Saturday, July 31, 2010

A William Powell movie that didn't air on his birthday

Last Thursday was the anniversary of William Powell's birth, and as I mentioned, TCM marked the occasion by showing a bunch of his movies. Of course, Powell made far too many movies to show in just one day, so they couldn't all be shown on his birthday. One that didn't get shown then is Crossroads, which is airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET on TCM.

Powell plays David Talbot, a prominent French diplomat with a lovely wife Lucienne (Hedy Lamarr). He's about to celebrate his anniversary with her, but the party is disturbed by a strange letter. A man is asking for one million francs, obviously implying that he knows a secret about Talbot's past. Talbot and the police set up a plan to catch the extortionist, but that's not the end of the story. The extortionist claims that Talbot is in fact the famous criminal Jean Pelletier from a dozen years ago! Talbot doesn't have a good way of disproving this, as Talbot and Pelletier were both involved in a train crash shortly after the celebrated crime, in which one of them died, and the now-Talbot suffered a curious case of amnesia that prevents him from remembering anything that happened before the crash. Doctors debate the nature of amnesia and memory, but the case is only resolved when a man named Sarrou (Basil Rathbone) testifies that he was with Pelletier at his death several years later.

The extortionist is duly convicted, but this of course is not the end of the problem for Talbot. Sarrou and his girlfriend Michelle (Claire Trevor) inform Talbot that Sarrou lied on the stand: Talbot is in fact not Talbot, but Pelletier! And Sarrou was involved in the crime with Pelletier! And Sarrou wants that one million francs the extortionist tried to get, since it is in fact Sarrou's share of the proceeds from the crime. If the now Talbot doesn't pay off, Sarrou threatens to go to the police, even though it will mean prison for him as well. At least the police will be more lenient on somebody who turns state's evidence. Is Talbot who he claims to be? Well, he can't remember who the hell he is, so maybe not. And Sarrou and Michelle have more than enough evidence that Talbot may in fact be Pelletier.

It goes without saying that I won't give away the ending to the movie. Let's just say that it's entertaining enough, although it comes across as a bit formulaic. It's also a movie that would work a bit better as a true noir; instead, the movie was made at MGM, the studio that had too much glitz back in 1942 to make anything really approaching noir. The performances are all just fine though; in addition to those I've named I should add character actors Felix Bressart as Talbot's personal physician; Sig Ruman as a doctor who testifies against Bressart at the opening trial; and Margaret Wycherly as an elderly lady who says she's Jean Pelletier's mother.

Fans of classic cinema will certainly enjoy Crossroads, although if I were trying to introduce people to the good mysteries of that era I'd pick something better. Crossroads has gotten a DVD release, although it's as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wedding after wedding after wedding

By now, you've probably heard that a former President's daughter is getting married this weekend. It's happing just on the other side of the Hudson River from the Catskills, so the story is getting played to death in the local media. (Spare a thought for the other couples in the area who decided a long time ago to schedule their wedding for tomorrow.) I'm about as sick and tired of the coverage as I would be for any celebrity wedding, and can't help but think about some of the great Hollywood weddings.

Apparently, there's going to be a no-fly zone over the wedding. I guess that means the groom can't fly in on an autogyro. On the bright side, it also implies that the bride won't ruin the wedding by running off with a reporter, who will need a toy trumpet to break down the walls of Jericho.

Is Bill or Hillary more likely to play the part of Julie Harris in Member of the Wedding?

I hope there's no giant plate glass window for for one of Chelsea's old boyfriends to call out to her before running off with her. Of course, that would have required the guy to have slept with Hillary.

At least the weather calls for no rain, so Bill won't get rained on if Chelsea hides in the bathroom

Perhaps Chelsea and Marc will turn out to be twins, and several years later meet up with the world's wealthiest bachelor and his serially-divorced sister.

And they all lived happily ever after.... Or did they?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rock Around the Clock

TCM is concluding its retrospective of teen movies tonight in prime time with a bunch of movies featuring the music that appealed to the teens of the day: rock and roll. One of these is the thoroughly silly Rock Around the Clock, airing at 9:30 PM ET.

There's not much of a plot here. A promoter (Johnny Johnston) who realizes that the music he's been promoting is becoming passé heads back for New York. Along the way, he stops in some hokey small town, where he finds all the hip young kids dancing away to a completely new style of music: we know it as rock and roll, but surely the adults of the day would find it frightening and confusing. Well, not exactly; even in this hokey town, all of the adults are speaking the rock lingo, man. Our promoter realizes he's got a big thing on his hands, and convinces the brother/sister dance team Lisa and Jimmy (Lisa Gaye and Earl Barton) to come with him to New York, where he'll help them put over the new music.

There's a small problem, though. Johnny's boss Corinne (Alix Talton) loves him (nowadays, it would be sexual harassment, but they didn't think about such things back then), while he's beginning to have eyes for Lisa, which only makes Connie more jealous. Still, Corinne begins to realize that this new music will sweep the country, and that she could make a bunch of money off it. So she comes up with a devious plan: she'll promote the music, and specifically the two dancers, only if Lisa will sign a multi-year contract that will prevent her from getting married while she's under contract. The final concert goes off without a hitch, and Johnny and Lisa figure out a way to get around the contract and presumably live happily ever after, while leaving that bitch Corinne out in the cold.

If you read carefully, you'll probably realize that none of the names of the actors are household names. That's because Rock Around the Clock is the sort of movie that wasn't about the story. A whole bunch of cheapo movies were made in the second half of the 1950s and the early 1960s that were meant to capitalize on the newest popular music fad of the day. They range from formulaic movies like this one, its sister Don't Knock the Rock and its near-exact remake Twist Around the Clock; to fun movies that know not to take themselves seriously, such as the British It's Trad, Dad; to serious movies where the pop singers were secondary, such as Dick Clark's Because They're Young; to the thoroughly bizarre Bop Girl Goes Calypso. The point of all these movies was to showcase the music. Here, we get Bill Haley and the Comets as the main performers, but also the Platters (talented, but not exactly rock and roll) and a few bands that faded into obscurity. Preserving the music of Bill Halel, as well as that of the Platters, is worth it. That, and laughing at how thoroughly bad the "plot", such as it is, is.

Rock Around the Clock got a DVD release as part of a boxset with Don't Knock the Rock.

William Powell's birthday, part 2

The William Powell movies keep coming this afternoon on TCM, and having blogged now for two and a half years, it's inevitable I've blogged about some of them before. At noon ET you can watch Powell in one of his non-Thin Man comedies alongside Myrna Loy, Love Crazy.

It's followed at 2:00 PM by another of their comedies I've recommended before, I Love You Again. Personally, I prefer Love Crazy, but that's not to say I Love You Again isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination.

If you want to see one of the Thin Man movies, you're in luck: the second of them, After The Thin Man, is on at 4:00 PM. Powell and Loy return as the Charleses, this time helping their cousin (Elissa Landi) when her fiancé gets killed. This one is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's got James Stewart, before he really became a star, as one of the many suspects. (Stewart had done leads in B movies, but when it came to bigger movies, he was still getting smaller parts, as here or in Wife vs. Secretary at MGM the same year.) There's also the casting of "Mrs. Asta", giving the dog a love interest, if only one that's entirely secondary to the plot. And remember poor Elissa Landi. Despite being the real star of The Sign of the Cross, she didn't get the lead, and never quite got to be a big star. She retired from movies fairly young, and moved to the Catskills to raise her daughter, dying young of cancer in 1949. She's got a street named after her in the Kingston area, but this being Kingston, they spelled her name wrong, as you can see on the Google map.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TCM's William Powell birthday salute, part 1

Born the day after Joe E. Brown was William Powell. TCM will be spending all morning and afternoon on July 29 showing Powell's movies. The morning kicks off at 6:00 AM ET with One Way Passage, which I mentioned briefly back in June 2009. The plot involves Powell, an escaped criminal, who gets caught in Hong Kong and put on a boat back for California where he'll be executed. He meets and falls in love with Kay Francis, a woman who looks healthy but is in fact terminally ill. Each tries to keep their secret from the other.... Also in the cast are character actors Frank McHugh playing a petty thief, and Aline MacMahon playing a confidence woman who passes herself off as somebody of high class, much like Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve. McHugh and MacMahon end up falling in love with each other. I mentioned back in 2009 that One Way Passage was not available on DVD. It seems as if it still hasn't even been released via the Warner Archive collection

One Way Passage is a brief movie, lasting just shy of 70 minutes, and will be followed by some more Powell movies I've already blogged about. At 7:15 AM is The Kennel Murder Case, in which Powell plays a detective other than Nick Charles.
Following The Kennel Murder Case, at 8:30 AM ET, you can see Manhattan Melodrama.

