Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

As you can probably guess, I survived Hurricane Sandy. Surprisingly, I didn't even lose electricity. Quite a few people up here in the Catskills did, but thankfully the power stayed on the entire time. The winds got pretty bad, and while I was watching Assignment: Paris on Monday evening, one of the lights in the room where I was watching seemed to be winking, so I was worried that the power was about to go out -- that was also about the time the winds were at their worst. I got to see the end of the movie, even if it wasn't the best movie out there.

The HMS Bounty didn't fare as well, sadly. The ship, made for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (the one with Marlon Brando), sank off the North Carolina coast as it was making its way from Maine to Florida. The ship was also used for the 1990 version of Treasure Island as well as some of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Interestingly, Ted Turner actually bought the ship (or more accurately, it was included in the purachase) when he bought MGM back in 1986.

TCM versus everybody else

So today is Halloween. Unsurprisingly, cable channels are showing a lot of horror stuff. TCM's highlight is probably the 1931 Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein at 8:00 PM. Even though it's one that's more well-known -- I should think Karloff set the standard for what Frankenstein's monster has looked like for the past 80 years -- it's still a great movie that's well worth watching again. TCM is following it with another of the Universal Frankenstein movies at 9:30 PM, Son of Frankenstein. Frankly, I think Bride of Frankenstein is better, but I'm not the TCM programmer and I don't know whether TCM couldn't get Bride of Frankenstein this year. Other Universal horror movies showing up are The Mummy, overnight at 12:30; and Claude Rains as The Invisible Man at 4:30 AM.

Some may say it's a bad thing that TCM is showing a lot of the best-known Universal stuff, as well as a lot of Hammer horror this month. But it could be worse; just look at what the folks at Fox are doing. During their commercial-free FMC half of the day, they're showing 1980s schlock. (Although, to be fair, how much in the way of old horror films is their in the Fox library.) When the switchover to FXM comes at 3:00 PM, they're showing Monsters vs. Aliens. Then they're showing it again -- and again and again -- until the switchover back to FMC early the next morning. And you think what TCM does is bad?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Some months back, DirecTV added the channel Cinémoi to the lineup. From what I can tell, it's the American arm of a British channel, focusing partly on vintage and foreign movies, and partly on style. The last time I watched, the movies were shown commercial free; at least, there were no commercials in the last half hour of the dreadful Girl on a Motorcycle (a film which deserves a full-length post because of its hilarious awfulness, but that's a topic for another day). The only thing is, the channel seems to be permanently letterboxed. That is, latter-day films shot in a 1.85:1 format show up properly if you've got an old CRT TV, but if you're watching something from the days before widescreen, you wind up with both letterboxing and pillarboxing: black bars on all four sides. If you're watching on an old TV, you're out of luck; on HD TVs there should be some format that chops off the top and bottom of the screen and stretches out the remaining image. Or, I suppose, you could finally get an HD satellite dish, but the one I've got now works fine, and having to set up a new dish is a pain in the you-know-what.

As for the vintage films, they've had several with Rita Hayworth. Autumn Leaves is showing up today at noon, while Gilda is showing up at 5:30 PM today and 7:00 PM tomorrow. Check the listings, however.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrah is another of those movies I've been meaning to blog about for some time, but never got around to doing. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM as part of the last day of Spencer Tracy's turn as Star of the Month on TCM.

Tracy stars as Frank Skeffington, the long-time mayor of an unnamed city, although you can presume it's one of those New England cities that had a large Irish Catholic population and the political machine to go along with it. Skeffington has headed the machine and served as mayor with an iron fist, but we're beginning to get to the era (the movie was released in 1958) when political machines are beginning to weaken. Back then, candidates had to do a lot of pressing of the flesh and speaking at community meetings and stuff, but with the advent of television, savvy politicians realized that they could get their political message out with less effort and without filtering by that other old institution, the partisan newspaper. Skeffington realizes times are changing, and has announced that even if he wins, this is going to be his last term as mayor.

Skeffington in theory should be a shoo-in. He's been good to the little people who support the machine and vote for him, returning the favor with a lot of patronage. Who could possibly be against him? Well, it turns out that with every political machine, there's a lot of corruption. In this case, Skeffington and the machine have more or less been playing favorites with selecting local businesses, and understandably there are money interests who don't like him. Here, the money interests are represented by banker Norman Cass (played by Basil Rathbone). John Carradine edits the local newspaper, which has a decidedly pro-business bent, and even the Cardinal (Donald Crisp) has turned against Skeffington. Still, they, like Skeffington, do all of their dealings in smoky back rooms of the local club.

In many ways, The Last Hurrah is the product of a bygone era. Not only are the political machines and the personalized campaigning here a part of the past (well, maybe with the exception of very small towns where pretty much everybody knows everybody), so is the style of filmmaking. The Last Hurrah is a slow-developing movie, with no effects, little real action, and seemingly nothing big happening. The movie seems to spend an inordinate amount of time at one funeral, for example. I can't imagine a movie about political campaigning being made like this any longer. Finally, a lot of the actors were people nearing the end of their various careers. In addition to the people I mentioned, there are holdover character actors from the 1930s playing the Mayor's closest confidants: Pat O'Brien, James Gleason, and Edward Brophy. That doesn't mean The Last Hurrah isn't a good movie. If you like movies that are grown-up and methodical, this is a very good movie, filled with excellent performances.

TCM's schedule page says The Last Hurrah is available on DVD, but they obviously have a problem with their database, as their listing for the Spencer Tracy movie links to a DVD for a 2009 movie also titled The Last Hurrah. Amazon lists an all-region import DVD available for purchase, but it also seems to be out of print.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World heads-up

As part of this last Monday in October, TCM is showing movies from the end of Star of the Month Spencer Tracy's career in prime time, including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World overnight at 3:30 AM (technically early Tuesday, but listed at the end of Monday's schedule by TCM). I presume you know the plot about a cast of crazies all trying to find $350,000 buried under a "Big W" in a state park near California's border with Mexico.

Beware that TCM is listing a running time of 159 minutes, and putting this in a three-hour slot. In the past when TCM has run the movie, they've shown a print that had a running time of something just over three hours. That print was a roadshow version, with an overture, an intermission, and exit music, which I would guess aren't in the 159-minute print. (The one good thing about an intermission in a roadshow print is that it's a good time to go to the fridge and, if need be, use the facilities.) My understanding is that one of the longer prints also had an extended scene, I believe with Phil Silvers' car going down the river. I haven't watched the 159-minute print, however, so I'm not quite certain what's going to be showing up in it.

The movie has gotten various DVD releases, but here again I'm not certain which DVD has what on it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

An update and a non-birthday

Three weeks ago, I mentoined something about The Cincinnati Kid not being on the TCM schedule. I must have been looking up the wrong thing on TCM's schedule database, since it was already in the printable monthly schedule for October. In fact, it's airing today at 4:00 PM.

Tomorrow TCM is showing a bunch of George Sanders movies, including a couple where he played The Saint. I see that I've never done a review on any of the Saint movies, nor of the Falcon movies. TCM is showing three of those starring Sanders as well. You'd think it was Sanders' birthday tomorrow or something. In fact, IMDb lists Sanders as having a birthday in July.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sullivan's Travels

I don't think I've ever blogged about Sullivan's Travels before. It's airing on Sunday, October 28 at 2:15 PM on TCM, and now is a good time to recommend it.

Joel McCrea stars as John L. Sullivan, a Hollywood director who's become prominent -- and wealthy -- by making light fluffy comedies and musicals with titles such as Ants in Your Pants of 1938. Despite the good pay, Sullivan wants to make "serious" pictures; especially something with a social message what with there still being a depression on. Specifically, in order to make the movie he wants to find out what it's like to live on the "other side", as a hobo with only a dime to his name. Needless to say, the studio execs don't like the idea. But they come up with an agreement. They come up with a good idea, however: treat it as publicity. So they follow Sullivan, with Sullivan trying to escape and learn more "authentic" poverty.

