Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lon Chaney, now on DVD!

April 1 marks the 130th birth anniversary of Lon Chaney, Sr., the "Man of a Thousand Faces" who made quite a few wonderful silent films before his tragic early death at the beginning of the sound era in 1930. TCM is marking his birthday tomorrow with an entire morning and afternoon of his movies leading up to a documentary at 6:15 PM. I was thinking about doing a blog post on one or another of them, but....

First up, at 6:00 AM, is the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Chaney as Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell-ringer of the Victor Hugo novel. The only thing is, I'm not quite certain whether I've seen this one. I think so, but I may well be conflating it with the 1939 Charles Laughton version, which is a wonderful movie.

Next, at 8:00 AM is He Who Gets Slapped. This would have been a good candidate to blog about today, except of course that I already blogged about it back in August 2010. However, one thing in that old post needs to be changed, which is that the movie has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

And then there's Tell It To the Marines at 12:15 PM, which I used in May 2011 to put the spotlight on silent film actor William Haines. I wrote back then that the movie wasn't available on DVD, but as with He Who Gets Slapped, it too has been given a DVD release thanks to the Warner Archive collection. Granted, they're both a bit pricier than your average DVD, but at least they're available.

Easter Briefs

Yesterday I mentioned the Warner Bros. short Movie Memories and how it mentioned Rudolph Schildkraut, father of actor Joseph. Both of them will be appearing tonight at 12:15 AM as part of TCM's Silent Sunday Nights selection, the 1927 Cecil B. DeMille version of The King of Kings. Joseph plays Judas Iscariot, while Rudolph plays Caiaphas in this movie about the life of Jesus. Jesus here is played by HB Warner, a fairly successful silent actor who might also be remembered as one of the "waxworks" who plays bridge along with Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.

I can't recall whether or not I've seen this version of The King of Kings. I'm not particularly one for Biblical epics, but many years back when it was previously an Easter selection for Silent Sunday Nights I recorded it to an old VHS tape. I don't remember whether or not I ever got around to seeing it, or where the VHS tape is, or whether the VCR I've got even works. Like most electronics of that era, it was programmed to start Daylight Savings Time on the last Sunday in March, and go back to Standard Time in October, but eventually the internal battery died so I had to change the time manually anyhow. I know I've seen the silent version of Ben-Hur, and would probably conflate the two movies as well.

For Easter, I wouldn't mind seeing a marathon of zombie movies. If you want to be irreverent about it, you could claim that Jesus rose from the dead to the undead. I suppose you could call it eternal "life" of a sort. (I wonder how Judas Iscariot's brain tasted.)

Another irreverent choice would be Hide-Out, which deserves an Easter airing for the scene in which Mickey Rooney finds out one of his bunnies has become dinner for the family. Run it in a double bill with Night of the Lepus.

I hope I haven't ruined everybody's Easter.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Memories update

Yesterday, I mentioned that TCM had in its schedule a short called Movie Memories #2, which surprised me since the short is listed as being produced by Paramount. In fact, the short they showed was another 1934 short called Movie Memories, which was a one-reel Vitaphone short -- something that would make sense for TCM to show, since Vitaphone was part of Warner Bros.

The short is slightly odd. There are a lot of nice shots of various old actors, most of whom were no longer with the viewing population even when the short was released in late 1934. It's nice to be able to put names to faces (Joseph Schildkraut's father Rudolph is mentioned, for example), although it's not in any particularly memorable way: by the next time any of their movies show up, I'll probably have forgotten who many of these actors are.

The other interesting thing is the number of movies and stars mentioned who have no relation to Warner Bros. I suppose for the longer-dead ones, that's not such a big deal, but the then-recent passing of Marie Dressler (died July 28, 1934) is mentioned, and she was an MGM contract player, with her Oscar-winning performance in Min and Bill specifically mentioned. Then again, I don't think a lot of the movies mentioned, especially the silents, were being re-released back in 1934. And there wasn't any TV around for people to see these older films.

And then there are the "tragedies" which are only briefly called tragedies as if the viewer is expected to know in more detail what happened to the pepole who died young. Some of them, like Rudolph Valentino, are still reasonably well-known; others, like Barbara La Marr, not so much. She was apparently in Souls For Sale, which I blogged about back in April 2010, but wasn't the star of the movie. Apparently she partied herself to death at the age of 29.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Two of Saturday morning's shorts

I'm looking at the TCM schedule for March 30, and there are two shorts that jump out at me. First, at about 8:45 AM (in other words, just after Bride of Frankenstein, is one called Movie Memories #2. It's a 1934 short which is supposedly a look at some of the silent movie stars of the past, but the thing that strikes me is that it's listed as a Paramount short. I wouldn't think that TCM would have good access to shorts from Paramount, as the Paramount talkies from before 1950 are all owned by Universal now. True, TCM has been able to get the rights to show quite a few of those pre-1950 Paramounts; certainly a good deal more of those than of Universal movies from the same time period. But still, getting a Paramount short seems a bit unlikely to me. There's a nostalgic look at old movies that was done by Vitaphone/Warner Bros. around the same time, with the hook of a guard who falls asleep and has a dream about the old movies. I could swear I mentioned that briefly in one of my posts, but I can't remember the name of that short.

The second short, at about 10:20 AM (following Godzilla, King of the Monsters), is The Cole Case. I haven't mentioned this particular short before, but it's another of SS Van Dine's stories turned into a two-reeler; that's a subject I mentioned last December.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Heard from international broadcasters again

A lot of what's coming up on the TCM schedule is stuff I've either blogged about already, or stuff I haven't seen. There is the 1940 short Home Movies showing up just after 6:30 PM (ie. just after Greta Garbo's Two-Faced Woman), which I haven't seen before. It's a Robert Benchley short, though, which is probably useful in knowing what it's going to be like. I think I'd classify Benchley's shorts as being reminiscent of Joe McDoakes, but the humor is different, and a bit tough to describe.

So, it's off to the news. I've mentioned quite a few times that I listened to short-wave radio when international broadcasters were still using that medium. The ones that still have English-language services are mostly on the internet now, but I still listen to them, which brings up some interesting stories. As to how this relates to film, this past Monday, Radio Prague ran an interview with Martin Pomothy, who founded the Czech and Slovak Film Database. You can probably guess, however, that the CSFD site is not in English. The interview is in English, and the link above is a transcript. There's also a link to the MP3, which is about 10 minutes and about 2.3MB.

Radio New Zealand reported that New Zealand's last remaining film processing lab is closing. From now on, it's digital all the way, although the article doesn't say how much of New Zealand's filmmaking was digital before the decision to close the processing lab. Interesting that it was bought by Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings fame.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Bus That Couldn't Go Slow

TCM's programming theme for tonight is "The Need For Speed", which obviously implies a bunch of movies about fast cars and car racing. The last of these movies, Speed, either overnihgt or early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM depending on your perspective. This, however, is not the 1994 Keanu Reeves film, but a completely unrelated 1936 film starring James Stewart.

One of Stewart's first starring roles, this Speed sees Stewart as Terry, a test driver for a car manufacturer who's learned everything he knows about cars from practical experience. He believes he's invented a new type of carburetor that could reduce fuel use substantially without compromising performance. Of course, there's a problem in that he needs money to perform experiments, and as a test driver he doesn't have money. Enter Frank (Weldon Heyburn), an engineer with the diploma to prove it. Tht diploma means he might just have the clout to get somebody to fund experiments in a carburetor, but it also means he might get the credit for it. There's a natural tension, I suppose, between Terry and Frank, but it's also one that's been artificially blown out of proportion so that there will be the requisite conflict for a Hollywood movie.

The blowing out of proportion comes in the form of Jane (Wendy Barrie). She's a newly-hired PR person for the car company, but what nobody knows is that she's the niece of the company's owner. She uses that familial influence to get the funding for Terry's experiments, but a stipulation is put on the money that Terry has to use a qualified engineer -- and isn't it just so convenient that Frank is around! Complicating matters is that Jane is lovely to look at, so of course Terry and Frank are both going to fall for her. Gotta blow that conflict way, way out of proportion.

Anyhow, at this point, the action shifts first to Indianapolis, which of course was the site of the most prestigious car race in the 1930s before there was a NASCAR. The carburetor is going to be used on the car they're going to race there, but something goes wrong, injuring Terry and making him bitter at Jane even though we know he's supposed to be with her. Terry is determined to continue his experiments, eventually taking him to the salt flats in Utah, which realy is a place people have gone to for decades to try to set automobile speed records, although the names have been changed. There's some more artificial drama that strains credulity, but the right people end up living, presumably happily ever after.

