Thursday, July 9, 2020

Car Wash

Another of the movies that I had the chance to record during one of the freeview weekends was Car Wash. It's going to be on StarzEncore Black twice tomorrow, at 12:21 PM and again at 11:49 PM.

The scene is an old-style car wash in central Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, when those old full-service car washes were dying out, to be replaced by the automated car wash that you can find today. The business is owned by a white guy, Mr. Barrow (Sully Boyar), but has a mostly black staff on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) is a parolee trying to make a better life for himself, and has what he thinks are good business ideas that the boss just never seems to have time for. Duane (Bill Duke) has become an Islamic radical, taking the name Abdullah and getting pissed every time somebody calls him Duane. There are also a pair of friends who sing covers of popular songs, and are preparing for an upcoming audition; a guy trying to win tickets from a radio contest; and so on.

I mention all this in passing because Car Wash is one of those slice-of-life movies, looking more at a day in the life of the titular car wash than having a fully developed plot, not that there's anything wrong with that. There are other running stories such as TC (Franklin Ajaye) trying to convince the waitress at the café across the street to go on a date with him, or the owner's Marxist son.

In and around all of this, several people get cameos as they have one comedic interlude. George Carlin actually shows up several times as a cabbie whose fair stiffed him; Richard Pryor is a pastor preaching the prosperity gospel who has the Pointer Sisters, still in their 1940s era, with him; and Irwin Corey plays a man who may or may not be the Pop Bottle Bomber. There's also a whole lot of disco music.

It's all pleasant enough if disco music is your thing. There's nothing particularly earth-shattering here although the finale is surprisingly dark; otherwise, it's just a bunch of people having a lot of fun doing what amounts to sketch comedy, bringing in some guest stars along the way, and it mostly works. One other nice thing about the movie is how it serves as a time capsule of a bygone era.

Car Wash might not be for people who hate disco, but other than for them, I think it's well worth a watch. It seems to be out of print on DVD, but Amazon has it on streaming if you don't have the Encore channels.

Thursday Movie Picks #313: Globetrotting movies

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is "Globetrotting movies", which of course made me think of...

Of course, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island was a TV movie, so not appropriate for today's theme. I haven't seen the 1951 movie The Harlem Globetrotters, so I don't want to use it here. I was able to come up with three movies anyway:

Holiday for Lovers (1959). Clifton Webb and Jane Wyman send their daughter (Jill St. John) off to South America to study art, where she falls in love with an architect's (Paul Henried) son. Webb misunderstands and thinks his daughter has fallen in love with the architect, and doesn't like the idea of a May-December relationship, so he takes the family down to South America to set his daughter straight. By this time, she's started touring the continent, with Webb and family chasing her.

Trade Winds (1938). Joan Bennett is wanted in connection with a murder, and flees the US mainland first to Hawaii and then to various ports of call in Asia. The police, in the form of Ralph Bellamy, are in chase, but also private investigator Fredric March is pursuing her. March finds her, and the two fall in love, complicating matters. Rounding out the chasers is March's secretary Ann Sothern.

The Great Race (1965). Tedious comedy about an early 20th century car rally from New York to Paris, going west, because just putting all the cars on a ferry across the Atlantic wouldn't work. Tony Curtis plays a famous adventurer who enters the race, and his eternal rival, Jack Lemmon, decides to join simply to stop Curtis from winning. Natalie Wood plays a newspaper correspondent who joins in to cover the race.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


A couple of times this year, TCM ran the movie Underground. I watched it not too long ago, and it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, so now you get the post on it.

Philip Dorn plays Eric Franken, a chemist who works at a German research institute in the early days of World War II (the movie was released in June 1941, before the US entered the war). Of course, all the research these days is military-related, and Eric has a brother Kurt (Jeffrey Lynn) in the army.

But Eric goes out one night and helps a bunch of people get in a truck with a radio transmitter and send out a clandestine broadcast telling people the truth about the Nazi regime! Of course, this is highly illegal, and the Nazis home in on the source of the broadcast, leaving Eric and his confidants to make a hasty escape.

Unbeknownst to Eric, Kurt has returned home, having been injured in the war. Kurt is a dedicated Nazi, while Eric is actively fighting against them and their parents just want peace. With Kurt back home, Eric knows he's in a bind. If he keeps going out at night, it's going to raise Kurt's suspicion. But he has to keep the resistance movement going.

In fact, Kurt has already noticed that Eric goes out at night, and has traced one of Eric's destinations as a restaurant where Sylvia (Kaaren Verne) plays the violin. Sylvia, as you can probably guess, is a member of the underground too, although Eric tries to pass her off as a girlfriend. Kurt, for his part, decides to start putting the moves on Sylvia!

This means, as you can probably guess, that Kurt is going to figure out that Sylvia is part of the underground, meaning that either Eric is in danger, or he's actually part of the underground too. Not that Kurt realizes yet that his own brother is fighting the Nazis.

Undergound is an interesting little B movie from Warner Bros., released at a time when the US Senate was ramping up to investigate Hollywood's decidedly non-neutral stance on the situation in Europe. (The attack on Pearl Harbor would obviously quash all this.) It's clearly propaganda of sorts, although it's relatively mild compared to what we'd get during the war and especially the stuff directed at the Japanese.

Still, it's there, and it results in an ending I found unrealistic, on top of what is already a relatively thin plot. Underground is certainly worth a watch, but all in all it's one that never really rises above being a B movie.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Sam Fuller night

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies from director Sam Fuller, all of which are interesting, and some of which deserve to be better remembered, especially those that aren't on DVD or are out of print. I think I've blogged about all of them before, so no full-length post on any of these again.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with The Steel Helmet, a Korean War drama about a bunch of soldiers who wind up banding together after their various platoons get split up.
That's followed at 9:45 by probably the best-known of the movies, Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who robs Jean Peters, who doesn't realize she's a courier for some very important government secrets.
Then at 11:30 comes House of Bamboo with Robert Stack as an MP in Japan looking for his "friend" Robert Ryan who is actually a gangster.
Up fourth is Underworld USA, at 1:15 PM, with Cliff Robertson as a man who joins the criminal underworld to gain revenge on the gangsters who killed his father when Cliff was an adolescent.
Park Row at 3:15 AM is a really interesting look at the yellow press in New York around the time the Statue of Liberty was being erected. In fact, this is the one that I haven't done a full-length post on before, although I haven't seen it in years. If I've got space on the DVR, I'll probably record it and watch again.
Concluding the night, or starting early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM is The Baron of Arizona. This one is a really interesting historical drama about James Reavis (Vincent Price), a real person who used a point in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to make a false land claim to a large portion of the state of Arizona, and nearly got away with it.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Ennio Morricone, 1928-2020

I woke up early this morning to see that Twitter was blowing up with news of the death of Italian film score composer Ennio Morricone at the age of 91. Morricone was incredibly prolific, having started in the late 1950s and becoming really famous with the scores to the three films in Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy.

Morricone scored both Hollywood and Italian movies, earning six Oscar nominations but only finally winning a competitive Oscer a few years back for The Hateful Eight. I happen to have Once Upon a Time in America on the DVR and at some point I'll get around to watching it and doing a post on it, but it runs something like 73 hours so it's going to be a time commitment.

I was looking for some examples of his work on Youtube, and wouldn't you know I was able to find three good examples right off the bat in which he's conducting his own music:

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Mission, which is one of his Oscar-nominated scores

Cinema Paradiso, which Ennio composed along with his son Andrea

I haven't read anything yet on when TCM is going to run a programming tribute to Morricone.

TCM Star of the Month July 2020: Tony Curtis

We're into the first full week of a new month, which means it's time for a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being Tony Curtis. TCM is running Curtis' movies every Monday in prime time, with a surprisingly low number of his movies, just 17. The movies are grouped somewhat by theme, with his early movies tonight, two nights of comedies (July 13 and 27), and one of dramas (July 20).

A movie which surprised me in its absence is Operation Petticoat, since it's one that Curtis talks about in the Star of the Month piece he did for Cary Grant many years back. But then I looked it up and it turns out the movie was made at Universal; for some reason I was thinking it was an MGM movie which would be easier for TCM to get.

Curtis got an Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones, which is on tonight at 10:00 PM and is somewhat surprisingly not the first movie in the salute, that honor going to the Trapeze.

I was fortunate to have a pair of related pictures to use since The Defiant Ones is followed at 11:45 PM by The Vikings, which isn't all that good but is a fun movie to watch.

It's not surprising that the first of the comedies on July 13 would be Some Like It Hot, since it's one of the great movies ever made, with Tony Curtis being fun as the guy who gets poor Jack Lemmon into the crazy scheme of dressing as women to get away from a bunch of mobsters they witnessed committing a mob hit. Of course, Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon are the ones to get the memorable finale.

One other omission is Sweet Smell of Success, another movie for which Curtis would have been a worthy Oscar nominee. Curtis only got the one nomination for The Defiant Ones as mentioned above, but it's not the only role for which he probably should have gotten one. There's also The Boston Strangler, which is on the schedule, at 1:30 AM on July 21 (which is of course still July 20 on the west coast).