Stuck with only ten cents in his pocket at a roadside diner, Sullivan meets The Girl (Veronica Lake), a failed starlet who is going to be leaving Hollywood since she can't succeed there. Oh, Sullivan could have given her the success, but he can't really portray himself as Sullivan now, so he passes himself off as somebody who knew Sullivan, which at least gets him the run of the Sullivan place. The two really wind up living the hobo life, spending a night in a homeless shelter among other things, where Sullivan has his shoes stolen.

This is a problem because part of the agreement Sullivan had with the studio execs involved putting ID in the sole of his shoe while he was going to be on the road. The bosses would be able to prove that this was really Sullivan, but nobody else would, which was just the way Sullivan wanted it. As part of a plan to help the hobos out by distributing cash to them, he winds up at the same railyard as the guy who stole his shoes; the guy gets hit by a train after knocking Sullivan out and giving Sullivan a case of amnesia. Sullivan gets sent to a prison labor camp, and is about to learn what the other side is really like, if he didn't already know it from being a hobo.

Sullivan's Travels sounds like serious stuff, and it certainly does have a serious message, although what that message is could be debated. (I won't say anything more about that, because it would give away the ending of the movie.) The movie was directed by Preston Sturges, however, which means a lot of things. First, whatever message was intended is definitely somewhat anti-establishment. Second, you know there's going to be a lot of comedy here. There's slapstick with the people who would be Sullivan's entourage, and somewhat more intelligent humor for McCrea and Lake. Last but by no means least, you know you're going to get a great movie. McCrea is just right for the Sullivan part: not too glamorous, but not too rough either. I can't imagine somebody like Cary Grant being a believable wannabe hobo, or somebody like John Garfield playing the wealthy director. Veronica Lake is gorgeous as the failed actress, and Sturges was able to get several of his usuals to play the supporting roles, which they do to comedic perfection.

An apology about last night

Back at the beginning of the month, I mentioned that Wolf Blitzer was going to be sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz on the 26th to present the night's line up of politics-themed movies. Well, that was last night, and I should have posted about it yesterday.

To be honest, I've been preparing for Hurricane Sandy, which all the weather forecasters are panicking about, or at least trying to induce panic in the general population: simply giving accurate information doesn't seem to be enough. I mentioned with Hurricane Irene last August that I lost power for 46 hours. Depending on the track of Sandy, I wouldn't be surprised to lose power for a lengthy spell too. So I've been trying to write a few posts that will show up over next week as placeholders, in case I should be unable to post. Unless power stays out through Friday, there should probably be a post every day, but some of them won't be much more than reminding people of the night's TCM lineup.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Spine Tingler

Three months back, I mentioned the documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, which was airing on the Documentary Channel. I don't know how many of you have the Documentary Channel, although I presume it's fewer of you than have TCM. So you might be interested to know that TCM is running the documentary overnight at 3:15 AM instead of a traditional TCM Underground double feature.

The second movie in Underground this week is Macabre, a Castle-directed movie that I don't think I've seen before. Castle's gimmick for this one involved selling people insurance policies in cast they should die of fright during the movie. Good luck collecting on that!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TCM Guest Programmer: Jim Lehrer

I'll admit that I haven't been watching quite as much TCM in recent weeks, but I haven't seen one promo for this month's TCM Guest Programmer, PBS news host Jim Lehrer. (Does anybody actually watch the News Hour any more?) Lehrer is responsible for tonight's TCM lineup, which is as follows:

All The King's Men at 8:00 PM;
It Happened One Night at 10:00 PM;
My Fair Lady at midnight; and
North By Northwest at 3:00 AM.

There's nothing particularly obscure here, and I'm sure that's bound to tick off those people who think you have to prefer the obscure stuff to be a true movie fan. I've always thought of the Guest Programmers as a way of drawing new eyeballs to the channel: people who don't necessarily know so much about the movies, but might be interested in seeing a famous celebrity. The only problem this month is that it's Jim Lehrer. If some twentysomething had picked this lineup, then great. Promo it someplace where the other young folks will see it, and maybe they'll learn that old movies and -- gasp! -- black and white films don't have to be threatening. Indeed, I think all four of Lehrer's selections are the sort of movie that are good for introducing neophytes to various genres of movies. But Jim Lehrer doing it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shorts MIA again

After this morning's showing of The Letter, I got up to get myself a drink and to go to the bathroom. By the time I got back, TCM was running a short that looked like Efrem Zimbalist Sr. playing the violin. That's one of half a dozen or so shorts that were released in 1926 in conjunction with Don Juan, the first feature film to have a synchronized score. (Although they didn't use talking in Don Juan, some of the shorts had talking or singing.)

The thing is, I can't be certain whether it was Zimbalist. When I looked at TCM's schedule page, it doesn't have any of the shorts listed for today. In this case it's particularly irritating because a very early Vitaphone short like this is exactly the sort of thing I would love to post about, even if the short itself is nothing spectacular. Zimbalist simply stands there playing a couple of violin pieces, with accompaniment on the piano from an unseen pianist. Well, I suppose the pianist may have been seen at the beginning, in the portion that I missed.

Edgar Allan Poe night

TCM has been running horror movies every Wednesday in prime time this month, and this fourth Wednesday in October is seeing several movies based on works by Edgar Allan Poe. TCM didn't get The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe from Fox, but there is a fairly broad selection in terms of period. (Obviously, they're all horror movies.) One of the more interesting choices is The Tell-Tale Heart, which comes up overnight at 1:45 AM.

What's interesting is that unlike the others, this is just a two-reeler. It doesn't take away from the story only making it a 20-minute movie, either, since Poe was mostly writing short stories: something that only goes on for ten pages maximum can fairly easily be turned into a two-reeler without leaving stuff out. Another interesting thing is that this was made at MGM, which of course is usually known for its glitzy movies, a style which you'd think normally wouldn't go well with horror. But the reason this one works well is most likely down to its director, a young Jules Dassin at the beginning of his career. Dassin was also fortunate to have two very good if not "name" actors in the main roles, those being Joseph Schildkraut (who had won an Oscar a few years earlier for The Live of Emile Zola) and Roman Bohnen as the murderer.

The story, for those who don't know it, is simple; it is, after all, a short story. Schildkraut plays Bohnen's boss and housemate, and treats Bohnen worse than Ebeneze Scrooge treats Bob Cratchit. So Bohnen finally snaps and kills Schildkraut, burying the body under the floorboards. (You'd think somebody would notice the smell.) Bohnen has a guilty conscience, however, and every time he hears rhythmic beats, he begins to wonder whether it's the heart of the man he killed.

This version of The Tell-Tale Heart received a DVD release as an extra on a Thin Man box set. However, it's not the four-film set that TCM has taken to promoting, so you may have to do a bit of work to find it at Amazon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where's Bette Davis?

Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever done a post on The Letter before. If you've watched enough classic cinema, you'll probably recognize the opening scene of Bette Davis walking backwards out of a bungalow, shooting a gun. And shooting -- again and again and again. What a fun way to start a movie. Anyhow, it turns out that Bette has shot an old (and possibly current) boyfriend who may be trying to blackmail her now that she's married to another man. TCM is showing The Letter tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

However, as you watch it, you'll notice something: Bette Davis has gone missing. Well, not quite. TCM is showing the 1929 version of The Letter, which I think is a premiere. Jeanne Eagels plays what would become the Bete Davis role in the 1940 remake. Eagels of course is a story in and of herself; she had been a stage actress who got herself addicted to drugs and died presumably of an overdose (multiple autopsies, each coming to a different conclusion, were performed) at the end of 1929. Eagels made one other talkie, which I think is lost. Her story, heavily glossing over the darker parts, was told in a 1950s film starring Kim Novak.

