Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Voice of Bugle Ann

With all that's been going on in my life, I haven't had so much time or energy to watch enough movies to keep the blog going on a daily basis. Recently, however, I did watch a pair of movies off of my DVR that just happen to be coming up this week on TCM as part of Summer Under the Stars. First up is The Voice of Bugle Ann, on TCM tomorrow, August 8, at 12:15 PM as part of a day of the films of Maureen O'Sullivan.

The nominal star here is Lionel Barrymore, playing Spring Davis, an old farmer in a rural part of Missouri who hunts foxes and raccoons together with his fellow farmers, using their dogs to track the prey. Spring has a long-time wife (Spring Byington), and an adult son Benjy (Eric Linden) who also works the farm. One of Spring's dogs has a littler, and Spring winds up taking care of the runt of the litter, a dog he names Bugle Ann because it grows up to have the perfect call for hunting.

Meanwhile, on an older farm in the area, a new man arrives, Jacob Terry (Dudley Digges). He's planning to raise sheep, which means fencing that will be dangerous to the dogs that roam the country. He's got an adult daughter Camden (Maureen O'Sullivan), who lives with Dad even though she has reason to think he's a mean guy. She and Benjy unsurprisingly fall in love, while nobody loves Jacob. Jacob, in fact, threatens to shoot dogs that trespass on his property.

This leads to a confrontation when Bugle Ann goes missing and presumed dead somewhere near the Terry property, and despite Jacob's protestations, every other farmer in the area is convinced that Terry shot an innocent dog. Jacob and Spring get into it, with Spring shooting Jacob dead when it looks like Jacob is about to draw his gun on Spring. Now, this is where the movie develops a bit of a problem, in that you'd think all the other witnesses around would say that Spring was shooting in self defense (even it it wasn't so clear). There's nobody who would support Jacob over Spring, so there ought to be insufficient evidence to convict. But Spring gets convicted and sent to a long prison sentence. Camden leaves, but refuses to sell the farm.

Things get really weird about a year later when everybody swears they could hear Bugle Ann's call again one night, even though they know she's dead because they eventually find her collar. And then Spring gets a mysterious pardon from the governor even though his is a case the governor really should take no interest in. What really happened that fateful night?

The Voice of Bugle Ann is the sort of movie that to me made me think of the famous Variety headline "Stix Nix Hick Pix" that had appeared about a year before the movie. It's not a bad movie; it's more that everything seems somewhat off. I don't know that Hollywood ever got the farm right, at least not in the days when they were mostly bound to the back lot. Now, there are stronger stories that overcome this, such as the lovely Hide-Out from a few years earlier. But The Voice of Bugle Ann really feels like it's missing something that I just can't put my finger on.

Still, it's worth a watch for the odd plot twist, and it doesn't show up all that often, so catch its rare TCM airing.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #419: Female Bosses

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 "Female Bosses", something which wasn't particularly common in the sort of old movie that I normally blog about. The Production Code generally wanted women to stay in the home and be good mothers and housewives. But there were women who could certainly be considered bosses, although only one of my selections is in the traditional business sense:

Female (1933). Ruth Chatterton plays a woman who inherited her father's automobile company, and decided to run it herself, something she's very good at. So good that she doesn't have time for a serious romantic relationship. At least, not until she meets automotive engineer George Brent. Modern-day women will probably dislike the ending to this one.

This Woman Is Dangerous (1952). Joan Crawofrd plays the boss of a gang of criminals that pulls off high-value heists. Unfortunately, she's also going blind, and needs an operation that only specialist doctor Dennis Morgan can perform. So she drops out of sight (no pun intended) to get the surgery, not telling second-in-command David Brian. She falls in love with Morgan and decides to go straight, but Brian finds out where she is. It's the sort of over-the-top melodrama that Crawford was so good at doing in the 1950s, even if the movies aren't the highest quality.

