Tuesday, January 31, 2012

End of the month briefs

I sat down to watch the beginning of The Man Who Understood Women on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel this morning. Mostly, it was to see if they were finally going to air a letterboxed print. I think the last time it showed up was on TCM several years ago as part of a night dedicated to Nunnally Johnson. Johnson was mostly a screenwriter, but in the 1950s he directed a couple of films, of which this was one. Surprisingly enough, FMC did show a letterboxed film. But I was reminded quickly enough why this is one of those films I find so hard to sit through. Henry Fonda is badly miscast as a difficult to work with Hollywood director married to Leslie Caron. In fact, I find it difficult to care about any of the characters.

TCM's prime time lineup tonight is dedicated to the people who were honored some months back in AMPAS' Governors Awards. It's the one part of the Academy Awards I ought to care about, but to be honest, I don't even sit down to watch these. Now that they've been separated from the regular Oscar broadcast -- presumably, it's the wrong demographic of people who would care about the recipients of these awards -- I wouldn't even know when or what channel these were on. Or if they were even on at all.

Speaking of the Oscars, tomorrow starts TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar programming block, with the first film being 1953's Beneath the 12-Mile Reef at 6:00 AM. This is another Fox film that was shown in an ugly pan-and-scan print the last time it showed up on the Fox Movie Channel. TCM is claiming they're showing it letterboxed, but I wouldn't know.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Not-so-gratuitous Gene Hackman photos

Gene Hackman thankfully not in a basketball uniform in Hoosiers (1986)

Today is the 82nd birthday of Oscar-winning actor Gene Hackman, so posting a bunch of pictures of him really isn't so gratuitous. (That, and I haven't used any new-to-the-blog photos in quite some time.) Hackman started in television, but really made a name for himself with the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, in which he played Clyde's brother Buck. In the photo here, that's Hackman on the left, other than that little old lady who seems a bit calm for a bank robbery. I suppose that's one of the problems with using still images to illustrate a moving picture; in fact, I find the same problem with a lot of sports photographs.

Hackman won the first of two Oscars for playing Popeye Doyle in 1971's The French Connection, a role that he later reprised in 1975 in the unoriginally named French Connection II. As for sequels, Hackman also appeared in both the 1978 Superman and the sequel Superman II, playing Lex Luthor on both occasions.

A rather more fun role is that of Reverend Scott, the unorthodox ship's chaplain, not so much ministering but instead following Benjamin Franklin's dictum that "God helps those who help themselves", in The Poseidon Adventure. As for more unorthodox religion, Hackman also provided the voice of a bored God who would be perfectly happy destroying mankind in Two of a Kind.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ooh, another MGM B picture

TCM is spending tomorrow showing a bunch of movies from 1952. These include one of those MGM B movies with a message that I've been mentioned a bit lately: Talk About a Stranger, airing at 7:30 AM tomorrow.

The scene is one of those orange-growing towns in southern California in the prosperous years after World War II. We have our typical all-American family: father George Murphy, mother Nancy Davis, and son Billy Gray -- and a kid on the way: mother is supposedly quite pregnant, although supposedly-pregnant women never looked very pregnant in the Hollywood movies of those days. Into this town comes a new resident, Dr. Mahler (Kurt Kasznar), who takes one of the old houses and mostly keeps to himself. This arouses a bit of suspicion, as the movie is set the sort of small town where everybody knows everybody else. The children, as children are wont to do, are particularly terrible in their gossip-mongering. Some of them try to visit his house and befriend him, but he just wants to be left alone.

Matters take a turn for the worse when the son's adopted stray mutt dies one day. It seems as though the dog may have been poisoned, and it's obvious to the kid that Dr. Mahler must have done it. I mean, how could anybody else have possibly been responsible for what there's not even a chance of having been an accident? If things are bad for the kids, it's about to get bad for the adults as well. A cold snap is on the way, and that means the possibility of frost, which would be devastating to the orange crop. It's off to set up the jerry-rigged heating system. But will Dr. Mahler hinder the orange growers?

Talk About a Stranger is like a lot of those MGM B movies in that it has a good premise, but it doesn't work as well as it should. It just seems so obvious that the movie is trying to tell us not to judge a book by its cover, and won't shut up about that message. Still, there are interesting scenes in the attempt, and Nancy Davis, who would of course go on to marry Ronald Reagan, is always worth a watch. I think both of the Reagans get an undeserved bum rap as "B-movie stars" because of Ronald's future political career. The thing is, Hollywood needed a lot of actors back in the days when they were making all those B pictures. Ronald and Nancy were both competent if not stellar, but given the right material, they could shine. If they had been 50 years younger, they probably both would have started their acting careers in episodic TV playing varoius supporting roles. Not necessarily big names, but steady careers.

I don't think Talk About a Stranger has gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing if you want to see it.

Four years

It's hard to believe sometimes, but today marks the fourth anniversary of my blogging here. My first real post was about Jack Carson, so I suppose I should mention another of his films. However, I'd much rather recommend the 1925 MGM Studio Tour, which is supposed to air a little after 1:20 AM. This is a "documentary" short in the sense that MGM is documenting the studio as it was in 1925, visiting every department and having the folks who worked in each department pose for photos. There's a good deal that's interesting, in that you can finally put faces to names of some of the old silent stars. But what's more interesting is the mention of their new discovery, 17-year-old Lucille LaSueur. That's a name that wouldn't work in Hollywood, so MGM changed her name -- to Joan Crawford.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

This is the end

Well, it's not the end for me; it's the end of another season of TCM's Essentials. Next Saturday is the first Saturday in February, which means 31 Days of Oscar. After that we have a new season of the Essentials in March. It's also the end of Alec Baldwin's three-year stint as Robert Osborne's co-host. Come March, Drew Barrymore will be sitting alongside Osborne discussing the movies.

TCM has decided to something interesting with this last week of the Essentials, which is to program a night of movies that were the last film for a prominent Hollywood star. That starts off with The Misfits at 8:00 PM, which of course was the last film made by Clark Gable.

Following that is Saratoga at 10:15 PM; Jean Harlow died of septicemia during the filming of the movie, and her fans clamored so much for the footage to be released that MGM brought in a body double to play Jean Harlow's back during the hitherto unfilmed scenes. (I'd rather see Harlow's back at the end of Dinner at Eight.)

Edward G. Robinson died after filming his scenes in Soylent Green but before the movie was released; you can see the movie at midnight.

