Saturday, December 31, 2011

Starting the new year with shorts

I'm sorry to see that I didn't post this before. But TCM has actually done a fairly conscientious job of remembering to include the shorts it will be showing, at least for the first couple of days of the new year.

Pete Smith, whom I've mentioned a couple of times in the past, shows up with a pair of shorts early in the morning on January 1. First, just after King Kong (ie. just after 8:00 AM), is Donkey Baseball. When I was a kid, I remmeber that one of the fundraisers the local school would put on every few years was "donkey basketball", in which a team of middle school kids would play against the teachers. The name, as you can probably guess, implies that the two teams were playing basketball, except that the players were riding donkeys. The short Donkey Baseball implies that this is baseball instead of basketball, but with the players riding donkeys.

After the following feature Swing Time (around 10:00 AM), there's another Pete Smith specialty, Swing High. This one looks a bit more interesting, being about a family of trapeze artists.

Last but not least, after Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (or around 12:25 PM), TCM is airing the Traveltalks short on Washington DC, filmed in 1940. One of the interesting things about this ones is the relatively positive things it says about Japan having given Washington the cherry trees -- the short was filmed the year before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I don't think any of these are on DVD, which is a bit of a shame; the Traveltalks shorts at least would be good additions to features set in the same locations that Traveltalks visits.

The TCM Programmer's vicious sense of humor again

Death and doomsday on New Year's Eve? Why not! I've briefly mentioned Fail-Safe a couple of times before; that interesting movie about a rogue nuclear bomber crew is tonight's TCM Essential at 8:00 PM.
A movie that I have blogged about before is Panic in the Streets in which Richard Widmark has to race to stop a plague outbreak; that follows at 10:15 PM.
Armageddon comes, but only for one man, in D.O.A. at midnight.
Perhaps the least menacing of the movies is Ice Station Zebra, about espionage on a nuclear submarine, at 1:30 AM.
Finally, one of my favorites, even if it's not all that great, is Juggernaut, ending the night at 4:15 AM

Happy new year 2012 to all of you!

Friday, December 30, 2011

One Week

I wrote up three posts back in October when Buster Keaton was TCM Star of the Month, and didn't mention the fun short One Week. It's airing again tonight at 7:00 PM, and if this isn't enough warning for you, you should be able to find it on DVD.

The plot, as with most of Keaton's two-reelers, is simple. Keaton plays a new groom who, with his bride, finds he's been given a nice wedding present by his uncle: a pre-fabricated house, and a lot to put it on. Well, it's a 1920 version of a pre-fabricated house, meaning that it's a house-in-a-box (the boxes look decidedly too small, but that's beside the point) with a series of numbered boxes that show the order in which the house goes together. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Of course, this being a Buster Keaton comedy, you know that things aren't going to go the way they're supposed to. First of all, the house winds up looking not at all like it's supposed to. You wonder whether they had a level among the tools they used to build the house. That, and the house could have used a foundation, a problem that everybody notices the first time there's a stiff breeze. And to make matters worse, they find they've built on the wrong lot.

One Week is a quite entertaining little two-reeler. It's followed on the schedule by another two-reeler I'd never heard of, called The Flame Song (start time approximately 7:28 PM). This one is apparently a 1934 short remake of a 1930 operetta called Song of the Flame, the film elements of which have been lost. I'm not into operetta, and haven't particularly enjoyed the Jeanette MacDonald films that get shown on TCM from time to time, but for those of you who like this sort of film it's probably worth a watch. And I don't think it's on DVD either.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Birds in the news

You might have known that The Birds is based in part on a real incident in 1961 when a bunch of seagulls committed suicide off the coast of the Central California coast. What I didn't realize is that scientists have apparently been debating for the past 50 years what led to the birds' strange behavior.

A new study claims to answer that question. Apparently the birds' food supply had become contaminated, such that the birds were getting subjected to a high concentration of a neurotoxin. I don't know enough about neurochemistry to know how accurate any of this is, but it at least makes for interesting reading.

That having been said, none of this has anything to do with whether the movie itself is enjoyable, which it certainly is.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A night of TCM Remembers

Back in June, I mentioned how I did a "TCM Remembers"-themed schedule for the TCM Programming Challenge, and remarked just how many famous people died during the first half of the year. When I did my schedule, I programmed one film from a different person who died in 2011 at the 6:00 AM time slot to start each day. Obviously, TCM wouldn't program a tribute in quite that way. I personally don't think it would be a bad idea if TCM took its December schedule and instead of a regular Star of the Month, honored all the people who left us over the course of the year, since there are always quite a few as you can see in the TCM Remembers montage every year.

Instead, TCM has decided to have a one-night salute to half a dozen of the more famous obituaries from 2011:

Jane Russell died at the very end of February. She starts the night of tributes appearing opposite Bob Hope in The Paleface, at 8:00 PM.
Peter Falk died in June, and starred in The In-Laws, which you can see at 10:00 PM
Sidney Lumet passed away in April. Although he was a very talented director, TCM has decided to honor him by showing the Private Screenings interview Robert Osborne did with him at midnight.
Elizabeth Taylor is probably this year's most famous obituary, having died in March. TCM is showing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at 1:00 AM.
Anne Francis died at the very beginning of the year. TCM's selection for her is Bad Day at Black Rock, at 3:00 AM.
Finally, Jackie Cooper left us in May. He, having been a child star, gets the earliest movie of the films selected: The Champ, at 4:30 AM.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dr. Kildare

TCM is showing all nine movies in the Dr. Kildare series tomorrow. Lew Ayres (whose birthday is tomorrow, hence the tribute) played the young Dr. Kildare who was the assistant to Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Now, I've mentioned Dr. Gillespie before, specifically in regards to the 1942 film Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant. And there's a bit of a tale in that.

Dr. Kildare was played by Lew Ayres from 1938's Young Dr. Kildare (airing at 6:15 AM tomorrow) through to the end of 1941. And then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. World War II changed a lot of careers, mostly because people got called off to fight in the war, at least if they were men. Women like Greta Garbo found they were really no longer popular and the European market had dried up; and of course Carole Lombard died in a plane crash while raising money for war bonds. But back to Lew Ayres. He had the misfortune of being a conscientious objector of one of the few wars which was quite obviously morally acceptable. So it killed off his career for quite a few years, until the war was over. (To be fair, Ayres did serve as a medic/chaplain during the war.) Ayres didn't really achieve prominence again until Johnny Belinda in 1948, for which he earned an Oscar nomination, although like almost everybody else involved with that film, he lost. In the end, Ayres went on to a career in television, making dozens and dozens of appearances in episodic TV.

Monday, December 26, 2011

More on those Christmas noirs

One movie that TCM aired in the run-up to Christmas which sometimes gets called a noir but is really just more of a mystery is Cover Up. It's a movie that has made its way to a cheap DVD release, so don't worry if you missed the TCM showing.

Dennis O'Keefe plays Sam Donovan, an insurance claims agent for a big-city life insurance company who is on his way to the small town of Cleberg one Christmas to pay off on an insurance policy. It seems that one of the town's prominent citizens committed suicide, but there are a few loose ends that need tying up before the company will pay off. So Donovan immediately goes to the local sheriff's department, and finds Sheriff Best (William Bendix) is shockingly hostile to him. The dead guy was a suicide by gunshot, but the coroner never bothered to get the bullet out of the body. And the gun wound up not at the scene of the act. Those are just a few of the inconsistencies, and when Donovan asks Best about them, Best does everything he can to keep Donovan from finding out the answers.

So Donovan starts going to other people in town to try to gather evidence from them, and finds them equally hostile, with the hostility mounting the more Donovan finds evidence that this "suicide" might actually have been a murder! Even the insurance policy's beneficiary, the dead man's niece, doesn't want to hear any talk of murder, which is the biggest surprise, since there was a double indemnity clause stating that the policy would pay double if the deceased had been murdered. (Why it would pay off at all for a suicide is one of the mysteries that this film doesn't answer.) And when Donovan leaves the niece's house, we get some dialogue from the niece and her husband which implies that they could be suspects.

In fact, it seems as though everybody in town could be suspects: everybody hated him! This dislike rises to the point that for a time during the movie I was beginning to wonder if the mystery was going to be resolved by having everybody in town take a shot or stab at him. The closest to an exception is the Anita Weatherby, the young lady Donovan meets at the beginning of the movie (Barbara Britton), who is the daughter of the town's banker. Another of Cover Up's odd plot twists is that Donovan spends quite a bit of time trying to put the moves on her, despite having only recently met her on the bus into town. But when she discovers that the murder weapon is a Luger and that her father has one from his days in World War I, she conspires to hide evidence herself. As I said, perhaps everybody is guilty.

