Friday, May 31, 2013

Another month, another series

TCM has been running the Falcon movies every Saturday morning at 10:45 AM. They took a break last week for Memorial Day, but the films are continuing on June 1 and running into July since there are quite a few left in the series.

However, TCM has also been running series off and on at the noon Saturday time slot. A few months back they showed Margaret Rutherford's four Miss Marple movies, followed by what seemed a bit of a break with movies that weren't part of any discernible series. On June 1 at noon, however, they'll be starting another series, the Lassie films. The first of them is Lassie Come Home, and the series will be contuing throughout the month.

Another apology is in order

I should have mentioned the TCM documentary on Clint Eastwood that aired last night. Today is actually Eastwood's birthday, but with the Friday night spotlight, TCM obviously had to run the documentary a day early. I have to admit that I had no plans to watch it, mostly because I'm not a particularly big fan of Eastwood's movies, for no real reason other than personal preference. But I know the documentaries are interesting to other people, and I always like to mention the premieres of a new documentary on TCM.

There is one Eastwood movie I'd like to blog about, but unfortunately it's not on DVD: The First Traveling Saleslady. In this one, Ginger Rogers plays the saleslady, a circa-1900 woman selling barbed wire to the farmers of the west, with gal pal Carol Channing in tow. The ranchers of course don't like barbed wire, and humorous conflict ensues. Rogers gets romantically paired with Barry Nelson, while it's Eastwood and Channing, a rather incongruous couple, who also become an item by the end of the movie. Here's Channing singing a song from the film:

I hadn't seen Two Against the World from yesterday's lineup before. Here I don't mean the Humphrey Bogart movie later retitles One Fatal Hour, but the Constance Bennett movie that preceded it. It's not great, but there are some things about it that are particularly interesting. It too would have been worth a blog post, but it's not on DVD either.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Apologies for not commenting on this morning's movies

I was going to bring up some of today's lineup in a post last night, but we had a series of thunderstorms roll through, and I'm not about to get on the computer during a thunderstorm just to post here. What a way to fry a computer. Anyhow, TCM is running a lineup of films that are remakes, showing both the original version and the remake. Well, for the most part.

The Mayor of Hell, which will already have begun by the time this gets posted, kicks off the morning, followed by the remake, Crime School. Thankfully both of them have already been released to DVD. Ditto Libeled Lady (12:30 PM) and its remake Easy to Wed (2:30 PM).

One Fatal Hour (11:30 AM), however, has still not gotten a DVD release. And this is where things start to get a little sticky. As I mentioned in my December 2009 blog post, One Fatal Hour was also released under the title Two Against the World. And TCM is showing the 1932 movie Two Against the World at 10:15 AM. However, that's not the original version of One Fatal Hour; in fact, the original was called Five Star Final and won't be seen today.

The last of the pairs is Five Came Back at 4:30 PM, which has also yet to be released to DVD. The remake, however, Back From Eternity at 6:00, is avaiable from the TCM shop.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Don't they know the ship is doomed?

TCM is running a night of disaster movies tonight. The night kicks off with a movie set against the backdrop of one of the best-known disasters of the 20th century: the 1953 version of Titanic, at 8:00 PM. Note the year, 1953. There have been quite a few movies made, if not about the RMS Titanic, then at least set about the doomed luxury liner and using the disaster as a key point in the plot. Indeed, I've recommended a couple of them before in the form of the 1943 Nazi version of Titanic, the 1958 A Night to Remember, which is more of a docudrama than other versions.

When making a movie like Titanic, or any other disaster movie, one has two choices: try to make something as grounded in fact as possible, or simply use the disaster as a peg to hang whatever other story you've got on. A Night to Remember comes closer to that first category, while most of the other versios of Titanic -- and indeed, the rest of tonight's disaster movies on TCM -- fall in the second group. That includes the 1953 version of Titanic that's airing tonight.

The main story that ocupies the film before any iceberg comes into play involves wealthy Julia Sturges (Barbara Stanwyck). She's a mother with two children, near-adult daughter Annette (Audrey Dalton), and young son Norman. However, Julia is in a marriage to Richard (Clifton Webb) that's neared the end of its run. Indeed, Julia is getting on the Titanic with her two children because she's looking to file for divorce and take custody of the children in America, which is her native country. Richard doesn't want a divorce, but if there has to be one, then perhaps he can get custody of the children. Richard tries to get Julia to see things his way, while Annette spends time with American college student Gifford Rogers (Robert Wagner). And then comes the iceberg.

The last section of the movie, unsurprisingly, deals with the ship doomed to sinking, and people trying to get off the ship, which doesn't have enough lifeboats. Women and children get to go first, so we know there's very little chance of Richard's escaping with his life. But what about Julia and her two children? And what about the supporting characters? Allyn Joslyn plays a man who tries to sneak his way onto one of the lifeboats, while Thelma Ritter plays an ambitious woman who wants the finer things in life, like money and jewelry. Special effects are of a 1950s standard, which means that if you've seen the 1997 version, you're not going to get anything like that.

Ultimately, a movie like this comes down to the quality of the main story just as much as it comes down to the portrayal of the disaster. I don't particularly care for James Cameron's 1997 version of Titanic, for example, in part because Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet leave me cold, and the special effects-driven version of the sinking goes on and on. Oh, and there's that horrid song. So for me, 1950s special effects isn't necessarily a bad thing. Seeing what the Nazis were going to make of the disaster, on the other hand, is eminently fascinating. If there is a problem I have with the 1953 version of Titanic, it's that the movie is workmanlike. It's a story we've seen before, only this time it's set against impending disaster. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck are more than competent, but ultimately I found the story somewhat less compelling than, say, From Here to Eternity, which was also released in 1943 and has a disaster that everybody in the audience knows is coming. Perhaps I'm being overly harsh on the movie, in that I'm not into the whole Titanic thing in the first place. The 1953 version of Titanic is by no means a bad film. It's just that there are other things I prefer more.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Updates from the Memorial Day weekend

I made it a point to tune into FMC to catch at least a few minutes of The Visit, to check whether or not we were getting a panned-and-scanned print again. Sure enough we were, which doesn't give me any hope for the MOD DVD that Fox has put out.

Modern Tokyo,the Traveltalks short that aired Saturday morning about Tokyo as it was a few years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, is actually available on Youtube. It's interesting to see how much respect Japanese culture is afforded since the Japanese were not yet our enemiess. The other slightly curious thing is James A. Fitzpatrick's slight but noticeable stressing the word "Japan" on the first syllable.

For those who like the Traveltalks shorts, TCM is going to be running Hong Kong, Hub of the Orient tomorrow at about 1:00 PM, just after Road to Hong Kong. It can't be any worse than all those later Bob Hope movies that TCM will be showing on the 110th anniversary of his birth. This Traveltalks short doesn't seem to be on Youtube.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Vincent Price, 1911-1993

I'm surprised to see that I never did a birthday post for Vincent Price, who was born May 27, 1911. I've blogged about quite a few of Price's movies, of course. Price is best-known for all that horror that he did in the second half of his career, but I find the movies he did in the first half much more interesting. I think my favorite Price performance might be in His Kind of Woman, in which Price plays a washed-up ham actor in Mexico who gets the chance to save Robet Mitchum by putting those ham acting skills to good use. Price had a lot of supporting roles (and even His Kind of Woman isn't a starring role), especially when he was a contract player at Fox, so I'm not certain which movie that has him in the cast is the best of them all. Probably Laura, even if I'm more partial to Leave Her To Heaven.

I'm surprised to see that I haven't blogged about Dragonwyck before; it's one of Price's starring roles (opposite Gene Tierney) in which Price plays a wealthy landowner in 19th Century New York who brings poor-girl Tierney to his estate first to be governess to his child, and then his wife; she comes to believe something wrong is going on in the house. This being a holiday, I'll simply link to a post from a blog called Classic Movies Digest about the movie, with several screenshots.

As for thoughts on Price himself, writer Edward Copeland says things far better than I could, and with a lot of pictures. (In fact, looking through my blog posts, I don't know if I've ever used any photos with Vincent Price in them. I was googling for one of him as Walter Raleigh in Elizabeth and Essex, but there don't seem to be many of those on the web.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Repeats now on DVD

Well, one of them was already on DVD. This week's TCM Import is The Cranes Are Flying, early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM. It gor a DVD release from the Criterion Collection years ago, but I'm not certain if it's still in print, since it doesn't seem to be available for purchase from the TCM Shop. A shame, since this is such an outstanding film.

The one that wasn't on DVD when I blogged about it is The Visit, which I blogged about back in April, 2008. It's finally back on the Fox Movie Channel for the first time in years, tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM with several repeats in the week following. In the intervening five years, it's gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Fox Cinema Archive, which may not be the best thing considering the things I've read about the quality of Fox's MOD releases. I believe (but with the caveat that it's been five years since I saw the movie on FMC) that the last time The Visit was on FMC, it was in a pan-and-scan version.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pacifists at war

Tonight's TCM lineup of war movies deals with an interesting topic: what happens when war hits people who would rather night fight. It's a bit of a surprise to think that there were enough movies made on the topic to have an entire night of classic films on TCM, but indeed there are. This week's TCM Essential, kicking the night off at 8:00 PM, is Friendly Persuasion, subject of a February 2012 blog post. In that case, the pacifists are Quakers, who by religion are opposed to war. A Quaker played by Alan Ladd(!) goes on to become a military hero in The Deep Six, airing overnight at 2:30 AM. This one doesn't seem to be in print on DVD, and frankly, it's a title I don't know much about.