James Dean made only three features. I'm not certain if they were released in the same order he filmed them; but TCM is showing Rebel Without a Cause at 2:00 PM. (IMDb says that Giant was the last one released.)

Finally, at 4:00 AM, you can see Spencer Tracy's final film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Friday, January 27, 2012

James Whale night

TCM is spending this evening (before TCM Underground, at least), showing four pictures directed by James Whale. Whale is best remembered for directing the 1931 Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein, which is on at 11:15 PM. What might be more interesting, however, is that three of the four movies showing (other than the first, The Great Garrick, at 8:00 PM) were made at Universal.

As far as I can tell, for quite a long time, TCM hasn't been showing very many films from Universal, and certainly not from the days before Universal became Universal-International in the late 1940s. (In fact, I already mentioned this back in February, 2008.) Part of it might be down to the quality of Universal's movies from that era. Universal also controls the rights to the Paramount talkies made before 1950, and the Paramount films from the 1930s and 1940s have begun to spring up on TCM in the past few years. Paramount, for the most part, had a reputation for making more prestigious films, with Universal being further down the pecking order of the studio system, much like Columbia in the days before It Happened One Night.

It will be nice if TCM can continue to get the rights to show more films made at Universal Studios, although I have a feeling it's going to start with Universal's best known product from the 1930s. In addition of Frankenstein, TCM is also showing The Invisible Man from Universal at 12:30 AM. The more interesting selection is One More River at 9:45 PM, a movie I've never heard of. For the time being, I'd expect more of the Universal horror product, such as The Black Cat which aired earlier this month.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Millionaires in Prison

I briefly mentioned the movie Millionaires in Prison twice, back in April and July of 2011. The first mention was for the birthday of Lee Tracy, who plays the prison warden in the film. Anyhow, the movie is airing at 10:30 AM tomorrow (January 27) as part of a day of prison movies.

It's not a particularly good movie, although it's a bit of fun. The premise is as the title mentions: several rich people get sent to prison: two (Raymond Walbourn and Thurston Hall) for embezzlement; and a third is a doctor who drove drunk and committed vehicular manslaughter. The plot is fairly risible. The two rich guys act incredibly naïve as to what prison is like, thinking they can get gourmet food in the clink and trying to bilk the regular prisoners out of their money. In real life if they tried this the prisoners in for violent crime would probably kill them. The doctor, meanwhile, gets a chance to redeem himself by being the doctor in a medical experiment. Really.

As I said, it's not very good, but if you want to have a laugh at a howler of a movie, or see what happened to Lee Tracy after Viva Villa!, this is your chance.

The Liquidator

A couple of weeks ago when I was mentioning TCM's tribute to Jack Cardiff, I said that there was going to be a night of movies directed by Cardiff. These include The Liquidator, which is coming on overnight at 1:30 AM.

Rod Taylor stars as "Boysie" Oakes, who at the start of the film is a British tank commander in World War II, leading his tank into the Paris which is just being liberated from the Nazis. While trying to get his bearings, Boysie sees a man getting chased by Nazis, who are trying to kill the man for presumably being a spy. Boysie kills the two assailants, and earns the enduring gratitude of this man (Trevor Howard).

Fast forward many years, and Howard's character, Mostyn, is now in charge of British intelligence. They've got a problem of various British citizens being traitors and selling secrets to foreigners. They could put these double agents on trial, but the problem with that is that it would be a public relations disaster and would also reveal state secrets. So British intelligence gets the brilliant idea of starting a dirty ops campaign of bumping off these agents. And Mostyn knows just the man to recruit to do the killings: Boysie.

It turns out that Boysie is running a pub in the English countryside, and keeping up relations with quite a few women to boot. Mostyn woos Boysie with the promise of high pay and a wonderful flat in London in exchange for becoming a secret agent, although he doesn't first tell Boysie that his work is going to involve killing people. Boysie goes to London with Mostyn, only to find out too late that the job involves murder, which Boysie really doesn't like.

At this point, The Liquidator starts to take a more darkly comic turn. Boysie, not wanting to kill anybody but being duty bound to do so, hires a contract killer to do all the killings for him. Meanwhile, Boysie still continues his womanizing ways, trying to bed Mostyn's secretary Iris (Jill St. John) despite the fact that this is highly illegal. To get around being spotted having a relationship with Iris, Boysie arranges for the two to meet in the south of France and have a weekend fling there. Unfortunately, Mostyn finds out. And then to make matters worse, Boysie gets captured as part of a real spy drama.

The Liquidator is a movie that has in interesting premise, but ultimately falls flat. Rather like The Big Street, it's a movie that tries to straddle two genres -- in this case comedy and a spy thriller -- and never really knows which side it wants to plant both feet in. The thriller parts aren't thrilling enough, and the comic parts aren't comic enough. The casting is quite right, I think: Rod Taylor is just the right person to cast as a dashing ladies' man who can also do masculine spy work. Trevor Howard seems to be reprising his role in Faher Goose, but doing a good job of it. And Jill St. John is easy on the eyes in a role that's really not very demanding. The spy scenes in France have quite a few character actors who are entertaining enough. But in the end, I think they're all let down by a flawed script.

The Liquidator doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The last night of Angela Lansbury

Tonight being the final Wednesday in January, it's the final night of Angela Lansbury's turn as TCM's Star of the Month. TCM is kicking the night off with the Private Screenings interview she did with Robert Osborne several years ago. Toward the end of the night, at 3:45 AM, is Dear Heart, which I recommended last April.

Angela Lansbury is a bit odd a choice as Star of the Month, as she was not the star of a lot of the movies which TCM showed. (Although, to be fair, they seem no longer to have the rights to the Disney live-action movies such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where she was the star.) I think you can safely call her the female lead in The Manchurian Candidate, but in movies like Gaslight she's clearly a supporting player. And in Dear Heart, she only shows up for the last 15 minutes or so. On the other hand, Lansbury, thanks to her work on the TV series Murder, She Wrote, is pretty recognizable. And since she also had a long career making movies in Hollywood, it's kind of understandable why TCM might choose to put the spotlight on her. It's a good way to use many of the same old movies to try to attract new people who might not know so much about those old films.