The other interesting thing is Herbert Marshall, playing the boyfriend. Marshall would appear again opposite Bette Davis in the 1940 version, only this time playing the husband. (The husband in tomorrow's showing is played by Reginald Owen.) It's all based on material by Somerset Maugham, on whom TCM is putting the spotlight tomorrow. (A quick read of the reviews implies that Maugham's original ending didn't fly with the Production Code, so the ending is different from the Davis version.) Since it hasn't been shown before, this is a version I have to admit I haven't seen before, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bright Leaf

A few days back, I mentioned that Bright Leaf was one of those movies I had been meaning to blog about for some time, but never got around to. Now that there's a day with not much interesting on that I haven't already blogged about it, it would be a good time to do a full-length post on Bright Leaf.

Gary Cooper stars as Brant Royle, whom we first see at the beginning of the movie entering some small southern town at about the turn of the century. It's fairly clear that he had lived here before, that he hasn't been back for some time, and that he left unter less than ideal circumstances. One can guess he's looking for some sort of revenge even though it seems that he doesn't have any means to exact that revenge. Fortunately for Brant, however, he's about to acquire those means, in the form of one old friend, and two people who just happen to be passing through town. First is the old friend, Sonia (Lauren Bacall). She runs a "boarding house" for young women which probably would have been a burlesque house or bordello had the movie been made before the imposition of the Production Code. The story is never totally clear about her business and how it's made her surprisingly well-off, yet at the same time made her part of the impolite society.

Passing through town is John Barton (Jeff Corey), who's invented a machine that will roll tobacco more efficiently, making cigarettes and cigars cheaper and offering the possibility of a fortune to the person who will buy the rights to use it. John is in town trying to sell the local tobacco magnate, Major Singleton (Donald Crisp) on the machine, but the Major wants none of it. Brant hears about the machine, and would love a crack at it, but he doesn't have the money. So he teams up with Sonia and Chris (Jack Carson), a man going throuhg town as part of the traveling medicine show. They've got the money that Brant doesn't have, and together, they can team up and go into business. Needless to say, the invention works well, and serves to make all of them wealthy.

Brant, as I mentioned above, seems driven to gain revenge, and it turns out that that revenge is on Major Singleton, who "stole" the Royle's land years ago. Brant wants to get his land back, but also wants the Major's granddaughter Margaret (Patricia Neal). And dammit, he's going to stop at nothing to get what he wants! If you think this is going to be his undoing, you're right. But Bright Leaf isn't so much a movie about the tobacco industry circa 1900 as it is a character study of obsession.

Bright Leaf is an interesting premise, but there's something about the movie that just doesn't click with me, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it's Cooper's character, Brant Royle. As the movie goes on, he becomes more and more unappealing. Lauren Bacall isn't my favorite actress, and I think she's miscast here. She doesn't look at all like a Southern belle from 1900. (Cooper, on the other hand, fits in fine.) Jack Carson starts off well: he seems almost born to play smarmy schemers like a medicine-show man. But he morphs into more of a conscience to Cooper of the sort you could imagine James Gleason playing (as in The Last Hurrah which will be coming up later in the month at the end of the Star of the Month salute to Spencer Tracy). It's well-made, but it's well-made piffle.

Bright Leaf has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I didn't know anybody was lost

Tomorrow marks the 95th birthday of Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine. TCM is spending all morning and afternoon with her, including some of her early stuff, such as The Man Who Found Himself at 7:30 AM.

The putative star of the movie isn't Fontaine, but John Beal. He plays Dr. Jim Stanton Jr., the latest in a long line of prominent and respectable doctors at some fashionable big-city hospital. The only problem is, Jim Jr. also likes to fly airplanes. Why this should be a problem is beyond me, but apparently Dad (George Irving) has a problem with it, and the rest of the medical community listens to Jim Sr. After performing an appendectomy on Dick Miller, the pilot and old friend who taught Jim Jr. how to fly (Philip Huston), Jim Jr. hops on his plane to fly down to Philadelphia. He meets a lady friend who wants to get out of the city, and innocently takes her along, even though the weather is terrible.

You can guess what happens next: the plane crashes in the bad weather, and it kills the woman, despite seeming to leave Jim Jr. unscathed. Oh, and the woman was married and running away from her husband, so all the polite society thinks that Jim Jr. was having an affair with her, which causes a huge scandal. The medical board wants to discipline Jim Jr., but he basically says to hell with it (not in those words, of course: the Code enforcers would have had an apoplectic fit) and decides to become a hobo! He falls in with a bunch of other hobos and makes his way out west to Los Angeles, where unfortunately they're all held on a vagrancy charge and sentenced to work on the road-building detail. While building the road, who should come along but Dick Miller. Dick helps Jim get a job as a mechanic for the airline where Dick works, but on the proviso that nobody should learn about Jim's true identity.

It's only here that we finally meet Joan Fontaine. She plays Doris, the nurse for the airline. The airline runs an air ambulance service, and when they send out a plane, it's Doris who does the EMT stuff. Doris immediately takes a liking to Jim, and is convinced that there's more to Jim than he's letting on. For his part, he's doing all he can to make Doris suspicious. Eventually she figures out that he had learned how to pilot a plane at some point in the past, so she rigs it that the next time the airline needs to run the air ambulance, Dick won't be around and Doris can have Jim make the flight. Unfortunately for Jim, the patient gets hysterical during the flight and Jim has to use the medical knowledge he foreswore to help Doris, which leads her to suspect even more....

This is all decidedly B stuff, but for the most part, it's quite entertaining. There's a lot of stuff with the airplanes that I think probably doesn't reflect real life: the airplanes seem to be able to land anywhere, no matter how little room for a runway there seems to be. And the scene with Doris alone on the air ambulance with just Jim flying it is something I don't think would have happened that way in real life either. That sort of stuff is more good for a laugh than detracting from the movie, however. Joan Fontaine does her best attempt at channeling Glenda Farrell, taking charge of every situation and driving Jim back to doing what he was destined to do. Therein lies part of the problem with the film. Why is it such a bad thing that Jim should work at what he loves, and not what his father and old girlfriend want him to do? And yet, thanks to the Production Code, we have to get a morally upright ending that I don't think really works so well.

The closing credits have RKO trumpeting Fontaine as their new actress, but even the presence of Fontaine hasn't been enough to get this movie a release from the Warner Archive. So, you'll have to catch tomorrow's showing on TCM.

Cartoons on TCM!

Well, for one night only. I think I've mentioned before that the reason TCM no longer has its Animation Alley show or has animated shorts in between movies the way they have tons of Traveltalks shorts is because one of TCM's corporate brethren (I think Boomerang, although I'm not quite certain of the exact when in which Boomerang and Cartoon Network are linked) has paid for the rights to the Looney Tunes and MGM animated shorts (which means mostly the Tom and Jerry shorts, with stuff like the Happy Harmonies shorts from the 1940s getting short shrift), leaving them unavailable to TCM.

So it's rare that TCM is able to get the rights to show any cartoons, and tonight is one of those nights. They're going to be showing some of the Fleischer brothers' work. In the 1920s, they came up with the "follow the bouncing ball" idea for animated musical shorts with one of the early sound-on-film processes. They also did Betty Boop and Popeye shorts, but I think Paramount wound up with the rights to them, with those rights eventually getting sold to Universal. The Fleischers were able to make two feature films before the animation unit went bankrupt in the early 1940s, and those two features are kicking off the night: Gulliver's Travels at 8:00 PM, followed by Mr. Bug Goes to Town at 9:30.

You've probably seen the ads that TCM has run between movies getting people to try to buy the Jolly Frolics animation collection on DVD at the TCM Shop. All those ads must have een in exchange for broadcast rights to some of those shorts, as they're coming up at 11:00 -- at least, seven of them are, with the most famous of them being Gerald McBoing Boing. Unfortunately, like the Mack Sennett stuff last month, TCM's schedule isn't giving an exact broadcast time for these.

