Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's with the Marx Brothers

TCM always has a special theme for New Year's Eve, and this year is no different. Robert Osborne will be all dressed up in his tuxedo to present several of the Marx Brothers' earlier movies. This means that we get to see Zeppo Marx four times; he left the movie business after Duck Soup in 1933. The fifth Marx Brother, Gummo, was only briefly part of the comic act, leaving during the vaudeville days to found a talent agency, and never making a movie. Now, I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of the Marx Brothers. (Actually, I've already admitted it. But I have no qualms about admitting it again. The October 2009 comments that I made about the Ritz Brothers still hold true, too.)

TCM has been spending the morning and aftenoon showing a bunch of Cary Grant's comedies, although they'll also be showing North by Northwest, which is decidedly not a comedy. While Robert Osborne, I think, prefers champagne, it looks as though Cary Grant has a different drink he'd like to offer all of us. As for himself, he'll keep all the booze that he drank in Father Goose, if only Leslie Caron and those bratty kids don't take it from him.

Whatever your drink of choice may be, I wish you a happy and healthy New Year 2011, and that you never date any of your new checks 2010!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Russ Tamblyn, 76 years young!

Today marks the birthday of actor Russ Tamblyn, who was born on December 30, 1934. Perhaps his best-known role is in West Side Story, but his career is much more varied than that, starting as an adolescent in movies like Gun Crazy.

For whatever reason, Tamblyn never quite got the best roles, instead having to play in such stuff as High School Confidential!, which is fun if admittedly lousy. That, and supporting roles. For some reason, I thought I had done a post on The Haunting this year at Halloween. Tamblyn plays the owner of the possibly haunted house that attracts Julie Harris and others.

Looking through Tamblyn's credits, it seems as though there are a few films that are suitable for TCM Underground that look like a lot of fun, although I've never seen them before. Satan's Sadists (1969), in which Tamblyn plays the leader of a biker gang that has some hippie stoners in it, sounds like a lot of fun, although it does sound terrible. Tamblyn also appears in 1971's Dracula vs. Frankenstein, although not in one of the big roles. One has to wonder what Tamblyn did to deserve winding up in movies like this.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ealing Studio Tour

TCM is airing several comedies from Britain's Ealing Studios tonight; a studio that made some of the great comedies of the late 1940s and early 1950s. A couple of them star Alec Guinness, and I've mentinoed those before:

The Lavender Hill Mob kicks off the night at 8:00 PM ET;
The Ladykillers is on at midnight; and
Guinness plays eight characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets at 1:45 AM.

(I haven't actually seen the fourth, The Man in the White Suit, at 10:30 PM.)

Perhaps just as much worth watching is the documentary that accompanies tonight's TCM schedule; Forever Ealing at 9:30 PM.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thankfully not with John Travolta

Tonight TCM is premiering a bunch of Will Rogers movies that I haven't seen. Instead, I'll recommend a movie I have seen, Broken Arrow, airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

James Stewart changed as a result of his experiences in World War II, giving him the ability to play a rather darker range, which he had already put to good use in It's a Wonderful Life and Rope. Here, he's playing a character who's seen the horrors of war -- although in this case it's the Civil War. Now, he's Army captain Tom Jeffords, out west in the 1870s who has the task of dealing with Indian insurrection; in this case that's the Apache chief Cochise (played by Jeff Chandler, who is decidedly non-Indian). Jeffords, having been through the Civil War, wants to pacify the Apache, but not by annihilating them. Instead, he's nursed one of the Apache back to health, and tries to befriend Cochise and, with Cochise, the rest of the Apaches. However, there are people on both sides, notably a rancher played by Will Geer, who don't like Jeffords' handling of the situation. Each side believes that the other is going to break any treaty and, if that's the case, why bother getting into a treaty in the first place?

That having been said, Broken Arrow is a surprisingly intelligent film by the standards of 1950. Fox had also looked at race relations from a different angle that year with No Way Out, which, to be honest is much the superior film. It probably has something to do with the fact that, although America certainly still had racial problems in 1950 (heck, America still has them today), attitudes had changed enough since the 1870s that No Way Out could be more plausibly thought-provoking. That, and there was no way that you could have white actors in blackface in No Way Out; having people like Jeff Chandler play Cochise -- or worse, Debra Paget playing an Apache with whom Stewart's character falls in love -- was not yet considered unacceptable. Still, Broken Arrow doesn't have the propagandistic attitude that later movies about Indian/white American relations did, such as Dances With Wolves.

Broken Arrow has imperfections, but is certainly worth watching thanks to strong performances by James Stewart and Jeff Chandler. It's been released to DVD, but be careful when looking for it. The title Broken Arrow was used again for a completely different movie in the 1990s starring John Travolta as a rogue Air Force man stealing nuclear missiles.

Monday, December 27, 2010

TCM's Blake Edwards tribute

TCM has put aside its previously-schedule programming for tonight in order to show five movies directed by Blake Edwards, who died earlier this month at the age of 88:

Breakfast at Tiffany's at 8:00 PM ET;
The Days of Wine and Roses at 10:00 PM;
The Pink Panther at midnight;
Victor/Victoria at 2:00 AM; and
Operation Petticoat at 4:30 AM.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Elementary school

TCM is showing The Red Balloon overnight tonight at 1:15 AM ET. If you haven't seen it, the movie is about a balloon with a life of its own that befriends a boy in Paris, and is told with almost no dialogue. But, you probably did see it back in elementary school. I did, an only recently learned that apparently lots of copies were distributed to school districts across the US for showing to the little ones.

It's not the only such movie. People of a certain age may remember the 1957 movie Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot. I saw this one in elementary school as well. Unlike The Red Balloon, it at least has an obviously plausible claim to be educational. (How accurate its history is is another story.) Imagine my surprise when a few years later, on a family trip that included a day in Colonial Williamsburg, the introduction included this movie! For some reason, I had always thought that it had been made by Disney. At least, my young eye saw that the production values in that movie look similar to those in Johnny Tremain, another colonial movie that I saw in school which was released about the same time, which was produced by Disney. No; apparently the Williamsburg movie was purpose-made for the folks at Colonial Williamsburg by Paramount. One other interesting fact about the movie is that the main star is Jack Lord, who would go on to star in the original Hawaii Five-O TV series.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

I made a brief mention of dysfunctional families back on Thanksgiving, and commented that the Plantagenets of The Lion in Winter were far more dysfunctional than the Vanderhofs of You Can't Take it With You. As luck would have it, The Lion In Winter is this week's TCM Essential, airing at 8:00 PM ET.

On Thanksgiving, I also mentioned the short The Chicken of Tomorrow. I should have known (and posted then) that it's available on Youtube.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Make Way For Tomorrow

One of the more interesting choices in tonight's Christmas Eve lineup is Make Way For Tomorrow, airing at 10:00 PM ET.

Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi star as parents who have five adult children. Unfortunately, it's the Depression, and business hasn't been good, so the bank is about to foreclose on their house. The parents call four of their children together (the other one is living out on the west coast) to discuss the situation, and an uncomfortable situation is reached: the parents will just have to move back in with their children. Except that none of the children has enough space for both parents, so Mom and Dad will have to split up for a time while some more permanent arrangement can be worked out.

Needless to say, this is an arrangement that can't work out. The parents don't like being separated, and the children don't like having their parents around 24/7. It's part selfishness on the part of the adult children, but it's also eminently understandable. Mom and Dad aren't perfect, and have an unwitting tendency to get in the way or otherwise make trouble for their kids. Mom's being around while one of the daughters-in-law would like to hold her bridge meeting which she needs to do to bring a little extra money in is a problem, while Dad gets a winter cold that's a sign he really ought to live in a warmer climate. Besides, the younger generation never set up house with the idea in mind that they'd have to have space for their elderly parents.

Eventually, the difficult decision is made to send Dad out to the west coast for his health, although the daughter out there doesn't really have room for both parents, while Mom is going to have to go to an old folks' home, a decision that would just break Dad's heart if he knew about it. Dad comes to the big city to make his train transfer to the West, which gives him the opportunity to meet his wife for what is obviously going to be the last time, and the two reminisce about their honeymoon in the city 50 years earlier....