And speaking of Private Screenings, I was remiss in not mentioning yesterday's airing of Robert Osborne's Private Screenings interview with Ernest Borgnine from a few years ago, re-aired in honor of Borgnine's 95th birthday. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be available in the TCM media room, and I don't think it's been posted to Youtube either.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sharon Tate vs. Redd Foxx

I've mentioned both of these shorts briefly in the past, but TCM is airing two fun little shorts between movies in the prime time/overnight lineup. First, around 1:45 AM, just after Agent 8 3/4, TCM is showing All Eyes on Sharon Tate, which is a promo of sorts for her then-upcoming film Eye of the Devil. I finally got to see Eye of the Devil last summer, and I have to say that it wasn't all that good.

The night ends a little after 5:40 AM with Redd Foxx Becomes a Movie Star. When I mentioned this one back in May 2011, I commented that I hadn't seen it, but from the date and title it seemed it would be about his film Norman... Is That You?. Sure enough, it was. It's fun to see Foxx and Pearl Bailey doing their thing to promote the flim.

I've probably briefly mentioned this as well, but I always get a kick out of this particular type of short to promote a film, much more than I do out of the traditional trailers. These have a nostalgia value that the trailers just don't.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Max Ophüls night

TCM is spending tonight showing several films directed by German-born filmmaker Max Ophüls. One that I saw the last time it showed up on TCM, but don't have quite a good enough recollection of to do a full-length blog post on, is Letter from an Unkown Woman, airing at 11:15 PM.

Louis Jourdan plays a pianist/composer in turn of the last century Vienna who comes home one one night looking to make a quick getaway: it turns out he's been challenged to a duel, and unbeknownst to him, the duellist is waiting for him at the entrance to his apartment building. But before he can leave to try to make his escape, his servant hands him a letter. Cue the flashback, as if we haven't seen that before....

The letter, it turns out, was written by Joan Fontaine, who knew Jourdan years ago when she was a teenager living in the same apartment building as Jourdan. She and her family move away, but years later she meets Jourdan and has a brief affair with him. Parts of it remind me of Brief Encounter, one of those women's pictures that is well made, even if I find it a bit hard to stomach. From memory, however, Letter from an Unknown Woman isn't quite as much a "women's picture" as Brief Encounter.

To be honest, though, I'm looking forward to The Reckless Moment, kicking off the night at 8:00 PM. It sounds like an interesting thriller about a mother trying to hide the murder committed by her daughter. Supposedly both movies have been released to DVD, as Amazon lists them as available for purchase, but the TCM web-site doesn't: the DVDs are listed as imports from Korea.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Boris Karloff, meet Bela Lugosi

TCM is showing a couple of early 1930s horror films tonight. Perhaps the most interesting of them is The Black Cat, airing at 9:15 PM.

The movie starts off with Bela Lugosi on a train in Hungary, which is where he meets American couple David Manners and Julie Bishop (the latter credited under the name Jacqueline Wells). They're on their honeymoon, touring central Europe. However, their honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when the car they're in crashes, injuring the young wife. The husband and Lugosi take her to the mansion of an old acquaintance of Lugosi's (that acquaintance played by Boris Karloff), which is where the action of the film really begins.

We quickly learn that Karloff and Lugosi are more than just acquaintances. When Lugosi had last met Karloff 15 years earlier, he had had a wife and daughter. They were both left behind at Karloff's estate, and Karloff claims they both died of illness. Lugosi, on the other hand, believes that they were murdered, that Karloff is a Satan worshipper who believes in human sacrifice, and that the young wife is the next person who is going to be sacrificed!

To be honest, The Black Cat doesn't particularly cover much more ground than a lot of the other horror films of the early 1930s. They're all interesting in their own rights as time machines, and the plots, being horror-based and not really having to deal with reality, don't date too badly. The thing that makes The Black Cat so interesting is the set design. Karloff's mansion is a masterpiece of art deco design, even though there probably wouldn't have been art deco at the time Lugosi's character was first at the mansion with his wife and kid 15 years earlier. Karloff must have had Martha Stewart in to remodel.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

About that Columbia noir

A few days ago, I asked about a TCM Shop promo I saw hawking some noir (more or less) films from Columbia that the TCM database lists as not being available on DVD. It turns out that they're not available yet. In fact, the DVD set is called Film Noir Classics III, and is avaliable for purchase (or more accurately ships) on January 25. Tight Spot, the movie that started my wondering, is one of those five films, as is My Name is Julia Ross, which I blogged about last October.

The other three films are: Broderick Crawford in The Mob (1951); Mickey Rooney in Drive a Crooked Road (1954); and Dan Duryea as The Burglar (1957). There's also an abbreviated version of the promo airing which doesn't actually name any of the films, although if you look carefully you can see My Name is Julia Ross as one of the titles.

I guess what this shows is that I should do more research before I post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Experiment in Terror

There are a lot worse ways to spend two hours than by watching the movie Experiment in Terror. It's airing overnight tonight at 3:45 AM on TCM, so you'll probably have to record it: the DVD seems to be out of print.

Lee Remick plays Kelly Sherwood. She's a bank teller in San Francisco taking care of her high school-aged sister Toby (Stefanie Powers), since both of their parents are dead. One night, Kelly gets home from work, only to be accosted in her garage by a stranger. The stranger apparently knows Kelly quite well, as he knows Kelly's occupation, and that she and Toby live alone. The man also knows what he wants, which is money. He tells Kelly that she's going to embezzle a substantial sum of money from the bank for him, and that if she doesn't, there are going to be severe consequences -- after all, there's that kid sister he can threaten. And if she tells anybody, well then, there are those consequences again.

Naturally, you know that Kelly is going to tell somebody. She gets in touch with the authorities and, in the person of FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford), they get in touch with her. Kelly never actually saw her assailant, at least, not well enough to see his face. All she did was hear his voice, which she could spot immediately because it was raspy and the man seemed to have asthma or something.

At this point, the movie becomes fairly standard: the investigator tries to find the culprit before anything untoward happens; the victim lives in fear that something bad is going to happen to her; the situation gets escalated; and there's a frantic chase at the end. That doesn't mean that Experiment in Terror isn't a good movie. It's just that there's only so much that the genre can do. Indeed, to be fair to Experiment in Terror, the movie actually does it quite well. Glenn Ford is the right sort of actor, dependable and sturdy, to play the role of the FBI agent. Lee Remick is more than suitable as the working woman, and Stefanie Powers is young and vulnerable enough to play the kid sister. And the climactic chase scene is set at San Francisco's Candlestick Park where Ford had to negotiate a large crowd without there being any violence. Sure, the movie covers ground we've all walked on before, but it does it in a very entertaining way.