Joe Brown's birthday, part 2

The movie that concludes today's tribute to Joe E. Brown on TCM is Earthworm Tractors, airing at 6:15 PM ET.

I mentioned the movie briefly back in March 2008, and much of my comment from that time still holds, especially regarding the plot. Earthworm Tractors is the sort of broad comedy that some people today might find overbroad, but is really also quite good for the kids. Younger kids especially will probably enjoy Joe E. Brown's face-making, as well as the scenes where he and Guy Kibbee get stuck on the out-of-control tractors. In that regard, it's almost like a cartoon, except that it doesn't have anything approaching the violence of most of the cartoons of the studio era. Also, in a lot of Brown's movies, such as Alibi Ike (not airing today), the blustering lies make his characters out to be really obnoxious. That's toned down quite a bit in Earthworm Tractors, with a character something closer to a Harold Lloyd plucky type.

Earthworm Tractors has made it to DVD, although that's in no small part due to the fact that back in the 1960s, when the original 27-year copyright term ended, Warner Bros. failed to renew it, allowing the movie to fall into the public domain. The result is that the DVDs may be of dubious quality.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Joe E. Brown birthday salute, part 1

Joe E. Brown (l.) discovers the truth about Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot (1959)

Tomorrow marks the birth anniversary of Joe E. Brown, who was born on July 28, 1892. One of his more well-known performances is as the old millionaire who falls in love with Jack Lemmon, not realizing Lemmon is in drag and escaping from gangsters, in Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot. Brown started his career in vaudeville, and moved to Hollywood at the beginning of the sound era, where he made a lot of movies for Warner Bros. during the 1930s. TCM is showing some of those 1930s movies all morning and afternoon tomorrow, and the first one I'd like to recommend shows up at 6:00 AM ET: Eleven Men and a Girl.

37-year-old Brown plays a college student at a college that's struggling because it has a lousy football team. His lady friend, Joan Bennett, happens to be the daughter of the college president, and Brown comes up with a good idea for her to help her father save the school by getting a good football team: use her abundant sex appeal to lure All-Americans from other colleges to transfer and play for her school! (Apparently there have always been groupies.)

The football players are played by real-life All-American college football players from the 1928/29 football season, and as with The Big Game, college football players don't necessarily make good actors. As such, the movie is much more a curiosity than a good movie. Having been made in 1930, it's interesting to see how much pre-Code sex appeal Bennett can bring. Also, seeing Joe E. Brown develop his style is worth a look. He gets one good scene with a bear, but the rest of it is dragged down by a subpar script.

Eleven Men and a Girl has not been released to DVD, and doesn't show up all that often on TCM, so you're going to have to catch tomorrow's showing.

Darnit, I've posted about it before

I just got through writing an opening paragraph in a post about the Doris Day movie With Six You Get Eggroll, as it's airing overnight tonight at 2:00 AM ET on TCM as part of a night of Doris Day movies. Only then did I realize I should check whether I'd already written a post about it -- indeed I had, back in September, 2008.

There are a few things I didn't mention back in 2008, though. Jamie Farr (Cpl. Klinger from M*A*S*H) plays a hippie, and I did note that; however, his M*A*S*H costar William Christopher, who there, playing a chaplain, came across as rather less extravagant, plays one of Farr's hippie friends. Another TV star who shows up, as a truck driver, is Vic Tayback from Alice (and the movie original, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore).

That having been said, With Six You Get Eggroll hasn't gotten any better since September, 2008.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Out, damned Crawford!

By the early 1940s, Joan Crawford had been under contract to MGM for 15 or more years. She wasn't getting any younger, and the outbreak of World War II led to a cultural shift that resulted in a whole new wave of actresses, leaving a lot of the female stars of the 1930s, not just Crawford, on the outside looking in. MGM tried to deal with Crawford by giving her increasingly lousy roles, leading up to her final film for the studio, 1943's Above Suspicion. It's airing at 4:30 PM ET this afternoon on TCM.

The date is early 1939, just before the beginning of World War II. Crawford plays Frances, a young American woman who has travelled to England to marry Richard (Fred MacMurray), a fellow American who is teaching at Oxford. As they're starting their honeymoon, one of Richard's former classmates spots him. This man is working for the Foreign Office, and figures that, since the two Americans were going to be honeymooning in Nazi Germany, perhaps he could convince them to do some spy work. After all, the Nazis surely wouldn't suspect these guileless American newlyweds of spying. This is only the first of many plot points that strains credulity.

Amazingly, the young married couple agrees to this, obviously not having been given enough informatino about what spying is really like. They travel through Europe, first to Paris and then to Nazi Germany and Austria (by early 1939 a part of Germany) meeting a series of contacts, and relatively unaware that they've got Gestapo agents around who might just be up to something. They get involved with the murder of a high-ranking Nazi at a concert of Franz Liszt music, which eventually results in the Nazis figuring out that the two are spies, and their being forced to try to escape with their lives. Along the way, though, they keep coincidentally meeting people who Richard knew from Oxford. There's Bruce Lester who seems to share the newlyweds' interest in the music of Liszt, but may be the murderer; and Basil Rathbone, who helps the newlyweds escape from the concert, but might have ulterior motives of his own.

It's all fairly standard stuff, and even the presence of a bunch of good actors isn't enough to rise above the material. It doesn't help that it seems to be riddled with even more coincidences than your normal spy movie. At least in, say, North by Northwest, the inexperienced Cary Grant was being helped by a professional Eva Marie Saint (and we the audience are let in on this). Even the ending is problematic, as the newlyweds make their final escape to Fascist Italy. In Night Train to Munich, the escapees realize they have to get to Switzerland.

Still, Above Suspicion is worth at least one viewing, as it does have so many professionals in it. It's also gotten a DVD release, albeit as part of the Warner Archive collection.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lynn Belvedere

Some people may remember the 1980s TV sitcom Mr. Belvedere. The idea was thoroughly unoriginal, having been based on a 1940s novel. Not only that, but the novel had already been turned into a series of three movies not long after the original novel was published. The first of those three movies, Sitting Pretty, is airing at 9:00 AM ET tomorrow morning on the Fox Movie Channel.

For those who don't know the rough story of the Belvedere character, the movie starts off with suburban parents the Kings (Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara), trying to raise their three kids. Unfortunately for them, their kids are a holy hell, and nobody wants to babysit for them. They put an ad in the paper for a nanny to work for them, and are relieved when Lynn Belvedere responds. What they don't realize until it's too late is that Lynn here isn't a woman, but a man (Clifton Webb)! Still, he's insistent on taking on the job, and Mrs. King, desperate for help, is willing to accept it.

Mr. Belvedere, however, has a belief system about raising children that's unorthodox, to put it mildly. Not only that, but he's one arrogant bastard, certain that he knows better than the parents that his methods are going to work, and that they can't possibly understand why. Before you know it, he has the kids practicing yoga, the parents wondering what the hell he's doing, and the rest of the town talking -- and gossiping about what's going on in the King household. Gossip being what it is, they of course draw the wrong conclusions, and create a situation that threatens Mr. King's job, and the Kings' marriage. Lynn Belvedere, of course, knows just how to save the day....