Speed is strictly a B movie, despite the presence of James Stewart in the cast. This was before he became a star. The plot is trite, to be sure, with a whole bunch of standad plot points thrown in: the love triangle; the man who may be more in love with his work than the girl and is almost too stupid to see how right the girl is for him; the setbacks; and the supporting characters. Here, that's Ted Healy as Stewart's mechanic, and Una Merkel as the other girl. It's nothing special, but it's mildly entertaining, and always interesting to see a young James Stewart.

I don't think Speed has ever received a DVD release, even though Warner Home Video should hold the rights to it. They could release it through the Warner Archive or put it on one of those bare-bones four film box sets that TCM likes to advertise, but that doesn't seem to have happened yet.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Days of Wine and Roses

I've briefly mentioned The Days of Wine and Roses several times before, but I've never done a full-length blog posting about it. It's getting another airing tonight at 8:00 PM as part of a night of movies dedicated to the music of Henry Mancini. If you haven't seen The Days of Wine and Roses before, you're in for an excellent movie.

Jack Lemmon stars as Joe Clay, who works as a public relations man for a large company in San Francisco. One of his job duties seems to be coordinating "entertainment" for visitng businessmen, which in this case means procuring lovely young women as the accompaniment for a business party on board a yacht. Joe deals with the drudgery and unpleasantness of his job by drinking, constantly asking the bartender to provide him with another drink. And then Joe meets Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), whom his mistakenly believes is the kind of woman who owuld fit in at those "business parties". That's not the case at all -- she loves chocolate, not drinking. But, as unalike as the two are, they eventually fall in love.

At first, Joe loves Kirsten, but he also loves the bottle, leading to his drinking more and more. Kirsten wants to make her husband happy, so after a while, she decides to try a drink herself, and finds that she likes the taste of the mixed drink. You can probably figure out that what's going to happen next involves Kristen quickly becoming just as heavy a drinker as her husband, as well as the long downward spiral it puts both of them on. For Joe, that downward spiral means losing his PR job and then having to work a series of jobs as he's unable to hold down a good one. For Kirsten, it means drinking alone when Joe gets sent on a business trip. Eventually, her carelessness when she neglects other things for drink causes her to set fire to their apartment.

Joe and Kirsten then move back in with Kirsten's father Ellis (Charles Bickford), who runs a flower nursery north of San Francisco. He, understandably, isn't so certain he wants Joe around. After all, Ellis sees what Joe did to his daughter. To be fair, one wonders if Ellis' strict upbringing caused Kirsten to rebel when she finally got the chance, and that sort of rebellion could lead to drinking too much just to spite one's parents. Obviously, not drinking is one of the conditions Dad puts upon his daughter and son-in-law to live with him, and they're able to follow that... at least for a few weeks...

It's clear that the only way these two people are going to stop drinking is with some serious help. That help comes in the form of Jim (Jack Klugman), an alcoholic himself who has been able to stop his drinking thanks to the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. Joe starts attending meetings himself, and he's able to avoid the drink. But he's still got a problem: he's living with Kirsten, who is still a drinker. Can an alcoholic stay on the wagon if he's living with somebody who's still drinking? Or can he perhaps convince her that she too needs to try Alcoholics Anonymous and stop drinking.

The Days of Wine and Roses is not a pretty story. I don't have first-hand experience of living with an alcoholic, and my drinking is limited to maybe two glasses of wine or two mixed drinks with dinner. (Well, I did have too much to drink once when I was studying in Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, decades ago. But that's another story.) Still, the movie has the feeilng of authenticity. Compare that to, say Bigger than Life, which has a climax that makes me laugh at its ludicrousness. There's no such comedy in The Days of Wine and Roses. The performances are also quite good. Jack Lemmon is wonderful, while Remick does a tremendous job as the woman we see become an alcoholic before our very eyes. Bickford and Klugman are also quite good in their supporting performances.

TCM lists The Days of Wine and Roses as being available for purchase from the TCM shop for a surprisingly low price.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Five Steps to Danger sounds familiar

March 26 is the birth anniversary of Sterling Hayden, so TCM is spending a good portion of the day with him. On the schedule at 3:00 PM is Five Steps to Danger. I noticed this movie when I was looking through the satellite box guide, as that gave an interesting description for its one-sentence synopsis of the film: Soviet spies follow a stranded motorist and the code-carrying woman who gives him a ride. Now, that sounds like something I'd want to watch. But, for whatever reason, the title didn't sound familiar.

So, I surfed over to IMDb, and looked up the movie there. Reading the reviews made it sound more familiar, although I think it's one of those movies that I saw ages ago and don't remember all that much of because a lot of movies tend to flow together once you've watched enough of them. (That's a comment I would make about a lot of those late 1940s/early 1950s RKO movies, including today's airing of A Woman's Secret. But that's a topic for another post.)

The TCMDb description, which is also the one used for the printed schedule, is a bit more cryptic than what I saw on the box guide: A couple attempts to keep important secrets from Communist spies. Reading the full synopsis, that's also not quite as accurate as what the box guide. Sterling Hayden plays a motorist whose car breaks down, at which point he's picked up by Ruth Roman. They make it to Santa Fe, which is the point at which the Communists come in. At this point from reading the full synopsis, I became pretty certain that I have in fact seen the movie. The IMDb reviews are not terribly kind, and I suppose I might have to agree if it's a movie that I've kind of forgotten. Yet it's still the genre of movie that I know I enjoy watching. So when did I see it? A search through TCM's printed schedules shows that the last time it aired was August 22, 2009, which was part of a Summer Under the Stars day of movies dedicated to Sterling Hayden. That's the only other airing I've got in the monthly schedules I have, which go back to July of 2007. I'd presume that's the airing I saw, since it's the sort of movie I think I would have blogged about had I already seen it. Then again, my actual choice for that day was The Asphalt Jungle, which kicks off the Sterling Hayden birthday salute at 6:00 AM.

Lasso the Movies

I was looking for a suitable photo of Ed Begley as today is the anniversary of his birth. One of the photos in the Google Image Search linked to the blog Lasso the Movies. A lot of the images in such searches lead to blogs that somebody started ages ago and, for better or worse, have gone moribund. That's not the case with Lasso the Movies, which also looks like a fairly interesting blog. So, I've added it to the blogroll.

As for Begley, I was specifically looking for a photo of him in Boomerang!, as that's the sort of movie I'd generally recommend. He was also one of the jurors in 12 Angry Men. I see he was also in You're In the Navy Now and Deadline USA, both of which I've also blogged about, but I don't remember him showing up in either, which says more about Begley only being given a small part than it does about the quality of the movies.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Is Here

Back in February 2008, I blogged about the musical 42nd Street, and how it really changed movie musicals. Before that, musicals were stagy and filled with a more old-fashioned singing style that make them really difficult to slog through. A good example of this is Spring Is Here, a 1930 movie which will be airing overnight, or in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, at 4:30 AM.

The movie is filled mostly with people whose names even I don't recognize. Bernice Clare plays Betty, a girl from the smart set of Long Island who is in love with Steve (Lawrence Gray) because of his fast cars. Her parents (Louise Fazenda and Ford Sterling), however, know that he's all wrong for her and that Terry (Alexander Gray; no relation to Lawrence) would be better for her, except that he's an utter drip. So they want to teach him how not to be that utter drip. Or something like that.

Spring Is Here was based on a musical by Rodgers and Hart, although only a couple of their songs survived into the movie, with a few songs from other people being added. I first saw this one a good six years or more ago when I saw it on TCM's schedule as part of a morning of early talkies, right next to the interestingly-titled Tanned Legs. Neither movie is particularly good, although Tanned Legs at least had Dagwood Bumstead (er, Arthur Lake) and some leggy shots, although those were mostly long shots of an entire chorus line. Spring Is Here is even more of a mess, with stodgy acting, a story that's difficult to care about, and forgettable songs. In fact, even though the movie only runs about 70 minutes, I found it so tedious that I was fast-forwarding through the songs.

So, Spring Is Here is one of those movies that really should only be seen as a look back in time to what entertainment was like circa 1930. If you're looking for quality, I'm afraid you're not really going to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither Spring Is Here nor Tanned Legs has made it to DVD.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Brewster's Millions again

I very briefly mentioned the various versions of Brewster's Millions back in August 2009, as it's a movie that has been remade quite a few times. The 1945 version is getting another airing at 10:30 AM on March 24 on TCM.

Thanks to the Richard Pryor remake in the 1980s, the story is fairly well-known: a man finds out that a long-lost uncle has died, but amassed a fortune during his lifetime. That fortune will be bequeathed to the nephew, but with a catch: the nephew has to spend a certain portion of the inheritance within 30 days to inherit the rest, with some very strict conditions. Not an easy thing to spend all that money, is it? Dennis O'Keefe plays the would-be heritor in this version, which is more than entertaining enough.

