Monday, December 31, 2012

Rights holders and Youtube

A couple of days back, I came across an interesting discussion over at the Volokh Conspiracy about the tendency of older music albums, and even full-length movies, to show up in their entirety on Youtube. Technically, most of the uploads are violating copyright, but many of the big rightsholders have agreements in place with Youtube that allow them to exercise their rights: either the right to have the offending upload removed, or enforce certain other rights, such as keeping the uploader from making any money off of the upload. (This would also explain why you see ads before certain Youtube videos.)

The interesting thing is that an increasing number of rights holders seem to be reaching the conclusion that "infringing" uploads might not be such a bad thing overall. Certainly in the case of movies, who wants to watch a low-quality version of the movie if you can get a nice print on DVD? Well, there are people who don't know about the existence of the movie, for whom Youtube's "related videos" sidebar might introduce them to new stuff they'd never even heard of, as the Volokh Conspiracy article mentions in relation to music.

And then there are orphan works. Thanks in no small part to the big rights holders pushing Congress to extend the copyright lengths, we're winding up with more and more works which are technically under copyright, but there's no easy way of figuring out who owns the copyright. Is it a bad thing if copyright is violated for such works to show up on the internet? Not that it quite relates to the Hollywood studio era, but Wikipedia's article on orphan films is also interesting.

Cliff's in the news

Er, not that cliff, but the so-called "fiscal cliff" that's supposedly going to come if our worses in Washington can't come up with an agreement on something or other before January 1. I don't want to go into politics here, but if we're going to go over that cliff, I almost wish some of those people we're expected to treat as solons simply because they won an election could be in the car like in Thelma and Louise.

I wonder if TCM should have programmed some cliff-themed movies for tonight, although at the time the December schedule was drawn up, they couldn't have known whether the issue was going to be resolved. I suppose "cliff-themed" isn't the right word, but movies where a cliff is an integral part of the plot. It's been a while since I've watched The White Cliffs of Dover, but I think the cliffs there, while existing, aren't really part of the plot. Maybe they should have executed traitors by throwing them off the cliffs. It would have made the movie more interesting.

The Uninvited definitely has a cliff which is important to the plot: will the ghost that may or may not exist drive somebody to walk off the cliff near the house.

A movie about a trial involving somebody who died by falling over a cliff is Perfect Strangers. I knew there was another movie from the 1930s set in the UK in which the prosecutor's wife witnesses somebody innocently falling over a cliff, and her witnessing the crime is the only thing that can save the defendant -- but the only problem is that she was there paying off a blackmailer and would get herself in legal hot water and possibly scupper her husband's career by coming forward. Oddly enough, I wasn't searching on the right terms, since in my post I didn't use the word "trial". Well, thinking it starred Joan Crawford didn't help either. It turns out the movie is The Unguarded Hour, starring Loretta Young and Franchot Tone. Since Young is Star of the Month in January for the centenary of her birth, it'll be airing at the end of January.

There are also a lot of movies with cars going over cliffs, winding up in fiery crashes somewhere at the bottom. Well, technically I think a lot of them aren't as sheer as cliffs, but they're close enough. John Garfield and Lana Turner kill poor Cecil Kellaway by pushing his car over the side of a mountain in The Postman Always Rings Twice, while I think Kent Smith pushes his own car over a real, no-foolin' cliff to fake his own death in Nora Prentiss.

Finally, spare a thought for the poor Scotsman who falls off the side of a cliff to his death in The Edge of the World.

What's your favorite movie with a cliff?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


I don't know whether I've ever posted on any of those AFI's Master Class interview/documentaries that TCM has been running from time to time as an irregular series. TCM is re-running the one with Steven Spielberg and John Williams tonight at 8:00 with a repeat at midnight. The feature film in between, at 9:00 PM, is Amistad. To be honest, I don't think I've actually watched any of them, as they're a topic that hasn't terribly excited me. That's unfair to Spielberg and some of the movies he's directed that deserve to be classics, and even more unfair to Williams, who's written some truly iconic scores, including on non-Spielberg movies. (Um, Star Wars, anybody?) In fact, the proof of how little I pay attention to these things is that I didn't realize the program is actually a repeat of one from 2011.

At any rate, I'm making a mention of tonight's lineup largely because I noticed TCM scheduled the two-reeler Lincoln in the White House at 11:39 PM; this is another of those two-reel Technicolor shorts that Warner Bros. made several in the late 1930s. This one is probably only notable for having Dickie Moore as Lincoln's son Tad. But, all of the shorts in this series that I've seen to date have had good prints with nice color, and are an interesting historical artifact if you ask me.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Harry Carey, Jr., 1921-2012

Veteran western character actor Harry Carey, Jr. died on Thursday night at the age of 91. Carey was a staple in the movies of John Ford, which is something you might have noticed last week if you watched a fair deal of TCM. Carey narrated a piece on John Wayne that was presumably done some years back when Wayne was Star of the Month. The piece deals a lot with the movies that Wayne made with director John Ford, since Carey was in several of those and one would guess is how Carey became close friends to John Wayne. I believe the piece was being run specifically for the 1940s version of 3 Godfathers which stars Wayne and has Carey in a supporting role.

I have to admit I've never really mentioned Carey much around these parts, largely because I'm not particularly a fan of John Ford, or John Wayne, and westerns aren't my favorite genre, so I tend not to watch them as often. But Carey was in a lot of the westerns that are considered superlatives in the genre. There's The Searchers, Red River, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon for starters. One western I've recommended that has Carey as a supporting character is Bandolero!, which I recommended nearly three years ago. (My how time flies.)

Later in his career Carey had a notable appearance in the non-western Gremlins. One other non-western with Carey in the cast that I've recommended before is the John Wayne version of Island in the Sky.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Torchy Blane

I've briefly mentioned the Torchy Blane movie series before when talking about the star of several of the movies in the series, Glenda Farrell. Torchy is a lady crime reporter who uses her moxie, as well as the connections from her police detective, to solve crimes before the police themselves can solve them. The movies were conceived as a B series, as a lot of those movie series were back in the 1930s and 1940s. This means that they're formulaic and low-budget, but often enjoyable to watch. In the case of the Torchy Blane movies, that's down in no small part to Glenda Farrell herself, whose roles always seem to be full of energy.

Anyhow, I'm bringing up Torchy because the first of the Torchy Blane movies, Smart Blonde is airing tomorrow at noon on TCM. Now that the Saint movies have ended, it's time for a new series, and TCM will be showing four of the Torchy movies starring Farrell Saturdays through Jnauary 19th. Glenda was replaced by Lola Lane in Torchy Blane in Panama, which will air on the 26th. Farrell returned for one final Torchy movie, Torchy Runs for Mayor, but I'm not certain whether that will be airing after the five-week break for 31 Days of Oscar.

As for Smart Blonde, the plot involves Torchy investigating the murder of an honest nightclub owner in a town where all the other nigchtclub owners are part of the underworld and have a motive for killing him. Barton MacLane plays Steve the boyfriend, while Tom Kennedy plays a flatfoot cop on the beat who is friendly to Torchy. As I said, not much to the plot, but the movie is still fun.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Humphrey Bogart's dud

I've suggested before that every actor, even the great ones, have at least one not-very good movie in their career. Now, I don't want to criticize actors for movies they made on their way up, when they didn't have so much control over what parts they were given. Besides, something like The Return of Doctor X is much too much fun to be considered a dud. On the other hand, you have to feel bad for Bogart and everybody else involved with The Left Hand of God, which is airing tonight at 9:45 PM on TCM.

Bogart starts the movie showing up as Fr. O'Shea, the new priest for a Catholic mission in one of the more remote areas of China, during the war-torn years before the Communists succeeded in throwing the Nationalists out to Taiwan in 1949. The mission is in a parlous state because there's local warlord activity going on, and the doctor in charge of the mission (EG Marshall), together with his wife (Agnes Moorehead), are thinking about closing up the mission. Their nurse Anne (Gene Tierney), for her part, finds herself attracted to Fr. O'Shea, which is a bit of a problem since Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate.

Anne should be wary of Fr. O'Shea, but not because he's a Catholic priest. In fact, O'Shea isn't a priest, but a man with a past. His real story is that he's Jim Carmody, a fighter pilot who was working for the Nationalists in the war against Japan, but his plane got shot down, and he wound up being taken prisoner by the local warlord (played by Lee J. Cobb, of all people). Jim was them impressed into service as the warlord's second-in-command . When he saw that O'Shea had been murdered by the warlord in a raid, however, Carmody decided that this might be a good chance at an escape, by assuming O'Shea's identity. Of course, you know the deception is eventually going to be discovered by the warlord....

