Thursday, May 31, 2012

I thought I'd blogged about Some of the Best before

I've made brief mention of MGM's 25th anniversary feature Some of the Best a good four years ago, but for some reason I thought I had made more mention of it the last time it showed up on TCM a few weeks back. Apparently not.

That having been said, the other Some of the Best is showing up tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM on TCM. I don't think I seen this one before; it's MGM's salute to itself on its 20th anniversary, made five years before the one I've mentioned before. Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy from the Andy Hardy movies) presents. Reading the synopsis, it sounds a lot like the 1949 version, only without the big banquet at the end (which for me is the fun part of the 1949 version), or of course the movies made after 1944.

Neither version of Some of the Best appears to have been put on a DVD as an extra.

Doctor, doctor

I should have posted last night about the "Crime Doctor" movies that TCM is running as I type. Warner Baxter played a criminal-turned psychologist who gets called in to investigate crimes in a series of several movies. TCM is shwoing seven of the films, each of which runs just under 75 minutes, from 6:00 until the last one ends a little after 2:30 PM. That's followed at 2:45 PM by Doctor in the House. Dirk Bogarde stars as Simon Sparrow, a young medical student at a teaching hospital in London, who tries to balance work and play. The movie was so successful that it resulted in a series of films. Bogarde returned a few years later for Doctor at Large (4:30 PM), and then quite a few year after that for Doctor in Distress (6:15 PM). What's interesting is that the last of these, Doctor in Distress, was released in 1963, which is after Bogarde became a "serious" actor by making films such as Victim.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Irving Thalberg's birthday again

I mentioned Irving Thalberg's birthday last year at this time, and simce I'm lazy, I'm taking the same photo of him to illustrate this post. Actually, what I really wanted to mention about Thalberg is the fact that Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood, the documentary to which I briefly alluded a year ago, is un today's TCM schedule, at 6:30 PM ET. It's a worthwhile documentary if you haven't seen it before. Unfortunately, this post is probably going to come a bit late, and the documentary doesn't seem to be included as a bonus on any DVD. (I wonder if it's not the use of archive photos and clips from movies that are the problem here.) I wouldn't be surprised don't run it for another year after today's showing, that is until next May 30.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dorothy Dandridge night

TCM is spending the evening showing a bunch of movies starring Dorothy Dandridge, even though it's not her birthday. That having been said, it's not at all uncommon for TCM to spend an evening honoring somebody whose birthday it isn't; usually it's somebody either behind the scenes or an actor who isn't as well-remembered as he or she should be. As for Dandridge, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Carmen Jones, a movie I recommended back in July 2009. That kicks of tonight's salute at 8:00 PM.

Carmen Jones is followed at 10:00 PM by Bright Road, a January 2010 recommendation that still doesn't seem to be out on DVD, which I find a bit of a shame. The third interesting film is The Harlem Globetrotters, at 11:30 PM. I presume you can all guess what it's about, but the interesting thing is that it's got the circa-1950 Globetrotters all playing themselves. (Dandridge plays the love interest of a young man who wants to be a Globetrotter.) This one, I think is a TCM premiere and is also not on DVD.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck in prison!

TCM is spending tomorrow morning and afternoon with Barbara Stanwyck for reasons that rather escape me. Her birthday is in July, but I don't think she's getting a birthday salute then. Of course, spending a day with Stanwyck's movies isn't necessarily a bad thing. One of the Stanwyck pre-Codes that I don't think I've ever mentioned before is Ladies They Talk About, which comes on at 10:15 AM.

Stanwyck stars as Nan, the female member of a gang of bank robbers who serves as the gang's decoy. The robbery isn't successful, however, and the gang is caught, which means certain prison for all of them. Well, except maybe for Nan, who has a bit of luck. David (Preston Foster), who was born in the same town as Nan and knows her parents is a radio evangelist who rails against crime. Nan tells David that she's innocent, and David helps enough to get Nan put on probation. That is, until she tells him the truth. When David finds out Nan was the decoy, he has her sent to women's prison.

At this point, the fun begins. I don't know if this was the first of the women's prison movies, although offhand I can't think of an earlier one. There's an elderly prisoner (Maude Eburne) who ran a brothel but calls it a "beauty parlor"; a matron who has a parrot on her shoulder as if she were a pirate or something; and Lillian Roth as the prison who befriends Nan. Roth also sings -- to a fan-mail publicity photo of Joe E. Brown! Oh, and there's the stereotype of the butch lesbian prisoner you don't want to make cross. Oh, the movie isn't a comedy by any means, even if these stereotypes are things we'd laugh about today. The dramatic tension is provided by two plot threads. One is Nan's gang attempting to escape; the other is prisoner Susie (Dorothy Burgess), who has a thing for David and resents that David likes Nan. (Seriously.)

I don't think there's any way Ladies They Talk About will ever be mistaken for Caged. But that doesn't mean that Ladies They Talk About isn't a heck of a lot of fun to watch. And I haven't even mentioned the "what are they thinking" ending. Stanwyck is good here, as she almost always is, and she's supported by a whole bunch of character actors. Two I haven't mentioned yet are Lyle Talbot and Harold Huber as members of Stanwyck's gang. I doubt there's anything resembling accuracy in this movie, but there's a lot resembling entertainment.

Ladies They Talk About doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're either going to have to watch tomorrow's showing, or wait until July 19, when TCM is running an entire day of prison movies.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Christopher Lee turns 90

Christopher Lee addressing the Berlin Film Festival, 2012Today marks the 90th birthdy of actor Christopher Lee. Lee is probably most associated with all those Hammer horror movies made in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, or more accurately starting about 1958 with his role as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula. In fact, Lee would go on to play Dracula again and again and again: if I've counted correctly, Lee played Dracula 10 times over the next 15 years, while making a bunch of other horror movies in between, such as in The Hands of Orlac (1960). In this remake of a 1924 silent by the same title, which is probably best-known for the 1935 remake Mad Love, Lee plays what is essentially the Peter Lorre version in Mad Love.

Lee actually got his start much earlier, though, in the late 1940s, with one of his earliest screen credits being 1949's Scott of the Antarctic, about the ill-fated British expedition to the South Pole in 1911/12. He was in other period pieces like The Crimson Pirate, set in the late 18th century, as well as the World War II sub movie The Cockleshell Heroes (although to be fair he's well down the credit roll in all of these).

As for the Lee films I'd most recommend? Well, there's The Wicker Man, in which Lee plays the lord of the Scottish island where strange pagan rituals are happening, investigated by Edward Woodward. Lee also played bad guy Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's Memorial Day weekend again

Memorial Day weekend means TCM showing a bunch of war- and military-themed movies. Those movies will be running for 48 hours starting at 6:00 AM Sunday. Everybody got into the war effort after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, with Hollywood being no different. Many of Hollywood's talent worked for the military making instructional movies for the soldiers. Some of this work is chronicled in The First Motion Picture Unit, which kicks off TCM's Memorial Day weekend tribute at 6:00 AM tomorrow.

