Saturday, April 30, 2011

Buck Rogers

Last Saturday at 11:00 AM, TCM started showing the 1939 Universal serial Buck Rogers. Now, I'm much too young to have gone to the movie theater on Saturdays and watched for the latest episode in some movie serial, so to be honest, this is a bit of a new experience for me. I'm looking forward to the remaining ten parts, however.

Last week, Buck (Buster Crabbe) and his little buddy Buddy (Jackie Moran) were in a zeppelin crash and put into suspended animation, where they remained for 500 years before being rescued. Unfortunately, Earth in that time has been taken over by racketeers(!), with only a small contingent of "good guys" hiding out in the Hidden City. Their only hope for salvation is to go to Saturn and get help from the surprisingly human-looking people of Saturn. Buck escapes the racketeer's air controls and gets to Saturn, only to find out that the the Saturnians are going to side with the racketeers, who claim Buck and friends are "revolutionaries". But smart Buck takes one of the racketeers' ships and flies it back to Earth. The folks in the Hidden City think this is a trap, and not realizing it's Buck on board, try to destroy it....

Of course, to find out how Buck escapes certain doom, you're going to have to tune in for Chapters 3 and 4, which are showing this week. It's goofy, trippy stuff, though. Saturn looked amazingly like those places where Hollywood filmed the bad B westerns of the 1930s, in the days before they could go out to Monument Valley. I can forgive the filmmakers for knowing nothing about Saturn's atmosphere, but surely it should have been obvious that Saturn, being a bigger planet, would have stronger gravity; and being farther away from the Sun, would have dimmer light. Those are fairly basic flaws. But then, I presume the target audience wouldn't have noticed or cared about such mistakes anyhow.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Going postal

When Ted Turner acquired what became the "Turner library" of movies it only included movies from Warner Bros. up until the late 1940s, as the later movies had been packaged differently for TV showings. Even though the rights to all the movies are now owned by one or another branch of the megacorporation that also owns TCM, the movie channel has historically not been showing all that many of the Warner Bros. movies from after 1950. Thankfully, that's been changing over the past year or more, with some interesting (and some not so good) later movies from the studio winding up on TCM. Another such movie got one airing last month and another this month: Dear Heart, which airs this afternoon at 4:00 PM ET.

Glenn Ford plays Harry, a salesman who's checking in at a New York hotel for what will probably be the last time: he's about to marry a widow with a son who will be moving to New York with him and getting an apartment. Harry is met at the airport by a too-nice young man who seems a bit too eager to help Harry. It turns out that young man (Michael Anderson) is Patrick, the son of the woman Harry will be marrying. Harry thought the kid was younger, but that's because his fiancée has been showing Harry a very old photo; Patrick isn't 12 but a college student. Not only that, but he's really pleased about the upcoming wedding because he'll once again have the father he so desperately wants.

That's the first sign things might not be going so well for Harry, but there's more trouble to come. Also checking in to the hotel is Evie (Geraldine Page), a postmistress from out in the sticks. She's in town for a postmasters' convention, and she's got just as many problems as Patrick. Evie's a spinster, and it's fairly clear why, as she's a bit nutty and as needy as Patrick. She likes to have herself paged, and lets the bellboys page her for a good 20 minutes or more, just because she thinks it will make everybody else think this Evie woman is important. She meets Harry and you know she's going to fall for him just because she needs any man.

Cynics would think that the obvious solution would be for Evie to pair up with Patrick, let him develop a Norman Bates type complex, and Harry and his fiancée Phyllis (Angela Lansbury, who only shows up for the last 20 minutes or so) can go and live happily ever after. But pretty quickly, you know that the movie is going to head in the direction that long-time bachelor Harry is likelier to end up with the long-time spinster Evie. Will that actually happen? If so, how will the conflict resolve itself? After all, Hary would have to break off an engagement to be with Evie. Dear Heart is one of those movies that's for grown-ups, but in a good way. There's not a whole lot of material that parents might find objectionable; instead, it's the sort of material that's handled with the sort of intelligent sensibility and slower pacing that would make children find the material boring boring boring. Glenn Ford is fine here as the sturdy lead actor, while everybody else around him is screwed up to greater or lesser degrees. Page's Evie is really irritating at first, but if you can get over that the movie is really a pretty good one.

Dear Heart is one of those "little" movies that's been all-too forgotten, which is a shame. It hasn't been released to DVD either, so it's TCM or nothing if you want to see it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why not post Raquel Welch photos

Sorry, this one ain't airing

I've briefly mentioned One Million Years BC before, the Raquel Welch movie about prehistoric times that is a remake of a 1940 mvoie starring the equally nice to look at Carole Landis. TCM has the Raquel Welch version listed on their schedule for 6:00 AM ET tomorrow, which is mildly surprising as I can't remember it having aired before. I'm not quite certain exactly what the programming theme is; TCM has put it next to Them!, at 8:00 AM. Both have special effects, but while One Million Years BC has Ray Harryhausen credited for the effects, Them! doesn't seem to have anybody listed for the effects.

Still, both movies are well worth watching for the entertainment value, if not for any other high level of cinematic achievement. Now if only TCM could get the rights to show Fantastic Voyage....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

250 years before Baby Face

No, Hollywood wasn't making movies 250 years before they released Baby Face. I don't think anybody was. Our next selection is a movie that was set a quarter millennium or more before Baby Face, but has similar themes. That movie, Forever Amber, is coming up tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

Amber here isn't the color or the mineral, but a young woman named Amber, played by Linda Darnell. Amber is first seen as a foundling in 1640s England, not long before the English Civil War and the Oliver Cromwell era. Fast forward to 1660, by which time Cromwell has died and the monarchy has been restored. Amber's adoptive parents are Puritans, while Amber has entirely different sensibilities. She realizes she and her parents are incompatible, and much the way Barbara Stanwyck makes her way to New York after her father dies in Baby Face, Amber connives a way to escape her parents and get to London. This is only the start of a journey which sees her go through a variety of roles: actress, Moll Flanders-style thief, and trophy wife to the rich and noble; always, she's using her sex appeal to try to climb her way up the social ladder. One of those men, privateer Bruce Carlton (Cornell Wilde) becomes the love of her life and even knocks her up, but it's a love that can never be permanent. Eventually, Amber becomes a widow and one of King Charles II's (George Sanders) mistresses, while Carlton has gone off to America to make his fortune. Once he does, he comes back to London for his son....

Forever Amber shares a bit in common with the aforementioned Baby Face in that both movies are about women who want more out of life and use sex and lots of lots of men to get where they think they want to be in life, only to find out it's not quite all they thought it would be. There's one huge difference permeating the entire movie Forever Amber, though: the fact that it was made after the introduction of the Production Code. Baby Face could be much more open about its sexuality, and the novel on which the movie Forever Amber is based is apparently quite steamy. (I haven't read it, so I wouldn't know.) But it's fairly obvious that Hollywood couldn't get away with such stuff in the mid-1940s, and the Catholic Legion of Decency was there as well to ensure they wouldn't. The result is something rather watered down, but still interesting.