The idea behind The Left Hand of God isn't a bad one, and you've got a bunch of well-known actors, including character actors who were good in a lot of the things that they did. However, The Left Hand of God doesn't reach the level you'd think it should. Instead, the movie gives of an atmosphere that everybody is going through the motions. This is one of Bogart's last movies, so I don't know how his health was by this time. Gene Tierney would eventually suffer a nervous breakdown, although again I'm not certain how long after this movie that occurred. But that ought not excuse the character actors. Cobb is miscast, and perhaps everybody else doesn't get much chance to have fleshed-out characters.

Although The Left Hand of God falls flat, it's still worth a viewing. It's on TCM tonight as part of an entire night of movies Tierney did at Fox, which perhaps should give us hope that TCM is going to be able to get the rights to more movies from Fox. The other five movies are in print on DVD, and I've also blogged about all of them before. The Left Hand of God got a DVD release at some point since you can find it at Amazon, but it doesn't seem to be in print.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Man With a Cloak

TCM's last night of movies for Star of the Month Barbara Stanwyck kicks off with a bunch of westerns, but by Thursday afternoon switches to a mish-mash of interesting stuff. One of those interesting movies on Thursday afternoon is The Man With a Cloak, at 1:45 PM.

Leslie Caron plays Madeline Minot, a young woman who's just come off the boat from France in New York City in 1848. For those who don't know European history, 1848 was a year in which a whole bunch of European countries saw revolutions -- including France, where the revolution ultimately resulted in the ending of the monarchy and the naming of Emperor Napoleon III. But the fate of the revolution wasn't known until the end of 1848, so at the time of Madeline's arrival in New York, there were still students manning the barricades, at least if you believe the timeline of the movie. Madeline, for her part, is visiting New York on behalf of her fiancé. He's one of the students in revolt, and his grandfather, M. Thevenet (Louis Calhern), who emigrated to America some time back and holds a substantial fortune. Thenevet it dying, and the grandson could use the money to help his fellow revolutionaries. But because he needs to help manage the students, he sent Madeline to New York to try to get the money.

What Madeline finds is a possible plot to kill Thevenet. The butler (Joe De Santis) and the manageress of the house (Barbara Stanwyck) seem really standoffish to poor Madeline, and it also seems as if they want the money that they know the dying Thenevet has -- and they may be willing to kill him to get it. Fortunately, however, Madeline also finds an ally in New York, in the form of Dupin (Joseph Cotten), a starving author who has a taste for mysteries. He takes a liking to Madeline, and upon hearing from Madeline what's going on in the house, he takes it upon himself to help her investigate.

The Man With a Cloak is an interesting movie, if not one that's particularly great. It's got a surprisingly dark atmosphere for a film set in this time period: it's always seemed to me as though period pieces from the studio era are generally either brighter or at least more elegant. One of the few other movies I can think of that's set in the same time period, The Heiress, at least has more of an air of elegance due to having a star like Olivia de Havilland. The Man With a Cloak, on the other hand, was made at MGM in 1951, and feels a lot like those films that I think of as MGM's B message pictures of the early 1950s: movies that don't have the Technicolor and big production values of the musicals the Freed Unit was putting out, but still do a lot with a little thanks to the professionalism of all the staff at MGM.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Charles Durning, 1923-2012

Charles Durning (l.) with Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie

One more actor who has died is veteran charcter actor Charles Durning, who passed away last night at the age of 89. I'm not certain which of his roles will be best-remembered, since as a character actor he appeared in a huge number of movies and TV shows. One of the roles that should be high on the list is in Tootsie. Here, he plays the father of Jessica Lange, and falls in love with Dustin Hoffman's alter ego, not realizing of course that the alter ego is actually a man in women's clothing. This didn't earn Durning an Oscar nomination, however. In fact, Durning was nominated the same year for playing the governor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Durning would go on to earn a second nomination the next year for playing the Col. Erhardt role in the Mel Brooks remake of To Be or Not To Be.

Among Durning's many other roles are as the man who wanted frogs' legs -- specifically Kermit's legs -- in The Muppet Movie; as a cop who gets conned by Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting, and as one of the angels trying to save Earth in Two of a Kind.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jack Klugman, 1922-2012

Jack Klugman playing the business manager to Judy Garland in I Could Go On Singing (1963

The death has been announced of actor Jack Klugman, who passed away at his home today at the age of 90. Klugman will probably be best remembered for his role as Oscar Madison, the slob opposite neatnik Felix Unger (Tony Randall) on the 1970s TV version of The Odd Couple. However, he appeared in quite a few well-known movies. I blogged about I Could Go on Singing, in which Judy Garland plays a troubled singer who gave up custody of her son to the boy's father (Dirk Bogarde), a well-to-do British doctor. Klugman plays Garland's business manager.

Another of Klugman's roles I've blogged about was as the partner to police detective Frank Sinatra in The Detective. The third person in the publicity still at left is Al Freeman, Jr., whom you might have seen in this year's TCM Remembers piece. (Interestingly, the actual guily party in the movie is played by William Windom, who also died earlier this year.)

I'm somewhat surprised to see I haven't done a full-length post on The Days of Wine and Roses before. In this movie, Jack Lemmon plays a man married to Lee Remick, in a relationship which sees both partners wind up as alcoholics. Lemmon eventually goes to AA and becomes clean and sober with the help of mentor Klugman.

Finally, in one of his earliest film appearances, Klugman played one of the 12 Angry Men. In fact, Klugman was the last of the surviving jurors.

Come to the Stable warning

Tonight sees TCM host Robert Osborne presenting a night of "Bob's Picks", which in this case is a night of Christmas-themed picks since tonight is Christmas Eve. One of tonight's selections is Come to the Stable, airing at 10:00 PM. I've mentioned it a couple of times, and given enough of the plot synopsis that Christmas Eve isn't the time to do a full-length post on the movie.

Surprisingly, it's not airing again on TCM any time soon after tonight. The reason why I find that a surprise is that the star of Come to the Stable, Loretta Young, is also going to be the TCM Star of the Month in January for the centenary of her birth. TCM is showing a lot of Young's movies in January -- including a lot that she did at Fox (a fact that I mention only because Come to the Stable is a Fox film too), which don't show up very often on the TCM schedule. I would have thought that Come to the Stable would show up in a Loretta Young salute, but apparently not. Come to the Stable has gotten a DVD release from the Fox Cinema Archive, which means that it doesn't show up at the TCM shop as being available on DVD, but it is.

Speaking of Fox, it does look as though TCM has had some more success getting the rights to show Fox movies ever since the suits at Fox started up FX Movies to take over half of the Fox Movie Channel schedule. FMC's schedule has become even more repetitive over the past year, but that's a subject for a different post.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Because "A Couple of Days From Now" doesn't sound like such an appealing title

Although there is a limited number of Christmas movies to which TCM can get the rights, that doesn't mean I've already recommended all of them. As far as I can tell, I've never done a full-length post on Beyond Tomorrow, which is airing tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM on TCM.

At the start of this Christmas fantasy, three wealthy but unmarried industrialists are celebrating Christmas Eve alone: George (Harry Carey) is a bit strait-laced; Allan (C. Aubrey Smith) had served in the British Army; and Michael (Charles Winninger) is the mischievous life-of-the-party type. At least, he would be if there were a party. The three men, being unmarried live alone together in a big New York City house with their two Russian émigré servants. This being Christmas Eve, one of them gets an idea to test the humanity of the other people in New York. Each of them is going to throw a billfold (as if they just have extra billfolds lying around, but that's another story) out the window, stuffed with a $10 bill (this was 1940, when ten dollars could actually buy something) and a card with their address on it. Will people be kind enough to return the money? If so, they'll be treated to a Christmas Eve dinner as their reward.

The first wallet is recovered by Arlene (Helen Vinson), an actress who's already succeeded in the big city and doesn't need an extra ten dollars. But she only thinks about herself, so she swipes the bill but leaves the billfold behind. This marks her as a Bad Person, and also means that we know she's going to show up again to play the Bad Person Part. Two other people, however, decide to return the money: working-girl Jean (Jean Parker), and Texas transplant James (Richard Carlson), who is a "starving artist" singer. They get invited in to dinner, and neither having anything else to do on Christmas Eve, take the three old men up on their offer. The two young people unsurprisingly fall in love, and they all lived happily ever after...

Or did they? Since all of the action above happens in the first half of the movie, you know the movie can't be over. The old businessmen have to go off for an important meeting and sign an important contract, even though it's the Christmas season. They take a plane, and sure enough, the plane crashes, killing all three of them. However, before they go to heaven, they're placed in limbo, where they can still see what's going on back on Planet Earth. And that's not quite good. James has been discovered as a singer, and made it big, which should be a good thing. But unfortunately, James has also been discovered the the Bad Person Arlene. She takes just as much of a shining to James as Jane did. Our three dead men, being in limbo, can still afect somewhat what's going on down on Earth in the same way that a ghost can, so they take it upon themselves to try to repair the relationship between James and Jane using the limited powers they have.