But there are a few other interesting things to point out. One is the 1945 version has our protagonist watching horse races -- on TV! Television, of course, had been invented in the late 1920s and there were experimental uses of the technology throughout the 1930s, something that I mentioned in conjunction with the 1938 movie Five of a Kind, which also had television as a brief plot point. It was really only after the end of World War II that television began to take off.

Back in 2009, I mentioned that there was apparently the possibility of another remake of Brewster's Millions. My scant evidence was that, when doing an IMDb search on the title, one of the entries gives, instead of a year of release, the parenthetical information "in development". Three and a half years on, and that "in development" version is still listed. It's a link to information that requires an IMDb Pro account, which I don't have, so I'm unable to comment any further. (The original source work is a 1902 novel, which by now would be in the public domain.)

The 1945 version has received a DVD release, although I think it's out of print, since TCM doesn't list it as available for purchase, and Amazon suggests they've only got a limited number of copies remaining.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The return of "Heaven With a Barbed-Wire Fence"

I first blogged about Heaven With a Barbed-Wire Fence back in November 2009. It still doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, not even from Fox's MOD scheme, so you'll have to wait for it to show up on the Fox Movie Channel. That having been said, I obviously wouldn't be posting about it if it weren't going to be showing up soon on FMC. Indeed, it's airing tomorrow (March 23) at 4:50 AM, with another repeat on Monday, April 1, at 6:00 AM. Sure, neither airing is at the best time, although with the prevalence of recording devices these days it's not as big a deal.

FMC's website did bring it up in a search, including several production stills, so I've included one of the stills (left to right: Richard Conte, Marjorie Rambeau, and Glenn Ford) with this post.

Risë Stevens, 1913-2013

The death has been announced of Risë Stevens who died in her New York City apartment on Wednesday at the age of 99. Risë (two syllables; note the diacritical mark on the ë) is one of those names that I first probably heard on the local PBS channel, as Stevens was most famous for being an opera singer. It's also a name that was easy to remember simply because it's so odd. Since I only recognized the name as an opera singer, it was a bit of a surprise to me when I first sat down to watch Going My Way (a movie I intensely dislike, but that's another story) and saw that she was prominently mentioned in the opening credits. In fact, Stevens' film career was sparse: besides Going My Way, she also provided a voice for an animated version of the Oz story, and starred opposite Nelson Eddy in the 1941 version of The Chocolate Soldier. But even for that little she still deserves to be remembered for the Hollywood portion of her career.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dean Stockwell night on TCM

Dean Stockwell turned 77 back on March 5. That probably would have been a good time for TCM to put the spotlight on him, but a lot of TCM's prime time spotlights, unlike those in the morning and afternoon (such as tomorrow's salute to Karl Malden) are not birthday salutes. At any rate, part of the reason I'm posting about Stockwell is because there's two more movies which I believe are TCM premieres, and show TCM is having more luck getting movies from the 20th Century Fox library to show on TCM. That's never a bad thing.

First up at 8:00 PM is Compulsion, which I blogged about back in September 2009. I thought this one aired some time back when TCM had its look at true crim stories, but I just did a search of the TCM schedules for Compulsion, and the only match I got was for tonight's airing. It's based on the Leopold and Loeb "thrill killings" of the 1920s, with Orson Welles playing a supporting role as the killers' attorney.

That's followed at 10:00 PM by Down to the Sea in Ships at 10:00 PM, a movie that I saw way back when on the Fox Movie Channel, but one that I think hasn't aired in ages, so it's another of those movies of which I only have fuzzy memories. Stockwell plays the grandson of Lionel Barrymore, who for his part plays an elderly, disabled 19th century ship's captain. (In real life, of course, Barrymore had been confined to a wheelchair for a good ten years due to his arthritis by the time this movie was made.) Grandpa intends to teach his grandson about whaling, and takes Richard Widmark on as a first mate for their voyage to the Antarctic. Widmark has studied biology at college, so there's a natural conflict between Barrymore's and Widmark's views on whaling and seamanship. There's a pretty good scene of the ship scraping against an iceberg, and Harry Morgan rounding out the cast.

Some people may enjoy The Boy With Green Hair, airing overnight at 2:15 AM. Stockwell plays the titular character, although we don't see the hair until later in the movie. Told in flashback, the story involves Stockwell's character waking up one morning to find he's got green hair, and deciding to use it as a way to highlight the horrors foced by children in war zones. It's one that, the last time I watched it, found to be incredibly slowly-paced, although that was several years ago, so perhaps my memory is being overly harsh.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The popularity of Doctor No in 1962 led not only to the entire series of James Bond movies, but a lot of other spy movies in the 1960s, with varying levels of seriousness, from the ultra-cynical The Spy Who Came In From the Cold to the utter fluff of Caprice. Another movie which comes closer to the latter is Fathom, which is coming up a couple of times in the next few days on the Fox Movie Channel: tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM, and again Friday March 22 at 7:45 AM.

Raquel Welch plays Fathom Harvill, a skydiver travelling her way through Europe with an American troupe. At the latest competition in the south of Spain, it's been aranged that Fathom is going to be picked up by jeep and taken to her hotel. However, the jeep driver, Timothy (Richard Briers), doesn't take her to the hotel at first, but instead to a trailer manned by a Col. Campbell (Ronald Fraser), a man from a western intelligence service. He proceeds to inform Fathom that intelligence needs her services. Apparently, a nuclear trigger device code-named "Fire Dragon" was lost at sea when a US Air Force plane crashed into the Mediterranean. This is something that the Communists -- in particular the Chinese -- would love to get their hands on. And indeed, a known Chinese agent has shown up in the area, leading intelligence to believe that they know where Fire Dragon is and are about to get their hands on it. That's where Fathom comes in. The intelligence services can't get into the Chinese agent's compound, but an innocent skydiver like Fathom can, simply by literally dropping in from the sky. So she's being asked to skydive in to the compound "accidentally", with recording devices in tow to get information.

What she finds isn't quite what she expects. There's a dead body, and the Chinese agent Soon and her companion Meriwether (Tony Franciosa), who naturally suspect Fathom of something not good. They try to implicate her in the murder, but she's eventually escapes from the compound, presumably to give the data she's gathered back to western intelligence. Soon and Meriwether track down Fathom, and when they finally corner her, they have an even more fantastic story to tell her. Oh, there's a Fire Dragon, all right, but it's not a nuclear triggering device. In fact, it's a bejeweled dragon sculpture that went missing, with an American defector from the Korean War era trying to find it and take it out of China. Meriwether, in fact, is working for the Americans to find their deserter, and Col. Campbell is trying to trick Fathom.

What's a pretty little skydiver to believe? At this point, the story gets complicated.... Very complicated, in fact. Fathom, for her part, has no idea who's telling the truth, and who's trying to kill her. and Campbell, Soon, and Meriwether aren't the only ones with an interest in the Fire Dragon. In fact, it seems as if, as with that famous statue of a falcon, everybody who's anybody knows it's in the area and has come to find it and claim it for themselves.

That, I suppose, is the big problem with Fathom: that it has a whole bunch of twists and turns that don't seem realistic, with many of the characters not having plausible motivations for their ruses. But, as I said at the beginning, Fathom isn't supposed to be taken as seriously as some of the other movies in the 1960s spy cycle. So, being even more unreal than a James Bond film isn't quite as much a drawback as it might otherwise be. The filmmakers were only trying to entertain us here. And if that's the goal, I think they more or less succeeded. Raquel Welch is lovely to look at; the locations are nice, and the spy story is passable enough. The proceedings are also lightened up with the requisite amount of humor, including a running gag about how Fathom got such a strange name, anyhow. Fathom will never make any all-time greatest film list, but it still will entertain you.

Fathom is listed in a standalone DVD release at Amazon, although that may be out of print. It also received a DVD release as part of a Raquel Welch box set, and that one is listed as available for purchase at both Amazon and the TCM shop.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

TCM March 2013 Guest Programmer: Joel Grey

You may have seen the promos on TCM announcing this month's Guest Programmer, Joel Grey. Most of the Guest Programmers select four movies, but for whatever reason, Grey will only be presenting three movies. He'll be on with Robert Osborne at 8:00 PM, which is when his first selection, The Best Years of Our Lives, airs. As good of a movie as it is, and even though it won the Best Picture Oscar, it's one that is always worth recommending again.

Grey's second selection is Yankee Doodle Dandy, at 11:00 PM. It's not my favorite mostly because of musicals not being my favorite genre, but I do have to say that it's a very well-made movie and that James Cagney does an excellent job as George M. Cohan. Or, at least, Cagney does an excellent job playing a character. I have no idea what the real life Cohan was like. Grey apparently played Cohan on Broadway in the late 1960s, which is why this movie has personal meaning for him.

