Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vincent Price, meet Edgar Allan Poe

Vincent Price, working with director Roger Corman, made several movies based on works by Edgar Allan Poe. TCM is showing four of them this Halloween, along with two other Vincent Price horror films.

First up, at 8:00 PM is The Pit and the Pendulum, which I think is the only one of the four that I've actually seen before. Price plays Nicholas Medina, the son of a Spanish inquisitor living in one of those oversized castle-type buildings who ets a visit from his brother-in-law Francis (John Kerr). Francis is looking for information on what happened to his sister, although he's not going to be pleased when he finally finds out. There are some nice visuals here, especially of the title pit and pendulum.

The other three Poe stories are:
The Haunted Palace at 9:30 PM;
The Masque of the Red Death at 11:15 PM; and
The Tomb of Ligeia early tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM.

In between you can catch Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales at 2:45 AM. I don't think I've seen this one either, but I recall the short story "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" from a junior high school English class ages ago.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ah yes, Halloween is tomorrow

Tomorrow being Halloween, we get a lot of horror films on TCM. Of course, it's a bunch of stuff from Hammer films; TCM must have signed a long-term contract with whoever owns the rights to the Hammer films because the Hammer films seem to have formed the bulk of the October horror movie lineup for the past few years. So, to be honest, I'm more interested in a couple of shorts airing tomorrow.

The first is a re-airing of Polar Outpost, early tomorrow morning at 5:44 AM. (Of course, TCM considers this part of Wednesday's lineup and not the Halloween lineup, since TCM's daily schedule generally begins at 6:00 AM ET.) I just mentioned Polar Outpost back in September, where I mentioned that it would go well with Decade for Decision, which I think actually showed up a week or so ago and I should have metioned it then. Polar Outpost, which I hadn't seen when I blogged about it, turned out to be interesting for its historical value, but no great shakes in terms of cinematic value.

In among the horror movies is the two-strip Technicolor short The Devil's Cabaret, at approximately 3:20 PM. I have to admit not having seen this one before, but it looks interesting, presenting Hell as a giant pre-Code party. I'm always up for a pre-Code short, even if some of the stuff is pretty dire. The Devil's Cabaret is apparently availabe on Youtube, albeit in two parts, as well as an out-of-print DVD of Cimarron.

TCM Guest Programmer October 2013: Gilbert Gottfried

TCM saved its Guest Programmer for the very end of the month. Although, to be fair, it's not as if they had too many choices of when to schedule it this month, what with the Story of Film series running on Mondays and Tuesdays, the Friday Night Spotlight, and a Star of the Month taking up Thursdays, it had to be one of the Wednesdays. Anyhow, this month sees Gilbert Gottfried sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss four films. It's an interesting mix, and an interesting person to present them. Gottfried, because of his distinctive voice and TV appearances, especially in commercials, is definitely well-enough known by people who aren't fans of classic cinema that you'd like to hope his appearance could result in some new eyeballs seeing TCM. (I wouldn't know if the Aflac duck, for which Gottfried provided the voice, is one of those cultural references that's well-known outside of the US.) I wouldn't necessarily have expected somebody like Gottfried, who got his start in stand-up, to have selected some of these films:

First, at 8:00 PM, is the 1939 version of Of Mice and Men, based on John Steinbeck's book in which George (Burgess Meredith) looks after the mentally slow Lennie (Lon Chaney Jr.) while the two do farm work during the Great Depression.
That's followed at 10:00 PM by The Swimmer, in which Burt Lancaster "swims" his way home, by going from one neighbor to the next, swimming in their pools; this one is based on a story by John Cheever and is really about the relationships between the Lancaster character and the others, not about the swimming;
Freaks at midnight is Tod Browning's movie in which a "normal" person falls in love with one of the members of the circus sideshow; and finally
The Conversation at 1:15 AM, starring Gene Hackman as a man doing surveillance work who finds that the corporation for which he's doing the work is doing something they shouldn't be.

TCM's schedule page lists The Swimmer as the only one of the four that you can't get from the TCM Shop; there's an import version available on Amazon as well as an "instant video".

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

These Thousand Hills

Another of the movies that's been showing up regularly on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel, and which you might not have too many more chances to see, is These Thousand Hills. It's getting another airing, tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM.