Although the Motion Picture Units made instructional films, it looks as though none of those are on this year's schedule, which is a bit of a shame. I really wish TCM could show Resisting Enemy Interrogation again. The title is precisely what the movie is about, but it's actually fascinating because it shows, presumably accurately, how the Nazis are going to be clever in trying to split up American POWs and get them to divulge information unwittingly. Films like this were, as far as I'm aware, strictly for internal consumption, but they were preserved. Unfortunately, Resisting Enemy Interrogation doesn't seem to be available on any video format, and isn't even up on Youtube.

The Motion Picture Units also made promotional materials that were intended for civilians. An example of this is Winning Your Wings, which airs tomorrow morning at 6:25 AM. There's not much to it; it's more an infomercial-length film trying to get young men to join the Army Air Corps, this being the days before the Air Force was a separate branch of the military. The obvious interesting thing is that it stars James Stewart, who really did fight in the war (he's referred to here as Lt. James Stewart), remained in the reserves after the war ended, and ultimately retired as a Brigadier General. Also interesting is that there's a young Don DeFore, who would go on to act after the war even if he wasn't terribly famous (I think I've recommended him in It Happened on Fifth Avenue and not much else); that and the direction by John Huston.

Dick Tracy

I should have posted last night, but i was too wrapped up in the exciting hockey game. TCM is starting a new serial this week, with The Perils of Pauline having finished last Saturday. Anyhow, the new serial is 1937's Dick Tracy, starting at noon. It's gotten a DVD release, although it's apparently currently out of print, as TCM doesn't list it as available for purchase. My old Alpha Video catalog lists it, though, so perhaps it's also in the public domain.

This is actually the first appearance on the big screen of Chester Gould's police detective; younger readers are probably more likely to remember the 1990 film. Dick Tracy, played here by Ralph Byrd, gets involved in a plot with the "Lame One" trying to blow up a bridge, although this of course takes a bunch of episodes to transpire. More interesting is the fact that the police chief is played by Francis X. Bushman.

As for Dick Tracy's famous wrist radio, I can't help but think how much we've advanced technologically in the past 20 years. I was born in 1972, and when I was a kid, and even when the 1990 Warren Beatty film came out, the idea of being able to talk to somebody from a device small enough to wear on your wrist was futuristic and unrealistic. True, cell phones had already been coming out in the 1980s, but those were big and expensive. I remember riding in a rental car circa 1992 that had a credit-card operated cell phone in it, on this sizable armature between the driver's and passenger's seat. Nowadays, of course, cell phones are ubiquitous, and if we don't wear them on our wrists the way Dick Tracy has his wristwatch/radio, that's only because it inconvenient. Well, I don't think cellphones are quite down to the size of the wrist radio, but again that's because of how much distance there is between the human ear and mouth, which is always going to be a limiting factor on the size of cell phones. I'd also guess using a wrist radio rather than a telephone-type device in the original comic strip would have made it more obvious in showing when somebody remote was talking to Tracy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lady in the Lake

Does Lady in the Lake get any better after the first 20 minutes? TCM showed it yesterday, and I sat down to watch, but I couldn't help but find the movie's technique tedious, disconcerting, and badly handled. For those who don't know anything about the movie, Lady in the Lake is based on a novel of the same title by Raymond Chandler (who also wrote The Big Sleep). Robert Montgomery plays Philip Marlowe, and also directed. The problem is, he decided (or perhaps one of the suits at MGM got the idea) to shoot the movie in a first-person, camera-as-Marlowe style, with the result that we rarely see Montgomery, unless he's looking in a mirror, or in an expository scene at the beginning. There's something about this that I found extremely hard to take: do we really need to see camera pan over to doorbells and down to doorknobs? Humans can see these in their peripheral vision.

I don't think the female lead (Audrey Totter) helped matters either. It was as if she and Montgomery were making two different movies. They certainly didn't have the chemistry that William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies had, although that's a bit unfair since Powell and Loy were playing husband and wife. More fair might be to say they didn't have the chemistry of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, or even better, Jack Carson and Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, where Carson has an unrequited thing for Crawford.

Should I give Lady in the Lake another try? It's gotten a DVD release as part of a noir boxset, but doesn't seem to have an in-print individual release.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Where is Jane Doe?

RKO never had the sheen that MGM had. In its last years, as I mentioned recently, the studio was putting out "Screenliner" shorts that looked low-budget compared to what the other studios had been doing a decade or more earlier. While MGM had been running the Crime Does Not Pay series in the 1930s and 1040s, RKO's attempt, Where Is Jane Doe, comes up well short in comparison. You can see for yourself at 1:45 PM this afternoon on TCM.

The short starts off with police finding clothes suitable for a young woman on a bridge and looking for that young woman. Did she jump off the bridge? Wsa she kidnapped? Or is she trying not to be found? Oh, the answers to those questions will come quickly enough. Unlike the Crime Does Not Pay shorts, Where is Jane Doe? is only a one-reeler, so the police have to crack the case more quickly. Apparently, the girl had an interest in modeling that her parents didn't know much about, but the girl was much too homely to succeed as a model. So the girl, despondent, jumped off the bridge. It's obvious. Well, maybe not so obvious, although this short would have been much more shocking if it ended with them fishing her body out of the river and a close-up shot of the bloated, drowned body. (Alternatively, she could have jumped off the Empire State Building.)

Sadly, the resolution of the case is rather more prosaic. And it's all presented in a way that makes the cops seem so wonderful and dedicated and virtuous and flawless. So at least Where Is Jane Doe? is interesting enough to generate a few laughs, even if they were not intended by the people making this short.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Sport Parade

The fourth night of Joel McCrea's turn as TCM Star of the Month concludes at 8:15 AM tomorrow morning with The Sport Parade. Joel McCrea stars as Sandy, who is just finishing up his senior year at Dartmouth together with best friend Johnny (William Gargan). The two were both stars on the football team back in the days when college football was king and the game was such that relatively small white guys like them could succeed. (McCrea was certainly fit, but not football fit.) Being a college football star gives one connections, and Johnny uses them to go into journalism in New York. Sandy, however, likes football, and decides that he's going to become a professional football player.

Back in those days, of course, you couldn't make a living solely as a professional football player. You had to work in the off-season, and professional football wasn't particularly prestigious, either. So Sandy isn't able to make much of a success at pro football, and has to take a job with Johnny. This causes problems when both of them fall for Irene (Marian Marsh). Sandy goes back into the world of sports.

Eventually, to make ends meet, Sandy takes up professional wrestling. This is hard to believe, since all the photos I've seen of old-time professional wrestlers showed them to be, if not as big as today, still much bigger and burlier than McCrea. He's going to get himself killed. Well, except that he's not, because professional wrestling is more or less fake, with heavy emphasis on the "more". The climax comes when Irene bets Johnny that Sandy will win the big match: if Sandy loses the fight, Irene will marry Johnny. Sandy, however, has already agreed to throw the match....

Oh dear is the plot silly. It seems as if the only point to the whole thing is to get Joel McCrea in a series of scenes where he's not wearing much in the way of clothing, something I suppose the women (and gay men) of the day would have liked. The "two men in love with the same girl" plot device must have been old even then, and Joel McCrea just isn't believable in this role. Andy Devine had played football in college, as did John Wayne; maybe they could have done a part like this. Devine certainly could have played the wrestler part here too.

