron Mitchell). Jigger gets the idea to rob one of the men who will be transporting a whole bunch of money to one of the lobster boats, and that will be able to support both men for a while. That's particularly of interest to Billy, who has just found out that he's knocked up Julie.

Of course, the robbery goes wrong, and just before Billy can be arrested, he falls on Jigger's knife in an accident that kills him, which is why he's up in heaven now. He doesn't realize it, but many years have passed down on earth, and his daughter is now a teenager who's thinking of running off herself, and is constantly bullied by everybody else because of who her father is. Perhaps Billy can put things right.

Whether or not you like Carousel is going to depend a lot on whether or not you like the music and the dancing, of which there is quite a lot. Musicals aren't my favorite genre, so obviously I found some of the numbers going on a bit, even if the dancers are decidedly talented. The two best known songs are probably "June is Bustin' Out All Over" and "You'll Never Walk Alone". So if you're a fan of musicals, you'll probably like Carousel.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #393: Time Loops

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 "Time Loops", which is a difficult one for me since I couldn't think of too many films that fit the bill. I came up with three, but one of them I had already used, so I had to think of a replacement. I did come up with a replacement, but it turned out I had used that one too. Ditto yet another replacement. So in the end I decided to go with two I haven't used and one that I used back in 2018:

Repeat Performance (1947). Joan Leslie plays a stage who, on New Year's Eve between 1946 and 1947, kills her husband (Louis Heyward). She tries to seek advice from poet friend Richard Basehart, who suggests she go see her producer (Tom Conway). However, when she gets to the producers apartment, she finds that for him and everyone else, it's January 1, 1946, not January 1, 1947. She's the only one who knows everything that's happened over the past year, and now has a chance to do things differently to change the outcome.

Run Lola Run (1998). Franka Potente plays Lola, a woman in Berlin whose boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) is a courier for gangsters. He's misplaced DM 100,000 on the train, and needs her to help him, possibly coming up with the money in 20 minutes so he can give it to his contact. She tries and the attempt fails. The movie then goes back 20 minutes to give Lola a second chance to get the money, and then a third.

Before the Rain (1994). In this movie that tells us time is in fact a circle, we get three stories. The first is of a monk in Macedonia during the various civil wars in the former Yugoslavia who shelters an ethnic Albanian girl, although the Serbs want her. Cut to London, where the editor of a photojournal who has published photos from the Yugoslav wars is going through a personal crisis. Finally, the photographer who took one of those pictures returns to his home village, where we find out that time is indeed a circle.

Briefs for January 20-21, 2022

I wanted to mention some of the movies that are coming up on TCM as part of this week's installment of the "true crime" spotlight. Some years back I had Looking for Mr. Goodbar (midnight tonight) on my old DVR, but never did a post on it in part because it's one of those movies I was only able to get halfway through since I found it such a difficult watch in part because I didn't find any of the characters likeable. Much more interesting for me, despite the equally difficult subject nature, was Star 80, airing at 4:45 AM. The recently deceased Peter Bogdanovich, despite his relationship with Dorothy Stratten, and actually marrying Dorothy's sister, is not named in the movie.

Friday's daytime lineup on TCM is a mix of movies about people who aren't what they claim to be, putting their partners in danger. This includes the 1940 British version of Gaslight at 4:30 PM. The Ingrid Bergman version from 1944 is much better known not just because it's a Hollywood film, but because MGM's getting the rights to the play to make the 1944 version allowed them to keep the equally good British version under wraps.

I was looking at the lineup on StarzEncore Westerns, and see that tomorrow has a whole bunch of interesting films that I've already blogged about. It's been four years since I've blogged about Warlock, which kicks things off at 2:18 AM. That's followed by the 1950 version of Winchester '73 at 4:20 AM. I know there was a remake in the 1960s, but I'm not certain I've seen it. Then comes My Darling Clementine at 5:54 AM. The Return of Frank James (7:32 AM) was the subject of a post so long ago that when I did it it was still the Fox Movie Channel. Cowboy follows at 9:06 AM, and finally is Broken Lance at 10:39 AM.