This "everybody is guilty" attitude not only permeates the movie; it leads to some really nutty plot points, like the kid who would rather watch Anita and Donovan make out in a movie theater. Or Anita's hilariously obnoxious kid sister. And even more strange is the Weatherbys' maid. She has to be implicated in all of this somehow. All in all, there's a muddled plot, which isn't helped by some incredibly corny dialogue, which we see right away at the beginning of the movie when Donovan and the sheriff are talking. It's the sort of movie you'd think is terrible, from reading everything I've written.

And yet, Cover Up is a lot of fun as it makes its way to its denouement, which involves Donovan setting a trap that he hopes will lure the murderer back to the scene of the crime to destroy evidence. Unfortunately, at this point, the murderer is revealed to be... a bit of a deus ex machina. It's a maddening twist, the last of the film's many twists. But you can't help but wonder whether the screenwriters had to come up with an ending like this to get around the folks enforcing the Production Code. The "everybody in town did it" resolution wouldn't have made it past Joe Breen. And as I said, it's a shame. Cover Up is most definitely a B movie, but up until the end, it's a really fun one.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Scrooge at TCM

Well, not yet another version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, although as I mentioned earlier this month, there are lots of movie versions of that story. It seems as though somebody involved with programming the schedule at TCM has a vicious sense of humor. Tonight's Christmas lineup includes the decidedly un-Christmassy Make Way For Tomorrow, at 10:15 PM. To be fair, it's part of a lineup of movies directed by Leo McCarey, which includes the hideously treacly (but suitable for Christmas) Going My Way at 8:00 PM. If they had really wanted to stray from the Christmas spirit, they would have gotten the rights to My Son John again.

That having been said, I was looking for the post that I did previously on Make Way For Tomorrow, and was a bit surprised to see that the movie had been aired last year on December 24, which means somebody at TCM deliberately has this movie in mind for Christmas.

What other movies would be good for a dysfunctional family Christmas? For starters, I might pick Night of the Hunter. Stepfather Robert Mitchum's relationship with his stepchildren clearly fits the definition of dysfunctional, and the film does have a Christmas scene.

The Apartment would be another excellent choice, as Shirley MacLaine's character attempts to commit suicide in Jack Lemmon's apartment over the Christmas season, having been jilted by boss Fred MacMurray, whose thought in buying a gift amounts to giving her a $100 bill. That would have been a nice amount of money back in 1960, but somebody was looking for love, not money.

Sandra Dee has a rather bad Christmas with her mother in A Summer Place, a scene which if I remember correctly comes complete with one of those cold aluminum trees that were the rage in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a better Christmas than some of the people in the movies.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Let's keep insulting FMC!

The folks running the Fox Movie Channel have more or less decided that they don't much care about the classics any more, something that I'll get into sometime next week in more detail. Now is a good time as any to comment on how badly they've run the channel all these years.

Tomorrow of course is Christmas, a time at which almost every channel runs Christmas-themed programming. FMC is too, and it's not as though I have any problem with that. But they're running Home Alone tomorrow. Twelve times: every two hours starting at 6:00 AM. Now, there's nothing wrong with programming gimmicks. I remember several years ago when some local radio station was changing formats to a classic R&B format (the station has changed formats twice more since, and seem to be adding newer songs to their newer "classic" rock format), they played Vicki Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around" on a continuous loop for an entire weekend or some shockingly long period of time. And I don't have any problems with channels that repeat programs so that one airing is in prime time on the east coast while the next is on the west coast. I can't help but think, however, that what FMC is doing really won't bring much in the way of eyeballs to the channel, either now or for the coming new format.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dear Brigitte

I don't know how many more times it's going to air on the Fox Movie Channel, so I ought to mention the movie Dear Brigitte, which is airing at 8:00 AM on December 24.

James Stewart, in that portion of his career where he was getting cast in family comedies like Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, plays Professor Leaf, a literature professor on the west coast who lives with his wife Vina (Glynis Johns) and his two children, daughter Pandora (Cindy Carol) and son Erasmus (Billy Mumy). At first this sounds like the typical all-American family -- except that the Leafs live on a steamboat-turned-houseboat complete with captain (Ed Wynn). In addition, Prof. Leaf only seems to care for the arts, and has quite a bit of disdain for the sciences, which is a problem since his university wants more science. There's also the much bigger problem that Erasmus has no artistic capabilities whatsoever. Can't sing, can't draw, can't paint, can't play a musical instrument. So imagine the good professor's horror when he discovers that Erasmus is a math whiz!

Oh, that's the least of his problems. Pandora's boyfriend Kenny (Fabian) needs help with his math homework; the bank is horrified to learn that this little kid can tell them there balance is wrong; and the military and head shrinkers would like to know more about what's going on in little Erasmus' mind. And if those aren't enough problems, Erasmus is able to use that brilliant mathematical mind to determine which of the ponies is most likely to win, which has obvious use -- and there are more than enough people out there willing to use this talent for their own purposes. Erasmus, on the other hand, thinks about other things, namely lovely French actress Brigitte Bardot.

From the above synopsis, you might be able to figure that there's quite a bit going on here. That, I think, is one of the things that helps drag the movie down. The other is that it's trying to be be hip when that's something James Stewart probably shouldn't have been doing. As for Erasmus' obsession with Bardot, that's why she's mentioned in the title. Erasmus writes to Brigitte and eventually receives a reply from her, which leads to him and Dad getting to meet her at the end of the film. Bardot herself didn't want the studio using her in their advertising since she was really only doing a cameo and wasn't the main part of the story. (Look carefully; she's not in the credits.) But since she's obviously good-looking enough that a studio would want to use her to try to draw at least a certain segment of the population in, the suits had a bit of a problem. They solved it by putting Bardot in the title!

Dear Brigitte is passable family entertainment if you have kids who won't mind a nearly 50-year-old picture. But it's nothing great.

Christmas noir

TCM is listing tonight's prime time lineup as "Christmas Noir". It's been a while since I've seen any of the movies, so I'm having a bit of trouble remembering just how much Christmas is in any of them. The movies are:

Backfire at 8:00 PM;
Lady in the Lake at 10:00 PM; and
Murder, My Sweet at midnight.

Lady in the Lake has the conceit of being told from the main character's point of view (played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed), but other than that I don't remember it being particularly special. Dark Passage spent the first 45 minutes telling the movie from Humphrey Bogart's point of view, but that's only because his character was getting plastic surgery halfway through the movie and they didn't want to do a make-up job showing him before and after the surgery.

As for Christmas noir, one I can think of is Gang War, which is really more of a "post-noir" in that it comes from the end of the 1950s and is a bit too bright for your traditional noir. Charles Bronson early in his career plays a teacher who inadvertently witnesses a mob murder, finds his wife murdered for it, and finds that the police won't do anything much to help him. The only thing Christmas about it is the presence of some Christmas decorations. It's not on DVD, which is a shame, because it's a fun (if not exactly great) little movie, mostly for watching Bronson. That, and Los Angeles as it was in the late 1950s -- one of the scenes has an establishing shot of the Capitol Records Building.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Thin Man movies

I've mentoined the Thin Man series a number of times in passing, although I'm not certain whether I've done a full post on any of them. (You can blame Blogger's lousy search function in part.) This being the fourth week of William Powell's turn as TCM Star of the Month, TCM is showing all six Thin Man movies back to back, in the order in which they were made.

The first of them, the original 1934 The Thin Man, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, is the best of the movies. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the second of them, After the Thin Man, which comes on at 9:45 PM. As I've mentioned before, the movie has Elissa Landi in the cast as the Charles' cousin, and she's got a local connection. In that July 2010 post, I also mentioned the presence of James Stewart in the cast, and he does quite a good job.

As for another future star, I mentioned Donna Reed in Shadow of the Thin Man, airing overnight at 1:45 AM

I personally think the series went downhill a bit once Nick and Nora had a kid, but what are you going to do?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The shortest day of the year

We're at the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, which means we've got the shortest day of the year. To celebrate, let's show one of the shortest movies you'll ever see. Thankfully, it's reached Youtube, although it's also in the public domain.

Now, if you don't like that sort of short film, perhaps you might like a different sort of short movie:

(Technically, the solstice is early tomorrow morning in Europe, at 0530 UTC on December 22. This corresponds to half an hour past midnight in the US Eastern Time Zone, and late this evening in the other time zones.)

TCM Guest Programmer: Winona Ryder

Tonight sees the Guest Programmer for December, Winona Ryder come to TCM. Presumably, she did a good job, and that would be why she was asked to fill in for Robert Osborne during part of his vacation over the last several months. Her choices are interesting in that two are comedies and two are not only rather different from comedies, but rather different from each other:

The Front at 8:00 PM, an anti-anti-communist movie from 1976 about how horrible the 1950s blacklist was;
Ball of Fire at 10:00 PM, in which Barbara Stanwyck hides out with Gary Cooper and his band of stuffy professors;
Born Yesterday at midnight, in which William Holden teaches Judy Holliday a lesson in civics; and
A Face in the Crowd at 2:00 AM, in which Andy Griffith plays a populist yokel who becomes a TV celebrity drunk on power.