The Sport Parade is, I think, more interesting for its look at life and the world of sports back in the 1930s (six-day bicycle races?) than it is for the story. Oh, and if you like men, it's interesting for McCrea's body too, I suppose. It's not on DVD, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All This and Heaven Too

I mentioned once quite a long time ago that All This, and Heaven Too is one of those films that shows up surprisingly infrequently on TCM. It's got a top-notch cast, stellar production values, and was made at Warner Bros., so TCM should have an easier time with the broadcast rights. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to show up quite as often as some of the other prestige films from Warner Bros. That having been said, it's on again tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, and even though it's got a fairly long running time at 141 minutes, it's worth a watch.

All This, and Heaven Too is actually based on a true story, that of French nobleman Charles de Choiseul-Praslin. Choiseul-Praslin was a duke, played here by Charles Boyer, during the reign of Louis Phillipe in the 1840s. More on the Duke in a bit. The movie actually opens up with Henriette (Bette Davis), playing a teacher at an all girls' school in the US several years after the 1848 revolution that overthrew Louis Phillipe. Her students know that Henriette has a past, and when they ask her about it, she decides to set the record straight....

Flash back to 1840s France. Henriette is the governess to the aforementioned Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. He's married to the Duchesse (Barbara O'Neil) and has four children (obviously, or else there wouldn't be a need for a governess). Although they've got four children, they no longer have a happy marriage. It's a difficult situation for Henriette, but she makes the best of it, treating the children as best she can, and they adore her in return. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the Duchesse angrier and more jealous. Not only does she fear they're loving the governess more than they love her; she fears the same could be said about the Duc. As a result, the Duchesse decides the best course of action would be to fire Henriette, and not give her any letter of recommnedation. The Duc is none too happy about this, and the result is that the Duchesse is killed by his hand. Henriette and the Duc are both accused of complicity in the murder even though Henriette is quite innocent. The real-life Duc poisoned himself, while Henriette made her way to America with the help of Rev. Henry Field (played here by Jeffrey Lynn), whom she wound up marrying. In fact, the original novel All This, and Heaven Too was written by Henriette and Rev. Henry's grandniece.

The movie version is unsurprisingly top-notch, as you would expect from a Warner Bros. period piece made in 1940. The only caveat might be that studio-era period pieces don't have quite the realistic look that more recent period pieces do, but Hollywood couldn't do much about that. Bette Davis is good as usual, and who better to play French than Charles Boyer? I don't know quite how closely the movie follows the actual events, and how much is embellishment just to have a good story. Even with that caveat, any fan of movies form the studio era should love this one. It's gotten a number of DVD releases, too, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding it if you miss it on TCM.

Life imitating art

OK, so it really doesn't have that much to do with the movies, but the following article that appearedn in my RSS compiler this morning was interesting: Ravens Attack Humans after Bulgarian Earthquake in Hitchcock-Style Scenario

I have no idea to what extent the article is the truth, as it doesn't seem to have any video accompanying it. And technically, shouldn't a reference to The Birds by a Du Maurier-style scenario?

Also unrelated but fortuitous, is that San Francisco is on the TCM schedule for tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Norma Rae

Tonight at 8:00 sees the TCM premiere of Norma Rae, the first of two Oscar-winning performances for Sally Field. (In fact, Norma Rae kicks off another night of Field's movies, and is followed by second Oscar performance in Places in the Heart at 10:00 PM.

Based on a true story with some details changed, Field plays the titular Norma Rae. She's a single mother in a small town in Alabama that'd dominated by the local cotton mill. Conditions are lousy, to put it mildly, but nobody dares say boo partly out of fear of losing their jobs, and partly because they don't know better. That is, until Reuben (Ron Leibman) comes to town. Reuben is a New York City Jew who is also a union organizer. One of the national textile unions has learned of the horrible conditions at the mill, and unsurprisingly believes that unionizing the mill's workers will give them the power to address the terrible state of the mill. The workers are wary at first. Part of it is a general distrust of unions, but it doesn't help Reuben that he's a northerner and non-Christian, either.

Norma Rae doesn't have any more desire to take up Reuben's cause either; she's just trying to make it through life with her children by different fathers and new husband Sonny (Beau Bridges). All this changes when her father dies. Dad works in the mill too, and one day he asks for a break because he's feeling a terrible pain in his arm. The boss says no, but Dad gets a permanent break anyhow as the pain turns out to be a symptom of a massive heart attack that kills him. It's enough to change any child, I suppose.

Much of the rest of the story is a bit predictable, in that you know there's going to be tension between Norma Rae and Sonny as she spends long hours with Reuben working on the union organizing campaign. You also know that the campaign isn't going to be straightforward, and you can presume that the movie would never have been made if the campaign weren't ultimately successful. So, in a movie like this, it's just as much in the way the story is told as it is in the story itself. Here, the movie really shines.

I think it helps enormously that Norma Rae is presented as a fully human character complete with all her warts who hasn't been sanitized that much to make her look even more sympathetic. (Compare this to the real-life Erin Brockovich.) It also helps that some of the key sequences in the movie did, by all accounts, happen fairly close to the way they're presented in the movie. In particular, this means the scene of Norma Rae protesting by writing the word "Union" on a piece of cardboard, standing on top of her work station, and showing it to everybody in the mill. And when she gets arrested, she has to tell her children some uncomfortable truths. The fact that the characters aren't perfect also allows the film to have its obvious political beliefs without coming across as preachy, something that today's filmmakers could learn from. (To be fair, I think today's filmmakers are more concerned with adapting yet another comic book, with lots of special effects explosions.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

RKO Sports

Toward the end of the road, RKO must have gotten desperate to do something for success. I can't think of any other reason why they came up with some of the shorts they did in the 1950s. With the advent of television, a lot of what the studios had been doing as either B-movies or shorts were more suitable for the 22-minutes plus commercials in a half-hour format on TV. The Bowery Boys petered out by 1956; James Fitzpatrick did his last Traveltalks short around 1954; and even the animation departments were about to undergo major restructuring. And yet RKO came out with some its most curious shorts.

Today, TCM is showing a couple of those shorts, both released under the theme "RKO-Pathe Sportscope". (There was another series called "RKO Screenliners", which put out such fun stuff as Teenagers on Trial, which I've briefly mentioned in the past. In fact, one of the "Screenliners" that I haven't seen before, Black Cats and Broomsticks, is coming up just after Bell, Book, and Candle around 3:15 PM.) First, at about 1:20 PM, just after The Seven Year Itch, you can watch Headpin Hints, in which a pair of professional bowlers teach us how to make those difficult spares. It's easy to forget, I suppose, that bowling was quite a bit more popular back in the day, with a lot of people taking part in bowling leagues. A lot of that's gone by the wayside now that there are a lot more social options out there.