Make Way For Tomorrow is a wonderful surprise from almost 75 years ago. It can be schmaltzy at times, but deals about as well as could be done in those days with some really difficult questions. They're questions which are still timely today, with our aging population and a lower number of younger people to take care of the old in old folks' homes, as well as the need of more parents for more assisted living. Thomas Mitchell plays the son with whom Beulah Bondi moves in; Fay Bainter plays his understandably unhappy wife. She comes across at times as being terribly mean, but then, it wasn't her fault her mother-in-law was foisted upon her! And darnit, Ma shouldn't be telling the daughter-in-law how to raise her kid. Dad moves in with Minna Gombell and her husband, and she might be even more unsympathetic than Bainter. But the whole thing is excellently handled by not having the parents be saints.

Make Way For Tomorrow got a DVD release earlier this year from the Criterion Collection, which means that while it's available, it's also more expensive. Still, this is an excellent movie that rings true even 75 years on.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve repeats

An early heads up on several movies that I've blogged about at Christmases past, which are unsusprisingly

I recommended Holiday Affair when it aired last week, and it's on TCM again Friday morning at 10:30 AM.
That's followed at noon by another selection from the beginning of this month; It Happened on Fifth Avenue, Last Christmas I blogged about the Monty Woolley movie The Man Who Came to Dinner, which comes on at 2:00 PM Friday.
Monty Woolley was also in The Bishop's Wife, which TCM is showing at 8:00 PM and which I blogged about at Christmas 2008.
Another blog post from Christmas 2008 is on Remember the Night, which comes on just after midnight Saturday on TCM (or 11:00 PM Friday out in the Central Time Zone).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Larceny, not murder

TCM continues its salute to Star of the Month Mickey Rooney tomorrow morning. The first film up is A Slight Case of Larceny, tomorrow at 6:00 AM ET.

Rooney and Eddie Bracken star as a pair of men who, wanting to be masters of their own lives, open up a gas station of their own. Business is going moderately well until, at the same intersection, a much wealthier businessman who owns a bunch of stations opens one up to compete with our two heros. Being part of a group means that the other owner can have lower overhead, and can suffer some losses for a bit as the other outlets will make up for it. So, their competition offers a discount on gas that's sure to make everybody go to that station and to fill up, and not the one owned by Rooney and Bracken.

What's a struggling businessman to do? Rooney gets a "bright" idea: tunnel under to the other station, and tap their gas line, so that they can steal gasoline and offer it at a bigger discount than the competition. And since they're not paying anything for the gas, their margin will be higher. Now, this is a cockamamie scheme, and you know it can't possibly succeed. At first, it does seem to succeed, although it goes wrong thanks to a botched robbery leading to a gas explosion....

By 1953 when A Slight Case of Larceny was made, MGM was making two types of movies: the prestige film, and the ultra-bare-bones B film. The prestige movies were just as good as what they were making before and, once widescreen came into vogue, their prestige movies would look as though they had even better production values. The B movies, however, started to look rather more threadbare, the way Gene Kelly describes the old MGM backlot at the beginning of That's Entertainment! 20 years later. A Slight Case of Larceny is clearly in that B movie camp; the sort of thing that would have been episodic TV or a TV movie had it been made a few years later. That's not to say it's not worth watching. While it's not up to the level of what Rooney was doing in the 1930s and 1940s, A Slight Case of Larceny is still a fun enough little comedy, in part because of the comedic skills of both Rooney and Bracken.

A Slight Case of Larceny has yet to receive a DVD release; either Warner should make it part of their Archive collection, or else come up with another Mickey Rooney box set. But if you want to see the movie now, you'll have to watch TCM's airing. And have fun marvelling at the gas prices.

Edit: It might help to include the body of the post....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adam's Rib

Six months ago, I wrote that if I were going to recommend a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie, the first one I'd recommend would probably by Adam's Rib. It's airing on TCM overnight tonight at 1:45 AM ET.

Tracy and Hepburn play married lawyers Adam and Amanda Bonner. Their work and marriage is brought into conflict when young Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) learns that her husband (Tom Ewell) is cheating on her; this leads Doris to try to shoot him. She's naturally arrested, and winds up with Amanda as an attorney. Amanda has decided to take the case for political reasons: as we learned in The Divorcée 20 years earlier, it's OK for the man to sleep around, but not the woman. And Amanda wants to change this attitude. So, she comes up with a novel defense that basically says Doris was justified: if it had been the husband shooting a cheating wife, public opinion would have less of a problem.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, Adam isn't just a lawyer; he's a prosecuting attorney. And he is given the task of prosecuting the Attinger case. (In real life, this likely wouldn't happen, but we're talking Hollywood here. Since when have they cared about reality?) Adam takes the case despite the fact that it will create tension at home. Amanda, meanwhile, decides to make the case as much of a circus as she can. Along the way, though, she gets a bit of attention from their neighbor, composer David Wayne, which leads Adam to think his wife might be cheating....

Adam's Rib is witty, if at times a bit predictable by today's standards. This is thanks in no small part to a script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. But Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are also helped enormously by the great supporting cast. Not that they need help, but it can't hurt to have people like Holliday or, as the woman she finds with her husband, Jean Hagen.

Adam's Rib has made it to multiple DVD box sets, so you should have no difficulty finding it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not dead yet

I'm a football fan in addition to enjoying classic movies, and one of my other Internet hangouts is a football forum where I have the habit of posting Hollywood obits. Back in 2006 when Glenn Ford died I posted his obit and somebody responded, "I didn't know he was still alive". Ford is obviously no longer one of those "I didn't know he was still alive" people, but for many people, Eli Wallach may be one of those.

Wallach turned 95 earlier this month, and is still active enough to make the odd public appearance. Notably, that includes tonight at the TCM Guest Programmer. Wallach sat down with Robert Osborne to present four of his favorite movies, which kick off at 8:00 PM ET.

First, Wallach picked one of his own, with the sultry Baby Doll, in which he tries to steal hot Carroll Baker from Karl Malden, at 8:00 PM.
That's followed by the romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner at 10:00 PM, in which Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan hate each other in real life but unwittingly become pen-pal lovers;
Charlie Chaplin's overrated The Great Dictator at 11:45 PM; and
Marcello Mastroianni trying to make a movie in Federico Fellini's 8-1/2, at 2:00 AM.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gidget goes erotic

Tonight's TCM selection is the overwrought, but unintentionally funny A Summer Place, at 10:00 PM ET.

Arthur Kennedy and Dorothy McGuire play the Hunters, a married couple from "old money" who are living an a fairly exclusive private island off the coast of Maine along with their son John (Troy Donahue). That "old money" is just about gone, as they've got a huge old house with a mountain of repair bills, but not much money to pay for them. They have the prospect of getting some money this summer, however, when the Jorgensons (Richard Egan and Constance Ford) write saying they wish to rent a couple of rooms in the old place for the summer. Twenty years earlier, Egan had been the island's lifeguard, and now he's made his first million and the missus thinks this is a good place to celebrate making that million.

It's not, for several reasons. The biggest of these is that when Mr. Jorgenson was working as a lifeguard, he had a passionate relationship with the now-Mrs. Hunter. This may lead you to think that he's actually the father of young Troy Donahue, but the rest of the plot of the movie implies this is not actually the case. The fact that the two now middle-aged people were in love 20 years earlier, and with her being trapped in a loveless marriage to a chronic drunk, you just know they're going to try to get back together again, which they promptly do.

They're not the only people who try to hook up, though. The Jorgensons have a daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), and when the two blond teenagers meet, you know it's going to be not just love at first sight, but sexual passion at first sight. You just know that these two kids with all those hormones flowing through them want to do nothing more than oomph day and night, and twice on Sunday if only they could. Mrs. Jorgenson, however, is one of the screen's greatest prudes. She hates the idea that anybody would want to have sex, seemingly thinking that it should only be for procreation, and then apparently only in the missionary position. Heaven forbid anybody actually have an orgasm. The kids, of course, being young and having those raging hormones (but I repeat myself), can't possibly be expected to heed this advice, so they try to meet up whenever possible.

That's thwarted, however, when Mr. Jorgenson and Mrs. Hunter are found to be renewing their old passion from 20 years earlier. The two married couples are forced to divorce, and Johnny is sent off to college. Mrs. Jorgenson sends Molly away to a finishing school to try to keep Johnny from finding her, but that's futile. Still, it's tough for the two young lovers, since everybody knows what their parents did, and the fellow teens, cliquish things that they are, would rather make fun of them than have sympathy.

You'd think that their problems would be solved by the fact that they're both going to turn 18 soon, and old enough to make their own decisions, but the filmmakers can't be bothered by such things. Instead, they make things worse for the young'uns by having Mr. Jorgenson and the former Mrs. Hunter get married! How is it that they can consummate their passion, but not the poor teenagers? It goes on like this for about 130 minutes.