One thing I find interesting is that A Face in the Crowd was written by Budd Schulberg, who testified against the communists before Congress, so it's certainly odd to have this paired with The Front. To be fair, Schulberg softened his stance later in life, although he also pointed out that the communists really only seemed to care about freedom of speech when it was speech with which they agreed: they didn't seem to want him to say the things he did. I'm not a particularly big fan of A Face in the Crowd, mostly because I find Griffith's character so unappealing -- even though the fact that his character winds up unappealing is part of the point of the movie. Still, I find the character less than appealing at the start of the movie.

On the other hand, the big problem I have with The Front is that I find it so "easy". That is, by the 1970s, it became de rigueur to bash the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, and it no longer took any courage to speak out about it. In fact, you could argue we got to the point where it took more courage to point out the evils of the communists. Even today, with the recent death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, there are people who say he wasn't as bad as the anti-communists make him out to be.

I should probably also include a link to my October 2011 post about anti-communist movies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Christmas present for myself

I mentioned not long ago how depressing it was looking for classic films at the local DVD shop. There was one thing that I splurged on for myself though, which was a Mill Creek cheap set of DVDs of Alfred Hitchcock's early movies. I've seen most of Alfred Hitchcock's sound films, with one or two exceptions from his days in Britain, as well as Under Capricorn (which I think I saw on a TCM schedule for early next year). However, it also has a bunch of Hitchock's silent films, many of which I haven't seen. The early talkies showed up on TCM about six years ago when they did a week-long salute to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock; this even included otherwise obscure titles like Juno and the Paycock (not a very good film to be honest).

I'm normally a bit of a cheapskate, or to put it more kindly, I've always been reluctant to spend money I don't need to spend. But at $10 for 18 films and two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes, I figured the worst that could happen is that I'd get defective DVDs. I'm looking forward to watching a bunch of Hitchcock's silents and getting close to seeing all of his surviving films (and maybe someday they'll find the remaining reels of The White Shadow).

The other upshot is that at some point in the future you'll probably start seeing posts on Alfred Hitchcock's silent films.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What the Dickens?

TCM is showing Scrooge tonight at 10:15 PM. You can probably guess that it's a movie version of Charles Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol. The difference about this one is that it's a musical version, starring Albert Finney as Scrooge; Edith Evans (whom you saw in Fitzwilly) as the Ghost of Christmas Past; Kenneth More (Sink the Bismarck) as the Ghost of Christmas Present; and Alec Guinness as the ghost of Jacob Marley. It's also the third version of the Dickens story to air this month on TCM, after the 1938 Reginald Owen and 1951 Alistair Sim (no S on the end) version. These are by a good ways not the only three versions of the film. IMDb lists the very first as having been made all the way back in 1901. I've also mentioned the film The Passions of Carol, which I've never seen before. Apparently it's an adult film retelling the story. More interesting is that it's apparently gotten a restoration. (If you do an Internet search, you'll be able to find where you can find it on DVD.)

Charles Dickens is one of the more adapted writers out there. However, it's a bit difficult to figure out exactly who has been most adapted for the big screen, largely because IMDb lists movies and TV shows together. Dickes has 323 works listed, although many of these are TV adaptations by organizations like the BBC. The obvious choice for most adapted writer would be William Shakespeare, with an astonishing 857 adaptations. An interesting question would be what other writers come near the top of the list. My first thought in that regard was Edgar Rice Burroughs, since he created the character Tarzan. But then it's only his character being adapted, not so much actual books (although Burroughs wrote some 20 or more Tarzan books). I knew there were a lot of Tarzan movies, although I'm a bit surprised to see the number of Burroughs adaptations is under 100. Burroughs wrote a lot of other stuff besides Tarzan, and apparently a work based on his works about Mars explorer John Carter is scheduled for release next year.

I wonder what other authors would be near the top of the most-adapted list.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A few more briefs

I recommended the 1925 version of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ all the way back in March 2008. It's tonight's TCM Silent Sunday Night movie, airing at midnight ET. It's not the first version, of course; back in June 2010 I posted including a Youtube link to a 1907 version that runs all of 11 minutes. (I also posted it in December 2009, but the Blogger search function is still screwed up, and my first site search on Ben Hur didn't bring up that post.)

Tomorrow morning and afternoon on TCM brings a bunch of Cary Grant movies, even though his birthday isn't until January. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, on the other hand, do bring birthday tributes: in order, TCM will be honoring Irene Dunne, Jane Fonda, and Ruth Roman.

As for what's on the Fox Movie Channel, you can see The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at noon tomorrow. This was actually the movie I bought for one of my young nieces last Christmas, figuring that even if was a bit too grown up for her, she'd grow in to it. She wanted to watch it that night when I gave it to her, and I have to admit she had trouble comprhending the idea of Rex Harrison as a ghost. She also didn't seem quite ready for a black-and-white film that runs that long.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas shopping

I hate Christmas shopping. Unfortunately, I've got several nieces and nephews for whom I really should make an attempt to get something worthwhile, with cash being the gift of last resort. (I had an otherwise nice uncle who got all of us siblings new pajamas every Christmas. I vow never to buy that for any of my nieces or nephews.) Since I'm a classic movie fan, I went to the cookie-cutter DVD shop at the local mall to see if I could find anything old for them -- I'm loath to buy anything recent for fear that they'll already have a copy of it.

On the bright side, one of my sister's kids are getting to the age where grown-up movies are fine for them, as long as the movies aren't overly violent or filled with bad language. One good thing about the Production Code is that you won't have the bad language, and a lot less sex, which eliminates two of the things parents might find objectionable. So I just had to look through enough movies to find something in genres I thought they'd like. Last year was a romance and a western; this year a musical and a western.

My other sister has two much younger children, and that presented a problem. The DVD store had much less of a selection than even last year. I remember last year wondering whether I should have picked up the DVD with the two Shirley Temple movies for my eight-year-old niece. I don't know whether my sister would have appreciated it, though, if my niece started singing all those Shirley Temple songs. This year, I couldn't find anything Shirley Temple. I considered something truly classic like The Wizard of Oz, but that's the sort of movie I'd fear my nieces already have a copy of. And for the six-year-old? Don't get me started. That having been said, they moved half a country away over the past year so I'm not even certain if I'll be seeing them at Christmas, which at least gives me time to think up something to buy where there's a better selection and send it to them. Or I could always do it online, except that the online stuff often winds up being more expensive especially when you add in the shipping.

Shopping online would at least do away with the problem of bad service. The store was supposed to open at 10:00 AM. The anchor stores in the mall opened earlier, and I walked into one of the anchor stores about 9:55, walked through it, and then looked for the DVD store. Even though the mall was nearly dead, I was amazed at how many stores didn't seem to have any employees in them at 10:00 AM. There were about half a dozen of us waiting outside the DVD place at 10:00, and I don't think it opened until about ten minutes late. And they still didn't have enough cash in the registers when I finally found the DVDs I wanted to buy.

There's not much point to all of this, I guess. One thing, though, is that I think it illustrates just how small the market is when it comes to classic cinema. And this is for the "popular" classic titles; I can't imagine how lousy it must be for the obscure movies I prefer to watch on TCM.

Friday, December 16, 2011

By request

I was just looking through my site stats to have a little fun with the searches. This time, somewhat surprisingly, Gus Visser didn't show up. The Dionne quintuplets still do, on the other hand. That having been said, there were a few that surprised me.

First up is the person who was looking for "Lucille Ball pin ups". Now, Lucille Ball is underrated in the looks department, or at least underrated in what the studios' makeup departments could do for her. (That, and the fact that more people probably remember her from her TV shows, by which time she was a good deal older.) I wrote much of the above when I recommended Ball in Du Barry Was a Lady back in July 2008; that is also the movie from which the photo at left is taken. Anyhow, I decided to do a bit of research, and it turns out that Lucille Ball did do some posing that could be considered a pin-up, as evidenced by this 1945 shot from the Army's Yank magazine.

Another search was rather more bizarre: somebody thought they could find "Busty old lady pics" on my blog. After a bit of thought, however, I immediately realized what movie I could mention to satisfy this reader's search: 85-year-old Mae West in Sextette, her final movie. To be honest, I've never seen Sextette, but I've read some about it. West was going senile by the time she made this movie, but still thought she could make movies with lots of hot young men. And so she made one that is apparently a cult classic. Here's a scene with her and a future James Bond, if you want to see just how frightening the movie looks:

There are only so many Christmas movies

TCM is continuing to show Christmas movies tonight, with three that I've at least mentioned in passing, if not blogged fully about.