That interestingness is provided largely by Sanders, who was good in almost every role he played. Linda Darnell does reasonably well, but doesn't have the steely determination in her performance that Stanwyck seemed to have so many times; not only in Baby Face. As for Cornel Wilde, you have to wonder whether this was a role originally conceived with Tyrone Power in mind. He was consistently getting cast in historical movies like this, looked the leading part, had the charisma that Wilde doesn't, and probably would have been able to play the role well. Wilde, however, is the weakest of the main players. The one other key difference between Baby Face and Forever Amber is that the latter is in Technicolor, which is a plus for the movie, as a lot of historical movies are served well by color in a way that modern-day set movies like Baby Face aren't.

Forever Amber doesn't seem to be out on DVD, which is mildly surprising, and a bit of a shame.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lost Weekend

I've briefly mentioned The Lost Weekend a couple of times in the past, but never done a full blog post on the movie. It's airing again tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as part of their salute to Star of the Month Ray Milland.

Milland plays writer Don Birnam. At the start of the movie, his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) is about to take him for a trip to the country. But we see that Don is thinking about a bottle that he's got tied to the windowsill outside their apartment, and we know that he's not going to go. And, we know why: Don is a raging alcoholic. Philip has been trying to cover for Don for years, including letting Don live with him, but at the same time he knows that he can't really keep Don from drinking if Don doesn't want to, so Philip eventually goes off to the country alone, while Don stays behind, as does his on again, off again girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman).

Don quickly goes downward in a spiral of drinking, drinking, and more drinking, always looking for the next drink. As I wrote back in March 2008, my drinking is limited to a glass of wine at dinner, so I don't know quite how accurate Don's journey is. But it's certainly harrowing and not (yet) clichéd. (I can't help but wonder if this is the movie that started a lot of the alcoholic clichés.) Don gets into it with his bartender Nat (Howard Da Silva), tries to find a bottle that he hid in the ceiling light fixture, and winds up in Bellevue Hospital where he's warned about the insects and pink elephants; this last is a particularly jarring sequence.

Regardless of how accurate it is, The Lost Weekend is pretty darn good stuff. The movie does bog down with a few flashback scenes involving Don and Helen at the start of their relationship, but during all of the drunk scenes, it's more than suitably uncomfortable. The question of whether we should let the Don Birnams of the world drink themselves to death if that's what they're intent on doing is one that is still relevant today, not only regarding alcohol, but other drugs as well. Terry takes one side of that question, while Wyman takes the other. Milland's performance doesn't do much to make the answer any easier, and that's a good thing. The ending of the movie is a bit too hopeful, but that's something you have to expect from addict movies. The one exception might be Less Than Zero, and that's a movie that's got a lot of problems, to put it mildly.

Monday, April 25, 2011

In a black and white movie, the sky is always gray

Tomorrow at noon, the Fox Movie Channel is showing the enjoyable western Yellow Sky.

Gregory Peck stars as Stretch, the leader of a gang of bank robbers out in the old west. Their latest robbery doesn't go quite right, and the gang winds up with the sheriff and a posse chasing after them, guns blazing. The only way to escape is across 70 miles of salt flats, and needless to say, the rest of the gang thinks that's not such a good idea: surely nobody can make it across such a barren expanse. Now, Yellow Sky could be an interesting movie if all it were about were people trying to make it across those salt flats and inevitably failing (the Production Code wouldn't let bank robbers succeed, of course, if it meant they escaped the law). Watching the movie, in fact, the salt flats sequences only take up a portion of the movie, but are harrowing enough if you look at what happens to the poor horses, never mind what happens to the one robber who had decided to fill has canteen with whiskey instead of water. However, the movie is about something different, and our robbers eventually do make it through the salt flats, winding up at a watering hole just outside the ghost town of Yellow Sky.

Only, it's not quite a ghost town. It turns out that there's an elderly man (James Barton) and his granddaughter Constance (Anne Baxter), nicknamed "Mike", living there. Stretch realizes that they're there for a reason, as do the rest of the gang. Here, we really start getting into conflict. There's the natural conflict between the gang and the two prospectors. But there's also a growing conflict among the robbers. Second-in-command Dude (Richard Widmark) wasn't thrilled with the idea of going across the salt flats, and now he's even less pleased with Stretch's plans for dealing with the old man and his granddaughter. Dude figures they're hiding gold someplace, and wants the gold now. Stretch, on the other hand, is more concerned with safety, and realizes the old man has to be on good terms with the local Indian tribe, which is probably not so likely to care for the robbers. Further, there's the beginnings of a romantic conflict, as several members of the gang find "Mike" quite attractive.

There's nothing particularly groundbreaking here, as we know the movie is going to wind up with the obligatory shootout, with the bad guys getting their due, and the good guys.... Well, the writers had to satisfy the constraints of the Production Code, so the ending is a bit contrived, which doesn't really work to the movie's benefit. That having been said, this is more one to watch for the acting. Peck is quite good in the morally ambiguous role, while Widmark is just as good a gangster in a western as he was in the more modern gangster movies like Kiss of Death. Baxter is both suitably good to look at, and effective as a would-be tough woman who doesn't have the experience that her grandfather does. Watch for Harry Morgan later of M*A*S*H as the gangster "Half Pint"; he's credited here as "Henry Morgan" as he often was in movies of the 1940s. Direction is handled well by William Wellman. All in all, Yellow Sky isn't quite great, but it's more than good enough.

Yellow Sky has also been released to DVD, so you don't necessarily have to wait for the FMC showings.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

IMDb's "synergy" with Amazon

A lot of times, when I look to see whether a movie is available on DVD, I just use the little yellow buttons in the top corner of a movie's IMDb page. An exception would be a movie that's more likely to get a release from the Warner Archive and not be available from Amazon. However, I was surprised to see this morning that Godspell was not in print on DVD.

Why, then, did I say in my post this morning that Godspell is available? Probably because it is. The link on IMDb's page is this long ling full of numbers, which eventually resolves to this more readable link. If you look carefully at the link, you'll see that it's searching for the movie's full title, and points out that we've been redirected from IMDb. However, the DVD that's available is one that's been printed under the film's more common title, which is just plain Godspell. So, when you do an Amazon search of movies with the word Godspell, the first link up is to the DVD of Godspell. That, of course, shouldn't be a surprise. What's slightly more surprising, though, is the other DVDs that show up in this particular search: Jesus Christ Superstar is at least somewhat understandable, but Hair? Rent??

Oh well, at least Godspell can be bought on DVD.

Gospel Road with different music

If you can set the life of Jesus to country-gospel music, you can set it to almost any genre of music. Rock opera shows up tonight on TCM at 8:00 PM with the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is followed by show tunes with Godspell at 10:00 PM.

The framing story is an interesting one. In New York City of the early 1970s (just before Gerald Ford was telling the city to drop dead), a bunch of people are having problems with their personal lives. One by one, each of them sees a bearded man, who through sheer force of personality gets them to go off with him! It's obviously an allegory to Jesus! Er, no it isn't. It's actually John the Baptist, as we see when he takes all of them to a fountain to have them baptized. This, of course, is where Jesus shows up, wanting to be baptized; at this point Jesus becomes the leader of the new group of believers....