Don Murray stars as the pretentiously named Albert Gallatin Evans, who thankfully uses the nickname "Lat" throughout the movie. At the beginning, he's a cowboy doing the cattle drive scene, together with friend Tom (Stuart Whitman) and a bunch of other workers. Lat, however, dreams of having his own ranch. The only thing is, he needs a good deal of money to get the land and capital stock, something that's not particularly easy to do as a cowpoke. But, he's heard there are ways of getting money, and the one get-rich-quick scheme he's willing to try is hunting for wolf pelts. Well, it's not really hunting because it involves lacing buffalo carcasses with strychnine and letting the wolves eat the carrion and die. Lovely, but thankfully at the time the movie was made there was nowhere near the animal-rights activism there is today. Not that any animals are harmed, but I'm sure the thought of hunting for wolves this way would really creep the animal-rights groups out, if I find it kind of creepy. Anyhow, after they get to the end of the cattle drive at a town somewhere in the northern plains, Lat convinces Tom to get a cabin in the middle of nowhere, where the two will spend the winter earning easy money bagging those wolf pelts.

The only problem is, the hunting doesn't go as well as planned. Tom grows sick of it and leaves, at which poitn Lat gets ambushed by Indians and shot. Tom takes Lat back to town, where he gets nursed back to health. That nursing is done by Callie (Lee Remick), whom Lat had met when he was going through town after the cattle drive and before going off to bag those wolves, which were lost in the ambush. Callie is a sort of good-time girl, who works at the local house of ill repute, wearing colorful dresses and definitely not being the right part of society, even though she'd like to improve her station in life. She's closer to the prostitute with a heart of gold than anything else, and lends Lat the money for the down payment on the property he has in mind for a ranch, which he swears he'll pay back.

Lat is a hard worker, and sure enough he makes a success out of the ranch, and becomes one of the area's prominent citizens, to the point that the prominent folk in town would like him to run for political office. Ah, but Lat still has his past. Lat has married into polite society, in the form of Joyce (Patricia Owens), which complicates whatever relationship he might have had with Callie. That's a relationship that could screw up his political career, as well as his personal life, since Joyce doesn't know at first that Lat got the down payment for the ranch from Callie. There's also Lat's long-term foe Jehu (Richard Egan). We saw him at when Lat first showed up in town bilking people in the poker game; he shows up again to lead a lynching of Tom despite guaranteeing Lat that the posse to round up the bad guys was only going to bring them back to the town to face justice. When Jehu goes after Callie, it's a step too far for Lat, who has to put his political career on the line....

These Thousand Hills has some interesting themes, but they're not fully explored. The story line in which Lat goes first with Callie and then steps "up" with another woman for his place in "polite" society is something we've seen quite a bit, as in A Place in the Sun or Room at the Top, albeit without any illicit pregnancies hanging over the protagonist. Having to face one's past? Sure, we see that all the time too. These Thousand Hills has a climax between Lat and Jehu, but the threads are in general left hanging in a way that the ending isn't quite satisfying. There are some continuity holes as to where and when the story takes place: some reviewers say Oregon, others say Montana. The use of buffalo would make Montana more plausible. I missed hearing what state, if any, was mentioned when Lat and Tom first get to town, and tried to date the movie based on how many stars are on any flags that show up, one of those geeky things I do along the lines of figuring out whether the movie makers have the day of the week correct for any given date. What flags there are don't show up long enough to count the stars, though.

Everybody does a more or less professional job in These Thousand Hills, but at the end of the movie I'd felt not only as though the threads hadn't been tied up, but as though I'd been watching just another movie. It's not bad by any means, but it's not a particularly memorable entry in the western genre either. One other thing worth mentioning is that the print FMC is showing has been panned-and-scanned -- but from the Cinemascope ratio down to 16:9, not 4:3. The opening and closing titles were in Cinemascope, with lesser letterboxing in the SD feed. IMDb claims you can get a copy at Amazon, but it seems to be another of those out-of-print titles, since you can't get it from the TCM Shop.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another round of briefs

I was going to blog about Intruder in the Dust this morning, since it's airing tomorrow at 9:00 AM on TCM. However, I see that I already blogged about it back in January 2012. It's one of those movies that doesn't show up too often, which is a shame, since it's a good movie. It's also a surprise, consideirng that it's part of the old "Turner Library" of movies from MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO that Ted Turner obtained back in the 1980s and have always been easier for TCM to get the rights to. Tomorrow is the first airing since January 2012, and three of the airings in the past six years have been on Martin Luther King Day because of the movie's race-relation themes.