Three years ago I blogged about The Bishop's Wife, which kicks off tonight's lineup at 8:00 PM. It's one of the greats, and a movie I could recommend over and over.
The next Christmas, I blogged about Christmas in Connecticut, which you can see at 10:00 PM. It aired back on Sunday; as I said, there are only so many movies out there for TCM to show during the Christmas season. (As another example, Fitzwilly, which I mentioned at the beginning of this month, got a second airing last Tuesday.)
This past March, on the birth anniversary of actor Felix Bressart, I posted a photo of him and James Stewart from the film The Shop Around the Corner, about two people (Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) who work together but don't like each other, but unwittingly fall in love when they answer anonymous personal ads. (I wonder if they like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.) You can see that at midnight.

Finally, I briefly made mention of the 1936 version of Three Godfathers as part of a birthday mention to director Richard Boleslawski. (I could swear I did a full post about the film one Christmas, but either I didn't, or Blogger's search function, which has definitely been acting up, couldn't find it. I mentioned the movie by title on Christmas 2008, and search isn't finding that.) It's airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

William Powell, night #3

Tonight is the third Thursday in December, and the third night of TCM's salute to William Powell as the channel's Star of the Month. This weeks sees several of the movies from closer to the end of Powell's career. In fact, Powell's last movie was 1955's Mister Roberts, which you can see at 11:30 PM. That's followed by It's a Big Country, airing overnight at 1:45 AM. Powell only has a bit part here, as I mentioned when I blogged about the movie back in May, 2010.

For a starring role from Powell, you'd have to watch him in Life With Father, which kicks the night off at 8:00 PM. It's a story about a family in New York City in the 1880s, with Powell playing the patriarch. Come to think of it, it would be interesting in a double bill with I Remember Mama (although that of course doesn't star William Powell).

The last of the four later Powell movies is The Girl Who Had Everything, airing at 10:15 PM. I'm not certain if I've seen it before, but I know the story well, since it's a remake of A Free Soul. Powell plays the alcoholic father (played by Lionel Barrymore in the original), with Norma Shearer's part being taken by Elizabeth Taylor. The interesting thing here is that this is one of those "little" MGM films from the early 1950s (running only 69 minutes), yet it has a surprisingly big cast what with Powell -- admittedly near the end of his career -- and Elizabeth Taylor who was quite clearly a big star already by this point: not only had she done all those juvenile roles at MGM; this was two years after A Place in the Sun.

After It's a Big Country, it's back to early 1930s stuff starring William Powell, starting at 3:30 AM with One Way Passage.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More on TCM Remembers

It only took a half day or so for somebody to post it to Youtube. Thankfully the rights holders don't seem to get too worked up about the various TCM Remembers spots showing up on Youtube.

I got to see it on TCM last night after The Lemon Drop Kid. They included Harry Morgan, including him in what looked like a scene from The Ox-Bow Incident, which means they edited it very late. Part of the fun is trying to figure out what movies each of the clips is taken from, which can be tough, considering how fast the montage goes by.

There were one or two names that I was particularly looking for. I posted at the end of June that I was a bit surprised over how many obituaries I missed. So I was definitely on the lookout for Gunnar Fischer, and sure enough, TCM remembered to include him. They also included Swedish actress Lena Nyman, who was the female lead in I Am Curious (Yellow/Blue). I mentioned in October nearly missing the death of Diane Cilento, and sure enough, TCM had a clip of her. There were also quite a few actresses with French names whom I didn't recognize.

So, as always, it's a good job from TCM, although one has to presume they've got a person in the production department keeping track of all the obituaries over the course of the year so they remember to include as many of the people as possible over the roughly five minutes they have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Parade of the Dead 2011

Apparently, the TCM Remembers piece for 2011, the retrospective that shows many of the more prominent people in the world of film who died in the last 12 months, finally aired just before the start of the prime time lineup last night. I had been watching after several films ofer the past few days to see if it would show up, but I had the great bad luck not to be watching TCM yesterday evening. But go on the TCM forums, and there are already people asking what the music is.

I looked on Youtube and the TCM Media Room last night, but nobody had posted the 2011 TCM Remembers piece yet. Quite a few of the other TCM Remembers spots for individual actors are available from the TCM Media Room, as are one or two of those from past years. (That last surprises me a bit considering I would have thought there would be rights issues with the music used.)

At any rate, I'm sure the TCM Remembers piece will air repeatedly throughout the rest of December, so look for times where there's a goodly amount of space between two films, and you might find the TCM Remembers piece. (I don't think it ever gets put on the schedule.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Grand Central Murder

For some reason, I thought I recommended the movie Grand Central Murder, which is airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM, before. A Google search claims I haven't. It's one of those many, many B mysteries from the early 1940s, this one starring Van Heflin as a detective who investigates a murder that takes place in a private rail car that's currently in the bowels of Grand Central Station.

Heflin plays one of those wisecracking, slightly arrogant detectives, much like the Michael Shayne character I mentioned last month in Dressed to Kill. Not only is there that sort of detective; there's also a bumbling police investigator (played here by Sam Levene), and a story where anybody could have done it. That having been said, Grand Central Murder is interesting in part for Heflin's role, just before his career really took off with Johnny Eager. Another reason is that MGM's production values make this look better than just a B movie, especially the bowels of the station and the room where all the trains are routed.

Perhaps the reason I thought I might have blogged about it before is that Van Heflin made a related movie the same year, Kid Glove Killer, which I did blog about back when Ava Gardner was Star of the Month on TCM. In fact, I think I saw the two Heflin films back-to-back the first time I saw them before, which would be a good way to see them. (In fact, putting the two of them together in a DVD set wouldn't be such a bad idea.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso, 1905-1994

Today marks the birth anniversary of Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso, who was born in Mexico on this date in 1905. Now, you've probably never heard of that particular actor; at least, not as Luis Antonio. His family moved ot the US when he was young, and by his early 20s he was in Hollywood playing supporting roles in silent movies. It's here that he took his screen name from two of the actors he worked with: Gilbert Roland (from John Gilbert and Ruth Roland). Gilbert Roland transitioned to talkies just fine, which is mildly interesting considering that he wasn't a native English speaker. Granted, some of those roles included immigrants or foreigners, as in the brief role in Life Begins, or the Russian in She Done Him Wrong. In the 1940s, Roland played the Cisco Kid, before really making his mark as a "Latin lover" type, probably most notably in The Bad and the Beautiful, from which the photo above is taken. At the end of his long career, he made frequent appearances in episodic TV and TV movies, as did a lot of actors from the earlier generation.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Peyton Place goes calypso

I don't quite know what to say about the sprawling drama Island in the Sun, which airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel. It's not the greatest movie by a long shot, but it certainly bears one viewing.

The movie is set on the fictional island of Santa Maria in the Caribbean in the mid-1950s. Santa Maria is a British colony, but the mid-1950s was the beginning of the period when Britain was giving is colonies home rule. As such, there's a large black underclass on the island itching to take power, and a smaller wealthy class of whites running the place with a colonial governor still heading things. Indeed, one of the story lines in the movie is going to involve a black and a white character running against each other for the legislative assembly, but that's actually a relatively small storyline compared to what the box guides might say. We first see the whites, as the wife Sylvia (Patricia Owens) and sister Jocelyn (Joan Collins) of wealthy planter Max Fleury (James Mason) return home with a friend Hilary (Michael Rennie), a man who's rather drifted through life in the British Foreign Office. Hilary smokes Egyptian cigarettes, and when Max returns home, he notices one of those in the ash tray, which makes him think his wife is having an affair.

Meanwhile, the Governor is hosting a party where the Fleurys have been invited, as well as labor leader David Boyeur (Harry Belafonte). Boyeur brings a lovely cashier with him (Dorothy Dandridge), but she falls for the governor's white aide. The governor's son (Stephen Boyd), meanwhile, falls for Jocelyn. Along the way, David falls for Sylvia's sister Mavis (Joan Fontaine) -- or more accurately, she falls for him, not realizing what life is really like for the black people on Santa Maria.

If things sound less than exciting so far, keep watching; things happen that should theoretically make the action level pick up. The first of those big things is when Max finds Hilary and realizes he's the one who's left his cigarette in Max's ash tray. He confronts Hilary, who suggests that Max may have some black ancestors in his family tree, which causes Max to strangle Hilary to death. This causes us to get two more plot lines: a murder mystery that's much like Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment (and indeed, the police chief gives Max a copy of that novel to read); and, a discussion of racial heritage as both Max and Jocelyn discover the truth about their ancestry, which may or may not involve black ancestors.

Island in the Sun sprawls and meanders, but never quite goes anywhere. None of the romances is that intense, possibly in part due to two of them being interracial and the problems of depicting interracial relationships when you still had a Production Code that didn't like such stuff. Another big problem is Harry Belafonte. He was a more than capable singer, but not the best actor out there. The one big song he does get to sing is also problematic, in that it depicts the blacks as happy with their lot in life despite living a life of grinding poverty and no political power. (Compare this to the opening scenes of Hallelujah! from 1929, which has sharecroppers singing.) The revelations about characters' pasts seem contrived, only to make the plot work out neatly; in fact they also make you question the motivations of some of the characters earlier in the film. On the bright side, the movie was filmed on location in Barbados, and has a lot of lovely wide-screen color cinematography.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Larceny, Inc.