There's still one more catch, though. The three are only in limbo. Each of them is going to get called to heaven, and if they don't go when called, they'll be forced to spend eternity in limbo as ghosts. So when George and then Allan get called, it leaves Michael alone to try to save James and Jane from the evil clutches of Arlene. That is, until he too gets called....

Beyond Tomorrow is a charming little movie that doesn't try to do too much, and that's a good thing. While the cast is almost entirely character actors, they're all immensely enjoyable. The ghostly effects are obviously nothing near the quality of what you could get with today's CGI effects, but that's no big deal. About the only problem the movie has, and it's not a very big problem, is that being a Christmas movie, you can probably expect that it's going to have a happy ending, which forces the hand of the screenplay writers. But then, it is a Christmas movie, after all. Sometimes you just want to watch a feel-good movie.

Beyond Tomorrow ended up in the public domain at some point, so there are several versions of the movie available on DVD.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Great Rupert

An odd little Christmas movie that may or may not be to everybody's taste is The Great Rupert. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM on TCM, so you can watch it then.

Joe Mahoney (Jimmy Conlin) is a circus animal trainer who is responsible for the trained squirrel Rupert. Unfortunately, circus work doesn't bring in too much, and Mahoney's landlord Mr. Dingle (Frank Orth) has Mahoney evicted for failure to pay the rent. The squirrel, however, runs off back home to the space between Mahoney's old apartment and Mr. Dingle's. The apartment, in turn, is rented out to another family of entertainers, the Amendolas (patriarch Jimmy Durante).

The Amendolas have an adult daughter (Terry Moore), while Mr. Dingle has an adult son (Tom Drake). Predictably, the two fall in love. This is a bit of a problem, though, as the Amendolas are about as well off as Joe Mahoney was. Things are about to change, however. The elder Mr. Dingle doesn't make his money so much from the apartment, but from a mine he owns out west. He gets regular royalties from it, and not trusting banks, he puts the benjamins in a hole in the wall. Well, that hole just happens to lead to Rupert's nest, and Rupert doesn't like having his home disturbed by these papers. So Rupert pushes them out a different hole, which just happens to be in the ceiling of the Amendola's apartment. So Mr. Amendola finds $100 bills raining down on his head, while of course Mr. Dingle thinks somebody is stealing his money!

The Great Rupert is harmless enough Christmas fare, but it can be a bit sweet at times. Jimmy Durante in the lead might be a problem for some, in that his shtick can be an acquired taste. If you like Durante, there's no problem; if not I think I'd look for a movie that has him in a supporting role to introduce him to people. The animation of Rupert is primitive by today's standards, but that adds to the movie's charm and shouldn't be a problem for children. In fact, The Great Rupert is the sort of movie that's inoffensive enough that it should be great for the children as long as they don't get bored by Durante or the idea of a 60-year-old movie.

The Great Rupert fell into the public domain at some point, so there are a lot of different DVDs out there. Some of them have been colorized, and the movie also got released under an alternate title, A Christmas Wish.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas 2012 repeats

This morning's post is almost a post that I could have written a year ago; in fact, I did write a post last Charistmas Eve on Christmas movies that TCM was running yet again. Not only that, but most of the movies I mentioned in last December 24's post are movies that I was planning to mention in this morning's post. I got the idea for the post today when I noticed that TCM ran Holiday Affair last night. Looking through the schedule, it's going to run again at 3:00 PM on Monday, December 24, a day when TCM is running a whole bunch of Christmas movies.

Quite a few of those movies are repeats of things that TCM already ran earlier in the month. I first blogged about The Bishop's Wife during the 2008 Christmas season. It kicks off the Sunday night Christmas movie double-header at 8:00 PM Sunday -- and then gets a repeat at 1:00 PM Monday!

And then there are the remakes. The Shop Around the Corner aired earlier this month as part of TCM's salute to the movies of Ernst Lubitsch, who directed it. If you missed that airing, you're going to get another chance, as it's on at 8:00 PM Monday. And you have another few chances to see something similar. The movie was remade as a musical under the title, In the Good Old Summertime with Van Johnson and Judy Garland. That aired last Tuesday night, and is getting another airing at 11:00 AM Monday.

Last night's schedule also had Bachelor Mother, which has also shown up on TCM on Mother's Day, based upon when I blogged about it. The bad news is that if you missed it, you won't have a chance to see Ginger Rogers playing the title role again. However, as with The Shop Around the Corner, it was remade as a musical. That remake, Bundle of Joy, is airing at noon on Sunday.

Of course, as I wrote earlier in December 2011, There are only so many Christmas movies.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thank you again, TCM Programmer!

You've probably heard all the stuff about how some Mayan calendar cycle ends tomorrow, which led to the mistaken belief that the universe is going to end tomorrow. TCM has decided to get into the action by showing a bunch of movies set in post-apocolyptic places of various sorts. I've recommended Panic in Year Zero! before; that's airing at 4:00 PM. When I blogged about it back in April 2008, I did so pointing out that it's on DVD, but TCM doesn't list it as available. So presumably, it's another one of those DVD's that's gone out of print.

At the beginning of this year, I mentioned Vincent Price's The Last Man on Earth, which you can see at 10:30 AM. I very briefly mentioned The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (6:00 PM before), on the grounds that it shouldn't be confused with Greta Garbo's Flesh and the Devil which is a completely different movie: Harry Belafonte survives a nuclear attack only to find that just one other person (Inger Stevens) survives it. Well actually, two other people: Mel Ferrer shows up halfway through to complicate things. Not great but enjoyable enough.

I like it, though, when TCM comes up with programming ideas like this, that are of a sort that I'd think about doing when I'm feeling evil.

How does the TCM Shop do it?

So I was in Sam's Club the other day picking up some of the brand-name stuff I use in bulk. They had a section of DVDs and Blu-Rays up. There was a lot of recent stuff, which isn't surprising, and a lot of collections that look like stuff that's fallen into the public domain, which is how you can get them so cheaply. But there were also some of the box sets that you see hawked on TCM between movies. There were a couple of those four-movie sets, but also a copy or two of the Warner Gangsters Collection, Vol. 3.

Now, I've seen all six of the films in the collection, each on its own individual DVD. And I think I've blogged about five of them, with Smart Money being the only one not to get a full-length post, and even for that one I mentioned the (then-upcoming) Warner Gangsters Collection. But I decided to take a flyer on the set since it was on sale for $19.99.

So imagine my surprise when I looked up the TCM shop, and saw that the same set is currently on sale in a 5% off sale: you can get it for the princely sum of $56.99, saving a full three dollars! With all due respect to the TCM shop, but why would anybody want to pay so much more there for the same product? (The question of why 70-year-old movies cost even what I paid in the first place is one for another time.) Are the Waltons ripping off people with inferior versions of the box sets, or is somebody ripping them off?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sorry, Wrong Number

TCM is running Sorry, Wrong Number tonight at midnight, as part of Barbara Stanwyck's time as TCM Star of the Month. It's a movie I've mentioned once or twice briefly in conjunction with some theme, but I've never done a full-length post on it before now.

Stanwyck plays Leona, a woman who is bedridden with a weak heart but who also seems like a bit of a neurotic hypochondriac. She's certainly domineering toward her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster). One night Henry has told Leona that he has to work late, while all of the servants have been given the night off. Unsurprisingly, this makes Leona nervous -- who would want to be left alone in a situation like that? So she calls Henry at the office to find out when he's going to be home. The only thing is, she doesn't get the office. Instead, she gets crossed lines, and what she hears gives her reason to believe that possibly somebody might be out to murder her!

At this point, we start getting a series of flashbacks that show why somebody -- specifically, Leona's husband -- might want to murder her. Leona was a daddy's girl, Daddy being a rich industrialist played by Ed Begley. Henry was a working-class man, clearly not the sort of person that a business magnate would want his daughter to marry. But Leona claims to love Henry, and Dad's spoiled her her whole life by giving her what she wants, so he's not about to stop now by keeping her from marrying the man she claims to love. Not only does he let Leona marry Henry, he gives Henry an executive position in the business!

The marriage isn't exactly a happy one, however. Henry didn't exactly bargain for getting the whole family when he married Leona, and he certainly didn't bargain for her being controlling, needy, and clingy; and claiming sickness when she doesn't get her way. Henry, trapped in a loveless marriage, responds by engaging in industrial espionage with the "family" business, which of course is going to get him in trouble as it's bound to be discovered. Working with criminals doesn't exactly help, either.

Sorry, Wrong Number started out as a half-hour radio play without all the flashbacks, and I have the feeling that it's material that works really well in the audio-only medium. Translated to film, it still works fairly well, although it seems as though there's something not quite right about it. Perhaps it's Stanwyck's character, who for much of hte movie comes across as unsympathetic to the point that you almost don't care whether she lives or dies. Lancaster's Henry seems aloof at times, although I suppose detaching oneself emotionally isn't a bad way to deal with somebody like Leona. The story, however, remains gripping, right up to its conclusion.