A Summer Place is one of those melodramatic movies that a magazine like Variety in its code language would probably call a "sudser": melodramatic and soapy. Fifty years on, it seems almost quaint and a bit funny in its datedness. At the time, though, it was a huge hit. Whether you take it seriously or just have a good laugh at its expense, A Summer Place is worth a watch. It's also been released to DVD.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I'm not quite certain why

I was looking at the site stats again today, and found some really interesting things.

I got a link from Malaysia, although the link given in the site states resolves to a different site. Google Translate indicates that the site is about getting a good job in the Malaysian civil service:

For me, of course provision, but that of God Almighty, I sincerely say, if without the knowledge of things like the story of three blind men who are wrong in assuming that a physical body. So, know that only with knowledge can help us. Find out the secrets, and tips, as well as the facts contained in the SECRET GOVERNMENT PASSED INTERVIEW. If you are offered an interview for the first time the government, do not worry, I also like your first. Best wishes.

I don't see where the link is, though. Maybe they're looking for Gale Sondergaard in The Letter. Over the past week, this site has given me a whopping SEVEN referrals from Malaysia!

I got another search for Gus Visser, but that's not interesting. Somebody else searched for something rather more interesting; namely, "Does Deborah Kerr show her nipples in Quo Vadis?" Um, ever heard of the Production Code?

Bohemian Rhapsody

I don't believe I have ever recommended the movie Auntie Mame before. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on TCM.

Rosalind Russell stars as Mame, and sure enough, she's an aunt. In fact, her nephew shows up right away at the beginning of the movie. It's the roaring 20s, and his parents have both died, leaving him with nobody else to raise him except his wealthy aunt Mame in New York. Mame, it turns out, doesn't just have the wealth to support living in an impossibly big New York apartment; she's got the lifestyle to boot. She's the ultimate bohemian, living for the pure joy of life and seemingly not caring what comes next. She really does care about her nephew Patrick, though, but as a bohemian, her caring isn't in the conventional way. Instead, she thinks that her brother was stuffy and that the conservator of her brother's estate has the wrong ideas for her young nephew, and that the best thing for her to do is to teach the nephew to enjoy life.

And so Mame begins to turn her nephew's life upside down, although hew own life gets turned inside out too, thanks in no small part to the coming of the Great Depression. Mame needs monetary support, and the best way to do it is to get herself a wealthy man, which she does in the form of Southern oil tycoon Forrest Tucker. While she remains a bohemian, the nephew falls under the influence of his conservator, and Tucker's socialite friends, to the point that, as the years pass, he feels some embarrassment for her as he tries to land a wife suitable for what his father's social status was.

Auntie Mame, however, is Rosalind Russell's movie all the way, and she's great. In fact, she had had a lot of practice in the role, as the movie is based on a Broadway play in which she had also played the lead. The movie version is also a bit of an homage to the play, as many of the scenes end with a fade to spotlight, which focuses on Mame, before the spotlight itself dims and we go to the next scene. It's a device for which I don't particuarly care, but if you focus on the story instead of the stage devices used, it's a pretty good story.

Auntie Mame has also been released to DVD.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!

This week's TCM Underground segment sees one of the more "interesting" Christmas movies out there Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, overnight at 3:45 AM ET.

The premise is that the good little boys and girls of Mars are sad and listless, and there doesn't seem to be anything on Mars that can bring them joy. Martians have access to Earth media, however, and see that here on planet Earth, we have Santa Claus come out every Christmas and give gifts to children and spreading good cheer. So, some of the Martian population decide that the best thing to do is to "convince" Santa to come to Mars and make the Martian children as happy as he makes Earth children. Others among the Martians, however, don't like this sort of Earth influence on Martian culture, and try to prevent Santa from spreading his cheer....

The plot itself is relatively ludicrous. You'd think, for example, that Santa, having been kidnapped and brought to Mars against his will, wouldn't want to take part in this scheme, yet he doesn't seem to have much problem with it. However, it's made infinitely worse thanks to horrid production values and mostly terrible acting. From the bad Martian sets to the North Pole set which is even worse, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians makes a movie like Detour look high-class. And almost all of the characters are uniformly one-dimensional and wooden. (And badly named, too; the Martian children are named Bomar and Girmar, obviously contractions of "boy Martian" and "girl Martian".) The one notable exception is a Martian who very quickly takes to the whole Santa Claus thing, and wouldn't mind spreading all that Christmas cheer himself. He's so far over the top it's a riot. The portrayal is reminiscent of the character who pops up out of nowhere in the control tower scene in Airplane!, but much more frequent. Actually, all of the characters are hilarious; this one is the only character that seems to be trying to be funny.

In fact, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of those movies that is so unbelievably bad that it will have you in tears. Such movies, especially when made by low-budget production companies, are more liable to have fallen into the public domain, making them ripe for DVD releases. Thankfully, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has gotten the DVD treatment. It's just too awful to miss.

Will Wendell Corey ever get the girl?

If you've seen enough of Corey's films, I think you'll realize that the answer to that question is a resounding NO! So, it's more interesting to see how Corey loses the girl. One good example of this is the Christmas movie Holiday Affair, which is airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET on TCM.

Janet Leigh plays Connie, who is a department store "spy": she's a comparison shopper for one of the stores, looking at the price and quality of products sold by other stores, only to return the goods. Naturally, department stores don't like this, and want their employees to report such spies to management. Connie buys a model train set from clerk Steve (Robert Mitchum), telling him honestly that she's a war widow with a son. Steve suspects Connie of being a spy, but doesn't turn her in, which gets him fired. In some ways, though, that's not such a bad thing, since Steve would really rather follow his passion of building boats out on the Pacific coast; he just needs the seed money and was working a "real" job to get that.

Connie's little kid, however, finds out about the train, and figures it's a Christmas present for him. Connie is still planning on returning it, but Steve feels really badly for the kid, so despite having been fired, he buys the same train set for the kid for Christmas. Complications ensue, but you know that at the end of the movie Connie and Steve are going to end up together.

Where does Wendell Corey fit into all of this? He plays Carl, who is Connie's fiancé. He loves Connie, but also realizes she doesn't particularly love him. He wants a wife and likes the kid, and also knows that the kid probably should have a father in his life. So for Carl, this is really just as much a marriage of convenience as it is a marriage of love. Carl can't undrestand why Connie could possibly be in love with Steve, especially since his situation is so unstable. Still, the casting of Wendell Corey makes it almost a certainty who is going to end up with the girl. (If it had been Bill Holden opposite Mitchum, as in Rachel and the Stranger, there would have been a more interesting dilemma.)

Despite the fact that you know how this movie is going to end, it's a great film for the holidays since it's completely undemanding but enjoyable in its relatively light story line. It got a release to DVD a few years back, both individually and as part of the same box set as two other Christmas movies I've recommended this month: All Mine to Give and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blake Edwards, 1922-2010

Blake Edwards with wife Julie Andrews

The death has been announced of writer-director Blake Edwards. Edwards actually started as an actor in the 1940s, although many of his roles were small ones for which he didn't get any on-screen credit; something which might well have spurred him to get into behind the scenes work. One of his first big hits as a director was Operation Petticoat. But, Edwards proved he was adept in many different genres, directing the romantic drama Breakfast at Tiffany's, as well as the much more hard-hitting drama The Days of Wine and Roses, in which Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick play an alcoholic married couple whose lives go down the drain, and later, Bo Derek in 10. Apparently, though, the only time Edwards was nominated for an Oscar was for writing the screenplay to Victor/Victoria.

In his day, he was just as much a sex symbol as Bo DerekOf course, the first time I ever came across Edwards' name was with the old Pink Panther cartoons, which showed up on TV in the days when TV stations had cartoons on in the early morning and afternoons instead of crappy court shows. I didn't know then that the Pink Panther character had come from a caper comedy, and certainly didn't know anything about Peter Sellers. (In the first movie, the "Pink Panther" is actually a diamond, not the cat.) It only goes to show the broad range of Edwards' work.

Edwards is survived by his wife of 41 years, actress Julie Andrews.

TCM has already announced its tribute, which will consist of five films in prime time on Monday, December 27.

Sex finds Andy Hardy

TCM is showing all of Mickey Rooney's Andy Hardy movies as part of their Star of the Month salute to him. The only thing is, they're showing them in reverse chronological order. One with a particularly interesting cast member is Love Finds Andy Hardy, which is airing overnight at 2:30 AM ET.

