Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Goodbye Documentary Channel

A few weeks ago I was flipping through the channels, and watched the last half of the Frank Capra-produced (but not directed by him) The Negro Soldier on the Documentary Channel. I think it was during one of the commercial breaks that there was an ad saying that on August 1, young viewers would have a chance to "pivot" to something socially interactive and focusing on the different way that the twentysomethings use media, or some buzzword-filled nonsense like that. At any rate, the upshot of it is that Documentary Channel has been bought out by another company, which is replacing it with some channel called Pivot.

I didn't watch the Documentary Channel that often, since there were a lot of repeats, and a fair amount of stuff that didn't particularly interest me. But it's still a shame to see it go. I think that part of it is that when I see a bunch of older people trying to claim they're coming up with media that's "relevant" to the younger demographic, the stuff comes across to me as inauthentic. The owners (in this case Participant Media) claim their socially and politically relevant to young people, much as with Al Gore and Current back when he founded that, but I can't help but wonder whether that will include the political views of the folks who don't agree with Gore or the folks who run Participant Media.

The other (and probably more important) thing, which has nothing to do with politics, is that this displays the precarious situation of those cable channels that don't have a big corporate owner -- and ironically, Current is in the same boat. Current came into being and had the reach it did in part because Al Gore was able to buy another channel, Newsworld International, which had a spot on DirecTV's lineup, which guaranteed the channel access to ten million or more households. Participant, I'd presume, really only wanted to buy Documentary not for the channel's content, but because it's got a spot on DirecTV's channel lineup. And indeed, the same thing has happened quite a few times to various channels, including Current, which was bought by Al Jazeera at the end of last year.

I'd argue that the only reason we're still able to have TCM and what's left of the Fox Movie Channel on relatively low programming tiers is that they're both owned by corporate entities that own a whole bunch of more profitable channels, where the debate with the various cable and satellite providers is, "put all of these channels in your line-up, or you don't get the popular ones that are the only ones you really want".

Eileen Brennan, 1932-2013

Oscar-nominated actress Eileen Brennan on Sunday at the age of 80, but the news didn't become public until yesterday. I only saw the obituary yesterday evening, which i swhy I haven't gotten around to putting up an obituary here until this morning.

Brennan received that Oscar nomination for Private Benjamin, a movie we've been reminded of recently what with TCM airing as part of Carson on TCM the interview that Goldie Hawn did when Private Benjamin came out in late 1980. Brennan, however, lost to Mary Steenburgen in Melvin and Howard, a movie about Howard Hughes and Melvin Dunmar, who claimed Hughes wrote a will leaving him a substantial sum of money. It's a movie I know I've never seen, and besides, this post is about Brennan. Private Benjamin is a movie I saw at aome point quite a few years ago, although I tend to have better memories of the TV series that was made and ran for a couple of seasons, and on which Brennan reprised her role, at least until a serious car accident. I was a kid at the time of all this, of course, which would be why I didn't get to see the movie on original release but would remember the sanitized-for-TV series. The movie involves Goldie Hawn getting married, only for her husband to die on their wedding night. Needing a change, Goldie joins the military, where she becomes the titular Pvt. Benjamin. Brennan plays drill instructor Capt. Lewis.

Brennan also did well-received roles in The Last Picture Show where she played a café owner, and The Sting, in which she played a brother owner. She also played Mrs. Peacock in Clue, the movie based on the popular board game, which is rather an odd source for movie material. At least comic books have stories.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wacky heiress comedy #75424527584328578432760

Heiresses were a staple o screwball comedies in the 1930s. Heiresses getting chased by reporters happened almost as often, it seems: It Happened One Night and Libeled Ladu are two of the great comedies of all time. Fox's entry into the heiress vs. reporter genre is Love Is News, which is airing tomorrow morning at 10:15 AM on the Fox Movie Channel, with half a dozen further airings in August.

Loretta Young, who was already a fairly big star by the time the movie was made in 1937, plays the heiress, Toni Gateson. She's just broken off an engagement with Count de Guyon (George Sanders, in a small role billed well down the credits), and that engagement -- as well of the rest of Toni's private life -- has become fodder for the tabloids of the day, something that Toni doesn't like. She really values her privacy. So, when reporter Steve Layton (Tyrone Power) is sent out by editor Martin Canavan (Don Ameche) to get Toni's story, he has to engage in a ruse to get it. He poses as a police detective escorting her from her plane to the city, asking her questions along the way. However, she learns that he's really a reporter, and he's not about to let her have some privacy by not publishing the story.

What's a scorned heiress to do? Why, turn the tables on the reporter by making him part of the story! Toni gets Steve in a hotel restaurant, where she can make certain all the other reporters hear about how the two of them are engaged to be married. It's a bogus story, of course, but it's tabloid fodder that all of the other reporters can get. She's tricked Steve out of a scoop, she's given all the other reporters something phony to try to ruin their credibility, and she's let Steve know what it's like to have reporters hounding your every move. Steve tries to set the record straight, and Toni tries to make his life more of a nightmare. Along the way, you can probably figure out that the two are going to begin to fall in love as well.

Love Is News is one of those many movies that I would rate as being in the range of successfully entertaining without being anything particularly special. But with a running time of just under 80 minutes, this solid professionalism is enough as the movie doesn't wear out its welcome. You don't normally think of Loretta Young and Tyrone Power doing comedy, and certainly not screwball comedy. Loretta Young is pretty good; Tyrone Power is the sort of actor who I think was better-suited to being the foil; letting everybody else around him being funny. Watch the scene where he has to deal with small-town judge Slim Summerville, for example. He doesn't bring down the proceedings here, but if you had tried to put him into something else from around the same time like My Man Godfrey or Bringing Up Baby, he would have failed spectacularly, I think. Ameche was adept at comedy, or at least Fox kept giving him comic material that worked to his strengths. He plays his role effortlessly, especially in a running joke about him firing and re-hiring Power.

Love Is News has received multiple DVD releases: one by the Fox Cinema Archive, one on a Tyrone Power box set, and one as part of a double bill with the remake, 1948's That Wonderful Urge (in which Power reprises his role, this time opposite Gene Tierney).

Monday, July 29, 2013

Speaking of Anchors Aweigh

I mentioned earlier today that Frank Sinatra made The House I Live In the same year that he became famous for Anchors Aweigh. In fact, Anchors Aweigh was released about three months earlier, at lesat according to IMDb. But why I'm really blogging an update is that Anchors Aweigh is on the schedule for 6:00 AM tomorrow, or just after The House I Live In, which would probably explain why TCM has scheduled that particular short at all, never mind when it did. I didn't notice because I use TCM's online daily schedule only to look for shorts if there's anything interesting worth mentioning on the blog; I download the monthly schedule for the regular lineup of features. Looking online fot the shorts is necessary since they're only schedule a week or so in advance, for the most part. And when I looked at the online schedule for today, The House I Live In was at the end of it, since TCM runs its daily schedule roughly from 6:00 AM one morning to 6:00 AM the next morning.

As for Anchors Aweigh, I'm not the biggest fan mostly because I'm not terribly into Gene Kelly musicals, since for the most part they're so unreal. I mean, Kelly does outstanding work when he dances with Jerry the mouse in Anchors Aweigh, but it's a scene that I don't think really fits in with the rest of the story. Kelly and Sinatra would appear together again in On the Town, and the two movies are available as part of a box set. I much prefer On the Town, since at least the bare-bones plot that serves as a hook for the singing and dancing is one that makes sense: the three sailors on leave do nothing more than spend the day trying to see New York, and meeting the women along the way. The extra bit in Anchors Aweigh of trying to make Kathryn Grayson a star adds nothing if you ask me.

But those of you who are fans of musicals will probably enjoy both films.

The House I Live In

All of tonight's features on TCM are on DVD, unless you count the Carson on TCM interviews as a feature. So instead, I'd like to make mention the short The House I Live In, which is airing early tomorrow morning at about 5:45 AM, after an airing of Fail-Safe and a repeat of Henry Fonda's Carson on TCM interview.

Frank Sinatra was a popular singer from the early 1940s on, but I think it was only after Anchors Aweigh, which like this short was released in 1945, that Sinatra became a popular actor. So at the time, the moviegoing public would have recognized Sinatra the singer for popular bandleaders of the day, which is what he's doing here. He sings one song, and then goes outside for a cigarette break. Which is where he sees a bunch of kids being mean to another kid. That other kid happens to be -- a Jew! And so Frank Sinatra gives these kids a lecture on religious tolerance. America is "the house I live in", and Jews, blacks, and most of the immigrant groups in this country have helped build that house too. That, and they even contributed to the war effort. Sinatra then sings a song conveniently titled "The House I Live In" to drum that message into the kids' heads further.