In this telling of the story, it's an excuse for "Jesus" and his "apostles" to go around New York retelling the story of Jesus' life, and singing Broadway show tunes set mostly outside in front of suitably impressive backdrops of various locations in New York: Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, Grant's Tomb, and even one number shot in part on the World Trade Center which was still under construction at the time.

As with Gospel Road, it's a bit difficult to give a rating to a movie like this: it's much less about the story then it is about the music. That having been said, Godspell, I think, winds up quite a bit better than Gospel Road. It's not because I prefer show tunes to Cash's style of music; in fact I'm not that big a fan of Broadway. However, the "apostles" here have an enthusiasm that fits perfectly with the music, and the framing story is much better, effectively making its point about how God is (or should be, depending on your religious beliefs) relevant in modern day life. It's a statement that's particularly well-made at the very end, after the crucifixion of Jesus. (Oh, I didn't give away the story, did I?)

Godspell is not only available on DVD; you can get any of a large number of versions of the soundtrack on CD.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Still he survived

There's a story in the Bible about the King trying to kill all of the Jews' first-born sons so that their infant savior-to-be will never grow up to be their savior. Paul Newman's career could have been nipped in the bud by the disaster that is his first film, The Silver Chalice, which is airing at 6:30 AM tomorrow on TCM.

Newman plays Basil, a Greek silversmith in the first century AD/CE who gets sold into slavery. Along come the Christians, who have just seen the loss of their Messiah. They want a replica in silver of the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus was believed to have taken his last drink. So far so good. Along the way, however, Basil finds himself having to deal with two women. The lovely Deborah (Pier Angeli), a Christian and daughter of Joseph of Arimathea, who is clearly supposed to be right for him; and the horrid pagan harlot Helena (Virginia Mayo, who gets top billing).

That's not all Basil and the Christians have to deal with. There are people out there who clearly don't like the idea of Jesus being a messiah, and so they come up with the brilliant plan of having a messiah of their own, one who is still living! They're just making up a messiah, of course, so they need somebody who can pull off the con, and that would be magician Simon (Jack Palance). You know the Christians are going to win, of course, but they way it happens is a bit interesting: Simon actually begins to believe the garbage he's spewing!

There's rather a bit more in this turgid movie. The basic story shouldn't be that bad, but there's a fair amount of miscasting (notably Mayo, and her Helena character as a younger girl, played by Natalie Wood), and mis-direction. We know that Newman would later go on to be quite a good actor; why is he so off here? On the bright side, at least we have Jack Palance to steal the show. If younger viewers remember him today, it's the elderly Palance who had an Oscar-winning role in City Slickers. At the beginning of his career, though, he played villains and heavies, in movies such as Second Chance. Whether it was his idea or the director's, I'm not sure, but Palance goes over the top here and at least makes things somewhat interesting.

Apparently people at the studio must have known that Newman had more potential than he was able to show in this mess. Either that, or he was already at work on his next film. At any rate, The Silver Chalice is one of the worse Biblical movies of the 1950s, which has gained a bit of cult stauts for having screwed up so badly despite its cast. For that alone, it probably deserves one viewing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Stella Dallas

Stella!!!If you've been watching TCM lately, you've probably seen the nice little piece on Barbara Stanwyck narrated by Jennifer Jason Leigh. I think last week it was being run because Ball of Fire was last week's TCM Essential; this week it's being run for the 1937 movie Stella Dallas, which is finally airing tonight at 10:00 PM, in which Stanwyck plays the title role.

We see young Stella at the start of the movie before she's Mrs. Dallas, as the younger daughter in a family in one of those old New England mill towns, who dreams of moving up in the world. She gets her chance when she brings her brother's lunch to the mill and meets one of the supervisors, Stephen Dallas (John Boles), who had a bit of a past in which an inheritance was lost. They're incompatible, of course, but it's love at first sight, so they fall madly in love and get married. Stephen is more reserved, as he feels befits his station in life, while Stella wants to live, and thinks she has the chance when she meets horse trainer Ed Munn (Alan Hale) at the country club. Stephen knows Ed is all wrong for Stella, and eventually it leads to their divorce.

But not before Stephen and Stella have a daughter Laurel together (who grows up to be a young woman played by Anne Shirley). The two separate, but Stella keeps custody of Laurel. Laurel spends time with Stepehen and his rich set, which comes to include a widow (Barbara O'Neil) with three sons. Dad thinks daughter Laurel would be better off living with him and the widow, especially because Laurel seems to like all of the eldest son's friends. However, Laurel is also devoted to her mother, and doesn't want to devastate Mom by leaving her for Dad. Mom goes to visit Laurel and the smart set, realizes she can never fit it, and makes the decision to give up custody of Laurel, although Laurel doesn't understand why....

Jennifer Jason Leigh's piece says something to the effect that this is melodramatic, soapy material, and that in the wrong hands (ie. not Stanwyck's) it could fail by going over the top in its maudlin nature. Leigh implies, of course, that Stanwyck keeps it from doing so. I'm not quite sure I agree with Leigh, but that might be because I'm a man. Stella Dallas is certainly a "women's picture", although I don't think it's quite as much so as some of the movies of Bette Davis (Dark Victory comes to mind) or Joan Crawford (tonight's TCM lineup stars off with Crawford's tedious Daisy Kenyon at 8:00 PM). It's certainly worth watching, even if like me you begin to find some of the scenes unintentionally comic.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Parade

Easter is this weekend, which means that the movie channels are once again bringing us Easter-themed movies. Most of them are on Sunday, but the Fox Movie Channel is kicking things off a bit early with The Gospel Road, tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM ET.

There's not much to this movie. Country singer Johnny Cash was also into southern country-style gospel music. So, he went to Israel and filmed a lot of places in the Holy Land that correspond to places in the life of Jesus as set out in the four New Testament Gospels. In addition to this, the story of Jesus' life is told in more or less silent movie format with the "dialog", such as it is, being narration from Johnny Cash himself, as well as him singing any number of gospel songs.

That's about all there is to it. As such, it's a bit problematic to review. It's the sort of movie that I suppose you'll find interesting if you like the sort of music Cash sings here. Country/gospel isn't really my cup of tea, so I personally don't care too much for the film. Still, that's a bit unfair to the movie. The cinematography is nice at times: it's tough to go wrong in Israel, at least not when you're trying to film the ancient bits. And Johnny's wife June plays Mary Magdalene, which is also worth a look. (Jesus, on the other hand, is a blond.) However, there's no new ground broken here. One other plus is that, unlike movies like King of Kings (even the silent version is around two hours) or The Greatest Story Ever Told, this movie tells the life of Jesus in a mercifully brief hour and a half.

The Gospel Road is certainly worth a look, at least for the curiosity value. And if you like the music, you might be happy to know the movie is available on DVD.