Finally is a bunch of silent animation from the teens and 1920s, about which I know next to nothing. It's too bad they're on after midnight, but that's what recording is for, I suppose.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Auguste Lumière, 1862-1954

Yesterday marked the 150th birth anniversary of Auguste Lumière who, together with his brother Louis, invented the Cinematographe. This led, in December 1895, to the first public exhibition of films, in Paris, France. (As I understand it, this was the first public exhibition with paid admission. The various inventors had been showing off their films to invited guests.)

One of the advantages that the Cinematographe had to Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope is that it weighed less and as such was more easily portable for location shooting, which the Lumières used in making dozens of short films from about 1895 to 1905. Most of them were static shots of a documentary nature, which is why even something like the work of Georges Meliès is seen as such a big step forward. A good example of this would be one of their earliest works, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory from 1895. Since it's from that long ago it's in the public domain, which unsurprisingly means it's made its way to Youtube:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shadow of a Woman

Based on the title and the one-sentence synopsis that shows up on box guides or TV listings sites, Shadow of a Woman sounds like it should be a really intriguing movie. Sadly, after watching all 80 minutes of it, it doesn't quite live up to that, and you're left wondering what went wrong. If you want to judge for yourself, you can watch tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM.

Andrea King, one of those foreign actresses the studios were bringing over after World War II in an attempt to be fresh and new, stars as Brooke. At the beginning of the movie, we see her in a police station, where she's being questioned in the killing of her husband! So she tells them the whole sordid story in a flashback.... It's not too much of a flashback; only a couple of months maximum. Brooke, while mourning the death of her parents, meets Dr. Eric (Helmut Dantine). He sweeps her off her feet, and she marries him almost immediately. Stupid move. You'd think people would have seen enough movies to know that marrying impulsively like this is, probably nine times out of ten if not more often, going to end badly. (And since the story is told in flashback, we already know there's going to be a death.)

In this case, that means two or three nasty surprises, depending upon how you count them. The first one is that perhaps Eric isn't such a good "doctor" as he would have his patients believe he is. In fact, he's one of those "alternative" types in the days before the term "alternative medicine" was around. Dr. Eric believes that the key to good health and solving one's illnesses is the right diet and right living, except that here the "right diet" doesn't mean your traditionally balanced diet. One of Eric's patients has died, probably as a result of Eric's bad medical advice, and the patient's husband is understandably none too happy about it.

Oh, but that's not the only nasty surprise for Brooke. Wait until she finds out that Eric is a divorcé, and has a son by that first marriage. He wanted to marry Brooke more so that he could have a wife to raise the son, since there's a custody battle going on, and there's no way a single man is going to win that battle. Eric, for the meantime, is living with his sister and her son. She hates Eric mostly because Eric has practiced his brand of "medicine" on her son, with the results not being very good. It's about this point that we get Surprise #3. Eric's son has a trust fund, and when Brooke finds this out, she puts two and two together and start to wonder whether Eric really wants custody so that he can starve the kid to death and get the son's trust fund. Shades of Night Nurse in here.

Unfortunately, where Night Nurse is a hell of a lot of fun, Shadow of a Woman is a disappointing misfire. Brooke seems stupid for marrying Eric so quickly, making her somewhat tough to sympathize with. Eric's sister might be right about Eric, but she's so nasty, even to Brooke, that it's difficult if not impossible to have any sympathy for her. There's also none of the pre-Code touches that make Night Nurse so delicious. The idea of a diet quack ought to be not only interesting, but shocking for post-War audiences, especially when it's set against a backdrop of more normal people than the upper-class types in Night Nurse. But it doesn't quite deliver.

I don't think Shadow of a Woman has ever made it to DVD.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cinerama night

TCM is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the wide-screen process Cinerama this evening, starting with a documentary called Cinerama Adventure at 8:00 PM (and repeated at midnight), followed by the first of the Cinerama films, This is Cinerama, at 9:45 PM. They'll also be showing How the West Was Won, which was originally filmed in Cinerama, at 2:00 AM.

Now, as you can probably guess, there's a bit of a problem for TCM here, as there would have been for the folks making the documentary. TV screens don't have the rather extreme curvature necessary to show Cinerama as it should be seen authentically. No amount of letterboxing is going to get the original Cinerama experience. I suppose in theory they could show the three sources for a Cinerama film on three separate channels and have everybody set up three TVs with the appropriate curvature. No, I'm not being serious. About the closest I can think of is TV stations back in the day (this being the early 1980s) showing a 3D movie (Jaws 3 if memory serves) and having a promotion to give out those old red-green 3D glasses. Woe betide the people who couldn't get 3D glasses in time. I don't have one of those newfangled 3D TVs, and I don't see myself getting one any time soon: I don't like the eye strain. I also don't have a home theater with the curved screen necessary to watch Cinerama, and certainly don't have the space for it. I'm sure very few people do.

Back to the Cinerama documentary, I think I recall how they simulate Cinerama, although I may not be right. I'm not certain whether I saw this particular documentary on TCM before, or whether I saw the bits on Cinerama only in the original documentary on Merian Cooper, I'm King Kong, that first aired several years ago; Cooper was one of the driving forces behind getting Cinerama to the screen back in 1952. If the same technique used in I'm King Kong is used in Cinerama Adventure, it's one that I have to admit I found none too satisfying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Miriam Hopkins day

TCM is marking Miriam Hopkins' birthday tomorrow with several of her films. I probably should have posted about The Old Maid, which is airing at 9:00 AM, earlier today. But it's available on DVD thanks to its other star, Bette Davis.

Davis plays Charlotte, who will become the titular old maid. She's a young woman in the Civil War era who's attending the wedding of her cousing Delia (Hopkins). Who shows up for the wedding but Delia's former fiancé Clem (George Brent)? Awkward. Thankfully, Charlotte had had a flame for him as well, so she runs off for the day with Clem, and obviously had sex with him, because she gets knocked up, although we don't learn about this for a little while.

As I said earlier, this is set during the Civil War and the years after, so we fast foward to some time later, when Charlotte is running an orphanage for Civil War orphans. This is oh so convenient, because one of those orphans just happens to be her daughter! We've fast forwarded to what is supposed to be the day of Charlotte's wedding, to Delia's brother-in-law. However, Charlotte breaks down and tells Delia that she had a child by Clem; presumably she's worried about what her new husband is going to think.

Delia, jerk that she is, decides to take Charlotte's daughter and raise her as her own! Charlotte's husband, meanwhile, dies tragically young, and Delia spends the next hour or so rubbing Charlotte's nose in all of this: Charlotte could never be a good mother what with that past and being a widow and not particularly of means like Delia is, after all.

The Old Maid is one of those "weepies", women's pictures that aren't exactly my cup of tea. I have to admit that I find the whole plot ludicrous, and the characters' motivations strain credulity. Delia is just too nasty, while Charlotte is interesting only because she's a great fit for Bette Davis and all her famous on-screen rants.

If you like Bette Davis and the melodramatic movies of the late 1930s, you'll probably enjoy this tremendously. If I were going to suggest a movie for people who don't know Davis all that well to start off with, this isn't the one I'd select.

AMPAS Shorts

TCM is running The Screen Writer overnight tonight at about 12:35 AM. (That is, after The Mummy.) I don't think I've seen this one before, but it's part of a series of shorts that deserves a mention.

Back in 1949 or so, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the people who give out the Oscars) decided to do a series of shorts on various aspects of movie making, mostly behind the scenes aspects. There's one on costume design, one on cinematography, one on sound, and this one on screenwriting, among others. I know I've seen their short on The Sound Man on TCM before, because it's the place where I first saw mention of Lights of New York, a 1928 film which was the first feature-length all talking film. Well, if you can count 58 minutes or so as feature length. But The Jazz Singer was of course only a partial talkie. The rest of the short on sound engineering is OK but not great, and I'd have to guess that tonight's short on screenwriting of similar quality: there's some historically interesting stuff in it, but it's nothing particularly outstanding.