Sinatra isn't a bad choice to give the message. Not only for his popularity, but because he was a member of a group that not too much earlier would itself have been on the receiving end of the prejudice. You'll recall that in the 1941-set From Here to Eternity, it was perfectly normal for the enemies of Sinatra's character, Pvt. Maggio, to refer to him as a wop to try to get him to lose his temper and commit assault. That having been said, Sinatra is asked to be a little to earnest in delivering the message. And, of course, in 1945, it wsa still OK to be horridly racist toward the Japanese, since they were our enemy. It reminds me of the scene in Wilson from 1944 in which Alexander Knox, playing Woodrow Wilson, serves a bunch of doughboys on their way to Europe at a canteen. He gives them a message about how all the races are joining together to fight the good war. Of course, there wasn't a black face to be found in that crowd.

The Wikipedia article on The House I Live In has a few interesting facts about the writers of the song. As far as I know, the short isn't available on DVD>.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

So Long at the Fair

A search of the blog suggests that I have never done a full-length post on So Long at the Fair before. It's airing again this evening at 10:15 PM, so today's a good day to blog about it.

Simmons stars as Vicky, a young Englishwoman who is traveling to Paris with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) to attend the World's Fair. (It's been long enough since I saw the movie that I don't recall whether it's the 1889 or the 1900 Fair; IMDb reviewers suggest both.) They get rooms in a hotel and see some of the sights of the exhibition. What a nice trip! Of course, we know that something's going to happen. The next morning, Vicky goes to her brother's room. Instead of her brother, she finds a bathroom! That's odd. Well, she could have gotten the room numbers wrong; such things have been known to happen. But in this case, she can't find her brother at all! Oh my, that's a problem.

Faced with a brother who's missing, Vicky does what any sane normal person would do. She asks for help. However, the folks at the hotel show her that her brother is not in the register, while that room he was supposed to have has always been a bathroom. How could he ever possibly have taken that room to sleep in? Going to the authorities doesn't help, either, as Vicky is unable to provide any evidence that she even came to Paris with a brother. In fact, Vicky, we're beginning to wonder whether you're sane at all!

This is a premise that has been used in several movies that I've mentioned in the past. Probably most notable is The Lady Vanishes, where Margaraet Lockwood can't prove to anybody that Dame May Whitty existed, at least until Michael Redgrave comes along. In Dangerous Crossing, it's Jeanne Craine on a boat with a husband for whom there's no evidence of his existence. All such movies have one big issue: how to make the conspiracy theory plausible. After all, there has to be some conspiracy if our heroine isn't insane.

In the case of So Long at the Fair, if I think too hard about it, I find that the conspiracy to keep Vicky from learning about her brother is ludicrous. There's no way that many people could pull it off, and no good reason for them to want to. True, they do claim to have a reason at the end, but while it explains the difference, I don't think it explains the motivation for not telling Vicky. That having been said, I think So Long at the Fair is also part of a genre of film that shouldn't be looked at quite as seriously for plot holes. We can enjoy The Lady Vanishes, or any of Hitchcock's "wrong man tries to prove his innocence" movies, despite the fact that most of them strain credulity. And in that same light, So Long at the Fair is really a pretty good movie. Simmons is fine as the woman who can't find her brother, while Dirk Bogarde plays the kind man who eventually starts to believe her. There's nothing too taxing here, but some good entertainment.

So Long at the Fair has been released to DVD in Europe, but I don't know if it's received a DVD release in the US.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

1001 overlooked movies?

I was clicking through some other blogs recently, and came across a project called 1001 Overlooked Movies. It's apparently based on a series of books popular on the other side of the Atlantic called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. The difference, though, is that the blogger running the "Overlooked" series is looking for movies that didn't make the cut of the 1001 "essential" movies you have to see.

An interesting idea, to be sure. I don't know if I'll ever get around to taking part in it, though. The first problem is coming up with a worthy movie that isn't on the "essential" list. My first though was to some foreign films. The Firemen's Ball? Nope, that's on the list. The Cranes Are Flying? Definitely an essential movie. I thought of some American movies, and those were on the list too.

The second issue is coming up with an overlooked movie that I've seen recently enough to write a cogent post about. There are some good movies that I think would belong on such a list, but when it comes to those movies, it might hvae been a couple of years since the last viewing, and I don't have a DVD copy of them around. (One of the good things about the Fox Movie Channel's running lots and lots of repeats within a short amount of time is that I can watch an early showing, and only a week or two later blog about the movie the next time it shows up.)

And then there's the issue of writing for somebody else's blog. Even though my posts here are normally a "whatever strikes my fancy" style and I don't think six weeks head in what I'm going to blog about, I worry about the spelling and grammar, even if not so much about the composition. Heck, I probably put too much time into trying to make blog and forum comments look well-written. If I were writing for another blog, I'd go nuts editing my posts to make the writing look high-quality before I submitted anything. And as you can probably tell from my blog posts, I'm not all that great a writer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mr. Blandings builds his dream film

There are quite a few movies in which Hollywood looks at itself. And then there are movies like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, where everything that can go wrong as the Blandings try to build that house does go wrong. If you combine the two types of movie, you might get something resembling Day For Night, which is airing at 8:00 PM tonight on TCM as part of the last night of this month's Friday Night Spotlight on the films of François Truffaut.

Trauffaut is actually one of the stars of this movie, playing a director named Ferrand. Ferrand is planning to make a movie called "Meet Pamela" ("Je vous présent Pamela"), which is a wholly fictitious movie. As far as I know, the real-life Truffaut never had any plans to do a movie like this. We do get to see some scenes from the film-within-a-film, at least from the angle behind the camera instead of through it, much as in the scene in Sunset Blvd. where Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond visiting Cecil B. DeMille on tha Paramount lot, or a whole bunch of scenes in THe Bad and the Beautiful. But the scenes of "Meet Pamela" look as though they're incoherent, in the sense that there's no way you could come up with a plot that puts them together and still makes sense. No; thoses scenes are just a hook for Truffaut's look at the filmmaking process. Specifically, a process in which nothing seems to go right and it's a miracle that the film even gets made at all.

And to be honest, almost nothing on Ferrand's set goes right for him. To start with is the lead actress, Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset). Ferrand's been able to get her to do the movie for the simple reason that nobody in Hollywood wants her right now, since she's recovering from a nervous breakdown. (I can only imagine what it was like for Billy Wilder when he worked with Marilyn Monroe.) Julie has in the meantime acquired a husband (David Markham). Ferrand's male lead is Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud, who played the kid in The 400 Blows). Alphonse, in "Meet Pamela" is playing Pamela's husband; off the set, he's having an affair with the script-girl (Nathalie Baye) who is probably more in love with the film than she is with him. As for Ferrand's supporting actors, they're played by Jean-Pierre Aumont and Valentine Cortese. Their back story is that they had appeared together on screen a lot in the past, but now they don't particularly care for each other. She's become an alcoholic and has trouble remembering her lines, while he's gay and trying to keep it a secret. Together, these characters are going to try to make a movie? Poor Ferrand, who seems like the most normal person on the set.

As I said, the viewers aren't really supposed to care about "Meet Pamela" in terms of its structure. We're only supposed to care about it insofar as Ferrand has a lot of difficulty making it. Boy are those difficulties entertaining. Truffaut was part of the French New Wave, and his movies like The 400 Blows were considered groundbreaking for their new style. Day For Night, on the other hand, is probably one of Truffaut's most accessible movies, in the sense that it's easy to follow and identify with. Truffaut doesn't seem to be trying to break any molds here, but that's ultimately to the benefit of the movie. It gives the movie a more intimate feel, and even for those who aren't quite so into movies, it's easier to identify with all of the troubles facing poor Ferrand. The stars are also quite good; Cortese received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role.

Day For Night is available on DVD.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oh, those evil suburbs!

I was born in 1972, so I'm too young to remember any of the things that were the formative experiences for all the Baby Boomers. That having been said, there's a good portion of the Boomers who seem to want everything looked at through a prism of what happened in the 1960s. One such thing is the continuing trope that the suburbia that grew up after World War II is nothing more than a conformist den of iniquity, and that anything that stands up and says "No!" to suburbia is somehow automatically virtuous. A good example of this would be many of the IMDb reviews of No Down Payment. The movie is airing tomorrow morning at 9:10 AM on the Fox Movie Channel (and will be getting repeat airings in August and September), so you can judge for yourself.

The movie starts off with young couple David and Jean Martin (Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens) driving in their car over the freeways of southern California, and passing billboards advertising new housing developmens, since California was growing rapidly at the time. The couple, unsurprisingly, is moving into one of those developments themselves: David is a successful engineer; successful enough to move into the suburbs. Soon after moving in, the Martins meet their new neighbors: used car salesman Jerry Flagg and his wife Isabelle (Tony Randall and Sheree North); hardware store manager Herman Kreitzer and his wife Betty (Pat Hingle and Barbara Rush); and frustrated veteran who would be police chief Troy Boone (Cameron Mitchell), who's married to Leole (Joanne Woodward).

