Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sweet and Low-Down

A movie that FXM too out of the vault a few months back and still has in its rotation is Sweet and Low-Down, which is going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Benny Goodman plays Benny Goodman, which is a good thing because he couldn't play anybody else. This movie gives him the back story of having grown up around a settlement house and learning there how to play the clarinet. Now that he's a successful bandleader, he wants to give back to the house by giving a free concert there whenever he's in town. One of the kids in attendance has an older brother who he thinks is an excellent trombone player, but who has never gotten a chance to show off his ability since he works at a factory all day. So the kid steals Goodman's clarinet, with the obvious idea of staying just far enough ahead of Goodman so that they'll all wind up meeting the older brother.

That brother, Johnny Birch (James Cardwell), turns out to be an excellent trombonist, and Goodman offers him a place in the band right then and there because of his fondness of people who came through the settlement house. Not only that, but Goodman plans to start building Birch up. (One wonders what the other musicians really think.) Their first gig is at a military school, where Birch meets Trudy (Linda Darnell), who is there passing herself off as a teenager for her nephew who is one of the cadets. Johnny thinks she's too young for him and too forward, but you know they're going to meet again in New York. The other woman is the band's singer Pat (Lynn Bari).

Eventually the band does get to New York, where Trudy is able to patch things up with Johnny. But Pat is jealous. She's got an agent who is constantly trying to wheedle more out of Goodman, so the two of them get the idea to drive a wedge between Johnny and Trudy, as well as between Johnny and Benny. Johnny's going to have to learn some lessons before he can truly become successful....

Sweet and Low-Down is the sort of feel-good movie that studios were churning out during World War II, relatively light and undemanding with a happy ending and a lot of good music. In fact, the music is the best part of the movie. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the two male leads are both incredibly wooden when they're not playing music. Johnny is also too stupid if he thinks he's going to get success right away, but that's what the plot requires. The running sub-plot about Jack Oakie's character wanting to make it into the band is supposed to provide comic relief but really doesn't.

If you want nice music, you'll get that here. If you want a great movie, you won't.

I believe Sweet and Low-Down is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The cities around Alice

Continuing my futile quest to free up space on my DVR, I decided to watch Alice in the Cities to do a post on it here.

Rüdifer Vogler plays Philip, a German journalist who is doing a feature story on America and as part of that story driving through the country, seeing the parts that tourists don't see. He seems bored by it all, not doing much writing but taking a whole bunch of Polaroid shots. (Did anybody ever get Polaroids to come out looking this good?) Philip gets to New York with a whole bunch of photos but no story, pissing his boss off to no end. Philip wants to go back to Germany to write the actual story.

Unfortunately, Philip is going to have to take a detour to get back to Germany, since the air traffic controllers are on strike, effectively closing off German airspace. He'll have to fly to someplace like Amsterdam and get to Germany from there. At the airport, he meets Lisa (Elisabeth Kreuzer), a woman who's obviously got a complicated life with a huge back story that's never fully revealed. She's got a daughter Alice (Yella Rotländer) and no husband, instead having lived in various places with various men, and deciding she needs to get out of her current situation in New York.

Philip helps them get their tickets since their English is very limited, and in exchange Lisa eventually lets Philip spend the night in their hotel room since he's quite short on money. Philip takes Alice to the Empire State Building, while Lisa goes presumably to break off the relationship with her current partner. But the result is that Lisa doesn't show up for the flight, saying instead that she'll meet up with Philip and Alice a day later in Amsterdam.

Philip and Alice have a day to spend in Amsterdam, and on the next day, he waits for the incoming passengers... and Lisa is not among them. What to do with Alice? She supposedly remembers having grandparents somewhere in Germany, but she's not quite certain which city, or what her grandparents' surname is, these being Mom's parents. The two set off for Germany to find the grandparents.

Eventually Philip gets the right idea and takes Alice to a police station to let them handle things, but Alice decides to run away and join up with Philip again in her quest for her grandparents. Frankly, at this point I would have taken her right back to the police, but Philip decides he'd rather help Alice and ignore the fact that the police might get the wrong idea and arrest him.

To be honest, Alice in the Cities was not my kind of movie. It's talky, slow, and frankly, I found myself not liking any of the characters, which is a big problem when there are only two main characters. There's some interesting cinematography, such as places in the US that probably aren't there any more, and also the Wuppertal monorail. But that was about it for me. Other people praise the movie, however, for whatever message they perceive it as trying to put across.