Sidney Lumet tribute

TCM is finally getting around to its tribute to director Sidney Lumet, who died a week and a half ago. Actually, the TCM Remembers piece showed up surprisingly quickly, as I remember seeing it between movies during the Elizabeth Taylor tribute the day after Lumet's death. A very tasteful piece indeed: a title card "Directed by Sidney Lumet" in the typeface of the credits for Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express, followed by some scenes from movies he directed, and quite a few still photos of Lumet working with actors. As for the night of movies, that's tonight, and contains four films and an interview:

12 Angry Men kicks things off at 8:00 PM ET;
Sidney Lumet's Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne will be shown at 10:00 PM;
The Hill is on at 11:00 PM;
Network will air at 1:15 AM; and
Dog Day Afternoon concludes the night at 3:30 AM.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Haters gonna hate

Everybody's favorite family man is showing up in another movie on the Fox Movie Channel. That man would be Clifton Webb, and the movie is Holiday For Lovers, tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM ET.

Webb plays Robert Dean, the father of a teenage girl and a college-age girl. The elder daughter Meg (Jill St. John) has an interest in art, and has just received an offer of an art scholarship -- in Brazil. So, she cables her father to tell her about the renowned architect (Paul Henried) who has helped her get the scholarship offer. Daddy thinks his daughter has fallen in love with the architect, and he's not about to let her get into that sort of relationship. So he takes himself, his wife Mary (Jane Wyman) and younger daughter Betsy (Carol Lynley) down to Brazil to try to break up the relationship.

It turns out that Meg isn't in love with the architect, but is in love with the architect's son, who has a thing against Americans, and especially Americans like Robert Dean. And that's just the least of Dad's problems. Dad takes the family on a day trip up the Brazilian coast, and the plane has to stop at an isolated military radar station, where US Air Force sergeant Gary Crosby meets Betsy and falls in love with her. (Well, Carol Lynley is certainly pretty to look at.) He'll follow Betsy to the ends of South America -- and indeed, Dad will take the family all over South America to try to keep Meg from her beau.

Holiday For Lovers is a relatively formulaic premise that falls flat for a whole bunch of reasons. One is that the whole Gary Crosby/Carol Lynley sub-plot defies reality. The other romantic plot isn't that much better, either. Clifton Webb is more or less made to play the part of a buffoon, the "how could anybody possibly be that stupid" father type. And Jane Wyman is underused. There's some nice establishing shots of Latin America as it was 50 years ago, but other than that, this is really for the people who want to see all of Webb's or Wyman's movies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Revisionist history with Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe became one of the icons of the 1950s for fairly obvious reasons. One of the results of this is that there are some movies out there that get billed as being Marilyn Monroe films and her presence in the cast is used as a selling point for the DVD. Such is the case with Love Nest, which is airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel. Although that's Monroe on the cover, she's really only billed fourth, and doesn't have that big a role.

The top billing here actually goes to June Haver. She plays Connie Scott, the wife of an Army man about to come home from the war. Connie needed a way to make money, so she put all of the couple's savings into a mortgage on a New York City apartment building, and figures that she and her husband will be able to live off the rents from the tenants, while her husband Jim (William Lundigan) gets his writing career going again. If Connie had been smart, she would have watched movies like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and realized that buying a fixer-upper is a terrible idea. But all their savings is tied up in the place, and they have to make a go of it.

Love Nest is only partly about the struggles the couple has keeping the apartment building going as a business; there are two other back stories going on at the same time. One involves the Monroe character. Her character is named Roberta, nicknamed Bobbie. Bobbie was a WAC during the war, and it was oh-so-convenient for Jim to refer to her as "Bobbie" in his letters home to Connie, leading her to believe Bobbie was a man. Once Connie finds out Bobbie was a woman, she naturally suspects that Jim has a romantic involvement for Bobbie. Jim and Connie's lawyer friend Ed (Jack Paar), however, has no woman at home to worry about, and is free to pursue Bobbie.

The other story involves Charley Patterson (Frank Fay), one of the tenants. We first see him leaving another apartment where he's passing himself off as a mining engineer with a different name (and a whole slew of business cards with different names on them). When he gets to the Scotts' building, he claims he's Charley, an estate appraiser. In fact he's a con artist who makes his money off of unsuspsecting old ladies who have more money than they know what to do with it, and nobody to do it with. Charley, however, finds himself beginning to fall in love with one of his neighbors at the apartment; she's not somebody he can con simply because she doesn't have the money for it.

Love Nest is a competent, but not particularly memorable movie. Everything works out a bit too neatly at the end, but you have to know going in that things are going to work out. Still, Love Nest is worth a viewing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

One of those Merian Cooper movies

I mentioned earlier today that TCM will be showing a number of movies from Merian Cooper's time as head of production at RKO tomorrow. An interesting one that I don't think I've ever mentioned before is Stingaree, coming up at 10:15 AM ET tomorrow.

In 1870s Australia, Irene Dunne plays Hilda, a servant for some wealthy sheep ranchers who spends her spare time singing, and has a very nice operatic voice. Opera critic Sir Julian is coming for a visit, and Hilda is excited about this. But he's coming to see the boss's wife (Mary Boland), who can't sing, and the boss is planning to bundle Hilda off somewhere. Along the way, however, Sir Julian is waylaid by the notorious criminal "Stingaree" (Richard Dix), who kidnaps him, leaves him with his assistant Howie (Andy Devine), and tries to take Sir Julian's place. Stingaree falls in love with Hilda's voice, and Hilda falls in love with Stingaree, possibly in part because he can offer her a way out of her situation.

Time passes, and Stingaree gets arrested, while his intervention with Sir Julian has led him to discover Hilda's talents. So while Stingaree is rotting in prison in Australia, Hilda is going off to Europe to get opera training and becoming a wildly successful opera singer. She eventually undertakes a tour of Australia, and, well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Stingaree is interesting, although to be honest it's rather flawed. The plot can never really decide what it wants to be, and Richard Dix is pretty badly miscast for this role. One thing about the movie that's noteworthy is that it was out of circulation for a good 50 years. When Cooper left RKO, part of the severance settlement left him with the rights to six RKO movies, of which this was one. The movies apparently showed up once on New York City TV back in the 1950s, but then not again until TCM worked out the rights situation and got them back in 2007. TCM later released the six as part of a DVD box set. So, you can find this one on DVD, although it's quite pricey.

(Rafter Romance, which I recommended back in June 2008, is another one, as is One Man's Journey. Each of these was remade, and the two remakes are airing on TCM tomorrow as well: Living on Love at 2:15 PM is a remake of Rafter Romance, while A Man to Remember at 6:30 is a remake of One Man's Journey.)

More Merian Cooper

I've mentioned Merian Cooper on his birthday before, and I've even made mention of the TCM documentary I'm King Kong which discusses Cooper's life. I haven't said much about that life, and since the documentary is airing again tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM, now is a good time to go into a bit of detail on Cooper's fascinating life.

Cooper didn't start off as a failmmaker; instead, he got his start as a pilot in World War I, and after that war, wound up fighting in Russia. As a filmmaker, he made a number of documentaries besides Grass, the one which was the inspiration for the July 2008 post to which I linked above. And then he became the head of production at RKO, which is how King Kong got made. But that's not all. After leaving RKO, Cooper went and trained Chinese airmen fighting the Japanese. Finally, Cooper was involved in the creation of Cinerama. I've probably missed a few things, because Cooper did so many, which is why the documentary is worth watching. TCM will be following the doccumentary by showing several of the B movies that were made during Cooper's time as the head of production at RKO.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It's flawed but fun, and one that certainly deserves at least one viewing. That viewing opportunity is coming up tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM ET on TCM. The movie: Whipsaw.