If I told you that TCM is showing an Edward G. Robinson comedy tonight, you might be surprised. But that would be because you haven't read this blog carefully enough. In the past, I've recommended Robinson in the somewhat comedic The Whole Town's Talking, and also in the straight-up comedy A Slight Case of Murder. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Robinson did a movie like Larceny, Inc., which is airing tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM.

Robinson plays "Pressure", a career criminal who, along with his partner "Jug" (Broderick Crawford), is just about to get paroled. He needs to have something honest to do in life so that he doesn't wind up back behind bars again, and he's a bit lucky in that he's got a niece Denny (Jane Wyman) looking out for his best interests. She and her boyfriend Jeff (Jack Carson) help Pressure and Jug buy a luggage store when they show an interest in it, and use their business acumen to try to help the business become a success.

Of course, the real reason Pressure and Jug took an interest in the luggage store isn't because they wanted to go straight; it's because the store is located right next to a bank. They figure this gives them the perfect opportunity for another heist: tunnel from the basement storeroom of the luggage shop to the bank next door, and rob the vault from below which, in theory, wouldn't set off the alarm. (The massive evidence of tunneling might be a problem, and I'm not talking about the dirt that they could presumably get rid of in the luggage.) Not that Denny and Jeff quite realize this -- and that causes the first of Pressure and Jug's problems, as they constantly have to deal with honest business that takes time away from their real business.

And then there's a second problem, when fellow criminal Leo (Anthony Quinn) gets out of jail. He's heard of what Pressure and Jug are doing, and wants a piece of the action. Will Pressure and Jug be able to turn good guys and foil Leo, while remaining on the right side of the law?

I've suggested a few times before that I think Edward G. Robinson is a very underrated actor, and Larceny, Inc. is another example of that. True, the movie isn't quite as good as A Slight Case of Murder, and doesn't have any of the biting commentary that The Whole Town's Talking did. I don't think any of that is Robinson's fault; instead, the production feels a bit rushed. Broderick Crawford is fairly good in his typical role of a man with more bluster than brains; Jack Carson once again plays a bit of a schemer, something which he always did well; and Anthony Quinn is enjoyable in one of his earlier roles. Sure, there are better movies out there, but Larceny, Inc. does a fine job of entertaining the viewer -- and that, after all, is one of the main jobs a movie should do.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meanwhile, back in Sweden

This is the week that the Nobel Prizes are being awarded, as happens every year on the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel. So why am I mentioning this in a blog about classic movies? Well, it's because TCM is using this as an opportunity to show The Prize this afternoon (December 8) at 3:15 PM.

Paul Newman stars as Andrew Craig, the reclusive American writer who is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, Craig has a problem: he's got a bad case of writers' block, and hasn't been able to come up with any of the sort of literature that the Nobel committee would award for the past five years. During that time, he's been making his living by writing detective stories under an assumed name. But, he's not the only Nobelist to have problems. All of them do. The winners in chemistry are a husband and wife who are at each other's throats, to the point that the husband has brought his mistress to the prize ceremony in the guise of his "secretary". And then there are the medicine winners, Sergio Fantoni and Kevin McCarthy. These two play an Italian and American doctor respectively, each of whom thinks the other pilfered his work in coming up with the discovery that joint won them the Nobel.

The biggest problem of them all is had by the physics prize winner, Dr. Stratman (Edward G. Robinson). He doesn't know it, but he's about to be kidnapped, abducted to East Germany, and replaced by a lookalike (who is unsurprisingly also played by Edward G. Robinson) who is going to announce his defection to East Germany. Dr. Stratman does have one good thing going for him, however, which is that he bumped into Craig before getting kidnapped. The reason this is a good thing is that Craig sees Stratman again at a mixer held after the kidnapping, and when "Stratman" doesn't recognize him, suspects that there's something up. Craig, having written a bunch of detective stories, immediately begins to investigate.

At the point the plot begins to break down a bit, if only because it's a bit unrealistic. It is, however, rather entertaining. Craig's investigation causes problems not only for the people trying to spirit Stratman away, but also for the Swedish authorities, who have this crazy American going nuts in the streets of Stockholm. (One of the more interesting escapades has Craig winding up in a meeting of nudists. Women will be disappointed that we only see Paul Newman from the waist up.) This is especially bothersome to the young Elke Sommer, who has been assigned the task of being Craig's minder, and winds up falling for him along the way. Eventually the other prize winners get involved as well, and help solve the disappearance in a satisfying way.

As I said, it's unrealistic, but fun. A lot of that fun comes from screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who had previously done the screenplay to North by Northwest. So, as you can probably figure, The Prize has a lot that looks as though it would be right at home in a Hitchcock movie. In fact, it was directed by Mark Robson, whose work ranges from Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim to fun dreck like Valley of the Dolls. (Along the Hitchcock lines, Stratman's niece is played by Diane Baker, who would appear a year later in Marnie as Sean Connery's sister-in-law.) There's both humor and suspense, and Swedish scenery that's lovely to look at. Edward G. Robinson doesn't have a particularly challenging role here, but he was always professional. The same is true for Paul Newman.

If you want great groundbreaking cinema, The Prize is not the movie for you. But if you just want to sit back, relax, and watch something that's not too taxing, The Prize is more than perfect for that. It's gotten a release to DVD as part of the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Harry Morgan, 1915-2011

Harry Morgan in a supporting role in Somehwere in the Night

The death has been announced of actor Harry Morgan at the age of 96. Morgan is probably best remembered to younger people for having played Col. Sherman Potter on the TV series M*A*S*H, although it's been almost 30 years since the show went off the air. Morgan also played Jack Webb's sidekick on the TV police show Dragnet. But before all this, he had quite a substantial career in movies starting in the early 1940s, when he was usually credited as Henry Morgan instead of Harry. He worked at Fox at the start of his career, so a lot of his movies don't show off all that often on TCM, but they either show up from time to time on the Fox Movie Channel, or are available on DVD. One example of the latter is Somewhere in the Night, where Morgan plays a smaller role as an attendant at a bath house, and from which the photo above is taken.

Morgan actually had a broad range in his movie roles. The most recent time I recommended one of his movies, he played a killer, in the film Red Light. Or, I suppose I could mention that he worked the other side of the law in Strange Bargain, in which he plays a police detective. And for something completely different, you could watch him in a western like Yellow Sky.

I don't know that TCM will be pre-empting any of their programming to do a tribute for him, but he is the sort of actor who would merit a night of films sometime in the future, and would of even if he hadn't just died.

I mentioned the other day that I like to listen to international broadcasters. Yesterday, Radio Sweden had an interesting piece on the Swedish Film Institute's on-line archive. Now, there aren't any classic Swedish films there, at least not in the sense that we'd think of when we think "classic" cinema. All the feature films have the obvious problems with copyright issues. Instead, what we get is about 500 mostly short films that look a lot like the sort of American industrial films of the 1950s, plus a bunch of documentaries. The other thing, of course, is that almost everything is in Swedish, so it's difficult to figure out quite what's going on unless you speak Swedish, which I don't.

Still, there are some interesting things in the archive. One is a document of the 1897 visit of the King of Siam to Sweden, which shouldn't be too difficult to follow since they didn't have talking movies back then so you don't have to deal with Swedish dialogue.

Then, there was the American cruise line that tried to get people to visit Stockholm. They did so by making the advertising film Stockholm, Queen of the Baltic back in 1932. Looks a lot like one of James A. FitzPatrick's Traveltalks movies. (Fitzpatrick himself actually did visit Sweden, making Stockholm, Pride of Sweden in 1937 and Rural Sweden in 1938.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another TCM original documentary

TCM is bringing us another installment in its Night at the Movies series, this time looking at Christmas movies. The documentary is getting its first airing at 8:00 PM tongiht and, like most TCM documentaries, will be getting a bunch of airings throught the month.

The documentary is obviously also a starting point for a night of Christmas movies. Some of them are movies I don't particularly care for, such as Tenth Avenue Angel at 4:00 AM. Then again, that's probably because I have a tendency to get irritated by the films of Margaret O'Brien. It's particularly bad when she's paired with Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis, which precedes Tenth Avenue Angel at 2:00 AM.

On the other hand, TCM is also airing the short Star in the Night, which comes on around 10:35 PM after A Christmas Story. I can't believe it's been two years since I blogged on Star of the Night, but then, there are only so many Christmas movies for TCM to air.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dev Anand, 1923-2011

If you're reading this in the United States, you might well have missed the news of the passing of actor Dev Anand on Saturday, at the age of 88. I only heard it because I like to listen to international broadcasters and heard the report on All-India Radio's English service. The obvious reason that Anand would be almost completely unknown to American audiences is because he was a prominent actor in Bollywood.