We see fairly quickly that suburbia isn't all that it's claimed to be, if indeed anybody ever tried to claim that sububria was this flawless place. Our new couple move in on a Sunday morning, and Mrs. Kreitzer is concerned because her husband would rather wash the car on Sunday than go with her and the two children to church! As if anybody would care about that today. Anyhow, the Kreitzers hold a barbecue that night and invite all three of the neighbor couples, which is where Mr. Flagg has too much to drink -- he always has too much to drink -- and practically propositoins Jean. Troy Boone, for his part, is still trapped in World War II, and wants to show off his shrine to his service that he keeps in the garage to Jean.

If you think that's all, you're not even close. The film hits some of the other social problems that were beginning to become more prominent in the late 1950s (No Down Payment was made in 1957) and especially the 1960s. Chief among these is racism, as Herman's Asian-American employee Iko (Aki Aleong) would like to live in their neighborhood since it's a lot closer to work, but there's that problem of his not being white. There's also the simmering issue of the Flaggs' not having any children.

There's a lot going on, almost as though director Martin Ritt had a checklist of issues he wanted to touch upon. The result is a film that's wildly uneven. Tony Randall and Sheree North both give good performances. His character is an alcoholic who doesn't want to be a used-car salesman, instead having wild get-rich-quick schemes that his wife knows are never going to work. She could love him and have a very nice life as a family who are never going to rise above middle class, so she's "resigned" herself to this fact. But her husband won't admit this, and Randall does a find job of portraying a man who's been beaten, but can't bring himself to acknowledge it. The low point are the Flaggs. Joanne Woodward was born in Georgia, and brings what is presumably her original accent to the role, but this only serves to make her sound, if not naïve, then something utterly unrealistic. Carmon Mitchell, meanwhile, is playing a character probably like what Dana Andrews' character in The Best Years of Our Lives would have turned into if Virginia Mayo hadn't left him and he hadn't found Teresa Wright. (Yes, I know Fred Derry didn't want to think about his medals. But once everything else in his life had failed, what would have been left for him?) The only problem is that Mitchell is terribly unsubtle, more or less shouting his way through the part and being a major irritant. The Martins and Kreitzers are almost ciphers, with their conflicts added in because Ritt needed to touch upon certain issues.

All in all, I personally find more not to like in No Down Payment than to praise. Reading the IMDb reviews, however, reveals several posters who seem to think the movie is great simply because it presents suburbia as a dystopia. Perhaps I shouldn't be quite so hard on the movie for its message, seeing as it was made back in the day: Martin Ritt might have been standing athwart history yelling, "Stop!", but he couldn't have been engaging in revisionist history as there was no history to revise at that point. The modern-day reviewers, or all those more recent movies looking back at the 1950s and 1960s, on the other hand....

No Down Payment has, as far as I know, not been released to DVD.

The Explosive Generation, now on DVD

I've twice given brief mention to the 1961 movie The Explosive Generation, starring William Shatner. The last time was on Shatner's 80th birtdhay back in March 2011. I didn't realize then that just a week later, it was going to get a MOD DVD release. It's also airing again on TCM, overnight tonight or early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

Shatner plays Peter Gifford, a high school teacher teaching seniors a class about life skills: what the students are going to do after high school, since college wasn't so common back in those days; and how to make ones way in life. The students start asking him questions about... relationships, with the obvious implication that they want to know about the sex part of the relationship. Or, at least, how far is too far. Even though these are hormone-filled teenagers, they're not asking the sort of questions one would have asked of Dr. Ruth Westheimer a generation later. Shatner figures the best thing to do is to let them ask their questions in the form of anonymous essays.

The parents find out, and are understably unhappy, since they get the impression that their children are going farther than they should, and that Gifford might be encouraging it. So, they start a campaign to get Gifford suspended. The students, meanwhile, like Gifford and feel they can trust him. So when their parents try to get rid of Gifford, they rebel.

It's all very early-1960s stuff. What we think of as the rebellious, upheaval-filled 1960s, is I think really more down to the years after President Kennedy's assassination. So everything here is presented in a fairly tame way. Shatner, for his part, is more than good enough; he was really a capable actor before Star Trek came along. The kids are OK, although their rebellion is portrayed in a rather unrealistic way. The Explosive Generation isn't great by any standard, but it is an interesting time capsule.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mel Brooks salute

Mel Brooks was honored last month by the AFI; I don't really follow those things. At any rate, TCM is following the AFI's lead and honoring Brooks with an entire night on the TCM schedule, althoguh it's only three movies. The rest of it is non-movie programming. That starts at 8:00 PM with the AFI tribute, which was recorded for TV and will be getting a repeat airing as well, at 12:30 AM. If TCM was showing a three-hour movie, having only one film between the two airings of the AFI tribute wouldn't be so bad. But, the one movie is The Twelve Chairs at 9:30, which only runs 94 minutes. In between is a re-airing of the Carson on TCM interview and a documentary on the "2000 Year-Old Man" routine. To be fair, though, the Carson on TCM piece is the sort of thing I would expect to show up as a time-filler the way the vintage one-reelers are.

The other two feature films are Young Frankenstein at 2:00 AM and The Producers at 4:00 AM, which will be followed by an interview Brooks did on the Dick Cavett Show. The Cavett interviews were the length of the entire program and not individual segments as on Carson, so it's a different type of interview.

I suppose part of the reason for there being so few Brooks movies on TCM tonight is that he did a lot of his stuff at Fox. TCM has been having more success at getting movies from Fox to show on TCM, which is a nice thing. Tomorrow night, for example, they've got The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on which, like Young Frankenstein has been in heavy rotation on FMC in the past. TCM seems to be having more luck with Fox than with Universal, but not as much as with Columbia.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gloria DeHaven turns 88

July 23 marks the 88th birthdy of actress Gloria DeHaven, who did some fine movie work in the 1940s, before going to TV and doing steady guest work for much of the rest of her career. One of her very first movies was as a teenage friend of Joan Crawford's daughter in Susan and God, followed by one of Lionel Barrymore's granddaughters in The Penalty, a movie which really deserves a fuller posting if only it were on DVD.

But MGM wanted DeHaven to be a musical star, casting her in several musicals in the 1940s and early 1950s, although one of the only ones in which she was actually the female lead would be Summer Holiday, the musical remake of Ah, Wilderness!. In Summer Holiday, she plays the girl opposite Mickey Rooney, so you could argue even here she wasn't really the star. I can understand why Gloria might have wanted to try TV if her movie career wasn't really going anywhere.

DeHaven's final film was 1997's Out to Sea, a gentle little comedy where she plays an older woman on a cruise who become the love interest of Jack Lemmon.

There's a "Word of Mouth" piece that appears on TCM in which DeHaven talks about washing her hair at MGM, and getting helped by Marlene Dietrich, who was making Kismet at the time; that help involved Dietrich pushing DeHaven's face down into the bowl of water, with DeHaven having no idea who was doing the pushing. DeHaven probably would have been making Step Lively at the time, as she isn't in Kismet. I haven't been able to find that "Word of Mouth" segment either in the TCM Media Room, or on Youtube, however.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

The last of the interviewees in this week's lineup of Carson on TCM is Fred Astaire, in an interview from 1973. TCM will then be spending the rest of the evening with films that Astaire made in the 1930s with Ginger Rogers, the two being such a famous screen team. The night ends with what was their last movie for ten years, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, at 5:00 AM Tuesday.

The movie is a biopic about the Castles, with Astaire playing Vernon and Rogers playing Irene. (The real-life Castles, not Astaire and Rogers, are pictured at left.) Vernon was a British-born comic who by 1910 was working as a second-rate vaudeville comic doing the tourig thing. His travels take him not to the big cities, but to smaller places like New Rochelle, NY, which is where he meets Irene, the daughter of a middle-class doctor. Things click between them, and eventually Vernon winds up back at Irene and her familiy's house, which is where she shows off her talent, which is a raw, untrained dance number. Vernon sees that Irene's got talent, and since the two love each other, they wind up getting married and trying to make it in the clubs as a couple doing their dance routine.

This eventually takes them to Paris, where they believe they've got a gig lined up at one of the famous nightclubs, although they're wrong; the manager wanted to see Vernon's comedy number. However, English agent Maggie Sutton (Edna Mae Oliver) is able to get them a chance at another of the nightclubs. This chance proves successful, as their dance, the Castle Walk, takes Paris by storm, with the Castles in demand everywhere, and women wanting to look just like Irene. (In real life, Irene Castle was a famous brunette and had her hair famously short; in the movie, Ginger Rogers keeps her blonde hair and keeps it long, which is one of the big departures from real life.) The two continue their fame and career together until 1914, which, if you know your history, you'll know is when World War I began.

I mentioned at the beginning that Vernon was British-born, so once World War I came he decided to support the British war effort, doing so by becoming a distinguished pilot. If William Wellman had directed a movie like this, he could have told you that World War I air action was dangerous, but amazingly Vernon Castle survived all of the dogfights, even winning a Croix de Guerre along the way. He was sent back to North America to become a flight instructor for the Americans, who had recently entered the war. Ironically, being out of the theater of action ended up being less safe, as Vernon was killed in a training accident. (I don't think I'm giving too much away, since this is a biopic.)