Sotty, Wrong Number has had a DVD release in the past, but it seems to be an out-of-print movie: you can find DVDs, but they'll be expensive.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

August birthdays

TCM is spending the rest of this morning and afternoon honoring Myrna Loy, who was born August 2, 1905. The day finishes up with the documentary Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To at 6:45 PM. TCM runs a lot of birthday tributes, so it seems a bit odd that they would run Loy's movies for an entire day in December. True, August is always given over to Summer Under the Stars, but there's no reason why TCM couldn't run 24 hours of movies on a star's August birthday, assuming of course that the star made enough movies to run for 24 hours. February, I could understand. That's the month for 31 Days of Oscar, so people who were born in February can't really have their birthdays honored properly, which is a shame for people like Ann Sheridan.

TCM's programming continues in an interesting vein tomorrow, with a morning and afternoon of movies starring Robert Mitchum. He's another enjoyable actor, but tomorrow isn't his birthday. In fact, he was born on... August 6, 1917. Go figure.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Oh, those Traveltalks shorts again

TCM yesterday showed two more Traveltalks shorts I hadn't seen before: Rural Hungary from 1939, and Picturesque South Africa from 1937. Neither of them is on DVD; I think I've suggested several times in the past that the Traveltalks shorts would make good extras for other movies, much in the way that TCM shows them to go along with movies set in the same area.

Watching Rural Hungary, it was of course a bit sad to think about what was going to happen to the country in the very near future: first World War II, followed by the Communist revolution destroying tradition agriculture as the Hungarian rural population knew it. Of course, I doubt the way James A. Fitzpatrick presented Hungarian rural life was all that close to the way the Hungarians themselves would have known it. And what was with the shoulders on those traditional female dresses, and the sleeves on the male shirts? Parts of the outfits certainly looked colorful, but they also looked mighty inconvenient.

Picturesque South Africa was even more interesting for all the wrong reasons. I don't know exactly how much worse than, say, the US, race relations were in South Africa back in the 1930s. Not to suggest that they were good, but the laws that would officially become the apartheid policy were not actually put into place until 1948. Still, I can't think Fitzpatrick's presentation of South Africa is anything but ludicrous. The black rickshaw drivers in Durban were really happy doing this backbreaking work as their lot in life? And when it came to the depiction of "tribal" life, I wonder if the people he put on film were asked what they thought about their lives. That would make for an interesting short.

A third Traveltalks short, 1935's Modern Tokyo, is showing tonight after Destination Tokyo, so a little after 10:15 PM. This is of course well before the US went to war with Japan (the war was already going on in China) -- it's not as if they could have filmed in Japan during the war, after all! So it's going to be interesting to see Japan as James A. Fitzpatrick conceived it in 1935.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

LB Mayer Ceremonies

Here's one I know nothing about, beyond what's in the brief synopsis on TCM's daily schedule page:

L.B. Mayer Ceremonies (1950)

Louis B. Mayer accepts an award for his contribution to the motion picture industry. This MGM promotional short highlights some of the more spectacular works that MGM has produced under Mayer's leadership.

It's airing at approximately 1:40 AM overnight tonight.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sons of Liberty

Back in August 2011, I mentioned the Technicolor two-reelers on American history themes that comprised a series of Warner Bros. shorts in the late 1930s. I see now that I did mention Sons of Liberty, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:33 AM, in that list. I don't think I've actually seen it before, but it's got Claude Rains as a Jewish man who used his fortune to help finance the colonists fighting the Revolutionary War. It's also directed by Michael Curtiz, so there's a lot of star power for a 20-minute short.

I think the first time I heard of the Sons of Liberty was back in 8th grade I think when we had to read the book Johnny Tremain, which was turned into a Disney movie in the mid-1950s. If you like those live-action Disney films, you might find it worth watching with the kids.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shorts delayed again

So I sat down to watch Illicit with Barbara Stanwyck yesterday afternoon. Parts of it are interesting, but the story as a whole is not the greatest. What I didn't realize is that following the movie, TCM was going to air the two-reeler The Clyde Mystery. This was the first of a series of two-reel mysteries that SS Van Dine wrote for Warners/Vitaphone in the early 1930s. Van Dine created Philo Vance in the mid-1920s, and several of the Vance stories were turned into feature-length movies in the 1930s as well.

As for The Clyde Mystery, I have to say I don't think the two-reeler is that well suited to mysteries, especially the way this one was written. What was really a hoot though, was seeing that Donald Meek was the main character, and the man who solved the mystery that the police couldn't solve. One of these days, I'll have to use his photo in a post. Also in the cast was Lyle Talbot, except that his name was spelled "Lysle" in the credits. Unfortunately, The Clyde Mystery isn't available on DVD as an extra to anything. It's not in the TCM Media Room (unsurprisingly; I doubt rights issues would allow them to put an entire two-reeler in the Media Rooom), and not even at Youtube. (Another of the SS Van Dine two-reelers is, however.)

The main point, though, was that when I went to TCM's schedule page last night, The Clyde Mystery wasn't listed on the schedule for yesterday. There weren't any shorts listed for today either, and only two for Saturday. (One is a featurette about the Spanish-filmed scenes in Doctor Zhivago; I don't remember the other offhand.) However, when I looked at yesterday's schedule page around 1:00 PM, there was The Carey Mystery. Not that I relly need yesterday's schedule, although it might be useful had I not seen the opening of the short to find out what short I had just seen -- something which does happen from time to time. For a while, TCM had only been keeping one day's worth of its "Previous Day" links active, but it seems as if the old daily schedules are now retained for longer. Just now I tried (notice the date in ISO 8601 format), which brought up Deborah Kerr's day in this year's Summer Under the Stars. Clicking the "Previous Day" link brought up Ginger Rogers' day, which includes several shorts.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Citadel

TCM is running the fine British-American medical drama The Citadel tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. I don't believe that I've ever blogged about it before, and it's one that's certainly worth watching.

Robert Donat stars as Dr. Manson, a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Britain in the days before the NHS asserted an authoritarian control over the medical provision system. Manson's first job as a doctor is in a small conservative Welsh coal mining town. He's been hired collectively by the coal miners: they pay his salary through a subscription insurance system, and he's basically on call. Dr. Manson is, like a lot of young doctors, an idealist: he actually cares about the deplorable conditions of the miners, and wants to help them. Insert the standard scene in which the doctor from whom Manson is taking over warns him that this idealism isn't going to last. It's cliché, but also foreshadowing. Manson realizes that the conditions down in the mine are hazardous to the miners' health, but discussing that obviously would be a problem for the people wh run the mine. Ah, but Dr. Manson doesn't work for them; he works for the miners! Well, the miners aren't saints themselves. Some of them are given to malingering, and want the good doctor to write them bogus medical slips to get them out of work, something Dr. Manson steadfastly refuses to do. But the miners have paid for him! Dammit, isn't he going to do their bidding? Never mind that if Manson does prove that the conditions in the mines are causing many of the miners' health issues, the miners themselves are liable to be out of jobs. It's obvious that there can only be one outcome, which is Manson not keeping his job there.

Manson, who has by this time gotten married to the lovely Christine (Rosalind Russell), moves to London, but work as an independent general practitioner doesn't make it easy to put food on the table. When Manson meets up Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison) who is an old friend, Lawford lets him in on a secret: there are a lot of idle upper-class women who need companionship just as much as they need medical attention, and running a medical facility for such women can be extremely lucrative. So, Dr. Manson joins Dr. Lawford at the clinic, and proceeds to become quite well off. But dammit, there's that idealism again! Christine married the good doctor in no small part because he was an idealist, and she hasn't lost any of that idealism. She sees the dishonesty in this, and she's none too happy with it. It's a conflict we've seen in dozens if not hundreds of movies, in no small part because it's an essential facet of human nature. (See the excellent One Man's Journey for another example of this.) You know that, having presented this conflict, there's going to be a crisis to bring matters to a head....

I mentioned at the beginning of the post that The Citadel is a British-American movie. MGM made it at its British studio, with mostly British actors. The exceptions are Rosalind Russell, and also the director, King Vidor. Vidor made quite a few very interesting movies with some sort of social message, such as The Crowd and Our Daily Bread. This one has a message to deliver, too, but it's not as blatant as some movies. As for the cast, it's almost uniformly excellent, from Donat and Russell as the leads down to the British character actors in the smaller roles. The Citadel is a movie that I think isn't too well-known here in the US, largely because it was made over in the UK. But it's one that deserves to be known better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ball of Fire update

When I blogged about Ball of Fire back in February 2010, I concluded the post wiht a brief note that the movie is available on DVD. In fact, this is another one of those movies that got a DVD release years ago, but for which that DVD release (or multiple releases) is out of print. A look at TCM's schedule page doesn't have a "Buy DVD" icon next to Ball of Fire, and looking at the prices of the DVDs you can get on Amazon, those are shockingly high. But then, Ball of Fire was produced by the Goldwyn Company and released by RKO. IMDb lists multiple companies as having released the DVDs at different times, which makes me think that whoever owns the rights now only leased the rights to the DVD producers.