This is Clifton Webb's movie all the way, and boy does he shine. It's slightly odd that he'd be Fox's go-to guy for all those family comedies they did in the 40s and 50s, since in real life, Webb was a confirmed bachelor, devoted to his elderly mother, and about as close to openly gay as one could be in Hollywood in those days. Still, Webb is excellent here, in part because the script calls for Mr. Belvedere to have that enormous ego. Webb had already played that type in dramas such as Laura, so in some ways it's not such a stretch. As for the rest of the cast, they're all good in support of Webb, and the storyline is more than entertaining enough. The only minor problem is that the movie takes a bit too long in its set-ups, both in introducing Mr. Belvedere, and in solving the conflicts, especially the strains put in the marriage.

Sitting Pretty spawned two more Belvedere movies, both also starring Webb (but not Young or O'Hara). However, Sitting Pretty does not yet seem to have gotten a DVD release.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Delmer Daves, 1904-1977

Director Delmer Daves was born on this day in 1904. He never became quite as big a director as some of the other names out there, possibly because he did a lot of westerns, and most of those were smaller than what John Ford was doing. It's not as though Daves was a poor director by any means; I've recommended his 3:10 to Yuma before. Among his non-westerns were the Humphrey Bogart mystery Dark Passage, which I've mentioned briefly but never done a full blog post on.

It's also not as though Daves had no experience handling other genres. Like many directors who started directing in the 1940s, Daves got his start in Hollywood spending years as a screenwriter. Daves is responsible for the screenplay to The Petrified Forest, but also for a wide range of genres: from the college football movie So This Is College back in 1929, to musicals with Dick Powell like Flirtation Walk, to the sappy melodrama Love Affair.

Friday, July 23, 2010

0 for 11

The Fox Movie Channel is showing The Turning Point this evening at 6:00 PM ET. The movie is famous for being nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and winning a big fat zero of them (a feat later duplicated by The Color Purple; back in 1948 Johnny Belinda also lost 11 nominations, but the 12th nomination, Jane Wyman for Best Actress, won). Looking at the movie a third of a century on, it's understandable why The Turning Point came up short come awards time.

Shirley MacLaine plays Deedee Rogers, a woman raising a family in Oklahoma. She used to be a ballet dancer 20 years earlier, but she got knocked up, whcih is a problem for a dancer's career. So she married the dancer who was the father of her child (Tom Skerritt), moved to Oklahoma, and now runs a dance school while raising three kids. The American Ballet Theater, with which she danced all those years ago, is in town for a performance, so the family goes to see the show and then invite members of the dance troupe over for a party afterwards. It's here that Deedee meets her old rival, Emma (Anne Bancroft), who got the part Deedee was looking for back when she got pregnant. Emma went on to bigger and better things, and that's led to some resentment on Deedee's part.

The tables, however, are about to turn. Emma is getting to that age where her body will no longer do the graceful things it once did, demoting her to lesser roles; it's a fate that befalls every dancer, but one that none of them wishes to face. Deedee, on the other hand, has an extremely talented daughter Emilia (Leslie Browne), and Emilia is good enough to get an audition with the dance company in New York. So, Deedee goes with Emilia to New York, and lives somewhat vicariously through her, hoping for her success.

If you've seen movies like 42nd Street, you'll know that success is a product of hard work: lots and lots of hard work, to be more accurate. You've got the choreographer, the producer, the dance coaches, and a whole bunch of competing dancers each trying to get their own vision of dance to come across. Probably the highlight of all this for the viewers is Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Russian member of the company, who is also after Emilia's affections. In real life, he had defected only a few years earlier and wsa probably about as good a dancer as he ever would be -- after all, age would catch up to him too.

Having said that, the story falls a bit flat ultimately. The backstage world is a tried and true plot line, but the disadvantage it has is that it can also seem old and trite, which happens to a good extent here. Other than the two female leads (MacLaine and Bancroft), the rest of the dancers are dancers first, actors second. For those who are fans of ballet, it's sure nice to see them dance, but they're not as good at acting as the ballroom dancer/actors of the 1930s. Further, The Turning Point gets bogged down about two thirds of the way in by an extended dance sequence. Again, it's nice to have all this ballet preserved on the screen for posterity, but the opening night sequence goes on much too long, and feels like an afterthought that doesn't add to the plot even more than Gene Kelly's dance with Cyd Charisse in Singin' in the Rain. If you like ballet, I think you'll really like the movie, although you'll probably have seen it already. If you're not a fan of ballet, give it a shot, but there's no shame in not liking it.

The Turning Point was released on DVD, but is apparently out of print, so you'll have to catch the Fox Movie Channel showings.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The movie they should have made

Would you believe I have never actually seen Tammy and the Bachelor? It's airing tonight at 10:00 PM ET as part of TCM's look at "teen" movies -- although I think Debbie Reynolds would have been about 24 at the time the movie was made.

Mammy and the Bachelor (1939)The movie Hollywood should have made, however would be the more interesting version of Gone With the Wind in which Clark Gable chases after Hattie McDaniel while breaking Vivien Leigh's heart: Mammy and the Bachelor. At the very least, the interracial dating storyline would be far more daring than the actual Gone With the Wind, and probably would have been made more interesting than Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. And it's not as if there were never any sexual relations between the races in the old South; I've already recommended Pinky and Imitation of Life before. One of these days, I'll have to write about Within Our Gates, a race film by Oscar Micheaux which covered some of the same ground from the opposite angle back in the 1920s.

Addendum to Perfect Strangers

Last night's TCM showing of Perfect Strangers sounded interestingly bad. It wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting, but there was still a lot that I found to be a mess.

Do judges in the US ever not wear their robes when they're presiding from the bench? I don't think I saw the judge in a robe once.
I can't help but think the lawyers would have asked a lot more questions of the jurors in the voir dire process.
The trial involved a man accused of pushing his wife off a cliff at their cottage in the hills above Los Angeles. During the trial, the jury was taken out to the scene of the crime, and that whole sequence seemed wrong to me. First, the defendant was giving testimony about what he said happened, and I can't believe this would happen in a trial, let alone in such a matter-of-fact fashion. Further, the prosecution had not yet rested its case. And, although it has nothing to do with the case, I'd think somebody would have put up a fence with such a dangerous cliff near a vacation getaway. Frankly, I was hoping the lady bailiff would fall off the cliff during the reenactment!
Do juries normally deliberate until 4:00 in the morning? Surely they would have been held over for the night with deliberations starting again in the morning.
Thelma Ritter was much too old to be pregnant. Granted, Lucille Ball was 56 when she made Yours, Mine, and Ours, in which her character gets pregnant one more time, but she too was also much too old.
You'd think at least one of the jurors would have lost his temper during all the dinner scenes, and told the rest to shut the hell up and stop talking about the case.
Ginger Rogers is only separated from her husband, not divorced (at least, that's the testimony she gave in the voir dire process). Yet, during the whole romance between her and Morgan, there's no mention made of her having to get a divorce.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I, the Jury

TCM is showing a bunch of movies tonight that are set in the jury room. The classic 12 Angry Men kicks off the night at 8:00 PM ET, but I'm more interested in seeing the movie that follows, Perfect Strangers, at 10:00 PM. Ginger Rogers plays a divorcée who winds up on a jury in a murder trial, alongside (among others) Thelma Ritter and Dennis Morgan. The jury gets sequestered, and being forced to spend that much time alone together, some of the main characters begin to fall in love -- here, that's specifically Rogers and Morgan. Never mind the fact that this is a terribly overworked plot device; off the top of my head I can recall blogging about Barricade, and Father Goose, both of which feature people stranded together who fall in love. I would think that, in a jury room, this would be highly improper and would lead to a mistrial. (Then again, perhaps some jurors would want a mistrial.