As I implied at the beginning, you may have a difficult time finding a DVD. Amazon has copies available for purchase at a ridiculous price, while TCM says you can't buy it from them. These both suggest that there was a DVD release in the past, but that the print run ended. That's a shame, since the movie delivers well on what it does.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A couple of questions

I watched In Name Only yesterday. I could swear that just before the movie started, TCM ran one of its TCM Shop ads, promoting DVDs and box sets that they're newly selling. This time, I thought I saw a promotion for a "Columbia Noir" collection. One of the movies in the set was Tight Spot, something I blogged about all the way back in August 2008, but which I mentioned at the time was not available on DVD. A look at TCM, however, still claims that Tight Spot is not available for purchase from the TCM Shop. Did I actually see something different than I thought I saw? Or is Tight Spot getting a DVD release, but just that it's not yet available?

This morning, I tuned in to watch the 11:30 AM showing This Land Is Mine. I turned on the TV a few minutes before the movie began, and it certainly looked as though TCM was showing a short, something involving old footage from the 1920s, repackaged for a later release. The short ended, I think, with Al Smith leading people in singing "The Bowery". TCM's schedule page doesn't list a short following Uncertain Glory, the feature which was on immediately before This Land is Mine. However, Uncertain Glory came on at 9:30 AM, and is listed with a running time of 102 minutes, which would mean that there was not only enough time for a short; indeed, TCM probably would have scheduled a short in between the two movies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Runaway Bus

I could swear that I've already blogged about the film The Runaway Bus, airing at 6:30 PM this evening on TCM, before. Blogspot's search function, which definitely still has problems, doesn't show any results; nor does Google (which of course owns Blogspot). But then Bing also claims I've never blogged about it, so maybe I haven't.

The Runaway Bus is one of those interesting little British movies being made in the early 1950s in that it's got a running time of only about 75 minutes, but it packs in a lot of fun. The movie starts at one of London's airports, which is currently socked in thanks to those terrible stereotypical London fogs for which the city is famous. That means nobody gets in and nobody gets out. Except, of course, that some people need to. So a bus is rounded up to take a group of passengers to another airport where there isn't any fog, and incompetent Percy (Frankie Howerd) is put in charge as the bus driver. With Percy being incompetent, it isn't too difficult to figure out that he's going to get lost. And that provides a lot of the comedy in the movie.

But The Runaway Bus isn't just a comedy; it's a comic mystery. Back at the airport, it's been determined that somebody has made off with a shipment of gold bullion, and that whoever has it is extremely dangerous. It seems sensible to conclude that whoever took it is also on the bus. But where is the bus? And which of the passengers is the robber? Well, both questions are a bit difficult to answer. The bus has ended up somewhere where there is an abandoned town, and a series of explosions going on. And the passengers are all a bit odd, notably George Coulouris and little old lady Margaret Rutherford. Petula Clark, who is probably best known in the US today for her 1960s singing career, but had been acting since the late 1940s, plays a stewardess sent along to help oversee everything.

The Runaway Bus is quite entertaining, mixing the comedy with the suspense in the right amounts. It will leave you guessing until the end as to who stole the gold; for all we know it could even be Howerd himself! The movie has been released to DVD, but it's a relatively expensive release.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Intruder in the Dust

One of the movies I finally got around to watching yesterday is Intruder in the Dust. It's available on DVD, so I can still recommend it after the fact.

Based on a novel by William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust is set in a small Mississippi town (presumably in Faulkner's mythical Yoknapatawpha County; the film was actually film in Faulkner's hometown of Oxford) as it was in the 1940s. There's been a murder, and the police are bringing in farmer Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernandez) as the obvious murderer. It's evident from first sight that Beauchamp is black and, since the dead man was white, this case is going to have racial overtones. In fact, the deceased was a brother in one of those small-town clans (of the sort that I talked about when I recommended The Firemen's Ball back in November 2009). So there are a lot of family members baying for blood, and this being the South of the 1940s, there's the palpable fear that theere's going to be a lynching. Well, some of the people (the blacks) fear it, while others (the whites) have gone to the county lockup to crowd around and see what's going to happen.

A member of that latter group is young Chick (Claude Jarman, Jr.), who is spotted by Lucas because of an incident that happened some time earlier when Chick fell into an icy creek on Lucas' property. Town legend now has it that Chick is friends with Lucas, and Lucas asks Chick to get his uncle John (David Brian), who is a lawyer: Lucas needs somebody to defend him. All the (white) adults, unsurprisingly, think Lucas is guilty as sin, and Lucas is reluctant to defend himself because he knows that none of the adults will believe him. Chick, on the other hand....

Chick's willingness to believe Lucas leads to an illegal night-time exhumation with a surprise, and the realization that perhaps Lucas is innocent after all -- except that he won't have much of an alibi until after any autopsy. Meanwhile, the patriarch of the murder victim's family has his own desires for wanting to see justice done, and the crowd in front of the county jail is growing. Time is short to uncover the identity of the killer.

Intruder in the Dust works fairly well as a straight-up mystery/suspense movie. As commentary on race relations, however, I'm not so sure. There's something about Juano Hernandez, who was born in Puerto Rico, that screams, "Not a southern black!" Not that he could pass as white; but in all of his films that I've seen, he just seems different from the other blacks. True, he's supposed to be somewhat different here, but in other movies like Trial he also comes across as being slightly miscast. I say all this despite his being a good actor. Secondly, characters such as the sheriff (Will Geer), and especially the victim's father (Porter Hall), seem to turn on a dime. One little shred of evidence that Lucas might not be guilty, and they suddenly become crusaders for justice. I can't help but think that in real life, they'd be more like Linda Darnell's character in No Way Out: she could certainly be persuaded to do the right thing, but she's clearly more concered about what's in it for herself. Finally, there seem to be a few convenient coincidences in the plot. As we saw in Fury, a lynch mob doesn't seem to concerend about whether any "innocent" people trying to protect the target of their ire get killed in the crossfire. And what's the old lady doing seeking legal advice on a Sunday night?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Back to Crime School

I mentioned the movie Crime School back in December 2009 when its star, Humphrey Bogart, was TCM's Star of the Month. It's airing again tomorrow morning (January 17) at 8:00 AM (and is available on DVD if you miss the Tuesday showing), but there are a few more things I don't think I said about the film back in 2009. First is that in addition to Bogart, it's got the Dead End Kids early in their careers, before they morphed into the Bowery Boys and a series of low-budget films over at Monogram. More interestingly, while I mentioned in 2009 that Crime School was a remake of The Mayor of Hell, I hadn't spotted that the story was done a third time in 1939 as Hell's Kitchen. Astonishingly, Hell's Kitchen also stars the Dead End Kids.