Ball of Fire really needs a new DVD release, I think.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

And So They Were Married

A little seen movie showing up on TCM is And So They Were Married, which you can catch tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM.

Melvyn Douglas stars as Stephen Blake, a widower with a young son who is going to be spending Christmas at a 1930s vintage ski resort, with the son soon to join him. Before the son gets there, however, Stephen has a run-in with Edith Farnham (Mary Astor), a divorcée with a young daughter. Because of the initial run-in, their meeting is by no means love at first sight. But with two unattached people, the hotel management is going to try to organize activities to keep them occupied together, and you know that the two are liable to fall in love eventually. There's another issue complicating matters. Edith's daughter doesn't really like Mr. Blake, while when his son arrives, the son finds he doesn't particularly care for Mrs. Farnham. When the two kids overhear the possibility that Stephen might propose to Edith, they decide that they're going to do everything they can to keep that from happening. They're more or less successful in that the two adults decide that if the kids don't want the marriage, then their getting together probably shouldn't happen -- even if they both like each other.

But hold on a minute. Both families go back to the city after their Christmas holiday. At this point, each of the kids realizes that perhaps they liked the other, and certainly their parents are said over not being able to share their love. So the kids decide that they're going to come up with an idea that will bring their parents back together, specifically one which involves the two of them disappearing, forcing their parents to look for them together. Of course, you know that in a movie like this, the kids' plan isn't going to go exactly to plan, and that there will be further complications along the way. You also know that the two adults are most likely to end up together at the end of the movie, but this is one of those movies that's more about how they get there.

And So They Were Married is one of those more-than-capable movies that the studios were churning out in the 1930s. It may have a B movie length of 74 minutes, but it's more of a "programmer" in that unlike the B movies, it's actually got some established stars. The material is nothing special, but Melvyn Douglas (see Ninotchka) and Mary Astor (see The Palm Beach Story) were both good in light romantic comedy fare, and so they make this movie entertaining in spite of its predictability. The end result is a movie that never really hits great, but more than serves its purpose of entertaining you.

And So They Were Married hasn't gotten a DVD release. It would probably be a good double bill DVD set paired with something like If You Could Only Cook: both of them were Columbia programmers from the mid-1930s, eminently entertaining if a bit short of great. (I doubt that's likely to happen, though, since If You Could Only Cook has shown up on a different Columbia box set.)

A few more quick reactions

I really enjoyed Guy Hendrix Dyas' appearance on TCM last night to discuss production design. (I didn't stay up to watch Lily Kilvert.) Dyas explained what the difference was between a production designer and an art director, talked some about the origin of production design as a unified whole, and mentioned any number of things specific to the production of Grand Hotel. The one thing I found interesting is that Cedric Gibbons apparently was partly if not wholly responsible for the lighting of the sets in Grand Hotel, something which would be handled by lighting directors today. I would have thought that the cinematographer, in conjunction with the director, would be responsible for that. All in all, Dyas presented a bunch of stuff that I didn't really know in a way that I thought was fairly accessible to the viewer. Well done TCM!

Following Grand Hotel was a new Star of the Month piece on Barbara Stanwyck. I don't know if they'll be retiring the piece by Jennifer Jason Leigh, but the new one is narrated by Laura Dern and is well worth watching. In my case, I saw certain camera angles (notably Stanwyck behind the typewriter in Meet John Doe) and immediately thought of the things Leigh said about Stanwyck; obviously Dern didn't comment in the same way about the things Leigh did, if she even commented about them at all.

I read over on the TCM boards that the TCM Remembers piece for 2012 has started airing, and is available in the TCM media room. I haven't seen it yet. Also, another poster mentioned that TCM has (or will have) a new voice for the Hi, this the TCM Classic Movie News report pieces. I don't know when that's going to begin. I saw the report for December, and the voice sounded slightly different from what I'd heard in October and earlier, but not as different as what I heard at the end of last month (see the link). I wouldn't be surprised to be wrong, of course; voice recognition isn't my strongest suit.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Production design

TCM is apparently running an irregular series called Academy Conversations, in which Robert Osborn sits down with people in one of the narrower areas that get Oscar nominations, to talk with them about their particular craft and how some classic movies display that specific craft. I don't think I've seen any previous installments if there have been any, which I'm only inferring from the press release. If I've read the release correctly, there are going to be two production designers, each presenting two movies (perhaps not coincidentally, they'll each show one in black and white and one in color). I haven't heard of either designer, but that's not surprising: I've commented a number of times in the past that there are a lot of people necessary in the production of a movie about whom we learn very little. One of the functions of a series like this is to give those people the credit they really deserve.

As for tonight's schedule:
Guy Hendrix Dyas talks about Grand Hotel at 8:00 PM, followed by My Fair Lady at 10:15 PM.
Lily Kilvert will discuss The Grapes of Wrath at 1:15 AM, and The Leopard at 3:30 AM.

The two color films are both period pieces, so it's easy to see the production design there. The Grand Hotel sets are also an obvious candidate for a discussion of production design. The bleakness of the Depression seems at first like an odd choice to discuss production design, but displaying that sort of poverty really is just the other side of the coin from all those opulent sets a lot of movies have.

There ought to be enough time after Grand Hotel (113 min.) to run the AMPAS short on production design, but it's not listed on TCM's schedule.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Still not on DVD

Looking at today's TCM schedule, I notice that this week's Silent Sunday Nights feature is The Crowd, airing at midnight tonight. I mentioned all the way back in January 2009 when I blogged about The Crowd that it wasn't available on DVD. Surprisingly enough, even with the Warner Archive, it's still not available on DVD. So you're still going to have to catch the TCM showing, I'm sorry to say.

The Crowd is preceded at 10:00 PM by Lady in the Lake. I'm sorry to say that this is one of those movies I've never really been able to get into. Robert Montgomery directed himself in this set-at-Christmastime Philip Marlowe mystery. The problem with the movie is that it has the conceit of being told almost entirely from Marlowe's eyes. Now, I don't mean a first-person point of view in the way that something like the Humphrey Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon is. (A few scenes of The Maltese Falcon are strictly third-person, but not many.) I mean the camera angles are what the Philip Marlowe character would see. There are one or two exceptions: Marlowe has a narration in the beginning and another one halfway through the film or so. And there are a couple of mirror scenes where we see Marlowe's face. But the technique is so contrived that it makes the movie difficult to watch. Lady in the Lake, however, unlike The Crowd, has gotten a DVD release.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A programmer after my own heart

TCM is running Summertime as tonight's Essential at 8:00 PM. Now, it's not my favorite movie. I'm not a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn in general, and some of her spinster types can really come across as self-absorbed, as if you can see the reason why no man ever really wanted her. Venice as it was in the 1950s is lovely to look at though; who knows how much longer the city will retain its lovely character? Seriously, I saw a documentary about the rising water in Venice that mentioned that throughout cities' histories, people just destroyed and built on top of old stuff, which is how Venetians of the past dealt with the rising water. Preservationists of today might actually be compounding Venice's other problems by trying to keep the past from being demolished. (Industrialization in the outskirs has also lowered the water table, leading to subsidence of the land.) None of this is really relevant to a classic movie blog, though. What struck my eye is the rest of tonight's schedule. Following Summertime, we have:

Autumn Leaves at 10:00 PM;
If Winter Comes at midnight;
A Walk in the Spring Rain at 2:00 AM;
and to cap the night off:
A Man For All Seasons at 3:45 AM.

Oh boy is this sort of punny programming theme something I love!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Director of the Month Ernst Lubitsch

TCM usually has, in addition to its regular Star of the Month, one other monthly feature. That could be a subject, such as last month's novel-to-film marathons, or a tribute to a person who was mostly not an actor. I'm reminded, for example, of cinematographer Jack Cardiff back in January. This month, that person happens to be director Ernst Lubitsch. TCM is running 14 of his films every Friday in prime time, before TCM Underground. Tonight kicks off with The Loves of Pharaoh at 8:00 PM, a silent movie Lubitsch made back in Germany before he came to Hollywood. I must admit that this is a movie I had not heard of until seeing it on this week's TCM schedule, so I can't really discuss it very much. It doesn't seem to be on DVD either, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM airing. Tonight's other two Lubitsch films are The Smiling Lieutenant at 10:00 PM, a Maurice Chevalier musical that's really not to my taste, although I'm sure some people like that stuff. That's followed at midnight by The Shop Around The Corner, in which James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play co-workers who don't get along but also pen-pals through the personals column who, not knowing each other's identity, do get along.