Finally, at 1:15 AM, Grey has selected On the Waterfront, a movie whose quality goes without mentioning. I would bet, however, that there are people who aren't movie buffs who don't know much about the movie. It's too bad that it will be on at 1:15 AM, but something has to be on then. The only other bad thing is that it's Joel Grey presenting the movies. He's the sort of person that I don't know if too many people would go out of their way to see present films, unlike an Anthony Bourdain who probably has a fan base all its own that doesn't necessarily know about the movies but might be interested in seeing him present the movies.

The fourth and final movie in Tuesday's prime time lineup, although not presented by Gray, is another one worth wataching: Call Northside 777, at 3:15 AM.

Tear Gas Squad

I've mentioned in the past that I find classic Hollywood's view of Irish Americans a bit hard to swallow. One of the movies that I mentioned in that thread is Tear Gas Squad, which TCM is showing at 5:15 PM on March 19.

Dennis Morgan plays Tommy McCabe, a nightclub singer who as part of his act parodies the police. This ticks off a Jerry Sullivan (Gloria Dickson), the daughter of a real police officer. So, Tommy tries to make it up to the girl by becoming a real police officer. (Really.) He winds up having as an instructor in the academy Bill (John Payne), who is also pursuing Jerry romantically.

The idea is interesting, but this is a B movie. Morgan wasn't quite a star yet, and neither was Payne. So the movie winds up being just as much an opportunity to showcase Morgan's singing, kicking off with his rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", in the sort of style that I have to admit I don't like. Warner Bros. and the other studios made a lot of fun B movies back in the 1930s and 1940s, but for me, Tear Gas Squad isn't one of them.

Tear Gas Squad is one of those movies that hasn't even been released to DVD by the Warner Archive collection.

Monday, March 18, 2013

It All Came True

Yet another movie I thought I'd blogged about in the past, but which a Blogger search claims I haven't, is It All Came True. TCM is running it tomorrow afternoon at 12:45 PM.

Humphrey Bogart only gets third billing in the movie, but he is more of the star than the two leads. Bogart plays Chips, a gangster who, like a lot of Hollywood's gangsters, tries to look respectable by running a nightclub. Needless to say, he's going to get involved in a crime, and it's that crime which will drive the plot forward. Specifically, it's a murder. But, Chips isn't that stupid: he did the deed with a gun registered to the club's pianist, Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn). Taylor's a struggling composer playing the piano to make ends meet, and now he's over a barrel. Since he could be implicated in the murder, Tommy is in a spot to be blackmailed by Chips, and Chips takes that opportunity, making Tommy find him a place to stay that the cops don't know about.

That place happens to be his mother's house, and a very interesting place it is. Mrs. Taylor (Jessie Busley) runs a boarding house for people trying to break in to the entertainment racket -- the sort of place you'd see in Stage Door, together with Mrs. Ryan (Una O'Connor), who also happens to be the mother of struggling singer Sarah (Ann Sheridan), who is Tommy's friend since childhood, and could become Mrs. Tommy Taylor if only the two of them could make a success of life. They're not the only ones struggling, though; the mothers' boarding house is in constant financial difficulty, mostly because the mothers are renting out rooms to old time entertainers who are no longer in fashion.

What happens next is something you might be able to guess, but also something that needs to be seen to be believed. Chips wants to be left alone so that nobody will recognize him; in fact, Sarah does know who he is but has her own reasons for not turning him in just yet. Chips is also eventually introduced to all the other residents of the house, and gives the mothers the idea that turning their place into a Gay Nineties-themed nightclub could be just the thing they need to make the money for the back taxes they owe. After all, the mothers have the talent right under their noses. All the good people will live happily ever after, and the criminals will get caught by the virtuous law enforcement, as demanded by the Production Code, at which point the title card reading "The End" can finally pop up.

It All Came True isn't your typical Humphrey Bogart gangster movie, in that it's more light-hearted than any of the others, what with all those quirky old-fashioned variety acts more or less around. The talented tenants are all played by character actors whom you've seen dozens of times before; once the Gay Nineties nightclub opens for the movie's finale, there are some real acts as well. The movie has an air of unreality because of that, and also because of those Production Code restraints that evetually require people to act in ways they wouldn't be motivated to do in real life. But It All Came True rises above that to be an entertaining little film. It may not be as great as The Petrified Forest or High Sierra, but it more than does its job of entertaining the viewer.

It All Came True has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I don't think Joan Blondell's in thereI very briefly made mention of the movie Smarty when it aired back in March 2011. It's getting another airing tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM on TCM. It's an comedy with a bunch of good stars and an odd premise whose oddness makes it worth watching.

Joan Blondell and Warren William are the stars; at the beginning of the movie they're playing married couple Vicki and Tony. It's Vicki's birthday, and she wants to spend the evening playing bridge with some of her friends instead of going to the theater, which is what Tony had planned for her birthday. Those friends include Vernon (Edward Everett Horton), a lawyer who is more Vicki's friend than Tony's. At least, it would seem that way because Vernon has his eyes on Vicki despite her being married. Tony doesn't particularly like playing bridge with Vernon, and Vicki uses this to engineer an argument which results in her getting slapped by Tony! (I told you the movie has an odd premise: this is supposed to be funny, remember.)

Vernon is no dummy. He realizes that a wife getting smacked is grounds for divorce. So he persuades Vicki that it wouldn't be a bad idea to get a divorce from Tony. Once the divorce is finalized, Vernon will be able to marry Vicki. All this happens in the first half of the movie, so you know that the characters aren't all going to live happily ever after. At least, not without a lot more complications along the way. For Vicki, that means being a high-maintenance woman who wants Vernon to cater for her every whim, while at the same time teasing Vernon by continuing to make eyes at Tony. Tony, for his part, is trying to make the best of it by carrying on with married Bonnie (Joan Wheeler), although since he wasn't the one to file for divorce, he wouldn't have minded if he and Vicki had stayed married the whole time.

As I said, it's all a very odd premise. It's one of those old movies that, because of its age, its being a programmer only running about 65 minutes, and not having been released to DVD, it hasn't gotten a lot of reviews on IMDb. Those people who did write comments have by and large been more negative than positive. For my part, however, I liked the movie, in part because it is so bizarre. Blondell comes across as unsympathetic, but does a good job of it. Edward Everett Horton is great as always in a supporting role playing the "other" man. The cast also includes some other great character actors, notably Frank McHugh as another of the friends making up the social circle.

I briefly mentioned above that Smarty has never been released to DVD. So, you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yesterday's airing of Front Page Woman

I think I must have seen the latter half of Front Page Woman at some point in the past, as some of the plot points sounded and looked familiar. But, I didn't remember the beginning. One of the key plot elements saw yesterday's birthday boy George Brent looking through one of those old sand-filled cigarette butt receptacles that you don't see any more. I always thought those things only had a small amount of sand at the top, but this urn was filled all the way to the bottom, with enough sand to cover up a knife that was used in a stabbing. There's some other movie I saw not too long ago that had a knife hidden in a wall-mounted circuit box, which resulted in a phone call not being received. I don't know if it was one of the Torchy Blane movies or something else. Anybody know what movie that might be?

Another plot point is the one that makes me think I've seen the second half of Front Page Woman before: George Brent hides in a janitor's closet in a courthouse that's right next to the jury deliberation room, so he's able to eavesdrop on the jury and get their verdict for a newspaper scoop. I have a feeling that in real life, this would lead to a mistrial. Especially when you consider that Brent then goes into the jury room and fixes things so that Bette Davis will think the opposite verdict has been reached. But, a mistrial wouldn't serve the purpose of the movie. I can't imagine this particular plot development being used in another movie.

Front Page Woman looks like a programmer from the very beginning, with the opening credits being shown over a montage of newspapers with screaming headlines. I could swear that one of them read "Val Bradford Still Missing!" (at least, all in capital letters to make the headline look like it's screaming) It struck me because my immediate thought was that this was the name of Davis' character in Fog Over Frisco. In fact, her character was Arlene Bradford; Val (short for Valkyr) Bradford was her half-sister played by Margaret Lindsay.

A couple of the bit characters in Front Page Woman deserve mention. There was a fat lady reporter in the press club who has a couple witty lines with, I believe, Roscoe Karns. She was played by Grace Hayle, a career bit player who is often listed on IMDb as having played the fat character in the movie, since these bit parts would have been far enough down the list so as not to receive screen credits. Mean, but true. Nobody loves a fat woman except her grocer and her tailor, I suppose.

The other bit part was a juror who held out on deciding guilt or innocence of the defendant while the other 11 jurors held the other view. (You'll note I'm trying to avoid spoiling too many key plot twists here.) I immediately recognized the voice. "That's the Wienie King from The Palm Beach Story!" I exclaimed. The only difference is that this juror wasn't bald. But sure enough, both parts were played by Robert Dudley.