Bollywood is a subject I don't know that much about other than the stereotypes of Indian cinemagoers loving lavish musical numbers in places of their movies where American audiences wouldn't expect one. I think my first exposure to a Bollywood movie came many years ago back when the local PBS channel was airing classic films from around the world in the late slot on Saturday nights. (I think that would be the same place where I saw The Cranes Are Flying and Ikiru.) I didn't stay up for the end of the particular Indian movie they were showing, largely because it didn't seem to make much sense to me. Granted, I was too young to get what was going on, and certainly too young to appreciate the musical numbers -- although, as I think I've said elsewhere, I'm still not the biggest fan of musicals.

The other aspect of foreign film I'd like to learn a bit more about is "Nollywood", which is the nickname given to the collect movie production of Nigeria. As I understand it, the most common means of distribution is direct-to-video, with movies having a shelf life of only a few weeks before pirated copies start to take over the market. This means that the movies have to be produced on a shoestring budget to recoup the production costs, and a large number of movies are produced. (I think the established production capabilities of Bollywood and Nollywood both produce more normal films than Hollywood does these days, although Hollywood's total likely doesn't include adult films, which are probably the biggest genre of movies produced.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011


TCM is doing something a bit different with its Silent Sunday Nights slot this week. Instead of one silent film, or a couple of shorts, they're airing a documentary called Fragments that first ran on TCM earlier this year. It's coming up at midnight tonight.

It's sad how many silent films have been lost as there's no known surviving footage. There are other movies, however, for which some portion of the movie survives, but much of it is missing. I mentioned Alfred Hitchcock's The White Shadow back in August and September as an example of this. In the case of The White Shadow, the movie was found in New Zealand in part because that was apparently the last stop on the distibution tour for a movie print, which makes sense if you consider how far out of the way New Zealand would have been back in the 1920s when there were no transoceanic flights. The documentary was obviously made before the re-showing of The White Shadow, but there are still a lot of other interesting things in this documentary.

Apparently, back in the day, you could get copyright on a movie by leaving part of it with the Library of Congress. One of the results is that filmmakers would take a minute or two of footage, have the individual frams reproduced as more substantially-sized phootgraphs, and have those photographs copied as a series. In theory, the rest of the movie wasn't copyrighted, but you couldn't show a movie without showing the copyrighted footage. Today, such footage can be turned back into film by treating the photographs as a sort of flip-book along the lines of the way animation was done.

Other movies have surviving footage as a result of the promotional trailers made to advertise upcoming films. These trailers would have been distributed differently from the films themselves, so they wouldn't necessarily have been destroyed at the same time the films were.

But perhaps the best footage here is the surviving footage from The Way of All Flesh. Emil Jannings won the first Best Actor Oscar for this movie, but only about five minutes of the movie survives. It's one of the only lost films left that won an Oscar, since the rediscovery a few years back of Two Arabian Knights.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas movies are here again

Jump, Fitzwilly, jump!

Now that we're in December, we begin to get a lot of Christmas movies. Some of them I've recommended in Decembers past, but one that I only saw for the first time last December is Fitzwilly. It's airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM.

Dick Van Dyke plays Claude Fitzwilliam, who with a name like that unsurprisingly gets the nickname Fitzwilly. Fitzwilly is the head butler to the wealthy old spinster Victoria Woodworth (Edith Evans). Or, Miss Woodworth used to be wealthy. She's burned through all her inheritance, to the point that Fitzwilly has to watch her financial situation very carefully. This is a big problem, since the grand old lady likes to donate money to every charity case under the sun. So to keep Woodworth solvent, Fitzwilly and the rest of the staff do two things. First is to try to prevent checks from going out in the first place; if a check doesn't go out you don't need the funds to make it good. Second is to get Mis Victoria's staff to engage in con artist schemes to bilk people of money when she does sign a check and get it past Fitzwilly.

So far so good, with the exception of Fitzwilly technically being a criminal. His situation is about to get a little more complicated. Miss Victoria wants to write the story of her life, and to that end, she's hired young journalism student Juliet (Barbara Feldon) to interview her and cobble those interviews together into an autobiography. Juliet suspects that there's something odd going on in the Woodworth household, and those suspicions are confirmed when she catches Fitzwilly trying to keep a five-figure check from leaving the house. Needless to say, this causes multiple problems for Fitzwilly, who not only is about to get caught, but is about to see his boss be humiliated when her insolvency comes to light.

Eventually, Juliet finds herself beginning to sympathize with Fitzwilly's plight and falls in love with him, although she'd rather that his next scheme be his last one: in order to pay for that big check that Juliet let go out of the house, Fitzwilly has to concoct an elaborate plot to rob one of the department stores of all its cash on Christmas Eve....

Fitzwilly is a comedy and, despite the themes of robbery, it's actually a fairly light comedy. It's certainly the sort of light comedy that Dick Van Dyke could do well. Edith Evans is reminiscent of Margaret Rutherford in The VIPs, and is a delight to watch as the dotty old lady. Feldon is lovely and capable, and there's a supporting cast of a lot of familiar names. All in all, I think you'll find it quite enjoyable. Sadly, Fitzwilly doesn't seem to be available for purchase on DVD.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The title implies it's a kids' film

TCM is airing a bunch of pre-Codes after the William Powell movies finish up, several of which I haven't seen. One that I have seen and is available to purchase from the Warner Archive in case you miss today's showing is Under 18, at 3:15 PM.

Released at the beginning of 1932, Under 18 is naturally set during the Depression when jobs were at a premium and everybody wanted to get rich quick to escape the financial situation they were in. Marian Marsh is Margie, one such woman. She's got a job as a seamstress in one of the fashion houses in New York's fashion district, and a boyfriend named Jimmie (Regis Toomey) who's trying to get her to marry him. Jimmie is a delivery boy, but has dreams of getting a truck of his own and starting an independent delivery operation. Margie would like more than that, but this being the Depression, it's not as though there's much opportunity out there. A good example of this lack of opportunity can be seen in Margie's sister Sophie (Anita Page). Sophie is already married to Alf (Norman Foster) with one kid, and a second on the way. That in itself doesn't look so appealing to Margie at this point in her life. But to make matters worse, Alf has lost his job, and is constantly spending money on his version of get-rich-quick schemes, which for him means entering pool contests, where he thinks he can win the top prize. Needless to say he doesn't, and it's to the point where Sophie and Alf have had to move back in with the rest of the family and Sophie would like a divorce. If only there were the money for a lawyer.

Margie, to her credit, thinks she sees a way out of this. Although she's only a seamstress at the fashion house, she gets to see the models on a regular basis as they're showing off the designs to buyers, socialites, and playboys who would buy the dresses for their girlfriends. One of the trips out into the showroom brings Margie into contact with one of those playboys, Raymond (Warren William). There's an obvious choice for Margie: abandon the dreary future of being a deliveryman's wife, and spend time being a sugar baby! This would also allow her not only to live on Easy Street, but also to get the money for Sophie's divorce. All it really requires is going up to Raymond's fabulous penthouse and, well, being his....

For me it's that penthouse that's the highlight of Under 18. A lot of the penthouses you'll see in movies from this era are almost impossibly luxurious, which makes for fun set design. The one inhabited here by Warren William is no different in terms of set design, but a bit different in terms of what's going on. When Margie gets there, she arrives at what looks for all the world like the early 1930s version of a swingers' party. (Or at least what I think a swingers' party would have looked like 80 years ago; I don't go to swingers' parties.) It's suitably decadent for the viewer, but for poor Margie, it's enough to give her second thoughts. And to be honest, those second thoughts are one of the things that makes the rest of the movie not so interesting, as Margie resolves the situation in a way that's not quite satisfying for a pre-Code. (Compare this to, say, the end of Jean Harlow's Red-Headed Woman.) Still, Under 18 is a bit of a treat. (But unlike the title implies, not really a treat for kids.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The return of Robert Osborne!

Today is the day when TCM host Robert Osborne finally returns from his long break due to surgery and a well-deserved vacation. Osborne returns just in time to present the films of a new Star of the Month, William Powell. Powell made enough films during his two-decade career that TCM is showing the films on all five Thursday nights this month, a good ways into Friday morning. This week sees quite a few movies that I've blogged about in the past:

Jewel Robbery kicks things off at 8:00 PM;
Powell switches from being a criminal to investigating crime as Philo Vance in The Kennel Murder Case at 9:30 PM
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford follows at 11:00 PM;
Powell gets cast with Angela Lansbury and Esther Williams in The Hoodlum Saint at 12:30 AM; and
Crossroads, at 8:30 AM tomorrow morning.