One other thing that sounds intriguing tonight is Important News after The Shop Around the Corner, at about 1:40 AM. It's an MGM short about a newspaper editor facing the choice of what story to put on the front page. (Why not both? Do journalists really think their readers are so stupid they can only grasp one story? Apparently yes.) The star is Chic Sale, an actor who can be difficult to take -- he's not to everybody's taste. You may remember him as the grandfather in The Star Witness, playing a Civil War veteran who saves the day. The more interesting thing about the short is an uncredited supporting role from James Stewart.

TCM has been running a snazzy promo for the Ernst Lubitsch salute, and an even snazzier one for this month's Christmas movies that are going to be airing in Sunday night double features along with a marathon close to the 25th. (Trying to recognize all the movies from brief clips is always part of the fun.) I'm sure they've got one for Barbara Stanwyck as well, although I can't remember whether I've seen it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why We Fought

Tomorrow, December 7, is the anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Or, I suppose, if you live in the Animal House universe, the German bombing of Pearl Harbor.) So it's unsurprising that TCM will be running a bunch of war movies tomorrow. They're kicking things off at 6:00 AM with Prelude to War.

Prelude to War is the first part in a seven-part series called Why We Fight. The US, having been through World War I, was quite isolationist in the 1930s, not wanting to have to fight another European war. The perceived need to educate Americans on the importance of defeating the Nazis was seen by the British, who commissioned what eventually became the film 49th Parallel. Even once the Japanese attacked, the US government knew there were still going to be people not thrilled with having to go to war. So the government decided to engage in some domestic propaganda to explain to the reluctant soldiers why they were going off to fight.

Hollywood was part of the war effort, something I've mentioned before in conjunction with the short Winning Your Wings: several Hollywood stars who were drafted joined the Motion Picture Unit to make instructional films. Why We Fight is somewhat different in that regard, having been made directly by the War Department. It's still quite suitable for TCM, however, in that the series was mostly directed by Frank Capra, with Walter Huston providing the voiceover. Sure, it's propaganda, but it's also an interesting historical document.

As with all media produced by the US government, Why We Fight is by law in the public domain. It's made it to several DVD sets, although I don't know whether any of them are still in print.

TCM December 2012 Guest Programmer: Lee Child (and a few other schedule notes)

I don't read too much current fiction, so I know nothing about the work of "[i]nternational best-selling and award-winning crime thriller writer Lee Child", as he's called in the TCM blurb for him. (I wsa hoping maybe he was the son of Julia Child or something.) It seems reasonable to guess that part of the reason he's been selected as Guest Programmer now is that one of his books has finally been turned into a movie, which is being released later this month. If it brings perople who are fans of Child, but not so much fans of classic cinema to TCM, so much the better. Child's selections are the sort of thing that will probably drive a certain section of TCM's fans nuts: how dare he select the "same" well-known stuff! Doesn't he know he's supposed to cater to "us" with more obscure stuff; the more obscure the better? At any rate, his four selections are:

Casablanca at 8:00 PM;
The Third Man at 10:00 PM;
Days of Heaven at midnight; and
The Dam Busters at 1:45 AM.

Just before Casablanca, and having nothing to do with Lee Child, are two other things worth mentioning. TCM is concluding its first day of Barbara Stanwyck's turn as Star of the Month with a documentary, Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire, at 7:00 PM. That runs 46 minutes, leaving time for a short, that being 42nd Street Special, which is a bunch of stars getting on the "42nd Street Special" in part to promote the movie, and in part to go to Washington DC for the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt. (Remember, this is the last inauguration that took place in March as scheduled, before the 20th Amendment changed the inauguration date to January 20.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 2012 Star of the Month: Barbara Stanwyck

Walter Pidgeon and Barbara Stanwyck in Executive Suite (December 6, 3:15 PM)

Now that we're in a new month, we have a new Star of the Month on TCM, that being the always-enjoyable Barbara Stanwyck. Her films are going to appear every Wednesday night in prime time, but Stanwyck made so many movies that TCM is able to continue the marathons of Stanwyck movies well into every Thursday. Executive Suite, from which the photo at the top of the post is taken, won't be airing until 3:15 PM tomorrow, for example. I've recommended quite a few of Stanwyck's movies before, including the relatively rarely-seen This Is My Affair at 9:45 PM, which I'm mentioning again largely because it's not on DVD and, being a Fox film, doesn't show up on TV very much. I was also surprised to see that Stella Dallas (overnight at 3:00 AM) isn't available to purchase on DVD from the TCM shop. (It has gotten a DVD release according to Amazon, but it's presumably out of print considering the prices for the DVD.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reviews on last night

Well, not so much reviews as quick comments. Unsurprisingly, I found the documentary Baby Peggy: The ELephant in the Room to be quite enjoyable. I knew the brief outline of the Baby Peggy story, but not all the horrible details. I find it difficult to believe Sol Lesser's claim that Captain January lost money, and that this is the reason why he wanted to get out of the Baby Peggy contract. Studio accounting can do magical things, however, and apparently could do so all the way back in 1924. You also have to feel really bad for Peggy's sister Louise, who was put into this situation without any say. I'm reminded of the true stories dramatized in the movies Hilary and Jackie (about cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, written by her sister and brother who grew up with the world-class cello prodigy), or Searching for Bobby Fischer. I also wonder how much of the Baby Peggy story was remembered by the people who made What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Of course, that movie made the title of Peggy/Diana Cary's own autobiography, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy? much more appropriate.

Captain January was charming. That poor dog, getting his tail bit by the pelican. The interesting thing was seeing which scenes survived well and which didn't. There were scenes where I thought the print looked to be in great shape; other times -- sometimes within the same scene, such as one where the two biological relatives are visiting the lighthouse -- the print looks murky and blurry, as if it were taken from a 16mm television print, as bad as something like The Black Book.

Captain January was followed by the short Bubbles, from WB/Vitaphone in 1930. The title card mentions Technicolor, but the surviving print is black and white. It looked like some of the people in the short had odd shadowing around their eyes, which makes me wonder whether that was make-up for color cameras, which just comes out looking wrong in black-and-white. The title cards only mention the "Vitaphone Kiddies", but apparently Mae Questel was in the opening scene, and the Gumm sisters (that's Judy Garland, who was born Frances Gumm) were among the Kiddies. The Kiddies performed a bunch of musical and dance numbers which were even odder than the ones in Show Kids, with a very bizarre MC.

Carmen Jr. was a hoot. Baby Peggy dancing with the little boy was a riot, and the scenes leading up to that, which were almost entirely the child actors, were so much fun. The intertitles were in Danish with English subtitles, rather than removing the Danish intertitles and replacing them with a reconstruction of the English. I don't speak Danish, but the intertitles looked a bit old-fashioned. All of the nouns were capitalized, as in German (I can read German, and with Danish being from the Germanic family of langugaes, I can recognize a fair number of root words). I don't believe Danish does that any more. Also, I don't think I saw the Danish letter å show up anywhere, instead it was replaced by -aa. Most interestingly, Baby Peggy's last name was mispelled as Montgommery, with a double M.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Baby Peggy

Er, that's not the right Peggy

I briefly mentioned yesterday that tonight's TCM lineup is going to be dedicated first to Baby Peggy and then to several other child stars. Baby Peggy, still alive at 94, was a big star in the early 1920s who lost her entire savings thanks to parental mismanagement and the Depression. Her story, like Jackie Coogan's, is one that's not always happy, and in part responsible for changing Hollywood's child labor laws. To be fair, Hollywood does need children. I mean, what kind of idiot would think a 26-year-old woman could play a 12-year-old girl? Also, the studios treated everybody pretty badly. And a lot of the fault can be put on the parents; heaven knows parents can be much too pushy in the vicarious pursuit of fame for their children. At any rate, Baby Peggy's story is told in the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which kicks off tonight's proceedings at 8:00 PM, with a repeat at 11:30 PM. That's followed at 9:00 by Captain January, a title you might recognize because it was remade in the 1930s as a Shirley Temple vehical. After Captain January come several of Baby Peggy's shorts. Not that too many of those survive; sadly, the studio where she started burned to the ground in a fire in 1926.

As for the other stars, the one I'm looking forward to is Baby Rose Marie: The Child Wonder, at 11:20 PM. This is the same Rose Marie who would grow up to play one of Rob Petrie's colleagues on The Dick Van Dyke Show. If you want to see adult Rose Marie in all her wide-screen glory, you could watch Dead Heat on a Merry-Go Round, a movie I briefly mentioned back in 2010. Some of you may like the Private Screenings episode on child stars, which is airing overnight at 1:45 AM.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Well, it is December

Now that we're into December, it means a bunch of Christmas movies all over TV. (One of the local radio stations switched to all-Christmas all the time back around Veterans' Day.) TCM is no exception, although this year is a bit different in that most of the Christmas stuff won't be coming until a lot closer to December 25.