On a somewhat unrelated note, in doing searches, I've been tending to mix up Crime School with another 1938 picture, Girls' School. Not only that, but I was thinking Girls' School was the title of a completely different picture (albeit one slightly closer to Crime School in plot), Girls on Probation, which stars Ronald Reagan and has the screen debut of Susan Hayward.

Revisiting Crime School also made me think of the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School, which came out all the way back in the summer of 1986. There's another one for the "Boy does that make me feel old" file.

Martin Luther King Day

This being the Martin Luther King Day holiday, TCM is once again showing a bunch of movies either with prominent black cast members, or casts that are almost entirely black. Robert Osborne sat down with director Charles Burnett several years back on MLK Day for a night of Burnett's films. That's when I first came across My Brother's Wedding, airing at 8:00 PM. If memory serves, it was one of the later films that evening so I didn't stay up to watch the whole thing; I suppose then that it's good this film is back on the TCM lineup, as the little I saw looked at least interesting, and more accessible than his better-known Killer of Sheep (not on today's lineup).

The other surprise is The Defiant Ones, airing at 6:15 PM. No, it's not a surprise that it's on the lineup. What surprised me is that TCM lists it in its schedule as not available for purchase on DVD. Apparently it had a DVD release many years back, but is now out of print. You can get it at Amazon, but it's not cheap.

There are a couple of other good movies airing in the morning lineup, but they're also available on DVD so I don't have to mention them right now.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Making me feel old again

I was watching the football on TV today, and there was an advertisment for a film coming out in March or April called 21 Jump Street. The ad certainly brought back memories: I remember the original TV show 21 Jump Street, which was one of the first "hits" for the then-fledgling Fox network, or as close to a hit as they had back in those days.

It's also a bit odd to see 80s shows being made into movies, as the 80s seem to be a bit of an overlooked decade in my opinion. I've posted a lot about how the older Baby Boomers (roughly the ones born in the first half of the boom) still sit in a lot of executive positions and seem to have a lot of cultural power, and that one of the results of this is how we get so many references to stuff from the 1960s. To be sure, we've seen Hollywood make movies out of The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team, and now 21 Jump Street, but they've also decided to keep remaking Mission Impossible movies. And when somebody does make a movie about a conservative icon from the 80s, such as The Iron Lady, the shrieking from those who fought on the 80s left is amazing. For all her faults, she was far less bad than murderous 60s revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, but making movies about him is radical chic.

But I'm getting too much into politics. When I saw the 21 Jump Street ad, I began to wonder what was the first TV show to be turned into a movie. There was a Dragnet movie in the 1950s, and it had already been a TV show, but it was also a radio show which got its genesis with the movie He Walked By Night. Episodes of TV shows such as The Man From UNCLE were cobbled together into movies in the late 1960s, but I don't know how much nostalgia there was until the Baby Boomers started getting nostalgic.

On the other hand, turning movies into TV shows seems to have been going on for a long time, and may or may not have much to do with nostalgia. Gidget and Peyton Place (which of course was originally a book) were turned into TV shows in the mid-1960s, and The Naked City came even a few years before that. I think it's not uncommon for Hollywood to try to cash in on a successful property by selling it through multiple media; after all, look at how many comic strips have been turned into movies going back to the early 1940s if not earlier (the entire Blondie and Dick Tracy series).

HBO's schedule

So I was looking through the online TV listings services, and noticed that HBO Signature is airing Doctor Dolittle next Sunday morning (January 22). The listings say it's the Rex Harrison film from 1967, but I remembered that the movie was remade some years back, specifically in 1998 with Eddie Murphy playing the good doctor. Curious to see whether the listings sites were right, I decided to look for HBO's own online schedule.

I probably shouldn't have. HBO's website is a Flash-based abomination. It took a long time for anything to show up on screen at all other than a black background. And then when I clicked on the schedule link, there was another long wait... followed by the browser window going completely black. No schedule whatsoever. As much as I've complained about TCM's schedule, at least you can actually access their schedule. Is this just a problem with using Opera? I'm loathe to download the latest version of other browsers just to keep up with sites that may be excluding the one I use on a regular basis, especially if the problem pages don't work well in other browsers.

And why do websites insist on making everything Flash-based in the first place? It's really obnoxious. I know there are a lot of times when I'm visiting a site and I'd like to open one link in a background tab while suring the main page. TV listings sites are a natural for this; I can right-click the link to one program and open it in a background tab to see what other times the movie is showing, while looking through the main listings for other movies I might be interested in. But Flash, as usually implemented, brings up the Flash dialog with a right-click, not the standard browser dialog.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Riding the High Country

Yesterday when I was looking for a good still of Fortunio Bonanova in Five Graves to Cairo, one of the hits led me to a blog on FilmJournal.net. It turned out that the blog was no longer being updated. More or less -- in fact, the blogger had decided to stop using the filmjournal.net platform and switch to WordPress, where you can find his blog Riding the High Country.

To be honest, I don't read other film blogs all that often, mostly out of laziness and having other things I'd like to do with my time. (I'm an avid Go player, for example, and if I want to play a game at something other than breakneck speed, it's best to budget an hour at minimum.) It's also part of the reason why a lot of other people have a better-written blog than mine. I try to put up one post a day, and when there isn't anything I can think about, the post usually winds up being just a sort of placeholder mentioning something coming up on TCM that I blogged about some years in the past. That, and when I blog, I almost always just sit down and write in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style in that what I put down are the first things I think of. I don't normally write up posts some time in advance. Last Thursday, I mentioned Jack Cardiff and a movie he directed called The Liquidator which will be coming up later in the month on TCM on a night of movies that he directed. I probably should be starting that post now, but the reality is that I most likely won't get around to it until the day it airs.