One Powell film that I haven't recommended before is Lawyer Man overnight at 4:00 AM; in this one, Powell plays a lawyer from the lower-class part of Manhattan who has the chance to move on to bigger and better things when he learns that being a sleazy lawyer can pay off big. Moving up in class brings him the attentions of the lovely Helen Vinson and Claire Dodd, much to the consternation of his long-suffering secretary Joan Blondell. Lawyer Man is a movie that has an interesting premise, but doesn't quite go anywhere, which is a bit of a shame.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

George White, 1892-1968

This isn't really a birthday post, since George White was born in March, but tomorrow sees what looks to be the only airing of a movie that the Fox Movie Channel last pulled out of the vault several years ago: George White's 1935 Scandals, tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on FMC.

White wasn't very involved in the movies; in fact, White was a fairly prominent Broadway producer starting back in the late 1910s. He produced a popular revue show unsurprisingly called George White's Scandals, which the year in question also part of the title. The movie which is airing tomorrow morning is a movie version of the revue, with a fairly thin framing story about White (who actually appears as himself in the movie as well as directing it) travelling down south and finding some novelty acts for his revue. They go back north with him to New York, where they become stars. But they let fame go to their heads. Everything ends happily, however, with a bunch of musical numbers thrown in for good measure.

Although it's a film that's not nearly as good as some of the Warner Bros musicals from the early Busby Berkeley era, and doesn't have the polish of the MGM musicals from the late 1930s, George White's 1935 Scandals is still interesting for having one of the earliest screen appearances of Eleanor Powell, who does a "novelty" dancing act. In fact, this is the film which got her her contract over at MGM, where she wen't on to become fairly famous. The female star of the film isn't Powell, but Alice Faye, a Fox contract player whom White had discovered several years earlier when he cast her in the Broadway version Scandals of 1931. As for Faye's film career, it took off when White took his Scandals to Hollywood, but not in 1935; instead, Faye's first movie was the Scandals of 1934, which also starred Rudy Vallee (who was also in the 1931 Scandals with Faye).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When good TV characters go bad

There are some actors out there who are generally best remembered for characters they played on the small screen. Two such actors show up together to conspire to commit murder in the 1949 film Red Light, airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM

George Raft is not one of those actors; he's the star of the movie, however. He plays Johnny Torno, who runs a successful trucking company in San Francisco. He's got a brother Jess (Arthur Franz) who is a Catholic priest who spent the last several years serving as an army chaplain in World War II, and winning a medal for his heroic work in a POW camp. The kid brother is finally coming home to a happy reunion with his brother and an assignment to a parish of his own in northern California.

Meanwhile, back at the prison ranch, you've got Perry Mason. Er, not Perry Mason, but Raymond Burr playing Nick Cherney. Nick was a bookkeeper at the Torno trucking company, until he rather foolishly decided to embezzle a substantial amount of money from Torno. Torno sent Nick to prison, and Nick wants revenge. Fortunately he's got a way of exacting revenge while keeping the perfect alibi: his prison comrade, Col. Sherman Potter from the M*A*S*H unit. Er, actually it's Harry Morgan, back in the days when he was going by "Henry" in screen credits, playing fellow prisoner Rocky. Rocky is gonig to get out on parole a few days before Nick, so Nick has Rocky kill Jess while Nick is still in prison.

Rocky shoots the brother to death in his hotel room, but the brother survives long enough for Johnny to get there. Johnny hears his brother's dying words, which is that the answer he seeks can be found in the Bible. Johnny looks through his brother's bible, but can't find the name of the killer written in it anywhere. Johnny figures that Jess must have written it in the hotel room's Gideon Bible -- but that's been taken from the room! Johnny tries to find that bible, and even enlists the help of one of the people who had the room after his brother was killed (Virginia Mayo) in his attempt to find it. Mayo, meanwhile, becomes a bit frightened of the lengths Johnny is willing to go to to gain revenge....

Red Light is one of those lower-budget noirish movies which is actually quite entertaining. Raymond Burr, to be honest, had played several heavies before becoming Perry Mason (most notably the killer in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window), and is good here as Nick. Harry Morgan, I think, didn't play quite so many heavies, but he's just as good as Burr. George Raft never had much range, but his man looking for revenge character fits into that limited range. The one problem with the movie is that it has any number of plot holes. First off is the question of why Jess is being billeted in a hotel room. He's an army chaplain who has a brother who's thrilled to see him. You'd think that either the military would have room at a army base for him; he'd stay at the rectory of the bishop's cathedral; or he'd stay at his brother's apartment. More importantly, you'd wonder why Jess didn't write anything in his own Bible. It would have been just as easy for him to get his personal bible from his suitcase after being shot as it would have been for him to get the Gideon Bible from the desk drawer. (And how big were Gideon Bibles back then? The last time I was in a hotel room that had a Gideon Bible, the thing was surprisingly small and wouldn't have had enough room to write much of anything.)

Despite its plot flaws, Red Light is a fun movie. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to watch the TCM showing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fox mystery series

I briefly mentioned the Lone Wolf mystery series a few weeks back; the movies are airing on Saturday mornings on TCM for the next several weeks. Mystery series -- that is, B-movies in which an actor played the same detective over the course of several pictures -- were quite popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s. 20th Century-Fox had their own series, the seven Michael Shayne movies. Two of them are airing tomorrow on FMC: Just off Broadway at 7:30 AM, followed by Dressed to Kill at 9:00 AM.

I haven't seen Just Off Broadway, so I can't really comment on it. But Dressed to Kill showed up a few weeks back, and it's a pretty entertaining little mystery. Fox contract player Lloyd Nolan plays detective Michael Shayne, who at the start of this movie is supposed to get married to his long suffereing girlfriend Joanne (Mary Beth Hughes). Suddenly he hears a scream in the apartment hotel where he's staying, and discovers that another of the tenants, a wealthy Broadway producer, has been shot along with a female companion. Just as interestingly, they're both in costume, and the shootings seem to have been particularly ingenious. Michael, of course, begins to investigate and finds a particularly baffling mystery. The producer had gathered together several of the surviving cast members from a show he had done 25 years earlier, and it seems as if everybody at the dinner had a motive to kill him.

To be honest, this is fairly standard stuff for a mystery series. There are the red herrings, the hidden identities, and perhaps most fun in Dressed to Kill, the bumbling police detective, who is played by William Demarest. Demarest was one of the great comedic character actors and is in fine form here as the policeman who is trying to stay one step ahead of Shayne but always seems to be one step behind. The resolution of the mystery isn't perfect, although to be fair, that's the case in a lot of mystery movies. Still, Dressed to Kill provides good entertainment value for its B-movie level.


About three weeks ago I made brief mention of the film The Next Voice You Hear..., and mentioned that it would be airing on Novmeber 28. Today is that day, and it's airing at 2:30 PM on TCM. The Next Voice You Hear... is airing on TCM as part of a day of lesser-known movies from 1950, and is one of those Dory Schary films I would lump in with the "trying to put out a message" films. Even though it's clearly got Christian morals, I'd agree with other commenters who say that it's gentler in putting its message across then the similarly-themed The Day the Earth Stood Still (the early 1950s version; not the recent remake).

Another of the films in this morning's TCM lineup is one that I first mentioned two years ago, and has already gotten a release as part of the Warner Archive Collection: Crisis, starring Cary Grant, which comes on at 11:00 AM. Now if only The Next Voice You Hear... could get the DVD treatment, perhaps with some of the other stuff Nancy Davis (Reagan) did in the early 1950s. One of these days perhaps TCM will get around to showing Talk About a Stranger or Night Into Morning again. I thought I'd blogged about one or the other, but apparently not.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

TV movies

The Fox Movie Channel from time to time shows some TV movies. One of them is coming up this evening: Karl Malden in Word of Honor at 6:00 PM. Malden plays a small-town reporter who gets an anonymous tip about the location of a woman who's disappeared, and it leads to the prosecution of one of the town's more prominent citizens on murder charges. The problem is, the prosecutor needs Malden's tip, and he refuses to reveal his source, who swore him to secrecy. This causes the typical legal problems for Malden, but Word of Honor goes a bit over the top in having it cause all sorts of other problems in Malden's personal life. Specifically, one of Malden's daughters is about to ger married, and the prosecution means that suddenly everybody in town wants not to go to the wedding.

I don't normally recommend TV movies. Partly it's because they don't show up very often, and partly it's because they're on the commercial cable channels nowadays. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, however, when we were pretty much in a three-network world, it was a lot more common for the networks to produce original TV movies and show them with a lot of fanfare. It also wasn't uncommon for past stars to show up in these TV movies, such as Karl Malden in Word of Honor. (To be fair, he had become a TV star by the early 1980s as well after his long stint on Streets of San Francisco.) Word of Honor has some other interesting casting: Rue McClanahan, later of The Golden Girls, plays Malden's wife; Ron Silver (later of Reversal of Fortune) plays a big-city journalist covering the press freedom angle of the case; and a young John Malkovich shows up as the fiancé.

And to be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the other old TV movies from back in the day wind up somewhere on TV. I distinctly recall one from my childhood called White Mama with an elderly Bette Davis supporting a black kid who wants to grow up to become a boxer. (I see it's directed by Jackie Cooper.) Davis would go on to make another TV movie about the right to die called Right of Way, which co-starred James Stewart.