Front Page Woman hasn't receieved a DVD release that I know of, not even from the Warner Archive. I'd think that, since it's got Bette Davis in the cast, it's due for a release, either from the Archive as a standalone or as part of yet another Bette Davis box set.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Macdonald Carey centenary

While TCM is honoring George Brent on his birthday today, I should point out that it's also the birth anniversary of Macdonald Carey (1913-1994). One of Carey's first films was Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, which I blogged about back in February 2008 when TCM had the broadcast contract to those Hitchcock movies for which the rights are held by Universal. Carey plays one of the policemen who come to Santa Rosa to investigate Joseph Cotten; along the way, Carey fals in love with Teresa Wright.

In fact, Carey didn't make all that many movies. I've recommended several others before, and for the most part they're inferior movies. Let's Make It Legal showed up earlier this month on the Fox Movie Channel, and will be getting another airing late in April. I thought Blue Denim aired recently, but FMC's search doesn't indicate that it will be showing any time soon. And I had completely forgotten about Carey in These Are the Damned, which is a flawed but very interesting movie.

Carey spent the larger portion of his career doing television. He did a lot of guest perforamces on all sorts of TV shows, but his most famous role would probbaly be on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. For decades, Carey provided the voiceover about the days of our lives being "like sands through an hourglass". I suppose soap opera work was nice if you could get it, since it at least provided a steady paycheck, as we'll learn tomorrow night when TCM shows Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.

So, I suppose it should be unsurprising that there are several Hollywood stars who later in life did soap opera work. In addition to Carey, there's Constance Ford from A Summer Place, who went on to do Another World for many years. Ruth Warrick achieved fame by playing Orson Welles' first wife in Citizen Kane, and then went on to possibly even more fame by spending the last 34 years of her life on All My Children. British actress Anna Lee has a small role as George Sanders' wife in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and for over 30 years played on General Hospital. And then there are the famous people who did prime time soaps. I knew Barbara Bel Geddes from Dallas long before I knew she was in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Ditto Jane Wyman on Falcon Crest as opposed to her Oscar-winning role in Johnny Belinda.

Perhaps Douglas Sirk shouldn't have retired from Hollywood after Imitation of Life. He could have enjoyed a long career directing TV soap operas.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Rich Are Always With Us

TCM is honoring George Brent on his birth annivesary tomorrow. You could be forgiven for thinking they were honoring Bette Davis, since most of the movies on TCM's lineup tomorrow morning and afternoon star Davis, and there's even a TCM documentary about her rounding out the afternoon. But Davis didn't really become a star until Of Human Bondage in 1934, while Brent was a star before this. A good example of this is The Rich Are Always With Us, which kicks off tomorrow's birthday salute at 6:00 AM.

Brent plays Julian, an author who is in love with wealthy socialite Caroline (Ruth Chatterton, who gets top billing, which says something about the time the movie was made). It's an unrequited love, though, as Caroline is happily married to Greg (John Miljan). Meanwhile, there's a woman who has an unrequited love for Julian; that woman has the interesting name Malbro, and is played by Bette Davis, who is still billed aftre Brent. Now, you'd think that the obvious solution would be for Julian to suck it up and discover that perhaps Malbro might not be so bad for him. In that case, though, we wouldn't have much of a movie. Instead, we have to have something much more complicated even than a love triangle.

You see, it turns out that Greg is in love with another woman. Aha! We have another neat solution, which would involve Greg divorcing Caroline to marry Malbro, leaving Caroline and Julian free to marry each other. Alas, that too is not what's going on. Instead, Greg is in love with Alison (Adrienne Dore). When Caroline discovers this, she runs off to Paris to be officially separated from Greg so that she can obtain a divorce from him. Julian, for his part, follows Caroline to Paris to tell her that now she can get married to him.

Things go on like this for all of 70 minutes, but you're going to need a scorecard to keep up with what's going on. To top it all off, the movie has an ending which utterly defies belief. The movie certainly isn't boring for anybody who likes 80-year-old movies, but it does have an air about it that there's something not quite right with the plot. The one other thing of note is that it's got a scene of Brent lighting two cigarettes and giving one of them to Chatterton. That scene was very similarly done 10 years later with Paul Henried and Bette Davis in Now, Voyager.

The Rich Are Always With Us has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive. But that also means the DVD is a bit on the overpriced side. You may want to catch tomorrow's airing first to decide whether you'd want ot drop money on a DVD. (Personally, I think Warner Home Video ought to do a Davis pre-Code boxset and include this.)

A couple of repeats of Fox films that I've blogged before

TCM's prime-time lineup for tonight is a look at double agents. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with what I believe is a TCM premiere, 13 Rue Madeleine, which I blogged about back in July 2009. James Cagney does well as the spy trainer who has to go undercover and complete the mission himself when it's found there's a double agent in the group of spies he's been training. I think it's rather a different role from anything Cagney had done to that point, and certainly the Fox style following World War II is much different from the Warner Bros. style of movies Cagney had been making for the first 15 years of his career.

13 Rue Madeleine will be followed at 9:45 PM by The House on 92nd Street, which was the subject of a May 2010 blog post. Looking back on my post from nearly three years ago, I think I'd have to give this movie an even higher grade than I would have back then. Yes, the voiceovers can be irritating, but the actual story more than overcomes that, and the fact that there's no star on the level of a James Cagney is a plus for a movie like this.

The final selection is The Man Who Never Was, which shows up over on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM for the first time in several years. (It's due for another airing sometime in April.) Clifton Webb is outstanding in this telling of the story of Operation Mincemeat, to which I apparently did not link back in July 2008. The story is slightly incomplete, but that's because some of the details of Operation Mincemeat would not have been public knowledge at the time the movie was made.

All three movies have been released on DVD, although The House on 92nd Street is apparently out of print as it's only available on Amazon and not from the TCM Shop.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The latest example of why I love TCM

TCM is devoting an entire evening of films tonight to Lionel Rogosin. I have to admit that Rogosin is somebody I'd barely heard of before seeing him show up on tonight's schedule, so I don't know much about the moives in tonight's lineup.

Rogosin was an independent documentary filmmaker who decided to tackle social issues, such as poverty, racism, inequality, and the horror of war, things which we're presumably going to see in the movies airing tonight. On the Bowery, which kicks off the night at 8:00 AM and will be repeated at 2:45 AM, deals with the life, such as it is, facing the drunks who populated New York's Bowery district in the mid-1950s, while the second movie, Come Back, Africa (on at 9:15 PM and overnight at 4:00 AM), is about how South Africa's apartheid system as it existed in the late 1950s affected the Blacks of South Africa; by extension, Rogosin was apparently commenting upon the indignities suffered by Black people in the rest of colonial Africa. The movie was released in 1959, which was one year before the big decolonialization of 1960 when a large number of today's African countries were granted their independence from either France or the UK, depending upon which country had held their territory as a colony.

The night ends with what isn't a Rogosin movie: the 30-minute short 24 Hour Alert, just after the repeat showing of Come Back, Africa at around 5:27 AM. This one was made by Jack Webb in his inimitable style that you'd see in the 1960s Dragnet episodes: obvious, with a bang-bang-bang delivery to try to drum the point into the viewers' heads. The point, in this case, is the necessity of having air force bases all over the place, so that the pilots can fly surveillance missions to make certain those evil Commies aren't going to invade our air space. All this is necessary even if the folks living next to the bases whine and moan about a wee bit of noise. At least it's in color, and has some nice file footage of the sort of aircraft that was being used in the mid-1950s. Have a laugh or two at this piece that should be looked at more as a political document.

All of these are the sort of thing that wouldn't show up many other places than TCM.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Westerner

TCM recently showed the movie The Westerner as part of 31 Days of Oscar. It's getting another airing tonight at 10:00 PM as part of a night of movies looking at justice, Old Western-style.

The movie starts with one of those old western staples: a fight between the ranchers and the homesteaders who would fence off the land for their farms, something the ranchers with their free-range cattle obviously don't want. This particular fight sees one of the cattle get shot accidentally, and the farmhand who did it is brought before the bar-turned court of Judge Roy Bean (played by Walter Brennan), the "Law West of the Pecos". Bean, at least as portrayed in this movie, is a tough-on-crime judge, and his jury of bar patrons quickly sentences the shooter to death. Into all of this walks Cole Harden (Gary Cooper), who isn't from any place in particular, and isn't going anywhere specific either. However, one of the townsmen sees that the horse Cole rode in on is in fact his horse, so Cole is tried on a charge of horse thievery, another capital crime in this part of Texas.