I'm generally not a big fan of musicals. The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is different, though, because it's not so much a musical as it is a biopic about people who danced. As such, the dance numbers fit well into a realistic plot; one of the problems with other Astaire/Rogers movies is that the plots seem contrived at best, serving as a hook upon which to hang the dance numbers. Astaire and Rogers are both quite good; Oliver is enjoyable; and Lew Fields, who in real life was the star of the vaudeville review that led to Vernon's meeting Irene. Walter Brennan plays the Castles' servant, which is another departure from real life, as the Castles has a black servant. Irene Castle was a technical advisor for the film, and apparently didn't like some of the difference Hollywood made, such as the casting of Brennan or Rogers' keeping her natural hair. But for those of us today who don't know every little detail about the Castles, this isn't such a big deal. The main facts all seem to be more or less correct, and the ending scene is inentive.

TCM lists The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle as being part of an Astaire/Rogers DVD box set. I'm not certain if it's available individually.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mrs. Soffel

An interesting movie from the early 1980s that I didn't know much about until the last time it showed up on TCM is Mrs. Soffel. It's getting another airing today at 5:45 PM, and is certainly worth a viewing.

The titular Mrs. Kate Soffel is played by Diane Keaton. She's the wife in an upper-middle-class family in turn of the last century Pittsburgh, which is where her husband Peter (Edward Herrmann) is the warden of the penitentiary. Life for the Kate Soffels of the world circa 1900 was fairly constricting, as married women weren't expected to go out into the working world. At least, not the portion of the working world that involves making money; as I understand it upper-class wives had a lot to do with the charity sector. Mrs. Soffel's fulfilling work, such as it is, is to go go into the prison where her husband is warden and read the bible to the condemnded prisoners on the belief that faith in Jesus will set them free spiritually, if not on this world.

It's here that she meets the Biddle brothers, Ed (Mel Gibson) and Jack (Matthew Modine). The Biddles are unlike anyhting Kate has ever seen before, which makes me wonder how long Kate was doing her prison ministry. Ed is one of those charismatic evil types, and he doesn't believe in God; at least, certainly not God as envisioned by the Mrs. Soffels of the world. I mean, what sort of God would create a world like the one that led to the Biddles winding up on death row? They, of course, profess their innocence, and to be fair, the movie never really gets into whether the two are guilty of the crime for which they're in prison. Ed, meanwhile, takes a liking to Mrs. Soffel's physical presence, which is also understandable since it would have been a while since he had conjugal relations.

Eventually, Mrs. Soffel snaps. Ed suggests a plan for him and Jack to escape, but it's one that's going to require her help by smuggling in a hacksaw blade. Amazingly, she eventually agrees, and brings a blad into prison under all those pantaloons that made up women's outfits back in those days. All that restrictive clothing is apparently good for something. Ed and Jack eventually carry out their escape plan over the Christmas holidays, while Mr. Soffel is at the prison and the Soffel kids are away visiting relatives. They get out of prison and stop by the Soffel house on the prison grounds, where Ed asks Mrs. Soffel (who's home alone) to come with her....

Mrs. Soffel is an interesting story that's based on real events. As I mentioned years ago back when I discussed Girl With a Pearl Earring, one of the good things that came with the demise of the studio system was that period movies look much better, no longer being bound to the studio back lots. That's certainly true here, with a vintage prison building being used, as well as location shooting in Wisconsin and Ontario for the escape scenes. I have a feeling that Gibson and Modine are much too glamorous-looking to be prisoners from around 1900. I did volunteer work in a prison back when I was in college, and those prisoners looked nothing like Hollywood's portrayal of prisoners. But that's a minor flaw in an otherwise fairly good film.

Mrs. Soffel is, I think, out-of-print on DVD. It's another of those films where you can find it on Amazon, but not at the TCM shop.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Coming up on TCM Underground tonight is one of those sci-fi/horror movies that were a staple of the late 1950s and early 1960s: B-levet best, and often so bad that they're actually a hoot to watch because you'll be laughing at how unbelievably bad the stuff is. This one is The Brain That Wouldn't Die, and is airing overnight at 3:15 AM.

Jason Evers plays Dr. Bill Cortner. He's a surgeon who, in his spare time, is working on ways to transplant human organs. Transplantation was in its infancy at the time the movie was made, with there never having been a heart transplant in real life. As such, there are people who would have had problem with such medical experimentation. Especially if it's not being done officially, the way that Dr. Bill is circumventing protocol. Among the people who aren't so sure of Bill's work is his girlfriend Jan (Virginia Leith). And if she isn't a fan of it now, she's really about to start developing problems with it!

Bill and Jan go off to the country for a weekend, but that weekend is cut short (no pun intended) when Bill crashes the car, and the accident results in Jan being decapitated! What's a good doctor to do? Well, one who's engaged in medical experimentation is certainly going to experiment. Dr. Bill comes up with a way to keep the decapitated head alive, which he does in a laboratory pan in his secret basement laboratory. Bill vows that he's going to find a body onto which he can put Jan's head.

Jan, unsurprisingly, isn't particularly happy with this. Where she had qualms about her boyfriend's medical experimentation before, now she's downright snarky about it. But then, if you were reduced to being stuck in a big metal pan in a basement laboratory, you'd probably be mighty irritated too. It doesn't help that Jan is surrounded by Bill's other experiments, which includes on in a locked closet. Jan also seeming starts to develop a bit of an aptitude for telepathy.

Meanwhile, Bill is looking for the body to which he'll attach Jan's head. The only thing is, he's not about to go looking through the morgues. Bill is much too pervy for that. Instead, he looks at models and the women working in "gentlemen's clubs" as we'd euphemistically call them today, trying to find a body that's sufficiently hot to go with Jan's head. It goes without saying that Jan isn't going to like it when she finds out what's really going on.

If the plot sounds ludicrous, well, it is. That fits in with the poor acting and the low-budget production values, however. Everything in The Brain That Wouldn't Die suggests that it should be a terrible movie. And yet, it's a lot of fun, in no small part because it's so terrible. As with many low-budget horror films, this one got a cheapie DVD release along the way.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keep Jerry Lewis a quarter million miles away!

I've mentioned before that the Fox Movie Channel's programming philosophy seems to be one of taking movies out of the vault, running them a whole bunch of times over a period of a few months, and then putting them back into the vault. One that's in the middle of this process, having already recieved a half-dozen or more airinga over the past couple months is Way... Way Out. It's scheduled for two more showings over the weekend, at 11:40 AM Saturday (July 20) and 4:00 AM Sunday.

The scene is the US space agency, at some indeterminate point in the future. At least, the future as it would have been seen through mid-1960s eyes; the date would probably be in the past compared to 2013. The USA and the Soviet Union (remember them?) each have a base on the moon not too far from each other so that everybody can spy on everybody else. The Americans haven't been quite so successful with their lunar base, however. The problem is, they've been sending up a bunch of male astronauts, not having any female astronauts. The men wind up sex-starved. (With the film having been made in the 1960s, using a bunch of gay astronauts was not a realistic proposition.) In real life the Soviets had already launched Valentina Tereshkova into space, and they wanted the outward appearance of being advanced on sexual equality issues. So the Soviets don't seem to care whether a lone man and woman out in space decide to satisfy their physical urges by having sex.

The Americans, for their part, aren't so comfortable with such things. The space agency brass decide that, if they're going to send a man and a woman to the moon, the two had better be married so that it'll be OK when they have sex. Of course, there are problems with that. The astronaut next in line to go to the moon, Pete Mattemore (Jerry Lewis) isn't married. And, apparently, either none of the astronauts are married, or they're all deemed unsuitable for a long-term stay on the moon with their wives. (To be fair, having to train a wife for a space mission would be difficult, and if they have children, there's another big complication; see Capricorn One.) So what's a space agency to do? How about finding a wife for Pete, and sending the two of them up to the moon. With that, Pete gets put into a marriage of convenience with Eileen Forbes (Connie Stevens) and the two are put on a lunar rocket.

Once on the moon, Pete and Eileen meet their Soviet counterparts, Igor (Dick Shawn) and Anna (Anita Ekberg), and in the interests of comity and friendship between nations try to develop a good relationship with their colleagues. But there are more complications. One is that there's still a cold war back on earth, so the Americans and Soviets are officially not supposed to be too friendly with each other, as they're ostensibly trying to secure the moon for their own purposes. (The movie was made before the Outer Space Treaty was ratified, and even if it had been made after, I don't think you could expect the filmmakers to know about a treaty like that.) The other complication is that the Soviet cosmonauts have some rather interesting views on human relationships....

Way... Way Out is a Jerry Lewis movie, so you should know from the start at least part of what to expect. That having been said, he's nowhere near as good as in The Bellboy, but not nearly as irritating as in some of his other comedies. Everything else is stuck firmly in the 1960s, but since it's a film actually made in the 1960s, that's to be expected. I'm not much of a fan of current-day looks back at that turbulent time, but movies actually made then can be quite entertaining. Way... Way Out does entertain at times, and will probably entertain more if you're a Jerry Lewis fan.