A more famous guy who claimed conscientious objector status is Sergeant York, whose story is on at 10:30 PM. To be honest, I got the impression watching the movie that Alvin York (played by Gary Cooper) was really more looking for any way to stay out of World War I, which is certainly understandable, but his pangs of conscience certainly seemed convenient. At any rate, Cooper does quite a good job as Alvin York.

The other two movies are very interesting in that the pacifists don't actually wind up fihgting. First is Men Must Fight at 1:00 AM. In this one, the pacifist is a mother played by Diana Wynyard, who the same year this film was made (1933) also did Cavalcade. Set several years in the future, in 1940, Wynyard's character is a widow who lost her husband in the Great War; she doesn't want to lose her son in the coming war. What's interesting, of course, is that the movie was released in 1933. It's fairly prescient to see people guessing there was going to be a big war a few short years later. The movie also posits the future presence of television as a mass communications technology.

Last up is Foreign Correspondent at 4:30 AM, in which Laraine Day plays the pacifist, a "well-meaning amateur" whose father is the head of a peace group that, unbeknownst to her, is actually a front for the bad guys, who aren't called Nazis here. When I blogged about this back in November 2008, I mentioned that it's avaiable on DVD, but the DVDs must be out of print, as the TCM shop doesn't have it available for purchase.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Memorial Day weekend 2013 begins

This coming Monday is Memorial Day in the US, which means that once again TCM is showing a whole bunch of war films for the next three days, starting at 6:00 AM tomorrow. The theme for Saturday morning and afternoon is submarine films, a them that TCM used two years ago. (To be fair, there are only so many themes one can use when it comes to any specific genre of movie.) In fact, I mentioned that when I blogged about Run Silent, Run Deep, which is unsurprisingly showing up on Saturday at 2:15 PM.

At any rate, I was thinking of mentioning some of the shorts anyhow. TCM has a couple programmed on Saturday, and they've actually done a good job of having them fit in with the war films theme. Well, at least two of them. Sherman Said It kicks things off a little after 7:40 AM, or after the feature Hell Below, which comes no at 6:00 AM and is a movie about World War I-era submarines, which alone makes it interesting. Sherman Said It is a Charley Chase short about him trying to return home from France after the end of the war, which of course was not known as World War I at the time because World War II hadn't started.

The other two shorts come on just before Destination Tokyo begins at 10:00 AM. The Ash Can Fleet, at 9:38 AM, is about David Bushnell, a real person who, during the Revolutionary war, invented the first submarine used in combat, and also invented the time bomb. That's followed at 9:50 AM by Modern Tokyo, an early Traveltalks short from 1935, which has nothing to do with war but of course dovetails nicely with Destination Tokyo.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Harold Lloyd Night

TCM is running another night of Harold Lloyd's movies. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Safety Last!, which I've briefly mentioned on several occasions, largely because it's got that iconic image of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock as he's trying to climb the side of a building for a publicity stunt at the department store where he works. Although that's the best-known scene, there are a whole lot of other wonderful sight gags, as I mentioned when I blogged about Lloyd back in August, 2008. Safety Last! has received a restoration, and is going to be released to DVD and Blu-Ray next month by the Criterion Collection. TCM's site currently lists Safety Last! as not available for purchase, but there are several apparently out-of-print versions, such as the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection sets.

The other Lloyd features airing tonight include The Freshman at 11:00 PM, in which Lloyd wants to fit in at college, but is generally a failure at doing so -- until injuries to key members of the football team see him put on the field. The football scenes are good, as are scenes at a dance where Lloyd is wearing a new suit that isn't quite finished.

There's also The Kid Brother overnight at 1:45 AM. In this one, Lloyd plays the youngest brother in a family of manly men, who is considered by all of them to be quite the wimp. Circumstances conspire to put the family's reputation at risk, and Harold is the only one who can stop the bad guys, which he winds up doing with his usual collection of sight gags, even getting The Girl (Jobyna Ralston, who also played The Girl in The Freshman) at the end. Both of these are also on the Harold Lloyd box sets, although I don't know whether they're getting any restoration.

In between are a bunch of shorts, most of which I haven't seen and can't really comment on. As with most evenings when TCM runs a bunch of silent shorts, the airing times are something you have to guess: TCM lists a bunch of them as having the same start time, in between each of the features. So, Safety Last! is in a 90-minute slot, followed by several earlier shorts which are all listed as beginning at 9:30 PM. Then comes The Freshman, followed at 12:30 AM by more shorts before The Kid Brother comes on. These early shorts all seem to be one-reelers, based on how many are shoehorned in between the feature-length films. I also don't know which, if any, of them is available on DVD.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Divorcee

Back in August 2010, when Norma Shearer was one of the stars given a day of films in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, TCM ran The Divorcee, which I wrote deserved a full-length post of its own. TCM doesn't run The Divorcee all that often, but it's getting another airing tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM.

The movie starts off at a vacation house somewhere out in the country, where a bunch of wealthy twenty-somethings of the late 1920s have gathered for a party. It's not quite the free love of the 1960s, but it seems as if the romantic attachments between various members of the group could be fluid. Among the leaders of this set are Jerry (Norma Shearer), the vivacious lady every man wants to be with. Paul (Conrad Nagel) loves Jerry, but she eventually secides to marry Ted (Chester Morris), much to everybody's surprise. Paul, for his part, decides to marry another woman, and they all live happily ever after.... Or do they?

You should be able to figure out that they're not going to live happily ever after, at least not until the last reel of the film, if at all. Oh, this movie makes it look at first as though they're going ot live happily. After Jerry marries Ted, the movie fast forwards three years to their third anniversary, bu which point they're living in a wonderfully luxurious New York apartment, and still hanging out with much the same social circle, which is mostly organized by Ted's friend Don (Robert Montgomery). At a party for their anniversary, Jerry learns that Ted hasn't been entirely faithful to her. Jerry's rather more liberal than the Anne Baxter character in My Wife's Best Friend, but Jerry is still hurt by her husband's infidelity, even though he says it means nothing to her. Jerry decides she's going to get back at him.

She does so by going out with the other men in their social circle. But while it's perfectly OK for a man to sleep with other women, a woman who sleeps with other men is apparently a slut or something, even though a movie like The Divorcee released back in 1930 could never use such langauge. Not that this particular movie would use it even if it could; it's much too elegant for that. No; The Divorcee just makes its moral point by having Ted get righteously indignant over Jerry's infidelity because it's somehow different from his. The two get a divorce, and go their separate ways. Jerry goes to Paris, and eventually runs into Paul, who by this time is no longer happily married. So the two of them start up an affair, but you know there's no way it can work out in the long run....

There's something about The Divorcee that I find a bit, if not maddening, then at least not quite right. I'm not certain if it's the morals: The Divorcee certainly isn't accepting of the double standard, and yet the ending does seem to bring everything else Jerry did during the movie into question. There's nothing wrong with ambiguous morality, but here, the morals seem almos indecisive. Also, I get this feeling watching The Divorcee as though there's some action missing, as the movie jumps too quickly from the opening scenes in which Jerry and Ted decide to get married, to their third anniversary, to Jerry's carousing, to Jerry as divorcée. I get this impression that there needs to be something more holding everything together. I don't think it helps that, being an early talkie, you have a few scenes that look slow because of the technical constraints.

That's not to say The Divorcee isn't a good movie. It's excellent, down almost entirely to Norma Shearer's performance. She's the constant center of attention, and deservedly so, as for most of the movie her character's motivations are perfectly understandable, up until that ending. The supporting cast is good, with Robert Montgomery standing out a bit more than the others playing a role that presages all those elegant gentlemen he played throughout the 1930s. The Divorcee received a DVD release on one of Warner's pre-Code box sets, so even though TCM doesn't show it all that often, you can still watch it whenever you want.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Wife's Best Friend

The Fox Movie Channel is running My Wife's Best Friend tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. It's a movie with an interesting presence that unfortunately doesn't quite live up to its set-up in the execution.

Anne Baxter and Macdonald Carey star as happily married couple Virginia and George Mason. They're about to head off on a vacation, and do so in style, going by plane back in the days when plane travel was still considered a glamorous luxury. Unfortunately for them, things are about to hit a snag. Not too long after the plane takes off, the pilots, as well as Goerge and Ginny, notice that one of the engines is belching smoke, which can't possibly be a good thing. Now, it is possible to run a plane on fewer engines than it's designed for, but it's understandable for passengers to get exceedingly worried. Ginny fears she's about to die, so she confesses to George that she hasn't been the wife that she vowed she would be when they got married. George, for his part, confesses to Ginny that when Ginny visited realtives a few years earlier, he spent quite a bit of time with her best friend Jane (Catherine McLeod). And they all lived happily ever after, until the plane crashed, killing them in a violent fireball.