Cole is a quick thinker, however. He notices that Judge Bean has a thing for actress Lily Langtry, and Bean seems to think that anybody who likes Lily Langtry can't be all bad. So Cole claims that he has a lock of Langtry's hair, but it's in El Paso. So, the judge stays the sentence, presumably until that lock of hair can be obtained. Cole, for his part, uses the stay to "exonerate" himself, steal the horse again the next morning, and get out of town. He doesn't get all that far, however. His first stop is at the farmhouse of one of those poor put-upon farmers (Fred Stone), whose daughter Jane (Doris Davenport) Cole met in town the previous day when she was at the cattle-shooter's trial decrying the state of "justice" in Bean's courtroom. She's obviously trying to convince Cole to stick around and help out the farmers, but he has equally understandable reasons for wanting to get the heck out of town. Still, Jane's beauty and goodness convince Cole.

What follows next is in many ways your typical ranchers-vs.-farmers western, which plays out in a way that's wholly inconsistent with history. There's a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that Judge Bean and Lily Langtry are based upon real people and that everybody else in the movie is a fictional character. But even much of what the movie says about Bean is inaccurate. The other problem the movie has is that from the first time we see Bean, he's drawn in such an unsympathetic light that it's tough to watch. Exigent circumstances may have necessitated rough justice at times in the Old West, when there was no higher justice around. It's something that's handled well in a movie like Yellow Sky. But in The Westerners, it's dun in a way that makes the ranchers and their supporters look like caricatures. To be fair, though, I've also always been a bit predisposed against westerns, so my reviews of them may be harsh by nature.

The Westerner has received multiple DVD releases, but all of the individual DVD releases seem to be out-of-print and high-priced. TCM is offering a 13-disc box set which includes The Westerner, although I wonder about the quality of the discs when a box set with that many films from multiple studios is being sold at a relatively low price.

Monday, March 11, 2013

If I'm Lucky

Another movie returning to the Fox Movie Channel for the first time in a couple of years is If I'm Lucky, which you can catch tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM.

Perry Como stars more or less as himself (although the character is named Allen Clark), the male singer for one of those omnipresent 1940s bands, such as the one led by the recently-mentioned Jan Savitt. The bandleader is played by Harry James; Vivian Blaine is the main female singer; and Carmen Miranda is along more for the production numbers, although she's actually the band's harp player. (Seriously.) The problem is, the band is out of work. As luck would have it, though, a political campaign is coming along, offering them at least free food for warming up the audience. It's Magonnagle (character actor Edgar Buchanan) running for governor, with his campaign being managed by Wally Jones (Phil Silvers). They have little hope of winning since they're up against the big, corrupt machine backing the incumbent governor, but hey, there has to be a pretense of democracy.

And then, a funny thing happens. Just before one campaign stop, Buchanan gets rip-roaring drunk. Much too drunk, in fact, to go out and give a speech. So what's a campaign to do? They trot out Clark, who gives a speech that's little more than platitudes. But, this being a Hollywood movie, the audience at the campaign rally eats such stuff up. And so, everybody gets an idea. Why not dump Magonnagle and run Clark for governor? This utterly changes the campaign. Clark starts rising in the polls, to the point that the machine thinks they can manipulate him more than they can the current governor. Clark isn't so certain of any of this, but it'll get him exposure for his singing. Meanwhile, he's unsurprisingly fallen in love with the Vivian Blaine character.

The next plot twist is entirely predictable: our heroes find out that the campaign is being backed by the corrupt machine, and everybody wants out. It's easy for the band members, but not so much for Clark. Oh, he'd like to quit politics, but the machine has already manipulated him to the point that they can blackmail him if he should try to quit the campaign. To be honest, though, you know that it's all leading up to a happy ending resolution. This isn't Preston Sturges; it's a fluffy Fox musical.

And that's one of the problem with these fluffy musicals: you know that, whatever problems the characters face, the right people are going to triumph in the end. There was no way Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden were going to be flops in Singin' in the Rain, for example. As such, a movie like this is more down to its production values and the acting and music than it is to the story. MGM and the Freed Unit were the tops at this in the 1940s and 1950s, with Fox's musicals coming across as looking rather thriftier, and If I'm Lucky is further down the scale than the Technicolor Fox musicals with Betty Grable as the star. One really wishes the Carmen Miranda numbers could be in color. It also really doesn't help that Perry Como is utterly lacking in the charisma department. If I'm Lucky is a remake of a 1930s movie called Thanks a Million with Dick Powell in the role of the singer-turned-candidate, and Powell is so much more compelling. Still, those of you who like the Fox style of musicals may well enjoy this one.

If I'm Lucky has received a couple of DVD releases. One is as part of a Carmen Miranda box set that I'm not certain whether it's still in print; the other is a standalone that you can get even from the TCM shop. As far as I'm aware, the original, Thanks a Million, isn't on DVD.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jan Savitt

TCM is airing the short Jan Savitt and His Orchestra overnight at about 3:35 AM, just after the TCM Import Made in USA. Warner Bros. made quite a few of these one-reelers through the 1940s looking at various musical talent, much of which is B-level and not known to anybody today. I know that I for one had never heard of Savitt before the first time I saw this short.

It tells the story of Savitt, or at least "a" story about him; I have no idea how accurate it is: Savitt was working in a big-city orchestra, but wanted to do his own thing, since he was clearly too talented for the orchestra. So he came up with his own band that has its own sound. At this point we get a tune or two; one with singing, and one where the accompaniment is an acrobatic act that would be more suited to the circus. The suits at Warner Bros. must really have been trying to shoehorn talent into their short films.

This is a fairly pedestrian short from 1956, and what I found most interesting came about after I watched the short. I looked for more info on Savitt, and it turns out the poor guy died in his early 40s after suffering a massive hemmorhage while on tour with his band. The poor folks at Warner Bros. who has been promoting him obviously could have had no way of knowing what was going to happen to Savitt.

There's a lot of Savitt's audio available on Youtube, but the short doesn't seem to have made it in its entirety to Youtube.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Daylight Saving Time preemption

You'd think the TCM programmers would remember which day marks the start of Daylight Saving Time in the US and program only 9 hours in the prime time/overnight lineup instead of the usual 10. But no; once again the original monthly schedule had a full ten hours of movies starting at 8:00 PM tonight. Tonight also happens to be the start of a new season of The Essentials on TCM, with Drew Barrymore returning for her second season of presenting moives with Robert Osborne. This season's first selection is Grand Hotel at 8:00 PM, which is a well-deserved selection indeed. That's followed at 10:00 PM by Weekend at the Waldorf, a 1945 movie which is more or less a remake of Grand Hotel. That movie is followed by an early Vitaphone sound short, and then the fun begins.

For those of us in the Eastern time zone, the time change will occur during the night's third feature, The Big Chill. The monthly schdeule I downloaded a few weeks back, as well as the on-line schedule for Eastern Time, actually gets the timing on this one right, I think. It starts overnight at 12:30 AM and runs for 105 minutes, which is through the hour to move our clocks ahead. So this 105-minute movie should end just after 3:15 AM EDT, which will still be 1:15 AM CST.

The fourth feature, The Rules of the Game, is listed as starting at 3:30 AM EDT -- but the schedules only gave it a one-hour block despite its being a 106-minute movie. So of course it will actually take two hours to run, and the skipped hour for those of you in the Central and Mountain time zones will come during this movie if you're trying to record it.

The final movie in the Saturday night lineup is Fun on a Weekend at 5:30 AM EDT, a delightful little movie in which poor Eddie Bracken meets equally poor Priscilla Lane and together, the two con their way into high society for a day. That 5:30 AM EDT start time is still 1:30 AM PST, and the spring forward for those of you on the Pacific coast will occur during this film.

The upshot is that the movie which was originally on the schedule for early Sunday morning but has been removed is The Stork Club. It's been replaced by Now Playing: The Show, and the two-reel short Alice in Movieland, in which Joan Leslie plays a newcomer to Hollywood. Note that the on-line schedule lists this block as being at 6:15 AM, when in fact it runs from 7:15 to 8:00 AM.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Saturday movie series return to TCM

TCM has been running various series of movies on Saturday mornings into the afternoons for some time now. They took a month off for 31 Days of Oscar, of course, but the series return tomorrow. At the end of January, TCM ran the last of the Brass Bancroft movies in the pre-noon slot, so now they're kicking off a new series, which is the Perry Mason movies of the mid-1930s. The first of them is The Case of the Howling Dog tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM, starring Warren William as Mason. The scond one, The Case of the Curious Bride, which comes up on the 16th, is of special interest because the murder victim is played by Errol Flynn in one of his earliest Hollywood roles. We don't see that much of Flynn; the murder complete with victim is only shown at the end of the movie with Flynn trying to fight off his assailant.

Before 31 Days of Oscar, TCM was running the Torchy Blane movies in the Saturday at noon slot. Those return tomorrow at noon with Torchy Gets Her Man, which sees Glenda Farrell return to the franchise for the first of three more appearances as Torchy Blane. Barton MacLane and Tom Kennedy are both also along for the ride. There will be one final Torchy movie, Torchy Plays With Dynamite, which has Jane Wyman playing Torchy, on March 30.