The Virgin Queen (1955). Bette Davis plays one of the ultimate female bosses, Elizabeth I of England. This time, she's pursued by Sir Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd), who is looking for financing to undertake an expedition to the New World (remember, this is a good quarter century before Jamestown). Of course, there's all sorts of palace intrigue going on, and Raleigh complicates things by falling in love with one of Her Majesty's ladies-in-waiting (a young Joan Collins).

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #417: Fairs

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of Thursday Movie Picks, the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. I'm back after a several-week hiatus, mostly because I looked at this week's theme, "Fairs", and realized that it wasn't going to be too difficult to find three movies that fit the theme, as opposed to say last week's TV theme of origin stories. (I'm not into comic book superheroes or movie/TV adaptations of them.) The only issue was whether or not I had used any of the movies before. With that in mind, here are my three selections:

State Fair (1933). You may know the Rogers and Hammerstein musical State Fair, but that wasn't original; in fact, it was written directly for the screen, being based on both the 1933 movie and the novel that preceded the movie. (There was another musical version in the early 1960s.) In this first movie version, Will Rogers, Fox's big star of folksy movies in the days before Variety wrote the "Stix Nix Hick Pix" headline, plays the patriarch of an Iowa family who head off to the state fair for the weekend. Daughter Janet Gaynor meets and falls in love with Lew Ayers; Norman Foster plays the son who falls in love with Sally Eilers. Victor Jory shows up at the beginning of his career, playing the ring toss barker running a crooked game.

So Long at the Fair (1950). Jean Simmons plays a young woman traveling to the Paris World's Fair together with her older brother. She wakes up the next morning to see the fair with her brother, only to find out that her brother is no longer in his hotel room, and there's no evidence that he was ever there, with nobody even willing to admit that the brother even existed. Dirk Bogarde plays an artist who is eventually able to offer Simmons some assistance; a very young Honor Blackman plays Bogarde's girlfriend.

Ministry of Fear (1944). Ray Milland gets out of a mental hospital in the middle of World War II England. He then goes to a village fair, where he wins a cake by guessing its weight. The only thing is, he wasn't supposed to be the winner, and the person who was supposed to win would really like the cake, which contains microfilm that a ring of spies wants for its own nefarious purposes. Milland has to flee to London and try to break the spy ring himself. Watch for Dan Duryea as the guy who wants the cake.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Dr. Monica

It's been a while since I've posted to the blog because, as I mentioned in my previous post, life has been busy and a bit of a mess in the past month and a half. But I noticed that TCM is running a movie that I recorded during Kay Francis' turn as Star of the Month at the beginning of the year, and one that I don't think is on DVD: Dr. Monica, tomorrow at 10:00 AM.

Kay plays the titular Dr. Monica, an obstetrician married to John (Warren William) who is unable to have a baby of her own. She doesn't know it yet, but John has been stepping out on her with one of her two best friends, pilot Mary (Jean Muir). The other best friend, Anna (Verree Teasdale), seems to serve the purpose somebody like Eve Arden would serve in 1940s movies, of the good friend who has a level head, although unsurprisingly Teasdale isn't nearly as funny as Arden.

Unfortunately, Mary gets knocked up, which presents a problem as she's not married. She even thinks about getting an abortion, although that scene is cut since the movie was released about a week before the Production Code went in to full effect. But Mary makes it quite clear that she doesn't want the baby. Worse, in her delirium during labor, she tries to get in touch with John, who knows nothing about the baby, having broken off the relationship with Mary before she could tell him. Monica overhears this, and comes to the bizarre conclusion that she's not just going to leave John (understandable), but make certain he marries Mary so the baby won't be a bastard (well, they couldn't use that word.

But, if you think Monica's motivations are a mess, just wait until the end of the movie when you discover Mary's solution to the conflict! That's one of the two problems that Dr. Monica has: a script that's screwed up, and does no favors to any of the four stars (William being in a surprisingly small role here when you consider his importance to the story). But it's the other flaw that probably accounts for the script problems. It seems fairly obvious that the movie was cut at Joe Breen's insistence; the suriving print runs about 52 to 53 minutes while IMDb says that contemporary sources in 1934 originally advertised a 65-minute movie that never got released in that form. I wouldn't be surprised if Warner Bros.' original intentions for the mil at least made somewhat more sense.