The second short is Four-Minute Fever, just after The Far Country, a little after 5:15 PM. This one is about the race to run four-minute miles. Roger Bannister was the first to do so in 1954, and this short was released in 1956, so it gives us highlights of several races, including one at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver that had all the "best" milers in the world. (Where are all the Kenyans?) This short also, rather humorously, seems to focus on whether an American will ever run a four-minute mile. We'll get there eventually, I suppose.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Speaking of Gregg Toland

I mentioned Gregg Toland about two years ago on his birthday. Toland was one of the outstanding cinematographers of his era before his untimely death in 1948. He's probably best remembered for the almost groundbreaking shots he produced under the direction of Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, although I think he did just as good a job in The Best Years of Our Lives. Anyhow, TCM is spedning a night with Toland, or at least with his movies.

Sadly, The Best Years of Our Lives is not one of them. I was hoping that perhaps this might be because Memorial Day is coming up and The Best Years of Our Lives is a perfect film for Memorial Day. But no, it's not showing up then either. Citizen Kane does show up, concluding the night at 4:15 AM.

In fact the night kicks off at 8:00 PM with this week's TCM Essential, the Laurence Olivier/Merle Oberon version of Wuthering Heights. To be honest, I don't remember anything particularly memorable about the cinematography in this one, although that may be in part because of how retch-worthy I find the story and particularly the finale. But I'm sure there are some peoplw who will love it.

Toland photographs John Wayne taking The Long Voyage Home at 10:00 PM, doing a good job with a story set mostly on board a ship.

It's tough to go wrong with photographing Jane Russell and her assets, and Toland got a chance to do just that (the photography, not the going wrong) in The Outlaw, at midnight. Apparently there's a story behind Jane Russell somewhere.

I don't think I've ever done a full-length blog post on The Grapes of Wrath before, although I've mentioned it a bunch of times in conjunction with other things. Toland photographed this one too, and you can catch it at 2:00 AM.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bob's not your uncle

Back in 1892, a play called Charley's Aunt opened in London. The play turned out to be quite the success, being produced as well in New York, beomcing a staple of stock theater, and getting made as a movie. Well, not just one movie, but a whole bunch of them. The best known of these might be the 1941 film starring Jack Benny, but TCM has had difficulties getting the rights to that version. Instead, TCM will be showing the 1930 version of Charley's Aunt at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning.

Charlie Wykeham (Hugh Williams) and Jack Chesney (Rodney McLennan) are a pair of students at Oxford who are in love with Kitty and Amy respectively. They plan to ask for their girlfriends' hands in marriage, but there's a catch. Amy's uncle (Halliwell Hobbes) is the guardian of both girls, and is going to be taking them away to Scotland in a day or two, so they have to act now. The other problem is that this is a time where a young man and a young woman aren't really supposed to be alone; the men need a chaperone. Well, that's not so much of a problem: Charley's aunt, who married up to a wealthy Brazilian, is now a widow and visiting England. They'll use her as a chaperone. And then they receive a telegram that she's been delayed a few days.

Charley comes up with a plan: his and Jack's mutual friend/classmate Lord Babberley (Charlie Ruggles) is acting in the school revue, and playing the part of an old lady, what with Oxford being an all-male institution at the time. Babberley has the costume and needs the acting practice. Certainly he can dress up as the aunt and play chaperone.

Needless to say, everything doesn't quite go to plan. The two young ladys take a shine to the "aunt", but worse, so does Jack's father. It turns out that Jack's father has lost quite a bit of money, and could use the wealth that Charley's aunt has. There's more complication where that came from, though, as Amy's uncle also seems to like the old lady who isn't really a lady.

I have to admit that I'd never seen any of the versions of Charley's Aunt, either film or stage, before TCM showed this 1930 version a month or two ago. I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of comedies of lies, where the plot hinges upon a lie, and some of the characters tell bigger and bigger lies to keep the original little lie away from the other characters. So at times, the material here comes across as irritating to me at least. This version is also from 1930, which of course is near the beginning of the sound era. Filmmakers didn't have quite the freedom that they do nowadays due to the technical constrictions placed upon them by the equipment. Some plays adapted for the cinema (see The Guardsman) overcome these limitations well; others not quite as well. Charley's Aunt at times falls into the latter group. Still, Charlie Ruggles does a very entertaining job with his cross-dressing role. The rest of the actors come across more as products of the early sound era, but overall, Charley's Aunt is entertaining enough. This 1930 version is rarely seen and doesn't have a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer, 1948-2012

TMZ has announced the death of disco singer Donna Summer, at the age of 63. Why am I mentioned the death of a disco singer (albeit, one of the most famous) on a blog about classic cinema? Well, it gives me the chance to mention the underrated movie Thank God It's Friday.

Thank God It's Friday is a movie that gets a lot of flak solely because it's set quite firmly in the disco era, an era which has dated particularly badly. In fact, I would suggest that this is a movie that's reminiscent of the 1934 film Wonder Bar (not available on DVD). Both movies are about one night in the life of a prominent night spot, and the people who patronize and work at the place, with several somewhat intersecting subplots. Thank God It's Friday opens up with several people getting ready to go out on a Friday night to the hot disco somewhere in Los Angeles. There's the would be ladies' man (a young Jeff Goldblum) who is also obsessed with his car; a couple trying to spice up their marriage on the rocks; an equally young Debra Winger; two teens who are too young to be there but fake their IDs to get in; and of course Donna Summer, playing Nicole Sims, a would-be singer who wants the DJ at the club to notice her. Many of them are also there for the big dance contest which is almost a macguffin.

Summer's character of course does get her big break: the club was also advertising an appearance by the Commodores, who were big in 1978 and fronted at the time by a young Lionel Richie before we wen't solo. Unfortunately they get lost and have car trouble, so Donna audaciously presents herself as somebody who can sing. And she goes on to sing the song "Last Dance", which turns out to be the highlight of the movie. The song won an Oscar, although not for Summer as the Best Song Oscar goes to the songwriter and composer, not the singer. I don't doubt, however, that Summer's rendition helped "Last Dance" come Oscar time.

Thank God It's Friday is probably best-remembered today for all the disco songs that it spawned. I think that this is a bit unfair. Sure, it's not the greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it comes across as a movie that knows it's not a prestige movie and is just trying to have fun. Some of the subplots work better than the others. The Commodores, not being at the club, look edited in for the purpose of being able to have their name in the credits; while there's a great running gag about Goldblum's love for his car. If you like the music, you'll probably love Thank God It's Friday. If not, well, it's an interesting time capsule.

Thank God It's Friday got a DVD release several years ago, but I don't know if it's still in print.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh dear: Dead End isn't on DVD either

TCM's third Wednesday for Star of the Month Joel McCrea kicks off at 8:00 PM with Dead End. I didn't notice until today that it doesn't seem to have an in-print DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

McCrea plays Dave, a would-be architect living in a tenement district in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the mid-1930s. He's in love with shop girl Drina (Sylvia Sidney). Both would like to leave the tenement district; he by remaking it into affordable housing for all, and she by moving up economically. But their relationship is only part of the story. Drina is also looking after her kid brother Tommy (Billy Halop). Tommy seems to spend his days idly with his friends, raising a ruckus and in one case taking advantage of a rich kid who lives just down the road.

Into all of this walks Baby Face Martin (Humphrey Bogart). He's a famous gangster who used to live in the area many years ago and is coming back to see his mother (Marjorie Main) and his old girlfriend Francey (Claire Trevor) -- only to find that both women have changed.