Washington then and now

Jimmy Stewart reading Twitter messages against him?

You probably heard in the news on Wednesday or yesterday morning about the junior Senator from Kentucky who filibustered for 13 hours trying to get the Obama administration to make its policy on drones more explicit. Now, I don't want to talk about politics, and I can't think offhand of any good movies about drone aircraft. But what I did find interesting is seeing several people in various comment sections to news articles and blog posts make comments about the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that clasic 1939 movie, Stewart's Jefferson Smith filibusters the Senate alone, with everybody against him, only admitting defeat when his mentor, Senator Paine (Claude Rains) does what would be called "astrotufing" today: rather than grass roots support for a position, the politician or a lobbyist drums up people who aren't really independently voicing their view. All those telegrams we see were commissioned by Paine's machine, and anybody trying to send a telegram in support of Smith had their messages kept from Smith. Indeed, I even read somebody make the point that the senior senatory from Kentucky must have known what happened to Claude Rains' character, and that's why he made an appearance in favor of his junior colleague.

One of the things about the filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that's decidedly different from what we saw on Wednesday was the messages in support of one side or another. Where we had Sen. Paine drumming up those bogus telegrams, nowadays people can easily comment themselves by going on to Twitter and spilling whatever nonsense thought they've got that they can fit in 140 characters or less. And one of the more surreal scenes from Wednesday's filibuster was of a fellow Senator, supportive of the junior Senator from Kentucky, "asking a question" and using that "question" to read out a bunch of those supportive Twitters. Perhaps if Twitter were around in Jefferson Smith's day those junior campers wouldn't have been assaulted trying to put out their newspaper. The changing technology is actually something I touched on back in September 2011, albeit in regards to cell phones instead of Twitter.

Although several people referred to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it also reminded me that there are only a small number of old movies that really have such a broader cultural relevance. People know that, and The Wizard of Oz -- and in fact there's an Oz-themed movie opening tonight, although it's based on a different one of Baum's stories of Oz, of which there were several dozen. Gone With the Wind would be a third, but beyond that, what is there from the 1930s? Maybe the horror movies. But I really don't think there are too many of them, and it's one of the problems those of us who love classic films and try to promote them face.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dial 1119

I don't believe I've ever recommended Dial 1119 before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM and is well worth a viewing.

Marshall Thompson plays Gunther, who is an escapee from a mental facility. He's violently insane, and he's trying to get to Dr. Faron (Sam Levene), the psychiatrist who was responsible for getting Gunther committed. When Gunther arrives in Faron's home town by bus, taking the bus driver's gun and shooting him. Nice. Unfortunately, he can't find the doctor, so he goes to a local bar to bide his time. This is 1950, but the bar has something pretty new-fangled for 1950: a big-screen TV, presumably for showing the fights since boxing was a staple of TV back in the early 1950s. The bartender turns on the TV, which is oh-so-conveniently running not fights, but a special news bulletin about Gunther and his being an escaped killer. Obviously the people in the bar know who Gunther is, and he knows they know, so he taks them hostage.

This being a Hollywood movie, there is a motley assortment of people at the bar, some of whom you're wondering what they're doing at such a bar. The bar is also up on the second floor, but that's also another story. Wyckoff calls the police, tells them he's got a bunch of hostages, and demands that the police find Faron and bring him to the bar. Is Gunther looking for help, or is he looking for revenge on Faron? As with a lot of other hostage movies, the various hostages try to defuse the situation in their own ways, all of them unsuccessful. Of more interest is that TV. By this time, news has spread that Gunther is holding these people hostage, so the police and a crowd of onlookers have surrounded the building in which the bar is located. Additionally, there's the TV cameras covering it. (In point of fact, live location work like what's presented here would have been a nightmare to pull off back in 1950.)

Dial 1119 has echoes of a lot of other similar movies. As far as hostage movies goes, I can think of The Incident, while the intrusion of TV crews and the crowd they bring is certainly reminscent of Fourteen Hours. I've also briefly mentioned The Slender Thread before, which also has a hard deadline as a key plot element. Dial 1119 is, I think, the weakest of the four because it looks more studio-bound than the others. But it's also quite interesting for its use of the then relatively-new technology of TV and how the TV cameras would have an effect on the situation -- not only because of the crowd they'd bring, but also because Gunther is able to watch on TV what's going on outside. (Jim McKay, who had the terrible duty of covering the Munich Olympic hostage crisis live, commented that the coverage of the situation caused a problem because the hostage takers were able to see the police preparations in the Olympic Village.) Dial 1119 is also entertaining enough. It's gotten a DVD release on one or another of those low-budget box sets, as part of a film noir collection, a genre I don't think the movie quite fits.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Kim Novak interview

I mentioned Kim Novak on her birthday a couple of weeks ago. Not having looked at TCM's March schedule at the time, I didn't realise that TCM wsa going to be honoring her with a night of her movies tonight.

Actually, it's not just a night of her movies. The night is starting off with an interview she did with Robert Osborne at last year's TCM Film Festival. That interview airs at 8:00 PM, and is being rerun at 11:00 for the benefit of the folks out on the Pacific coast, something that tends to happen with a lot of TCM's original programming. I don't know how long the original interview ran, not being at the TCM Film Festival, of course. Somebody on the TCM message boards said that last year's program with Peter O'Toole, which was presented as a one-hour interview, actually ran well over two hours and had to be edited down for what we saw on TV. In between the two airings of the interview, at 9:00 PM, will be Bell, Book, and Candle. I'll repeat what I wrote about it three weeks ago:

Apparently, I've never done a full-length post about another of her films with James Stewart, Bell, Book and Candle, in which she plays a witch who falls for Stewart when she casts a spell for him to fall in love with her, as she's trying to spite her fellow witches and warlocks. I personally don't find it to the greatest, but it's another one that's reasonably entertaining.

The reference to "another" film with James Stweart is of course to Vertigo, which will not be on tonight's schedule. The remainder of the Kin Novak salute will be:

Picnic, at midnight after the second showing of the interview. Novak plays a young woman from the poor side of town who falls in love with William Holden when Holden breezes into town looking for a job from his old friend Cliff Robertson.
The Man With the Golden Arm at 2:00 AM, in which Frank Sinatra plays a heroin addict. Novak plays his next-door neighbor.
Finally, at 4:15 AM, is the 1964 version of Of Human Bondage, which Novak playing the role Bette Davis had in the 1934 version.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hal LeRoy and June Allyson

Hal LeRoy and June Allyson weren't one of Hollywood's most memorable dance pairs, but you have a chance to see them together in a couple of shorts running on TCM this evening.

First up, at about 7:35 PM, is Ups and Downs, which has Hal as a tap-dancing elevator operator meeting and falling in love with stockbroker's daughter Allyson, even though he's not of her social class. Perhaps giving a good stock tip to her father might help. The second of the shorts, The Knight Is Young, comes on at about 9:35 PM, following Good News. (Good News also stars Allyson, is in the 8:00 PM slot, and runs 93 minutes. It's the first of "Bob's Picks" for this month.) In this second short, Allyson plays an out-of-work girl who talks to the billboard outside her apartment who falls in love with dancing sign-painter LeRoy when he shows up to paint over the current billboard. He invites her to the Sign Painters' Ball (yes, they had a big dance for the sign painters!), and live happily ever after, one presumes.

The movies have next to no plot, which is mildly forgivable considering that you're dealing with two-reelers: there's just not that much time for plot or character development. But if you watch the Crime Does Not Pay shorts or Warner Bros. Technicolor history shorts from the late 1930s, you'll seee that they're so much better than these. Part of that might be down to Hal LeRoy. About the only time I've mentioned him before was in Too Many Girls. Even in that he's the decided weak link. The poor guy has no charisma, and perhaps it should be unsurprising that after Too Many Girls, LeRoy returned to Broadway and the nightclub scene. June Allyson tries, bless her heart, and you can see that she had the makings of a likeable actress in these shorts. But she's not given anything to work with.

In Ups and Downs, watch also for Phil Silvers as a tailor. It's one of his first screen appearances.

Monday, March 4, 2013

John Garfield Centenary

John Garfield in They Made Me a Criminal

I see that a couple of the people in my blogroll have done posts on John Garfield movies. That would probably be because today marks the centenary of his birth. TCM will be running several of his movies through mid-afternoon, and I've done a full-length post about only one of them before: We Were Strangers, about a plot against the Cuban government in the early 1930s, which concludes TCM's proceedings at 2:45. It still doesn't seem to be available on DVD, at least, not in print.

When I blogged about Garfield's birthday back in 2010, I made a brief mention of Between Two Worlds, largely because it's a remake of Outward Bound. Between Two Worlds, which has received a DVD release, is airing at 10:30 AM.