Alice in the Cities is available on DVD as part of a Criterion box set of movies from its director, Wim Wenders. That means it's pricey and not something I'd drop money on. But as always, judge for yourself, especially if you can do the streaming thing and it should show up on the Criterion Channel.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Alias French Gertie

Not too long ago, TCM ran a new-to-me early talkie, Alias French Gertie. It's been released to DVD by Grapevine Video, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

Bebe Daniels plays the title role, a woman who at the start of the movie is a maid for a wealthy couple, speaking French and with apparently limited English. This is of course a ruse; this maid is actually "French Gertie" Jones, a known jewel thief. She's planning to take her boss's necklace, but she's stopped when another crook comes into the picture. This is safe-cracker Jimmy Hartigan (Ben Lyon), and he stops her from taking the necklace. However, the cops, led by Detective Kelcey (Robert Emmett O'Connor) show up. Jimmy takes the fall for Gertie.

It's love at first sight, but second sight is going to take a while because Jimmy has to go to prison. He gets out and Gertie decides she's going to try to make Jimmy go straight. And it looks like she may be able to succeed. The young lovers meet an older couple, the Matsons (John Ince and Daisy Belmore). Mr. Matson is a stockbroker, and needs a new partner who has money to invest. Supposedly Jimmy has some money saved up from his past life of crime or something, so he does have the money to invest.

And things actually go well -- at least until it turns out that Mr. Matson is a criminal himself, fleecing Jimmy out of all his life savings. It's almost enough to make Jimmy turn back to crime. But dammit, Gertie doesn't want that at all.

In some ways, Alias French Gertie is a typically creaky early talkie. But it's also reasonably entertaining. Daniels and Lyon work well together, and would wind up getting married and staying together for 40 years until Daniels' death. For people not used to early sound, I'd recommend other stuff first, but for people who already like movies of the period, Alias French Gertie is a worthwhile watch.

Schedule notes for May 18, 2019

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about the 1935 version of Les Misérables and mentioned that it seems to be out of print on DVD. I hadn't noticed at the time I watched that it was going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. If I had, I probably would have held off watching it so that I could do the full-length post on it today for tomorrow's airing.

Last Saturday morning on TCM saw the final chapter of the 1940 Flash Gordon serial, which means there's going to be a new serial starting this Saturday, that being 1946's Lost City of the Jungle. There are 13 chapters which I think means that due to Summer Under the Stars, the last chapter should be airing on September 14. This was also the last film for Lionel Atwill, who died during filming.

Also in the Saturday matinee block, have fun with the Three Stooges in an early one as they appear with Ted Healy, at 11:30 AM. You may recall Healy showing up with "his" stooges in the 1933 movie Dancing Lady starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks #253: Letters

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 letters, which I'm assuming is intended in the sense of mail and not letters of the alphabet. With that in mind, I didn't have too much difficulty coming up with three old movies:

The Letter (1929). Bette Davis made this story famous with her 1940 version, but I'm going to pick the 1929 version, starring Jeanne Eagels as a woman living in Malaya with her husband who takes up a lover (Herbert Marshall), only to shoot him dead in self-defense. Or so she claims; there's a letter from her to him that's fallen into the wrong hands that might throw some shade on her self-defense claim, and she has to get it back. Eagels would die not long after the movie was released due to complications from her heroin addiction, and the "heroin chic" really shows. Eagels, however, is spectacular in this one.

Cause for Alarm! (1951). Barry Sullivan plays a slightly paranoid man with some health issues married to Loretta Young. When he realizes that the doctor treating him is an old boyfriend of hers, he writes a letter to a prosecutor friend saying he's worried that the wife and doctor are trying to kill him. Just as the letter is getting sent, Sullivan actually drops dead, so Loretta realizes that dammit, she absolutely has to get that letter back. Of course, you're not supposed to interfere with the post office....

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Louis Jourdan plays a concert pianist in 1900 Vienna who has been challenged to a duel the next morning, a challenge he has no intention of accepting. But then he gets a letter from someone in his past. That woman (Joan Fontaine) knew him when she was an adolescent and he was a struggling pianist and military cadet, and they met on several occasions, with she having a much greater love for him than the other way around. The relationship led to a tragic life for Fontaine, causing Jourdan to ponder his own situation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fate is the Hunter

The second of the two new-to-me movies that showed up on FXM at the beginning of May is Fate Is the Hunter. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:20 AM, as well as twice over the Memorial Day weekend.