In some ways, Dead End is a slice of life movie about the neighborhood where all these people live, although there's also a bigger plot about Tommy and his friends looking up to Baby Face, and Baby Face being on the run from the police, something which leads Dave to try to influence the kids to do better than they could following Baby Face. As for those police, they show up courtesy of the parents of the rich kid Tommy and his friends took advantage of earlier in the movie....

Dead End was released in 1937, at a time when McCrea and Sidney were the actors who would have been known well enough to get top billing. (Bogart had actually already made The Petrified Forest, but the rest of his really good roles were to come along later.) Although they've got top billing, they aren't quite the stars. Bogart unsurprisingly puts in another memorable performance. But it's also Billy Halop and his friends for whom this was a seminal motion picture. Those friends, played by juvenile actors like Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, became known as the "Dead End Kids" as a result of this movie, and it pretty much typecast them. As the Dead End Kids, they wound up at Warner Bros., where they appeared alongside James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces and John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal, in both cases nearly stealing the show. Gorcey, Hall, and a couple of others, would go on to morph into the Bowery Boys, who were of course the stars of a series of ultra-low budget comedies until the mid-1950s.

Still not on DVD: They Shall Have Music

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that They Shall Have Music still doesn't have a DVD release. It was made by Sam Goldwyn's studio, which means it's not as if you can expect a Warner Archive release. (Who even owns the rights today anyhow?) And as much as those of us who spend a good portion of our time watching TCM or even blogging about movies might want to think otherwise, having Joel McCrea as your top star isn't a particularly big draw. TCM has been hawking a box set of McCrea's films, but you'll notice they were all made at Universal. And is that box set even out yet? I could swear the promo says Mustang Country is one of the films, but TCM doesn't list that as being available for purchase yet.

The upshot is that if you want to see a movie like They Shall Have Music, you're going to have to catch it on TCM, and tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM will be one of your few chances. I think it's been the first time in over three years that TCM has had it on.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Hatchet Man

Back in the 1930s it was common for Hollywood, when they were making movies about people of Asian descent, to use actors of European descent even though this often looked ludicrous. A fun example of this is in The Hatchet Man, which TCM will be showing early tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM.

The titular hatchet man is played by Edward G. Robinson of all people! He plays Wong, an assassin for one of the "Tongs" (that is clans or families) in the Chinese-American mafia of San Francisco. One day, he's given the task of assassinating Sun Yat Ming (J. Carrol Naish). This is problematic, because Sun was one of Wong's childhood friends. On top of that, Sun has a young daughter, Sun Toya. Wong is a professional though, and kills Sun. This isn't before Sun wills his business to Wong and tells Wong to take care of the daughter.

Fast forward many years. Wong is still being played by Robinson, and is now retired from the assassination game, having gone into Sun's business and having become quite successful financially at it. More creepily, he's fallen in love with Toya (now played by Loretta Young, who was about 20 at the time), and married her! Unfortunately for Wong, he has to go back to work killing people when another Tong war breaks out. While on an assignment, Toya meets and falls in love with Harry (despite the name, this is another Chinese-American character, played by Leslie Fenton). Wong lets her get a divorce because all he had really wanted to do was make Toya happy.

Fast forward some more years. Harry and Toya went to China where Toya wound up getting addicted to opium and likely (although if memory serves it's not explicitly mentioned as such in the film) sold into sex slavery to pay off her and Harry's debts. Wong learns about this and heads off to China to rescue Toya....

There's a lot of stuff to find fun in The Hatchet Man, even if it's so very hard to overlook the fact that you've got such bad miscasting. I suppose it wouldn't take too much script revision to make everybody be members of ethnic European mob organizations, and there are almost some echoes of Safe in Hell. Then again, bothe movies were directed by William Wellman. The acting is fairly good despite the miscasting, while the story has enough or the luridness and plot twists that were a staple of films in the pre-Code era. The Hatchet Man hasn't gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Strike up the band

TCM is listing tonight's prime time lineup under the theme "Henry Koster Musicals". All of the movies were directed by Koster, and they all have a reasonable amount of music, but I don't know that I'd call half of them musicals. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Stars and Stripes Forever, which is a biopic of composer John Philip Sousa. Happily, TCM's site lists it as now being available on DVD. Immediately following, a little after 9:30 PM, is a short of the Marine Corps Band that Warner Bros. made back in 1942.

TCM lists One Hundred Men and a Girl, airing at 11:30 PM, as not being available for purchase. It's gotten a DVD release, but apparently only overseas. (Specifically, Region 2, which is Europe, Japan, and South Africa.)

The third non-musical is another biopic, The Singing Nun, at 3:00 AM. Once again, there's certainly music, but it's a biopic of her time as a nun. As I mentioned back in January 2009, what happened afterwards isn't pretty. The Singing Nun is on DVD here in North America.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Have you written to mother?

Today being Mothers' Day, TCM is showing a lot of films focusing on mothers and their relationships with the rest of the family. I don't think I've ever blogged about Pocketful of Miracles (12:30 PM) before, other than to mention that it's a remake of Lady For a Day, which I first blogged about over four years ago.

Irene Dunne as the mother in I Remember Mama (5:30 PM) got a mention last year on Mothers' Day, which I suppose says something about the originality of TCM's programming. Then again, it's not as if there are too many movies where the mother relationship is the point of the plot to the extent that it is in I Remember Mama. Sure, there are films such as Mildred Pierce (10:00 PM), but there the parent-child relationship is in a rather less positive light.

And wait until you get to Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata, which is this week's TCM Import coming up overnight at 2:00 AM. There's a wonderful family relationship. At least TCM isn't showing the mother/son relationship in Psycho this year.

As for the title of this blog post, it seems almost a stereotype for a sign reading something along the lines of "Have you written to/called Mother today?" to be on the wall of a mission in movies that feature such. I'm pretty certain one showed up in Sullivan's Travels, in the scene were Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake spend the night in a homeless shelter and McCrea gets his boots stolen right off his feet. I also seem to recall a similar sign when Montgomery Clift calls his mother, who does some sort of mission work, in A Place in the Sun.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Les Diaboliques

Tonight's Essential, at 8:00 PM on TCM, is the 1955 French film Les diaboliques. You might know the film better under its English-language title, Diabolique.

Paul Meurisse plays Michel Delassale, the headmaster of an all-boys boarding school somewhere outside Paris. He's not a particularly nice guy, feeding crappy food to the kids and rationing the wine for the adults. He's married to Christina (Véra Clouzot, wife of the director, Henri-Georges Clouzot), but is having an affair with Nicole (Simone Signoret). However, Michel is just as much a jerk to Nicole as he is to Christina, his employees, and his students. So Nicole and Christina get an idea which is, well, diabolical: they'll kill Michel, and make the death look like he got drunk, fell in the school's pool, and drowned.

So, the three protagonists set off for the not-very-romantic town of Niort (a real place in western France and the birthplace Henri-Georges Clouzot), where the two women take Michel to a grimy apartment, slip a mickey in his drink, drown him in the bathtub, wrap up his body and put it in the back of their Citroën 2CVX, and drive back to the school to dump the body in the pool. So far so good. And then the women have to report Michel as missing. The police come, and the pool is drained... and there's no body!