In fact, looking at the IMDb page on The Screen Writer, there is something interesting, which is the presence of Charles Brackett. If you've seen enough classic movies, you'll probably recognze the name. Brackett is a name you'll see several movies directed by Billy Wilder (most notably Sunset Blvd. and The Lost Weekend which won both of them screenwriting Oscars) as well as some movies in the 1930s when Wilder was still just a screen writer and not yet a director: Ninotchka and Midnight would be the two best-known examples here. Brackett actually won a third screenwriting Oscar, for Niagara. At the end of his career, Brackett was producing movies (or at least being given producing credit) at Fox. IMDb lists this as his only screen appearance, at least on the big screen; he was a presenter at some Academy Awards shows once they made it to TV.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Another milestone

By my count, this is post number 2000 in the four years and eight months that I've been blogging here. To be honest, there are a lot of posts that aren't particularly good, but that's because I set a rule for myself that I was going to stay in the habit of posting every day. It's a rule I only broke once, which was when my satellite modem had to be replaced and so I was left without Internet access. But the result is that there are days where I don't even have a new (to the blog) movie to blog about, or even a list post, some of which can be fun. Then again, when it comes ot the Traveltalks shorts, I don't think it's such a bad thing to point out which ones are coming up on TCM, since most of them don't seem to be on DVD at all.

What's coming up for the blog? Well, I don't think there are going to be any big changes. Every time I get around to it I try to add relevant tags to old posts, although Google unfortunately made that a bit of a pain by forcing a new interface on everybody, one which I find is a pretty serious memory hog at times, freezing up the browser.

I finally got a Twitter account under the JustACineast name, although I don't know how much twittering I'm going to be doing. My computer isn't in the same room as my TV, so I can't really be on it and watch movies at the same time. And I don't like the whole text messaging thing. So I suppose there might be the isolated tweet when I want to respond to something else, but not in general.

There are a few movies I've been meaning to write posts about. I saw Bright Leaf early in the year, but didn't get around to doing a blog post when Lauren Bacall was Star of the Month. One of these days I'll finally get around to it, even though Bright Leaf isn't a particularly good movie. I can think of a few others, although at least one is coming up next week so I'll blog about it then.

Monday, October 15, 2012

So much unseen

I've recommended a lot of the movies that are airing tonight in prime time as part of the third week of Spencer Tracy's turn as TCM Star of the Month. But he made so many movies that his films are continuing well into Tuesday morning. And when I look at the Tracy movies that are airing on Tuesday morning, I find myself astonished at how many things there are for me still to see.

I've already seen Northwest Passage (6:30 AM), which is a nice Technicolor adventure movie set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War.

Malaya (8:45 AM), on the other hand, is one that I probably should have heard of, but which doesn't sound familiar at all. It stars Tracy and James Stewart in what sounds like a fairly formulaic World War II story. Still, it's Tracy and Stewart together.

The Devil at Four O'Clock (12:30 PM) sounds like a lot of fun, even if it's probably not Tracy's best. He plays a Catholic priest running a leper colony for juveniles on a South Pacific island, and has to evacuate all the kids when the volcano is about to erupt. You'd think that by this point in his career, Tracy would have been able to get better scripts.

Finally, at 2:45 PM tomorrow is The Mountain, which stars Tracy as a mountaineer together with brother Robert Wagner (really, how far apart were the two in age? 30 years?) trying to get to a mountainside plane crash for different reasons. Another one that sounds like fun if not particularly good, aided by widescreen visuals.

I can't wait to see how right or wrong I am about some of these.

Jean Peters, 1926-2000

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Jean Peters, who was born on this date in 1926. She started her career at Fox in the late 1940s with the Tyrone Power vehicle Captain From Castile, and apparently only signed one of those standard seven-year studio contracts: her credits list seven years' worth of movies, and then she left Hollywood. Perhaps her best role is in Pickup on South Street, but this isn't one of those posts for listing a bunch of her movies with links to the blog posts I've done on them. By a fortuitous streak of serendipity, what's left of the Fox Movie Channel has one of her films on their schedule: As Young As You Feel, early tomorrow morning at 4:40 AM.

Peters isn't exactly the star of this movie; she only plays Alice Hodges, the granddaughter of John Hodges (Monty Woolley, who is the star of the film) and fiancée of Joe (David Wayne), who is the personnel manager at the plant. As I said, this is a movie about the grandfather character. He's 65 years old, and works at a local print shop that's run by some conglomerate in the big city, one of those places where nobody in the corporate office really knows what's going on at a smaller print shop like this. (Shades of the later Solid Gold Cadillac.) As I said, John Hodges has turned 65, and this movie was made in 1951, in the days when a lot of companies pensioned off their workers when they hit 65, whether they liked it or not. And dammit, John doesn't like it! What's an old man to do? He guesses that if nobody from the head office knows what's going on at this small subsidiary, then nobody at the local subsidiary is going to recognize anybody from the local head office. So Hodges disguises himself as the CEO of the corporation and visits the plant; when he "learns" about the mandatory retirement rule, he immediately rescinds it, allowing Hodges to go back to the work that he likes and is good at. Problem solved, right?

Of course not! Or, to put it more accuartely, like one of those cartoons where the characters try to hide stuff under the carpet, only for this bulge to show up that keeps moving every time they try to tamp it down, solving this problem causes other problems. John thought nobody was going to recgnize him, and he was almost right. The problem is, the one person who did recognize him is his soon-to-be grandson-in-law, who has to do something about this. Nobody believes him, though, and Hodges gets to keep playing the CEO. He gets invited to his boss' house (Albert Dekker), at which point the boss' wife (Constance Bennett) decides that she prefers the CEO to her husband and is thinking of filing for divorce! And if that's not bad enough, word eventually gets through to the corporate head office about what's happened, but that's as a result of Hodges-as-CEO giving a stirring speech about business policy, saying things the head office can't possibly renege on.

As Young as You Feel is enjoyable stuff, if nothing particularly earth-shattering. It's not even as tough on business as The Solid Gold Cadillac, and that wasn't particularly hard-hitting compared to what we would start getting in the 1960s and 1970s. Monty Woolley is great, and helped out by a supporting cast that generally does quite well. Thelma Ritter plays his daughter-in-law, while Marilyn Monroe, in one of her first films at Fox, plays Dekker's secretary. It's a small role, but since it's Marilyn Monroe, it's enough to have gotten the movie released to DVD with her phoot on the cover as though she were the star. (On the plus side, I suppose the movie would never have gotten a DVD release if it weren't for Monroe.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Home Before Dark

I mentioned some of the continuity problems I had with the movie Home Before Dark back in July 2011. The movie is airing agin tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM, so now would be a good time to write a fuller-length post that's actually about the movie.

At the start of the film, we see a woman, Charlotte Bronn (played by Jean Simmons), being released from the state mental hospital in Marblehead, MA, one of those coastal New England communities that had their day in the sun decades ago and are now becoming eclipsed by other more economically vibrant parts of the country. Picturesque and full of big, drafty old houses, but more importantly, a stock character for upper-middle-class strait-laced social values. Think Peyton Place or the town at the beginning of Valley of the Dolls before the action swings to New York and Hollywood. Charlotte is being brought home by her husband Arnold (Dan O'Herlihy), who stuck by her all this time despite the accusations she made while mentally ill which many people would have found damaging. Namely, Charlotte suggested that Arnold was having an affair with her stepsister Joan (Rhonda Fleming)! But now that Charlotte has been cleared of those delusions, she's safe to go home.

When she gets home, she finds that some things have changed. Specifically, they've got a lodger, in the form of Jake Diamond (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). He's a visiting professor at the same college where Arnold is a professor, and since he's going to be there for only one semester, why not live with one of the professors who has a spare room in his house? Some things, on the other hand, haven't changed. Arnold seems strangely aloof, and there's a lot of talk in low tones about Charlotte, as though they're talking about her and don't want her to know about it. It naturally leads Charlotte to begin to wonder again whether her suspicions that landed her in the mental hospital in the first place were true. This time, however, Charlotte has a bit of an ally in Jake the outsider, and also has a plan to prove whether or not what she suspects is what was actually happening....