I also wonder what the worst (as in most inaccurate) portrayal of the trial system is that we've ever gotten from Hollywood. Perfect Strangers sounds like a doozy, but I don't know if it will be as much of a mess as Half Angel. Although, the opposite sides of a case falling in love with each other, despite the fact that this violates every standard of impropriety, shows up even in good movies; Remember the Night springs to mind.

Perfect Strangers has made it to DVD as part of the TCM Archive Collection.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Evelyn Prentice

I've briefly mentioned the movie Eveyln Prentice before, but have never done a full blog post on it. It's airing at 4:15 PM ET today as part of the salute to Myrna Loy, and it's one of the few Loy films today that I have seen, so it's the one I'll recommend. (Note that TCM isn't doing a birthday tribute today; Loy's birthday is August 2, when TCM is normally doing Summer Under the Stars.)

Loy naturally plays a character named Evelyn Prentice, the wife of hotshot defense attorney John Prentice (William Powell). He's just won a case for socialite Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell) and in part because of how much time John has been spending working on his cases, Evelyn wonders whether or not he's been spending some of that time being less than faithful with her. One day at lunch, she meets poet Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), who charms her so much that she begins to think about meeting him again. That is, until she finds out that he's really just trying to get money out of her and has no compunctions about resorting to blackmail.

Evelyn goes to break off the relatoinship, but when she does, she gets blackmailed and the plot starts to go bad. In a convenient "accident" that we don't see, Evelyn kills Lawrence in a scuffle with a gun that Lawrence had in his desk. Lawrence's girlfriend showed up at the apartment just in time for the killing, giving a convenient defendant with alibi. And, John Prentice just conveniently winds up as the defense attorney (well, prodded by Evelyn's guilty conscience) and there's only one person who can prove the defendant's innocence -- and you know who that is, and why she's reluctant to reveal that she was a witness. Still, this being movie of the mid-30s (released several months after the Production Code crackdown really took off), you know that it's going to be wrapped up with a "happy" ending in which the true guilty party is revealed, and John and Evelyn are going to have some sort of reconciliation.

The acting is, for the most part, not the problem with the movie. William Powell and Myrna Loy are almost always good, and that's no different here. Rosalind Russell's role isn't all that big; the real second woman here is Una Merkel playing one of Evelyn's friends who unwittingly turns out to give her bad advice. Isabel Jewell plays Lawrence's girlfriend. As I said, the big problem is the plot, which even for a 30s movie makes me roll my eyes a lot. It's a shame, since Evelyn Prentice has such a good cast.

A few years back, a box set was released with a bunch of William Powell and Myrna Loy movies (I think they made eight movies not part of the "Thin Man" series), and Evelyn Prentice is part of that box set.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Gregory Peck, military man

TCM's salute to Star of the Month Gregory Peck contines this evening with several movies in which Peck plays a member of the military. Among these is Captain Newman, M.D., at 10:00 PM ET.

Peck plays the title character, an Army psychiatrist at a medical base in Arizona during World War II. Newman's running the place, and his job is to put the soldiers back together mentally so that they can return to combat duty, preferably immediately if not sooner. Of course, there's a war on, making running the place a bit difficult, especially when you consider that many of the higher ups think you should just tough it out -- the views on combat fatigue weren't what they are today. Helping Capt. Newman fight the bureaucracy is Corporal Jake Leibowitz (Tony Curtis), a man who isn't that much different from Tony Curtis' character in Operation Petticoat; namely that of a schemer who uses skills of dubious legality to get things done. Among the nurses are Angie Dickinson and Jane Withers.

Captain Newman, M.D. is partly about the tribulations the staff faces from the military bureaucracy, from higher-ups who think they know better how to run the place than the doctors, to finding themselves with a bunch of Italian POWs on hand. But the patients are just as important. Among them are Eddie Albert, a colonel who's suffered a nervous breakdown; a catatonic Robert Duvall; and Bobby Darin, who is clearly suffering from what would now be called post traumatic stress disorder. He gives an almost harrowing portrayal when Captain Newman puts him under truth serum to reveal what it is that he's been repressing.

Captain Newman, M.D. walks a fine line between comedy and drama, and for the most part, does it pretty well. Gregory Peck wasn't a comic actor, but he's not really expected to be one here, either. Instead, he's the foil for all the antics of Tony Curtis' character, and Peck pulls off the part of poor put-upon Captain Newman well. Tony Curtis, on the other hand, was quite adept at comedy and, already having played a similar role, portrays Leibowitz with ease. The three main patients are all quite good, and the nurses are adequate, although not the most important part of the movie.

Apparently, Captain Newman, M.D. hasn't been released to DVD, and remains one of Peck's lesser-known movies. That's a shame, because it's really a pretty good movie.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Which one to recommend?

About three months ago, TCM aired the Italian science fiction movie War of the Planets. It's airing again tomorrow morning at 10:15 AM. What I didn't mention then is that the movie was part of a four-movie series. Another of those movies, The Wild, Wild, Planet is also airing tomorrow, at 8:30 AM. This one is just as screwed up as War of the Planets, having a mad scientist who kidnaps people for his experiments using a multi-armed man wearing the traditional bad-guy black hat and cape, as well as women with large chests that explode. Of course, there's also the good guys in jumpsuits, and the mod styling of the 1960s as the basis for the future. Oh, and the characters sometimes go through a theater that's presenting some bizarre play which in and of itself does nothing to further the plot. Still, it's a riot to watch.

These aren't the only two movies tomorrow morning that are so much fun. Preceding both of them, at 7:15 AM, is The Killer Shrews. You can probably guess much of the plot. A ship captain goes to an offshore island to provide supplies, only to have the scientist working their mysteriously try to drive him off the island. The captain's curiosity is naturally piqued, and he finds an experiment gone wrong that results in giant shrews that threaten to eat them all alive -- as well as the scientist having a lovely daughter for the captain to fall in love with. A good portion of the plot sounds lifted from Forbidden Planet. The only thing is, this one didn't have the budget MGM did. So, we get cheap black and white, no-name actors, and really, reallly bad-looking shrews. Not bad-looking as in mean, but bad-looking as in awfully made. Still, this one is as much a riot as the Italian sci fi movies.

So maybe record them all!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The original airplane

Following The Phenix City Story, TCM is showing Zero Hour! at 4:00 PM ET today. Dana Andrews stars as Lt. Ted Stryker, a World War II pilot who gets on a commercial flight in the 1950s and is impressed into service when the pilot and a bunch of the passengers develop food poisoning. This, despite his mental blocks about flying thanks to his service in World War II.

Sound familiar? That's because it's the same plot as the 1980 movie Airplane! The major difference is that Zero Hour! was intended to be a serious drama, and not a comedy. Sadly, it's a bit difficult to watch it now since almost everybody is going to be influenced by having seen Airplane! already.

As for the other original airplane, I was quite surprised to look up Orville and Wilbur Wright and see that the Hollywood studios seem not to have made a movie about them during the Studio Era. A character search on them reveals a Biritsh docudrama about the history of flight from the mid 1930s, and a few TV shows and movies from much later, but that's about it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Phenix City Story

If you watch enough TCM, you'll see their "advertising", or more politely "promotion", of a new box set of eight film noirs; I think it's Volume 5 in the series. One of the movies mentioned as being in the new box set is The Phenix City Story, which is also airing at 2:00 PM ET on July 17 on TCM.

This movie is based on a true story. In the early 1950s, the town of Phenix City, Alabama (note the spelling; there's no O in it) became one of the vice capitals of America as vice lords set up all sorts of establishments designed to cater, or more accurately drain the pockets of, the military recruits who were stationed just across the border in Fort Benning, Georgia. Some of the local townsfolk thought that all this vice, especially when combined with stealing money from servicemen, was detrimental to the good name of the community, and they were insistent that Somebody Do Something About It. The problem is, the other townsfolk, including the ones who were elected officials, were in the pay of the purveyors of vice, either officially employed by them, or getting bribes from them. It was clear that the only solution could come from the state level. Local attorney Albert Patterson was tapped by the state Democratic Party to run for Attorney General, and he won a bitterly contested primary against a candidate put up by the vice lords. No more Mr. Vice Guy? No; they responded by assassinating Patterson, even though this only made matters worse. It got Albert's son John to run in his father's stead, and brought national notoriety upon Phenix City.