Love Finds Andy Hardy isn't so much a love triangle as it is a love icosahedron, or some other complex Euclidian solid. Andy's traditional love interest Polly (Ann Rutherford) is going away for Christmas, leaving Andy girlless for the big town Christmas party. Except that somebody has an escort for him. That escort is his old pal Beezy, who is going away for Christmas himself, but has a girlfriend, Cynthia (a young Lana Turner). Beezy doesn't want anybody going after Cynthia, so he offers to pay Andy to play the part of an escort for the holiday season. Andy takes him up on the offer, as it will give him the appearance of a girl, as well as some much-needed money.

Things begin to get complicated, though. Cynthia begins to fall for him, and there's always the threat that either Beazy or Polly will come back early, discovering this blossoming new love. Worse for Andy is his obnoxious new neighbor Betsy (Judy Garland), visiting her grandmother for the holidays. She's got a crush on Andy, but he thinks she's much too young for him. However, she's got a mother who's loaded and apparently doesn't care about her daughter's profligate spending. (Always like a woman to spend.) Andy could certainly use that money, and being the inveterate schemer that he is.... You know Andy's scheme will eventually backfire, until his father the judge (Lewis Stone, as always) has a heart-to-heart talk with Andy which helps Andy solve the whole problem.

Love Finds Andy Hardy is typical of the Andy Hardy movies, but with the plus of having Lana Turner. If you like the Andy Hardy movies, you've probably already seen this one; if not, it's pleasant enough to watch once. It'a also available on DVD.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Parade of the Dead

TCM's annual "Parade of the Dead", better known as TCM Remembers, has begun playing on TCM. For some reason, it seems as though they've mentioned fewer people this year than in years past, although to be honest, I haven't actually counted. I may be morbid, but I'm not that morbid. There's no set schedule for it to appear on TCM; just look at the schedule for when there's a more substantial gap between two movies, and it might show up then. Or, if you don't want to wait for it on TCM itself, you can go to the TCM Media Room and get the clip straight from the horse's mouth.

Unsurprisingly, the piece has also ended up on Youtub, three times in fact. I think the first of those is TCM's official version.

Or, later this evening, you could watch the "Parade of the Undead", in the form of the classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead, at 8:00 PM ET on TCM.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IFC goes commercial

I was saddened to read a thread over at the TCM boards yesterday in which somebody mentioned that IFC, which used to be the "Independent Film Channel" but which may or may not stand for anything now, has begun to interrupt the movies for commercials. I tuned in for a few minutes and, sure enough, that's the case.

It's a change that I suppose has been a long time in coming. When I first got DirecTV back in 2001, IFC had a lot of independent movies, as well as a fair number of foreign films that weren't getting an outlet any place else except for the one shot a week on TCM. Even then, IFC had more recent foreign films (from the 1980s and beyond) that still don't get on TCM. Some of the movies I first saw on IFC have made it to TCM, such as when TCM did the festival for the 50th anniversary of Janus Films, but others, such as Plein Soleil, known in English as Purple Noon and the original version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, haven't made it to TCM.

I'm not sure exactly when my disillusionment with IFC began. I think it might have taken off in earnest around the time they really started promoting their show The Whitest Kids UkNow (or however it's punctuated). I distinctly recall when they were promoting the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, about the perceived hypocrisy of the MPAA ratings board, one of the promotions had a member of the Whitest Kids cast say something to the effect of "Rate this" -- and give the middle finger to the camera. Real intelligent commentary.

IFC later began to add more and more TV shows that had already appeared on network TV, such as Arrested Development (which I never found funny in its original run), and also really really began to repeat movies even more than the Fox Movie Channel. At first they were down to three films during the morning, and then repeating them during the afternoon up to prime time; then afternoons began to feature the TV shows instead of movies.

I find it ironic that the IFC was one of the production companies behind the documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession. While I had problems with the documentary, it certainly seems an apt analogy now for the path the IFC has taken.

Monday, December 13, 2010

No, not the Schwarzenegger movie

Tomorrow morning's TCM selection is the formulaic but picturesque 1963 film The Running Man, at 7:15 AM ET.

Laurence Harvey plays pilot Rex Black. He crashed one of his planes accidentally, and wants to collect on the insurance. Unforutnately, he forgot to pay the premiums on time, and the insurance company rightly refuses to pay, as there was technically no insurance being taken out at the time. What's a disgruntled customer to do? Why, fake his death! He tells his wife Stella (Lee Remick) about his plan, and her part in it, which is to wait several months and then join him on the Spanish Riviera. As Rex's body is never found, there's an insurance investigation, led by Alan Bates.

Fast forward several months, at which time Stella is finally able to make her way from England to southern Spain. Rex is now playing the part of an Australian sheep rancher (with hair dyed a ghastly blond!) apparently in Europe to try to sell his sheep. It's all a ruse of course, but back in the 1960s, it was much easier to come up with a new identity, as they couldn't just google you. The plan seems to be going well, until, one day the couple just happens to meet Bates, who is traveling in Spain, possibly on the insurance company's business.

Something is obviously up, and of course we the viewers know just what that something is. But will the wife give it away? She's not so sure she likes having to spend the rest of her life living a lie, and besides, she's beginning to fall in love with the insurance man who, it seems, might just not suspect anything at all. Rex, of course, is suspicious, and with the insurance agent taking an interest in her (of course, the agent thinks she's a widow, since that's what the law says), Rex is only going to get more paranoid with suspicion and jealousy....

The Running Man is relatively predictable stuff, and doesn't break any ground, but it's an enjoyable enough story, and even if the story does wind up with the ending you think it's going to, exactly how the characters get there is what makes a movie like this interesting. Everybody involved in it did better stuff, but it's by no means a bad movie. The Running Man doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, though, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lynn Belvedere on TCM

When I blogged about the movie Sitting Pretty back in July, I mentioned that Clifton Webb made two more Mr. Belvedere movies. Those two are showing up on TCM tonight:
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College at 8:00 PM ET; followed by
Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell at 9:30 PM.

Another, completely unrelated movie that I've already blogged about is showing up overnight as this week's TCM Import: Too Bad She's Bad, at 4:15 AM.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Private Screenings: Liza Minnelli

TCM is premiereing a new Private Screenings interview with actress Liza Minnelli tonight at 10:00 PM ET. It's rather an odd time to premiere it, although there will be a repeat on Tuesday at 8:00 PM. Tuesday's airing is part of a night of Liza Minnelli movies; tonight's comes as part of a night of films directed by her father, Vincente Minnelli. At 8:00 PM is the week's Essential, Meet Me In St. Louis, a movie that I personally dislike. Sure enough, the run-up to this week's airing of Meet Me In St. Louis included Hugh Martin's Word of Mouth piece in which he talks about how Arthur Freed didn't just want Martin to write a song for the people to sing on the trolley; he wanted a song about the trolley.

A better film, and one that I've also recommended in the past, is The Clock, which comes on at 11:00 PM, immediately following the Private Screenings interview.

The proceedings will be ended tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM with a 1980s documentary in which Liza looks back at her father's movies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Victor McLaglen, 1886-1959

Today marks the birth anniversary of Oscar-winning actor Victor McLaglen. The movie for which he won his Oscar? The Informer.

The story is one that on the face of it is fairly simple. It's Dublin in the early 1920s, a time when Ireland was struggling for its independence from the United Kingdom. Sinn Fein are leading the struggle, but the British are offering substantial rewards -- £20 -- for anybody who offers information leading to the arrest of agents of the IRA. McLaglen plays one such person who gives the British the information he's looking for. He had been a member of the IRA, but his drinking got him kicked out, and now he really needs the money.

McLaglen's informing leads to an IRA agent getting arrested, and him getting the money, but of course the IRA itself is bound to investigate what happened, and find the traitor in their midst, and the suspicion quickly leads to McLaglen, since he had the motive to do it, and now has the money that would be consisten with somebody having done it. Not that they want to believe their good friend could have done such a thing, but if he did, they have to treat him severely, as the alternative is continued informing on their activities, and more IRA agents getting tortured. Poor McLaglen is a doomed man....

Normally, I'm not a fan of movies about Ireland, as Hollywood tends to have an obnxiously doe-eyed view of the country, thanks to the large number of Irish-American immigrants who would insist that the Irish are completely blameless victims and the English are unmitigated evil. (OK, I exaggerate a bit, but not too much.) The Informer, however, is different, in part because it's really a story that could happen in almost any war situation and just happens to be set in Ireland: the Benedict Arnold story has been done by Hollywood, as have spy movies set against the US Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, and even the French Resistance. Here, McLaglen gives an excellent performance.