I'm not sure whether it's available on DVD here in the States. Amazon lists a streaming video option and an imported DVD from Europe.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Repeats I should have mentioned

TCM's morning and afternoon schedule for tomorrow (July 19) is baseball movies, which I suppose is appropriate considering that Major League Baseball's All-Star break will be ending. Anyhow, among the movies airing is Death on the Diamond at 9:15 AM, which I last mentioned back in December 2010 when Mickey Rooney was Star of the Month. It still doesn't seem to be available on DVD, which is why I should have mentioned it earlier in the day.

Also airing tomorrow, although it's not baseball related, is Cruise of the Zaca, which I mentioned a week and a half ago. I hadn't seen it then, so my description is partly wrong. It wasn't filmed in the South Pacific, but along the coast of Mexico and in the Caribbean. Still, it's worth a watch if you missed it last time. It's coming up at about 5:40 PM, just after the 1951 version of Angels in the Outfield, which is on at 4:00 PM.

TCM Guest Programmer: Frank Rich

This month's TCM Guest Programmer, New York Times columnist Frank Rich, sits down with Robert Osborne to present four of his favorite films, and that session is airing tonight. (So, for once, Robert Osborne is back on Thursday.) Anyhow, Rich's four selections are:

The Palm Beach Story at 8:00 PM;
The 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate at 9:45 PM;
Jean Renoir's 1939 movie Rules of the Game at midnight; and
Petulia at 2:00 AM.

I have to admit that I've never seen Rules of the Game before. I'll also be curious to see to what extent Rich waxes political in his introduction to The Manchurian Candidate.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Because everybody knows the tax code is oh-so-funny

TCM is running a night of Tony Randall movies this evening, including The Mating Game at 11:45 PM.

Although TCM is putting the spotlight on Randall, in this movie Paul Douglas starts off the action. He's "Pop" Larkin, a farmer in rural Maryland, who appears to be fairly successful, although he's done it in an unorthodox way" he barters for everything he needs. This, combined with his family's generally unorthodox nature, ticks off neighboring farmer Wendell Burnshaw (Philip Ober). What's an irritated neighbor to do? Why, use the government to bully people you dislike into doing things you want! It's the American way! Burnshaw and his lawyer go to the local IRS office, where the manager promises to put an agent on the case: after all, the IRS, in the cupidity, see anything that might possibly be a pile of money, and think some of it should be theirs. They discover that Larkin hasn't filed a tax return in 20 years. Shades of Lionel Barrymore in You Can't Take It With You.

With that, the IRS sends top agent Lorenzo Charlton (finally we get to Tony Randall) out on the case. He gets to the farm, where he finds that it's not only Pop who's a bit "different"; it's the entire family: Ma (Una Merkel), adult daughter Mariette (Debbie Reynolds), and the younger kids all seem to like the lifestyle the practice on this family farm. Lorenzo asks to see the books, but of course there aren't any books, wince Pop barters for everything. He doesn't need to keep track of money, because if he's got a couple hundred bucks cash, that's a lot. Lorenzo continues the audit, figuring that the farmers must have made profits on their trades: remember that he's from the government and they think everybody owes them. But, as all this is going on, Lorenzo and Mariette are beginning to find that they like each other.

This, needless to say, complicates matters. The Larkins are trying to figure out a way to waylay Lorenzo and keep him from finishing the audit; he, for his part, has bosses who are more than happy to do the audit themselves if Lorenzo is for any reason unable or unwilling to do it. And they're going to be even nastier about it than Lorenzo could ever be. You don't get to a high position in the IRS by being nice to the people from whom you're extracting money! Still, when the boss comes, he winds up discovering something that at least enables the movie to have a happy ending. (Thankfully, it's foreshadowed enough that the ending isn't a deus ex machina ending.)

The Mating Game is intended as good, clean, fun; a fairly light romantic comedy between Randall and Reynolds. There's so much that could be used to make the ideological points I've mentioned earlier in the movie, but of course the movie doesn't have any real intention of going there. The movie doesn't even have as much to say as You Can't Take It With You on such matters. Not that this is a bad thing; even if you have unorthodox views like I do about the state as bully, trying to shoehorn them into a movie like The Mating Game would only make the film heavy-handed.

All of the main players here give nice performances. Nothing special, nothing earth-shattering; just a nice, entertaining, above-average picture. And that's a good thing. The Mating Game has also received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

That guy from Glee I'd never heard of

I'm sure we all heard or read about Cory Monteith, the actor from the TV show Glee who was found dead, apparently from a drug overdose. I didn't post anything about it, in part because I don't watch Glee and wouldn't have been able to tell you anything about the deceased. That, and he didn't have anything to do with classic movies as far as I know.

I did try to think of any movies from the studio era with school glee clubs, since it might have bene more interesting blogging about that than anything mentioning what TCM's prime time programming theme was. But it wasn't until this morning that I remembered there was a short about one of the famous boys' choirs from the studio era: Forty Boys and a Song. It turns out the short is also available on Youtube:

Thoughts on Carson

TCM showed the third of five nights of Carson on TCM last night. I haven't gone into the interviews too much, since there's usually other stuff worth blogging about. But tonight's Paul Henried lineup is a couple of movies I haven't seen; one (Joan of Paris) that sounds as though I might have seen it, or I might be mixing it up with something else; and one (Never So Few) that's a bit of a dud. So why not mention a few things about Carson on TCM now?

The first thing I noticed is that the graphics package changed, which is neither here nor there, except that I found it somewhat odd. Then Shelley Winters came on, which was only partly about her, and partly about the fireworks that occurred between her and Oliver Reed. Oh my. One thing I found interesting was Winters' comments about the difference in perception between a man Carson's age dating a young woman, and a woman of Winters' age dating a younger man. This was only about eight years after The Graduate, and before the idea of "cougars" became a thing, so it shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose. Also, when Winters discusses her age with Carson, she was in fact five years older than him, although she tries to imply she was a few years younger. Carson also briefly mentioned A Double Life, which I didn't realize she had done. It was made at Universal, which would explain why it never shows up on TCM, but Universal did I think license Olive Films to make a DVD release last year.

Ronald Reagan unsurprisingly only talked about political events. A bit of a shame, but this being two months after he had left the California governor's mansion, not a surprise. At least he wasn't irritating like Robin Williams, who seemed like he was trying to do a standup routine instead of an interview. Jonathan Winters told stories in much the same way that George Burns did when his interview aired a few weeks ago, but I think I prefer Burns' presentation style.

Michael Caine was a more conventional interview, since he was ostensibly there to promote Educating Rita. One thing I enjoyed was Caine's talking about insecurity in Hollywood, since it reminded me of the piece he did on Cary Grant the last time Grant was TCM Star of the Month. Caine tells the story of him and Grant being out in Hollywood, and some tourist coming up to the two of them and recognizing him, but not Grant. When the tourist says somethig about Cain being the first star she met, and how you never see stars out and about in Hollywood. "No, you never do", Grant replies, not letting on who he was. Caine was also asked about his worst picture, and readint the reviews, I can see why Caine didn't particlularly care for Ashanti.

All in all, I've been enjoying the pieces, which as I understand it are eventually going to show up between movies. Unsurprisingly, the same people who shriek that TCM as we know it is being killed off, and no facts the sycophants can present will ever get them to change their mind, are in a tizzy about Carson on TCM. That, I suppose, is all the more reason to enjoy the presence of these interviews.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bryan Forbes tribute

Director Bryan Forbes died back in May. TCM is finally running a tribute to him tonight, with four of his films.

This being a Monday in July, the prime time schedule kicks off with another night of Carson on TCM. The last of the five interviewees is Michael Caine, who is one of the stars of the first feature film, The Wrong Box, at 9:00 PM. John Mills and Ralph Richardson play brothers who are also the last surviving members of a tontine and who don't like each other. Complicating matters is that Mills' grandson (Caine) falls in love with Richardson's niece (Nanette Newman).

That's followed at 11:00 PM by Seance on a Wet Afternoon, in which failed psychic (in the business sense; psychics are of course a scam) Kim Stanley gets meek husband Richard Attenborough to kidnap a wealthy couple's boy so that she can use her psychic powers to "find" the boy.

I don't think I'd ever even heard of The Whisperers before, but it's one that sounds interesting. It comes on at 1:00 AM.

Finally, at 3:00 AM is The L-Shaped Room, which I thought I had done a full-length blog post on, but apparently not.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vigilantes for Kids

TCM's selection for Essentials, Jr. this week is The Magnificent Seven, at 8:00 PM. I must say I'm pleased to see them trying to think outside the box to come up with good movies for the whole family. I would have thought that some people might object on the grounds of the violent gunfights in the movie, although if I were going to make a complaint about its being in Essentials, Jr., the complaint would be that the movie runs just over two hours. For the kids, if I were trying to get them interested in Westerns, I think I'd start with something rather shorter, like High Noon, which has obvious themes of good and bad for the kids, and is also a good 40 minutes shorter. Then again, I think High Noon has already been used in a previous season of Essentials, Jr.