Myrna Loy plays Vivian, the confederate of a gang of jewel thieves who have just committed a heist in Europe, and are on their way back to the States. When they get Stateside, Vivian is met by Ross. He's from the FBI, but in order to get the goods on Vivian's confidants, he pretends to be a gangster who wants to get in with Vivian's gang. That's particularly helpful when it turns out that there's another rival gang on Vivian's heels in a perfunctory car-being-followed sequence.

The movie starts off promising, but begins to hit a few flaws. The big problem is that the movie has some terribly trite plot devices that we've seen a hundred times before. The first thing you can probabaly guess is that Vivian realizes Ross is from the FBI but goes along with it anyway, keeping her knowledge of his true identity a secret. Next, you can probably guess that the two are going to begin to find themselves falling in love with each other, even if they try to keep these feelings to themselves. After all, there is that little matter of the jewel heist.

The third plot device is another one you can expect, but perhaps not quite in the way that Whipsaw shows it. Vivian begins to start thinking that perhaps she's made the wrong choice in life, and that maybe she should get out of the crime racket if possible. How we get here, though, is a strange little plot twist. In a heavy rainstorm, Ross and Vivian get stuck at the house of farmer Will Dabson (John Qualen), and have to stay there because the road is out. However, the two get their at just the right time for Will's wife to go into labor and have her baby, and it's up to Vivian to help deliver that baby! That really gets Loy's mothering instincts going.

Whipsaw treads no new ground, and yet it's entertaining in no small part due to Loy and Tracy's performances. Sure, they would go on to do better things together; Libeled Lady would be just a year or two down the road. But Whipsaw is entertaining enough. It's gotten a release as part of the Warner Archive, so you don't necessarily have to get up at 6:45, but that DVD is also slightly more pricey.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

TCM on fire tonight

TCM's Essential movie this evening at 8:00 PM is the Barbara Stanwyck comedy Ball of Fire, which I've already recommended back in February 2010. (It is, of course, always worth watching again.) This time, TCM is using the showing of Ball of Fire as an excuse for a night of movies that have the word "fire" in the title. Ball of Fire, for example, is followed at 10:00 PM by Crossfire, which I recommended back in March of 2009.

Be careful with the titles; though. TCM is concluding the night at 5:00 AM with a completely different movie called Cross Fire, released in 1933 by RKO. This movie, which to be honest I'd never heard of, is a one-hour B western set against the backdrop of World War I. It certainly sounds like an interesting premise!

Too bad we don't get any real fire, like The Towering Inferno.

Friday, April 15, 2011

An end, a beginning, and a reboot

Tomorrow at 10:30 AM ET on TCM sees the last of the Bowery Boys movies, In the Money. Now, I've stated before that the Boys' movies were kind of dumb, but at least inoffensive and the sort of stuff that ought to appeal to kids who don't mind dated black-and-white stuff. If you want to see more of the Boys, you can see them in their earlier days, when they were known as the "Dead End Kids", in They Made Me a Criminal, which will be coming up at 11:15 AM Monday as part of a birthday salute to John Garfield.

What will be replacing the Bowery Boys movies is Buster Crabbe in a twelve-part serial of Buck Rogers from 1939. I think TCM is showing two episodes a week, as some of the listings show an episode beginning at 11:00 AM ET on April 23, followed by an epsiode at 11:30 AM. IMDb lists the whole thing as just shy of four hours over 12 episodes, so I'd suppose there are some sets of three episodes that can't fit into a one-hour slot.

Unfortunately, TCM's own online schedule isn't listing the Buck Rogers episodes, instead, leaving that time blank. However, TCM is finally beginning to get their web-site back to the way things used to be, as the monthly schedule once again has the brief synopses for films. Yay for small victories.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lee Tracy, 1898-1968

Lee Tracy on the right in Dinner at Eight (1933)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Lee Tracy, whose career was picking up steam in the early 1930s until he derailed it, but more on that later. The early role for which you're most likely to remember him might be that of John Barrymore's agent in Dinner At Eight. He played another actor's agent, this time to Jean Harlow, in Bombshell. For something rathe different, you can look for him as the reporter investigating strange goings-on in the 1932 two-strip Technicolor horror film Doctor X.

As I mentioned back in May 2009, Lee Tracy pissed his career away, literally (sorry for the bad pun). While filming Viva Villa!, he got drunk in Mexico and celebrated by urinating off his hotel balcony. Unfortunately there were Mexican troops below, and this naturally caused a scandal. Tracy got some bit parts, and some slightly bigger roles in lousy B movies such as RKO's Millionaires in Prison. Fortunately, Tracy was to have a bit of a hurrah in his career thanks to TV and the stage, and wound up fininshing his movie career on a bit of a high as well, playing the dying president in The Best Man.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spencer Tracy doing a western

Spencer Tracy did most genres of film in his long career. This includes a few westerns, and one of those, Broken Lance, is coming on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow at noon ET.

The movie starts with one of Tracy's sons, Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner), being released from prison and going home to the family ranch. Dad died while he was in prison, and Joe's three half-brothers Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O'Brian), and Denny (Earl Holliman) are in charge, although the place is nowhere near the glory it was when Dad was running it. The three older brothers want Joe to leave forever, and offer him quite a bit of money to do so. Flash back to why they want him to leave....

It's now a few years earlier, and father Matt is still alive. He's running the ranch and married to second wife (and Joe's mother), an Indian woman played by Katy Jurado. Joe's three half-brothers resent their stepmother, and hate the way their father treats them for it. Dad, meanwhile, doesn't like the three older sons in no small part because they're such utter ingrates, to the point that they'll rustle his cattle to sell for money. Things take a turn for the worse when some of Matt's cattle fall ill and Matt discovers that it's a result of the copper mine dumping industrial waste into the water that goes through his ranch. It's off to the mine, and when the mine owner refuses to believe he could be causing the problem, the confrontation results in an attack that leaves several people injured, and Matt facing trial. Ben and his two younger brothers fix things so that Joe will take the rap for Matt, and Matt can pay the financial cost by transferring the ranch to them.

Spencer Tracy gives a fine performance. In fact, everybody in the cast is good. However, the movie as a whole comes up a bit short. Perhaps it's because of the plot, which can be a bit tough to follow at times. There's something about the ending that doesn't seem quite so satisfying, either. The whole thing just feels a bit off. It's not bad by any means; it's more that it probably could have been better. So don't let any of my negative views dissuade you from watching the movie.

Besides, Broken Lance was one of Fox's first westerns in the new Cinemascope process, and as such, it's lovely to look at. Never mind that Katy Jurado had an underrated earthy beauty about her, and Joe's love interest (Jean Peters) was also a more traditional beauty. Give it a look tomorrow, or watch it on DVD.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nowadays it would be a text message

TCM's Star of the Month for April is Ray Milland; he's getting a bunch of movies every Tuesday night this month. Tonight's salute to Milland brings a number of his suspense films. Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever recommended Dial M For Murder before; that's airing at 10:00 PM ET.