The Informer would be a good movie to watch in a double bill with Odd Man Out. The Informer is available on DVD as part of a John Ford box set, but you'll have to get Odd Man Out from Netflix unless you want to pay a ridiculous price.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cary Grant, subversive

Maybe he should have given the milk to Katharine Hepburn in 'Bringing Up Baby'For those who think Cary Grant was just a light actor who did elegant comedies. Before he got stereotyped that way, he had some very good performances in more serious roles. One of those is in The Talk of the Town, which is airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM ET on TCM.

Grant plays Leopold Dilg, a political radical in a small New England town who is the natural person to accuse when the town's mill gets burned to the ground: it's those pesky speeches he's been making about the workers' rights and the meanness of the bosses. He gets arrested and sent to jail, but having been wrongly accused, he escapes and makes his way to the isolated summer cottage of local teacher Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur), as she is one of his oldest friends. The only problem is, there's no way he can stay there even if he weren't a fugitive on the run: she's rented out the place to law professor Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman). He wants the place to work on his latest book on constitutional law, while he waits for an expected nomination to the Supreme Court.

At this point, you can begin to predict some of the plot. Shelley and Dilg have to keep his identity a secret from Lightcap, which they do by having play the caretaker/servant. They're also going to have to engage in an ever bigger series of deceptions to keep Dilg's presence a secret from the rest of the town; Lightcap is unknowingly going to give away Dilg's identity and location and then, when he learns Dilg's identity, he's going to keep that newfound knowledge a secret from Shelley and Dilg. And, along the way, there's a romantic triangle between the three leads to heighten the tension and provide a bit of levity at the same time.

The Talk of the Town is one of those movies that is a bit surprisingly underrated nowadays. It's fairly clearly making social commentary about the law and the possibility for the politically unpopular to get justice, one which is always timely. (Consider the recent moral panic over Four Loko, a caffeine/alcohol mix drunk by the "wrong people", versus how nobody minds a "right people's" caffeine/alcohol drink like Irish coffee.) And yet, the movie does makes its points in a way that isn't overbearing or propagandistic the way that a lot of "message" entertainment today seems to be. All three leads put in good performances, although in Arthur's case you can't help but think she's playing a character similar to the one she had already played in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Devil and Miss Jones.

The Talk of the Town has gotten a DVD release, and is well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sunset Blvd. and polls

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Blvd. (1950

TCM is showing Billy Wilder's classic Sunset Blvd. tonight at 8:00 PM ET. It's airing in conjunction with the sixth installment of the Moguls and Movie Stars documentary, which this week details the changes in Hollywood brought about by the rise of television.

Sunset Blvd. deals with an unsuccessful screenwriter (Holden) who gets roped into trying to help a former silent-screen star (Swanson) clean up her horribly amateurish screenplay, and is one of the best movies Hollywood made about itself. What, however is the best? This one? Singin' In the Rain (airing at 11:15 PM tonight)? One of the versions of A Star is Born? Or perhaps even the underrated The Bad and the Beautiful.

Holden's character meets Swanson when he's mistaken for an undertaker, in a sequence that involves one of the more interesting funerals you'll see on screen. Which leads me to a second question: What's the best funeral scene in a movie? There are strange one like this; over-the-top funerals, as in Too Many Crooks, and several movies that open up with funerals as a device to flash back to events in the dead person's life. A few of those that come to mind would be in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Chariots of Fire. If I had to pick just one funeral scene, though, my decision today would probably be the one at the end of The Third Man, although that decision might well change if I had more time to think.

What are your favorite "Hollywood on Hollywood" or funeral movies?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The idiot should have learned from Double Indemnity

Back in August, 2008, I briefly mentioned the movie Pushover. It's finally back on the TCM schedule, very early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM ET. (Or, I suppose, it's in the middle of the night overnight for those of you in more westerly time zones.)

Fred MacMurray plays Paul Sheridan, whom we see at the start of the movie helping gorgeous Lona McLane (Kim Novak in one of her earliest performances) when she has car problems. We quickly learn that Sheridan is a police detective, and that he deliberately sabotaged Lona's car: she's the moll of a bank robber, and he's trying to get to the bank robber through her.

You fool!In theory, this is supposed to lead to him and his partner. But Lona's got better ideas. She quickly realizes that Paul is a copper, and that this might be a way out of her predicament. Perhaps the two of them can double-cross her boyfriend, and run off with the very large amount of money. You'd think that Fred MacMurray would have learned from Double Indemnity ten years earlier that double crossing the authorities and hooking up with a hot blonde to do it can lead to no good end. Besides, he should have known the Production Code would never let him get away with it. Still, we wouldn't have a movie had he learned from his mistakes, so he goes along, and he and his partner stake out her apartment trying to get the bad guy, while he's really trying to get to a time when the two can make their escape unseen....

Pushover is in many ways a formulaic part of the film noir genre, and having been made years after the great orginial movies of the genre, you'd think it's a lesser movie. To be honest, I don't think Columbia, the studio that produced this movie, gave it quite the treatment they would give more prestigious films from the era. But none of that should be taken to imply the movie isn't good. Even though we know exactly where it's going, the ride is still enjoyable. And as with a movie like Juggernaut, part of the fun is seeing what ingenious device the writers will come up with to get the evil plot to fail.

When I mentioned Pushover back in 2008, I said I was disappointed that it hadn't gotten a DVD relase. Since then, it has, as part of a box set of Columbia noirs. That set also includes Nightfall, another movie I blogged about ages ago that at the time hadn't gotten a DVD release. I see the set also has City of Fear, which I should perhaps blog about some time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Agnes Moorehead, 1900-1974

Agnes Moorehead ministering to Eleanor Parker in Caged (1950)

TCM is spending today marking the 90th birthday of jazz legend Dave Brubeck, which means they don't have any time to give to venerable character actress and four time Oscar nominee Agnes Moorehead, who was born on this day in 1900. Moorhead, like quite a few people, made her movie début in Citizen Kane (young Charles Kane's mother at the beginning), having been a part of Orson Welles' Mercury Radio Theater in the years before 1941. Once she got into movies, she worked seemingly non-stop, making a good two dozen movies in the 1940s, and a similar number in the 1950s, by which time she also started doing television work. People today would probably remember Moorehead best for that television work, specifically as Endora, the mother to Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha, on the long-running sitcom Bewitched.

However, Moorehead's movie work shouldn't go unnoticed. Since she shows up in so many movies, it's only natural that I've recommended quite a bit of her work in the past, even without giving her a substantial mention. Such is the case with Caged, where she is the prison warden. Or, I could point out Fourteen Hours, where Moorehead is the mother of Richard Baseheart. Another motherly character, albeit a much different one, is in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. One motherly role for which Moorehead got an Oscar nomination is as the mother to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Where All Mine to Give is a movie with a sad ending that doesn't go over the top, tonight on TCM sees a movie that does go over that top: The Last Time I Saw Paris, at 10:30 PM ET.

Van Johnson plays Charles Wills, a man who has just returned to Paris after an extended absence. Cue the flashback as to why he's been away.... We flash back to 1944, and the liberation of Paris. Charles was a writer working for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. In Paris, he met the Ellswirths, an American family that had survived the Nazi occupation. There, he meets the lovely daughter Helen (Elizabeth Taylor), and takes a liking to her, approved of by her father (Walter Pidgeon) but not by her sister Marion (Donna Reed), since she wants him for herself. Eventually, Charles marries Helen, while Marion marries a Frenchman. Charles is working for a newspaper, but would really rather be writing the Great American Novel. His failure to do so leads him to drink, which eventually leads both him and Helen to start seeing other people. They have a daughter; Helen dies and Charles loses custody of the daughter to Marion, at which point Charles goes back to America.

Now, years on, Charles is back in Paris, as he's made a success of himself, and wants his kid back. This is a relatively smaller section of the film, as most of it is the flashback. But, thanks to the Production Code and especially to this being an MGM movie, you know he's going to get his kid back despite the fact that he's been a jerk all these years, and that Marion is going to be portrayed as the real jerk. It's a phony ending, but apparently what the audiences of the mid-1950s wanted.

If you like sentimental pap, The Last Time I Saw Paris is right for you. Unfortunately, it's not what I want, and all of these actors could have done better, and did in other movies. Also in the cast are Eva Gabor as one of the women Van Johnson meets, and a young Roger Moore as one of the other men in Elizabeth Taylor's life. Still, this being a movie with major stars from the prestige studio, it's gotten a DVD release -- several, in fact -- so you don't have to wait for the TCM showing.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

All Mine to Give

I briefly mentioned the movie All Mine to Give back in January, 2010. It wasn't on the schedule then, being a Christmas movie. It's coming up now, though; tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM ET on TCM.

Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns star as a Scottish couple who emigrate to Wisconsin in the 1850s. They clear a place in the woods for themselves, but some of the townsfolk don't like their slightly odd ways (evidenced by putting the hand-operated well pump inside the house -- what will they think of next?). Still, the couple has six kids together. And then, the youngest of those kids gets diphtheria. Father takes the other kids away so they won't catch the highly contagious disease, but unfortunately, he's already gotten it, and he's the only one who gets killed. Mother carries on trying to raise six children, but unfortunately, she gets typhoid, and eventually she'll die from it, leaving six orphans. The kids aren't old enough to take care of themselves, so Mother makes the oldest son promise her something: that he'll find good homes for all of the kids.

If that's maudlin enough, it gets better, or worse as the case may be. That busybody portion of the townsfolk that didn't like the immigrants in the first place decide that they should be the ones to place the children, because they're busybodies and naturally know better than the rest of us. Worse, the oldest son has to give the kids away on Christmas Eve!

It sounds highly manipulative, but All Mine to Give is actually better than that. Sure it's a sad story, but the kids here are no obnoxious Margaret O'Briens or Virginia Weidlers. As such, the story winds up more touching, when most such stories would end up in the area of being unintentionally funny. And if you don't mind making your kids cry, this is more than appropriate for the whole family.

All Mine to Give hsa been released to DVD, both individually and as part of a Christmas box set.

So that's what Anatole Litvak looks like

TCM is showing a night of films directed by Anatole Litvak tonight. It kicks off with this week's TCM Essential, The Snake Pit, which earned Litvak his one and only Best Director Oscar nomination, at 8:00 PM ET. That's followed at 10:00 PM by the too-rarely shown Confessions of a Nazi Spy, at 10:00 PM. One of Litvak's "prestige" movies that gets surprisingly few showings on TCM is All This, and Heaven Too, which stars Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. Once again, it gets overlooked here, although at least it's available on DVD.

I was going to illustrate this post with a photo of Litvak, but I was surprised to see that both the Wikipedia article on him, and his IMDb page, have no publicity photo of him. For those who are interested in what he looks like, there's the Google image search, which yields a lot of photos from the Life and Getty archives which are of course watermarked.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas is coming again

Now that we're in December, it's once again time for TV channels to pull out all the old Christmas specials and run them for the 98470819854th time. TCM is no different, with the minor exception that they're showing Christmas-themed movies instead of specials. They kick off tonight with a story you know: the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol at 8:00 PM. That's followed by a story you might not know: It Happened on Fifth Avenue at 10:00 PM.

Victor Moore plays Aloysius McKeever, a high-class hobo. He's been following the life of magnate Michael O'Connor (Charlie Ruggles) long enough to know that O'Connor vacates his Manhattan mansion on a certain date every fall to go to his southern getaway, and returns on a certain specific date every year in the spring. This allows Aloysius to break in to the mansion unmolested every autumn, and live there in relative warmth until the spring. This winter, however, things change when he meets three GIs just home from the war. There's a housing crunch going on, and they need a place to stay -- especially because one of them is losing his old home due to a development funded by O'Connor. As a result, they wind up staying with Aloysius, at least until they can get on their feet.

The game is about to be up, though: O'Connor's daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) has decided to run away from finishing school and head for home in Manhattan to get away from her father, who she knows will not be there. When she gets home, she finds all these people using her and her father's mansion. But, because she's trying to run away, she disguises her identity from them, claiming to be a down on her luck singer who needs a place to stay. Likewise, when each of her divorced parents comes looking for her, they find more and more madness going on at the mansion; however, they too decide to go incognito for their own reasons.

This being a Christmas movie, you can figure that what ultimately happens is Aloysius teaching everybody a lesson about Christmas and the spirit of giving, especially hard-hearted businessman O'Connor. The ending isn't what's important here since we already know more or less what that will be; instead it's the story, and this is a really fun one. The actors are almost entirely character actors whom we've seen in dozens of other movies, but they're all a delight together. Sure, we've seen the story and the outcome before, but this is one of those movies you watch once a year at Christmastime -- and it's a good one to watch.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue has also gotten a DVD release, although it's part of a boxset with the aforementioned version of A Christmas Carol; Christmas in Connecticut; and The Shop Around the Corner.

Edit: I can't believe I got the schedule wrong. A Christmas Carol isn't airing until 9:00 AM ET tomorrow. Tonight's first Christmas movie, at 8:00 PM, is Fitzwilly.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mickey Rooney in prime time

As I posted yesterday evening, TCM is running the movies of Mickey Rooney 24 hours a day every Thursday in December as part of his turn as the Star of the Month. Prime time tonight begins at 8:00 PM ET with a movie I recommended quite some time ago, A Midsummer Night's Dream. That's followed at 10:30 PM by Ah, Wilderness!.

Eric Linden is the main character, Richard Miller. He's a young man about to turn 18 and graduate from high school in a small town in Anywhere, USA at the turn of the last century. While dealing with this, he's also got his odd family at home: father Lionel Barrymore and mom Spring Byington, as well as kid sister Bonita Granville and kid brother Mickey Rooney. Dad has a brother (Wallace Beery) who's a ne'er-do-well, constantly drinking and not able to hold down a steady job; this causes consternation to the grownups, especially when he comes for a visit, but the kids love him. Mom has a sister (Aline MacMahon) who has been living with the family, who gets the eye of her brother-in-law. Along the way, Richard learns a bit about growing up, especially when he goes for his first night out on the town and meets a woman of ill repute who can show him something about real life.

Ah, Wilderness! doesn't really have much of a story; it's more of a slice-of-life film. That's not to take anything away from the movie, which really has a fine ensemble cast. Barrymore is particularly good, for example, when it comes to stopping his son from giving a revolutionary speech at the high school graduation. Spring Byington is understated, while Wallace Beery is as good as ever when it comes to playing the loveable loser type.

Ah, Wilderness! has gotten a DVD release, but only as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TCM Star of the Month: Mickey Rooney

Now that we're in a new month, we have a new Star of the Month on TCM: Mickey Rooney. Rooney made so many movies that TCM is devoting not just prime time, but 24 hours a day every Thursday in December to Rooney's movies. This first Thursday in November brings us a lot of the movies Rooney made before he started to become a star with the Andy Hardy movies. Two of these smaller appearances that I have previously recommended are in the wonderful Hide-Out (2:15 PM ET tomorrow), followed at 3:45 PM by Rooney playing the young Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama. One of Rooney's appearances that I don't think I've recommended before is in Death on the Diamond, which airs at 1:00 PM tomorrow.

The title sounds as though it's a baseball-themed movie, and indeed it is. Mickey Rooney plays the ballboy for the St. Louis Cardinals, which in this movie are owned and managed by a man who is heavily in debt. In fact, the owner-manager is going to lose his team if they can't win the pennant. So, in order to win, the manager hires the best pitcher available, played by Robert Young.

Young's presence on the team has two effects. First, he falls in love with the manager's secretary and Girl Friday (played by Madge Evans), who also happens to be his daughter. Second, Young turns the team's fortunes around enough that it attracts dark betting interests who are presumably acting on behalf of those who would like to take the team away from its manager. To that effect, they begin to kill members of the team! So, not only do we get a baseball movie, we get a nice mid-1930s mystery yarn as well. It's nowhere near as good as, say, The Thin Man, but at about 70 minutes, it'll do.

Speaking of The Thin Man, Nat Pendleton (who was the police detective in that movie) shows up hear as the Cardinals' catcher, who has a running argument with an umpire, who just happens to be behind the plate for every one of the Cardinals' games. That umpire is played by Ted Healy, the man who originally discovered the Three Stooges. It's obscure enough that it's not available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the TCM airing.

Traffic bulletin

Every few days I check the blog's stats for the fun of it: not that I get too many hits. However, the last time I checked I was surprised to see a nice little boost thanks to the people from Mental Floss. They did a post on interesting vaudeville acts, and decided to use my post on Gus Visser as one of the links.

I'm not quite sure why, but Gus Visser seems to be one of the more enduringly popular pages here, in that when I check the stats, it's often in the top five pages viewed. Other pages come and go, with the top five usually being rounded out by a current page, and pages for somebody's birthday, which I would bet is the result of somebody doing an image search and being directed to the image I used in conjunction with that person's birthday. While the Mental Floss post is the single biggest URL providing hits to my blog right now, when it comes to entire domains, Google leads by a good ways.