Anyhow, I enjoyed Riding the High Country enough that I decided to include it in my minimal blogroll -- again a blogroll that's small mostly out of laziness. Then I looked at his blogroll, and noticed that I'm already on there. I hate to think how many people have decided to blogroll me, and I'm blithely unaware of it, looking selfish for not mentioning any of their blogs. So to any new readers, welcome! I hope you find something new about film that you don't already know.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fortunio Bonanova, 1895-1969

Today marks the birth anniversary of Fortunio Bonanova, another of those names you might have seen in the credits but whose face you may not remember. In fact, as is often the case with character actors, internet image searches don't necessarily find too many pictures, which is why I haven't included a picture with this post.

Fortunio Bonanova sounds like either a Spanish or Italian name, and in fact he was born in Spain's Balearic Islands. As is the case with somebody like Gilbert Roland, his Spanish accent made him a natural for playing various Latin character roles (or roles from other Romance language-speaking countries, notably Italy). For example, IMDb lists him as "Hotel Manager" in Down Argentine Way, one of those Fox musicals from the early 1940s which, as you can guess, is set in Argentina. That Night in Rio? There's another obvious choice for casting Bonanova.

That having been said, I find it difficult to remember Bonanova in most of these films. IMDb also lists him in Citizen Kane. Really? He's also one of the men at the Spanish colony in The Black Swan. Then there was his small part in Double Indemnity. It's a bit of a shame that somebody good enough to keep working consistently in dozens of movies is also so difficult to remember.

In fact, the one role in which I best remember him is as the Italian general in Five Graves to Cairo.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jack Cardiff

TCM is spending Thursday nights in January honoring cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Cardiff's career started in the 1930s, but it really took off in the 1940s thanks to director Michael Powell, who spotted Cardiff's work on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (airing tonight at 8:00 PM) and then asked Cardiff to be the chief cinematographer on Powell's next color film, A Matter of Life and Death (airing overnight at 12:30 AM). Infact, this evening's entire lineup is dedicated to the movies Cardiff made when he was working for Powell.

There is one exception, and that's a documentary on the life and work of Cardiff, airing at 11:00. It aired twice last week, and I hadn't seen it then. It's actually quite a good documentary if you have any interest in the people who worked behind the scenes. Cardiff's work was quite broad. Not only did he work with Michael Powell; he was the cinematographer for such classics as The African Queen and Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn, the latter of which is finally coming to TCM next Thursday.

In the 1960s Cardiff became a director, first with Sons and Lovers (interestingly enough for one of the great color cinematographers, Sons and Lovers is in black and white) and then with several lesser films. TCM actually showed the Cardiff-directed The Liquidator yesterday afternoon, but I'll mention that one in more detail when it comes up on the last Thursday of January. (It's not on DVD so I can't really mention it now.) Cardiff's directorial career is mentioned in the documentary, but not given as much attention as his work at a cinematographer, largely because it wasn't as successful.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So they had a Guest Programmer last night

I'll admit that I haven't been watching quite as much TCM over the past few weeks. TCM probably ran their Guest Programmer promo more than enough times, but I didn't see it until the last one, which always seems to air just before 8:00 PM on the night that their Guest Programmer shows up. If I had been paying attention, I would have known that James L. Brooks was going to be on last night, and I would have been able to do the research to find out about the short This Is Your Story, which was actually originally a sketch on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. This was one of the sketches repacked in 1973 for the film 10 From Your Show of Shows.

To be fair, one should normally be able to spot these things from TCM's online schedule. If you look at tonight's schedule, for example, just before the 8:00 PM movie, there's a header reading, "TCM PRIMETIME - WHAT'S ON TONIGHT: STAR OF THE MONTH: ANGELA LANSBURY" Yesterday's schedule only read "TCM PRIMETIME - WHAT'S ON TONIGHT:". That, I think, would go a good ways toward explaining why I had less of an idea about the schedule.

I apologize. I also didn't think the This Is Your Story sketch was quite as funny as I've read some people make it out to be. In fact, I thought it got exceedingly tedious after the first "guest" was introduced. So I apologize a well if I led you astray.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I wish I had seen it before

TCM just showed Just You and Me, Kid. George Burns stars as a retired vaudevillean who takes his vintage car to the grocery store one morning, and when he comes out of the store to put his groceries in the trunk, finds a naked Brooke Shields in his trunk! It turns out she was a drug mule who shafted the dealers out of $20,000, so naturally they're looking for her.

It's not a bad movie; to be fair, though, it's the sort that would have worked well as a B movie 40 years earlier, something I've mentioned with a few other films I've recommended such as For Pete's Sake and 9 to 5. That B-movie nature also means it hasn't been released to DVD. I don't like to recommend movies that haven't gotten a DVD release unless they're going to be showing up on TV in the near future, and that's obviously not the case with Just You and Me, Kid.

As for what to recommend, if you read this quickly enough, you can see the short Teenagers on Trial at about 6:00 PM tonight. I could swear I've mentioned this one before; it's a pretty funny (in an unintentional way) short looking at the problems of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s, and how it's really society's fault.

I'm also looking forward to the short This is Your Story at 8:00 PM, but it's one that I haven't seen before, so I can't say whether it's any good. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any information on it at all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The original legend

TCM is showing a night of movies about pandemic diseases this evening, including a truly underrated movie that's been remade a couple of times since: The Last Man on Earth, at 10:15 PM.

Vincent Price stars as a man living in what looks like a sort of postapocalytpic world, of the sort that you might see in Night of the Living Dead. There's no trace of living humans, but there's certainly evidence that people were around, and have been around recently. Only they're not real people any longer; they're vampires. It turns out that a new virus escaped some years back, and killed most of mankind, turning them into some sort of half-zombie/half-vampire people: they need to feast on real humans, but can only do their feeding at night. So Price goes out during the day to gather food and try to kill any of these creatures he can find, while hunkering down at night, trying to keep them at bay for one more night while he can work on trying to find a cure for the disease. (Price himself is immune, having been bitten by a vampire bat before the virus entered the body public.) And then he meets a woman who seems to be as immune to the disease as he is....

If the story above sounds familiar, well, it should. The movie is based on an earlier science fiction story by Richard Matheson called "I Am Legend". The Last Man on Earth, or more accurately the original story, was later remade into the movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith in the Price role. In between, Charlton Heston also played the role in the 1971 film The Omega Man.

Although Vincent Price has long been known as the king of low-budget horror from the 1960s on, this is not quite the sort of movie that compares to the work he was doing with either William Castle or Roger Corman. There's something much more serious and disturbing about it. Price had been acting since the late 1930s and had serious acting chops, as you can see in movies like Laura, which he uses to good effect here, bring much more depth to the character than we see in his films with William Castle.