Instead, TCM will be running Christmas double features every Sunday in prime time, leading into Silent Sunday Nights. This week sees the 1949 version of Little Women at 8:00 PM. Surprisingly, I haven't seen the Margaret O'Brien Word of Mouth piece where she talks about making that movie, including Elizabeth Taylor and the chipmunk she brought with her to the studio until she turned 18 (or at least, that's what O'Brien says). Considering that tomorrow night is going to be devoted first to Baby Peggy and then to other child stars, with the Private Screenings: Child Stars episode that includes O'Brien, I would think TCM would have run that particular O'Brien piece.

The second movie is All Mine to Give, which is airing at 10:15 PM.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another round of repeats

TCM's theme for this evening is "On the Road": a night of movies about people going cross-country, more or less. I've recommended four of the night's movies before, and haven't seen the fifth one. But the four I've blogged about all deserve another mention.

The night kicks off with this week's Essential, Sullivan's Travels, at 8:00 PM, which last aired all of five weeks ago.
That's followed at 10:00 PM by Harry and Tonto, which I blogged about four years ago, but which I just mentioned a week or so ago since the recently deceased Larry Hagman has a supporting role in the film.
I haven't seen Lost in America (midnight) before, so I can't really comment on it.
Lucille Ball hits the road with Desi Arnaz in The Long Long Trailer, which airs at 2:00 AM.
The night concludes with Claudette Colbert showing us all how to hitchhike in It Happened One Night at 4:00 AM.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Do not touch the Grisbi!

I probably should have mentioned earlier that tonight sees this month's TCM "Guest Programmer". The only thing is, it isn't one guest programmer this month, but four of the bloggers from TCM's Movie Morlocks web-site. We finally get to see what they look like! Not that I should talk: Helen of Troy may have had the face that launched a thousand ships, but I've got the face that broke a thousand cameras. The night's lineup is

The Locket kicks off the night at 8:00 PM. Laraine Day plays a user of men in this movie made difficult to follow because it's got flashback after flashback after flashback.
That's followed at 9:45 PM by Dracula's Daughter; I presume you can figure out what the subject of this one is.
At 11:15 PM comes Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, a French gangster movie with Jean Gabin as an againg gangster who finds that the times are changing around him.
Finally, at 1:00 AM, is Five Million Years to Earth (also known as Quatermass and the Pit), a hilarious scifi movie based on the premis that humans are descended from insects and some still have the insect mentality in their mind.

Unrelated, but Fashion's Mirror, which I mentioned two weeks ago, is schedule to air again at the end of the overnight, or about 5:50 AM tomorrow morning.

The Story of Mankind

I mentioned late yesterday evening that today is the birth anniversary of Virginia Mayo, who was born on this date in 1920. One of her movies I've only barely mentioned, much less done a full-length post on, is The Story of Mankind, which finishes up the day's Mayo proceedings at 6:00 PM.

Mayo, like most of the cast members, only shows up briefly, but more on that in a bit. The movie was released in 1957, during the Cold War when the fear of nuclear war was running high. In the framing story, mankind has invented a new weapon known as a "Super H-Bomb", one which would destroy the earth as we know it if it were ever used. It's up to God to decide whether or not we humans should be allowed to survive, or to use the weapon and annihilate ourselves. God has set up a trial, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke playing the presiding judge. Arguing for the prosecution -- that is, for the proposition that Man should be allowed to destroy himself -- is the Devil, played by Vincent Price. Trying to save mankind is Ronald Colman, as the "Spirit of Mankind". Man may be a mess, with rape, war, pillage, plunder, and oppression and if the idea were tried in a movie nowadays, you know they'd throw in a bunch of environmental propaganda. Let's just say the list of ways Man has screwed up is long and varied. On the other hand, Man has made many artistic and scientific achievements, not including the fact that we can see this movie 55 years after it was released. And so the two advocates go at it, albeit in a genteel debate.

The idea of a heavenly (or hellish) trial is a conceit that's been used in a number of movies, with the two most closely applicable here being A Matter of Life and Death and Two of a Kind. The former is excellent for a whole lost of reasons, including the casting of the couple in love, while Two of a Kind suffers from the fact that its leads have surprisingly little chemistry together. Casting winds up dooming The Story of Mankind as well. The Devil and The Spirit of Mankind put forward their evidence by using specific examples from mankind's history, and it seems as though every single example has been deliberately selected to be as badly miscast as possible. Birthday girl Mayo, for exaample, plays Cleopatra, with a 40-something Hedy Lamarr playing Joan of Arc. For the men, there's Peter Lorre as Nero, a young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, and Charles Coburn as Hippocrates.

The highlight (or lowlight), though, is probably the Marx Brothers. This is their last movie, although they don't appear together. Chico plays a monk in the Christopher Columbus sequence; Harpo plays Isaac Newton discovering gravity; and Groucho plays Pieter Minuit, swindling the American Indians out of Manhattan Island. It's jaw-droppingly screwed-up stuff. Who could have thought any of this was good casting. And as such, large portions of the movie are an utter disaster. Yet, that's what makes the movie so much fun. It's one of those movies that's so bad it's good. You'll be laughing at it, even though it's not a comedy.

The Story of Mankind has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Virginia Mayo birthday repeats

November 30 is the birth anniversary of actress Virginia Mayo, something I noticed when I looked for the direct link to the post I did on the movie Red Light: I noticed that the post was composed November 29, 2011 with the movie airing the morning of the 30th. I was looking for it since Red Light is airing again as part fo this year's TCM birthday salute to Mayo, at 2:30 PM, and still isn't available on DVD. In fact, five of the movies that are running as part of the 2012 salute. Considering the number of movies Mayo made that I think TCM has the rights to, I'd think they could do two tributes without repeating more than about one movie, assuming that somebody would want to show her most famous work. I can't for example blame TCM for wanting to show something famous like White Heat for her, or for James Cagney or director Raoul Walsh. And to be honest, I really did enjoy Red Light despite its gaping plot hole.

I'll actually be posting about another of Mayo's movies in the morning; this was really just a post to mention the airing of Red Light since it's not on DVD.

Yakima Canutt, 1895-1986

Yakima CanuttToday marks the birthday of Yakima Canutt, a Hollywood figure whose work you've seen even if you didn't know what he looked like. Canutt was a pioneer in stunt work, most notably doing stunts as John Wayne's stunt double in the 1939 version of Stagecoach. If you watch the famous scene of Wayne's character running over the tops of the horses and then under the stagecoach to wind up on the back side, that's actually Canutt. But Canutt did so much more, performing stunts in dozens of B westerns in the 1930s and through the 1940s, by which time he realized he was getting too old to do the strenuous stuntwork.

The result of getting older is that Canutt turned to secnod-unit directing, staging fight and action sequences for the other, younger stuntmen to do. Canutt's credited work as a second-unit director includes the Charlton Heston version of Ben-Hur, for which Canutt staged the famous chariot race; other period pieces such as El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire; and the western comedy Cat Ballou.

People like Canutt really deserve more attention, I think. Stunts are an important part of a lot of movies; you don't want to risk your expensive big stars; and those stunts aren't going to do themselves. (Well, with modern-day CGI and the increasing number of animated movies, maybe those stunts will do thmeselves one of these days.) At least nowadays, the stuntmen show up in the closing credits that go on and on after the movie; back in the studio era the credits were so limited that many of the people playing the bit parts, as well as the stuntmen, didn't get screen credit. IMDb, for example, lists Canutt as uncredited for Stagecoach. (It's been a while since I've watched it and don't have a DVD at hand, so I can't remember whether he actually is in the credits or not.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Those wacky Kiwis again

So I fired up my RSS reader this morning and what did Radio New Zealand have? There was some news, and a lot of reports about the lastest overblown movie to be based on the work of JRR Tolkien opening in New Zealand where it was mostly filmed. Yes, I'm talking about The Hobbit, as if three Bored of the Rings movies weren't enough. Of course, being an American, I don't always get the pride that people in smaller countries get when something related to their country hits the world spotlight in a positive way. I suppose it's like those "Hollywood in Your Hometown" pieces TCM airs, only at times it goes much further: my Finnish friends inform me that the tabloids have gone nuts over a Finnish reality show contestant who is boinking an American reality show contestant. (The Finns I know don't care, but there seems to be an air of "Isn't this the greatest thing ever!!" from the tabloid articles. One can also presume the tabloids wouldn't report on this stuff if it didn't sell.) As for New Zealand in the movies, it's not as if the country got much attention from Hollywood during the studio era. I can think of Green Dolphin Street back in the 1940s and Until They Sail from the late 1950s, and that's about it.