As for vaudeville and the movies, there's a long tradition in Hollywood referencing vaudeville: some of the comedy bits in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 are taken directly from vaudeville, while characters in movies who worked their way through the vaudeville circuit on their way to becoming big is a not uncommon theme. Singin' In the Rain and The Hard Way come to mind, while there are also biopics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Gypsy. And even earlier forms of entertainment for the masses that predated vaudeville made it to the movies, as those who watched the Peepshow Pioneers episode of Moguls and Movie Stars would recognize. A good example of this is the dancer Carmencita, now on Youtube thanks to the Library of Congress. The LOC has several other of Edison's very early movies up on Youtube now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Captain Scarface

If you want to watch an enjoyable, if not very good, B movie, you could do much worse than to watch Captain Scarface, which is airing this evening at 6:30 PM ET on TCM.

Leif Erickson plays a man who in Central America who is down on his luck and is trying to get back to the States. When two men get killed in a fight in one of the hotel rooms, Leif gets a bright idea: steal one of their passports, and get pasage on a ship back to the USA. Obviously, Erickson didn't see Detour, or he would have known this wouldn't turn out well for him.

In this case, it turns out that the man he has to impersonate is a Communist agent, and the boat that he gets on is captained by a man (Barton MacLane) who is carrying out a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in the Panama Canal, thus disrupting American shipping. The plot has involved the kidnapping of a German nuclear scientist and his lovely daughter (Virginia Grey), who will be killed if he doesn't go along with the plot. Our hero figures out part of what the plot is at least, but has trouble convincing the lovely daughter (of course, by this time he's also begun to fall in love with her) that he can really help.

It's all formulaic stuff, and done at a Poverty Row studio on a very cheap budget. (In the case of a rusting old boat, however, having cheap sets isn't such a bad thing.) Still, it provides more than enough entertainment value. And, it's good to see some of the people who generally were relegated to character roles get more leading roles.

You might think that a B movie like this that has no real stars and was made at a studio way, way down the pecking order would never get a DVD release. Paradoxically, you'd be wrong. That's because movies like this have a way of falling into the public domain, which means that anybody with a copy of the movie's elements can transfer them to DVD and sell the DVD, and at least one such distributor has it on sale, for the low, low price of only $5.95. I don't know what the quality of the DVD is like. Still, at $5.95, you can't really go wrong.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen, 1926-2010

"Surely the reports of your death can't be serious!"
"They are serious. And don't call me Shirley."

By now you've probably heard the reports of the death of actor Leslie Nielsen, who died yesterday in Florida at the age of 84. Nowadays, Nielsen is probably best known for the second half of his career, when spoofs like Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies made him a star thanks to his deadpan delivery of highly memorable comedic material. As one wag on Twitter put it:

Leslie Nielsen died today at a Florida Hospital. It's a big building with doctors and patients, but that's not important right now. RIP.

That having been said, Nielsen did start his acting career doing serious work. Forbidden Planet might not exactly be considered serious today, but it's certainly a cut or two above all the other sci-fi movies being made in the 1950s. Nor, I suppose is The Poseidon Adventure, in which Nielsen played the ship's captain. But then, Nielsen also made movies like Glenn Ford's Ransom!.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And he learned about dames

The birth anniversary of choreographer/director Busby Berkeley (born November 29, 1895) is coming up tomorrow. TCM will be marking the occasion with seven of the many films on which Berkeley worked, creating some of the more outrageous dance numbers you'll ever see on screen. The first of these is one that I don't think I've ever mentioned before: 1934's Dames, at 6:00 AM ET.

As is the case with most Berkeley movies, the plot is secondary, and here it's somewhat reminiscent of the earlier Gold Diggers of 1933 (which is airing at 11:30 AM tomorrow). Hugh Herbert plays a wealthy "reformer" who wants to rid the world of smut, especially that sort of smut you'd see on the theatre stage when presented by showgirls. Herbert shows up at the New York mansion of his sister (ZaSu Pitts) and her husband (Guy Kibbee), not realizing that their daughter (Ruby Keeler) would like to be a showgirl herself, and that she's in love with a man (Dick Powell) who's written a Broadway show and trying to get it produced. Just as the girls in Gold Diggers of 1933 blackmail Guy Kibbee, there's a showgirl here (Joan Blondell) who can blackmail Kibbee, having ended up in his train compartment.

Of course the plot is silly stuff, as people went to see Busby Berkeley's movies for the extravagant musical numbers. Here, you've got Joan Blondell in a "Girl at the Ironing Board" routine, and of course the finale. Plus, Dick Powell introduced the song "I Only Have Eyes for You". Those who enjoy Berkeley's work will love Dames, although I, not being such a big fan of musicals, personally prefer Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street.

Dames has gotten a DVD release, both individually and as part of a Busby Berkeley box set.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Star is Bored

TCM's Essential for this week is the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, at 8:00 PM. I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of Judy Garland's musicals, and this one is no exception. Not only that, but this is the reconstructed version of the movie. When originally released in 1954, theater owners thought it ran too long, and so the studio cut a good half hour of the movie out. (It's still too long, but that's another story.) In recent years, A Star is Born has gotten the same "restoration" treatment that Greed did: finding production stills, and sticking them into the movie where appropriate to show the plot points that got cut out. At least here, that only accounts for a half hour or so, and not close to two hours as in Greed.

Still, I'm sure some of you are Judy Garland fans. You'll probably love this. Actually, you'll probably love it again, since the Judy Garland fans would have seen it before.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frances Dee, 1909-2004

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Frances Dee. She was a moderately successful actress in the early 1930s, until she met Joel McCrea, with whom she worked on several movies, including the previously recommended One Man's Journey. (That's McCrea in the picture with Dee; I believe it's a publicity still from 1937's Wells Fargo.) After getting married, and especially after having children, Dee worked more infrequently, ultimately retiring for good in the 1950s. Dee and McCrea were married for 57 years to the day, until his death in 1990.

Since Dee didn't work too much after the 1930s, and she often wasn't the leading lady, I haven't recommended too many of her films. I also mentioned her in Becky Sharp, and she shows up as the other woman in the Bette Davis version of Of Human Bondage, which just aired yesterday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at home

Now that we've all finished our travel, we get to celebrate Thankgsiving, that holiday when we sit down for dinner and celebrate just how dysfunctional our families are. I'm not certain what Hollywood's most dysfunctional screen family is. TCM is showing You Can't Take It With You at 11:30 AM this morning, but in that movie, the Vanderhofs really aren't dysfunctional. They just look it to everybody on the outside; in fact they're the only normal people around. A better example of a dysfunctional family, and one that's getting together for the holidays, might be the Plantagenets in The Lion In Winter.

And what's on the table? Why, The Chicken of Tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Day travel

I feel badly for those of you who have to travel long distances to get wherever you're going this Thanksgiving. Travel is a mess compared to the glamor it was back in the old studio-era movies. No TSA agents to fondle you, thanks to the Production Code forbidding that. I guess the closest a classic movie might have gotten would be the baby Peeping Tom in Gold Diggers of 1933. They didn't have the nude scanners either, since technology hadn't been well-enough developed in those days. It was just X-rays. The X-ray machines weren't even used for screening airplane passengers; it seems to me as though most of cinema's use of X-rays was in cartoons, for comic effect to show the insides of a character in much clearer detail than any real-life X-ray could.

And then there are the planes. The transatlantic plane that gets shot down at the end of Foreign Correspondent is impossibly well-appointed. A year later, in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, W.C. Fields takes a plane that has a sleeping compartment like the railroad cars of the day. I suppose that's not too bad, since some of today's airlines have advertised business- and first-class seats that fold to completely horizontal for sleeping. But the W.C. Fields character wouldn't have been able to afford business class.

Perhaps the most fun is in John Wayne's The High and the Mighty. Once the plane is stricken, one of the passengers panics, and fires off a gun! Now, it's bad enough by today's standards that he got a loaded gun onto the plane. What makes The High and the Mighty even more hilarious is that, later in the movie, the character overcomes his panic, at which point, the other passengers and crew give him back his gun.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Boris Karloff movie TCM should have shown

Um, not those TargetsTCM has been marking the birth anniversary of horror star Boris Karloff (1887-1969) with a bunch of his movies. They're mostly his earlier movies, though, and of course they couldn't get Frankenstein as that was made at Universal. One of Karloff's later movies that I wouldn't mind getting another airing is Targets.

