Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movies I can blog about thanks to the Warner Archive

Normally, I prefer to blog about upcoming movies. Sometimes, I see obscure old movies on the schedule that look interesting, but I can't really blog about them if I haven't seen them. Fortunately, some of these old movies have been released to the Warner Archive so that I can recommend them after one of their too-infrequent airings. Such a movie is Heat Lightning, which showed up last Monday on TCM but is available from TCM's shop.

Aline MacMahon stars as a woman who's taken her sister out to the California desert in order to run a "last chance" service station/auto-camp (the forerunner of the modern motel; you can see another auto-camp in It Happened One Night). The kid sister (played by Ann Dvorak) hates the place, wanting to live life and have love. MacMahon, of course, had that life before, and she found out that it's not all it's cracked up to be, which is why she's now out in the middle of nowhere in California. The rest area is visited by a number of guests who would make a great ensemble cast in one of those "slice of life" movies. In the first scene we have Edgar Kennedy and Jane Darwell trading barbs as a bickering husband and wife whose car has overheated (unfortunately, they leave after the first scene and we don't get to see any more of that bickering), while Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly play a pair of wealthy but catty divorcées who are on their way back from Reno, driven by their harried chauffeur Frank McHugh.

But Heat Lightning isn't a slice of life movie. Two men show up: Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot. It's only hinted at at first, but eventually it becomes clear that these are two men on the run from a bank robbery in Salt Lake City, and are trying to make their way to Mexico. It's clear that Foster is the dominant one, as he decides for both of them that they'll stay at the station for long enough to get the divorcées' jewels, a decision which frightens Talbot, who just wants to get away. However, they're not just robbers. It turns out that Foster was MacMahon's boyfriend back in her days as a showgirl in Oklahoma. This is the man from whom she's been trying to protect her sister....

Heat Lightning is interesting, if a bit slow. Several of the reviewers on IMDb have made the obvious comparison to The Petrified Forest, although there are big differences, notably that the other guests learn next to nothing about the bad intentions of our two gangsters. The conflict builds up slowly and has a very short climax which, to be honest, isn't all that climactic. Thankfully, the supporting characters and subplots are enough to keep this movie going. Heat Lightning isn't perfect by any means, but at only about 70 minutes, it's an entertaining enough diversion.

No comments: