Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I survived Hurricane Irene

So Hurricane Irene came through Saturday night and Sunday morning. The power went out around 10:45 AM Sunday, but thankfully, I've got a generator to run the essentials, like the fridge to keep food fresh, the sump pump for the basement, and a few lights. I wasn't going to be able to watch the Carole Lombard movies, but that was the least of my worries.

It took a good 46 hours, but the power finally came back on. I'm one of the lucky ones, though, since some people are going to be waiting several more days to get their power back. That, and I didn't suffer very much damage. There were a lot of branches down, especially the smaller oak tree branches that are maybe the width of an index finger, but have a lot of stuff branching out from them such that while they're thin, they're also about as long as an arm. Unsurprisingly, a lot of already dead trees also fell over finally. The thing that surprised me is that there were rather few mature trees either knocked over at the trunk or uprooted entirely. Not too far from me, though, there was a lot more damage. Places like Windham in Greene County, and Schoharie County to the west, were hit particularly hard. And then there are the isolated towns in Vermont.

The Scarlett Empress

The final star in this month's Summer Under the Stars is Marlene Dietrich, and prime time has one of her most visually impressive films: The Scarlett Empress, at 8:00 PM.

Dietrich plays the Empress, who is specifically Catherine II of Russia, commonly called Catherine the Great. Catherine was actually born Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, a principality in what is now eastern Germany. When she was a teenager, she was married off to her second cousin, Paul (aka Pavel), who was the Grand Duke of Russia, a position equivalent to the Crown Prince in other monarchies. (Paul is played by Sam Jaffe.) Paul continued as Grand Duke and Sophia took to making herself liked among the Russian people, learning the language and converting to Orthodox Christianity. Thankfully for her, she had a good 15 years before her mother-in-law, Empress Elizaveta, died. It turned out she needed those 15 years to become palatable to the Russian people, or more importantly, the Russian nobility. Pavel, it turned out, was spectacularly unfit to be Russian Emperor. He was erratic and preferred to play with his toy soldiers more than dealing with real matters of war, and having him in command would have been a disaster. So the nobility more or less convinced Catherine to take over in a coup, although they probably thought with a woman on the throne, they'd be the real power behind the throne. Catherine was, one would assume, happy with this, as she quickly found she didn't care much for Paul and would rather have lover after lover after lover, much like Elizabeth I of England (who was in love with far more than Essex).

I wouldn't say that history is portrayed in The Scarlet Empress with notable accuracy, although it doesn't have the horrible inaccuracy that many Hollywood has. In fact, the portrayal here is interesting for entirely different reasons. Although the movie was released in 1934, there are a lot of times where it plays out almost as if it had been conceived as a silent. There are a lot of fascinating visuals here, which make the movie look as much like a fantasy as it is a biopic. It's for these visuals, and not so much the acting or dialog that the movie should be watched. Visually, it's gorgeous: from a shot of Dietrich on a swing, to the use of candles, veils, and diffusion, there's always something visually stunning going on.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Howard Keel Day

Another musical star gets his day on TCM in the form of Howard Keel. To be honest, my first memory of Keel is seeing him play the second husband of Barbara Bel Geddes on Dallas, after the actor who played the first one died. In fact my first memories of Barbara Bel Geddes are from Dallas, too; I was just a kid at the time and would have been much too young for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Looking through the Wikipedia page on Dallas, it says that Donna Reed substituted for Bel Geddes for a season in the mid-1980s. I didn't know about Larry Hagman's appearances in films such as Fail-Safe, but then, he probably would have been better-known at the time he was tapped for Dallas for his starring role in I Dream of Jeannie. And then of course there was Charlene Tilton's ample bust.

But Howard Keel could sing, and that's what got him on Broadway first, and then noticed by Hollywood, where he appeared in musicals such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (9:45 PM). I think that showed up on one of the independent channels back in the day, and at the time I found it very boring. (I also remember it getting turned into a TV series for a season in the early 1980s.) I stil don't care that much for it

As for a Keel movie without music, I've blogged about Callaway Went Thataway (1:30 AM) before, and it's a fairly entertaining B-movie. And it's got another supporting player most of us would first remember from TV, that being Natalie Schaefer, who played Lovie Howell on Gilligan's Island.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Preston Sturges, 1898-1959

Today marks the birth anniversary of Preston Sturges, who had a glorious, if all too brief, career as a director from 1940-1945. I've recommended several of the glittering comedies he directed in those years, such as 1944's Hail the Conquering Hero, or The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. I love The Palm Beach Story, although some would argue that The Lady Eve is an even better comedy. (Personally, they're both great; I just happen to prefer The Palm Beach Story.)

Sturges' career ended prematurely because, like many in Hollywood, he liked to drink, something which apparently caused problems with the studio bosses -- I wonder why. But his career didn't begin as a director. As with many directors, he got his start in other behind the scenes capacities, notably as a writer. (Billy Wilder had a similar start to his Hollywood career.) Sturges worked on the screenplays of some two dozen movies before his directorial debut in The Great McGinty in 1940. Among the ones I've recommended before are Remember the Night, The Power and the Glory, and Easy Living.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock does a screwball comedy

Really. As part of Carole Lombard's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, you can watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith overnight tonight at 1:00 AM.

Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery star as Ann and David, an upper-class married couple in New York who like to throw the sort of barbs at each other that you could imagine William Powell and Myrna Loy doing. In one of their mock arguments, David tells Ann that, yes, if he had to do it all over again, he'd marry her again. Little does he know that he's going to have to. Into each of their lives that morning walks Mr. Deever, a justice of the peace from Ann's hometown out west. He has the sad news of telling each of them that, due to a technicality, their marriage is not actually legal, and that they're going to have to have another ceremony. David, having been apprised of this news at his office, decides to play a bit of a practical joke on Ann, but he doesn't realize that she's been told until it's too late. Ann knows they're not legally married, and that he's not trying to get her to marry him the way he said he would.

So Ann acts as though the two never even thought they were legally married, and threatens to go off with David's law partner Jeff (Gene Raymond). It's up to David to try to win Ann back. But this being a comedy, you know that all of the attempts are going to go wrong, such as when David takes Ann to the hole-in-the-wall restaurant where they went on their first date all those years ago, only to find that things have changed.

Alfred Hitchcock was great at black comedy. Mr. and Mrs. Smith isn't black comedy, but a straight-up screwball comedy. I don't think that screwball comedy best suited Hitchcock's abilities, although that doesn't mean that this is at all a bad movie. In fact, if you didn't know that this had been directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it would come across more as a perfectly good movie, and not one of a great director's lesser efforts. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery were both well-suited to this sort of elegant comedy, and it shows. So don't think about Hitchcock, sit back, and enjoy this good movie.

Hurricane Irene

It's Thursday morning as I write this, but Hurricane Irene is barrelling down on the Northeast (or maybe that should be barrelling up the east coast), possibly hitting sometime on Sunday -- depending on exactly where it hits. I'm in the Catskill Mountains, a good 90 miles south and a bit west of New York City, but hurricanes are a big thing, and the forecasters still aren't quite certain about where this one is going to hit. The last one that came close to the Catskills was Tropical Storm Floyd back in 1999, and since I'm in a super-secret bunker in the part of the Catskills that's in the middle of nowhere (well, not quite, but I'm not in the middle of town either), I was left without electric for three days.

So I'm posting in advance: in case Irene does leave me without power, there will be a couple of blog posts still coming up while I'm off line. Also, it's a way of letting all of you know why there might be a lack of posts if the outage is prolonged. Perhaps I should post a photo of Irene Dunne, but I don't have many on my computer, and just did so two weeks ago in conjunction with The Awful Truth. Either that, or movies about hurricanes. One of these days, I'll have to get around to watching the mid-1930s movie The Hurricane. TCM has shown it a bunch of times, but somehow, I've always missed it. As long as I don't have a bunch of gangsters show up just before the storm like in Key Largo.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fallen Angel

As part of Linda Darnell's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is a movie that I haven't seen in years, thanks to Darnell's having worked mostly at Fox: Fallen Angel, airing at 6:00 PM.

The nominal lead is Dana Andrews, playing Eric Stanton, a drifter who winds up at a greasy spoon joint where Stella (Darnell) is waitressing. This being Hollywood, you know the two are going to hit it off immediately. But there's a catch: Stella wnts the better things in life, which means she wants a man with money. And a drifter like Eric doesn't exactly have that. What's a man to do? Find a wealthy woman like June Mills (Alice Faye) and marry her for her money. All that's left to do is to figure out a way to separate girl from money, then separate boy from girl, and voilà, Eric and Stella can get married and have all that money. This being Hollywood, it really is that easy.

Well, this being Hollywood, you know that there's going to be a complication or two along the way. First off, June has a sister named Clara (Anne Revere) who thinks that Eric isn't all he's cracked up to be. The second complication is that Stella winds up murdered. (Yeah, that is a complication.) Detective Judd (Charles Bickford) investigates, and for obvious reasons thinks that Eric has a good chance of being guilty: he was with Stella on the night she was killed, and their relationship wasn't exactly a secret. On the other hand, June would be an equally good candidate for the murderer. After all, if she found out about Eric's relationship with Stella and knew that Stella wanted her money, why wouldn't she feel threatened?

If you've seen the promos that TCM runs for The Essentials, you'll see Alec Baldwin saying something to the effect that if it's been a few years since you've seen a movie, it's almost like watching it all over again for the first time. I know that I've said the same thing before in my comments on Brighton Rock. So the upshot of all this is that my memory of Fallen Angel is also a bit hazy. It's a movie I enjoyed back when I saw it years ago, and one I'm looking forward to enjoying again.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Oh dear, Peter Lawford

I'm sorry to say I'm not that much of a fan of Peter Lawford. Maybe it's just that he doesn't come across as such a good actor to me. Or it could be his Rat Pack connections; I think I've mentioned several times before how I, having been born in 1972, don't care that much for the latter-day mythologizing of 50s and 60s icons such as the Rat Pack. Lawford was married to one of the Kennedys -- another connection to a 60s icon.

Worse, TCM is kicking off prime time with Good News, a fairly dire Freed Unit in which Lawford plays a college football player who falls in love with his French tutor (June Allyson). Lawford doesn't look like a college football player, and certainly doesn't sound like one. And the movie doesn't look any more like college than any other Hollywood depiction of college down the years.

It's a shame that the much better It Should Happen to You! is pushed back to 10:00 for stuff like Good News.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Judy Garland, actress

TCM's honoree today for Summer Under the Stars is Burt Lancaster. But in the movie I'm blogging about today, the person to watch isn't Lancaster, but his co-star Judy Garland. That movie is A Child Is Waiting, airing at 6:00 PM on TCM.

Garland plays Jean, a woman looking for meaning in her life, who has decided that the way to achieve it is to work with retarded children. The movie was released in 1963, so the language isn't quite what we'd use today. Also, 1963 was still in the era when such children were put in institutions instead of "mainstreaming", or slowing things down for people of normal intelligence and vastly increasing the amount spent on education with little overall benefit. But I digress. Anyhow, Jean has no real experience working with the mentally retarded, but she has energy. Dr. Clark (Burt Lancaster) knows that you need more, and this sets the stage for a series of clashes between the two as Clark, who is in charge of running the institution, tries to do things by the book, and Jean tries to do things by feel and usually against the wishes and better judgement of the equally well-meaning Dr. Clark.

Part of A Child Is Waiting plays out like a series of vignettes, much like a number of other institutionally-set movies, such as To Sir, With Love or Captain Newman, MD. But there's also one plot line working its way throughout the movie in the form of one particular student. We see that student, Reuben, getting dumped off at the institution at the beginning of the movie, after having been lied to about where he's being taken, and obviously quite displeased about being lied to. Jean takes a shining to Reuben, and Dr. Clark naturally thinks she's getting too close. If you get too close, you're going to get burned. Clark warns Jean, but she just won't listen. Anyhow, Reubin is the child who is waiting in the title, as all the other kids see their parents visit each week during the visiting hours, while poor Reuben is left alone. Jean tries to write to Reuben's parents to explain the situation and get them to visit, but as in Our Very Own a few weeks back, the visit doesn't go so well.

A Child Is Waiting is, as I mentioned, somewhat conventional, at least when it comes to the convention of movies that are vignettes instead of having one overarching plot. But that's not to say it isn't a good movie. I'm not a particularly big fan of Garland, and especially not her singing. She helps run the music therapy and plans the Thanksgiving recital, so she does get a chance to sing. But once again, Garland shows that, given a chance not to sing, she can actually act. Burt Lancaster is professional as always, and the rest of the cast is good, notably the children. A Child Is Waiting doesn't seem to be available on DVD, however.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sinners' Holiday

TCM is honoring Joan Blondell today in Summer Under the Stars, and prime time is kicking off with one of her earliest movies, Sinners' Holiday, at 8:00 PM. Although it's Blondell's day on TCM, this is really a movie to watch for another of the supporting players, James Cagney.

Cagney and Blondell are both a ways down the credits, as the leads are small-time conman and handyman Angel Harrigan (Grant Withers) and his girlfriend Jennie Delano (Evalyn Knapp). Cagney plays Jennie's brother Harry, and Blondell plays Harry's girlfriend Myrtle. The Delanos are a family running one of the concessions at an amusement park that seems a lot like Coney Island. (Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie since Cagney was TCM's Star of the Month years back, so I don't remember whether the place is actually named.) It's 1930, which means the Prohibition era, and Harry is part of a booze-running racket run by Mitch (Warren Hymer), although Harry is rapidly moving up the ladder. There's a dispute over where the money the racket is bringing in is going, and when you either have to shoot somebody or get shot yourself, Harry decides that it's better to do the shooting.

Thankfully for Harry, he's got a family willing to stand up for him. Mother (Lucille La Verne) never liked the idea of her kids getting involved in running alcohol. But she'll be damned if any of her kids is going to prison. So she needs a fall guy, and Angel would be the perfect man for the job. Poor Jennie, but Ma thinks Angel is no good for her, and she can do better. However, Jennie also witnessed the crime, and knows fully well her brother is guilty....

Sinners' Holiday was based on a Broadway play that failed thanks to having been released just as the Depression was hitting. As such, and because this was also still pretty early in the talking picture era, Sinners' Holiday has the look of a filmed stage play. But Cagney and Blondell (who were both in the original stage play) are both quite good in what was the first film either of them made. It's creaky, but if you like Cagney or Blondell, I think you'll like this picture. It doesn't seem to be released on DVD, however, so tonight's TCM showing is one of your rare chances to catch it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Hands of Orlac

One of TCM's more interesting choices for this year's Summer Under the Stars is today's selection of Conrad Veidt. He's probably best known to American audiences for playing Major Strasser in Casablanca (tonight at midnight), but Veidt was born in Germany and started his career in the expressionist silent films that were being made in Germany in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Perhaps the best example is The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, which will be airing overnight (at 3:15). The night, however, kicks off with The Hands of Orlac at 8:00 PM.

The plot should sound familiar to you. Veidt plays Orlac, a concert pianist who unfortunately loses the use of his hands in a train accident. However, there's hope! A doctor has been experimenting in new techniques in transplantaion, and has a cadaver whose hands he can take, and put in place of Orlac's hands. So far so good. The problem is that the cadaver was that of a criminal -- and those hands take on a life of their own, forcing the former pianist to start engaging in crime himself! As I said, this should sound familiar: the movie was remade in Hollywood in 1935 as Mad Love, and then remade in the UK in 1960 as The Hands of Orlac. (There'a also a late-1950s Mexican comedy with a very similar theme that aired many years back on Azteca America back in the days when they were showing old movies at lunchtime.)

That second Hands of Orlac also brings up an important caveat. TCM's monthly schedule, which I downloaded at the end of July, had The Hands of Orlac put in a 105-minute timeslot. The box guide, however, lists the 1960 version in a two-hour slot. Now, it's obvious TCM won't be showing the 1960 movie, since Veidt died of a heart attack in 1943. But the two-hour block turns out to be correct: as with many silent films, finding lost footage, and cuts for foreign releases, means that you wind up with different running times. At some point along the way the silent ended up with a running time of 91 minutes. The restored silent is listed as running 110 minutes, and that's even the running time listed in the printed monthly schedule. As if you can fit a 110-minute movie into a 105-minute slot.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Crazy like a fox

I'm not a particularly big fan of war movies, but the Fox Movie Channel is showing a fairly good war biography tomorrow (August 23): The Desert Fox, at 2:00 PM.

You might well recognize the nickname The Desert Fox; it refers to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (played here by James Mason), who led the Nazi forces in Africa in World War II until they were defeated in the battle at El Alamein. However, that's only where this movie begins. Rommel was apparently so focused on his work in Africa that he didn't notice that Adolf Hitler was fighting a war on two fronts, and that the other front wasn't going all that well. After some time to recuperate from health issues, Rommel is sent to France, which is mostly a dormant front as the Allies are still figuring out how to open up a front on Western Europe. It's Rommel's duty to see to the defenses along the English Channel.

It's also during this time that Rommel begins to see, with assistance from some of his friends, notably a doctor played by Cedric Hardwicke, that Hitler is erratic at best. In fact, of course, Hitler is no general, but he is a dictator, which means that what he says about fighting the war goes, even if the real generals know better. Rommel too thinks he knows better, so he frantically arranges for a meeting with Hitler (played by Luther Adler) to try to persuade the Führer to let Rommel do things his way. No go. And it's dangerous for Rommel to try to stand up to Hitler this way, as there are all sorts of Gestapo agents around just waiting to rat out wrong thought.

History tells us that in August 1944 there was an attempt on Hitler's life that failed, and that a whole bunch of people were summarily executed on Hitler's orders for their presumed roles in the plot. Rommel is one of the many who fell afoul of this, mostly because of his friends who were in on the plot. Rommel was actually recovering in hospital from injuries sustained when his car was attacked by Allied planes a few days earlier.

This last point brings up some interesting questions about the movie. How accurate is it, really? It's based on a book written by a British officer who spent several years researching the subject, but still, knowing the internal thoughts of dead people is something that can never be done with complete certainty. That having been said, the fact that we get a surprisingly positive portrait of Rommel only a half dozen years after the end of World War II means that perhaps Rommel deserves some of the favorable treatment. Either way, The Desert Fox is a movie that bears watching. James Mason is good as Rommel, with the rest of the cast being adequate at worst. They really are secondary, though, as this is entirely Mason's picture.

Joan Crawford night

TCM is kicking off prime time tonight at 8:00 PM with Joan Crawford in the 1931 movie Possessed. I have to be honest that this is one of the movies I haven't seen before, and am looking forward to it. Crawford made another movie in 1947 which was also called Possessed, and I briefly mentioned it back in May 2009. It's got a completely different plot, so it's a different movie altogether, and not just a remake or a different version of the same movie. There shouldn't be any problem with TCM having put the wrong movie in the listings, however. The 1947 movie runs 108 minutes, and tonight's airing of Possessed is in a 90-minute time slot. The 1931 Possessed is listed with a running time of just 76 minutes, so the hour and a half scheduled for it would be right.

Following at 9:30 PM is a 2002 TCM 90-minute documentary on the life of Crawford, which I think aired back in 2008 when TCM had a 24-hour marathon for her "100th" birthday, there being some confusion on exactly what year Crawford was born in.

For the record, the 1947 Possessed doesn't seem to be on the schedule in the near future.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Flamingo Road

By now, if you've been reading this blog long enough, you should know about Joan Crawford and the 150% performances she gave in a lot of her later movies after leaving MGM. Tomorrow happens to be Crawford's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and one of those late 1940s performances that I haven't mentioned before is on the schedule: Flamingo Road, at 2:30 PM.

Crawford plays Lane Bellamy, a circus carnival girl who frankly is far too old to be playing the part, but this is Joan Crawford: who's going to say "no" to her? The carnival winds up on the outskirts of some southern town where it's discovered that the books are in a mess, and when the local police want the carnival to move on, Lane stays behind. She's met by Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), a sheriff's deputy who was supposed to see that the carnival moved on, but found only Lane there. He picks her up, but in the romantic sense, not the criminal justice sense; taking her into town, getting her a meal and ultimately a job, as well as falling in with her.

Now this is a problem, for Fielding is a protégé of the local sheriff, Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet) who has plans that Fielding should go on to big things in the state legislature. Having a wife like Lane wouldn't do, and indeed, Titus had planned for Fielding to marry the much more proper Annabelle (Virginia Huston). To make certain Fielding can't marry Lane, Titus has Lane brought in on trumped-up prostitution charges, and sent off to jail. Oh, yeah; I probably should have mentioned that the sheriff is one corrupt SOB. Lane, having learned this the hard way, decides to get revenge on the sheriff, which starts off with getting a job in the local road house where the bigwigs meet to plan their corruptitude.

But in addition, Lane marries the lawyer Dan Reynolds (David Brian), who also has political aspirations, and is the one man in town who might have even a 1% chance of standing up to the sheriff. Not that he's completely clean himself, since small-town politics have always been incestuous at best. You know that all this is going to result in conflicts between David and Titus, as well as conflicts between David and Fielding....

Flamingo Road has some problems with the plot, in that the whole ending seems forced and not quite right. Plus, Crawford is much too old to be playing this role, even if she is as compelling as ever playing it. To be honest, though, the real attention should be paid to Sydney Greenstreet. He was about 70 in real life when he made this film, and was suffering from diabetes. He looks physically terrible, as though he's going to keel over and drop dead at any moment. Yet that physical degradation actually works well, as it gives him the air of a man who has to get things done now before he dies, and also lends a sense of physical corruption to his moral corruption.

Flamingo Road is one of those movies that's not an all-time great, but is entertaining and endearingly melodramatic. And with Joan Crawford and Sydney Greenstreet, you know you're getting two performers who are giving a professional job. Flamingo Road was released as part of a DVD box set which contains several other movies that are also showing up on Monday.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whose night is it, anyway

Tomorrow, TCM is honoring Cary Grant as part of its annual Summer Under the Stars. The first of the Grant movies they're showing also happens to be the first one he made: This Is the Night, at 6:00 AM.

Cary Grant, only being a newcomer to the movies at this point, gets fifth billing. He plays Stephen Matthewson, a married man living in Paris who's about to head off to Los Angeles to compete in the 1932 Summer Olympics as a javelin thrower. His wife Claire (Thelma Todd) is happy that he's going across the ocean, as she's carrying on an affair with Gerald (Roland Young). However, she should have waited for Stephen to get on the boat before continuing her affair: she comes home one night with Gerald and finds that Stepehen is still there! Stephen's friend Bunny (Charlie Ruggles) knows about the affair, but tells Stephen that Gerald is actually married, and will be heading to Venice for a vacation with his wife.

Stephen still has time before he has to leave for Los Angeles, so he calls everybody's bluff, and arranges for two tickets from him and Claire to go to Venice as well and spend some time with Gerald and his wife. The problem, of course, is that Gerald doesn't actually have a wife, so he has to go find somebody who can pretend to be a wife. This he does with Germaine, played by French actress Lili Damita. Germaine naturally doesn't particularly care for Gerald, and while she doesn't actually have to share a bedroom with him or anything (this being the days when rich people rented entire hotel suites with multiple bedrooms), she finds that perhaps she'd rather not be in Venice at all....

This Is the Night is one of those early 1930s "comedies of lies", which is a genre I think I've mentioned I generally have a predisposition against. In such movies, the lead character gets himself into trouble with a lie, and rather then facing the reality that the truth will set him free, he makes matters worse for himself by compounding lie upon lie upon lie. So I personally find that a fair portion of the movie in Venice drags. And yet, Cary Grant is already excellent in his very first film. The rest of the actors are more than competent; in fact, the only problem is that the material their doing isn't my particular taste. Some people don't like war films; some don't like noir; I find the comedy of lies tedious. That having been said, if you don't mind such comedies, you'll probably love this movie. Especially for its opening sequence, in which Thelma Todd loses her dress. Seriously. But they could get away with it back in 1932 because it was before they were enforcing the Production Code.

This is the Night seems not to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's a dog's world

I just read of the obituary of Italian director Gualtiero Jacopetti, who died earlier this week at the age of 91. Now, to be honest, I hadn't heard the name before. But he's the director of one of the more famous cult movies out there, Mondo cane. Sometimes called a "shockumentary", it's a series of vignettes of some of the more bizarre and disturbing human customs. Or, at least, that's how it's billed; it's one that I have yet to see. The movie spawned a sequel, as well, also directed by Jacopetti; the trailer of the original is available on Youtube.

Debra Paget turns 78

Today marks the 78th birthday of actress Debra Paget, whom the folks at Fox tried to make a star out of back in the 1950s. She appeared as a supporting player in a whole bunch of movies, and the female lead in some others, such as The River's Edge, which I mentioned briefly back in August 2008, where she had fiery red hair. Several more screencaps from the movie, all of which feature Paget, can be seen in the blog Coffee, Coffee, and More Coffee, which posted on Paget three years ago for her 75th birthday. The River's Edge is currently the only one of Paget's movies listed in the schedule search at the Fox Movie Channel's website, and isn't scheduled to air until mid-September. Note, however, that FMC's search only looks for the important people in the cast. People who are way down the credits don't get spotted. Paget is listed in IMDb as being in the cast of House of Strangers, which is also scheduled to air on FMC in mid-September, but that doesn't show up in their search.

Paget's most famous role would probably be opposite Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender. She retired from acting fairly young, when she got married for a third time in 1962, to a wealthy oil company executive. (I suppose it's a good thing her husband didn't die suddenly, leaving her to have to work in schlocky movies putting the company's name in product placement.) If you want to see more Debra Paget photos than you can shake a stick at, you can go to the fan site, which claims to have been updated in February but looks as though it was designed back in 1999. Yikes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jean Gabin in English

This morning, I mentioned that TCM's star of the day for Summer Under the Stars, Jean Gabin, made two films in Hollywood. I think I've seen only one of the two: Moontide. But it's on DVD, and worth a view.

Gabin plays Bobo, a longshoreman in northern California who has several problems. First, he drinks heavily. Second, when he drinks, he tends to have blackouts, such that he can't remember what he's done. And last and probably worst of all, he's got a friend named Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) who's ostensibly looking out for Bobo's best interests, but in reality is a bad influence on him. One night, after a night of heavy drinking, a man winds up dead in a bar fight. Tiny tells Bobo that he (that is, Bobo) did it, which happens not to be true. But because of those blackouts, Bobo has no clue whether or not he really did it. And Tiny is taking advantage of this to blackmail Bobo.

Into all this walks, or rather washes up, Anna (Ida Lupino). She's a waitress with no future, who's decided to kill herself, apparently Norman Maine-style by walking into the sea. Bobo saves her, and because this was back in the day when the police would arrest people attempting suicide, Bobo takes Anna back to his place. Here, the two fall in love. That's great for Bobo and Anna, but not so much for Tiny, who wants to break up their relationship....

Moontide isn't the greatest movie out there, but it's one that's filled with interesting performances. Gabin does more than OK with his role, and in fact speaking English as a second language is a plus, as it makes him seem like a bit of a dullard who really needs somebody like Tiny to look after him. Ida Lupino, who was born into an acting family, learned to fight to get good roles and became very adept at playing women who had to fight their way through life: On Dangerous Ground, The Hard Way, and Road House all come to mind. She's playing something similar in Moontide, and even though this is closer to the beginning of her career as a leading actress, she still does it with ease. Thomas Mitchell had previously won an Oscar for playing the drunk on the Stagecoach with John Wayne back in 1939, and is surprisingly menacing here. Also of note is Claude Rains, who plays somebody reminiscent Guy Kibbee's "judge" in Lady For a Day. It's an odd role for Rains to show up in a picture like this, but to his credit, he does as well as anybody else could have done.

Jean Gabin day

For those of you who speak fluent French, or don't hate subtitles, you've probably had today marked on your calendars for some time, as TCM is spending this day in Summer Under the Stars honoring French actor Jean Gabin. Gabin actually made two movies in the US in English, although neither of those is airing.

I probably should have done a full length blog post about Le jour se lève, airing at 9:30 AM. It's an interesting movie that predates noir in the US and which was later remade in Hollywood in the late 1940s as The Long Night, which aired a few weeks ago as part of Lucille Ball's day in Summer Under the Stars. I was mildly surprised to see my box guide claim that a 1983 movie called Maria Chapdelaine would be airing at 6:00 PM, since Gabin had been dead for some years by then. TCM's own schedule says that the actually schedule movie is a 1934 version of presumably the same movie.

I say I presume they're the same movie, largely because I haven't seen too many of Gabin's films. Prime time is kicking off at 8:00 PM with Pepe le Moko, which was remade in Hollywood as Algiers, starring Charles Boyer. That's followed at 10:00 PM by Grand Illusion. Grand Illusion is an excellent movie set against the backdrop of World War I (it was made two years before the start of World War II) in which Gabin plays one of two French soldiers who get shot down over Germany on a reconnaissance mission and become POWs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On location in Japan

Interestingly enough, both TCM and the Fox Movie Channel are showing movies today that were filmed on location in Japan back in the day. TCM is showing Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe overnight tonight (or very early tomorrow morning) at 4:15 AM, while FMC has House of Bamboo at 1:00 PM. I can't recall if I've seen Tokyo Joe before, but since FMC shows their movies over and over, I just watched House of Bamboo a week or two ago, and it's worthy of a mention.

Robert Stack plays Eddie, a man who arrives in Japan at the beginning of the movie, looking for a friend. However, he meet's the friend's girlfriend (Shirley Yamaguchi), who informs him that the friend has died. That death occurred in a botched train robbery, and Eddie, having had a dark past, winds up getting himself involved in the gang.

Or, at least, that's what Eddie wants people to believe. In point of fact, he's actually working for the US military police, since the train had US military guards on it. Apparently, they also know that there's an American running the gang that was responsible for this robbery, or else they wouldn't hire an American and give him a false dishonorable discharge in order that he may look like a suitable gang recruit. And it's Eddie's job to infiltrate the gang. The gang, as it turns out, it run by Sandy, played by a Robert Ryan who is about as about as ill-tempered and violent as he was in Crossfire and On Dangerous Ground.

House of Bamboo is passably entertaining. The basic plot is easy enough to follow, but some of the details never really seem to be explained, such as how they knew about Robert Ryan's involvement. Still, Ryan is perfect for this sort of role. Stack is nothing special, but doesn't do anything to take away from things. What is probably nicest about House of Bamboo is the Cinemascope and color cinematography of Japan as it was back in the mid-1950s.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Daily vs. monthly schedules

Normally, I download the monthly TCM schedule just before the beginning of a new month. The one big negative about this is that the monthly schedule doesn't include the shorts that TCM shows under the TCM Extras banner. Yesterday, for example, that included the MGM Studio Tour from 1925, a half-hour look at every department of MGM from the actors to the commissary to payroll and beyond. It's a great way to put some names to faces as well, as there are several directors shown.

Unfortunately, I only saw the last ten minutes of it, and it doesn't seem to have been released as an extra on any DVD. Further, because it's got a running time of 32 minutes, it's one of those shorts that gets scheduled much more infrequently than all those nine-minute Traveltalks shorts which are much easier to schedule. A similarly interesting piece from MGM that doesn't get aired all that often would be Some of the Best from MGM's silver anniversary year of 1949. That one ends with a banquet with most of MGM's stars, of which there were more than in the entire firmament. The camera pans over all of them, some in regular clothes and some in costume from whatever movie they were working on. However, identifying all of them is difficult, since there's no mention made of who any of them are.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reassessing Picture Snatcher

I watched Picture Snatcher for the first time in a year or two yesterday as part of Ralph Bellamy's day in Summer Under the Stars. It's just as entertaining as it was the previous three or four time's I'd seen it, but there were a few details I hadn't remembered.

First, I couldn't quite figure out what the Irish cop (the father of Cagney's love interest) was doing up at Sing Sing for the execution. You would assume that the warden would have his own people who could take care of invitations to the press, and prison guards to handle the security. I understand that this man's demotion was necessary to further the plot, but his being up in Ossining, which was a good ways away from New York City, is just too convenient.

What happened after the execution is more interesting. Cagney has to hide out in the apartment of Ralph Bellamy's girlfriend (Alice White), who is supposed to be up in Syracuse on an assignment. She returns home, however, and proceeds to change into something more comfortable, without closing the door to her bedroom! Gotta love pre-Codes. Not only does the movie show Alice in just her negligee -- Cagney takes a photo of it! However, when Cagney has to leave the apartment quickly, we don't see him take the camera, which had been on an end table. (This is actually important since he needs the camera where he's going.)

But then, you can't necessarily expect perfection in a 75-minute movie that was not expected to run at the top of the bill.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's so awful about the truth, anyway?

I've briefly mentioned the movie The Awful Truth several times, but never done a full length post about it. It's airing again tonight on TCM at 9:45 PM, so now is a good time to do so.

Irene Dunne and Cary Grant play Lucy and Jerry Warriner, a married couple who find that each of them have been telling little white lies to the other. Well, not so little; Jerry was supposed to be in Florida on a business trip but stayed in New York. When Lucy and Jerry figure out that the other's lies aren't so little, they wind up rushing into divorce court to end their marriage. The judge naturally grants the divorce, but by law, it won't be finalized for 60 days, no trip to Reno here. So, each of the two starts to date other people, but also realizes they're getting jealous of their former spouse for the people they're dating. Perhaps the two would have been better off not getting a divorce in the first place....

If they really would have been better off remaining married, they at least remember that they are still technically married, since the divorce decree still has a few weeks before it becomes final. And so this gives both of them the brilliant idea to try to break up any other relationship their former spouse might be having. Irene Dunne has started a relationship with Middle American businessman Dan (Ralph Bellamy), and you know that with a supporting character being played by Ralph Bellamy, that's not the man who's going to end up with the woman. But you probably could have figured that out already. Grant takes up with a nightclub singer to try to show his ex-wife that he's still got it, only to find out the singer is thoroughly incompetent. And then Grant tries to crash his wife's music recital, which let's just say doesn't go as expected.