However, for all the problems that Dr. Monica has, it's certainly an interesting mess. And at under an hour, you haven't wasted too much of your time, especially if you know going in that it's a mess.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Light posting alert

I started this blog back in 2008, about the time that my mom was diagnosed with dementia after a series of TIAs, or mini-strokes. Having screwed up my own life, I wound up helping Dad take care of Mom until she went into the nursing home not long before she died in 2015. So after that it was just me and Dad, an arrangement that suited us both emotionally and financially.

Of course, Dad is getting up there in years and recently took a bad fall that resulted in a fractured hip. Since I'm the only one of the kids who lives in the area, I've had to deal with all the fallout of it. I haven't hade much time to watch movies, let alone the desire. I sat down last night to watch Gate of Hell, a Japanese film TCM ran during 31 Days of Oscar and got through about a half hour before I felt I was just too damn tired to keep watching.

I thought about taking a long break from posting, but there's the Thursday Movie Picks to keep me going and, I assume, things will settle down into some sort of routine. But who knows how long that will be?

Monday, May 16, 2022

Midnight (1939)

A search of the blog reveals that I've never blogged about the Claudette Colbert film Midnight before. It was on TCM not too long ago, so I recorded it in order that I could do a review of it, not having seen it in ages.

Colbert plays Eve Peabody, who at the start of the movie shows up in Paris on a train from Monte Carlo and Nice. She's asleep in third class when the train stops, and the railyard worker who checks to make certain all the passengers have gotten off has to roust her to get her off the train. She also doesn't have any luggage with her, just the very fine gown on her back. Eve, you see, is a chorus girl who likes to gamble, and lost everything she had in Monte Carlo, to the point that she had to pawn her belongings to get to Paris.

Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) is a Hungarian émigré living in Paris and working as a taxi driver. Eve sees him, and makes him an offer. He'll drive her around to all the nightclubs listed in the want ads as looking for singers, and if she gets a job, she'll pay him double the fare; otherwise, he'll have to eat the fare since she doesn't have any money. We get a montage of nighclub neon signs, as Eve finds herself unable to procure employment. But Tibor is already smitten with her, as he buys her dinner and offers her a place to crash for the night as he works the night shift.

Eve has other plans. She escapes to a hoity-toity classical music recital that's by invitation only. Well, she escapes to the outside of it, as she doesn't have an invitation, of course. So when she gets in line to enter, she presents her ticket from the pawn shop, since the guy handling admittance isn't checking the invitations so quickly. They check after everybody is in, and Stephanie, the woman running the concert (Hedda Hopper in a small role) spots the deception, asking if anybody is Eve Peabody, or knows her. The real Eve, of course, says nothing, but another man spots her trying to leave, and takes her into another room.

These are actually several people who would prefer to play bridge than listen to this classical music, among them Marcel, who brought Eve into the room; Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore); Georges' husband Helene (Mary Astor); and Helene's lover Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer). George knows fully well that Helene and Jacques are lovers, but he's not going to grant his wife a divorce, instead looking for a way to break up the relationship. Meanwhile, Eve loses 4000 francs playing bridge, money she doesn't have. Eve, of course, hasn't told these people she's Eve Peabody; instead she claims to be the Baroness Czerny, taking Tibor's name.

Georges, however, does have many, and slips some into Eve's pocketbook. He even books a suite for her at the Ritz so that Jacques won't discover the deception. Of course, he's got a plan for her, and my synopsis giving a bit too much away, you might have figured it out, which is that Georges wants Eve to get Jacques to fall in love with her so that Georges will be able to get Helene back for himself. Eve accepts the offer, because she doesn't really have much choice.