Well, no, that of course isn't what happened -- otherwise, we'd have a pointless two-reeler. This isn't even Phone Call From a Stranger, where some passengers die, leaving others to deal with the aftermath. Instead, the plane simply turns around, flies on its fewer engines, and lands at the airport from which it took off, leaving all of the passengers to go home and live happily ever after. Well, of course, they don't quite live happily ever after, since that wouldn't make for an interesting movie either. Ginny decides that she's going to extract her pound of revenge, since she fears that George might still have some feelings for Jane. And she's going to do it by being an utter bitch to George, too.

My Wife's Best Friend is a comedy, somewhat along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith which inovlves a couple finding out they're not really married, and how the news affects them, with Carole Lombard using it to get back at Robert Montgomery. Here, though, the comedy is laid on with a trowel. Ginny asks her father (Cecil Kellaway), a mainline Protestant minister, for advice, and he tells her to take it like a saint. So she gets images of Joan of Arc, reminiscent of the way Shirley MacLaine keeps thinking about movies in What a Way to Go! Here, though, Anne Baxter's character takes things to an extreme, first as the saint, and then as a "regular" housewife and later as Cleopatra. All of this is set against a backdrop of George having a possible business deal with a playboy played by Leif Erickson, whom Ginny thinks she can use; also is Jane's birthday party and her constantly showing up at George and Ginny's house.

The problem with My Wife's Best Friend is that the comedy is just so irritating: Anne Baxter makes her character unsympathetic enough that it's no longer funny. There are also some plot holes. Why wouldn't the airline just send everybody on the next flight out? Why would this business deal show up if George was never supposed to be in town in the first place?. And the ending doesn't make much snese either.

My Wife's Best Friend has received a DVD release from the Fox Cinema Archive.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Hypnotic Eye

Hypnotism, or more specifically the idea that hypnosis could be used as a form of mind control, has a long history in the movies, that I think goes back all the way to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, if not further. Even if the idea is a bunch of bunk, it makes for some fairly entertaining movies. A good example of one that's incredibly entertaining -- enough so to become a camp classic -- is The Hypnotic Eye.

The movie starts with a shocker, even before the opening credits: a woman washing her hair with flammable chemicals, then turning on a gas burner in her kitchen, and putting her face up to it, setting her hair on fire! The paramedics arrive, and so do the police, looking for information for her. But she dies before she's able to give them anything useful. Why are the police there? Well, apparently this is about the tenth case of some formerly pretty woman mutilating her pretty face in bizarre circumstances. Obviously there's got to be something behind this, and it's up to the police, in the form of Detective Dave Kennedy (Joe Partridge) to figure out why.

Cut to Kennedy's private life. He's going out to a show with his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson), and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders). This is a hypnosis show, and any halfway astute viewer shoud take a wild guess that the hypnosis show and the mutilated women have something in common. The hypnoist, the great Desmond, is played by Jacques Bergerac, while his lovely assistant Justine is played by Allison Hayes. As part of the hypnosis show, Dodie gets called up on stage, and is hypnotized to do something involving levitation that's totally impossible, since you can't violate the laws of physics under hypnosis. But whatever. Things are about to get much more fun. After the show, Dave and Marcia go one way, while Dodie ostensibly heads for home. However, we see her tricking her friends and going back to Desomnd's dressing room. Clue #2 that something untoward is happening. The next morning, Dodie is found with her face mutilated as well. Clue #3.

The police, of course, are preternaturally stupid in this movie, so Detective Dave and his police pyschologist friend Dr. Hecht (Guy Prescott) are absolutely baffled. The one person who does have an idea about what's going on is Marcia. And she sets out to prove it. Her plan? Go back to the hypnosis show, get called up on stage, pretend to be hypnotized, and then follow the same path that she believes all those other women must have taken, with the difference being that they really were under hypnosis, and unaware of what they were doing. The only problem with this plan is that, once in Desmond's dressing room, she sees the "hypnotic eye" that Desmond uses as part of his act, and does get put under hypnosis, putting her in severe danger. At least she had the smarts to tell Dave of her plan beforehand.

The plot is ludicrous, and there are even more outrageous parts to the story that I haven't mentioned yet. The actual hypnosis scenes are hilarious, from the first one involving a bunch of men in suits, to one at the end that looks like the sort of scene William Castle would insert into a film to try to get the audience involved. After the backstage hypnosis, Desmond takes Marcia out for a night on the town, which involves going to a beatnik club, since the movie was made during the beatnik craze that lasted for about a year either side of 1960. It's another scene that was presumably added in the thought that it would bring in more people wanting to see a famous beatnik performer, but a half century on just looks silly. And then there's the climax; the less I give away about that the better. The movie closes with a dour, Reefer Madness-style warning from Dr. Hecht about the danger of hypnotism that, after 75 minutes of previous schlock, only comes across as more hilarious. The Hypnotic Eye should be terrible on so many levels, but it's one of those movies that goes so badly wrong that it's a hoot.

The Hypnotic Eye has gotten a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, which owns the rights to the Allied Artists movies. For some reason, however, this MOD release hasn't shown up at Amazon yet, even though many other Warner Archive selections can be purchased through Amazon.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Yet another batch of repeats

One of the issues of having blogged pretty much every day for five years is tht sometimes there isn't anything on that I've seen, would like to recommend, but haven't already done so. Today seems to be one of those days. I saw the short Where Is Jane Doe? on the TCM schedule a little after 5:30 PM, or just after The Three Faces of Eve. I was pretty certain I'd blogged about it, and sure enough, I did back in May 2012. It's airing just before Leave Her to Heaven at 6:00 PM, which was one of my earliest blog posts.

Overnight, or early tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM, TCM is showing Two Women, the movie that won Sophia Loren her Best Actress Oscar back in 1960. That, too, was the subject for a blog post back in September of last year. The movie that follows Two Women on TCM is Speed, at 6:30 AM. It kicks off a morning and afternoon of movies celebrating the birth anniversary of James Stewart. I recommended it the last time it aired, back at the end of March.

Leave Her to Heaven and Two Women are available on DVD; Where Is Jane Doe? and Speed don't seem to be. And as I look at the March post on Speed I see that, sure enough, I mentioned the Warner Archives "Legends" box sets, and how Speed would be a great choice for one of those sets. Of course, looking through Stewart's filmography, it looks as though a lot of the stuff Stewart did back in the 30s before he became a big star has already been released by the Warner Archive on single DVDs.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The latest batch of shorts

Looking through today's TCM schedule, I saw a short called Little White Lie showing up just after Murder By Death, or a little after 1:00 AM overnight (or late this evening for those of you on the west coast). I'd never heard of it before, but apparently it's about a girl (Sharon McManus, who danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh) who decides to go back to the orphanage because of something involving her parents and the young son they're adopting. I can't comment much further, since as I said I'd never heard of this one, much less seen it.

Tomorrow after Here Comes Mr. Jordan, at about 11:35 AM, is Public Ghost #1. TCM's schedule doesn't have a synopsis for the short, but IMDb reveals that it's a Charley Chase short. I don't think I've seen this one, but in general, if you've seen several of Chase's other shorts, you probably have a good idea what you're getting into. More irritating was trying to find this short on IMDb. The TCM schedule lists it as Public Ghost No. 1, and when I typed that search into IMDb, I didn't get any matches. Simply searching on "Public Ghost", however, did. In fact, I'm finding myself having increasing difficulties with IMDb's search. I was looking for another film not too long ago, where IMDb had difficulty finding a title based on a compound word instead of splitting it up into two discrete words.

The last short I'd like to mention is A Boy and His Dog (approx. 1:40 PM tomorrow), about a boy (Billy Sheffield, brother of Johnny from the Tarzan films) who finds and befriends a stray dog, only to discover that the stray is not a stray at all, but owned by a very cruel man (Russell Simpson) who wants the dog back. This short shouldn't be comfused with the 1975 feature bearing the same title.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ruth Donnelly, 1896-1982

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actress Ruth Donnelly, one of those names you've probably seen in the credits of a bunch of famous movies, even if you don't recognize which role she's playing. In Donnelly's case, that's quite a few well-known movies, including a showing of Autumn Leaves early tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight) at 4:00 AM, in which Donnelly plays Joan Crawford's landlord. At least, this according to the IMDb reviews; this is one of those many movies where I'd recognize the name but wouldn't have remembered which character she played.

In fact, I've only actually mentioned Donnelly's name once before, if Blogger's search function isn't acting up. That's in the 1934 movie Heat Lightning, in which she plays a divorcée on her way to Reno with her friend Glenda Farrell. It's a bit of a shame I've only mentioned her once, since I really should have mentioned her when I blogged about A Slight Case of Murder, seeing as she plays Edward G. Robinson's wife, which is a fairly important role in the proceedings. Other famous movies include Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, in which I'd guess she's one of the women back in the small town Gary Cooper comes from. There's also Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which she plays the First Lady opposite the Governor played by Guy Kibbee. She's also Ruth, one of the mental patients, in The Snake Pit.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Satan Never Sleeps

I've stated before how the Fox Movie Channel pulls movies out of the vault, shows them a bunch of times in a short period, and then puts them back in the vault. Another film that had been missing for years only to show up earlier this month is Satan Never Sleeps. It's getting another airing tomorrow afternoon at 12:50 PM, with a couple more airings in June.