The Awful Truth is one of those elegant comedies that don't seem to get made any more these days, or at least if they do, they don't get advertised to the extent of more lowbrow things like Hut Tub Time Machine (although I suppose the movie would have been quite different if the two leads could have just gotten in a hot tub and undone their divorce) or The Hangover -- even the characters' drinking back then was funnier. Bellamy is good as always in his supporting role, and the Warriners' dog is played by the same dog that played Asta in the Thin Man movies (at least the earlier ones; I don't know how many different Astas were used).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Regis Toomey, 1898-1991

Today marks the birth anniversary of Regis Toomey, a name you might recognize if only because the man appeared in something like 70 movies in the 1930s, and almost as many in the 1940s; but a face you might not recognize because, having appeared in so many movies, the roles are mostly smaller ones. (He was one of the police detectives in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound? So says IMDb, and while I remember the appearance of the police in that movie, I don't remember any of the individual police.) Toomey also played police officers in The Big Sleep and The Devil and Miss Jones in the 1940s, as well as in several lesser-known 1930s movies. I guess that old trope about the Irish policeman rang true and Toomey, being of Irish descent, looked the part to play middle-aged Irish-American policemen. Anyhow, that's Toomey's face on the left.

Toomey is also part of a piece of trivia I first learned many years ago from one of those Guinness Book of World Records factoids, claiming that he had the longest screen kiss, in the 1941 movie You're in the Army Now, lasting just over three minutes with Jane Wyman. You'd wonder whether the censors administering the Production Code would let such a kiss get past, especially when you consider one of the pieces TCM shows on Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious about how they had to edit the kissing scenes between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Indeed, I couldn't find a reall three-minute kiss when I finally got to see You're in the Army Now on TCM; the closest there is is a scene that has Toomey and Wyman in the background looking like they're kissing, but there are cuts in that scene.

At any rate, if you want to see Regis Toomey, just turn on TCM, and you'll probably run into one of his movies within a day or two: apparently he was in both Dive Bomber and His Girl Friday which are on Sunday's schedule; also, the aforementioned The Big Sleep is part of Humphrey Bogart's day in Summer Under the Stars on Wednesday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I could swear I've seen that B movie before

So I was reading Kurt Loder's review of the new movie 30 Minutes or Less last night. The opening two lines really struck me:

Okay, this is a dopey film, one you can imagine being cooked up over the course of a beery Hollywood weekend. Basically—and believe me, it’s a very basic movie, running just 83 minutes—the story concerns two idiots who shanghai a not-much-brighter pizza delivery guy, strap him with a vest full of explosives, and force him to rob a bank for them or they’ll use their vest-bomb remote to turn him into a drifting red mist.

The first thing I thought is that I could swear I've seen something very similar in a B movie from the 1930s or 1940s. Now, there are other, not quite so similar, films out there, such as 1974's For Pete's Sake. In that one, the criminals force the lead (Barbra Streisand) to do all sorts of illegal things to try to get money for them, but the big difference is that here, Streisand got herself into the predicament by borrowing money from loan sharks, who want their money back.

There are also movies in which would-be criminals kidnap somebody, who winds up showing them how to be criminals. One excellent example of this is Too Many Crooks, which I blogged about back in March, 2009. Another similar idea can be seen in The Happening, in which Anthony Quinn gets kidnapped by hippies on a lark, and then teaches them how to be real kidnappers when he discovers that his wife and friends don't care enough about him to pay the ransom. Alas, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, and I think it's only aired on TCM once.

A second point in Loder's review is something I didn't notice until this morning: the comment about the movie being "very basic" because it runs "just" 83 minutes. Ha! Anybody who's a fan of old movies knows that not only did all the B movies run 70 minutes or so, but there are quite a few A pictures that have running times of under 83 minutes. But with today's bloated CGI production values, and "directors' cuts" leading to movies that routinely clock in at a good 150 minutes or more, 83 minutes does seem amazingly short.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I gotta start a blogroll

In looking through the blog's site traffic, I saw that I got a couple of referrals from the blog Via Margutta 51. Being relatively lazy, I had never heard of the blog before, but the posts I read look interesting and well-written, especially considering that blogger Clara is writing in her second language. (Maybe I should blog about something in German, but the one time I tried titling a blog post in German, I got the verb wrong: note the verb in the link, and how I had to edit the title of the post.)

That having been said, I'm going to have to disagree slightly with her views on The Garden of Allah, which was the subject of her most recent post. It's somewhat odd that I'm defening a movie that's not one of my favorites, I think Clara's reviewis a bit too harsh. Her first criticism reads,

And you learn all this in the very first minutes. Really. Zero mystery.

Yet, this is the same technique used in some of the great noirs. If you consider Leave Her to Heaven, we know at the beginning that Cornel Wilde's character just got out of jail, and we know that Gene Tierney bore a lot of responsibility for Wilde's getting into jail. Fade to flashback, and the meeting of the two which just happens to be on a train as well. By the same token, we know from the beginning of Double Indemnity that Fred MacMurray is going to get shot, and from the beginning of Sunset Blvd. that Bill Holden is going to get the swimming pool he always wanted, the dope.

The big problem I have with The Garden of Allah is the things that make it a chick flick: it's just too melodramatic, and presented as too much of a tear-jerker, for somebody like me to enjoy as much as I should. (Of course, I'm the man who laughs at the funeral in Imitation of Life.) But the theme of Charles Boyer's character having an obligation to strangers and not just the people he wants to love is something that's quite similar to Deborah Kerr's moral crisis in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. (The latter movie probably works better because having a nun instead of a monk allows for the other character in the romance to be a rough man.) Also, going back to the people one is more fit for is a theme that comes up in Two For the Seesaw, which would probably be a better movie if Robert Mitchum hadn't been miscast.

But Dietrich and Boyer both put in good performances, and the Technicolor is gorgeous. I can see why somebody would keep mentioning the Technicolor.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seven Arts

If you've seen any movies from Warner Bros. that were made in the late 1960s, such as Bullitt, you've probably seen that they were actually produced by "Warner Bros.-Seven Arts", and have an odd logo that combines a W and a 7. There's an interesting blog post I think I linked to once before detailing the histories of the logos of many of the major Hollywood studios, including Warner Bros.

So it was with a bit of surprise when I tuned into Two For the Seesaw this morning and saw that it was a Seven Arts production (in conjunction with the Mirisch brothers) distributed by United Artists. And then I did a bit of research into Seven Arts, which revealed an interesting story to say the least. Seven Arts started out in the late 1950s as an independent production company producing pictures for various studios, only to buy out Jack Warner, the last of the Warner brothers, in 1967, which is where we get the "Warner Bros.-Seven Arts" logo. What I didn't realize is that this company was then bought out by a company called "Kinney National", which got its start as a Mob-owned parking lot operator! It wouldn't be the first connection between the Mafia and Hollywood, as George Raft could tell you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ann Blyth gets smacked again!

If I were to tell you that TCM is showing a movie in which Ann Blyth plays an ingrateful daughter who gets smacked, you'd probably think, "Oh good! They're showing Mildred Pierce again!" But that's not the movie on the schedule, and not the one I'm recommending. No; Ann is getting smacked by her father in Our Very Own, airing overnight tonight at 3:45 AM.