Complicating things is that Tibor would like to find Eve. And he's got the power of thousands of Parisian taxicab drivers on his side, having put up a pool wherein everybody who antes up can get the whole pool by finding Eve. Eventually, he learns that Eve has gone to the Flammarion place out in the country for one of those weekend-long parties in a movie like Gosford Park. And when he goes out there, and finds that Eve is using his name....

If Midnight suffers from one problem, it's one that's not of its own making, but of having been released in 1939. Old movie buffs tend to consider 1939 Hollywood's greatest year, and there are a lot of movies from that year that are better remembered than Midnight, with probably the most notable one for the purposes of this blog post being another Paris-set movie, Ninotchka. It's a bit of a shame, because Midnight is generally a fine movie, although at times the production values feel just slightly less glittering than Ninotchka.

But, in general, the actors all do quite well for themselves, including Monty Woolley as a judge in a divorce-court finale, and the script is excellent too. This later even though the screenwriters, the pair of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, apparently had some problems with Mitchell Leisen's direction -- not that I found anyhing notably wrong with it.

In short, Midnight is one of the underrated films of 1939, and if you haven't seen it, definitely do yourself a favor and watch it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Desperately Seeking Susan

Another of the movies that showed up during one of the free preview weekends was Desperately Seeking Susan. It's got multiple airings coming up over the next week, starting with early tomorrow (May 16) at 4:45 AM on The Movie Channel (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed).

Susan (pop singer Madonna) is a woman who travels the world, doing God only knows what, at least that's what her friends know. We obviously know because we get to see it. As far as they're concerned, she brings chaos wherever she goes. As the movie opens, she's in Atlantic City with some guy who's not her regular boyfriend. As she's leaving the hotel while he's asleep, she pilfers some money and a pair of earrings from his coat. The guy gets shot for his trouble by gangsters.

Meanwhile, because Susan is traveling the world, she and her more-or-less regular boyfriend, Jim (Robert Joy), a rock musician who travels a lot, have taken to taking out ads in the personals letting each other know when they'll be available for a meeting. Apparently, some people actually read the personals, and not just the ones looking for dates. One of those people is Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette). She's a housewife living in Fort Lee, New Jersey, together with her husband Gary (Mark Blum) who has made a fairly good living for himself and his wife out of selling hot tubs and bathroom spas. But she's bored, and has a sort of fantasy life wondering about those personals.

One day, Gary needs Roberta to go in to New York City on a business errand. At the same time, Roberta has read that this is the day that Susan and Jim are going to having one of their trysts, in New York's Battery Park. So Roberta decides that she's going to go to Battery Park and see what it's all about, following Susan after the two split up and even buying a jacket that Susan trades in at a vintage clothing store. Roberta finds that the jacket has a locker key, obviously not knowing that Susan has hidden something valuable in that locker. Instead, Roberta takes out a "Depserately Seeking Susan" ad, knowing that this will pique Susan's interest and get her to show up at Battery Park and get the key back.

But the meeting doesn't go as planned. The gangster who shot Susan's partner in Atlantic City and has been following Susan shows up, although of course neither of them knows who this guy is. Also, Susan has been unable to make the meeting because she can't pay her cab fare. Jim, meanwhile, has sent his best friend Dez (Aidan Quinn) to the meeting because Jim read about the guy from Susan's trip to Atlantic City getting killed. Sound complicated? Well, it's about to get more complicated. As the gangster chases Roberta, thinking this is Susan, she falls in hits her head, losing her bag in the process. As happens in the movies, she winds up with a case of amnesia and Dez thinks this is actually Susan.

This causes all sorts of problems on the way to a fairly madcap ending, with Roberta getting accused of prositution and the normally staid Gary smoking pot with Susan, and a parody of bad nightclub musicians mixed in. The plot of Desperately Seeking Susan is one that probably ought not be analyzed too much; instead, just sit back and have fun.

Rosanna Arquett and Aidan Quinn both do good jobs. More surprisingly, Madonna, who selected this as her first big role as she wanted to get into acting, is also a lot of fun as the woman who causes destruction everywhere she goes. There's also several of Madonna's early hits on the soundtrack, as the movie is firmly but fabulously in the 1980s. (Of course, with cell phones nowadays, a plot like this couldn't work at all.)