Home Before Dark is an interesting idea, but one that really gets bogged down. It's wildly overwrought at times, much like a previous Charlotte who had a nervous breakdown (Bette Davis' Charlotte Vale in Now Voyager). It's also incredibly talky: the story probably could have played out in about a 100-minute running time (for some reason, I'm suddenly reminded of Ingrid Bergman's suspicions in Notorious), but in fact runs a bloated 136 minutes. The color and scenery could do with a crisper print, too, although apparently there aren't better prints out there. Jean Simmons does well in a movie that's all about her, but the rest of the movie swings between the formulaic and the unrealistic. As I mentioned in 2011, Home Before Dark has made it to the Warner Archive collection.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Crime in the Streets

A search of the blog claims that I haven't posted about Crime in the Streets before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on TCM, and is well worth watching.

Crime in the Streets is a little movie, laregly because it had originally been made as a one-hour episode of one of those anthology TV series. TV shows were even more bound to small sets than B-movies were back in the mid-1950s, and the set here is for the most part a tenement and the block or two of street outside the tenement. This being in the slums, there are a lot of juveniles who think they don't have much future and are willing to engage in petty thuggery, while at the same time there are do-gooders who want to stop the thuggery and believe they can help the kids. The do-gooder is Ben Wagner (Stuart Whitman). He runs the neighborhood "settlement house" (do they even still use that term nowadays?), actually living in the neighborhood as if to say, "See, I can help you", even though it looks as though none of the teens believe his shtick.

Chief among the teens is Frankie Dane (John Cassavetes). He's the head of the "Hornets", and he also seems to be the most troubled of the gang members. He lives with his single mother (Virginia Gregg) and his kid brother, who idolizes him even though Mom knows this is a terrible idea. Also in the gang is "Baby", played by Sal Mineo, looking about as needy and dependent as he did in Rebel Without a Cause. He seems to have a great need to be part of a group, and it's almost as if he'll go against his better judgment to be in that group. This even though he's got a more stable family situation. Many of the adults in the area don't like the gang, and Ben of course has decided he's going to try to get the kids to quit their gang stuff by befriending them and cajoling them into doing better. Another man has a different idea: report Frankie to the police.

Ooh, not a good idea. Frankie decides he's going to get revenge, by killing the man! The murdre plot involves Baby luring the man into an alley, while a third gang member (Mark Rydell, who would go on to become a director of movies like On Golden Pond) holding him down so that Frankie can stab him to death. Ben has no clue of this, thinking perhaps that he can still get through to Frankie. It isn't until Frankie's kid brother overhears the plot, and decides to tell Ben about it, that things go into overdrive.

Crime in the Streets is an interesting premise with a lot of potential. Ultimately, I think it falls a bit short. Plays and live TV had limitations that movies shouldn't have, and this movie stays within those limits to its detriment. (Contrast this with another Cassevetes movie, Edge of the City.) Stuart Whitman's character is also too perfect. There was no need for him to have the sort of perfection that Sidney Poitier's characters in the Edge of the City era had to have. Then again, if you're trying to send a message with a movie like this, then you all too often wind up having your characters being clothes pegs for the ideas. The acting from the gang members, however, is quite good, especially Cassavetes and Mineo.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another night of repeats

It's not quite an entire night of repeats, I suppose. But the one movie I haven't blogged about before, The Great McGinty at 11:00 PM, is one that I haven't seen in a long enough time to want to blog about today. It's the second movie in tonight's second night of politics-themed movies. The night kicks off with Born Yesterday at 8:00 PM, which is followed by a third showing of the documentary A Night at the Movies: Hollywood Goes to Washington at 10:00 PM. (Apparently, TCM couldn't get the rights to that many movies about politics, since they're running the series on a Friday night which is shorter than other weeknights because of TCM Underground; that, and the fact they're running the documentary into the ground.) The last of the night's politics movies is another one I've blogged about before; I Married a Witch, at 12:30 AM.

In between all those is another Traveltalks short, The Capital City: Washington DC. This one was made in 1940, which is just a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into World War II and made Japan our enemy. That makes the scene in which FitzPatrick talks about Washington's cherry trees and how they were a gift from Japan rather interesting, since we all know what was to come. Other than that, thi Traveltalks short fits in well with the rest of them: a nice look back to a very different time, but nothing spectacular or ground-breaking.

The night concludes early tomorrow morning, at about 5:20 AM, with Wedding in Monaco. I was pretty certain I had blogged about this one before, back when Grace Kelly was TCM Star of the Month. You probably could have guessed from the title that it would be a short (roughly half an hour) about Grace Kelly's wedding to Monaco's Prince Rainier.

TCM claims neither of the shorts is on DVD, although I don't know how the TCM database deals with DVD extras in determining whether a short has made it to DVD.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lovin' the Ladies

TCM is showing the pre-Code Lovin' the Ladies tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM. It's creaky, but there's some stuff that's worth watching just for the dated kicks.

George and Jimmy (played by Selmer Jackson and Allen Kearns, repsectively), are a pair of young men in the idle rich class, wearing tuxedos and playing billiards, and not seeming to do anything productive. They decide to wile away their time coming up with social fantasizing and making wagers on it, asking hypotheticals like, "Can any two people be made to fall in love with each other, given the right circumstances?" The two guys have a chance to test this wager when the electrician comes in to fix some of their lights. Peter, the electrician, is played by Richard Dix. And our two rich guys think that taking such a working-class man and trying to get him to get a snooty society girl (Renee Macready). Peter isn't so dumb: he only agrees to take part in the wager for a cool $2500. The thing is, he's oing to have to dress up like those rich people he despises and pretend to be one of them while pursuing the girl.

What happens next is one of those drawing-room comedies that aren't my favorite genre, but isn't terrible here. Peter actually seems to know too much to be just an electrician, and would frankly rather have a friendship with the butler (who also seems strangely overqualified). But all the rich girls begin to fall in love with him. With one exception, which is unsurprisingly the one girl he's supposed to get to propose to him. She'd rather be with the butler or something.

As I said at the beginning, it's creaky, and it probably has no resemblance to any reality, even the sort of reality that the "smart set" of rich playboys knew back in 1930. But it's so warped that it's interesting at times, and there are a few references to things which are no longer now what they were back in 1930. The most startling example of this is when the two playboys are introducing the wager to Peter the electrician. They want to pay him $1000 (he negotiates up to the $2500 mentioned earlier) to get him to "make love to" the girl. In the context of the movie, it clearly doesn't mean sex, but something like seducing in a G-rated way. I've never been able to figure out whether this was a deliberate double entendre.

Lovin' the Ladies is not available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive Collection.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Haunting

Apparently I've never blogged about The Haunting before. It's a perfect horror film for the run-up to Halloween, so it's not surprising that TCM has selected it as part of its October horror lineup, airing tonight at 8:00 PM.

Julie Harris stars as Eleanor. She's the youngest daughter in a family we only see at the beginning of the movie. As the youngest daughter, she was given the task of looking after Mother in her declining years, kind of like Bette Davis' character in Now, Voyager. Unsurprisingly, she hasn't particularly liked the fate that life has handed her, and has a smoldering rage under her skin. She's also got a relative lack of social skills, what with having had to spend so much time with Mom and away from the rest of the world. The lack of social skills, however, may also have something to do with her possibly having psychic abilities.

It's those potential abilities that are going to give her a sense of freedom, at least in getting away from her family. Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) is a scientist investigating psychic phenomena, and he's got a doozy of a phenomenon. One of those grand old houses is seemingly haunted, and Markway is determined to figure out what's really going on. So he's collected not only Eleanor, but a couple of other people with possible psychic ability, notably Theodora (Claire Bloom), who gets to be Eleanor's roomate. Rounding out the crew investigating is Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn). The house is in his family, and he stands to inherit it, but deep down inside, he doesn't really think the place is haunted.