I don't know how exactly The Last Man on Earth compares with the original story "I Am Legend", but on its own it stands as quite a good film.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

José Ferrer, 1912-1992

Today marks the centenary of actor José Ferrer, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1950 for his starring role in Cyrano de Bergerac. That movie is airing at 8:00 PM, although the last time I saw it on TCM, the print didn't look so good.

Actually, quite a few of Ferrer's films are airing today, which is a bit odd since TCM doesn't often do birthday salutes on the weekend. I've recommended The Caine Mutiny before (October 2009 to be specific), which kicks off the salute at noon. That's followed by another underrated film, Crisis, an August 2009 selection which airs at 2:15 PM.

I don't know if I've recommended I Accuse! (4:00 PM) before. Ferrer plays Alfred Dreyfus in this telling of the Dreyfus Affair, in which Émile Zola wrote the famous open letter J'accuse!. I'm pretty certain I've recommeded The Life of Émile Zola before, which covers much of this same material, albeit in black-and-white and without any location shooting.

Ferrer plays composer Sigmund Romberg in Deep in My Heart (6:00 PM). I very briefly mentioned Sigmund Romberg once, back in May 2008, as part of a post about the short An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Brothers' Silver Jubilee, in which Romberg has a cameo as one of the men responsible for the songs in musicals.

The last of the Ferrer movies showing today is in fact the first film Ferrer made, the Ingrid Bergman version of Joan of Arc, at 10:00 PM.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Frederica Sagor Maas, 1900-2012

One of the last links -- and almost certainly the last adult link -- to silent cinema, has died. Frederica Sagor Maas, who started as a story editor at the New York branch of Universal back in 1920, was 111 years old.

Maas fairly quickly made her way to Hollywood, where she wound up at MGM, probably most notably writing the screenplay for Greta Garbo's Flesh and the Devil. Hollywood, however, turned out not so well for her and her eventual husband, as they found Hollywood doing all sorts of things to their scripts that the two of them didn't write. This eventually forced the couple back to New York in the 1930s. Maas wrote one more screenplay about the tribulations of pioneering working women, but that turned out just as bad for her when Fox took it and turned it into a light musical comedy, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. (That movie, to be fair, isn't particularly bad; it's just nothing at all like how Maas would have wanted her screenplay to turn out.)

Maas got the last laugh, however, as she outlived everybody she worked with and wrote her memoirs, which were published when she was 99 years old.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Perfect Strangers again

I last mentioned the movie Perfect Strangers back in July 2010, with the post implying that I hadn't seen the film before I first posted about it. For some reason, I thought I might have seen it when Ginger Rogers was Star of the Month, but then, I'm not even certain any more whether it even aired back when Rogers was Star of the Month. Looking through the schedule, Rogers was Star of the Month in March 2010, and the movie aired at 11:30 AM on a Thursday at the end of one of Rogers' "nights". I'm pretty certain the first time I saw Perfect Strangers was in prime time, so I guess I didn't watch it back in March 2010.

At any rate, I bring it up again because the movie is airing again tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM. It's probably worth one viewing, if only to have fun watching Hollywood's warped perception of the legal system.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More than a moment

Esther Williams starred in The Unguarded Moment, which aired last May when she was TCM's Star of the Month. Tomorrow at 11:15 AM, as part of a birthday salute to Loretta Young, TCM is airing The Unguarded Hour.

The Unguarded Hour is a movie that might remind you of Evelyn Prentice. Young plays Lady Helen, a British woman who is the wife of Sir Alan (Franchot Tone). Sir Alan is a prominent prosecuting attorney, and is in line to become the British equivalent of the Attorney General. There's a small problem, however. It seems as though Alan had a relationship with a married woman many years earlier, and there are some letters from that relationship. Blackmailer Hugh (Henry Daniell) has obtained these letters, and is looking for a substantial sum of money for them, or else he'll make them public. Doing that would scuttle Sir Alan's chances at a promotion, so Lady Helen decides to pay the blackmailer.

Paying the blackmailer involves going to an out-of-the-way location near some of the cliffs that overlook the English Channel. While making her way around the paths, Lady Helen runs across a couple who are arguing, but in which the husband is trying to make his wife watch her step lest she falls over the cliff. Sure enough, the dumb broad falls over the cliff to her death, and the husband gets prosecuted. Unsurprisingly, that prosecution is handled by Sir Alan to make the story more interesting. The defendant claims there was this mysterious female witness, and dammit there certainly was! But for that witness to come out, she would have to reveal she is the wife of the prosecutor, and that she witnessed the accident because she was on her way to pay off a blackmailer.

The Unguarded Hour is a melodramatic movie of the sort that seemed to be popular in the 1930s, as there are a lot of them. Nowadays, I think such stuff would be straight-to-TV on a channel such as Lifetime. To be fair, the movie is reasonably well made, with Young, Tone, and the rest of the cast of MGM regulars doing a creditable job. The only problem is that the story is so frustratingly obnoxious. It's not quite as bad as Madame X or any of its variants, but it's got an ending that will probably be making you scream at your TV.

The Unguarded Hour hasn't been released to DVD, so if you want to see it, you'll have to watch it on TCM.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Red Danube

Angela Lansbury's movies started tonight at 8:00 PM, but they continue into tomorrow morning. The last of them for this week is The Red Danube, airing at 9:00 AM tomorrow.

Lansbury plays Audrey Quail, an adjutant to British colonel Hooky Nicobar (Walter Pidgeon). Hooky is stationed in the British sector of Vienna back in those days not long after World War II when Austria and Vienna were occupied by the four victorious powers from World War II (you'll probably remember this from The Third Man). As with Berlin, people were trying to make their way from one sector to another in Vienna, in that they wanted to get away from one country or another. Part of the job of the various militaries was to repatriate people back to countries they originally came from, as there were a lot of refugees in the early postwar years.

However, there weren't only refugees, there were people who didn't want to go back to their original countries, especially not the Soviet Union. It's Hooky's job to return them, which in this case means ballerina Olga Alexandrova (Janet Leigh). She's got some people on her side, however, in the form of Mother Auxilia (Ethel Barrymore), a nun who leads a convent and tries to hide escapees when she can; and British major Twingo McPhinister (Peter Lawford). He doesn't see why Soviets should be forcibly repatriated assuming they don't want to go -- and while trying to convince Hooky of this, he falls in love with Olga.