William Holden stars as Father O'Banion, a Catholic missionary priest in China in 1949 making his way to his new assignment. He's being followed by Siu Lan (France Nuyen), whose life he saved and who now feels she's in his debt, and even wants him to marry her. Catholic priests of course can't get married, but it's not as if the Chinese could be expected to know this. Anyhow, O'Banion tries to get rid of her, with one of the results being that it makes him late getting to the mission that is his new assignment, something with greatly irritates the old mission priest, Father Bovard (Clifton Webb).

Bovard wants to leave the mission as soon as possible in part for a more comfortable life, but also in part because of the recently concluded civil war. The Communists have finally pushed the Nationalists out of mainland China and onto Taiwan, and the Communists are of course officially atheist. Being religious in a society that's de jure atheist is a problem, as I mentioned yesterday in my review of Rome, Open City. And Father Bovard is right to want to get out of the country: O'Banion's late arrival means that Bovard is unable to leave, as the Communists waylay him on his way out, forcing him to stay at the the mission, which is ostensibly still free to practice Catholicism. So, Bovard has good reason to be irritated with O'Banion. That, and the fact that in his eyes (and in no small part to Siu Lan's pursuing him), O'Banion comes across as unorthodox at best, and blasphemous at worst, in the eyes of Bovard.

I wrote in the last paragraph that the mission was still ostensibly allowed to practice Catholicism. In reality, it's just a reprieve, as the Communists are going to get around to expropriating the property eventually, if not imprisoning the clergy as well. The Communists are represented by local Party boss Ho San (Weaver Lee), who at one time was, along with his parents, a congregant at the mission. But he's a committed atheist now, and he leads the local forces on several raids of the mission, all with the ultimate goal of discrediting the Catholic Church by getting all the priests to sign forced confessions. Ho San, additionally, has his eyes on the lovely Siu Lan. Eventually, Ho San does O'Banion and Bovard put in prison and tortures them in an attempt to extract that confession, while raping and impregnating Siu Lan.

When you have local leaders acting like dictators, there's always the possibility that somebody higher up the food chain will turn his eye to the local boss, something we recall from Man on a Tightrope. In this case, that somebody comes in the form of Soviet attaché Kuznetsky (Martin Benson), who officially doesn't have any power, but does have influence. He and the higher-ups have noticed that Ho San has been slow in obtaining those confessions, and also living in luxury. Granted the national Party bosses lived in luxury, but one could always use such a lifestyle against the locals if need be. Eventually, O'Banion and Bovard are told they're to be expelled from the country; Siu Lan wants to escape with them. It's all likely a trap, however....

Satan Never Sleeps has some problems in that it runs too long (at 126 minutes, it could probably stand to have had a script running about 20 minutes less); also, the ending makes no sense and might infuriate some viewers. Whether the script is fair to the Chinese Communists is a question that should probably be left to the individual viewer. I think the internal affairs of Communist China at that point would have been a pretty big question mark to the American public, even more than early Soviet Communism had been. Also, the excesses of the Cultural Revolution hadn't yet occurred. On the other hand, there was no way an American movie of that time could portray communists as having sincere revolutionary zeal. As for the acting, there's a good performance from Webb, whose character doesn't know the truth about Holden's priest, and a workmanlike performance from Holden. There's an obvious lack of location shooting, in that there's no way the filmmakers could have gotten into Communist China. Instead, England and Wales substitute for southern China.

All in all, Satan Never Sleeps isn't the worst movie ever made by any means, but it's also not particularly great or even novel, since something like The Left Hand of God had covered some of this material several years earlier. Satan Never Sleeps is, I think, better than The Left Hand of God, but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Man on a Tightrope. Satan Never Sleeps has gotten a DVD release, so if you don't have the Fox Movie Channel, you can still watch the movie.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rome, Open City

I am very pleased to see Rome, Open City show up again on the TCM schedule tonight at midnight ET (ie. this evening at 9:00 PM out on the west coast). If you haven't seen it before, don't miss this chance! It really is that worth watching.

The scene is Rome around late 1943 or early 1944. The Allies have already started the invasion of Italy, but the Nazis are still in control of Rome, or at least the parts of Rome that we get to see. As with any place that the Nazis occupied, there is also an underground resistance fighting the Nazis with whatever means they have, which just as often means using the printing press to produce anti-Nazi newspapers or small acts of resistance. Leading the bit of the resistance that we see is Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). He's apparently a pretty high-up person in the resistance, because at the start of the movie, the Nazis knock on the door of the apartment where he's currently staying with two little old ladies, who of course claim to know nothing about him. Anyhow, Manfredi is forced to flee across rooftops, and eventually shows up at the apartment of Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), another resistance member living in a decrepit apartment building next to Pina (Anna Magnani), a war widow with a child, in whom Francesco takes an interest.

Also taking an interest in the children is the Catholic Church, which was still a fairly strong institution in Italy in those days. The Church is represented here by Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), whose church presumably runs the local Catholic school, although that's never really shown, except that the kids are around all the time, or at least whenever it's necessary for the plot. When the plot requires them to be elsewhere, who cares whether they're in school? But, Don Pietro is also a member of the resistance. The Catholic Church had a difficult relationship with the Italian Fascists and the Nazis. Even if they had been 100% opposed to the ideology, they were still surrounded. The Vatican's status as we know it today was finalized by the Lateran Treaty of 1929, but the Vatican is a tiny enclave within Italy, and the Italian's could easily have made life a nightmare for the Church. (I presume they also saw the example of what the Soviet Union and Communism did to religion; certainly the post-war clergy did.) At any rate, who would suspect this portly, charming little priest of being a member of the resistance? Not only that, but the kids favored fighting against the Nazis if they could. They saw the daily deprivations the adults were facing, and with the impetuosity of children, decided to fight the only way they knew how.

Of course, being in the resistance is dangerous. We already see this at the beginning of the movie when Manfredi is forced to flee for his life, but we see it in all sorts of other ways, such as when the Nazis have no compunction about forcing everybody out of a building in a search for one person, or in trying to buy information, as from Marina (Maria Michi), the nightclub singer with whom Manfredi is in love. She eventually does let the Nazis know Manfredi's whereabouts, with tragic consequences for all....

Rome, Open City was made by director Roberto Rossellini in 1945, at a time when filming a movie was extremely difficult. Film stock was not easily obtainable, and it's not as if you could get studio time. Everything was done on location, with a bunch of non-professionals playing most of the roles. This leads to some problems in that the acting or lighting might not be as polished as Hollywood or even British movies from the same time, but it also led to the Italian genre of neo-realism, for which we should be eternally grateful. What neo-realist movies lack in polish or acting, they more than make up for in a vibrant immediacy. The poverty on display here is nothing like the sanitized version you'd get in the tenements of Hollywood movies, not even movies that were deliberately trying to make a social point such as Dead End.

Rome, Open City was the first of three movies Rossellini made about the war that are often considered his war trilogy. It's gotten a DVD release -- or, should I say, the entire war trilogy has received a release as part of a box set. Unfortunately, the set is a bit pricey.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Untamed (1955)

For those of you who have the Fox Movie Channel, you have another chance to watch the 1955 movie Untamed tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM.

Tyrone Power plays Paul Van Riebeck, a Boer who is visiting Ireland in the 1840s in order to obtain some horses. The British gained control of the colony in 1815, and increasing numbers of settlers from the UK, combined with new politics, led to tensions between them and the earlier settlers who had come from the Netherlands, to the point that some of the Dutch (or Afrikaaners as they called themselves since they had been in the region for several generations by this point) decided to migrate inland and create what would be a new state, a migration known as the Great Trek and the people known by the Afrikaans term Voortrekker. Paul needs horses for the trek, and he's found a source in Ireland, which is why he's visiting.

Anyhow, while in Ireland, he meets Katie O'Neill (Susan Hayward) after the two have an incident with their horses. It's not quite love at first sight, although Katie seems to develop some sort of attachment to Paul. Paul, for his part, is more concerned with building that new land than he is with Katie or any woman. So even if he feels any attachment to Katie, his duty to his country is going to come first, much to Katie's regret. Paul buys his horses, and heads back to South Africa, presumably never to see Katie again....

What the hell are we talking about? All of the action described above happens in the first 20 minutes or so of the movie. There's absolutely no point in ending it there. This being the 1840s, those who know their history will also recognize that the potato blight is about to hit Ireland, which lead to a famine and a great migration of Irish to other countries all around the world. Many Irish went to the USA, but Katie, who in the meantime has gotten maried to Sean Kildare (John Justin) and had a child, decides to take the family to South Africa. Apprently, she's still got a thing for Paul and thinks she'll meet him in South Africa. Since this is a Hollywood movie, we know that she's quite right in her belief, as much as it might strain credulity. Not only that, but she takes part in the Great Trek.