So just enjoy the ride. Desperately Seeking Susan is quite the enjoyable ride indeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Across 110th Street

For the last several years, TCM has spent one night in late December running a night of movies featuring stars who died over the past year. This past December, one of those stars was Yaphet Kotto, who had died in March 2021. The movie they selected for him was Across 110th Street. Recently, I finally got around to watching it in order to do a review here.

The title refers to Manhattan's 110th Street, seen in New York City at the time as the dividing line between Harlem to the north and the more fashionable neighborhoods bordering Central Park to the south. It's also a fairly stark racial dividing line with blacks in Harlem and whites to the south. If there's one thing they have in common, however, it's a segment of the population engaging in organized crime. As we see in the opening, a white (specifically Italian-American) gangster is riding in his Cadillac toward an apartment in Harlem, where he and his partners are set to collect money from the numbers games. However, a couple of cops knock on the apartment door to inform the man about his parked car. Of course, they're not really cops, but rival crooks, who decide that they're going to bump off all these gangsters and take the money, totaling a good $300K, for themselves!

Unsurprisingly, pretty much nobody is happy with seven people having been murdered in one go, never mind if they were criminals. Nick D'Salvio (Tony Franciosa) is the head of the Italian-American mafia that was going to be getting this money, and as you can guess, he wants it back. But being a criminal, he can't quite rely on the police since they won't just give him that money should they recover it. Meanwhile, the black gangs are led by Doc Johnson (Richard Ward), who is no dummy, as we'll learn later. He owns a livery company which is really a front for the crime business.

And then there are the police. Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto) is a young detective who was called in to the murder scene and basically put in charge of it while the other cops come and go. And then showing up is Capt. Mattelli (Anthony Quinn), a much older cop approaching retirement but without all that much to live on, as again we'll learn later. He outranks Lt. Pope, and of course he's white, so he naturally believes he should be in charge of the crime scene, having no qualms about telling Pope this.

Meanwhile, we have the two crooks dressed as cops, Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin) and Joe Logart (Ed Bernard). They've gotten into crime in no small part because they see no other economic opportunity for themselves, especially considering one of them was already a criminal who'd never get a good job. They use Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas) as their getaway driver, and it's Jackson who screws up first, mostly by being much too flamboyant and drawing attention to himself. D'Salvio and his men find Jackson first, and then the search is on for the other two.

Across 110th Street is a gritty, unrelentingly violent movie that was greatly helped by its use of location shooting. The lighting has a consistent blue-white glow, and is often rather dim, as befits the locations. Most of the locations, including the police precincts, are also quite shabby; the movie was made in 1972 which I refer to here as the era from just before Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead. The racial tensions add to a portrait of a city falling apart.

Reading a bit about Across 110th Street suggests there was a surprising number of poor reviews from contemporary critics. Part of that seems to be because of the violence in the movie, while another reason given is that the movie isn't really breaking any new ground. That may well be true, but what the movie does it actually does quite well. It fits in with any of the other crime movies from the first half of the 70s and holds its own, thanks to the good performances and verisimilitude. It's definitely more than worth a watch.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Strange Justice (1932)

Unfortunately, I've got a lot of movies on my DVR that aren't on DVD, and even not on streaming. I've recently done a few posts on films that seem to be on streaming services somewhere or other although the DVD is out of print, but I generally prefer to do posts on movies that readers have the chance to watch for themselves. But because of all those movies taking up space on the DVR, I'm going to have to start doing the odd post here and there on old films that don't currently seem to be available anywhere. (However, as I mentioned when the old Filmstruck service shut down, I don't understand why Warner Home Video or whatever corporate entity runs the old Warner Archive now can't take all those movies from the library Ted Turner bought and make them a streaming service, since the Warner Archive selections have to have been digitized for putting on DVD or Blu-ray.) In any case, today's post is one of those movies, Strange Justice.