The rest of the evening is an excuse to program movies with "Seven" in the title. That ends with this week's TCM Import, The Seven Samurai at 2:15 AM, which is of course the original version of The Magnificent Seven. That one is even less worthy of ever being an Essentials, Jr. selection, what with the subtitles that kids would have to read for three and a half hours.

In between are Seven Angry Men, which is not about a smallish jury, but another telling of John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry; that's on at 10:15 PM. There are two shortish features for Silent Sunday Nights: Seven Years Bad Luck at midnight, which is about the consequences of breaking a mirror; and Seven Chances, in which Buster Keaton tries to find a bride to earn an inheritance.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Finnish cinema

I have to admit that I know fairly little about Finnish cinema. As I understand it, Finland was used a couple of times as a stand-in for the Soviet Union, back in the days when Western film crews obviously couldn't get into the USSR. Helsinki stood in for Moscow in Gorky Park, while the cold Finnish winter jserved as a setting for the Soviet winter scenes in Doctor Zhivago. But of course these aren't actually Finnish movies. So it was mildly interesting to see an article about the AFI running a series of crime movies based on writers from the entire Nordic region.

Several of the movies have already aired, but the series is running through September, at the AFI Silver Theater just outside Washington DC. Which, of course, means that I'm not going to be able to get down there for the movies. Most of the movies are actually from the Nordic countries, although some are from elsewhere, and only based on books written by Nordic authors, such as The Laughing Policeman.

I see that the Silver Theater is also in the middle of a series on Alfred Hitchcock's silent movies.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Bride Wore Black

One of the François Truffaut movies that I was really excited to see on the TCM schedule for this month's Friday Night Spotlight is The Bride Wore Black. It's airing tonight at 8:00 PM, and is well worth a viewing.

The Bride Wore Black is a movie that is a bit difficult to describe in detail without giving away serious plot spoilers, so more than other posts there's going to be a spoiler, but not one that gives away the ending. Jeanne Moreau stars as Julie Kohler. We see her at the beginning in what is presumably her bedroom in her apartment telling her mother that she doesn't want to go on living and intends to commit suicide. Now, Truffaut could have had her commit suicide and then had the rest of the movie be a flashback as to what she did that caused her to want to end her life. But Truffaut here opts for a more linear story without your typical overused plot device. Julie doesn't kill herself, but goes to one of the seaside cities in the south of France, where she makes her way to a man's apartment. Nobody there knows her, but she invites herself to a party the man is holding. During that party, she talks to him out on the balcony, and "innocently" drops a scarf on the awning pole. When the man tries to fetch the scarf for her, she pushes him to his death!

Cut to one of those stereotypical French small towns. Julie is looking for another man, and as you might be able to guess, she intends to kill this guy too. It doesn't take her too long for her to figure out a way into the guy's apartment, and when she does, she spikes his wine with poison, which he duly drinks, dropping dead as a result. She, of course, doesn't drink the wine; she's got more people to murder.

Why is she murdering strangers? It's only after the second murder that we're let in on that bit of the mystery, which you'll have to highlight if you want to see: Julie was to be married, but a group of five men with a gun in a bell-tower accidentally shot the gun, and that gun killed Julie's husband as he was exiting the church after the wedding. Julie plans to kill all five of those men, so there are three more to come. Now, there's a bit of a plot hole in that the first two men are supposed to be strangers to Julie. How could she have discovered their identities, especially based on what happened? It's been quite a while since I've seen the movie, but you'd think there would be more police involvement here. But, that's a minor flaw. The Bride Wore Black is really about the journey, and whether Julie is going to reach the planned end-point of that journey successfully.

Truffaut wrote the screenplay to The Bride Wore Black from a story by Cornel Woolrich, whom we last saw in Eddie Muller's Friday Night Spotlight series on noir writers last month. Also, the movie was conceived as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock; there certainly is suspense -- especially once we learn Julie's motive -- as to whether she'll succeed. And there is also some very dark humor with a couple of plot twists. If there's any problem with the movie, it's that there's a victim whose sequence goes on a bit too long. Overall, though, the film is well made, and gripping right up until the finale.

I'm not certain if The Bride Wore Black is officially available on DVD here in North America. It's a movie that really needs an official DVD release.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ray Harryhausen tribute

Ray Harryhausen died back in May, and TCM is finally getting around to devoting a night of programming to his work in memoriam. They will be showing five of his movies:

Jason and the Argonauts at 8:00 PM;
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at 10:00 PM;
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger at midnight;
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers at 2:00 AM; and
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms at 3:30 AM.

Of these, I'd like to blog about Earth vs. the Flying Saucers today. Hugh Marlowe stars as Dr. Russell Marvin, a rocket scientist with the Department of Defense (this was in the days before NASA) who is married to his lovely wife Carol (Joan Taylor). The two are driving back to the desert military base where the good doctor does his research, with him dictating notes into one of those old reel-to-reel tape recorders. All of a sudden, a flying saucer comes up on them, hovers over them for a bit, and then leaves! They both clearly saw it, but both also realize that nobody is going to believe them.

Anyhow, Dr. Marvin's satellite launches have more or less been a failure, but they're trying another one. This one is an even bigger disaster: while Russell and Carol are in the underground bunker following the launch, another flying saucer lands at the military base, some space men step out, and they proceed to destroy everything above ground! While trying to record evidence of this, the doctor discovers the aliens had left a message for him on that reel-to-reel tape.

So it's off to Washington to get advice from his bosses at the Pentagon on what to do. The brass, unsurprisingly, dither over what to do, not knowing whether the UFOs are real. Oh, they're real, of course. Dr. Marvin is eventually summoned to meet the aliens, who give him an ultimatum: you're not ready to handle spaceflight, so stop trying to get into space or we'll destroy you. The good earthlings don't want to be destroyed, so they set about trying to find a weapon to deal with the advanced civilization in the two months the aliens have given them to come to terms. Needless to say, the humans don't come to terms, and the aliens attack....

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a movie that's full of plot holes. Surely the space aliens know there's no way the people of Earth can actually threaten anybody in outer space for centuries, even at the rate at which they were trying to explore space in this movie. If the aliens had really been smart, they would have created more bureaucracy for Earth to stunt our development into space. But, this is really the sort of movie you watch for the special effects. And they're quite good, or at least, very much fitting with the plot. I suppose it helps that these flying saucers are visually rather more simple than any of the creatures like the Ymir or the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, and so easier to make them look like they were realistically moving. The scenes of the attack on Washington DC are particualy worth watching. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is an exemplar of 1950s scifi B movies, but a very entertaining one.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bob's Picks

Most months, TCM host Robert Osborne selects four movies that he thinks deserve another viewing. Tonight happens to be that night for July, and Bob has selected a couple of movies that I've already blogged about

Robert's first selection is The Reckless Moment, at 8:00 PM; I blogged about this movie last July.
That's followed by Trade Winds at 9:30 PM, which I don't think I've seen before. Fredric March chases Joan Bennett around the world since she's a murder suspect; apparently there's a lot of location shooting used for establishing shots.
Charles Boyer didn't make Algiers (11:15 PM) in Algiers, in which he plays the wanted French criminal Pepe Le Moko, who can only be arrested if he's lured out of the Casbah. Can gorgeous Hedy Lamarr get him to leave?
Comrade X is the only one of the four in print on DVD, courtesy of the Warner Archive. It's concluding Robert's night at 1:00 AM

After Comrade X is yet another version of the Madame X story, this time the 1937 version starring Gladys George. This one is also available from the Warner Archive, as part of a two-movie set with the 1929 version. I can't recall whether I've seen the 1937 version before, since there are so many similar movies.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Technically, it's not the woman who's obsessed here

Tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, FMC is showing the Susan Hayward movie Woman Obsessed. As we'll see later, Hayward isn't the character who has the obsession in this movie.

Hayward stars as Mary Sharron, a farmer's wife somewhere in Canada at a time that's never quite made specific. Based on the scenery, I'd guess the foothills of Alberta, although other commenters say the movie is supposed to be set in Saskatchewan. As for the time, the Sharron farm has a log cabin, without electricity, while the town doctor drives a jeep, which would have to set the movie later than the early 1940s. Although a movie like Wild River showed us that even a less sparsely-populated country like the US didn't achieve rural electrification until the late 1930s, I find it hard to believe that a farm like the Sharrons' wouldn't have any mechanization whatsoever. After all, the dirt-poor Joads in The Grapes of Wrath were able to get a truck. Anyhow, Mary lives happily with her son Robbie (Dennis Holmes), and a husband who isn't seen much because he gets killed early on in the movie.