Karloff plays aging horror star Byron Orlok. As the movie opens, public relations people are pleading with him to make just one more public appearance for his fans, at a drive-in theater that's doing a retrospective of his work. Eventually, he agrees. Cut to young, and seemingly unrelated Bob Thompson (Tim O'Kelly), buying ammunition at a local gun store, and getting it charged to his father's account. He comes out of the gun shop at roughly the same time as Orlok is coming out of his place. Thompson has several guns in his trunk, and the implication is obvious: Thompson is going to shoot Orlok.

Well, not quite. Thompson goes back to his parents' house, where he also lives with his wife. The next morning, Bob proceeds to type up a note and, one by one, shoot his family dead. He then sets out for a local water tower, from which he randomly shoots at people in cars on the road below. What does any of this have to do wiht Orlok? Not much, except hat Thompson's shooting spree eventually takes him to the drive-in where Orlok is to appear; a chance meeting between the two, and a bunch of other people who risk getting shot.

Targets is the first film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It's not a bad movie, but it is uneven. Other than Karloff, the rest of the actors are fairly unknown. Karloff, however, shines. He was near the end of his life and was only supposed to be under contract for a few days, but liked the script so much that he was willing to take on a bigger role requiring more filming time for no additional money. That script is fun, even if it isn't perfect. Ultimately, Targets is right up there with any of the other horror movies of the 1960s, although to be fair, Targets is more of a thriller than a horror movie.

Targets has been released to DVD, but it's apparently out-of-print. It is, however, available on Netflix.

George O'Hanlon, 1912-1989

I knew I'd written about actor George O'Hanlon before. You're most likely to see him on TCM in the old "Joe McDoakes" series. TCM lists one of them, So You Want to Be in Pictures (1947), as airing next Monday evening at about 6:45 PM, just after Easy to Love. Other than that, about everything that could be said about O'Hanlon was written in the original post two and a half years ago.

And by the way, Bop Girl Goes Calypso still hasn't gotten a DVD release.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Footlight Parade

Of the various genres to become popular in the 1930s, the musical is near the top. As I've mentioned with 42nd Street, thanks to Busby Berkeley, viewers were treated to ever more spectacular musical numbers. Another of Berkeley's efforts shows up on TCM tonight: Footlight Parade, at 9:00 PM ET.

James Cagney stars as Chester Kent, a vaudeville producer left scrambling for work after the Depression more or less killed off vaudeville. That, and the moving picutres, now that the pictures can talk. However, with the Depression, even the movie theaters need gimmicks to bring in the patrons, and that's where Kent comes in. He's got his old gang who can produce "prologues", live musical numbers that will be performed for the audiences before the picture begins. It's still a cut-throat business, though; he's got a gold-digging girlfriend (Claire Dodd) to deal with, as well as two guys (Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert) who would steal his material. He's helped out though, by his able secretary (Joan Blondell) who would be a better match for him than Dodd. Along the way, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell become the stars of the prologues and fall in love....

In a movie like Footlight Parade, the story is second to the elaborate musical numbers, which bear no resemblance to reality. Nobody has a staircase like the one in Gold Diggers of 1933, and no movie theater could hold all the waterworks needed for the musical numbers in Footlight Parade. Never mind the prohibitive cost of the stuff, either. Audiences wanted escapism, and got it in droves. This also being 1933, they were treated to copious amounts of the mildly racy material that would be gone from movies just a year later thanks to the Production Code.

Even though Footlight Parade was made for its musical numbers, it would be a bit unfair not to mention the acting performances. Most of the folks here were staples of the Warner Bros. lot, and had worked together a number of times. Cagney is great as always, and it's a shame that he got shunted into more "serious" gangster roles than fun stuff like this. Joan Blondell is good as the cynical but no-nonsense secretary, although it would also be interesting to see wisecracking Glenda Farrell in the role. Keeler and Powell are their usual selves, basically reprising the roles they had done in 42nd Street. And Guy Kibbee is always fun to watch.

Footlight Parade got a DVD release as part of a Busby Berkeley boxset a few years back, but also seems to have gotten the individual DVD treatment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A few comments on silents

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights feature on TCM is The Viking, coming up at midnight ET tonight. Some of the plot elements -- a Viking and his English slave falling for the same woman -- may sound similar to the later The Vikings, but that's where the similarities end. The earlier silent is interesting for any number of reasons. First, it stars Donald Crisp as Leif Ericsson. It's easy to forget that that Crisp had a relatively distinguished career in the silents, when he would go on to win an Oscar for a movie like How Green Was My Valley. Secondly, the movie is in two-strip Technicolor, one of a few silents entirely in two-strip.

Today also marks the birth anniversary of Jobyna Ralston (1899-1967), who is probably best known for her role opposite Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (pictured above). Ralston is one of the many whose careers effectively ended with the end of the silent era, thanks to a speech defect she had.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Repeats and wish lists

TCM's Essential for this week is San Francisco, which was also an Essential back in June and is airing at 8:00 PM ET. Last time, it was the jumping-off point for a night of movies set in the City by the Bay; this time, the night's subject is Spencer Tracy. One of his earliest movies follows at 10:00 PM, Up the River, which also just happens to have one of Humphrey Bogart's earliest performances.

As for movies I've always wanted to see, one of the, A Summer Place, is coming up tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM on TCM. I don't think I've seen any of it before, and let's just hope that it turns out to be better than The Naked Maja, or if not, then at least maybe the football games will be interesting.

A Summer Place is one I've always kind of wanted to see just because the theme is very well known, thanks to Percy Faith's instrumental version (which is, according to IMDb, not in the movie). There are, though, other movies that I saw part of many years ago, back in the old days of independent TV channels that showed old movies, but didn't get to see in their entirety, or that I did see, but would like to see again. Thanks to TCM, I've been able to cross The Solid Gold Cadillac and The Cranes Are Flying off of that list. Others, such as The D.I., still haven't made it to TCM. (It is, however, part of the Warner Archive, but those DVDs are expensive.)

And then there are the movies I saw in Germany, which dubs movies rather than using subtitles (or at least did when I was there back in 1989). The one I remember showing up was The Web, which is unfortunately a Universal movie, so is less likely to show up on TCM than The D.I., which is from Warner Bros. (As an aside, a lot more of the post-1950 Warner films, which didn't make it to the original Turner Library, are showing up on TCM.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The frequency of Fox repeats

It's hard to believe it's only been six weeks since I discussed the Fox Legacy piece on Tyrone Power. And yet, here it is again, airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET. This week, however, the two Power movies playing are different than the ones back in October, which is a big plus. I haven't seen The Black Rose before; that comes on at 8:30 PM. It's followed by Lloyd's of London, which I recommended back in April.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ava Gardner, Night 3

Tonight is the third Thursday of Ava Gardner's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. I'm looking forward to The Naked Maja, which I haven't seen before, kicking the night off at 8:00 PM ET. Coming up quite a bit later, early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, is The Hucksters

"Hucksters", of course, is a word that comes from advertising, and this is a movie about the dark side of the world of advertising. Clark Gable plays an up-an-comer at an ad agency who recently returned from years of service in World War II. He's got a boss in Adolphe Menjou who is trying to manage the contract of tyrannical soap magnate Sydney Greenstreet. Greenstreet's controlling ways, combined with the maxim that the customer is always right, means that whenever Greenstreet says, "Jump", Menjou asks how high. And Menjou wants Gable to jump right alongside him so that he can move up in the advertising world.

Jumping means several things. First is getting war widow Deborah Kerr to sign on as a paid celebrity spokesman for Greenstreet's company. Hollywood's plots being as predictable as they are, you can guess that Gable is going to fall in love with Kerr. Things get a little more complicated when Gable meets nightclub singer Gardner and falls in love with her, too. And then there's Greenstreet's next flighty idea. He's taken a liking to comedian Keenan Wynn, and wants to get Wynn a radio show out on Los Angeles. Gable has to get the job done, or else Greenstreet will take his business to another company. The only problem is, Wynn's material is oh-so-unfunny.

It all sets up a series of moral conflicts for Gable, but because this film was made under the Production Code and made at glitzy MGM instead of socially conscious Warner Bros., the best we can hope for is that Gable comes to his moral senses in the way Jack Lemmon does in The Apartment. In reality, he and Menjou are more like the Claude Rains character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Still, The Hucksters is worth watching for Sydney Greenstreet's performance. Despite being billed third, he's the star who shines most.

The Hucksters has not received a DVD release, not even to the Warner Archive collection. So you'll have to watch TCM's showing.