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Ooh, Fannie Hurst again

Author Fannie Hurst wrotesome works that got turned into rather melodramatic movies. I've blogged about the 1960s version of Back Street before, as well as both versions of Imitation of Life. Recently I had the chance to watch another movie based on a work by Hurst, Symphony of Six Million.

The movie starts off at some time in the past when the Jewish immigration was congregated in Manhattan's Lower East Side. One immigrant family is the Klaubers with parents Meyer (Gregory Ratoff) and Hannah (Anna Appel) and three kids. Felix is the middle kid, a bookish boy who's got an interest in medicine, while his older brother Magnus is more interested in moving up the socioeconomic ladder.

Fast forward twenty years or so. Felix (Ricardo Cortez) has in fact become a doctor, interested in ministering to the poor people still living in the tenements. He's also got a potential girlfriend in Jessica (Irene Dunne), someone with a decidedly non-Jewish name but who also works with the poor, in her case the blind children. She's got a handicap of her own thanks to a spinal deformity. Meanwhile, Magnus (Noel Madison) has become somewhat financially successful, and wants Felix, who is in a prestigious profession, to move uptown to treat wealthier patients and get their parents out of the tenements. And to be fair, the parents would like some more leisure.

It works, and Felix goes uptown with the rest of the family, although Felix does still have some misgivings. Life is financially rewarding but not spiritually fulfilling, and things are about to get worse. At a religious ceremony for Felix's young nephew, Meyer collapses, and somehow, Felix is the only one who can perform the brain surgery to save Dad. (Didn't they have specialists back then?) Dad dies on the operating table, and then Jessica needs an operation too even though she's down in the ghetto.

Symphony of Six Million is a decided melodrama, and as I was watching it, I couldn't help but think of another movie whose title I couldn't remember. Thankfully I recalled it was a Frank Capra film, and looking it up I knew I was thinking of The Younger Generation, surprised that is also starred Ricardo Cortez.

Cortez does a good job in Symphony of Six Million while Dunne is miscast. The material, to be honest, is a bit of an acquired taste, and certainly won't be for everybody. I think I liked The Younger Generation a bit more, but Symphony of Six Million is certainly worth a watch.

Symphony of Six Million is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Not the porno magazine

A movie that's been running intermittently in the FXM rotation is The Hustler. It's on again tomorrow at 3:35 AM and 11:05 AM. Since I had recorded it off of TCM when they ran it during the "Stay at Home Festival" back in April, I decided to watch it this weekend to do a post on here.

Paul Newman plays Fast Eddie Felson, who's been living an itinerant lifestyle with his friend Charlie (Myron McCormick). Together, they go to pool halls, where Eddie "hustles", getting other patrons to play for stakes, with Eddie cleaning up because he's that good at the game. The best in the game is Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), so Eddie and Charlie go to the big city to seek him out and get a match against him.

Eddie is good, but he's also undisciplined. The match between the two turns into a marathon, and Eddie is only a sprinter. So while he takes an early lead and is up quite a bit of money, in the end he drinks himself into not being able to play well, and Minnesota Fats cleans him out.

If this were The Cincinnati Kid, this would have been the end of the movie, with a bunch of other stuff in between the opening and the match with Minnesota. But this is a different movie, so the match with Minnesota ends maybe a half hour in. Eddie keeps his things in a locker at the station, which is where he meets Sarah (Piper Laurie). She's got a self-destructive streak and sits with the hard-drinking Eddie.

Eventually, it's going to lead to the two of them starting a relationship and living together out of wedlock, which is a bit of a surprise for an early 1960s movie. Eddie still wants to hustle pool and get a rematch with Minnesota, but he doesn't have the money for it. Indeed, trying to hustle for the money gets Eddie into a fight with some thugs who feel they've been had, and they break Eddie's thumbs.

This is where Bert (George C. Scott) comes in. Bert has the money, and more importantly, also has the discipline. But he also wants a heavy price to get Eddie that rematch. And that's not just a large percentage of the take, but wondering whether Eddie can do it with Sarah around. Still, Sarah accompanies the two when they go down to Louisville to hustle during the Kentucky Derby since there are a lot of wealthy dilettantes (and some pretty darn good players there. But it may just be disastrous for Eddie and Sarah, even if it does get Eddie that rematch with Minnesota.

The Hustler is a well-made movie with excellent performances from all of the stars. Newman and Gleason apparently did most of their own pool shots during the movie, while Laurie is very good. The one issue I had with the movie, however, is that it ran very slowly. It's 134 minutes, and I couldn't help but think a good half hour could have been cut off without the movie really suffering.