No birthdays of note today, at least not that I haven't already blogged about before. But there were a couple of deaths, which is in fact part of the reason I decided to do a briefs post now. Yvette Mimieux died on Monday, a few days after her 80th birthday. Hers was one of those names that I recognized as a kid more from the slightly exotic nature of it. She was in enough MGM movies like The Time Machine and Where the Boys Are that TCM could put together a night of her films when they're making up a schedule for after 31 Days of Oscar. There's also Hardy Krüger, a German actor who I thought made more English-language movies than he apparently did. I remember him from The Flight of the Phoenix. Wikipedia says he was in The Secret of Santa Vittoria, which I think I have on my DVR. Krüger, who died yesterday, was 93.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Great Garrick

Another movie I watched recently was the period comedy The Great Garrick, which as far as I can tell received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Brian Aherne plays David Garrick, a real actor on the British stage in the middle of the 18th century, and apparently one of the most famous actors of his day. At the start of the movie he's just finishing up playing a season of Hamlet at London's Drury Lane Theater, which again we're to presume is one of the most prominent theaters in London, and hence all of Great Britain (and even the world). But Garrick tells the audience that it's his last performance in London for a while because he's received an invitation to perform with Paris' equally famed Comédie Française.

Garrick's London audience is enraged, taking it as a personal affront that he possibly thinks French actors are more worth acting with than the English. Garrick decides that the way to get out of this is to say that no, the French aren't really good actors, and that he's going to be going to Paris in order to give them a lesson on what good acting is. Somehow, this immediately changes the opinion of an audience that had no good reason to be ticked off anyway.

Somehow, news of Garrick's comments make it to Paris in those slow transportation days well before Garrick even sets out for France. You'd think they might have heard the whole story, but no. So Picard (Melville Cooper) and Beaumarchais (Lionel Atwill), heads of the Comédie Française, decide that they're going to teach Garrick a lesson rather than just rescinding the invitation. They know Garrick's itinerary once he crosses the English Channel, so they know exactly which road house he and his valet Tubby (Edward Everett Horton) are going to stay at. So they plan to get there first and play the staff and patrons of the place, putting Garrick in a compromising situation.

Now, it probably ought to be obvious to anybody that there's something amiss, as these French actors are playing the most wacky, over-the-top characters. And indeed, Garrick does figure it out pretty quickly. He decides that he's going to get back at them by showing them what true acting is.

But there's a complication. Among the people at the inn is Germaine (Olivia de Havilland), claiming to be a countess whose father has gotten her betrothed to a man she doesn't want to marry in Paris. So she's running away and can't go back to Paris. And she seems afraid of these wacky actors; perhaps Garrick can protect her. Now, Garrick obviously sees Germaine as another member of the troupe and the perfect person to try to get him into that compromising position. But it turns out that Germaine isn't part of the troupe, and actually sincerely loves Garrick. She doesn't know anything about his trying to turn the tables on those other French people, so when that jig is up, she thinks Garrick was exploiting her. By this time, Garrick has realized he's falling in love with Germaine.

The Great Garrick was based on a stage play, and I'm guessing the characters were all written to play to the back of the audience, as they're extremely broad and farcical. And to be fair, the whole act that the French are putting on at the inn is supposed to be bad. But that does make the movie a bit of a slog at times. The actors all do the best they can with the material, with de Havilland coming off best and Edward Everett Horton playing yet another of his comic relief characters.

The Great Garrick is the sort of movie that would benefit from being on a box set instead of at the price point of a standalone Warner Archive disc.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The beast ought to die

A couple of months back, TCM's Noir Alley presented a foreign film that was new to me (and, as far as I know, relatively unknown in the US in general) and that got a restoration and release to DVD/Blu-ray: La bestia debe morir, also known as The Beast Must Die.

The movie opens up at one of those big houses outside the city that rich people owned. The movie itself was made in Argentina, but based on a book by "Nicholas Blake", which is a pseudonym for Cecil Day-Lewis, father of Daniel. The few mentions of place names and some signs imply an English-speaking country, and all the characters have English sounding surnames, but the film's locations don't particularly look American. It's a look I actually liked, since there's a sort of mysterious Anywhere, Any Country vibe to the proceedings.

Anyhow, the master of the house is Jorge Rattery. He's coming home to a family dinner, with his wife Violeta; his stepson; his mom; his sister-in-law; and a couple of other people. He's got some sort of medical condition that requires him to take medicine daily, so just before sitting down to dinner he takes that medicine. However, somebody poisoned the medicine, and Jorge drops dead! The young stepson, Ronnie, takes the vial of medicine and hides it so that the police can't search.

The police come, and pretty much everybody is a suspect; I haven't mentioned Rattery's business partner Carpax yet, who had the rat poison necessary to put in the medicine bottle. But anybody could have surreptitiously gotten access to that bottle. There's only one person who isn't a suspect, because he wasn't at the house at the time of the killing: mystery writer Felix Lane, who left his diary at the house. That diary is found, extremely upsetting Jorge's sister-in-law, the actress Linda Lawson, who was also Felix's girlfriend. But now it's time for the flashback to see how we got to Jorge's death and why that diary is important.