Interestingly, the Garfield movies I most like aren't showing up on TCM today. The Postman Always Rings Twice (the source of the picture at left, in which Garfield is about to bump off unsuspecting Cecil Kellaway) is an MGM film, so TCM ought to have a fairly easy time of getting the broadcast rights, and it might be one of Garfield's best-known stories. And yet, it's not showing up. It's received a couple of releases to DVD, including one on one of those four-movie Warner Archive box sets of murder mysteries.

An early great performance from Garfield that's not on TCM today is They Made Me a Criminal, in which Garfield plays a boxer wrongly accused of murder who winds up on the run in Arizona and becoming a hero to the Dead End Kids. Thankfully it's also available on DVD, i quite a few releases, which makes me wonder whether the movie entered the public domain.

Finally, I mentioned He Ran All the Way back in February 2009, and then did a full-length post on the movie in 2010. I mentioned both times that it hadn't gotten a DVD release, and sadly, that still seems to be the case.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Landlord

31 Days of Oscar is winding up on TCM tonight, including a movie I thought I'd blogged about before but apparently havent: The Landlord, at 10:00 PM.

Beau Bridges plays Elgar Enders, the adult son in a wealthy family that has its estate somewhere on Long Island. Wanting to rebel, Elgar takes some of his money and buys a brownstone in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Nowadays, the area has seen the effects of 40 years of gentrification, with the result that it's turned into one of the more desitable, hip(ster?) sections of Brooklyn. I wouldn't know myself, since I'm not a New York City type, but I've read and heard so from people who know New York a lot better than I do. The movie was released in 1970, however, so back then Park Slope most certainly wasn't hip. Instead, it was a predominantly black section of the borough, with residential buildings that were seriously in need of being fixed up. So as you can imagine, Elgar's parents, notably his mother (Lee Grant) don't take well to his idea to move in to such an area. (As I understand it, the movie was made right around the time when all that gentrification was beginning.)

It also goes without saying that the residents of the building Elgar's bought don't particularly care for him either, but eye him with suspsicion. After all, Elgar's original plan called for him to renovate the whole place, which would have meant evicting the tenants, and who wants that? Besides, they've only known absentee landlords who clearly are only in it for the money. (To be fair, many of the tenants are well behind on the rent, and the building can't maintain itself for nothing.) Elgar, however, is at heart well-intentioned, and and so tries to make peace with the tenants, while only taking the basement apartment as a residence for himself. Marge (Pearl Bailey) is a sort of matriarch of the building, introducing Elgar to Fanny (Diana Sands), another tenant. Fanny and Elgar seem to get along well, but there's a problem, in the form of her boyfriend Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.), who is one of those 1960s militant types who obviously doesn't like the idea of a white guy owning his apartment.

And so it goes. Elgar's mom tries to show that she really can be tolerant by visiting her son, meeting his tenants (especially Marge), and offering to help with the decorating, but she only shows just how clueless she really is. Elgar, for his part, falls in love with Lanie (Marki Bey), a mixed-race woman, as if he's attempting to show that he really is liberal. But things get complicated when Fanny discovers that she's pregnant, and has pretty good reason to believe that Elgar is the father of the child. That is a complication.

The Landlord is entertaining enough, although in many ways its a product of its time that probably couldn't be made today. That being said, it's also a movie that's probably easier to watch today than when it came out in 1970, since the issues covered: issues of race and class, as well as social change not only in race relations, but those brought about by gentrification, would mostly have been more fresh and raw back in 1970. But the issues are handled more deftly and gently than in a film like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which is also a big plus. The Landlord is not flawless, but it's more than successful in what it does.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Train (1964)

Apparently, I have never done a full-length blog post on The Train before. The movie is coming up overnight tonight at 2:00 AM, and seems to be available only on a pricey out-of-print DVD, so DVRing it tonight might be your best option.

Burt Lancaster stars as Labiche, a station master at a train station in the Paris area in 1944. This being 1944, of course means that World War II is going on. Speicifcally, it's late summer 1944, which is not long after the Allies' D-Day invasion and not long before the Allies ultimately liberated Paris. There's still a need for the Underground, and Labiche is the leader of a local Underground cell. Labiche's identity as an Underground member is obviously not known to Von Waldheim (Paul Schofield), a Nazi Army officer who sees the writing on the wall and wants to get out of soon-to-be free France and back to the motherland of Germany. However, he also wants to ensure his future by looting France of as much of its finest art as he can; this would also serve the dual purpose of depriving the enemy of their cultural heritage. But at any rate, Von Waldheim calls upon Labiche, whose station is on the line leading back to Germany, to make certain the line ahead is free for Von Waldheim's train and that Labiche can get the train back to Germany.

Labiche doesn't really care about the art. But, there's duty, and besides, the Nazis summarily execute one of Labiche's workers who, the Nazis claim, was trying to sabotage the train's engine so it couldn't get back to Germany. What's a station master to do? He needs to stop the train, but he also needs to make certain that the Allied bombers don't bomb the train and destroy the art inside. Eventually, a plot is devised to trick Von Waldheim into thinking the train has made it back to Germany, while in fact it is still on French soil. But of course, you know things aren't going to go smoothly....

The Train is an engrossing, well-made thriller. If you've watched enough TCM, you probably know a fair bit about the movie even if you haven't seen it, because it's featured prominently in a piece narrated by its director, John Frankenheimer, about its star, Burt Lancaster. Frankenheimer comments about how Lancaster did all of his own stunts on this film, and that Frankenheimer learned more from Lancaster in this one film than he could have learned in an entire career otherwise. Frankenheimer in that piece also mentioned the camera angles he used in directing Lancaster's earlier The Young Savages, and there are quite a few long shots and zooms here as well. So, in the end, the movie is down to the good work of all three of the main crew members: Frankenheim as director, and Lancaster and Scofield as the stars. There are one or two slow scenes, such as when Lancaster is hiding out in a Resistance-owned hotel, but all of the train scenes are tense and pulled off well. If you haven't seen The Train before, it's highly worth watching.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Another movie that's returning to the Fox Movie Channel lineup in March is Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It's airing today at 1:00 PM, but don't worry if you don't read today's post until later in the day. You have another chance to catch the movie tomorrow at 9:30 AM, and then Sunday at 4:00 AM. (There are also several airings in April.)

Walter Pidgeon stars as Adm. Harriman Nelson, the designer of the Seaview, the newest and best submarine in the US Navy's nuclear fleet. At the beginning of the movie, he's putting the sub through its paces up in the Arctic, when something surprising happens: pieces of icebergs are breaking off and "raining" down on the sub below. This is, to put it mildly, highly unusual. The reason for the icebergs breaking up is even more unusual. Solar flares or something have caused the Van Allen radiation belts (which had only been discovered a couple of years before the movie was released) a couple thousand miles above the earth to catch fire! It's a problem that could doom mankind to a fiery death, and nobody knows how to solve it!

So, the scientists of the world have been brought together by the United Nations to figure out what to do, and understandbly, they can't reach any agreement, since this is a problem they've never seen before, and there's no way to do experiments. But, the scientists that the political leaders of the world consider the "best and brightest" minds, tend to think that the fire will burn itself out, and that mankind should be able to survive until this happens. Adm. Nelson, on the other hand, has a different idea. He thinks he can use the missiles on board his ship as a sort of fire extinguisher, but to do so requires getting to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, at a precise time to fire the missile. It goes without saying that the scientific establishment thinks this is cockamamie, and may only make the problem worse.

Adm. Nelson, for his part, sets off for the Marianas Trench, with the navies of the world sending subs after the Seaview to try to prevent Adm. Nelson from carrying out his plan. Adm. Nelson has his old friend, Commodore Emery (Peter Lorre) along, who supports Nelson's scientific belief. Many of the crew, however, aren't so certain, led by the ship's commanding officer (Robert Sterling). Joan Fontaine plays a psychologist who had come aboard to study the stress submarine crews face, and God knows they're going to get a lot of stress on this mission. Barbara Eden was along for eye candy in Five Weeks in a Balloon, which I recommended yesterday; she's here as well, playing Nelson's secretary who is also the fiancée of Sterling's character. And for the teens, there's not Fabian, but Frankie Avalon.

The movie is scientific nonsense for the most part. This does not, however, mean that the movie can't be entertaining. It recycles a lot of clichés about ship- and submarine-bound films, to be sure, and there are also some terrible effects, notably with the giant squid. Some of the plot points are also badly telescoped. A point is made of making certain everybody on board the Seaview has a radiation detector clipped to their shirt, so you know at some point one of those detectors is going to indicate a fatal dose of radiation poisoning. Still, as with yesterday's Five Weeks in a Balloon, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is one of those popcorn movies: sit back with a bowl of popcorn and prepare yourself for an implausible by entertaining enough ride.