Along the way, Sean gets killed in an attack by the Zulu, but presses onward, farming in the inland even though she doesn't know how to farm. She's helped out by Kurt Hout (Richard Egan), who had led the group of Voortrekkers of which the Kildares were a part. He's got his eyes on Katie, although she dreams about Paul. Kurt, meanwhile, is also being pursued by Julia (Rita Moreno), whose ethnicity may or may not have been mentioned. In real life, I doubt many Puerto Ricans migrated to South Africa, though. Kurt continues to pursue Katie until an accident taking care of her lands leads him to have his leg amputated. This eventually leads him to become a bandit, which is important since it sets up the conflict that will serve as the climactic finale.

Katie, for her part, doesn't quite wind up in poverty, because one of the native servants finds a diamond on her land! This makes her wealthy for a while, allowing her to live the good life back in Cape Town, and allowing her to meet Paul again when he comes to petition the colonial governor to make the Voortrekker regions into a new state so that they can have some autonomy. Sparks of a sort fly between Katie and Paul again, although Paul still remains married to his political dream instead of pursuing the women. But eventually the money runs out, forcing Katie and her two children back inland, which is where she meets Kurt again. People are fleeing one of the inland settlements due to the bandits having taken over the town, but Katie presses forward. That bandit leader turns out to be Kurt whom she had known years before, and he still wants her. Paul, of course, is going to show up just in time to save the day and have the right people live happily ever after, while the closing music swells up....

This time, it actually is the ending, what with the movie having run a good 110 minutes already. Well, maybe a mediocre 110 minutes is more like it. There's something not quite right with Untamed. I'm not certain whether the problem with Katie is the portrayal by Hayward, or whether it goes deeper, to the way the character is written in the first place. Katie isn't just strong-willed; she's over the top. It's not quite as extreme as some of Bette Davis' or Joan Crawford's characters, but there are times when you want to take Katie and shake some sense into her. Like why the hell is she so attached to that tree? If she was able to leave Ireland, you'd think she wouldn't be so fazed by one little tree. You'd also think that either the diamond wealth would last longer -- they'd keep finding diamonds on her land -- or not long at all if they only found the one. But that's clearly a problem with the script. There's also some problems with foreshadowing. At the start of the trek, Sean is asked a question about his wheelblock, something he doesn't seem to know about, until he realizes that they're just using a different term than he's used to. It's clear the wheelblock is going to show up again in a key sequence later in the trek. In fact, the whole movie feels at times as though it's just a sequence of vignettes that aren't well-enough connected.

On the plus side, there is some really nice location shooting. For the trek sequences, the filmmakers actually went to South Africa and filmed in Natal. This, along with the Zulu attack, lends the movie a modicum of authenticity that's lovely to look at. Some of the supporting acting is also fun. Even if you wonder what Rita Moreno is doing in this movie, she's a hoot as the ignored woman. And Agnes Moorehead shows up to play the nanny to Katie's children, a role she performs effortlessly. Untamed certainly has its flaws, but it's worth a viewing too.

Untamed doesn't seem to be available on DVD. Amazon's search yields a hit, but that's on a completely different movie also called Untamed, a 1929 movie starring Joan Crawford (that's an interesting movie in its own right, but a subject for a different post).

Monday, May 13, 2013

TCM Guest Programmer: Angie Dickinson

Tonight sees this month's Guest Programmer on TCM: Angie Dickinson, who is probably best remembered for the 1970s TV show Police Woman but actually appeared in quite a lot of movies before becoming a TV star. I'd guess that the best known amongst her movies are Rio Bravo with John Wayne, and the original 1960 version of Ocean's 11. That, and she shows up in Point Blank, which is airing tomorrow night at 11:45 PM as part of TCM's look at tough guys in the movies. (Dickinson isn't the tough guy; that honor goes to Lee Marvin.) Dickinson's four selections are:

Gigi at 8:00 PM; starring Leslie Caron as a would-be courtesan who falls for the wrong man;
Yankee Doodle Dandy at 10:15 PM, in which James Cagney portrays American popular music composer George M. Cohan;
Dog Day Afternoon at 12:30 AM, with Al Pacino robbing a bank to pay for an operation, only for the robbery to go wrong and cause a media spectacle; and
The 400 Blows at 2:45 AM; François Truffaut's tale of a youn'g boys angst.

It's an eclectic lineup of films, although I have to admit that it's one that decidedly makes me say "meh". I've mentioned before that Gigi is one of my least favorite musicals. James Cagney, meanwhile, is good, but musicals aren't my genre, which makes Yankee Doodle Dandy a bit of a slog for me. It's been too long since the last time I've seen Dog Day Afternoon to say anything about it. As for The 400 Blows, well, there are Truffaut films I prefer. They're all coming up in July as part of a Friday night spotlight looking at Truffaut's movies, and even though I don't like all of the films, that spotlight is going to be a treat.

Still, I know there are people out there who like movies like Gigi. Just because I have different taste doesn't mean you shouldn't watch the movie. As for me, I suppose it will be interesting to see why Dickinson selected it, but skip the feature.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Back in January, I did a post on TCM's running a night of movies that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy made in foreign languages. At the time, I hadn't seen any of them, so I couldn't comment on them. TCM is re-running most of them tomorrow morning, though, and now, I can certainly recommend Politiquerías, which shows up at 10:45 AM tomorrow on TCM.

Politiquerías is a Spanish-language remake and lengthening of Laurel and Hardy's English-langauge Chickens Come Home. The English language movie, like a lot of the Laurel and Hardy shorts, runs about 30 minutes. The plot of that one, which is preserved in the Spanish version, involves businessman Ollie. He's been nominated for mayor by the town's reformists, and is sure to win. That is, until a woman from Ollie's past shows up with some compromising photos -- photos that would most certainly scuttle Ollie's candidacy! So, it's up to Ollie's right-hand man, unsurprisingly played by Stan Laurel and named Stanley, to get those photos, by hook or by crook, before the woman shows up at Ollie's house at the big party he's holding.

Now, Laurel and Hardy's humor can be zany at times and, to be honest, zany to the point that I might want to knock the shorts down a notch or two. That's just a matter of taste, of course; other people probably love that zaniness. And, to be certain, that zaniness shows up in both the English- and Spanish-language versions of this movie. But the much more interseting thing is what shows up in Spanish but not in English. No, I'm not talking about Laurel and Hardy's attempts to speak Spanish. I've never studied the langauge, so I'm not the one to judge how badly they mangle the language. And that's not the most interesting part of the film, anyhow.

Apparently, audiences in Spanish-speaking countries liked variety numbers of the sort that in Hollywood would have been their own one-reel shorts. Here, though, the variety acts are added to the movie during the party scene in what is really a break from the plot having nothing to do with the rest of the story. The first of these is a magician, who does many of the standard-issue tricks involving playing cards, handkerchiefs, and the like. Most of the act is stuff we've all probably seen before, but the magician here is so entertaining that he makes seeing the tricks again still be fun. Even more interesting is the second act. This one is a man by the name of "Hadji Ali" who is called a professional regurgitator. Yes, you read that right. Hadji Ali's stock in trade is swallowing things, and then bringing them back up at will. He swallows a large amount of water, only to spit it back up with surprisingly good aim. Then there are the nuts. Finally, and most shocking, Hadji Ali drinks from a container marked "Kerosina", which he then brings back up to set stuff on fire. It has to be seen to be believed, and makes the whole film worth watching.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Twonky

TCM is showing two Hans Conried movies as part of TCM Underground overnight tonight. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., which I blogged about back in October 2008, is airing at 3:45 AM. Before that, however, is The Twonky, at 2:15 AM. I thought I had done a full-length post about it before, but apparently not.

Conried stars as Kerry West, a college professor at one of those Anytown, USA small colleges that seem to be a staple of a certain type of Hollywood film from the years just after World War II. Kerry's wife Carolyn (Janet West) is going away to visit family, and ostensibly to keep him company, she bought a new TV, this in the days when TV was starting to become ubiquitous in American homes. Kerry doesn't want a TV, but it's not as if he has to watch it. Still, he's happy when the guy from the TV store comes for the deposit, which Kerry doesn't have. So, Kerry thinks the TV guy is going to take the TV back.

Except that magically, the deposit shows up! It quickly turns out that it's the TV itself that produced the deposit, which of course seems like a bunch of nonsense, but that's the point of the movie, a TV that's seemingly come to life of a sort. Apparently, as the coach of the football team explains to the professor, this TV is a "Twonky", some sort of technology gone bad that can't be explained. And this particular Twonky has gone terribly wrong. Although there are times that it helps Kerry out by doing the vacuuming and putting the dishes away, it wants to do what's "best" for Kerry, with the caveat that it, and not Kerry, gets to decide what's best for Kerry. So, no coffee, no getting to spread ideas that the Twonky doesn't like, or no music that thw Twonky doesn't like. And if you don't like having such a Twonky? Tough patooties. Kerry understandably tries to get rid of the Twonky, but it has a way o fprotecting itself from anybody or anything that it sees as a threat to Kerry, or more importantly to itself. To make matters worse, some of the things the Twonky has done for the professor's "benefit" have run afoul of the law....