Those are more or less the facts, and The Phenix City Story represents them, as far as I can tell, reasonably well. Vice is generally a seedy activity, especially when it's criminalized, and The Phenix City Story is shockingly lurid, at least by mid-1950s standards. It helps that it has a lot of location filming, and a cast of not-so-well-knowns; Richard Kiley as John Patterson might be the most famous. This is one of those movies that falls in the same stylistic category of something like The Narrow Margin or The Delinquents where the B-movie values actually help the movie. MGM would have made something much too glitzy, while even Warner Bros.' social commentary movies of the 1930s look too much as though they were done on the backlot. In some cases, there's something to be said for a rawer look.

But what really makes the movie so much fun is the opening. Apparently, the folks enforcing the Production Code had some problems with the original movie and how lurid it was. The way the filmmakers got around this was to film an expository sequence at the beginning, bringing in a real TV journalist from Los Angeles to interview the actual people who were involved with the events in Phenix City (or, at least, the ones who weren't defendants). These people are clearly not professions, and serve to give The Phenix City Story a much greater atmosphere of "this really happened". That, and their candor is refreshingly fun, such as one older man who will be testifying as a witness. He's asked whether he has a gun to protect himself and his family, and whether he's prepared to use it; his guileless affirmative answers are almost shockingly funny.

I think I mentioned once in regard to Violent Saturday that it's a movie that's not great, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. The Phenix City Story is even more fun -- and better, too.

Margo Channing vs. the insane clowns

Today being a Friday, the Fox Movie Channel is showing another movie in its Fox Legacy series: the same movie repeated three times in succession, with a Robert Osborne-style introduction from Fox executive Tom Rothman. This week's selection is All About Eve, which airs at 8:00 PM ET, 11:00 PM, and 2:00 AM (or, those are the times the intros start). I'm not certain that I've ever done a full post on All About Eve, although I've mentioned it quite a few times in conjunction with other themes, such as the horrendously bad rear-projection scene with George Sanders and Anne Baxter.

Movies about performing arts show up over on TCM this evening as well. In TCM's case, that performing art is the circus, with a night of movies set under the big top. I've written full-length posts about a couple of the movies, such as Freaks, which kicks the night off at 8:00 PM ET. The last of the four movies, at 1:00 AM, is the other one on which I've written a full post: The Circus Queen Murder. In between, there's Circus of Horrors at 9:15 PM, and older Joan Crawford doing her overacting thing in Berserk at 11:00 PM.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Martha Ivers

I briefly mentioned the movie The Strange Love of Martha Ivers almost two years ago. It doesn't show up too often on TCM, but one of the showings is coming up tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM.

The movie starts off with an expository sequence showing teenaged Martha Ivers, a girl with an unhappy childhood who is seriously thinking of running off with her friend Sam Masterson, in order to get away from her controlling aunt. However, her tutor and his son Walter O'Neil are called in to stop her. Eventually, a scuffle ensues, in which the aunt either falls or is pushed down the stairs, witnessed only by Martha and Walter, and possibly Sam, who was trying to get out of the house at the time. Martha can't run away, but Sam does.

Fast forward a good 15 years or more. World War II has just ended, and grown-up Sam (Van Heflin), having become a hero in the war, decides to stop by his old home town to see what's happened since he left. This presents quite a problem for Martha (Barbara Stanwyck). After her aunt died, she went on to marry Walter (Kirk Douglas), who is now the District Attorney, driven largely by the ambition of his wife. Martha and Walter, as the two confirmed witnesses to the old aunt's death, gave their version of events to the authorities, and they're convinced that Sam might have seen what happened, and testify that what's officially on the police record is not entirely true. Not that Sam suspects this at first, of course....

Unfortunately, it's a bit tough to give more of the plot without giving away too much of the important stuff that happens. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is one of those noirish movies that is best seen without too much prior knowledge. I can, however, point out that it's an excellent movie worth watching. Barbara Stanwyck is as good as ever as the hard-boiled woman; she's more or less playing the same sort of character she did in Baby Face or Double Indemnity. Kirk Douglas, despite being pictured on the DVD cover in the picture above, only gets fourth billing; this was early in his career. However, it must have been a clear sign to viewers of the day of things to come as he's just as good as Stanwyck. Heflin is playing somebody almost as cynical as his character in Johnny Eager, but not quite as depraved (or, more accurately, sick of it all). Also in the cast is Lizabeth Scott, as a gorgeous young woman from the wrong side of the tracks with whom Sam Masterson falls in love. Finally, mention must be made of Judith Anderson, who plays the thoroughly nasty aunt. It's easy to see from the way she treats Martha why Martha grows up to be the woman she is.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Secret of Convict Lake

The Fox Movie Channel is showing the interesting western The Secret of Convict Lake tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET.

Glenn Ford stars as Jim Canfield, leading a band of escaped prisoners in a remote area of rural Sierra Nevada mountains. They get to a settlement during the middle of a snowstorm, and find out that all of the men have gone out -- presumably, as part of the posse looking for them. The women naturally have the dilemma of what to do: there's a worry about the men trying to overpower them, but one of the men is sick and besides, can they really let the men escape? So, the men are allowed to stay in one of the cabins while the women take turns guarding it.

Of course, Canfield, as a cat among the pigeons, is going to start trying to manipulate the women. He quickly falls for Marcia Stoddard (Gene Tierney), who happens to be engaged to the brother of spinster Rachel Schaeffer (Ann Dvorak). Canfield tries to convince Stoddard that he is in fact innocent, and was framed by somebody, but Rachel will have none of it. Meanwhile, the other escapees try to form their own romantic attachments, but only for the purposes of turning on the women: they're not gentlemen like Canfield. Trying to oversee all of this is elderly Ethel Barrymore, who's getting infirm but has more smarts than all the other women. It all leads to a tense standoff that can't possibly be resolved until the town's menfolk return.

That having been said, as much as Canfield and the rest of the escapees are trying to manipulate the women, the escapees aren't operating from a position of unanimity themselves. Canfield, although he professes his innocence, was convicted as part of a robbery of a large sum of money, and fellow escapee Johnny Greer (Zachary Scott) thinks that Canfield has led them to this town because that's where the money's been hidden. All will be revealed in the climax, of course....

The Secret of Convict Lake is a moderately satisfying western, if by no means a great one. It doesn't really tread any new ground, but the performances are all more than adequate. Ford is doing here a lot of the same things he would later do in 3:10 to Yuma, except that in this case, he might actually be innocent. Gene Tierney is lovely as ever, as suitable as the somewhat naïve younger woman. Dvorak is nasty as her future sister-in-law, and Ethel Barrymore seems to be reprising the philosophical role she took on in Portrait of Jennie, albeit one that's a bit hardier. It all adds up to a movie that's good, but not as memorable as other movies in the genre.

The Secret of Convict Lake seems not to have been released to DVD, and the print that FMC showed the last time it aired wasn't the greatest, which is unfortunate. Still, that's about all we're going to get.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Eric Portman, 1901-1969

Eric Portman terrorizes Leslie Howard in 49th Parallel (1941)

British actor Eric Portman was born on this day in 1901. He appeared in quite a few British movies, although I think his most famous might be that of the Nazi Lt. Hirth in 49th Parallel, where he tries to escape across the border into the still neutral United States.

I got the picture above from this interesting article that appeared in Britain's Guardian newspaper back in 2008, which detailed a few of the stories of war exploits of the Hollywood and British actors of a previous era. Some of the stories (Herbert Marshall's losing a leg in World War I) were ones I knew; others, such as Claude Rains and Lee Marvin, I didn't know so well. The mentions are all too brief, and this is a topic that would frankly make for some interesting blog posts, as there are a lot of Hollywood actors who served in active duty in World War II whose contributions aren't mentioned in the article due to space limitations.