Now that she's a widow, Mary is unable to run the farm all by herself, and Robbie isn't old enough to do it. So, Mary needs a farm-hand, which she obtains in the form of Fred Carter (Stephen Boyd). Fred had been working in one of the nearby logging-camps, and apparently earned a reputation in town, as his presence at the Sharron farm causes some gossiping amongst the townfolk who are prone to such gossip. That, and he's quite the hot-head. This, even though the relationship between Mary and Fred is strictly professional, with Fred living in a room set up out in the barn. Sure enough, though, Fred and Mary discover that they've got human desires, as they fall for each other and decide to get married -- at least, if Robbie is OK with it. He assents, and Fred and Mary get married and live happily ever after....

Or do they? Of course, you know that a movie like this isn't going to end at the marriage, as there wouldn't have been enough drama. The tension rises already on the wedding day, when, at the reception, Fred kisses Mary. This really makes Robbie angry. He reacts not in your typical eight-year-old boy way of, "Eewww, kissing is gross", but instead with a "How could you possibly kiss my mother" way. Clearly, he's got something against his step-father.

That feeling, it turns out, is mutual. When one of the predatory animals out in the wild goes on a rampage and injures a deer, Fred has to shoot and dress it to keep the predators away. Robbie is sickened by the sight of blood, and Fred hates Robbie for that, as it makes Robbie a coward and not a real man. Fred's hatred toward Robbie, and especially his ill-treament of his stepson, gets Mary angry, and their relationship starts to go sour. This is a problem considering that Mary has beome pregnant by Fred....

Woman Obsessed has a lot of melodrama, and sometimes that melodrama can go over the top. And, to be fair to Hayward, she's not the one with an obsession in this movie. It's clearly Boyd's character Fred who is obsessed with what he perceives as the lack of manhood in Robbie; in fact, the issue goes all the way back to an incident in Fred's own childhood. To be fair, though, it's difficult to imagine somebody who grew up on a farm, somebody who would have seen the death of animals up close, getting that uncomfortable at the sight of the deer having to be dressed. Hayward, for her part, rides an almost hilarious roller coaster of emotions. And the movie has a happy ending that seems bizarrely tacked on. Despite all this, Hayward isn't bad, and Boyd is good enough. Rounding out the cast are Theodore Bikel as the doctor, and Barbara Nichols as the gossipy owner of the general store.

Woman Obsessed has some script flaws, but there are also visual flaws. The movie seems at times stitched together, having beem made from a mélange of location shooting, soundstage shooting, and archival footage of wildlife. All of these have their own visual look, and the change from one look to another can be quite jarring at times. Also, when FMC last aired this, it seemed mostly panned-and-scanned from the Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 down to 16:9, something very obvoius in the credits. A couple of scenes, however, were panned-and-scanned down to the 4:3 old-style TV ratio.

Woman Obsessed, as far as I know, is not available on DVD.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Forutne Cookie

I have apparently never done a full-length post on The Fortune Cookie before. That was certainly surprising to me, but I suppose that not having done so before means that at least I've got something to blog about today. The Fortune Cookie is airing tonight at 11:15 PM on TCM.

Jack Lemmon stars as Harry Hinkle, who works as a TV cameraman for CBS covering the NFL. While working behind a camera as part of the crew at a Cleveland Browns game, the play comes in Harry's direction, and like any good professional camera operator, Harry keeps filming away, even though the play comes so much in Harry's direction that he gets bowled over by the player with the football, Luther Jackson (Ron Rich). (I'm not certain how true-to-life this is; I'd have thought even in the 1960s TV cameramen were further away from the field and on stationary platforms. But that's a minor quibble.) Harry is taken to the hospital for observation even though he doesn't think he's too badly injured, suffering nothing more than a minor concussion. Those of course were the days when head injuries weren't considered as severe as they are now.

That trip to the hospital is fortuitous, as it's about to change Harry's wife. Among the people who find out about Harry's incident are his ex-wife Sandy (Judi West), and his brother-in-law Willie Gingrich (Walter Mathau). Harry knows he's going to be OK, but Willie has other ideas. Willie is a lawyer, and sees that with this accident, he can sue everybody in sight for big bucks. But those big bucks are really only going to come if Harry is actually seriously injured, which of course he isn't. If only he could appear to be seriously injured, however.... That, of course, involves a lie, and Harry and Willie both know it's a lie, but Wilie doesn't care, and Harry is weak-willed enough that he eventually acquiesces and goes along with Willie's plan. Sandy sees the dollar signs as well, and she comes back into Harry's life, even though she was the one who had left him in the first place. Harry still has feelings for her, and if this bogus injury can bring her back, well, perhaps that's a benefit.

There are, unsurprisingly, people affected negatively by Harry's "injury". First off are all the people who are going to have to pay out those big bucks: Willie plans to sue the NFL, CBS, and the people who own the stadium. They don't want to, and suspect that there might be something untoward going on, so they hire a pair of private investigators to stalk Harry and catch him on film when he shows, as he's inevitably going to, that he's not really injured. But there's also Luther, who feels a terrible sense of remorse over how he "injured" Harry. Luther develops a friendship with Harry, although his play on the field is also deteriorating....

The Fortune Cookie is a comedy, but it's a fairly dark one, as director Billy Wilder is using the movie as a bitter satire on the state of American lawyers. Matthau, unsurprisingly, is excellent as the sleazy lawyer, and indeed won an Oscar for it. Lemmon is good too, as the man dragged kicking and screaming into this crazy scheme, much the way he was by Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot (which is airing just before, at 9:00 PM). Ron Rich is believable in his decidedly supporting role. If anything, all of the cast is aided by a wonderful script, but you'd probably expect that from a script by Wilder and frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.

The Fortune Cookie is available on DVD. There are some standalone releases available on Amazon, althoguh I'm not certain if they're still in print. TCM, for its part, is offering the movie as part of a box set.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fred Sears, 1913-1957

Today marks the centenary of director Fred Sears, who was a prolific director from 1950 up until his untimely deat from a heart attack at the age of 44. Sears was so prolific mostly because he was making B movies, and had an ability of making them quickly and not going over on the budget. What producer wouldn't like such qualities in a director?

In Sears' eight year directorial career, he made over 40 movies, most of which I know little about, to be honest. But there are some that I've mentioned in this blog before. Teenage Crime Wave deals with a good girl who gets mixed up with the wrong people, gets sent to juvenile detention, gets broken out of detention by the bad girl's boyfriend, and then more or less winds up hostage as the bad girl and her boyfriend try to escape.

I blogged about Rock Around the Clock back in July 2010. Sears not only directed that one, but also Don't Knock the Rock, which I briefly mentioned in the post as being one of the many films in the rock-and-roll genre to be released in the second half of the 1950s. Another music movie that sounds interesting, although I'd never heard of it before, is Calypso Heat Wave. Lower down the credits are Joel Gray, and... Maya Angelou!? Unsurprisingly, it's not on DVD.

Perhaps Sears' best movie is Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, which unsurprisingly involves aliens in flying saucers who come to earth, and when when the earthlings don't do what the aliens want, the alien saucers try to destry Earth. Ray Harryhausen provided the stop-motion effects for this one, which is going to be shoiwng at 2:00 AM on July 12 (overnight between this coming Thursday and Friday) as part of a TCM salute to Harryhausen.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sunday Shorts

Back in June 2012, I blogged about The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres. It's getting another airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 7:37 AM, or just after Rich, Young, and Pretty.

However, there's another short that I haven't blogged about before that shows up on Sunday: Cruise of the Zaca, at 1:39 PM just after Gidget. The Zaca was Errol Flynn's yacht, and he narrates as he takes the yacht to the South Pacific, with a bunch of oceanographers on board, showing us the animals of the ocean in that part of the world. Also showing up in this short are Errol's father (a marine biologist), ex-wife Nora (although this was made before the divorce), and Harold Hill, the archery master from The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

TCM is devoting half a night of movies to playwright Maxwell Anderson. I didn't realize quite how many of Anderson's works have been turned into movies, but there are a lot. Anderson wrote the original stage play Key Largo back in 1939, and the 1948 movie version is this week's TCM Essential at 8:00 PM. Humphrey Bogart plays a man who goes to visit a friend in the Florida Keys, only to find himself stuck in a hostage drama involving gangster Edward G. Robinson. Apparently I haven't done a full-length post on this one before; at any rate, one thing to watch for in this film is a scene with Robinson taking a bath, cigar in hand. The thought of a fifty-something, half-naked Robinson is really quite frightening.

Key Largo is followed at 10:00 PM by the 1952 version of What Price Glory, which was originally a stage play in 1924, and then made into a silent film a few years later. James Cagney and Dan Dailey star as a pair of Marines in World War I who fight each other while they're fighting the war and trying to get the girl (Corinne Calvet). This is a movie that I personally have a problem with, in that Cagney's marine commander is such a martinet at the beginning of the movie that it's difficult to have any sympathy for him; it also makes the movie a bit tough to sit through.

The last of tonight's Anderson movies is The Bad Seed, which I blogged about back in December 2008. It comes on at midnight, which is a bit of a shame, except that it's also a good movie to be a lead-in to TCM Underground.