But that's not really why I'm writing this particular post anyhow. This morning, one of the Radio New Zealand feeds had the following report:

Teen movie blogger

A movie blog called Cinematic Paradox, that includes movie reviews, Oscar predictions, and advice to directors about how to make their movies better, is winning awards. Stevee Taylor writes the blog and has won "Lammys", or Large Association of Movie Bloggers awards for best blog, best rating system, best awards coverage and more. And she's just 17-years old. The Dannevirke High School student spends two hours most nights writing the blog from her bedroom and more than 50,000 people have viewed it.

The report is a 3.3 MB audio file, and based on the last RNZ report I linked to, that should probably run around ten minutes; I haven't listened to it yet. If you want to read the Cinematic Paradox blog, there's your link.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Adding to the blogroll

I've added the blog Classic Movie Ramblings, by a blogger calling himself "D For Doom" (or at least I think that's how it should be parsed), to the blog roll.

I notice that one of his most recent posts is on Union Station, a very nifty little thriller from Paramount in 1950 which should not be confused with Warner Bros.' 1932 movie Union Depot, an all-star movie in the vein of Grand Hotel, only set at a train station. There's also Central Station, although that's a 1998 movie from Brazil so it would be difficult to confuse it with anything from Hollywood in the 1950s Central Station, in turn, should not be confused with Central Airport, a movie that for some reason I always think is called Central Station even though I know it's about an airport.

I thought I had blogged about boht Union Station and Union Depot at some point, but a search of the blog claims that I haven't.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fog Over Frisco

Recently, I briefly mentioned the movie Fog Over Frisco as one I had seen recently and deserved a full-length blog post, even though I didn't have the time for it back then. I'm not too excited about tonight's lineup of novels adapted to movies on TCM, so now would be a good time to write that post about Fog Over Frisco.

Bette Davis gets top billing as Arlene Bradford, one of two half-sisters living in San Francisco with their wealthy father Everett. Arlene is the bad girl, spending time in nightclubs and being seen with less-than-reputable characters, something which gets her name and face in the newspapers, much to her father's chagrin. He's a stockbroker, and has gotten his daughter engaged to one of his young colleagues, Spencer (Lyle Talbot). Arlene's half-sister Valkyr (Margaret Lindsay), however, is Dad's favorite and is being pursued by reporter Tony (Donald Woods), even though she's not so sure reporters are honest. Although Arlene is engaged to Spencer, she doesn't really love him. In fact, she's using him as part of a plot to steal bonds from the east, smuggle them out to San Francisco, and then launder the bonds through the brokerage's Honolulu branch; Arelene is working with gangsters who populate those nightclubs she visits.

Unsurprisingly, those stolen bonds are going to get Arlene in trouble. She plans on leaving Spencer, and leaves a note taped to her mirror, but in the darkness, somebody comes into her bedroom and winds up with the message. And then Arlene goes missing. Everybody is worried for their own, obvious reasons: Valkyr liked her sister and tried to protect her from their father; Dad doesn't want any scandal; Spencer knows the securities fraud is going to catch up with him; Tony is on the trail of a hot story; and the others, well, their motivations will become clear as the story goes on.

Fog Over Frisco is a briskly-paced movie, running about 68 minutes. The second half of the movie is part mystery, as several people have reason to be the ones behind Arlene's disappearance, and this isn't quite revealed until the last reel. It's not quite on the level of, say, The Thin Man, but to be fair I don't think the point of Fog Over Frisco is in the whodunit angle to the extent that it is in The Thin Man. In fact, director William Dieterle packed a lot of action into the 68 mintues: after the disappearance there's a car chase, a boat chase, an attempted kidnapping, and gunplay. Just nowhere near the drinking you'll see in The Thin Man. Bette Davis is a star; everybody else is passable, helped along by entertaining material. One low spot is that there's a clue that's so obvious you'd wonder how any characters could miss it until it's revealed by photographer Hugh Herbert. As for Herbert, his attempts to get the shot provide the comic relief in the film.

Fog Over Frisco is immensely entertaining, if nothing spectacular. If you like early-to-mid 1930s movies, or the work of Bette Davis, you'll love this one. For people new to such vintage movies, I might suggest starting with a mystery like The Thin Man before moving on to this one; or mor shocking pre-Codes like Night Nurse. It's gotten a DVD release as part of the Warner Archive collection, which is a bit of a shame considering how pricey those DVDs are. I personally think Fog Over Frisco would be well served by being included into a box set of Davis' early work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two interesting things I saw on TCM today

After The Lemon Drop Kid finished, TCM had a good ten minutes or so to kill before the 8:00 PM movie. They showed the "Classic Movie News" for November, the promo with the woman who always starts off by saying, "Hi! This is the TCM Classic news report for" such-and-such month. I might not have the quote exactly right, but the phony "Hi!" is unmistakeable. This time, however, the whole thing sounded funny, as though the voice were computer sampled or something. It sounded quite odd. I could swear that I saw at least part of the Classic Movie News piece earlier in the month and didn't notice anything wrong with the sound.

The reason I could swear I'd seen it before is because the "new to DVD" portion of it mentioned The Iron Petticoat, which will be airing on Thursday evening as part of a night of films with westerners falling in love with Communists. It's getting a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack with a restoration, which was displayed with a scene from the old print being transformed into the sharper print by a left-to-right wipe. So what followed next was interesting as well. It was a trailer for The Iron Petticoat, with the trailer being in black and white! If you had just seen the Classic Movie News report, you'd know the movie is a color film. I could swear I saw another trailer on TCM within the past week or so for a color movie where the trailer was in black and white, but I don't remember which movie it was. I thought I had posted on the subject some time in the distant past, but the closest I could find was a March 2008 post mentioning washed-out colors, not not color movies having trailers in black and white. I just wish I could remember what the other movie was.

Pete Smith plays football!

Well, Smith himself doesn't actually play football; he just comments on it in the short Pro Football, which is airing on TCM at just about 4:30 AM tomorrow (ie. in the overnight between Sunday and Monday). I think I've mentioned a few times before how professional football wasn't so popular back in the 1930s. It wasn't until the late 1950s with the 1958 NFL Championship that went into overtime that the league realized the sport could be popular on the new medium of TV, and then a rival group of owners setting up the AFL, that really made professional football popular. Before that it was the college game that was king, as you can see in Hollywood movies of the day. Quite a few movies about the college game, and very few about the pros.

Pro Football, released in 1934, is about the 1933 NFL champion Chicago Bears, who were out west to play a game against the west coast collegiate All-Stars. (In fact, the NFL champions would play a game against a team of college all-stars until the 1960s.) That would explain why Hollywood might be interested: they had a team right there. It's the sort of subject material that suits Pete Smith, but there's also a drawback. People who are fans of the history of football might actually enjoy the chance to hear a couple of famous names from back in the day (Bronko Nagurski was a famous linebacker, and there's also Red Grange) speak, but because of the Pete Smith style, all the action is silent with his voiceover narration.

A few years later, Smith made the 1937 short Pigskin Champions, which stars the 1936 NFL champion Green Bay Packers. That one isn't on the TCM schedule any time soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman, 1931-2012

I read this morning of the death of actor Larry Hagman yesterday, at the age of 81. Hagman is best known for his work on television, which is voluminous. Hagman spent 13 years playing JR Ewing on the prime time soap Dallas and before that played astronaut Tony Nelson, who discovered a bottle containing gorgeous genie Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie, which ran five seasons. There are also a lot of guest appearances.

As for his movie work, I've recommended at least two of his movies. In Mother, Jugs, and Speed, Hagman plays a libidinous co-worker of ambulance drivers Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch. There's also Harry and Tonto, in which Hagman plays one of Art Carney's sons, a man living out in California who doesn't want to let his father know that his life isn't as successful as he's been leading Dad to believe.

I don't think I've ever done a full-length post on Fail-Safe before. In that one, Hagman plays the interpreter to president Henry Fonda, translating between Russian and English on the "hotline" phone that connects the President with the leader of the Soviet Union after a rogue US bomber crew goes into Soviet airspace believing World War III has started and their mission is to drop an atomic bomb on the USSR.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shirley Temple Remembered

No, Shirley Temple hasn't died as far as I'm aware. But the other day I received the following in one of my RSS feeds from Radio New Zealand:

Shirley Temple Remembered

Shirley Temple starred in 35 films and is the biggest child star Hollywood ever produced. Shirley Temple's influence on New Zealand is the subject of a research project by a screen and media studies professor at the University of Waikato. His research led him to Shirley Piddington in Timaru. She was the runner up in a Shirley Temple lookalike photo competition in Christchurch in 1935. Now, almost 80 years later, Shirley Piddington can still recall the excitement of the contest and the joy Shirley Temple brought to movie-goers in an era when joy was often in short supply.

The link is to an audio interview which is about 4.0 MB and 11 minutes long. I have to admit I've downloaded it but not gotten around to listening to it yet as I've got a whole bunch of other radio programs to listen to. I'm also not certain how long link to audio files remain active with RNZ's feed, although I know they've got some dormant feeds with old audio files.