At this point, the movie becomes, if not clichéd, then at lesat slighly predictable. The investigators start running into phenomena that may or may not be explainable. And are these things even happening to everybody? Perhaps they're all just in Eleanor's imagination, since there are times that they're not all together, so not everybody sees what happens to everybody else. And Eleanor, having had the difficult family life she did, is already economically maladjusted without even having to worry about whether the place is actually haunted.

The Haunting is a great movie, in part because it's so low-key. There are a lot of horror movies that take pride in being gory, but The Haunting is entirely at the other end of the spectrum, reminiscent of the swimming pool scene in Cat People. Harris also does an excellent job portraying the woman who we don't know whether she's going insane, or whether there really are things happening to her. And as with The Cat People, forcing the viewer to use his own imagination helps make the film more frightening tha you'd otherwise think.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Who owns the rights to the Goldwyn films?

I was surprised in a sad way to notice on TCM's online schedule page that The Best Years of Our Lives, which is airing tonight at 9:45 PM, is apparently not available for purchase from TCM's online shop. IMDb, which partners with Amazon, says that it's avaialable on DVD, and the Amazon links certainly do show DVDs of the movie that you can buy. But they're all overpriced, with the release dates being years and years ago, which implies that the movie is out of print.

I was wondering who has the rights to it, until I did a bit of research. The movie was made by the "Samuel Goldwyn Compnay", but was originally released to theaters by RKO as a distributor. IMDb's "company credits" page for the film lists MGM/UA Home Entertainment as having released the film on DVD back in 2000, but presumably they only contracted with Goldwyn (or its corporate heirs) to release the DVD. Actually, IMDb's use of "Samuel Goldwyn Company" may be a misprint. I don't recall what the credits to the film say -- I think it might just be "Samuel Goldwyn Presents" or something similar -- but the company name at the time was "Samuel Goldwyn Productions", which is a different company from the "Samuel Goldwyn Company", which was founded by Sam Goldwyn, Jr. in the late 1970s. (At least, this is if my cursory Wikipedia research is correct.) Wikipedia says Warner Bros. has the rights to the movies now, with a link to listing the Goldwyn films to which WB acquired the rights. (There are a few, such as Porgy and Bess, which have other rights issues.) Theoretically, this means that WHV, which is under the same corporate underlords as TCM (I think) should be able to release The Best Years of Our Lives to DVD and/or Blu-ray.

Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell

TCM's series on disability in film continues at 8:00 PM tonight with Lucky Star, which is going to be a new-to-me movie. Charles Farrell plays a wheelchair-bound World War I veteran who meets Janet Gaynor. She falls in love with him over the objections of her father, who unsurprisingly wants her to marry somebody who can provide for her better. Sounds like a not uncommon plot in silent movies. But, it's one of nine or ten films Gaynor and Farrell made together at Fox; they were one of the more popular screen teamd of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

I've only recommended one of their joint films together, Sunnyside Up, which I really enjoyed. I have to admit, however, that some of their other films I've seen are not quite to my liking. I just couldn't get into their characters in the overlong Street Angel, and the early talkie Delicious, which aired during TCM's look at immigration back in June, played too much to immigrant stereotypes, not being helped by being a creaky early sound picture.

There are people out there who know more about Gaynor and Farrell than I do. This defunct blog has a nice article on them, although the curmudgeon in me objects to the use of .png files for regular pictures: it's a format that's better for things like graphs, and using it for photos is a memory hog that causes pages to load slowly.

Silent Hollywood has a page with several production stills from Street Angel. I haven't checked out the rest of the site.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Spencer Tracy, night two

I finally saw one of the TCM promos for Star of the Month Spencer Tracy, discussing his work on the film Inherit the Wind. As usual, it's a well-done piece, although Inherit the Wind isn't airing until October 29, which is part of a night of work from the end of Tracy's career. This second night of Tracy's turn as Star of the Month feature some of the work he did in the early part of his MGM career, starting with Fury at 8:00 PM. It's a movie I blogged about back in August 2008, and the picture at left is from Fury. If you haven't seen it before, it's one I strongly recommend.

Fury will be followed at 9:45 PM by Libeled Lady, which is an entirely different sort of movie from Fury, but which is equally recommended, especially if you like comedy. I can't believe it was all the way back in March of 2008 that I blogged about it. It was remade in the late 1940s as Easy to Wed with Van Johnson and Lucille Ball, but I note that I already mentioned this in the March 2008 blog post. I don't think I've blogged about Eady to Wed before; in fact, I'm not certain if I've even seen it in its entirety.

Not having seen the movie in its entirety is also something I can say about Edison, the Man, which is airing overnight at 1:45 AM. I caught the ending of it when it was last on a few months back, and it came across as typical of the biopics of the era, especially when you consider this one was made at MGM: hagiographic, and perfectly willing to dispense with reality for the sake of a good story. (What Edison did to poor Nikola Tesla is apparently overlooked. That would make in interesting story in and of itself.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

More young Marilyn Monroe

Louis Calhern and Marilyn Monroe in 'The Asphalt Jungle'Marilyn Monroe appeared in The Asphalt Jungle at MGM, before starting her several year stint at Fox, where she made most of her most famous films apart from Some Like It Hot. Sadly, The Asphalt Jungle isn't showing up on TCM any time soon. TCM, however, has been able to get the rights to one of Monroe's smaller roles from earlier in her career at Fox, that being Monkey Business, which is airing this evening at 6:00 PM. Monroe only plays a secretary to pharmecutical company president Charles Coburn. The star is Cary Grant, a chemist who discovers an elixir that makes him (or anybody who takes it) act inappropriately young for a while, until the elixir wears off. Monroe gets a car scene with Cary Grant, as well as an argument scene with young-acting Ginger Rogers.

(Unrelated to Monroe, but related to TCM and Fox, they've also gotten the rights to Cheaper By the Dozen, airing at 4:15 PM. Clifton Webb plays an "efficiency expert" who, together with wife Myrna Loy, raises a family of a dozen kids.)

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is also running some of Monroe's early work. Tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM, they're showing Let's Make It Legal, a movie I first recommended back in May, 2011. That's followed at 9:00 AM by We're Not Married, a film which is rather better than Let's Make It Legal.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Two more shorts

I probably should have mentioned Valiant Venezuela last night. It's airing at 10:30 AM today on TCM, and it's one of those Traveltalks shorts that's not available on DVD. As the title implies, James Fitzpatrick visits Venezuela as it was in 1939, which needless to say is a much different place than it is today. It's interesting that this was scheduled for today, since there's a presidential election coming up in Venezuela, although I doubt that's how it ended up on the schedule. I'm sure it has more to do with the fact that it's following The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I'm pretty certain I've stated a number of times how much I enjoy Fitzpatrick's Technicolor looks into the past, regardless of how sugar-coated they may be.

Later today, a little after 5:50 PM on TCM, is The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle. This is little more than a promo for MGM's film The Cincinnati Kid, which stars Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson as 1930s-era poker players. (TCM doesn't list The Cincinnati Kid as being on any time soon.) It's been a long time since I've seen the movie, and if memory serves Joan Blondell plays the dealer for the climactic poker match. It's a role for which she had to learn how to do professional-style card dealing, and that's more or less what this short discusses, however briefly. Joan and the real professional who taught her are the stars here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Robert Osborne reminder

A brief reminder that Robert Osborne is not going to be presenting tonight's lineup on TCM. In fact, he's no longer going to be presenting movies on Friday nights at all. Osborne wrote a letter to discuss his somewhat reduced hosting duties going forward.