The political situation is in some ways the main part of the story, at least in how it drives the story line of Leigh's character. But there's also the subplot of Lawford's relationship with her, and a second subplot of Pidgeon's loss of faith (he lost his son in the war) and his journey to find it again, helped enormously by Barrymore's Mother Auxilia, who is one of those characters who just won't take "no" for an answer. The movie is quite good at times, showing for example the horrible fate awaiting people who would be repatriated to the Soviet Union. It doesn't do this as well as movies like The Third Man or The Big Lift show the bad life faced by people living in postwar Vienna and Berlin respectively, although it looks like The Red Danube doesn't have nearly as extensive the location shooting that either of the other two movies did. On the other hand, The Red Danube also effectively shows the difficult situation that Western military officials were in when having to deal with the Soviets. By the time of this movie, Berlin had already been blockaded, so the consequences of non-cooperatoin with the Soviets were fairly obvious. (As an aside, the occupation of Austria didn't end until 1955.) On the bad side, the movie has an ending that seems a little too pat.

The Red Danube hasn't gotten a DVD release, which is a bit of a surprise.

Angela Lansbury in Gaslight

Tonight sees the first of several nights of the films of Angela Lansbury as TCM's Star of the Month. I've mentioned Gaslight a number of times in the past, and it's Lansbury's feature film debut. As such it's a good choice to kick off the look at her, and it's airing at 8:00 PM tonight. What I hadn't noticed before is that I've apparently never included a photo of Lansbury to accompany any of the posts I've done; certainly not one of Lansubry in Gaslight. So, I rather shamelessly found a photo from the blog Sage Slowdive and am reusing it here. She doesn't seem to like Lansbury's performance as much as I do, but not everybody can have the same opinion.

I'd rather forgotten that Lansbury shows up in National Velvet, which follows at 10:00 PM. But yes, she's in there.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

At least they changed the names

If you watched much of William Powell's turn as TCM's Star of the Month back in December, you will probably have seen The Last of Mrs. Cheyney. It's a 1937 film in which Powell plays an elegant jewel thief who teams up with Joan Crawford, only to see her be pursued by Robert Montgomery. Hollywood has never been original, so it may not surprise you to know that the William Powell film is a remake of one from 1929, starring Norma Shearer in the Crawford role, and Basil Rathbone in the Montgomery role. In fact, both are versions of an earlier stage play, something that was relatively common in the early days of sound films -- they needed a lot of material back then, and this was stuff that already had pre-written dialogue.

What you might not know is that MGM made the movie a third time, in 1951, as The Law and the Lady, which you can see tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM on TCM. This time, the lady is played by Greer Garson, who really isn't right for the role. Michael Wilding is suitably dashing, but nothing spectacular, redoing the Powell role; and Fernando Lamas plays the Montgomery role. The location has also been moved from England to San Francisco in the days before the earthquake of 1906. (I doubt MGM still had any sets left over from San Francisco.) Perhaps the one highlight is Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle) as the woman Garson and friends are trying bilk.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Marion Davies Day

TCM is honoring actress Marion Davies (1897-1961) tomorrow on the anniversary of her birth. The salute goes from 6:00 AM until the start of prime time with nine of Davies' films. Davies is an actress who doesn't get the credit nowadays she deserves. In part it's because her career ended in the late 1930s, but I think it has a lot more to do with Orson Welles and the movie Citizen Kane. Marion Davies was the mistress of William Randolph Hearst, who was married to another woman, one who wouldn't grant him a divorce. Citizen Kane, of course, was a fairly thinly-veiled look at a media magnate based on the life of Hearst. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane takes a chorus girl (Dorothy Comingore) and tries to make a serious opera star out of her, with disastrous results. As Marion Davies' career had already ended and there were no outlets for re-watching old films, critics looked at the Comingore storyline and unsurprisingly compared her character to Marion Davies, giving the impression that Davies was a lousy actress who only got where she did thanks to Hearst.

That's somewhat unfair. Hearst certainly did try to do as much as he could for Davies' career, to the point that he had his own production company (Cosmopolitan Productions) to put Davies in its films. But Davies was actually a fairly competent actress, and she had started making movies before meeting Hearst. Davies was best at more comedic films; her silent Show People is a spoof on Hollywood which is excellent. It's unfortunate that TCM is only looking at the talkies tomorrow. Still, Davies was able to do creditable jobs in films like The Florodora Girl, which kicks off the salute at 6:00 AM. Here, Davies plays a chorus girl who is unable to attract a rich man the way all the other chorus girls do. Then, wealthy Lawrence Gray (who had made a number of silents with Davies) comes along, although he may not have the best of intentions -- until he hits a financial reversal and he and Davies have to decide whether love will conquer all.

The Florodora Girl ends with a two-strip Technicolor sequence which would be better if the print were better, but it's a nice look at turn-of-the-last-century fashion. And this was one of Davies' problems. Although The Florodora Girl is a romantic comedy, it's also a period piece, and that's the sort of movie Hearst preferred she be in. Still, The Florodora Girl, along with the rest of tomorrow's Davies movies, are worth watching.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The end of the Fox Movie Channel

Well, not quite, but I don't think it's unsafe to say the end is near. Three months ago, the folks at Fox who run the Fox Movie Channel decided they were going to "rebrand" the channel effective January 1, 2012. According to the press release,

The new FXM block will air contemporary movies with limited commercials from 3 p.m.-3 a.m. daily, while maintaining its current commercial-free format of classic films from 3 a.m.-3 p.m.

Pardon me if I roll my eyes at that use of the term "limited". I'm reminded of one of the Simpsons episodes, where Marge makes a comment to the effect that "they turned Fox into a soft core porn channel so gradually I hardly even noticed". As with IFC a year ago, these things start off slowly, but within six months, the identity of the channel is totally changed, and we'll have a Fox version of AMC, which has mostly recent movies -- when they have movies. The rest of the time it's commercials and crap like Mad Men. (Yes, I'm aware I'm one of the few who doesn't like Mad Men, but I think I've mentioned quite a few times how I don't care for the constant revisionist rehashing of the 1960s.)

Besides, from what I can tell (it took a long time before FMC's website updated the schedule for January 1 and beyond), the movies airing in the "classic" block are rather less classic than before. I'd presume the FXM block films are going to be edited for content as well.

So enjoy the rest of the Fox Movie Channel while you can; it's probably not going to be around much longer.