That having been said, there are several other films from Anderson plays that aren't getting an airing. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was originally a play called Elizabeth the Queen. The final scene from the play also opens up the movie The Guardsman, although the main movie is based on a play by Ferenc Molnar, who himself wrote a lot of stuff that got turned into movies. Also about English royalty are Mary of Scotland and Anne of the Thousand Days.

Anderson also did the adaptations for the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, and 1934's Death Takes a Holiday.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday night spotlight: François Truffaut

This month's spotlight on TCM is the films of French director François Truffaut. There are a couple of films I'm relly looking forward to doing posts on, but those are showing up later this month. This first week in July kicks off with one of Truffaut's better-known films, The 400 Blows, at 8:00 PM. The 400 Blows tells the story of a young French boy whofaced with distant parents who seem to be spending more of their time arguing with each other than caring about the kid, turns to juvenile delinquency. Truffaut himself had a chaotic upbringing, and the fiml is generally considered autobiographical.

I have to admit that I don't know too much about the other Truffaut movies that are airing on TCM tonight. I believe that The 400 Blows is also the only one of tonight's films on print on DVD. There's a "Buy DVD" icon next to Love on the Run (overnight at 2:00 AM), but clicking on that reveals that TCM is selling a Warner Archive DVD of a 1936 MGM comedy starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

American History shorts again

I've briefly made mention of some of the two-reel Technicolor shorts that Warner Bros. made in the late 1930s looking at early American history. Today being July 4, it's a good time for them to come out of the woodwork again, and TCM is airing three of them consecutively, following Ah, Wilderness, which starts at 10:45 PM.

First up, at 12:28 AM, is Give Me Liberty. For those who remember their American history, this line was uttered by Patrick Henry, during a speech to Virginia's House of Burgesses in which he was arguing for an end to British colonial rule. Needless to say, getting to that point wasn't a bed of roses for Henry (played by John Litel), and the troubles he had with the British colonial authorities form the dramatic storyline here.

That's followed at 12:50 AM by The Declaration of Independence. I mentioned it last year, as it unsurprisingly got an airing last July 4. The dramatic plot behind this short involves one of the signatories, who is set to cast the deciding vote in favor of the declaration -- if only he can get to Philadelphia before the British capture him!

Last, and probably most interesting, is Sons of Liberty at 1:08 AM. This short looks at little-known Haym Solomon, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who settled in Philadelphia, and helped the American independence effort by using his personal fortung to finance it. It's a part of the war effort that doesn't get looked at as much, which makes it mildly interesting. More interesting is that we've got Claude Rains, who was already a big enough name not to have to do shorts like this, playing Solomon.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!

Tonight's lineup on TCM is children getting involved in the romantic doings of their now-single parents. I've recommended a couple of the films in the lineup, and haven't seen the others, so I can't really blog about those. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with With Six You Get Eggroll, which was the subject of a September 2008 blog post. It received a DVD release back in 2005, but that release is presumably out of print now due to the limited number of copies available at Amazon and the fact that you can't get it at the TCM Shop.

And So They Were Married, which I blogged about last December, comes up at 11:15 PM. It hadn't received a DVD release when I wrote about the movie seven months ago, and unsurprisingly, it still hasn't made it to DVD.

The last of the movies is The Courtship of Eddie's Father, early tomorrow morning at 4:15 am. This one is on DVD and in print.

The other three movies, which I haven't seen, are:

Weekend With Father at 9:45 PM, with Van Heflin and Patricia Neal playing the single parents;
Three Daring Daughters at 12:45 AM, an MGM musical comedy with Jeannette MacDonald and Jane Powell; and
Twice Blessed at 2:45 AM, with Preston Foster and Gail Patrick playing now-divorced parents who get reunited.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vincent Price in a western!

Vincent Price is generally known for all those horror movies he did starting more or less with House of Wax in 1953. Before that, he was a contract player at Fox for several years where he appeared in several pretty good dramas and noirs that I've mentioned before. It's a bit difficult to imagine him in a western, but then, he did make a movie that's more or less a western: The Jackals, which is airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:20 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie starts with Stretch (Robert Gunner) leading a group of bandits in late 19th century South Africa who rob a bank and escape through one of the more barren areas that, in theory, is impassable. The gang eventually makes it to the ghost town of Yellow Rock -- except that it's not a ghost town. The meet Wilhelmina (Diana Ivarson), nicknamed Willie who lives there with her "Oupa", or grandfather (Vincent Price), who's a prospector. Stretch knows this means there must be a lot of gold, and he and the gang want to get it, while everybody starts getting the hots for Willie. That's not much of a plot description, and there's a good reason I haven't felt the need to give much only a cursory plot description: the movie is a remake of Yellow Sky from about 20 years earlier.

In fact, The Jackals is a fairly close remake other than having moved the action from the American west to Boer South Africa. It's close enough that whoever had control of the decision decided to give a writing credit to Lamar Trotti. This is quite the feat considering that Trotti, who had written the screenplay to Yellow Sky died about 15 years before this movie was made! (It's understandable that WR Burnett, who wrote the original story that becamse Yellow Sky, gets a credit for the original story. Burnett was also still very much alive when The Jackals was made.) And, to be honest, The Jackals isn't quite as good as Yellow Sky -- and it's not just because of how close a remake it is.

I think there are a couple of reasons why Yellow Sky is rather better. First off is the presence of Gregory Peck as the leader of the gang. Peck was always extremely good at playing morally ambiguous characters, and far outshines any of the nondescript actors in the South African gang we see in The Jackals. Having Richard Widmark as the lieutenant is a big help too. The script of The Jackals doesn't seem to give as much to Vincent Price to do as he should have considering that he's the star. This is really a movie about Stretch, not the grandfather. The one bright spot in The Jackals is Diana Ivarson, who comes across as more believably Old West tough and mannish than Anne Baxter did in Yellow Sky.

The Jackals did get a low-budget DVD release at some point in the past, but I don't know if it's still in print. The print that the Fox Movie Channel aired the last time it was on was unsurprisingly panned-and-scanned.

Cinemoi contract dispute

I noticed in my satellite box guide yesterday, where the schedule for Cinémoi should have been, a message saying, "Cinemoi no longer available". There was nothing about this almost anywhere on the Internet, until last night, when going to Cinémoi's website revealed a pop-up message to the effect that DirecTV is evil incarnate for not wanting to pay enough in the way of carriage fees to keep Cinémoi going, which is why those big meanies toook the channel off of DirecTV. Well, they would put it that way, wouldn't they?

I'm not going to take sides in this, in no small part because I know next to nothing about what's going on behind the scenes. Each side is going to blame the other, and it's easy enough to understand both side's public statements: content providers (the cable channels) need to earn enough money to ensure that they can keep operating. The people who deliver the content, whether it be DirecTV in this case, or cable or even streaming services, don't want to be gouged any more than those of us viewers do. Sure, they all want to keep as much money in their pockets too.

The only thing I have to say is that this is why a la carte pricing of cable channels is such a bad deal. How many people are going to miss Cinémoi? And yet, it's the sort of channel that, because of its niche programming and lack of opportunity for "local" commercials, is one that's likely forced to accept lower carriage fees. Cinémoi, as far as I'm aware, doesn't have the backers necessary, in the form of other channels, to get cable and satellite systems to accept it as part of a package deal with a bunch of other, presumably more popular channels. If so few people know about the contract dispute, how many of them would have thought to subscribe to the channel if it were ofered on an a la carte basis? And for those who did want to, they'd have to pay a lot more.

Something tells me a deal is going to get worked out eventually. But it's still disappointing to see things like this happen.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't call me Jack!

Art Fern presented movies long before Ben MankiewiczJohnny Carson is coming to TCM. Yes, this is Johnny, the Carson who hosted The Tonight Show for almost 30 years, from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. Not Jack, the actor we like round these parts. For the last 20 years of Carson't tenure at The Tonight Show, the daily broadcasts were saved, and a bunch of interviews with Hollywood stars have been culled from the shows. These interviews have been put, five to an hour, and will be seen this way every Monday night in July at 8:00 PM. Supposedly, they'll also be split up and shown individually the way shorts are in the future; think the "Word of Mouth" pieces, but longer and not necessarily related to any one movie. Conan O'Brien, who had a brief but disastrous stint as Tonight Show host in 2009, will be presenting.

Surprisingly, I haven't seen any promos for this yet on TCM. Maybe I just haven't been watching so much TCM the past few weeks, but I would have thought this is the type of thing that would get a fairly heave promotion in between the movies. Anyhow, after the hour of interviews, the rest of the night's lineup will be given over to movies involving one or another of the interviewees. Tonight's lineup, for example, includes a Neil Simon interview from 1980; starting at 9:00 PM will be three movies based on Simon plays. The other four interviews on Monday will be: Drew Barrymore from 1982 (obviously ET-related); Kirk Douglas from 1988; Mary Tyler Moore from 1978; and George Burns from 1989. The Sunshine Boys, based on the Neil Simon play and starring George Burns, is airing at 9:00 PM.

A much better rundown of everything is provided by Will McKinley, the blogger and not the assassinated president who showed up as a character in 1937's This is My Affair.