Milland plays former tennis pro Tony, who's married to the lovely Margot (Grace Kelly) and living in London. However, he suspects that she's having an affair with an old friend from America, mystery writer Mark (Robert Cummings). Tony is right that Margot is still in love with Mark, so Tony comes up with an elaborate plan to get Margot bumped off, which involves blackmailing one of his old friends from school, who will take Tony's key to get into the apartment and then strangle Margot. However, the plot goes wrong: instead of Margot winding up dead, she's able to grab a pair of scissors off the desk and stab her assailant in the back, killing him and leaving him on the floor of their apartment, which presents a bit of a problem for Tony.

However, quick-thinking Tony gets an idea: he'll pin the killing on Margot, suggesting that she did it because she was trying to kill a blackmailer. Having there be a motive other than pure self-defense means that Margot can be found guilty and sentenced to be executed, which for Tony is just as good as if the original assailant had killed Margot. And the plan would work too, if it weren't for those meddling kids -- or, at least, that meddling American mystery writer.

Dial M For Murder may not be Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, but it's one of the many very good movies that he made. It's never less than entertaining, and despite some gymnastics necessary to guide the movie through its limited setting (most of the film is set within Tony and Margot's apartment), it inventively solves most if not all of the plot holes and reaches its natural "crime does not pay" ending in a satisfying manner. The acting is nothing memorable here, but then, it's all in service of the story, which is the more important thing for a movie like this. And the story delivers.

Two other interesting bits about the movie: as I mentioned back in November 2009, the scene in which Milland tries to phone his wife from the club has an obvious prop. Second, the movie was originally supposed to be in 3-D, back in the 1950s incarnation of that overrated technology. The one scene where this is most obvious is when Grace Kelly is reaching for the scissors on the desk; it's shot in such a way that Kelly's hand appears to be coming out of the screen toward the audience.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Civil War comedy

If Hollywood can make comedies about World War II like Operation Petticoat, then there's no reason why they can't make comedies about, say, the Civil War. In fact, as part of TCM's look at the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, they'll be showing several comedies on Wednesday evening. Tonight's look at the Civil War sees a number of silent movies. However, these silent films include a comedy, that being Buster Keaton's classic The General, overnight at 1:00 AM ET.

Keaton plays a little man in the old South. When the Civil War begins, he wants to enlist just as any other patriotic Southerner would. However, he's deemed unfit, and besides, he's working as an engineer. That's just as important a job as actually fighting in the army. In fact, we get to see its importance when invading Union troops try to capture Keaton's locomotive, take it north to Union territory, and destroy the railroad tracks along the way. Keaton is the only one who can stop the Northerners, albeit with a little help from his would-be girlfriend (Marion Mack).

The General is a fairly simple story, but one that works extremely well thanks to Keaton's typically imaginative and spectacular sight gags. In the case of The General, that meant getting a vintage locomotive and finding a narrow-gauge track in Oregon, and literally destroying things along the way. As with Steamboat Bill, Jr., these are the sort of things that had to be done in one take, lest the actors get seriously injured. If you haven't seen The General before, shame on you! Watch it now, or since it's coming on in the middle of the night, record it. Or get one of the many DVD releases.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Butterfield 8

And so, we finally get to Butterfield 8, airing tonight at 8:00 PM ET as part of TCM's tribute to the late Elizabeth Taylor. It's trashy at times, but worth a look.

Taylor plays Gloria Wandrous, a model whose official job description is to be seen in public in all the nicest places wearing the designs of the designers who pay for the privilege of having good-looking people show off the clothes.. However, the job she actually does wavers between model and high-priced "escort", as Gloria is consistently finding herself pursued by a bunch of men. One of them, wealthy businessman Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), she winds up sleeping with. Or, at least, she wakes up in his apartment the next morning, and he's left her $250 for it; the presumption is that the two have slept together. Gloria doesn't take the money; instead he takes a fur coat from the apartment. You see, Weston has fur coats lying around because he's trapped in a loveless marriage, which is another small problem for him and Gloria. Weston's wife (Dina Merrill) is currently away, but dammit, Gloria better return that coat before the missus finds out about it!

And so, Weston sets about trying to find the coat, running into Gloria's platonic friend Steve (Eddie Fisher). At least, the friendship is platonic from Gloria's point of view; Steve seems to be the one man she doesn't care for sexually, even though he, like every other man in Manhattan, has the hots for her. He's also got a girlfriend not in the form of Debbie Reynolds, but Susan Oliver, who recognizes the danger that the hot hot Gloria poses for her relationship with Steve.

Things go on like this for close to two hours. The plot sounds melodramatic; up there with the work of Douglas Sirk in Imitation of Life, or a movie like A Summer Place. To be honest, it is that nutty. But like the other two movies, it's a fun nuttiness. Taylor made the movie only because she was under contract and had to make the movie to finish her contract, and is widely attributed as having hated the movie. So, she gives a thoroughly over the top performance which only makes the movie more trashy fun. Sit back with a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sidney Lumet, 1924-2011

Director Sidney Lumet, who started his career in television but earned four Oscar nominations for directing, including for his first feature film 12 Angry Men, died earlier today at the age of 86. The other three Best Director nominations were for Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict; Lumet also picked up a nomination for writing along the way. (Lumet never won a competitive Oscar but was eventually awarded a lifetime achievement award.) Lumet's long career included a lot of movies with a political or cultural conscience. In addition to the four mentioned above, Lumet also directed the nuclear weapons drama Fail-Safe, and the story of whistleblower-cop Serpico.

TCM hasn't announced any sort of programming changes in Lumet's honor. If they do I'll mention it here.

The Liz Taylor tribute is finally here

TCM's 24-hour salute to the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor is finally coming to a TV screen near you; it's starting tomorrow at 6:00 AM ET. TCM is showing 11 movies, but A Place in the Sun, from which the photo at left is taken, is not one of them. Those who want to see Taylor together with Montgomery Clift will have to watch Raintree County at 2:45 PM. The complete list, starting at 6:00 AM:

Lassie Come Home at 6:00 AM;
National Velvet at 7:30 AM;
Conspirator at 10:00 AM;
Father of the Bride at 11:30 AM;
Father's Little Dividend at 1:15 PM;
Raintree County at 2:45 PM;
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at 6:00 PM;
Butterfield 8 at 8:00 PM;
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at 10:00 PM;
Giant at 12:30 AM; and
Ivanhoe at 4:00 AM.