The Twonky is a really interesting little movie. Independently produced by radio host Arch Oboler, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, the movie scrapes by on a very low budget, which makes the production vales look not particularly good, especially when it comes to the special effects. And yet, that only adds to the bizarreness of the whole thing. How could this little TV set be evil? Still, it is. In fact, a good case could be made that even if the "for your own good" forces represent the Twonky ever had good intentions, they're always going to step over the line, and The Twonky is a decided allegory for that. Indded, I'd argue it's still relevant today. 30 years ago when I was still in elementary school the anti-smoking crusade was really gathering steam, and I remember people making the argument that the next thing you know, the government is going to tell us what we can and cannot eat. Pshaw, the self-styled do-gooders told us. But 30 years on, we've got politicians trying to mandate maximum portion sizes, or what seasonings can or cannot be used. As if they really even have a clue what's good for us, anyway. It's ironic that the Twonky tries to prevent Kerry from drinking a cup of coffee; over the decades, we've gone from caffeing being acceptable to evil to having possible beneficial effects to today, where he have a professional class that overpays for "exotic" coffee drinks mixed with milk and given foreign names, and a more blue-collar class that consumes its caffeine in the form of energy drinks that the political class thinks are evil, if only because the wrong class consumes it. The Twonky will come for your pleasures, but not its own.

TCM's online schedule lists The Twonky as a horror film. IMDb puts comedy and sci-fi first. I'd say all three fit to one extent or another, with the caveat that the horror is more in the implication of what an out of control Twonky could do. But whatever genre you consider it, The Twonky is still an odd, fascinatingly dystopic tale that's well worth a viewing. It doesn't seem to be on DVD, however, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing overnight tonight.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Illeana Douglas returns

Tonight is the second Friday in May, so TCM is giving us the second week of this month's Friday Night Spotlight, of movies that deserve a second look. I thought Douglas did quite well flying solo last week: she seemed knowledgeable about what she was presenting, and I think really cares about the movies too. She didn't exude quite as much warmth as Robert Osborne does, but then, how many people do? The one other problem was the spartan set, for which I don't think you can really blame her. It was mostly brightish blue backdrops, which was bad enough, but Illeana exacerbated the problem by wearing an outfit that was purple and red. She might have fit in well on those red armchairs on Robert Osborne's set, but against that blue background, boy was it garish.

Anyhow, the movies that Douglas is presenting tonight do deserve a second look, even if one I would suggest is pretty lousy. In fact, the first one deserves another look if only because it's one I knew next to nothing about before it showed up on this month's schedule: The Great Moment at 8:00 PM, starring Joel McCrea as a dentist in the mid-19th century trying to popularize the use of ether as an anesthetic in dentistry. What's interesting about it is that it was directed by Preston Sturges, based on a true story, and is subject material that's decidedly un-Sturges-like.

That's followed at 9:30 PM by The Horn Blows at Midnight, a dream-sequence comedy in which Jack Benny dreams he's been sent by the angel Gabiel to destroy Earth with a horn blast. Benny apparently didn't think this was such a good movie, but it's really not that bad.

Under Capricorn, at 11:00 PM, may be as bad as anybody suggests. Alfred Hitchcock directs this misfire set in 19th century Australia about Ingrid Bergman as a dispomaniac; her hasband Joseph Cotten; and Irish emigrant Michael Wilding who knew Bergman back in the day. It's un-Hitchockian material, and boy does it show. It's airing again in July, so I might do a full-length blog post about it then.

Another moie that's going to be getting another airing in the not too distant future is Above and Beyond (1:15 AM), which I also think isn't all that bad. This is a biopic of Col. Paul Tibbetts, who flew the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Or, mostly, it's about the run-up, and how the requisite secrecy surrounding the program affected everybody. Robert Taylor plays Tibbetts; June Star of the Month Eleanor Parker (which is why it's airing again next month) plays his wife.

The Horn Blows at Midnight is the only one that doesn't seem to be on DVD at all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bryan Forbes, 1926-2013

The death was announced yesterday of Bryan Forbes, a British actor turned director whose career spanned from the late 1940s through the early 1990s. Forbes was 86.

Looking through Forbes' acting credits, they seem to be for the most part stuff a bit down the credits in British films I don't too much about, since I'm on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Movies that might be better known to American movie buffs include a smaller role in Man With a Million, which stars Gregory Peck as the subject of an experiment between to wealthy British eccentrics over what perceived wealth can get somebody; or The Key, which stars Sophia Loren as a women looked after by a series of World War II salvage boat captains (notably William Holden and Trevor Howard).

Forbes also wrote screenplays, as for the 1960 film The League of Gentlemen, in which he also acted. Jack Hawkins stars as a cashiered World War II British army veteran who wants to gain revenge. So, he finds a bunch of other men who were similarly drummed out of the service, and assembles them for a brilliant scheme to rob a bank. And they would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for that meddling kid.... TCM showed this one a few months back when they had a month of hesit films, and it's really quite entertaining.

This was also about the time when Forbes got into directing. One of his first directorial efforts was The L-Shaped Room, a movie I briefly mentioned some time back. Leslie Caron stars as a pregnant young Frenchwoman who comes to London to have the baby, and stays in the titular L-shaped room, where she meets a bunch of interesting characters. Perhaps better-known from the 1960s might be King Rat, about a prison camp for Allied POWs in Singapore after the Japanese conquest of the city-state. The one of Forbes' 1960s movies that I blogged about was Deadfall, which is unfortunately not all that good, down to a lousy plot more than the direction.

American audiences will probably remember Forbes most, however, for one of the movies he made in the 1970s: The Stepford Wives, which I apparently haven't done a full-length post about. I thought I had, but then, this is one of those movies where the main theme is known even by people who don't necessarily consider themselves movie buffs.

Forbes is survived by his wife of 58 years, actress Nanette Newman, who also appeared in some of Forbes' movies, such as that 1966 comedy The Wrong Box.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Plein soleil

TCM is showing a couple of films starring French actor Alain Delon tomorrow, even though his birthday is in November. Perhaps the best known of the movies would be Purple Noon, originally called Plein soleil in French. It's airing at 9:00 AM.

Delon stars as Tom Ripley, a name that might sound familiar to you. He's an American of lower-class upbriging who's been sent to Italy by the father of the wealthy but idle Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronnet). The ting is, Philippe ran off to Italy to spend time with his girlfriend, Marge Duval (Marie Laforêt), and doesn't seem to show any interest in returning to the States. Dad wants him home, and is willing to spend a handsome sum on a reward for Tom's bringing Philippe home. The fact that Philippe is an adult seems to be lost on Dad, but that's another story. Philippe has no intention of going back to the States, but dammit, Tom wants the money. Also another story is Tom. What Dad apparently didn't know is that Tom has some ability at being a con artist, as we see him robbing a lady of some of her jewelry. That, and while nobody's looking he starts impersonating Philippe, something which Philippe is unsurprisingly unhappy about when he discovers it. What he doesn't realize until later is that Tom is getting his fingers far more into Philippe's life.

The resentment between Tom and Philippe continues. They may or may not have been friends when they were young -- that's a source of argument between them -- but Philippe certaintly seems to care less for Tom now, while Tom seems to be more and more intersted in the money: if he can't get it from Philippe's dad, he'll get it from Philippe. Philippe thinks that perhaps Tom was going to impersonate him to get that money. He's right, as it turns out, but not quite in the way he expected. Tom and Philippe eventually get into an argument on Philippe's boat, which results in Tom's stabbing Philippe to death and dumping the body overboard. Having apparently gotten away with murder at sea, what's a young conman to do next? There's that impersonation of Philippe. Tom does it partly to get at the money, but partly to make everybody think that Philippe is still alive but has gone off somewhere to get away from everybody. One person who suspects something is Freddy (Billy Kearns), another idle American who showed up briefly at the beginning. When he shows up again to confront Tom, he, like Detective Arbogast in Psycho figuring out something's happened to Marion Crane, winds up another victim of Tom.

Does all of this sound familiar? That's partly because it's based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith called... "The Talented Mr. Ripley". If you don't know the novel, then you probably remember the film from the late 1990s by the same title as the novel, starring Matt Damon in the Tom Ripley role and Jude Law as Greenleaf. Each film has its advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, Delon is excellent as Tom. He's the sort of charming person you could imagine having been incredibly popular at school, and somebody towards whom Philippe would naturally feel resentment. His performance makes the viewer want him to get away with the crimes he's committed. If there's anything wrong with Delon -- and with all of the actors in the movie -- it's that they're not quite believable as Americans. Oh, they're good characters; they're just noat American characters. Then again, I suppose that's a criticism you'd have to label at a whole lot of Hollywood movies set over in Europe: you've got wonderful American actors playing German or French or Polish or whatever. While they may make an interesting and high-quality movie, the characters they're playing just aren't anything like real Europeans.

Purple Noon has received more than one DVD release, but those DVD releases don't seem to be available from the TCM shop; only from Amazon.

The latest TCM documentary

I think I've stated before that I like seeing TCM do new documentaries. Not that I necessarily wind up liking all of them, but these are the sort of documentaries that are either a labor of love for the producer, or would never get made by any other cable channel. The Baby Peggy documentary which aired on TCM back in December was not a TCM original, but where else would it show up on cable? Maybe the Documentary channel, which actually did show Spint Tingler: The William Castle Story. But not many other places.