At this point, things start getting weirder and weirder. Michel's clothes show up, but not on Michel; and one of the students swears up and down that he saw Michel! Surely there's something not right going on here. Or is there? Perhaps a police inspector can help find the body, but Christina obviously doesn't want the body found.

At this point it's a bit tough to go on without giving away the key plot points. Les Diaboliques is, after all, a suspense movie, and quite a good one at that. The characters and settings are much less glamorous even than a Hollywood noir, where the studio system still shone through. This feels like a much more real France than the France of, say, The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Friday, May 11, 2012

London Can Take It!

It's not much, but TCM is showing the short London Can Take It!. Like 49th Parallel, it's an example of British propaganda designed to influence American public opinion in the period before the US joined World War II. If you've watched any movies set during the early stages of World War II, you'll know that the Nazis tried to bomb the UK into submission by running countless air-raids over London. London Can Take It! shows the results of these air raids, but also shows that dammit, the good people of the UK aren't going to let Nazi Germany get them down. Sometimes I wonder whether that wouldn't lead neutrals to believe, "If they can take it, why do they need our help?" But public opinion is a funny thing.

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II, American audiences saw some movies where the air raids were a plot point. Foreign Correspondent, which just aired the other day, might be the best known, but there are also movies like Confirm Or Deny, which like 49th Parallel had the interesting luck of being made before the US got dragged into the war, but a release date afterwards.

London Can Take It! was included as an extra on a DVD release of James Cagney's The Fighting 69th, and I think might also be available in one of the Cagney box sets.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Silents for teens

I was watching Jeopardy! again yesterday evening. They're in the middle of their annual Teen Tournament, which I don't normally watch, but I tuned in just at the start of the "Double Jeopardy" round, and saw that one of the categories was "The Silent Movie Era". Naturally, I was curious as to what sort of silent-movie related things the Jeopardy! writers would expect the teens of today to know. I presumed the clues would be slightly easier than normal. First, the writers always seem to have some teen-related material for the Teen Tournament, which isn't much of a surprise. The general material is, I think, somewhat easier than normal, probably because teens just don't have the life experience that adults do, so there are a lot of areas where they're not going to know as much as adult contestants. Jeopardy! also seems to test breadth of knoledge a lot more than depth, and I don't expect the average adult contestant to have the sort of knowledge about old film that those of us who blog about the subject do, something I wrote about last November.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, but the three teens avoided the silent movie category like the plague. I don't think I can really blame them; I suppose being 17 and seeing a category on silent cinema would be like seeing a category on opera, something even a lot of adults would shy away from. So they saved the category for last and only got through three of the clues before time ran out on the round. Somewhat more surprisingly is that the writers (or prodcuers) put one of the Daily Doubles in the category. Anyhow, the clues weren't particularly difficult, and to be honest, two of them weren't even particularly about contestants' knowledge of silent movies. The easy clue at the top was about the group of people profiled in Nanook of the North, while the Daily Double in the middle box asked for the director of The Lodger, making the clue just a bit easier by including the fact that he also directed movies like Psycho.. (For the record, I'd have to go back and look up who directed the Laird Cregar version of The Lodger, but not the silent version.) The other clue, in the $1600 box, asked for the person who directed and starred in The Gold Rush. To their credit, one of the teens did know this.

I was also left wondering what the most difficult clue all the way at the bottom of the category would be. Show a picture of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock and asking what film it's from? Something about Buster Keaton? I know the Jeopardy! writers have asked about The General before, or at least the real-life train that inspired the Buster Keaton movie. It's stumped the adult contestants multiple times, but I should probably point out that I wouldn't have known about the Civil War train either if I hadn't seen the Buster Keaton movie.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Any similarity to Foreign Correspondent is purely coincidental

TCM continues its salute to Star of the Month Joel McCrea this evening. McCrea's 1940 film Foreign Correspondent, which I've blogged about before, is airing at 9:30 PM. A similar movie that McCrea made one year earlier, Espionage Agent, is coming up later in the evening, overnight at 1:15 AM.

McCrea plays Barry Corvall, a man working in a US consulate in North Africa. He's about to return to the US to go to foreign service school for those who are intending to serve higher up in the diplomatic corps. But before that can happen, he meets a woman (Brenda Marshall) trying to escape the turmoil in Europe. The two eventually fall in love on the boat home, and against the better judgment of Barry's mother, he marries Brenda. He should have listened to mother: it turns out that Brenda is German, and the Nazis are trying to get her to start spying for them again. The fact that she's got a husband in the diplomatic corps makes her particularly valuable.

Brenda does have one thing going for her, though, which is that she wants to escape her Nazi past. Barry realizes that he's been compromised by marrying a former Nazi, and comes up with the brilliant idea of resigning from the diplomatic corps and independently getting the goods on the Nazis to show America what a danger Nazi agents in the US really are. So Barry and Brenda go to Switzerland, it apparently being much easier for a former American diplomat to enter there than Nazi Germany. Spying, however, is a dangerous business, and Brenda gets kidnapped and Barry has to rescue her before she winds up back in Germany....

Espionage Agent has echoes in a lot of other movies, such as the aforementioned Foreign Correspondent, as well as Night Train to Munich. The theme of German immigrants in America spying on the US for their country of birth is a theme that was also dealt with by Hollywood, both before the war in Confessions of a Nazi Spy and during/afterwards, in a film like The House on 92nd Street. Compared to these movies, Espionage Agent is entertaining, even if it's not quite as good overall. The other films have the feel of A-movies, while Espionage Agent is really more of a B-movie. Also, with the war in Europe already having started by the time Espionage Agent premiered in the US, it doesn't have quite the shock value that Confessions of a Nazi Spy, which premiered four months before the Nazi invasion of Poland, did. Still, Espionage Agent is an enjoyable movie.

Espionage Agent doesn't seem to have received a DVD release, and it shows up rather infrequently on TCM, so you'll have to record it if you want to see it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What does TCM get?

TCM is showing a special tonight on "The Art of Collaboration", produced in conjunction with the AFI. It's not the first one; TCM last year showed one with Steven Spielberg and John Williams. (I think that one is also getting another showing in the overnight hours.) However, the one that's premiering tonight involves director David O. Russell and actor Mark Wahlberg.

TCM has commissioned quite a few classic related documentaries before. To be fair, I really don't mind if documentaries and such show up on the schedule when they're fairly obviously related to classic cinema. Those and the Private Screenings interviews are genearlly enjoyable. I also liked the Dick Cavett Show interviews that aired a number of years back. A vintage hour-long interview with Bette Davis? Wonderful.

But I'm a bit puzzled as to the significance of David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg. Maybe in another decade or two when Wahlberg's work (he has, after all, been nominated for an acting Oscar and an Oscar as producer) is old enough to be under consideration for "classic" status it will all make a lot more sense. (There's always the question of how old something has to be before it can be considered a classic, but that's a discussion for another time.) And maybe there will be some discussion that fits in with classic cinema as well.