Surprisingly, I haven't blogged on any of them yet. Butterfield 8, showing up in prime time, will finally be the subject for a full-length blog post tomorrow; today I'd like to mention Father of the Bride. Taylor plays the bride, about to be married to Don Taylor. The father is played by Spencer Tracy, and the story deals more with him than with Elizabeth Taylor. I've never married off any daughters, but I have seen two sisters get married, and I know that weddings are a stressful time for the people around the bride, as the bride always seems to want everything to be perfect. Poor Spencer Tracy has to deal with that, and with having to pay for the wedding, since it was traditional for the bride's parents to foot the bill back then. It's all funny because it's true. Regarding paying for the wedding, I'm reminded of an exchange with my then 10-year-old niece at my brother's wedding. My niece knew the people cry at weddings, and she asked whether her parents (my sister and brother-in-law) would be crying more over her wedding or her brother's. I joked that it would be her wedding, because my sister would be helping pay for it. My niece was too young to know the tradition of the bride's family paying, so my sister told her that, yes, that's the tradition. My niece thought for a moment and then responded, "So you mean my wedding is going to be free?" I can only imagine how Spencer Tracy would have reacted to that.

To be fair, though, Father of the Bride is a lot funner than I, or my relatives, are. It's also got quite a good cast of character actors. Besides the three names I've mentioned, there's Joan Bennett as the bride's mother, and Billie Burke and Moroni Olsen as the groom's parents. Leo G. Carroll plays the caterer who turns Tracy's house upside-down; back then, it was not uncommon for the post-wedding party to be held at the house of the bride's parents, especially if the wedding was held there. (See the end of The Best Years of Our Lives.) Finally, there's Russ Tamblyn, still going by Rusty, as Elizabeth Taylor's kid brother.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Can Get It For You Wholesale

Tomorrow, the Fox Movie Channel is running another of its programming events that shows that at least they're trying, but don't really have either the library of the imagination to do it as well as TCM. This particular marathon is about working women, and one of the movies getting a pair of showings is I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which comes on at 7:30 AM and 3:30 PM ET.

Before I ever saw the movie, I thought from the title it sounded like a musical comedy, or perhaps a romantic comedy, but in fact it's neither. It's a moderately gritty drama set in Manhattan's fashion district. Susan Hayward stars as Harriet Boyd, a walking trope. She's the girl from the small town who's come to New York to make it big, and is working as a clothes horse for a small-time designer making clothes for mass production in Middle America. But she's got ideas! And a sister she's taking care of, too, who has an inheritance that Harriet could use for her idea, which is to go into business on her own as a designer. So, our heroine sees that she has to be ruthless and not let men walk all over her, and tricks everyone she can into getting the money she needs to start her own fashion house, including her sister.

Now if you think the tropes are done yet, you've got another thing coming. Harriet goes into business with two of her colleagues from her former job: salesman Ted Sherman (Dan Dailey), and Sam Cooper (Sam Jaffe), whose job it is to take the designs that are on paper and see that they can be converted into real fabric that can be mass produced for the low low price of only $10.95 or so. Deep down inside, Ted loves Harriet, but Harriet's not about to let a little thing like love get in the way of her rise to the top. She's about to have her principle tested, though, in the form of department store owner J.F. Noble (George Sanders). He sees Harriet's designs, and wants her to produce exclusively for him, and make higher-end stuff. This, however, entails burning the candle at both ends and risking the contracts she's already got.

This is a bit of a tough movie to rate. The performances are all quite good, but it's in service of a story and characters that are full of stereotypes. I couldn't help but think as I watched it the first time that I'd been down the same road in a dozen other "ruthless woman in a man's world" movies. Still, I Can Get It For You Wholesale is a worthwhile watch. Hayward plays the ambitious character well; Dan Dailey shows he's more than just a musicals man; Sam Jaffe never gets the credit he deserves despite having been an excellent character actor in films like The Asphalt Jungle. And George Sanders is perfect for the role of Mr. Noble.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the Fox Movie Channel showing. You probably should.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chita Rivera, looking fine at 78

Tonight brings TCM's Guest Programmer for April, stage actress Chita Rivera, who is 78 years old and looking very elegant. Her four movies include one I've already recommended, followed by three adaptations of classic literary works:

The Uninvited, which I recommended back in February 2010, kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. It's followed by
the 1931 (ie. Boris Karloff) version of Frankenstein at 10:00 PM;
the 1942 live action version of The Jungle Book at 11:30 PM; and
the Laurence Olivier (1939) version of Wuthering Heights at 1:30 AM.

Note that there have been a number of movies over time (especially in recent years) that have gotten the title The Uninvited. The more recent films with the same title have gotten DVD releases, but they're also different stories. The 1944 Ray Milland classic (which will be coming up in a few weeks as part of Milland's turn as TCM's Star of the Month) still hasn't gotten a DVD release here in the US, which is unfortunate.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not to be confused with a buddy movie

Among the movies airing tomorrow as part of TCM's birthday salute to James Garner, I don't think I've recommended 36 Hours before. It's airing at 1:15 PM ET, and is well worth watching.

James Garner plays Major Pike, a US Army major stationed in the UK in early June 1944. That date means the D-Day invasion is coming up soon. The Nazis kind of expect this, but don't quite know when or where it's going to come. They know, though, that Major Pike has some valuable information pertaining to the upcoming invasion, so when he has to go to Portugal on a secret mission, the Nazis drug him and set in motion a diabolical plan. They take him to a prison camp in Germany that's been renovated to look like an American military hospital. Not only that, but the Nazis are putting on the ruse that it's now the 1950s, and the Allies won the war several years ago, but that Maj. Pike doesn't know any of this because he's been suffering a severe case of amnesia. The Nazi military doctors masquerading as American army doctors, led by Nazi Major Gerber (Rod Taylor), have set up this ruse in order to trick Pike into giving them the information about the Normandy invasion they're seeking.

Now, if this plot seems absurd, it is. But keep watching, because the movie is actually quite good. Pike somewhat suspects something odd is going on, and we viewers of course know what's going on. So part of the fun of a movie like this is seeing just how the Nazis' elaborate plan is going to go wrong, and how Pike is going to react when he realizes just what's happened. Fortunately for him, he's got somebody who might just be an ally, in the form of nurse Anna (Eva Marie Saint). She's got a concentration camp tattoo, and is basically been dragooned into the plot to spare her life; it's another plot point that seems unrealistic, but then there's a reason why the Nazis lost the war. Pike convinces her to try to make a break for it with him -- in another dumb move, the Nazis put this hospital close to the border with neutral Switzerland.

Garner is in fine form here. To be honest, he's probably at his best when doing lighter roles, like the comedies he does, and thrillers like this that require the viewer more to watch than to think. Not that there's anything wrong with making movies for the purpose of entertaining people, of course. In that regard, 36 Hours succeeds quite well, in the vein of earlier movies such as Night Train to Munich. The latter film has fortunately gotten a DVD release, albeit from the pricey Criterion Collection, since I blogged about it back in July 2009; 36 Hours is also out on DVD.

The Incident

Back in 2009, I recommended the movie The Incident despite the fact that it wasn't available on DVD. It still doesn't seem to be available on DVD, which is a bit of a shame. However, it's finally back on the Fox Movie Channel line-up, and will have the first of several showings throughout April and May this afternoon at 5:30 PM ET. I recommend this movie just as strongly as I recommended it back in June 2009.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So bad it's not even "so bad it's good"

I wasted an hour and 40 minutes of my Sunday morning watching Dondi. Amazingly, the folks who run the Warner Archive have seen fit to release it to DVD and make a lot of much better stuff wait.