The Hustler did get a DVD release, but seems to be out of print. (Don't confuse it with other films that have the same or very similar titles.) It is however available on Amazon Prime streaming if you can don the streaming thing.

Friday, July 3, 2020

If You Leave

Another movie that I had a chance to record during one of the free preview weekends was Pretty in Pink. It's coming up several times over the next week on the Showtime family of channels, starting tomorrow at 4:50 PM on Showtime Women.

Molly Ringwals plays Andie, a high school senior somewhere in a part of suburbia that isn't completely homogenized. She's clearly from the poor part of town, as we see from the street sweeper operating at the beginning of the movie. She lives with her father Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), who clearly has never gotten over his wife having walked out on him and Andie and hasn't been able to hold down a steady job since. Andie makes do in part with the money she earns from her part time job at the record store with her adult friend Iona (Annie Potts).

Andie has another friend in "Duckie" (Jon Cryer). Duckie is clearly infatuated with Andie, and is doing anything he can to get her to go out with him. But Andie only likes Duckie as a friend (and she's really sincere about that), apparently not thinking at all that she would ever have a relationship with him. In fact, Duckie's incessant pursuit of Andie does cause her problems at times.

One day at the record store, a fellow student, Blane (Andrew McCarthy) comes in, supposedly looking for a record, but we can tell from the conversation that he's trying to determine whether he really is interested in her. This continues in the computer lab, with computers that seem surprisingly advanced for 1986, but that's beside the point. Blane decides that he is interested in Andie, and wants to take her on a date.

But here's the catch. Blane is from the rich part of town, where everybody lives in big houses, and the date is to go to a party at one of those houses. Andie has never even been in one of them, and when she walks in, she finds a bunch of the upper-class students who have no interest in her. Blane takes her upstairs just to talk, but runs into his friend Steff (James Spader) who has another woman in the room with him, clearly with the intention of having sex. Andie doesn't want to be at the party any more, but doesn't want Blane to take her home, because she absolutely doesn't want him to see where she lives.

Blane still loves Andie, and even invites her to the prom, the big event of the year at any high school. But Steff starts working on Blane, suggesting that Blane is likely to suffer ostracism from the other rich kids if he's seen too much with poor Andie. Blane decides to tell Andie he had already promised to take somebody else to the prom, which is of course complete BS, after Andie's father already spent good money on a prom dress. What's a girl like Andie to do?

I have to admit that I'm a couple of years too young for the John Hughes (he wrote the screenplay but didn't actually direct this one) 80s teen movies, having graduated high school in 1990, and only getting to ee them well into adulthood. I also have to admit that I don't quite recognize my own high school experience in Pretty in Pink, mostly because I was definitely neither Duckie nor Blane. I came from one of the more blue-collar parts of the school district, and while we did have a decidedly upper-middle-class section due to having an IBM facility in the district, the economic difference wasn't quite as stark as in Pretty in Pink. Yet, I can still see how a lot of people would identify more than I did, and to an extent I did feel some of the class differences.

The performances are quite good, especially Jon Cryer. He's irritating, although that's because the script requires it. Spader is also very good, even if he looks much too old to be a high school student. Stanton and Potts do well with the supporting adult roles. If you want an interesting look back at high school and the 1980s, then I can highly recommend Pretty in Pink.

I had held off on doing a blog post on Pretty in Pink because one of the times I checked, it seemed to be out of print on DVD. But the movie recently (a couple of weeks ago) received a Blu-ray release, and you can find it on Amazon streaming too.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday Movie Picks #312: The Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. On the first Thursday of the month this year, the theme has been the Seven Deadly Sins. We're in July, the seventh month, so it's time for the last of the sins, which is wrath. I suppose The Grapes of Wrath or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be obvious choices, so I decided to go in a different direction:

Kiss of Death (1947). Richard Widmark plays Tommy Udo, who's looking for a missing criminal, asking the guy's wheelchair-bound mother (Mildred Dunnock) for information. When she can't provide him what he's looking for, he has quite a bit of wrath toward her:

Red Light (1949). George Raft plays a businessman who has a kid brother who is a Catholic priest and a war hero. After Raft sends Perry Mason (er, Raymond Burr) to prison for embezzlement, Perry concots a revenge plot that has fellow convict Col. Sherman Potter (er, Harry Morgan) kill the kid brother when he gts out of prison; Burr will have the perfect alibi in that he's still in prison! Raft gets rather wrathful after his kid brother is killed:

Mommie Dearest (1981). Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) has a fair amount of wrath toward adopted daughter Christina when Christina makes the mistake of haning up a dress on a wire hanger:

(Apologies if I used any of these before, but the Blogger search seems to be acting up.)