Anyhow, I say this because TCM has another documentary, which I think is a TCM original, premiering tonight: Don't Say No Until I Finish Talking: The Story of Richard D. Zanuck. Zanuck was a producer at Fox at the start of his career, before becoming head of the company, getting pushed out for not exactly being successful, and then going on a more successful career as a quasi-independent producer. It's the movie's producer who wins the Best Picture Oscar, and Zanuck won one, for Driving Miss Daisy. He was also nominated two other times, for Jaws and The Verdict.

The documentary is airing twice tonight, as is normally the case for new-to-TCM documentaries: first at 8:00 PM, followed by one movie, Driving Miss Daisy at 9:45 PM, and then the second airing of the documentary at 11:30 PM. The rest of the night's lineup is two more movies that Richard Zaunck produced: Cocoon at 1:15 AM, and Compulsion at 3:30 AM.

And as an update, TCM did indeed run a TCM Remembers tribute to Ray Harryhausen after The Asphalt Jungle last night, just before 10:00 PM. It's one of the better tributes, because instead of being just clips from the deceased person's movies, as most of the acting tributes are, it had some relatively recent shots of Harryhausen recreating his craft intercut with the scenes from the movies.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

The death has been announced of Ray Harryhausen, the special effects wizard whose stop-motion photography featured in science-fiction films from the 1940s through the early 1980s, the days before CGI could make effects that might look more realistic, but don't do anything to make a movie better if the movie doesn't have a good story. Harryhausen was inspired by the special effects in the 1933 version of King Kong, which set him on that life of stop-motion photography. During World War II, he used the technique to make training films for the US military. TCM ran a tribute to Harryhausen several years ago in which one of the short films he made for the military was shown, along with several other of his shorts, although unfortunately it doesn't seem to be on Youtube.

Harryhausen's Hollywood work started with 1949's Mighty Joe Young, and continued through to the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, but it's those 1950s and 1960s scifi movies that are probably the most famous. Most sources will, I think, suggest that the single most famous bit of work he did was in Jason and the Argonauts, in the scene where Jason engages in a swordfight with a bunch of skeletons. I think it's fitting that this particular image should lead the obituary here. But Harryhausen did a lot of other work: the flying saucers in Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, or the six-tentacled "octopus" (there were only six tentacles because it made the work easier and cost less) in It Came From Beneath the Sea. I believe I've only done a full-length post on one other of Harryhausen's movies, that being 20 Million Miles to Earth.

I don't see anything up on TCM's website about Harryhause, so I don't know if they're going to be planning any programming tribute for him. I also haven't been watching TCM to see if they've done a "TCM Remembers" tribute for him.

Apparently, list posts don't have to be lazy

I've commented in the past that one of the reaons for this blog is to be in the habit of writing every day. Some days, of course, there's not much on worth mentioning, or else a bunch of stuff on that I've already blogged about. So on some of those days, I come up with "list" posts mentioning several movies that all fit a certain topic. It's probably a bit lazy, but it's better than nothing. Besides, you can argue that such lists are good enough for TCM at times.

Consider this mont's Star of the Month, which isn't a star. Instead, they're doing a month of movies about "Tough Guys". Now, the movies in the lineup are all worth watching, more or less. Also, it really does take some thinking to come up with the movies to fit a lineup like this, even if it does seem like little more than a list: think of a bunch of actors who played tough guys, and show those movies. To be honest, though, such lists are really the backbone of most of TCM's programming, with themes in prime time every night and a fair portion of the time during the day too, even if the daytime themes are often just birthday salutes. (I tend to feel I'm lazy when I'm doing a birthday post, but the lesser-known people deserve their birthday honors on TCM, too.)

At any rate, there's some interesting stuff in tonight's TCM lineup of tough guys, which starts at 8:00 PM with The Asphalt Jungle.
That's followed at 10:00 PM by Crossfire, which according to the TCM schedule is not in print on DVD, as you can't get it in the TCM shop.
The third movie is Out of the Past at 11:30 PM, a movie I thought I had done a full-length blog post about, but apparently not. Robert Mitchum plays a man trying to live a normal life whose pasts involves a job he did for gangster Kirk Douglas; Douglas comes looking for him again and Douglas' girl (Jane Greer) tries to double-cross everybody. I've always had a bit of a problem with this movie in that the past part and the present part don't seem to mesh too well together to me.
The last of the movies in the official salute to tough guys is Out of the Fog at 1:45 AM, with John Garfield as the tough guy playing a racketeer harassing the fishing community, until he meets and falls in love with fisherman's daughter Ida Lupino.

In between Out of the Past and Out of the Fog, a little after 1:20 AM, is The Tanks Are Coming, which looks interesting in that it was produced by the military's motion picture arm. The hook is George Tobias wanting to drive his taxicab in the military instead of a tank, but the army shows him the importance of tanks to the military effort.

Following the "tough guy" films, we get The Naked City at 3:15 AM, which does have some tough guys in it although they're not the stars of the film. Finally, at 5:00 is an interesting little B movie called Hideaway. The plot sounds a bit reminiscent of Hide-Out, with criminals trying to hide out in the country. The difference is that this time, several of the gang show up at what they expect to be their hideaway that they purchased a long time ago, but thanks to the Depression, there are squatters living in the place now. The movie is also played a bit more for comic effect, if memory serves. I can't remember the last time TCM even showed this movie. I've got the monthly schedules for TCM going back to July 2007 on my computer, and a search through them only brings up one other use of the word "hideaway", which was in December 2009 in the brief synopsis for the Humphrey Bogart movie The Big Shot.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Too bad there's no Anne Francis

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel has, as I've stated on several occasions, a policy of howing their movies several times in a relatively short time frame. One good thing about this for me is that it gives me an opportunity to watch a movie, and then have it relatively fresh in my mind when I go to blog about a few days or a week later when it shows up again on the schedule. Yesterday, for example, I had the chance to see Francis of Assisi. It's airing again tomorrow (May 7) at 9:45 AM, with a further airing at 9:45 AM on Saturday (May 11).

The movie starts off promisingly, with a stirring enough score by Mario Nascimbene playing over the opening credits, which are in a retro-medieval typeface all superimposed over visuals of paintings of St. Francis of Assisi and what are presumably scenes from his life. The fact that I make a point of mentoining the opening credits, unfortunately, serves as a warning: the rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to this standard. After the credits, we soon meet Francis (Bradford Dillman), in the time before he receives the calling to become a proselytizing figure and spread his view of Christianity. He's Francis Bernardone, the son of a fairly wealthy merchant (Eduard Franz) in Assisi at the beginning of the 13th century. His parents hope to make a match for him in the form of Clare (Dolores Hart), daughter of a wealthy family, who happily enough seems sincerely to like Francis. But Assisi is one of the many city-states of medieval Italy, the country not being united like England or France. So there are wars on, and Francis' friend Count Paolo (Stuart Whitman) calls on Francis to help him fight the enemy.

Francis goes off, but soon hears voices, which we are to presume is the voice of God, telling Francis to turn back, which he eventually does, and which gets him arrested for desertion, along with causing a bit of tension with his father. Clare impresses upon Paolo to have the prisoners pardoned. Francis after being released once again hears God's voice, this time telling him to build the church, which he takes literally as a call to rebuild a ruined church, and so starts begging the townsfolk for stones to build the church. Francis' devotion moves many of the people of Assisi to help him by donating stones, and even some to give up their worldly goods and join Francis in building the church.

Everybody except Paolo, it seems. Paolo is in some ways happy that Francis, in giving up worldly goods, has also given up Clare, as Paolo has had his eyes on her. But Paolo doesn't get why Francis would do any of the other things, and thinks he can just shake some sense into Francis. Meanwhie, Francis' order keeps growing, to the point that the Pope (Finlay Currie) makes it an official order, and gives Francis the task of trying to make peace with the Saracens in the Holy Land, led by sultan Pedro Armendáriz. But while Francis is away on his mission, the order he founded starts to change....

Francis of Assisi has a lot of problems, much of which I think is down to the script. Francis was canonized as a saint a few years after his death, so I suppose the real Francis acted saintly in life. But boy is that saintliness slathered on with a trowel here. Francis is the patron saint of animals, and there are a couple of scenes that would almost fit in better in The Beastmaster, such as a scene of Arabs siccing leopards on Francis, only for Francis to tame them because he's so darn charming, or something. To be fair, that perfection is shown to be harmful in a way, as his rules for living, which could be OK for twelve men, won't scale up to thousands. But even here, the friar who runs the order while Francis is off in Egypt, is portrayed as simply grasping for power. Couldn't everybody reach a compromise to be self-sufficient, but very modestly?

Stuart Whitman is another weak point. He, far more than anybody else in the cast, comes across as being totally ill-suited to playing a character in a medieval movie, with his manner of speaking and charging through his scenes. That, and Paolo is presented almost as a drip even more dull than Ralph Bellamy -- what on earth could he possibly think Clare would see in him? It shouldn't come as any surprise to him that Clare decides to join Francis in forming what is now the Sisters of St. Clare. Dolores Hart, playing Clare, does well enough, but there's a sense of irony considering that Hart in real life was soon to go on and become a nun herself. Also worth seeing is Cecil Kellaway as a cardinal who eventually joins the Franciscans.