I decided to watch it because the box guide synopsis sounded moderately interesting: GIs try to take an orphaned boy home from World War II, but he goes missing. That, and the fact that David Janssen was the star The synopsis wasn't inaccurate or even misleading; it's just that the execution is horrible, to say the least. The movie starts off at a military base in Italy on Christmas Eve. Playboy soldier Janssen wants to go into town; mama's boy Arnold Stang is going to stay at the barracks and decorate a Christmas tree. When Janssen returns, he finds that a nameless orphan is sleeping outside the barracks, and he decides to let the orphan stay there for the night. This, despite the fact that their CO hates children. So, they have to engage in a big comedy of lies that's horrendously unfunny to keep hidden the fact that they're hiding a kid.

News comes that the base is about to be shuttered, so they're all going to be sent home. The soldiers leave the orphan, now named "Dondi" behind, only to find that he's somehow stowed away aboard the troop transport taking all the soldiers home. (How the kid got from the mountains to the port to even get on the boat in the first place is beyond me.) Now we get another half hour's worth of lying to try to get one's way out of a sticky situation, when the truth would have set them free in the first place. It doesn't help that the jokes go on much too long; never mind that they fall flat.

Fast forward to everybody getting to America. The soldiers and Dondi get separated, which leads Dondi to wander around New York City looking for his "buddy soldier", with really bad jokes involving a department store TV and an escalator, among others. It doesn't help that the kid is utterly charmless. Anyhow, Janssen and his frineds finally let out the truth, at which point Walter Winchell contributes to a campaign to have everybody wire Congress to have them offer Dondi asylum. (And every time anybody hears Winchell, they immediately drop what they're doing to send Congress a wire.) Singer Patti Page, playing Janssen's girlfriend, contributes with a song.

The idea isn't a bad one; it was based on a successful comic strip. (The strip's author and illustrator appear as a policeman and the policeman's sketch artist.) But the jokes are awful, they go on much too long, the plot is filled with numerous holes, and Dondi is even more obnoxious than Margaret O'Brian. Yes, I know that this sort of stuff was marketed at children, but I can't help but wonder if even they were turned off by the film.

There are a lot of movies out there that are bad, but at least have the excuses of low budgets. A lot of those fun late 1950s and early 1960s B-movies in the sci-fi and horror genres fit the bill. Dondi, on the other hand, is just plain bad. If you want to see for yourself, you can get the DVD. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

But the tribute is still six days away!

TCM has any number of programming blocks that it wouldn't have been a good idea to ditch and replace with the eventual salute to the recently-deceased Elizabeth Taylor, which is why it's not coming until Sunday, April 10. Tonight, for example, sees the start of an eight-night series on the 150th anniversary of the US Civil War. (I hope I'm not spoiling anything by pointing out that the North wins.) Every Monday and Wednesday in April, TCM will be showing movies about the war, of which there are many. I think it's 34 movies that are being shown, and many others, such as The Raid don't make the cut, probably in part because TCM wouldn't have been able to get the rights to them.

With that in mind, I note that one of tonight's selections, Raintree County is an Elizabeth Taylor movie, in which she plays a southern belle with Montgomery Clift as her love interest; it's coming on at midnight. Interestingly, it's also part of the salute to Taylor that will be coming up on Sunday, which makes me wonder a bit why the people programming TCM selected it. Raintree County (which isn't all that good in my opinion, but that's another story) is a 173-minute movie which on Sunday will be put into a three-and-a-quarter hour time slot. You'd think that the programmers could easily find a movie to fit into a 90-minute time slot, and one to fit into a 105-mintue time slot. But, looking at Elizabeth Taylor's work, there's surprisingly little that fits well into the 105-minute slot that TCM would easliy have the rights to.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Birthday after birthday after birthday

When I'm a bit lazy and don't much feel like blogging, I generally either come up with a lazy list post, or else blog about somebody's birthday. Perhaps the TCM programmer was feeling the same way when doing this part of April's schedule, because there's a birthday every day this week on the schedule, when there are usually only two or three at most.

Monday: Tony Perkins would have been 79, and gets several movies starting with The Actress at 10:30 AM ET.
Tuesday: Melvyn Douglas, whose birthday I marked back in 2009, gets (I believe) the entire Tuesday morning and afternoon lineup, starting with The Vampire Bat at 6:00 AM.
Wednesday: Walter Huston's birthday is marked with a number of films, starting with Dodsworth at 9:15 AM.
Thursday: James Garner turns 83. Among TCM's marking of his birthday is a Private Screenings interview he did with Robert Osborne, which you can see at 12:15 PM.
Friday: Mary Pickford was born on April 8, and TCM is showing three films, finishing with Coquette at 8:45 AM. As you can see, TCM used the same movie to celebrate Pickford's birthday last year.


TCM is showing two programs tonight, Fragments and Unknown Cinema, starting at 8:00 PM. I haven't seen either program, although as I understand it, a good deal of Fragments was shown at last year's TCM Film Festival. It's kind of sad how much of the silent era and the early sound era has been lost, and I'm looking forward to seeing ome of the bits that have been left behind.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Alec Guinness, 1914-2000

I'm too darn lazy to look for another Alec Guinness photo!
Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

I don't think I've done a birthday salute to Alec Guinness before. TCM won't be honoring him today, largely because they generally don't do birthday tributes on the weekend. But it's interesting to see just how broad a range of movies Alec Guinness starred in. His first role was in a British period piece, David Lean's version of Great Expectations, followed by another Dickens adaptation as Fagin in Olvier Twist. It's a far cry from the Ealing comedies like Kind Hearts and Coronets. But then, both of those are a ways away from his Oscar-winning role in Bridge on the River Kwai, in which Guinness plays the British commander of the POWs who build a bridge for Sessue Hayakawa.

Love that groovy retro tea serviceAnd none of them compare to the role for which younger viewers might remember Guinness, that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movies. Or an epic like Lawrence of Arabia. Or George Segal's boss in The Quiller Memorandum. (That's the photo at left.) So, whatever type of movie you like, there's probably an Alec Guinness movie in the genre for you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Another Elizabeth Taylor update

Who would have expected the late Elizabeth Taylor to star in a movie that would show up on TCM Underground? Joan Crawford, I can understand -- she did some schlock at the end of her career. But not Taylor. Stil, shee appears in Secret Ceremony, overnight at 2:00 AM. I haven't seen the movie before, but it sounds like an interesting premise: Taylor plays a prostitute whose daughter died. Then she meets Mia Farrow, who looks amazingly like her dead daughter. Not only that, but Taylor looks like Farrow's dead mother. So the two start up a relationship that goes sour when Farrow's stepfather (Robert Mitchum) returns.

Speaking of stepfathers, I wouldn't mind seeing TCM show Our Mother's House again; it's about a family of children in which the mother dies, but the kids try to keep knowledge of this secret because the state will split them up. But then, the father to some and stepfather to others (Dirk Bogarde) returns, but he may only be in it for the house and money. It doesn't seem to have been released to DVD, either.