The movie starts off rather spectacularly. Rod Taylor plays Capt. Jack Savage, who is a pilot for Consolidated Airlines Flight 22, from Los Angeles to Seattle. 49 passengers board, along with a rookie stewardess and more experienced stewardess Martha Webster (a very young Suzanne Pleshette). The plane takes off, and shortly into the flight, one of the two jet engines blows out, forcing the plane to head back to Los Angeles for an emergency landing that should be routine since the planes were designed to land with just one engine. But they'll be delayed a bit by three planes coming in for a landing that are going to have to move out of the flight path. And then the alarm comes on for the other engine being out, and the radio goes dead. They're going to have to do a crash landing. And it would have worked too, if it weren't for that goddamn pier on the beach. Everybody but Martha dies.

Glenn Ford plays Sam McBane, the director of flight operations for Consolidated and up for an executive position. He used to be a pilot, having served during part of World War II alongside Savage, so this crash has hit him personally. It's about to get a lot more personal, though, as the vulturous media are circling. They want answers so that the lawyers can start suing somebody. Sabotage is quickly dismissed, as is mechanical error. More worrying, during the recovery process it's determined that the second engine did not in fact blow out, despite Martha having reported it. The only explanation left is pilot error.

Sam starts doing his own investigation before the Civil Aeronautics Board can crucify Savage, and finds that his old friend's reputation precedes him. Savage was a Jack Carson-like manipulator during the war, taking a cavalier attitude and taking other people's women, as with Sam's date with Jane Russell (playing herself). It's continued, with Savage having broken off an engagement with Lisa (Dorothy Malone in an uncredited role) to take up with ichthyologist Sally (Nancy Kwan). Savage was also seen cruising a series of bars with friend Mickey, whom Sam does not know.

The first day of the hearing into the crash doesn't go well (or realistically) at all, which gives Sam the ridiculous idea of taking another identical plane up into the air to determine what might have happened. (They didn't have nearly the quality of simulators then that they do now.) Will this reveal whether Savage was not in fact at fault?

Fate Is the Hunter isn't a bad movie, but I have to admit that as I was watching it, I found myself thinking that the material might have been better-suited to a TV Movie of the Week. There's a lot of talk going on, and much of the movie seems designed to give each of several names one big cameo scene. Still, it's entertaining enough if nothing spectacularly good.

As far as I'm aware, Fate Is the Hunter is not available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the FXM showings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman

FXM brought a couple of movies out of the vault at the beginning of the month, so I DVRed them to do posts on when they air again. One of those movies, The Third Secret, will be showing on FXM tomorrow at 11:25 AM (and again Thursday at 9:35 AM).

The movie starts off in a townhouse in London. A maid comes in to do her morning routine, and when she steps in to her boss' office, she sees the man dying, with a gunshot wound to the head. With the gun close by and the man talking as though it's a suicide, everything certainly points to suicide.

Cut to a TV studio in London. American commentator Alex Stedman (Stephen Boyd) is finishing up his TV show on the comments of an American expat. He hears news of the man's death: noted psychicatrist Dr. Leo Whitset, who worked for the British Analysis Institute. But Dr. Whitset also had some private patients, and Stedman was one of them, so he's quite unhappy with the good doctor's death.

Stedman is even more unhappy when the official inquest determines the doctor killed himself. Stedman knows the doctor wouldn't have done it, and figures somebody must have murdered him. But who, and how? After all, the signs point to suicide, and there wasn't any break-in. Perhaps it could have been one of the other patients, since after all Whitset was treating people with some pretty severe psychological problems. The authorities quite rightly won't give Stedman a list of Whitset's patients. But then he meets Whitset's adolecsent daughter Catherine (Pamela Franklin), who remembers the names and addresses of the patients from Dad's outgoing mail.

Stedman sets out to see each of the other patients, although he has to be coy about it as he can't let on why he's seeing them. Would you want to be accused of murder? And would you want some stranger to know that you were seeing a psychiatrist for some pretty severe problems? But Stedman still has to see them. There's art dealer and very frustrated artist Alfred Price-Gorham (Richard Attenborough; watch for a very young Judi Dench as his assistant); secretary Anne Tanner (Diane Cilento); and very honorable judge Sir Frederick (Jack Hawkins).

After seeing each of the other patients, Stedman realizes he's no closer to figuring out who killed Whitset, even though he's still certain it was murder and not suicide. This even though one of the other patients does something the point the finger at a potential murderer....

The Third Secret is an interesting little movie, with a slew of good performances as you'd probably expect considering the cast. The movie isn't perfect, as I found some of Stedman's scenes with his fellow patients to be a bit cold and straining credulity. That, and Stedman seems to be so much more stable mentally than the other patients, so why was he seeing this doctor who could pick and choose his patients.