Francis of Assisi the movie was based on a book commissioned by the Catholic Church, so I guess one has to be fair that a hagiography has to be expected. But one can't help but wonder that there's a much more interesting story about Francis to be told that hasn't been told in this movie; specifically, the portion in Africa and the struggle over the future of the order deserve a better treatment. I haven't seen any of the later movies dealing with Francis' life, so I don't know if they present it better. That's not to say Francis of Assisi is terrible; it's just mediocre. The movie has received a DVD release, although I don't know if any of the releases are still in print.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Movie Album #1

TCM's online schedule is listing a short for about 6:35 AM tomorrow alled Movie Album #1, from 1935, and running 10 minutes, just enough time to fit in before The Sheik kicks off a two-film birthday salute to Rudolph Valentino at 6:45 AM. TCM doesn't list a synopsis for the short in the schedule, which often happens with the shorts. Indeed, the TCMDb page for the short doesn't even say anything about it. An IMDb search yields a 1931 short called The Movie Album which runs 8 minutes and was put out by Vitaphone, so it's the sort of thing TCM could easily show. Does anybody know if TCM simply made a typo, or if Movie Album #1 is something entirely different? And assuming it's something different, what exactly is it? I have to admit that with a title like Movie Album #1, I think of something with songs, which wouldn't be too much to my interest, but I could be wrong.

Also regarding shorts, an update from yesterday. The short Impressions of the Merriest Musical of 1938 was indeed a promotional short for a movie much like the ones that TCM shows for movies comping up in the schedule that don't get the TCM Extras treatment. Well, the 1930s version of promotional trailers; there's a definite stylistic difference between most of the trailers back then and more recent trailers. That "merriest musical of 1938" turns out to be Gold Diggers in Paris, starring Rudy Vallee and Rosemary Lane.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Busby Berkeley in 1933

Tonight's lineup on TCM is movies made in 1933 for which Busby Berkeley choreographed the dance sequences. I was going to do a full-length post on Footlight Parade, but a search of the blog reveals I alread did that back in November 2010. Footlight Parade is airing at 10:00 PM.

The Essential for this week is not Footlight Parade, but Gold Diggers of 1933 at 8:00 PM. Unsurprisingly, that's another movie I've done a full-length post on, all the way back in March of 2008.

Even earlier than that was my February 2008 post on 42nd Street, which concludes the evening's proceedings at midnight.

Following each of these movies are some shorts, which seem just as interesting in their own right. Gold Diggers of 1933 is followed at 9:46 PM by something called Impression of the Merriest Musical of 1938. It's not listed in IMDb, and TCMDb doesn't have anything about it either, so I'd guess it's more of a promotional trailer for... well, I'm not certain which was the merriest musical of 1938. Alexander's Ragtime Band was probably the best musical that year, but I don't know if I'd call it merry, and I don't know if TCM would have a short from Fox.

After Footlight Parade, at 11:47 PM, is another promo, called Anthony Adverse: The Making of a Great Motion Picture. At least wiht this one, it's obvious what movie is the subject of the short. Finally, at 1:33 AM, after 42nd Street, is Kissing Time, which stars Jane Froman. Froman, a singer, is known for having been in a severe plane crash, surviving it, and having that experience be the story of another film, With a Song in My Heart, in which Froman was played by Susan Hayward. Kissing Time is one of Warner Bros. Vitaphone-labeled "Broadway Brevities" two-reelers they made throughout the 1930s; this one is from 1933.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Booray for Bollywood

It was 100 years ago today that India's first domestic film was released, so the Indian film community has been celebrating. I stated back in December 2011 that Bollywood is one of those areas I don't know much about, but it is of course one of the most prolific centers of filmmaking, with India producing more movies than the US and, as far as I know, having done so for decades. (Well, at least, normal theatrical releases; I have no idea how many porn films are made in the US each year.)

One of the things mentioned in the article -- surprisingly, I couldn't find a good article from India's English-language online news sites -- is that, just like Hollywood, a lot of that old movie legacy has been lost, including a fair number of talkies, and not just the old silents. Talking pictures came to India a bit later than in the English-speaking world, probably in part for monetary reasons and in part for linguistic reasons. I heard a report on the history of Indian cinema some time back on All-India Radio which mentioned that the silent pictures could be distributed to all parts of India without the moviegoers in Kolkata, who would be native Bengali speakers, having to have knolwedge of Hindi. Indeed, many years ago I saw a program on the local PBS channel about silent films in general which pointed out how many European countries had reasonably-sized film industries during the silent era because it was easier for them to distribute the movies to other countries without language being such a barrier. By the same token it was just as easy for Hollywood stuff to be exported to foreign countries, and it's always interesting how some American movies once considered lost wind up in some country where English isn't the first language, like those Baby Peggy shorts that were found in Denmark.

Second chances

TCM's Friday night spotlight for May is "A Second Look". Illeana Douglas, the director/actress and granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas, will be presenting the movies -- I don't know if she's going to be co-hosting with Robert Osborne or whether they've started having the guest host alone. I suppose I could have watched last night's prime time lineup to see whether Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz was presenting the films, which probably would have been a clue. Anyhow, the point of the "Second Look" is to present movies which were critically panned and/or commercially unsuccessful when they were first released, but over the years have at least deserved a second vieweing, and maybe now we'll conclude that perhaps the opinion of the time wasn't quite right.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Paramount's 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland, which has an all-star cast heavily costumed and made up in outfits designed to look like the illustrations that accompanied Lewis Carroll's original books. It's a film that I'm really looking forward to, as I don't think it's aired on TCM before.
At 9:30 PM is No Greater Glory, which I blogged about back in November 2009.
Then, at 11:00 PM, you can see chorus girl Joan Crawford try to catch a rich hubby in the form of Franchot Tone in The Bride Wore Red;
Slum doctor Spencer Tracy marries Hedy Lamarr in I Take This Woman, at 1:00 AM; and
Three Comrades at 3:00 AM has a plot that sounds a bit like Jules et Jim.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Comrade X

TCM is putting the spotlight on director King Vidor tonight. Apparently Duel in the Sun (8:00 PM) and Ruby Gentry (10:30 PM), both of which I've blogged about before, must both be out of print, since TCM doesn't list either of them being available for purchase from the TCM shop. The Warner Archive, however, puts out Comrade X, so that one should always be avaiable. It's airing overnight at 4:00 AM (or very early tomorrow morning if you want to look at it that way).

Clark Gable plays the titular Comrade X. His real name is McKinley Thompson, who is an American journalist covering the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was of course a nasty dictatorship, spying on reporters and only feeding them propaganda so that they'd print positive things about the country for the papers back home; or, being unwilling to do that, at least they wouldn't be able to print the whole truth. Thompson, however, is getting the truth out, much to the consternation of the Soviet authorities. All they know is that one of the reporters is getting these stories out; they don't know which one, since all the stories are being signed "Comrade X". There is one person who does figure out Thompson's secret however: Vanya (Felix Bressart), the valet in the hotel where all of the foreign reporters are staying.

Vanya could expose Comrade X, but he's got a better idea: Stalin hasn't quite purged everybody yet, and with the conflict between Stalinists and Trotskyists still going on (at least if you believe the movie), it can be dangerous even for the Communists. In reality, quite a few of the people who surrounded Lenin and helped win the revolution and following civil war two decades earlier did fall afoul of Stalin, and were prominently purged in the show trials that began around 1935, but most of the show trials had concluded by the time the movie was made. But back to the movie, Vanya would like Thompson to smuggle his daughter, street-car driver Theodore (Hedy Lamarr), out of the country. The catch, though, is that the daughter is a committed Communist. Why would she want to leave the communist paradise?

Thompson comes up with the idea that she could preach the gospel of communism in the United States, an idea which seems ludicrous even for 1940, when the American communists would have been close to theie maximum influence with all those powerful New Deal levers to pull. But it's about the only way Thompson could possibly convince Theodore to leave the USSR. The only way she could leave, though, is as his husband, so it's off to the civil registry office to get married. Meanwhile, Comrade X's camera is discovered, hidden in Vanya's room, which means trouble for all three of them. This all eventually leads to the climax, which involves Thompson and Theodore commandeering a tank and driving it straight for the border with Romania, which was not yet a Communist satellite state since this is 1940.

Comrade X was made not long after Ninotchka was a huge success for MGM, so there are a lot of things in it that are reminiscent of the earlier movie. On the whole, though, it doesn't glitter the way Ninotchka does. It's still worth watching, though, because of a lot of enjoyable performances from the supporting actors. In addition to Bressart, there's Sig Ruman as a German reporter; Eve Arden as a fellow American reporter; and Oscar Homolka, playing a Soviet commissar. Gable is OK doing much the same role he played six years earlier in It Happened One Night, while Hedy Lamarr is lovely to look at.

I'm not certain if I'd want to pay Warner Archive prices for a movie like Comrade X that's OK but not quite great. If it were on one of those four-movie box sets, though, it would be a great bargain, as it's more than entertaining enough.