As for women and the war effort, Myrna Loy took years out of her career to raise funds for war bonds; similar fundraising cost Carole Lombard her life in a plane crash. Women also went overseas to entertain the troops. And then there's Hedy Lamarr, who helped create a device that would better guide torpedos, except that the technology of the 1940s didn't make it feasible for use on ships. So, she too wound up hawking war bonds.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Young Olivia de Havilland

I mentioned quite some time back that the first released movie with Olivia de Havilland in the cast was 1935's Alibi Ike. (It wasn't the first made; that was A Midsummer Night's Dream, which got held up in the editing process until after the quickie Alibi Ike was released.) Tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM ET on TCM is your opportunity to watch Alibi Ike.

Joe E. Brown is the star, playing Frank Farrell, a phenom baseball player who gets the nickname "Alibi Ike" because he's constantly making up phony alibis to try to get himself out of trouble -- although, in fact, the alibis generally wind up getting him in bigger trouble. His talent catches the eye of Cap (William Frawley), a coach for the Chicago Cubs, who brings him in for a trial and eventually gets him a spot on the team. Frank's teammates not only make fun of him as "Alibi Ike"; they razz him for falling in love with Dolly (de Havilland), who is the sister-in-law of Cap. Frank, of course, lies about being in love with her, which angers Dolly, since she thinks he's serious when he tells them that, and assumes this means he's been leading her on.

Frank's got other problems; this time, with gamblers who try to force him to throw games. The Black Sox scandal had only been 15 years earlier at the time this movie was made, so the influence of gambling in baseball would have been fairly fresh in the minds of moviegoers of the time. Eventually, Frank is able to save the day, win the pennant for the Cubs, and get the girl at the end.

To be honest, Alibi Ike isn't my particular cup of tea. I don't care all that much for baseball pictures, and I'm always uncomfortable with the "comedy of lies", wherein much of the comedy comes from the fact that the protagnist is afraid to tell the truth, only to have the lie backfire and cause more problems. However, Alibi Ike is a reasonably representative Joe E. Brown movie, showing him at the height of his popularity in the 1930s. (Brown, of course, is well known for having gone on to play the wealthy old man in Some Like it Hot who winds up with Jack Lemmon.) Frawley is fine, de Havilland is lovely even if she doesn't have much to do, and fans of I Love Lucy may enjoy seeing some of his earlier movie work. Also, those who enjoy baseball movies might find this one a kick. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, though, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


TCM's Essentials, Jr. movie for tonight is a very good choice: Harold Lloyd's Speedy, at 8:00 PM ET. I'm surprised to see that I haven't blogged about it before.

Lloyd plays Speedy, the protagnist, a good-hearted man who unfortunately has a love of baseball that constantly interferes with his job, and as a result of spending too much time trying to get baseball scores, he gets fired from a series of jobs. It's doubly unfortunate since he's got a girlfriend, Jane Dillon (played by Ann Christy) whom he loves, but whom he can't really support, which is a point of friction between him and the girl's Pop. Pop, you see, has a real job driving the last of New York's horse-drawn trolleys, and has a contract that he can keep the trolley as long as he likes on the proviso that he runs the route at least once every 24 hours.

This provieds an opportunity for Speedy to make good when Pop falls ill. Why not run the route himself? Well, it's not that simple: at night the trolley-car is being used for illicit poker games, and there's an electric trolley-car company that wants to drive Pop out of business and will stop at nothing to make sure the horse-drawn trolley doesn't run. Speedy, however, could just save the day with his usual intelligent slapstick comedy, and get the girl....

There's really nothing groundbreaking about Speedy, but like a lot of the Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton comedies, it's like sitting down with an old friend -- you know you're going to have a good time reliving old memories.

The two movies that follow Speedy are movies I've also recommended in the past:

The Devil and Miss Jones airs at 10:15 PM ET; and
Orphans of the Storm is this week's Silent Sunday Night selection, at midnight.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another example of the Fox Movie Channel's odd scheduling

FMC is showing Tampico in a few hours' time, at 12:30 PM ET. It's an interesting movie starring Edward G. Robinson as a tanker captain in the Gulf of Mexico who gets involved in a Nazi sabotage plot in World War II -- interesting, because that little bit of the war is one that doesn't get much mention in the movies or the history books. (There's also an obscure Mexican film from a year earlier called Espionaje en el golfo that deals with Nazis in Mexico and the Golf region that showed up on one of the Spanish-language channels back when it was airing movies at lunchtime, which was also quite fun.) As for Tampico, the FMC's schedule page currently only lists this afternoon's showing; there apparently aren't any further showings in July or August at least. This is slightly odd, considering that the FMC's usual course of action is to keep movies locked away in the vault for a few years (indeed, I can't remember the last time Tampico aired, but I think it was before I started blogging), and then to air the movie over and over for a few months.

Consider, for example, the movie that follows, at 2:00 PM: Niagara. I've already blogged about it, so no need to go into the plot. What's interesting here is that it seems to be back in the FMC rotation after several years -- after today, it's got two more showings in July, and another three in August.

I think the first time I saw Niagara was on FMC either immediately before or immediately after Inferno, so perhaps maybe Inferno will be back on the schedule soon. Sadly, right now, only the TV movie remake Ordeal shows up at the FMC website.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Lavender Hill Mob

I was going to blog about The Lavender Hill Mob a few months back when it was on the TCM schedule. Unfortunately, Lena Horne died, and when TCM scheduled the tribute for her, it preempted the night with The Lavender Hill Mob on the schedule. It's showing up again tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET on TCM, and is an eminently enjoyable British comedy.

Alec Guinness plays Henry Holland, a man who's retired after working for 20 years as a guard for gold bullion shipments for the Bank of England, and is now living the good life somewhere presumably in South America. At one of the resorts, he relates to another man how he came to acquire the wealth necessary to live such a lifestyle. Let's just say it wasn't done honestly.

Flash back to a year earlier. Henry isn't entirely satisfied with his life, and fantasizes about what he could do with the money that all that gold bullion represents. Of course, stealing it is impossible. After all, even if you could steal it, what would you do with a bunch of numbered gold bars afterwards? Why do you think kidnappers always ask for the money in small bills that aren't sequentially numbered? Life changes for Henry when he meets Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway). Pendlebury runs a foundry that melts down metal to make kitschy sculptures of monuments and the like to be sold to tourists. Henry realizes, though, that the foundry could be used to melt down gold bullion, which could then be cast into something or other, and then exported out of the country. So, the two man plan to get a gang, steal the bullion, melt it down and make gold Eiffel Towers out of the bullion, export those figurines to Paris, and then pick up the figurines in Paris.

Needless to say, the robbery doesn't work perfectly: only Henry and Alfred are able to get back to the hideaway. Worse, however, is when they export the figurines to Paris. They were in a lot that was supposed to be marked as not (yet) for sale -- but the people at the Eiffel Tower tourist traps actually sell six of the figurines to a group of English schoolgirls! The two robbers have to get them back, but doing so might just be their downfall....

The Lavender Hill Mob is enjoyable, although it's wackier than most of the British comedies that were being made in the early post-war years. (I don't think it was until Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas came along that British comedy, at least the good stuff, became really outrageous.) As is the case with Odd Man Out mentioned the other day, the movie has quite a few eccentric characters, in this case those living in the rooming-house with Henry. Also, watch for a very young Audrey Hepburn, who shows up briefly in the opening sequence before the flashback. It's certainly suitable for the children, too. It's also available on DVD. While I personally prefer a few other British movies from the period, especially a later comedy like Make Mine Mink, there's really nothing wrong with The Lavender Hill Mob.