As I pointed out a week and a half ago, the TCM taping schedule seems to be just right for taping one month's worth of prime time intros in five taping days, which would be a Monday-Friday week for the rest of us. Is you do the math and see that Osborne is taking off Fridays (roughly four Fridays a month) and half of Sunday (roughly equivalent to two nights' worth of movies), you'll see that Osborne is cutting out about the equivalent of six (sometimes seven) nights' worth of intros each month, which oh-so-conveniently comes out to about a fifth of the month, which ought to enable Osborne to tape his work for the month over the course of four days instead of five.

Fridays this month are devoted to a look at movies dealing with American politics, kicking off with an A Night at the Movies documentary, which I presume will be similar to the one they did for genres like horror and epics. (That would be the sort of thing that's a reasonable introduction for the uninitiated, but cursory for the sort of people who read blogs like this and are likely to have seen most of the movies in this series.) According to TCM's press release, Wolf Blitzer is going to be coming in from CNN (who once again conveniently just happen to share the same corporate overlord as TCM) to discuss the films on October 26. I was under the impression he'd be on every Friday night this month, but apparently not.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Marked Woman

I don't think I've ever blogged about the movie Marked Woman before. It's airing overnight tonight at 1:30 AM on TCM.

Bette Davis stars as Mary, a woman who is more or less an escort at a club run by gangsters. Her job is to lure men in, and make certain that they get involved in the high-stakes gambling that goes on -- gambling that is really designed to fleece the men. She leaves the club with one of the men, who hasn't paid off his gambling debt. Eventually, he gets killed and the body discovered with her address, which leads to her being the chief suspect for District Attorney David Graham (Humphrey Bogart). Well, not quite. David logically suspects that it's really Vanning, the guy who runs the club (played by Eduardo Ciannelli), who knows who carried out the murder, and on whose order the murder was committed. But Mary refuses to put the finger on him.

Meanwhile, Bette's apartment is a fun place. It's really more of a rooming house, with Mary and all of her escort friends sharing the premises. Into all this walks Betty (Jane Bryan). She's Mary's naïve kid sister, having just arrived from the small town where they both grew up, thinking that Mary must lead a terribly exciting life. Up to this point, Mary has felt confident, believing that she can handle whatever either Vanning or Graham tries to throw at her, and stay one step ahead of everything, as she says. That wasn't quite the case before, and with her kid sister in town, it's certainly not the case now. Betty is wholly unprepared for the sort of life Mary leads, with the result that when she starts to try the same lifestyle, it's going to get her in a lot of trouble....

But that sort of trouble might be just what was needed to push Mary into cooperating with the DA against Vanning. The problem is that, if Mary does cooperate, it's going to put her in a lot of danger -- unsurprisingly, Vanning doesn't like the idea of anybody turning state's evidence against him.

By the time Marked Woman was made in 1937, Bette Davis was queen of the Warner Bros. lot. (Bogart, still a ways away from truly becoming a star, only gets second billing.) So it's a bit odd that she's in a movie like this that comes across as less than a prestige movie and more in tune with the sort of gangster moviess James Cagney was starring in before the clampdown of the Production Code. (I think the prestige movies at WB at this time were all going to Paul Muni.) Still, Davis takes her role and makes a very entertaining movie out of Marked Woman. It's far from being her most prestigious work, but it's just as entertaining, if not more so, as many of those "big" roles she's get from Jezebel on.

Amazon lists Marked Woman as being available on DVD, but TCM doesn't. You'd think Marked Woman is the sort of movie that would be perfect for the Warner Archive, or one of the TCM shop's Bette Davis box sets.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another apparently no-longer-in-print DVD

This being October, TCM is running a lot of old horror films every Wednesday in prime time, something which is a heck of a lot more interesting than watching two politicians regurgitating the same platitudes they've been doing for months. Anyhow, the horror movies kick off at 8:00 PM with Mystery of the Wax Museum, which I recommended back in October, 2008.

You'll see at the bottom of that post that I pointed out that Mystery of the Wax Museum is available on DVD. Well, you can purchase that DVD at Amazon. However, TCM lists it as not available for purchase from their on-line shopping site. The implication is that the DVD was released some time ago, but it presumably no longer being produced. Certainly, it wouldn't be part of the Warner Archive MOD collection. Indeed, Amazon lists a release date of 2005 for Mystery of the Wax Museum.

So, you might want to watch or record Mystery of the Wax Museum tonight.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Butterflies Are Free

TCM has a month-long programming feature this month called The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film. Every Tuesday night in October, TCM will be showing movies that have characters facing various disabilities, with the movies presented in conjunction with some disability "activist". The movies don't seem to be grouped thematically, with tonight's lineup containing a woman in a wheelchair (Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember at 8:00 PM) followed by two movies with blind characters. It's the second of those films, Butterflies are Free, that I'd like to blog about today. It's airing overnight at 12:15 AM.

Goldie Hawn stars as Jill, a bohemian hippie-type wannabe actress who's living in an apartment in San Francisco. She's dressed in just her undies in her kitchen, which is where she spots the young man in the next apartment on his terrace, apparently watching her like some sort of pervert. So, she goes over to his apartment since he's just next door, and strikes up a conversation with him. Jill finds that Don (Eddie Albert Jr.) is a nice guy. But she also notices that when she takes his ash tray and moves it, he doesn't notice, letting the ashes fall on the table. It's only then that Don tells Jill that he's blind. This is Don's first time living away from home, and he's determined to show everybody that he can be independent. That especially includes his mother, who he feels has been overprotective of him and who definitely doesn't want him living in this sort of apartment in the big city.

Jill begins to fall in love with Don, although at first we wonder whether there's any pity involved, pity being the last thing Don wants from everybody. Still, Jill and Don seem to be getting along fine, unblocking the door between their apartments and even sharing a bed. And then one morning Jill walks into Don's apartment wearing just her undies to make breakfast, and learns that Don's mother (Eileen Heckart) has shown up. What a way to meet mother! Mom isn't particularly happy wirh the arrangement, in no small part because she sees Jill and thinks Jill is going to be too flighty for Don, giving him up when the going gets rough. At least, that's part of the excuse; she's probably got her own issues of being unable to see her son as an independent man. But the concerns about Jill are reasonable, especially since she also seems to have her eye on the director of the play in which she wants a big part. Can love conquer all?

Butterflies Are Free is based on a stage play, which should be obvious from watching the movie. There's a paucity of sets, with most of the movie being set in Jill's and Don's apartments apart from one scene of the two going clothes shopping. But don't let that deter you from watching this movie. Goldie Hawn doesn't get the credit she deserves, despite being an Oscar-winner for Cactus Flower a few years earlier. (To be fair, Ingrid Bergman was just as deserving of an Oscar in Cactus Flower, which may be part of why Hawn gets overlooked.) Hawn does an excellent job here, as in fact do all three of the principals. Heckart got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making a character we're supposed to root against seem eminently plausible, if not quite sympathetic. (That's not her fault; the script wants it that way.)

Butterflies Are Free is available on DVD.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Star of the Month Spencer Tracy

Now that we've finished up September, there's a new Star of the Month for October on TCM, that being Spencer Tracy. Every Monday night in October, TCM will be putting the spotlight on Tracy's career. In fact, they've got enough movies that the movies will go well into Tuesday morning. Tracy started his career at Fox before moving to MGM, and it is with the early part of Tracy's career that MGM begins this salute to Tracy.

Well, actually, they're beginning it a bit earlier, at 6:30 PM tonight, with The Spencer Tracy Legacy, a documentary from the late 1980s hosted by Katharine Hepburn. I've already blogged about three of the Fox films that are on tonight's schedule, starting with Me and My Gal at 8:00 PM.

The second on, A Man's Castle at 9:30 PM, is one that really sounds as though I saw it on the Fox Movie Channel at some point years ago, but I'm not certain. I do know, however, that I blogged about the two following films: The Power and the Glory at 11:00 PM got a post back in May of 2008.

The last of the Fox films is Dante's Inferno, airing at 12:30 AM. The bad news is, none of these Fox films seems to be available on DVD. The only one of the night's films that does seem to have a DVD release is 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, which you can catch at 2:00 AM.