Ann Blyth stars as Gail, the oldest of of the three Macaulay daughters, growing up in upper-middle class luxury in a post-war Los Angeles suburb. In fact, the family is rich enough to get... a television set! And this for a movie released in 1950. The opening scene, of the family getting that TV, is little more than a way to introduce the male lead, TV technician Chuck (played by Farley Granger), who just happens to be Gail's boyfriend. But Chuck is so handsome that younger sister Joan (Joan Evans) has a crush on him too. Actually, she doesn't just have a crush; she's jealous, and wants Chuck for herself!

That jealousy drives the plot of the movie for a while, as we're quickly to learn. Summer is just around the corner. For Gail, that means her 18th birthday and graduation from high school, with a big party to celebrate the dual occasion. For Joan, the party means more to be jealous about, but the summer also means a summer job. The only thing is, she needs her birth certificate as part of the paperwork. When Mom (Jane Wyatt) tells Joan where the birth certificate is, Mom realizes that she's just made a boo-boo: amongst all the other papers being kept safe with Joan's birth certificate are papers detailing Gail's adoption. This being 1950, it's a time when adoption was kept relatively hush-hush, to the point that Mom and Dad (Donald Cook) never got around to telling Gail she's adopted. But now that Joan knows, you know she's not going to keep it a secret.

Gail, finding out she's been adopted, wants to see her biological mother. Bio-mom is played by Ann Dvorak, and lives on the other side of the tracks, quite literally. Her first husband died in a car crash before Gail was born, which led to the adoption, but Bio-mom has gotten remarried to a man who has no knowledge of a child in the past. She doesn't want it made known, either, so she schedules a meeting with Gail for what's suppsed to be the husband's bowling night. Unfortunately, on the appointed night for the meeting, husband brings all his work pals home for a night of cards, and Gail shows up to a house full of people. Gail winds up lashing out at the parents who raised her, to the point that she's willing to spend all night with her friend, and when she finally does come home, she's so nasty to Dad that he smacks her (which she richly deserves).

Our Very Own is interesting, in large part because it's such an utter product of its time. Adoption as a stigma is something that's long gone, so the emotional conflicts here seem alien. And then there are the class divides, notably in a scene where the two moms (Wyatt and Dvorak) meet to arrange a time for Gail to meet her biological mother. But Gail's friend (Phyllis Kirk) is another great example of the upper-middle class mores of the day, as she gets a Cadillac from her emotionally distant father for graduation. Rounding out the cast are Natalie Wood as the third daughter, who gets most of her scenes at the beginning of the movie as she pesters Granger's co-worker who's trying to install the TV, and Martin Milner as a dorky-looking classmate of Gail's who keeps winding up with The Dorky-Looking Plump Girl (I'm sure the character has a name, but these two seem to have been put in the movie for no real reason other than to lighten the proceedings ever so slightly). Despite how dated the movie is, Our Very Own is actually not all that bad, and deserves a viewing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sylvia Sidney, 1910-1999

Sylvia Sidney, Desmond Tester, and Oskar Homolka in Sabotage (1936). Photo courtesy

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Sylvia Sidney, who started her movie career in the early 1930s with movies like City Streets and eventually went on to include several dozen guest roles on television series, almost up until her death in 1999. I was looking for a good photo of her from one of her better movies that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, namely Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage, which I blogged about back in 2009 on Oskar Homolka's birthday (the anniversary of that coming up this Friday). I found the photo above on the site, which I hadn't come across before, and have only swiped the image to preserve bandwidth.

Sidney was quite good in Sabotage, and also in Fury, where she plays the love interest of Spencer Tracy (and for which I already had a photo). For some reason, I thought I had blogged about Dead End before, but blogger's search facilities aren't finding any such post. I suppose it's just as likely that I intended to blog about it at some point in the past, and never got around to it; I was going to do a post on They Made Me a Criminal for John Garfield's day in Summer Under the Stars last Friday, and never got around to that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Canterville Ghost

I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a fan of Margaret O'Brien. Still, some of her movies are worth a watch in spite of her. One example of this would be The Canterville Ghost, airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM. Charles Laughton shows once again that he could even do comedy.

Laughton plays the title character, a ghost who's been haunting a British manor house for 300 years. What happened is that back in the 1600s, pre-ghost Laughton disgraced the family name in an astonishing act of cowardice. So his father declared a curse upon the family: Laughton's ghost is doomed to haunt the estate, until one of the descendants can perform an act of heroism.

Fast forward 300 years. It's now the middle of World War II, and the mistress of the house is young Lady Canterville, played by seven-year-old Margaret O'Brien. There's no way she can perform an act of bravery. Indeed, there's not much way she can even afford the upkeep on the place, which is why she's given it over to a bunch of those damnable US army men. Laughton tries to haunt them, but orders are orders, and there isn't any way they're leaving. That actually turns out to be a good thing, when it's discovered that one of the American soldiers (Robert Young) is a distant relative of the Cantervilles. Surely he being in the Army can perform an act of bravery. Or can he?

The Canterville Ghost is worthy mostly for Laughton's performance. O'Brien is slightly less irritating than normal, largely because the script isn't so much about her character. Robert Young is passable. The more I think about him, the more I think he comes across as somebody who was OK, and filled the need Hollywood had for nice people who could churn out movie after movie, but always looks like a cheap imitation of Robert Montgomery. No; this is definitely Laughton's movie, and he looks like he's having a blast.

The Canterville Ghost is probably also a reasonably good movie for kids (not having any myself, I don't know children's tastes all that well), who are probably less likely to be put off by O'Brien, and definitely likely to enjoy Laughton's antics.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lucille Ball at 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lucille Ball, so it's no surprise that TCM is marking the occasion by making her today's star in their Summer Under the Stars programming. I've recommended several of today's movies before, but one that I haven't is The Big Street, airing at 9:45 PM.

The "Big Street" refers to Broadway, the "Great White Way" of New York, where Ball is a nightclub singer. But we don't see her at first. The movie starts off with an eating contest which busboy Pinks (Henry Fonda) is working for his boss Abels (Barton MacLane). However, Pinks sees a lovely woman's dog run out into the street, so he goes to save the dog, getting fired for his effort. The dog happened to belong to Gloria (Ball), the aforementioned nightclub singer who's working at another of Abels' places. She gets Pins a job at the club where she's working, unaware he's in love with her. She's in love with a millionaire, but is also the moll of Abels. When she tries to break away from Abels to be with the millionaire, Abels responds by pushing her down a flight of stairs and making certain everybody knows she was "drunk" and "tripped". The fall leaves Gloria paralyzed, but Pinks, being so infatuated with her, is willing to go into poverty to take care of her and get her the best medical help money can buy. For all this, Gloria is supremely ingrateful: she still wants those rich men.

Eventually, Pinks gets the idea of moving Gloria down to Florida for her health, although he's going to have to hitchhike to do so, since he doesn't have the money. Not that Gloria really appreciates it; she still hates Pinks and wants to meet a millionaire. Eventually she finds that the millionaire she was involved with in New York is in Florida, but time has passed and he's not so interested in her anymore now that she's paralyzed. So Pinks and his friends get an idea for an elaborate scheme that will find Gloria loveand solve all the money problems....