Abraham Lincoln vs. Jenny Jones

That's the lineup on TCM vs. FMC tonight. TCM gives us three movies about President Lincoln, although the first two are set before he was inaugurated:

Raymond Massey plays what many consider to be the definitive Lincoln, in Abe Lincoln in Illinois, at 8:00 PM ET.
That's followed by Henry Fonda, in his days at Fox, playing the lawyerly Young Mr. Lincoln at 10:00 PM; and
one I've blogged about before, D.W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln, starring Walter Huston in the title role, at midnight.

The competition over on FMC is from the weekly Fox Legacy series, which shows some of the "important" movies from the Fox library. This week that features Jenny Jones, albeit not in Portrait of Jennie, from which the photo is taken. (I'm too darn lazy to look for an appropriate photo, especially with the hot weather we've been having.) Besides, Portrait of Jennie wasn't even made at Fox. Instead, we get the chick flick Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, in which Jones' Chinese/English doctor character falls in love with journalist William Holden, who's trapped in a marriage to a woman who won't give him a divorce; the movie is set in Hong Kong against the backdrop first of the Communist Revolution of 1949, followed by the Korean War. It's not one of my favorites, but then, there are people who like chick flicks instead of Lincoln biopics.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another late B movie

Tonight at 10:30 PM ET, the Fox Movie Channel is giving us Nine to Five. Made in 1980, it's one of those movies that would have been a lot of fun as a clean B-comedy several decades earlier, but as a movie isn't so well remembered today.

Jane Fonda stars as Judy Bernly, a woman who just got a divorce and as such is just getting back into the working world after a long time married. She gets a job at the conglomerate Consolidated Companies as a secretary in a big, lifeless office. Judy's immediate supervisor, Violet (Lily Tomlin), is showing her the ropes and letting her know about the myriad of rules and how, in no uncertain terms do you want to violate them: the ultimate boss of the division, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), will come down very hard on you, if not fire you. It doesn't help poor Judy that on her first day, she has an accident with the copying machine.

At any rate, Judy quickly finds out just how much of a jerk Mr. Hart is. He's got his personal assistant Roz (Elizabeth Wilson) spying on the workers, to the point that everybody has to check the stalls in the bathroom to see that they're unoccupied before they'll talk about anything in the bathroom -- she takes notes and sends those notes on to Mr. Hart! Hart expects his employees to do personal favors for him, and everybody in the office knows that he's carrying on with his secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton). Matters eventually come to a head when Hart sends Violet and Judy out to buy a scarf for his wife, and they find that the scarf was actually for Doralee. The three all wind up taking the afternoon off and ending up at the same bar, where they find that Hart is in fact not carrying on an affair with Doralee. He's certainly trying, of course, but she doesn't want it. Violet and Judy find that their dislike of Doralee is misplaced and, when the three go to Doralee's house for a pot party, they discuss their fantasies about how they'd deal with Hart if they could get away with it.

Things go wrong for them, though, when Violet's fantasy about poisoning Hart with rat poison actually comes true: the rat poison box looks like the artificial sweetener box, and she mistakenly puts the rat poison in Hart's coffee. Hart discovers this, though, when he hits his head before he can drink the coffee, and has to be taken to hospital with what isn't a fatal condition. Hart has no qualms about firing the three and making certain they'll spend a long spell in jail. What's a girl to do? Why, kidnap Hart and make him do their bidding! It turns out that Hart has been embezzling money from the firm, and Violet has learned about this. But, she needs information from the home office, which will take a few weeks to arrive, so they'll have to keep custody of Hart for some time. And, get Roz out of the way.

Nine to Five is, as I said, a movie that would have worked well as a B-comedy back in the 30s or 40s. Obviously, it would have to be cleaned up, but it's a movie that's entertaining if filled with unbelievable premises and a bit of a throwaway at the end. All three of the female leads show that they were quite good at comedy. Lily Tomlin, we always knew; Jane Fonda's comedic ability should have been remembered from movies like Sunday in New York. But Dolly Parton doing comedy is a revelation. Is she great? Not particularly, but she's more than competent, and considering that comedy isn't easy, that's a compliment. Also in the cast is Sterling Hayden, who gets a brief scene at the end as the CEO of the company.

As I said at the beginning, Nine to Five isn't so well remembered as a movie. That's probably because, in addition to it being somewhat of a fluff piece, the movie is better remembered for the title song. Dolly Parton sang "Nine to Five" over the opening credits, and it's one of those country/pop songs of the early 1980s that's instantly memorable for its great uptempo melody.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Foreign fun with box guides

TCM aired a couple of Yul Brynner movies today, including The Magnificent Seven. However, while looking through the on-screen guide of my satellite box, the movie was listed under the title The Magnificent Seven, but with a plot synopsis and cast list that clearly belonged to The Seven Samurai (Toshiro Mifune and the 1954 date were dead giveaways). Odd, even though it's reasonably well-known that The Seven Samurai is the original movie on which The Magnificent Seven was based.

More interesting is a movie that came up earlier in the morning: Joan Crawford's 1941 film A Woman's Face. For even more bizarre reasons, the box guide listed this as being from 1938, and starring Ingrid Bergman. In fact, again, the Crawford movie was based upon a Swedish original from 1938, which indeed starred Bergman before she came to the US. (If memory serves, it even got aired on TCM several years back when Ingrid Bergman was Star of the Month.) That having been said, it's probably much less known that A Woman's Face was originally a Swedish picture. How the people sending out the box guide info got this into the schedule is beyond me. Especially since the TCM schedule page correctly listed the Joan Crawford version.

In interesting, if bizarre and ultimately meaningless mystery.

Carol Reed night

TCM is celebrating the birthday of director Carol Reed tonight with a night of his movies. Wait a second. Carol Red was born on December 30, 1906. So it's just one of those random nights where TCM decides to honor somebody for no particular reason other than to show a night of good movies. Not that that's a bad reason to honor anybody, of course! As for Reed, he's probably best known for two movies: winning the Oscar for Oliver! (not airing tonight), as well as directing The Third Man (airing overnight at 3:15 AM ET). One of his movies that's not as well known but really deserves attention is Odd Man Out, which shows up at 11:30 PM tonight.

Odd Man Out is another of those movies with a really simple plot. James Mason stars as Johnny McQueen, a member of an IRA-like group in Belfast who has just gotten out of prison and is holed up in the house of one of the group's female supporters and her mother. The group is planning a bank robbery to fund themselves. But, unfortunately, the robbery goes awry, and in the getaway, Johnny is shot and wounded while the rest of the group continues to speed off in the getaway car, unable to go back and retrieve him. So, it's up to Johnny to fend for himself and find a way out of his predicament in the cold winter of Belfast....

The plot really is that simple, but frankly, describing it that simply doesn't do justice to the movie. As with so many of the British movies of the early postwar period, it's full of a more realistic darkness than the Hollywood noirs; it's also got its fair share of oddball characters, including a painter living in a derelict apartment and a priest who wants Johnny to do the right thing; and of course it has a plot with a lot of twists and coincidences. James Mason is quite good, but the rest of the cast adds just as much to the movie.

Odd Man Out was apparently released to DVD in Europe, but the TCM website lists it as not being available on DVD, while Amazon lists a small number of import copies available. So, you're better off catching one of the TCM showings.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Epic" does not necessarily mean "good"

Sure, ever since movies like Heaven's Gate were huge bombs (and why did we even get Kevin Costner's Waterworld?), we've known that spending the entire budget of Lesotho on a movie doesn't guarantee it will be any good; nor does putting more stars in it than there were in Dinner at Eight (which, coincidentally, is airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET on TCM) automatically make for a classic. TCM is running three "comedy epics" tonight, and one of them clearly doesn't stand up today: The Great Race, overnight at 2:30 AM ET.

Tony Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a handsome and virtuous daredevil in th efirst decade of the 20th century who performs feats of danger that wow the ladies. He's got a rival, though, in the form of Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon), who tries to sabotage all of Leslie's stunts. Leslie decides, in conjunction with one of the early automobile makers, that his next stunt should involve taking part in (and winning, of course) a car race from New York to Paris, via a transpacific crossing. Professor Fate learns about this, and immediately decides he has to enter the race, and ensure that nobody else can win.

The two rivals, however, are not alone. Maggie Dubois is a suffragette who, in trying to raise the status of women, insists on forcing the publisher of one of New York's newspapers (Arthur O'Connell) to give her a job as a correspondent. And what would be the perfect job? Going on the "great race" in a Stanley Steamer and reporting on the race. The publisher doesn't like the idea, but his wife (Vivian Vance, TV's Ethel Mertz in one of her rare movie roles) is rather warmer to the idea, so off goes Maggie. You know that the two male rivals are going to compete over her as well, although they've got a third rival, in the form of her ideals. As for the race, it sets off, with Leslie being a team with his longtime assistant Hezekiah (Keenan Wynn), and Prof. Fate having assistant Max (Peter Falk) accompanying him.

The problem with The Great Race is that the humor largely falls flat, if not inducing cringes. The movie all too slowly makes its way through the American west, followed by a trip across the Bering Strait on a melting iceberg, and eventually ends up in an unnamed eastern European principality in a parody of The Prisoner of Zenda. The Zenda sequence, in particular, goes on much too long, climaxing with a pie fight that's much more tedious than funny.

Still, some people may enjoy The Great Race, and Natalie Wood gets some nice period costumes to wear. (Although, how she could pack all those changes of clothes is a mystery.) For those are new to the "epic comedies", the first two are rather better:
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at 8:00 PM; followed by
Around the World in 80 Days at 11:15 PM.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gratuitous photos of the new Star of the Month

This being the first full week of July, we get a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being Gregory Peck. His movies are going to be airing every Monday night in prime time on TCM. There doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to the selection of this week's Peck movies: The Keys of the Kingdom airing from early in his career, is airing at 12:15 AM ET. However, the movie immediately preceding it is from much later, namely 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird. And, kicking the night off is Peck as Captain Ahab in the 1956 version of Moby Dick (pictured here). You know the story, of course (unless it's the 1930 version). The only thing I can think of that these movies have in common is that they're all based on books; the fourth movie, at 2:45 AM, is The Yearling, which is also based on a book.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4 birthdays

I knew that Gloria Stuart is turning 100 today. She unfortunately appeared in the dreadful James Cameron version of Titanic, and that's what she'll probably be remembered for when she dies and all the media outlets run their prepared obituaries. Of course, if you want to see an interesting version of Titanic, it ought to be the Nazi version. She made a lot of movies back in the 1930s, however, and earlier this year I recommended Island in the Sky.

IMDb's front page didn't have Stuart as the featured birthday person, which surprised me slightly. Instead, that honor went to Gina Lollobrigida, who turns 83 today. She'll be showing on on TCM later this week in Trapeze. (I believe it's 8:00 PM ET Wednesday, but check your listings.) Another person who turns 83 today is prolific playwright Neil Simon. I just recommended his Plaza Suite last week.

Stephen Boyd would be 79 if he hadn't died young. Boy do I wish The Oscar were available on DVD.

Finally, and for an excuse to post a photo I've used before, I note that today is the 86th birthday of Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar for playing Marlon Brando's girlfriend in On the Waterfront. The picture here is from the beginning of the movie, when her brother has just been killed, and priest Karl Malden is providing the last rites for the deceased.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Speaking of George Washington

I mentioned the short The Flag two years ago on Flag Day. As I mentioned, it stars Francis X. Bushman as General George Washington, who commissions Betsy Ross to create what would become the American flag. I pointed out at the time that it wasn't available on DVD; in fact, it seems as though it still hasn't made it to DVD anywhere. You'll have to catch one of the rare TCM showings, which includes tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET as part of a day of July 4-themed movies.

One thing I didn't mention two years ago is that there's also a subplot about a pregnant woman, and a young British soldier who crosses the lines in order to be able to see her. It's a rather silly addition to the story, but the movie as a whole is better worth watching for the historical value anyway, not the story. That is, for its place in film history, since the Betsy Ross story is apocryphal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jack Benny builds his dream house

Movies about building or renovating houses often show the comic side of what can go wrong; it's all funny because it's true. One of the best-known examples of this is Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Several years before that, Jack Benny starred in a movie with a similar theme, George Washington Slept Here. That latter movie is airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM ET on TCM.

Benny doesn't so much build his dream house, as get roped into it by his wife (played by Ann Sheridan). She's one of the worst tenants imaginable, getting evicted from one tony Manhattan apartment after another. She decides that the best thing she can do is find a house that they can buy, so that they'll never again have to be worried about getting evicted. However, she buys a fixer-upper without telling her husband. Needless to say, this place needs a lot of fixing-upping. All that money spent on repairs could prove costly, though, if they're unable to pay the mortgage on the house -- and they've got a neighbor who wants to make certain they can't pay that mortgage. Help seems on the way, however, with the arrival of their uncle Stanley (Charles Coburn), a wealthy man who spends his year going from one relative to the next.

Although I personally prefer Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House to George Washington Slept Here, the Jack Benny movie has a lot going for it. It's material that's right up Benny's alley, although some of the physical humor may seem a bit painful. The rest of the cast, hoewver, shines around Benny. Ann Sheridan shows she's quite good at comedy. We already knew Coburn was, and his presence in the second half of the movie is another one of those roles that fits an actor like a hand in a good glove. Even though both Sheridan and Coburn are quite good, two othe rsupporting cast members deserve more mention. First is Hattie McDaniel, who plays the long-suffering maid to Benny and Sheridan. If Benny had little choice in moving to this fixer-upper, McDaniel had even less, and has to suffer the consequences even more, as she's now stuck in a kitchen that has none of the conveniences you would have in New York. The other is the place's caretaker, played by Percy Kilbride. Kilbride would go on to play Pa Kettle, and plays the caretaker here in a similar underplayed style in which he's creating comedy but seems totally oblivious to it.

George Washington Slept Here seems not to have been released to DVD, so you're going to have to watch it on TCM.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Altman for teens

Tonight being July 1, it's the start of a new month, with new features on TCM. One of those features is a month of teen movies, airing every Thursday night in prime time. This first Thursday in July includes well-known movies such as Rebel Without a Cause at 8:00 PM. But a more interesting movie would be the less well-known The Delinquents, coming up at midnight.

One of the earliest movies directed by Robert Altman, The Delinquents shows the lives of teenagers in Altman's native Kansas City in the mid-1950s. Scotty is a nice young man, who is going steady with Janice, until Janice's parents decide that she's much too young to be going steady with anybody, even somebody as harmless as Scotty. Poor Scotty is heartbroken, and allows himself to be used by a gang of punks led by Cholly. The thing is, Cholly likes Scotty and his innocence. He convinces Scotty to rebel a bit by bring Janice to a house party. What Scotty doesn't realize is that this is going to be a pretty wild party, and that Cholly and his gang have broken into the house to hold the party. When Scotty and Janice realize what's going on, they leave. Luckily for them, it's before the police can raid the place.

However, it's also unlucky for them that they don't get picked up in the raid. Cholly's #2 in the gang, Eddy, has grown jealous of Cholly's relationship with Scotty, and sees this as an opportunity to get back at Scotty by telling Cholly that it was Scotty who snitched to the cops and got the party raided. It's here that the action really begins to pick up, as Cholly and Eddy kidnap Scotty and get him involved with forced drinking and a stickup at a gas station! Poor Scotty: these teen movies seem to have to have a moral about not getting mixed up with the bad kids. (In some ways, this second half of the movie is reminiscent of the really fun Teen-Age Crime Wave.)

Many people may not consider The Delinquents to be as good as, say, Rebel Without a Cause, but to be honest, it's not bad at all, and a really zippy, fun movie. Robert Altman already shows that he's got potential, crafting an interesting story out of what to be honest is fairly routine material. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM showing.