It seems clear to me though that the whole "Art of Collaboration" series is being produced for... well, for some reason. And TCM is showing the entire series for some reason as well. But what is TCM getting out of this? At least with the advertising in the "Classic Movie News" bits I can understand that TCM would be bartering for the rights to show more movies from Universal or Paramount or whatever in exchange for mentioning their new DVD releases of old studio movies. But I'm having a tough time thinking of the benefit of working this closely with the AFI.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is actually showing some worthwhile movies

It looks like TCM is showing several MGM musicals tomorrow morning into the early afternoon, including a pair with Margaret O'Brien. Bleah. Surprisingly, the Fox Movie Channel is actually having a day with mostly older movies, at least until the 3:00 PM switch to FXM. I think I've blogged about most of the films before, with the exception of one of the Michael Shayne mysteries, The Man Who Wouldn't Die, at 6:00 AM.

Fallen Angel, which I mentioned back in August of last year, follows The Man Who Wouldn't Die at 7:15 AM.

Another noir, Kiss of Death, is on at 9:00 AM.

The last of the 1940s films is Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley, at 11:00 AM.

FMC's day concludes the way it began, with a showing of the 1978 film The Fury. It's showing not only at 1:00 PM, but at 4:00 AM tomorrow before the rest of the movies mentioned above. I know some people complain about TCM showing the same titles over and over, but this is ridiculous.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why does Robert Mitchum keep going back to Mexico?

TCM is spending the morning and afternoon of May 7 with a bunch of Robert Mitchum movies, even though it's not his birthday. I blogged about His Kind of Woman last May. In that one, Mitchum plays a gambler who goes down to Mexico at the urging of a mobster in exile, not knowing the mobster plans to kill him. That's airing at 12:30 PM. Immediately before that, at 11:00 AM is Where Danger Lives. In this one, Mitchum plays a doctor who flees to Mexico with patient Faith Domergue. I've seen it before, but it's one that kind of blends in with all the other movies Mitchum made that have him in Mexico. I mean, TCM isn't even showing Second Chance on Monday.

Instead, the Mitchum-in-Mexico film I'd like to blog about is The Big Steal, which TCM is showing tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM. Here, Mitchum plays US Army Lt. Duke Halliday. Why is a US army lieutenant in Mexico? Probably because the Army is pursuing him for having stolen a six-figure sum of money. The pursuer is Capt. Blake (William Bendix). Lt. Halliday, of course, claims that he's innocent, and like in so many other movies, he's going to have to pursue the real culprit himself in order to bring justice and exonerate himself. In Mexico, Duke meets the lovely Joan (Jane Greer). She's looking for her fiancé. Or more likely ex-fiancé, since the guy bilked her out of a couple grand. It turns out that her fiancé is the same guy Duke is looking for (Patric Knowles). So the two team up and go after him together. And you just know they're also going ot fall in love along the way.

As I implied in the paragraph above, The Big Steal follows a tried and true formula. It's the sort of thing Alfred Hitchcock used earlier in both The 39 Steps and Saboteur, and would recycle again in North by Northwest. This isn't quite as good as Hitchcock's work, although to be fair comparing something to Hitchcock is setting a high bar and The Big Steal was clearly conceived as a more modest film. It's got its twists and turns like any good chase film; in this case that has a lot to do with the fact that although Duke is chasing the bad guy and has the Army chasing him, they're all in Mexico which means having to deal with the Mexican authorities in the form of Ramon Novarro, who is of two minds whether to get involved or just let all these people kill each other. And there's a bit of humor too, in a couple of scenes where Duke and Joan stay one step ahead of Capt. Blake, notably one involving a flock of sheep. The Big Steal isn't groundbreaking, but it's eminently entertaining.

The Big Steal has received a DVD release on several noir sets, even though I wouldn't quite put this in the noir category.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oooh, another hilariously overwrought film from Douglas Sirk!

TCM is showing the delightfully melodramatic Written on the Wind at midnight tonight. From the very start, you know that this is going to be a fun movie: Robert Stack rapidly and drunkenly drives his sports car to one of those lovely southern mansions, and runs in. Shots ring out, and we see Lauren Bacall shot and Stack staggering out of the house. And all of this is only over the opening credits....

Flash back, thanks to the help of the cinematic device of the pages of a page-a-day calendar flipping in reverse, about a year. Robert Stack plays Kyle Hadley, the scion of a Texas oilman (Robert Keith) who is expected to take over the firm in the future, but right now would rather just be a playboy, chasing every woman he meets. Looking after Kyle is the much more sensible Mitch (Rock Hudson), who has been Kyle's "best friend since childhood". (Personally, I wonder where there were supposed to be some homosexual overtones here. The film is rife with sexual overtones, as you'll soon see.) Mitch came from the wrong side of the tracks, but it seems as if the elder Hadley likes him more, something which causes more resentment by Kyle. (It probably leads to more of Kyle's sexual problems, too: he's got serious daddy issues.) Mitch's other job is to look after Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone, who won an Oscar for this role). In continuation of the sexual tension, Marylee has just as high a sex drive as Kyle, and she's trying to woo every man in town, something which drives both male Hadleys nuts. Indeed, Kyle is constantly looking for a gun to deal with people who would go after Marylee, even if in fact it's she who is going after the guys. Did I mention there's a lot of sexual overtones here?

All that plot isn't enough. I mentoined that we see Lauren Bacall getting shot in the opening credits, and she eventually shows up as Lucy Moore, an advertising artist. Kyle being the playboy that he is, immediately falls or her and tries to bed her. Mitch likes her too and wouldn't mind being in love with her, except that Kyle comes first. Lucy is a bit wary of Kyle, but eventually decides to elope with him. Kyle tries to get her pregnant but finds out from the doctor that he's got a "problem" (we'd guess a low sperm count, although the Production Code wouldn't let the filmmakers be explicit) that makes it significantly less likely, but not impossible, that Kyle will ever knock up Lucy. Meanwhile, he's beginning to get jealous of Mitch. Fast forward a few months and, miracle of miracles, Lucy gets pregnant by Kyle. At least, Lucy swears up and down to Mitch that Kyle is the father. Lucy realizes that Kyle won't believe this, which I suppose is understandable, and that Kyle will accuse Mitch of infidelity. After all, Mitch does spend entirely too much time with the rest of the Hadleys.

Oh good lord is this whole film sexually charged. But it's this whole attitude of "Let's beat the viewer over the head with more nonsensical sexual innuendo!" that makes Written on the Wind so much fun. It's gotten a DVD release, although as part of the Criterion Collection, so it's a bit pricey.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chance at Heaven, and other notes

The first week of Joel McCrea's turn as Star of the Month ended with 1933's Chance at Heaven, which isn't on DVD, so I can't in good conscience really do a full-length post recommending it if you haven't seen it. Joel McCrea dumps girlfriend Ginger Rogers in favor of rich flirt Marian Nixon. And then Rogers has a relationship with Nixon that strains credulity, to say the least. I found myself wondering why the three characters didn't just have a ménage à trois. It really would have made the movie interesting, and they might even have been able to get away with it in a pre-Code.

TCM is marking the birthday of Audrey Hepburn today, finishing up with the excellent Wait Until Dark at 6:00 PM. I probably should have done a full-length post yesterday on The Nun's Story, which is airing at 11:00 AM. Either that, or I should have done it for Fred Zinnemann on his birthday last week. This one is on DVD, though, so you don't have to worry if you miss the TCM showing.