I don't know that TV movies like this necessarily need to be on TCM, however. There are a number of nostalgia channels that you can probably get on the digits subchannels of your local broadcasters. I can get ThisTV and RTV for example; there are others out there too. Since these TV movies were originally conceived as having commercial breaks, these nostalgia channels would be a perfect place for the old TV movies. It's just a question of who has the broadcast rights to all these things.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The name's the same

Back in May, 2008, I mentioned the 1937 comedy Easy Living. There's a movie coming up on TCM overnight tonight at 1:00 AM called Easy Living, but it's a rather different movie.

In tonight's Easy Living, Victor Mature plays a professional football player who's diagnosed with a heart ailment and so should retire, but his greedy wife (Lizabeth Scott) wants him to keep playing so he can remain in the spotlight for her sake. Lucille Ball also appears as the team's secretary. This is one I don't think I've seen before, so I can't go into too much more detail.

The box guides should have it right that tonight's movie is the football-themed Easy Living: TCM's online schedule lists tonight's theme as "Ready to Retire", kicking off at 8:00 PM with this week's Essential, Dodsworth. As such, the Mature Easy Living certainly fits in with the theme, whereas the 1930s version doesn't. Sadly, this 1940s version doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kick 'em when they're down

I've mentioned a couple of times before that I'm a football fan, so I was looking forward to watching the Packers beat the crap out of the Detroit Lions. And then Ndamokung Suh, dirty player that he is, kicked one of the Packer linemen while he was on the ground. That sort of football violence wouldn't get into a classic movie, I don't think. But it's kind of surprising how violent people could be to each other in old movies.

Gangsters roughed each other up quite a bit, as you can see in the ending of the classic gangster film The Public Enemy when rival gangsters deliver James Cagney back to his family. On the other hand, in some movies such as The Big Combo, the gang boss was careful to make certain there wouldn't be any bruises on the cops they roughed up -- you wouldn't want to leave evidence.

I was just watching The Window on TCM the other morning as part of the salute to Ruth Roman. (Sadly, it's not yet on DVD.) The kid at the center of the story escapes from Roman and her husband (Paul Stewart) and when they catch up with him again they put him in a taxi and smack him around quite a bit. You'd think the taxi driver would have a problem with this.

As for actual kicking of people, I'd guess that most of the time it's bratty little kids kicking adults. Kurt Russell, in his piece that he did for TCM on Elvis Presley, mentions that his acting career started as an extra in It Happened At the World's Fair, in a scene where he gets to kick Presley in the ankle. I know I've seen other scenes of kids kicking adults -- there's one of one of the female child stars kicking a butler, but I can't remember either actor or the movie. When it comes to adults kicking adults, all I can think of is Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love, and Bette Davis kicking the crap out of Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Any other good kicking movies?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey

A mentioned at the beginning of November that I had been asked about the short Let's Talk Turkey. At the time I didn't know when it was going to be on. A week or so later, I noticed that TCM wasn't announcing shorts in its online schedule. That fortunately seems to have changed. And unsurprisingly, Let's Talk Turkey is one of the shorts showing up on Thanksgiving. Specifically, it's showing up at 7:42 PM, just after Miracle on 34th Street.

Roman Bohnen, 1894-1949

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actor Roman Bohnen, a name you might have seen pop up in the credits a number of times, even if you don't necessarily recognize which character he's playing. Bohnen had a fairly brief career, having come from the stage to Hollywood in his early 40s, and then dying of a heart attack while doing more stage work. But his ten years in film were productive, much in the same way that Sydney Greenstreet had a brief but productive career. While Greenstreet made about two dozen films, Bohnen appeared in over 30.

I've recommended a couple of those films before, although obviously not for Bohnen's small roles. Bohnen appears as the warden of the brutal prison in Brute Force, for example. He also shows up at the beginning of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, as the father of the boy who grows up to be the character portrayed (as an adult) by Kirk Douglas.

Perhaps Bohnen's best role, however, comes in the film The Best Years of Our Lives. Bohnen plays the father of Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), and gets a particularly poignant scene when he reads the commendation report that his son got for one of his medals. I'm sorry to say that I don't have any good video capture software, and couldn't find a good picture of this scene on the web.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not much on

Thanksgiving is tomorrow here in the States, which means that I'm in a bit of a holiday mood and not really excited about writing much. On the bright side, there doesn't seem to be much to write about today. TCM is continuing its Battle of the Blondes tonight, starting off with a pair of Betty Grable movies from the early 1940s: Sweet Rosie O'Grady at 8:00 PM, followed by Down Argentine Way at 9:30 PM. Both of these were made at Fox in Technicolor; one of the things Fox did well was putting Grable in its Technicolor musicals.

That's followed by a pair of Doris Day movies. Day may have been blonde, but I don't know that I'd select her as one of the actresses in a "Battle of the Blondes". First up is Tea For Two at 11:15 PM, followed by That Touch of Mink at 1:00 AM.

I briefly mentioned the film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer when I talked about movies with basketball scenes. It's airing at 4:30 AM tomorrow morning.

Finally, there's a Private Screenings interview with a bunch of child stars that Robert Osborne did back in 2006. It's being shown in honor of Margaret O'Brien, one of my least favorite child stars; she's getting the rest of the morning to herself with several of her films, including Meet Me In St. Louis, one of those movies that really makes me retch.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guest Programmer programming note

Tonight sees November's TCM Guest Programmer, Ron Pearlman of the series Sons of Anarchy (among other roles) sit down and discuss some of his favorite movies in segments that were taped with Robert Osborne some months ago. If you've seen the spot on TCM, you'll have noted the odd fact that the segments start at 9:45 PM, rather than 8:00 PM. Also, Pearlman is only shown as presenting three films. On the other hand, on the TCM website, Pearlman is listed as having picked four movies.

The reason is presumably that Pearlman selected and taped a segment on something that TCM later discovered it couldn't get the broadcast rights to. Indeed, if you have an older copy of the printable schedule for November, you would see that the 8:00 PM movie for tonight is the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels. They apparently don't have the broadcast rights to Sullivan's Travels at the present time, so Pearlman then selected Sweet Smell of Success. But by this time, Robert Osborne was on his vacation (or perhaps Pearlman himself wasn't available), so TCM would have been unable to film a new segment on Sweet Smell of Success. The odd thing is that TCM decided simply to substitute in Sweet Smell of Success at 8:00; I would have thought it would make more sense to move up the three movies with Osborne and Pearlman and then stick Sweet Smell of Success at the end of the evening.

Anyhow, tonight's four-film lineup is:
Sweet Smell of Success at 8:00 PM;
Red River at 9:45 PM;
Gunga Din at 12:15 AM; and
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at 2:30 AM.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another of those little early 1950s MGM flicks

I don't think I've mentioned Terror on a Train before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM, and unlike Jeopardy, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to watch the TCM showing.

Glenn Ford stars as Major Lyncourt, a Canadian army bomb disposal expert who just happens to be in Birmingham, England. That's good for the authorities, because they get a call telling them that there's been a bomb placed aboard a shipment of sea mines going by train from Birmingham to the naval base in Portsmouth. The authorities know about Maj. Lyncourt's expertise, and know he's available, so it's only natural that they call him in to find the bomb aboard the cargo train and defuse it before it goes off at 7:00 AM the next morning. Lyncourt then spends most of the rest of the movie trying to find that bomb.

In some ways, that's all there is to the movie. But to be fair, there is rather a bit more going on on the side. The train started off in Birmingham, and was going to have to go through some rather populated areas on its journey to Portsmouth. Obviously, it would do no good to have the bomb go off in the middle of a populated area, so the authorities do the best they can and have the train shunted to a suburban siding. But even this suburban location has quite a bit of people, so the police are going to have to do a mass evacuation. There's also a problem for the good major with his wife (Anne Vernon), who's really grown tired of his defusing bombs, and wants him to spend more time with her. Finally, the evacuation goes fairly well, except for one slightly dotty old man who loves trains and wants to be around them whenever he can. The problem, of course, being that this is one train he shouldn't get near.

On the bright side, the authorities catch the would-be bomber. That's good because it soon becomes clear that there's no way short of clear dumb luck that the major is going to find the bomb before the next morning. Perhaps they can impress upon the bomber that he should let the authorities defuse the bomb, and show them exactly where on the train it is so that they can defuse it. And what if he doesn't?

As I sais at the beginning, Terror on the Train is one of those small movies that MGM was making a lot of in the early 1950s. It's got a fairly big star in Ford, and a fairly sparse story, with a brief running time (about 73 minutes) to fit that spare story. That having been said, this is a sort of role that Glenn Ford was well-suited to play: essentially of good character but not too challenging. Ford by himself makes the movie worth watching, even if it's never going to get to the level of his more prestigious work like Gilda or 3:10 to Yuma.