The Big Street is an interesting movie, but one that's not without some serious problems. The biggest problem is that the movie doesn't seem to know what genre it wants to be in. The idea of taking a wheelchair-bound woman to Florida by hitchhiking with her sounds like something that would have been a perfect plot for a screwball comedy. Ball would have been well-cast, and Fonda, just having done The Lady Eve, would have played off her exceedingly well. Much of the movie, however, is more of a melodrama, especially the long climactic finale. Ball and Fonda still do well, but there's something about the rest of the movie and cast that leaves an unsatisfying taste. The Big Street is based on a Damon Runyan story, and perhaps it's the odd Runyanesque characters responsible for this, but on the other hand, Lady for a Day is an excellent movie based on a Runyan story.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More geekery

I was watching Dangerously They Live this morning as part of TCM's Summer Under the Stars salute to John Garfield. Garfield was a bit miscast as a doctor, but he's a good enough actor to make the movie entertaining; the material, while formulaic, was also entertaining. The main plot point involved a British agent who knew the location of the convoys (for reasons I couldn't quite figure out) and trying to get it to Halifax, with the Nazis wanting that information. At one point, the lovely spy (Nancy Coleman) lies and says the convoy is at 31 degrees 15 minutes. Now, I don't know that much about the World War II convoys and what route they use, but I know enough about geography that such a latitude would immediately raise my suspicion: it's as far south as Bermuda! I don't know how quickly German U-boats would have been able to get to such latitudes, and whether Nazis in the US would have been able to broadcast to Nazi U-boats, as they would have needed quite a powerful short-wave radio. Still, for that (and all the other) plot holes in the movie, it would be worth watching if it were on DVD.

Wednesday night, I was watching The Old Maid, which is one of Bette Davis' weaker movies thanks to a muddled plot. Anyhow, the movie starts off with a newspaper headline reading "Monday, April 15, 1861". I know I've mentioned it before, but when I see an old date like that in a movie it immediately gets me to trying to calculate what day of the week it actually was. For once, they got things right, which they did throughout the movie, when they mentioned a date in, I think, 1866. It didn't make the movie any better, though.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I feel old

I happen to be a football fan, so it was on NFL Total Access last night that I learned of the death of Bubba Smith at the age of 66. Now, I wouldn't normally post about football players, except that Smith was one of those who went into acting, being best remembered for playing Sgt. Hightower in the Police Academy movies that were low-brow but popular in the 1980s. I remember seeing the first two of them when I was a teenager, although I don't think I ever made it all the way up to Police Academy 6. For some reason, reading about the deaths of people like this makes me feel old. I mean, they were popular in the eighties, which isn't all that long ago!

As for Smith, he was by far not the only football player to go on to acting. I'm pretty certain I've blogged about the football pasts of John Wayne (USC) and Andy Devine (semipro). The Blogger search function claims I haven't blogged about Jim Brown before, which would be a good reminder to blog about 100 Rifles the next time it shows up on the Fox Movie Channel. And then there are the movies that used college football players of the day, such as Eleven Men and a Girl or The Big Game.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Somebody's been asking

I wish I knew how Blogger/Google's search statistics work, because some of them don't seem to be believable. Some of the top "search keywords" make sense in that they're full names or titles: "Eugene Pallette" or Portrait of Jennie, for example. But some of them are too-specific phrases to have multipler searches. Google claims one of the popular searches is "a stranger got off the train spencer tracy". Now, I can understand that someobody would remember a movie beginning with Spencer Tracy getting off of a train, but not being able to remember the title of the movie. But multiple searches using the exact same words? I'm not so sure. The movie in question is of course Bad Day At Black Rock, which I blogged about in June 2008, and for which I used a still of Tracy having gotten off the train.

Another popular search is "scene lee marvin throwing coffee". That scene is from The Big Heat, which I blogged about only a week before Bad Day at Black Rock. It turns out that that particular scene has made its way to Youtube, although you'll have to sit through a little over five minutes of build-up:

The White Shadow

No, not the 1970s TV series; instead, it looks as though three reels of one of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest known works have been found in a New Zealand archive. Now, Alfred Hitchcock wasn't the director yet; he was only an assistant director and set designer. And so far, they've only found three reels; the movie was as I understand it six reels long. I don't know if there's any word on whether there's any chance of finding the other three reels. They've already found other interesting stuff in this particular archive, and the article doesn't say whether they've finished cataloguing the archive.

Still, even if it's only the three reels, it's always good news when they can find stuff that was previously considered lost.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not quite 24 hours

TCM has begun its annual Summer Under the Stars, in which each day brings 24 hours of movies starring one particular person. Of course, it's not quite 24 hours in that the movies only begin on a quarter hour, so there's always a few minutes between movies. But that's not the only way in which TCM "cheats", if you can be so unfair as to call it cheating.

Take tomorrow. August 3 brings a day of Bette Davis. Now, I think I've recommended several of the movies TCM has selected before, such as Now, Voyager at 9:00 AM or 20,000 Years in Sing Sing at 12:45 PM. But there's also Stardust: The Bette Davis Story at 7:30 AM, which isn't a movie at all, but a documentary on the life and work of Davis. It's actually worth seeing, if you haven't watched it before.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Song of a Nation

August 1 happens to be the birth anniversary of Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), who of course wrote the poem "The Star-Spangled Banner", which was later set to the music of an English drinking song to become the US national anthem. Warner Bros. made a short back in 1936 about Key's creation of the poem, called Song of a Nation, which unfortunately doesn't seem to be on DVD. Not only that, but it doesn't seem to have made its way to Youtube either. It doesn't help that the title is something with common enough words to yield a bunch of false positives, while the man playing Key, Donald Woods, has a common enough name to yield mis-hits as well. There are a lot of Youtube videos available for the female lead, Claire Dodd, but none of them are for Song of a Nation

Having said that, Song of a Nation is part of an interesting cycle of movies. Warner Bros. made a surprising number of movies in Technicolor back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, although they were mostly shorts. Quite a few of them have American history themes. Claude Rains starred in 1939's Revolutionary War-themed Sons of Liberty; Dickie Moore played Abraham Lincoln's son in Lincoln in the White House, and John Litel starred in a couple of them, playing Thomas Jefferson in one and Patrick Henry in another. The Technicolor is still nice to look at, and while the history probably is more on a level for schoolchildren, the shorts are worth catching whenever they show up on TCM.

As an aside, I'm wondering if there's a flaw in IMDb's search engine. I knew about several of these, including one called The Monroe Doctrine, which didn't show up when I was searching for Warner Bros. shorts in color from 1930 to 1945 with a two-reel running time (I didn't feel like getting all the animated shorts, which are mostly one-reelers) in the results). When I didn't see The Monroe Doctrine in the results, I figured it must have been made at another studio. But no: it was another Warner Bros. movie, and seems to fit all the other criteria.