Kearney (Richard Bennett) is a lawyer in New York who meets a friend, banker Henry Judson (Reginald Denny), at a club where Rose (Marian Abbott) is the hat-check girl. Rose has a boyfriend named Wally (Norman Foster) who recently got out of prison and is trying to reform his life and go straight. Meanwhile, Henry seems to like Rose, so she tries to see if he wouldn't be willing to give Wally a job as a chauffeur. Indeed, Wally does get that job, but they don't all live happily ever after.

The problem is that, at the bank, Judson is embezzling money! And he's just been found out by another guy at the bank, Waters (Irving Pichel), who decides that that the thing to do about an embezzling colleague is to blackmail the co-worker. Nice people, aren't they? Meanwhile, Wally nearly jeopardizes his job when he spots Judson putting the moves on Rose, and thinks that perhaps the think to do is to slug his boss. In another odd twist, Judson basically says "Oh well" and wishes Wally and Rose happiness in their marriage.

But there's still that embezzlement going on. Waters and Judson come up with a scheme in which Judson will fake his own death and make it look as though Wally killed him through reckless driving, and have Wally caught with some of the embezzled money that he can't quite explain how he got, or at least not with any corroborating witnesses. This being a 1930s movie, it sends Wally not only back to prison, but to death row. However, since he's not guilty of anything more than being a dope, we will eventually get a happy ending.

Strange Justice is decidedly a B movie, from RKO, who didn't have as good B movies as Warner Bros., nor as polished as MGM. Still, Strange Justice is an interesting little effort from the pre-code era.

I can see, however, how it never made its way to DVD. Nobody would have thought there was much potential for it to sell in the pre-MOD days, and even once the Warner Archive started, there were a lot of other movies that would be more deserving of a MOD release. There's also no real star here to build a box set around (even if I think I saw a Universal Reginald Denny set once), so those old four-movie sets that Warner Home Video were putting out wouldn't do, either.

In fact, Strange Justice is the sort of movie that would be great for a streaming service, even one of the ad-supported services like TubiTV. But then, I don't know much of anything about the economics of the ad-supported streaming services.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Movie Picks #409: Related actors with the same relationship in both real life and the movie

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 one that sounds more complicated when trying to write it down than it is when actually picking the movies. Each of this week's three movies are supposed to have people who are members of the same family in real life, and in the movie they have that same family relationship. Now, there are several cases of real-life husbands and wives playing a married couple in a movie, but I've already used The Guardsman (Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) before, as well as The Clock (James Gleason and his wife Lucille). In the end, I only used one husband-and-wife combo:

Room for One More (1952). Cary Grant was on Wife #3, Betsy Drake, and they star together in this movie. Betsy plays a woman who is willing to take in stray dogs, and even foster children, without consulting her husband (obviously played by Cary Grant). Two of the kids are particularly difficult cases, although this is the sort of movie you just know is going to have a happy ending.

In the Goold Old Summertime (1949). OK, I'm cheating a bit on this one. The movie is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Judy Garland playing the shop girl who has a pen pal she falls in love with, not realizing that the pen pal is Van Johnson, her co-worker with whom she decidedly does not get along. At the end of the movie, Judy's character is seen carrying her daughter in her arms, and that daughter is played by one Liza Minnelli in her first screen appearance.

Five of a Kind (1938). The Dionne quintuplets were born to a French-Canadian couple in Ontario in 1934, and were the first surviving set of quintuplets. As the Dionnes already had a bunch of kids, and would go on to have a couple more(!), the province of Ontario decided to step in and make them wards of the state and turning them into a tourist attraction, which included putting them in a couple of Hollywood movies, here playing a group of quints called the Wyatts. The plot involves their heroic doctor (Jean Hersholt), and the two reporters (Claire Trevor and Cesar Romero) who find out about the quints and try to get the scoop. Of some interest is that the then-new technology of television is used to display the "live" footage of the quints to an audience watching in a theater.