Felix is a widow with a young son Martie who is about the same age as Ronnie. They were living in a small town that looks like an obvious backlot set; here, Felix writes his mystery novels. It's his birthday and he's out of cigarettes. The housekeeper is busy, so Martie, wanting to be grown-up and independent, offers to go to the bodega and get several packs for Dad, this being an era where a kid could do that. However, it's a foggy night, and on the way back from the bodega, Martie is hit and killed, the driver driving off.

The police do an investigation and aren't able to find anything, while Felix is first driven to a deep depression, and then a steely sense of resolve as he vows to find the person who killed Martie and get revenge. If this weren't a movie, we'd all say fat chance of finding the killer, but since we already saw Jorge die in the first reel and it's a movie, we know Felix is going to find the killer.

It's a ridiculous set of coincidences that enables Felix to find Jorge and figure out he killed Martie. Felix is driving, and gets stuck at just the same spot that Jorge did after fleeing from the scene of the accident. To get help, Felix has to go to a farmhouse, and there he finds the lady of the house is a big fan of movie stars, including Linda Lawson, who just happened to be Jorge's passenger at the time of the accident. So Felix goes looking for Linda.

The meet and of course fall in love. Linda has been trying to suppress memories of the accident because Jorge is a thoroughly nasty man. Linda's sister Violeta has remarried to Jorge, and Linda is afraid for Violeta's and Ronnie's safety, which is why she hasn't done anything about reporting Jorge for the accident. Not that Felix has been letting on he knows about the accident. When he's able to get Linda to divulge the identity of the driver, he comes up with a plot to kill Jorge without telling Linda about it, only writing it down in the diary. She convinces Felix to accompany her on a visit to Violeta, and we're getting ever closer to Jorge's death. There are still a few more twists and turns, however....

La bestia debe morir is a really interesting little movie. I said at the beginning that it was made in Argentina, but it has a sort of ethereal quality in part because of giving everybody their English names while none of the characters are recognizably American (or British). In some other movies, notably Purple Noon, the inability to be American causes some problems, but here there's more of a timeless quality to it that works in the movie's benefit.

I hope TCM runs La bestia debe morir> again soon, since it's a thoroughly enjoyable little movie.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Accidental Tourist

There are certain movies out there that are remembered because they show up on lists of Oscar-winning films in certain categories. I've argued that an early talkie like Min and Bill would probably be largely forgotten if Marie Dressler hand't won the Oscar; ditto Norman Taurog's win for directing Skippy. Another example of this, I think, is Geena Davis' Supporting Actress Oscar win in The Accidental Tourist.

Obviously, Davis isn't the star here. That honor goes to William Hurt, playing Macon Leary. Macon is a travel writer who writes no-nonsense travel guides that are less about giving people ideas of what to see than ideas about how to make the traveling much less stressful. There's some stress in his personal life, however. His son died a year ago, and Macon hasn't been able to deal with it emotionally, instead responding by shutting himself off from the world and being emotionless. Macon's wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner), who obviously suffered the same loss, has decided that she can no longer deal with Macon's keeping everybody at an emotional arm's length, and is filing for divorce.

The couple lives in a house in Baltimore that was the old family place of Macon's parents which he and his siblings apparently inherited and never sold, so Sarah moves out while Macon stays there together with their dog Edward. Macon has to go on another trip for his job, and takes the dog to a new kennel since the previous one said he tried to bite people. At the new kennel is Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), who not only boards dogs but also trains them in a slightly unorthodox style. At least, I've never heard it suggested to cluck the way she does to express approval with the dog's behavior. In any case, the two become friends.

They actually become more than friends, which means that each gets introduced to the other's family, or what little there is of it. Muriel only has a young son, who has all sorts of allergies. Macon has three siblings. There's unmarried and immature brothers Charles (Ed Begley Jr.) and Porter (David Ogden Stiers), along with sister Rose (Amy Wright) who has been spending so much time taking care of other people that she's never been able to attend to her own emotional needs. There's also Macon's editor Julian (Bill Pullman), who is similarly unmarried but would be right for Rose, if only anyone can convince Rose that there might be anybody out there who truly loves her.

Eventually, Rose and Julian do get married. But Rose decides Sarah should be her matron of honor, the divorce not having gone through yet. This brings Sarah back into Macon's life, and things begin to get really complicated. Macon starts to have thoughts about going back to Sarah, but this would mean abandoning Muriel's son, who might be the one person in the world for whom Macon can form a true emotional attachment.

It all comes to a head in a most peculiar way. Macon has to go on another trip since, after all, he's a travel writer. However, as he's in his seat on the plane waiting to fly off to Paris, who should show up but Muriel? Not only that, but she's without the kid, who is being left to a series of friends to help take care of while Muriel follows her flighty (no pun intended) desire of needily following Macon around in an attempt to win him back. And she's pretty obnoxious once we get to Paris, consistently interrupting Macon when he's supposed to be on business. And then Macon's back goes out, and the brilliant idea is had to send Sarah over to France to do all the traveling Macon is supposed to do while he's laid up in his hotel room.