Overall, though, The Third Secret is definitely a worthy movie. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, however, so you're going to have to catch it on FXM before it goes back in the vault.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A new(ish) Orson Welles documentary

TCM's programming for tonight is a night of Orson Welles movies, although the night is kicking off with a documentary called The Eyes of Orson Welles at 8:00 PM.

I haven't seen the documentary, as it was only released last year, and this is the first TCM showing. I notice, however, that it's directed by Mark Cousins, which gives me a bit of pause. Cousins directed the multipart series The Story of Film that ran on TCM several years back. TCM programmed a bunch of great stuff in conjunction with the series, but the series itself wasn't very good, with a lot of images that didn't seem to fit, such as a running joke on the TCM boards about whether the guy caught his bus in reference to reference to a guy, well, trying to get his morning bus. That and the coffee.

The IMDb reviews on this new documentary are sharply divided, and the synopsis also makes me wonder, as it's described as an open letter to Welles using Welles' sketchbooks. I can see why this would cause such a difference of opinion.

As always, watch for yourself. I don't know if it's on DVD.

Doris Day, 1922-2019

Doris Day in a publicity still with James Garner

The death has been announced of actress Doris Day, who died this morning at the age of 97. (I think I might have mentioned once that some sources listed she was born in 1924, but her actual year of birth was cleared up a couple of years back.) In a 20-year movie career she acted in quite a few comedies and musicals, although she made the western Calamity Jane and a couple of straight dramas:

Here she is, second from left in the underrated Julie. There's also The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she sang the Oscar-winning song "Que Sera Sera", which she'd go on to sing in a couple of other movies.

I was also able to find a clip from the Warner Archive's Youtube channel of her singing the title song to The Glass Bottom Boat, so I'll include that here:

TCM has already put out a TCM Remembers piece for Day, as well as a section on their website. I didn't see offhand any mention of when TCM would be running their programming tribute to her, but I'm sure that will be announced in due time.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Body Heat

The last time DirecTV had a free preview of some of the premium movie channels, I took the chance to record Body Heat.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a mediocre lawyer in a sweltering small town on Florida's east coast. When he's not helping little old ladies or small-time crooks with their legal issues, he spends his time in bed with whatever good-looking woman is available, and drinking copious amounts of liquor. It's not as if there's much else to do.

One day, he meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). She's married to wealthy real-estate magnate Edmund Walker (Richard Crenna), who is away on whatever sort of business he does, which is probably mildly shady. Anyhow, hubby's being away all the time during the week allows Matty the time to go to various places and meet people like Ned, who quickly falls for the beautiful Matty and comes up with some scheme to get back to her house in a swanky nearby town.

The two have sex a couple of times, and Matty finds herself falling for Ned, which is a problem in that she's already married. She can't get a divorce (well, she could) because she wasn't wealthy before marrying Edmund and he made her sign a pre-nuptual agreement, a very sensible think for him to do. The two had obviously seen Double Indemnity, since they come up with the brilliant idea of killing Edmund and making it look like a botched arson. That, and come up with a very slight change to their wills that will have a slight legal problem that winds up giving everything to Matty. Ned's former client Teddy (Mickey Rourke) hears about the arson part, being an expert in incendiary devices, and advises Ned that this is a terrible idea.

Ned's not thinking with the head at the top of his body, so he doesn't heed Teddy's advice, instead going ahead with the murder, which doesn't quite go off as planned. And then after they actually kill him and move the body to where the botched arson is supposed to happen, they make another mistake that the investigators -- police detective Oscar (J.A. Preston) and prosecutor Peter (Ted Danson with a ridiculous set of glasses) discover. Meanwhile, Ned is looking for the mysterious Mary Ann (Kim Zimmer), who witnessed the changes to Edmund's will and who could provide a crucial alibi for the two....

For the most part, I greatly enjoyed Body Heat, although I did have a few problems with it. The atmosphere is quite good, as are the performances. (I was particularly impressed with Danson, who was a good fit for Cheers but whom I wouldn't have thought of as good casting here.) One problem I had was that the movie seemed at times as though it was a bit sterile and too much a simulacrum of the 1940s noir style, trying to be stylish for its own sake. The plot also winds up being a bit too twisty and turny.

Overall, however, anybody who's interested in a more grown-up take on the noir than we could get during the Production Code era should enjoy Body Heat. It is available on DVD if you want to pick it up and watch whenever you want.