The day of Audrey Hepburn films is followed by half a night honoring Lee J. Cobb, the sort of person who gets respect from TCM that he would never get from any other channel on TV. The night kicks off with The Three Faces of Eve, which I think is a TCM premiere -- once again, it's always nice to see TCM getting the broadcast rights to more films from Fox. Cobb plays the psychologist who discovers the multiple personalities of Joanne Woodward. 12 Angry Men at 9:45 PM is overrated, while I haven't seen They Came to Rob Las Vegas (11:30 PM) before. Cobb is probably best remembered for his Oscar-nominated performace as the mob boss in On the Waterfront, which is great even if it does already air often enough on TCM. Maybe TCM could have gotten the broadcast rights to Thieves' Highway, a Fox film about trucking also starring Richard Conte. I thought I had blogged about that one before, but apparently not. At least it got a DVD release back when Fox was putting all their noirs and close-to-noir pictures on DVD.

Last but not least, I have never seen The Wasp Woman, which is airing tomorrow at 8:00 AM on TCM. Even though a lot of these 1950s scifi movies are bad, they're still a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Patricia Medina, 1919-2012

I just read yesterday evening that actress Patricia Medina died over the weekend at the age of 92. Medina was born in the UK and started her movie career there in the late 1930s but came to Hollywod after World War II. Her diverse film career included the first of the Francis (the talking mule) movies, as well Orson Welles' overrated Mr. Arkadin. Medina's having been born to an English mother and a Spanish father apparently made her a bit exotic to the producers in Hollywood, as she played Arabian princesses at least twice, and a number of Latin characaters both in period pieces and the contemporary Plunder of the Sun. I think the only other movie of Medina's that I've blogged about is The Jackpot, where she plays the artist who paints James Stewart's portrait as a prize he wins in a radio contest.

Medina was also the widow of actor Joseph Cotten. The two married in 1960 and remained married until his death in 1994.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Star of the Month, Joel McCrea, part 1

I'm sure you can figure out which one is Joel McCrea.A lot of people over on the TCM message boards have wanted Joel McCrea to be Star of the Month for some time, and this is the month they finally get their chance. TCM will be showing films with McCrea every Wednesday night in prime time, leading into Thursday morning. McCrea spent the last 15 years or so of his career doing a lot of westerns, but before that he made a lot of other films. TCM is spending this first week in May showing some of those other films. Several of them I've recommended in the past, such as The Palm Beach Story, which is on at 9:45 PM. (The picture at left has McCrea and Claudette Colbert from The Palm Beach Story.) That's followed at 11:30 PM by The More the Merrier. Ond of the last films this week is One Man's Journey, which is all the way at 9:15 AM tomorrow morning. This week, however, I'd like to mention a McCrea film I don't think I've evern mentioned before: Bed of Roses. Unlike the other films I've mentioned above, it doesn't seem to be available on DVD. It's also airing in the middle of the night, at 4:15 AM, so you're going to have to record this one.

Joel McCrea is nominally the male lead, but he's not really the star. That would be Constance Bennett. At the start of the movie, Bennett (who plays Lorrie) is just getting out of prison along with her friend Minnie (Pert Kelton). Both of them are small time con artists whose stock in trade runs along the lines of acting like prostitutes, and then getting their clients drunk and stealing their money. In order to get away from the prison authorities, the two hop aboard a steamboat plying the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Lorrie tries the same scam, but this time it's discovered that she has the missing money. To escape going back to prison, Lorrie jumps ship, literally jumping into the Mississppi, and eventually getting dragged aboard a cotton barge run by Dan (here's Joel McCrea). There's clearly a sexual attraction between the two. But Lorrie wants more out of life than the captain of a barge can provide her, so when the barge gets to New Orleans, Lorrie gets off and immediately starts trying to live the good life. At least this time she's doing it slightly less dishonestly, by becoming the mistress of the wealthy Mr. Paige (John Halliday).

Being a mistress isn't all it's cracked up to be. If Bennett hadn't been under contract to RKO, she might have seen Joan Crawford over at MGM in Possessed a year or two earlier, and realized this was a bad idea. Besides, she really loves hot Dan. She realizes, though, that Dan could never love a kept woman, and could only love her if she makes her living honestly. So Lorrie decides to leave Mr. Paige and do honest work in a department store!

Eighty years on, the plot of Bed of Roses rather strains credulity. Do people like this even exist any more? I suppose there are gold diggers and there are still certainly boat captains and con artists, but I don't think they lok at all like what you see on the screen here. That having been said, the movie is quite enjoyable. McCrea and Bennett work well together, and their scenes together on the barge display a surprising sexual tension. Granted, it's nothing like today where things can be more explicit even than the pre-Code films like Bed of Roses. But there's something about the passion between Bennett and McCrea that's just palpable. Bed of Roses is well worth a watch.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fun with blurry movie IDs

I've got an Antenna TV affiliate in my area. Antenna TV is of course, one of the nostalgia networks that broadcasts mostly TV shows, but some movies, on digital subchannels. MeTV and RTV are two other networks that broadcast mostly TV shows, while ThisTV airs mostly movies, with those generally being things that remained with MGM after Ted Turner bought the back movie library in the mid-1980s. So there's a lot of stuff that's from UA, or that they picked up in the meantime -- the sorts of films where you would see the MGM lion logo complete with website URL when the movies air on TCM.

As for Antenna TV, I don't get the digital channel on which it airs since the signal isn't strong enough: with digital you either get a crystal-clear signal or nothing at all. For the time being, they're still on a low-powered analog channel as well, at least for the next few years until all the analog channels go dark in 2015 or 2016. As it is, even that signal is far enough away from me that it's quite poor reception.

Sometimes when I'm going up or down through all the TV channels with my remote, I'll see that there's a movie of some sort on Antenna TV and try to figure out what it is. Digital TV includes a signal within the broadcast that can contain information about the program. So if there's ever anything on the ThisTV channel that I don't recognize, I can just press a button on the remote and find out the title of the movie and possibly a synopsis. I can't do that with Antenna TV, though, since analog broadacsts don't have such signals. So I'm left to guess by trying to watch a crappy signal. I have to admit it's always satisfying when I can figure out what the movie actually is -- I remember several months back they showed The Big Heat and finally realizing that's what the film was when they got to a scene with Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford. Of course, it can be very frustrating not to know what the movie is. Just the other day I hit Antenna TV in the middle of a scene where some of the characters were calling another "Lanyard", and Lanyard was talking to his butler Jameson; with the plot being about a gem called Shalamar or something. It sounded so familiar, at least the Lanyard character. I knew TCM was running one of those detective series that had Michael Lanyard as a character, but darnit, I just couldn't remember which one. Off to IMDb, which quickly reminded me that Michael Lanyard was the Lone Wolf. But which of the dozen or so movies had the gem plot? Rather than clicking through all the titles, I got lazy and did a Google search, which implies that I was watching The Notorious Lone Wolf from 1946.

As for Antenna TV, they have the broadcast rights to the stuff that Sony has, which means Screen Gems TV series and movies from Columbia.