Geena Davis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, and she does a good job. But I think, having watched the movie, that there's a good reason why The Accidental Tourist has become a relatively forgotton film. The big problem is that most of the characters are pretty emotionally repressed, which makes it hard to have much sympathy for them. Muriel is one of the few who isn't, but once she abandons her son to go to Paris and harass Macon, it gets hard to have much sympathy for her too. Some of this criticism may be a bit harsh, as William Hurt especially does a good job with what is a difficult character to play. I think I made the comment in regards to Ordinary People that having to play icy like Mary Tyler Moore did isn't easy, but doesn't necessarily look like you're playing a difficult role; while Sissy Spacek, who beat out Moore for the Oscar by playing 30 years of Loretta Lynn, got something showy and easy to make people understand that it's really good acting. Hurt is definitely in Mary Tyler Moore territory here.

The Accidental Tourist ist also a very talky movie, and one that goes rather leisurely about its business at right about two hours. This deliberate pacing may make some people consider the film a bit of a slog. But don't overlook the performances, as The Accidental Tourist is actually a pretty good grown-up movie for people who want something intelligent and thought-provoking.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

In case The Quiet Man isn't mawkish enough for you

Tyrone Power was one of the people honored in Summer Under the Stars last August. One of his movies that I hadn't blogged about before is The Long Gray Line. With that in mind, I put it on the DVR in order to watch it at some point in the future and do the inevitable blog post. That future is now.

Tyrone Power plays Martin Maher, a real person who at the start of the movie is about to be subjected to forced retirement from his job at the US Military Academy at West Point after 50 years of service to the country. President Eisenhower had been a cadet at West Point before his glittering military career and becoming president, so he brings Maher down to the White House to discuss Maher's situation. Cue the inevitable flashback....

Go back to 1898, when Maher first arrives from Ireland. For some reason, he winds up at West Point instead of New York, and the only job available for a civilian like him is as a server for the cadets in the mess hall, which surprised me since I would have thought the cadets ate cafeteria style or did the serving themselves as part of their duties. Maher is spectacularly unsuited to the work, but sees from the Master of the Sword, Koehler (Ward Bond), that guardhouse duty is a big deal. This, however, requires enlistment, which Maher does.

Some time passes, and Maher is living on base. A civilian there is Mary O'Donnell (Maureen O'Hara), another Irish immigrant who is the cook for the Koehlers. Needless to say, Marty and Mary fall in love and eventually marry, and have the sort of marriage you'd expect from two Irish-Americans in a John Ford movie. Mary is even able to save up the money to bring Marty's father (Donald Crisp) over to America.

More time passes, and we get to World War I. Everybody wants to sign up because that's the patriotic thing to do and what you'd expect from a John Ford movie hitting you over the head with its themes. Indeed, even Marty's father tries to enlist although the real life Marty's father had died some years before. Marty would like to serve in the actual war, but the higher-ups insist that he would be of more service staying at West Point. Among the various cadets Maher has tended to over his 15-plus years at West Point heading off to America are the aforementioned Eisenhower along with other famous names like Omar Bradley and George Patton. There's also the fictitious Sundstrom (William Leslie) who is killed in action, leaving behind a widow Kitty (Betsy Palmer) and infant son (who grows up to be played by Robert Francis).

Sundstrom had won a Medal of Honor in death, and the law allows for the young son of a Medal of Honor recipient automatic entry to West Point on adulthood, not that Mom wants that since she doesn't want to lose another son. But this being a John Ford movie, you know that young Sundstrom Jr. is eventually going to follow in Dad's footsteps and become a cadet too.

Fast forward a bunch more years, to December 7, 1941. Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor and the cadets are told to assume they're at war. But Sundstrom has violated his oath by getting married, even though the marriage was annulled. Marty is able to convince him to do the right thing by resigning his commission and enlisting in the regular army.

We get one more emotionally manipulative scene of Mary's death (which in real life occurred a few years after the end of World War II), and a final bit of hokum after Marty returns from his visit to the White House.

If you want cheap sentimentality and a film that glories in the way it hits you over the head with its messages, The Long Gray Line is a good place to start. John Ford is tremendously unsubtle here both with the doe-eyed view of Irish immigrants, and with the message of service to one's country. And when you think he can't go any further with it, by god he does. As you can tell, The Long Gray Line is the sort of movie I had a lot of problems with, although I can see why it's a film that other people would really like. So watch and judge for yourself.