36 Hours, which I blogged about back in April 2011, is airing today at noon. It's on DVD, but apparently out of print, as it's one of those movies you can find at Amazon but not from the TCM shop. When I started blogging back in 2008 I generally only tended to look if there was a "buy this at Amazon" icon on a movie's IMDb page for evidence of whether the movie was available. In those days, IMDb had almost a grid with separate icons for DVD and VHS, as well as separate columns for Amazon in US and in UK. If I saw a link for a US DVD, I simply presumed the DVD was easy to obtain. Nowadays I like to check the TCM shop too since those out-of-print DVDs may not be the best quality, or may be terribly expensive. On the other hand, if there's no link to buy from Amazon, that's a pretty good indication that there's no DVD available at all, at least for a mainstream film. I think they've got access to all the studios' MOD outputs.

The Blogger search function may have been acting up over the weekend. I was looking for the post I did on It Happened One Night and didn't get any hits, so I had to try a search on Gable and Colbert, which did bring up the post. I also had difficulty finding the post I knew I had done on Written on the Wind. The bad thing is that any problems Blogger seems to have with the searching isn't systematic, so it's one of those things where I find myself wondering whether that really happened. Kind of like what Charles Boyer was doing to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, or with a whole bunch of other movies in that subgenre.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

40 years before Vin Diesel

Last Friday, TCM had a whimsical lineup of movies that have famous titles, but are completely different from the movies we usually think of when we see those titles. I'd blogged about Million Dollar Baby before, but not about another of the day's selections, the 1955 movie The Fast and the Furious. It's availalbe on bargain-basement DVDs, and while I can't say anything about the quality of those DVDs, it can't be that much worse than the print that showed on TCM. Although, to be fair to TCM, that may have something to do with the movie itself.

The movie starts off at a roadside service station/diner somewhere in California. Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone, a year before winning the Oscar for Written on the Wind) shows up driving one of those wonderful 1950s vintage sports cars, a Jaguar with no top, only two seats, and incredibly low to the ground. It's the sort of car that looks like it would be fun to drive in an open road race, but inconvenient to have as a car for any other purpose. Outside the service station is Bob, a creepy-looking trucker played by Bruno VeSota although he looks more like William Conrad if you ask me. Inside, she meets Mr. Myers (John Ireland), a man looking for a ride. But Bob recognizes Myers, or thinks he does: the guy looks like Frank Webster, a wanted criminal whokiled a man when he drove the man's truck off the road, and then escaped from the police! It turns out that Bob is right, and it is Webster. So Webster conks Bob over the head and absconds with Connie in her Jaguar.

Connie, understandably, doesn't want to be carjacked, but if the choice is between that and getting shot up, perhaps carjacking isn't so bad. Besides, Webster has a plan that makes it sound like Connie will be able to survive if only she doesn't try to stop it: Webster wants to drive to Mexico, since extradition from there was apparently a difficult thing back in the day, considering how any movies have bad guys trying to make it to Mexico (or already being there) as a major plot point. There's a wrinkle, though, that may or may not help Webster: Connie was driving down to a car race called the International, in which she was planning to drive. (I hope not in the outfit she's wearing, however.) All those other sports cars would give Webster a chance to blend in, and a chance to cross the border without being noticed, since the race course ends in Mexico. But it also involves a significant delay, during which he could be found out.

The police, of course, are investigating the incident back at the service station. Bob isn't much help, since he spends the rest of the movie in a hospital bed on an incredibly cheap set, regaining consciousness long enough to say a syllable every now and then. One of those syllables is "Jag", however, which gives the police the idea that perhaps one of the sports cars is being used by Webster. Of course, we know that's the truth, but the police don't. They've been given conflicting testimony by the diner's owner Wilma (Iris Adrian, tying to put on a smartalecky Eve Arden act, only much more downmarket). So it's going to be up to the folks in the International. One of Connie's fellow drivers Faber (Bruce Carlisle), realizes that there' ssomething not quite right with "Myers" and Connie, and he's going to take matters into his own hands if he has to.

The Fast and the Furious has a lot of flaws, since it was made on an incredibly low budget. Many of the car scenes, at least the ones in which we can see John Ireland behind the wheel, are done on a soundstage with rear-projection photography, which in this case in incredibly obvoius. Ireland himself doesn't do much acting here, other than constantly yelling at Malone. There are continuity issues galore in the racing scenes. And the movie has serious plot holes. Connie's motivations defy logic, since halfway through the film she tries to convince Webster that he'll have no problem clearing his name (Webster claims to have been framed) if only he'll go back and stand trial. And she sincerely seems to believe such nonsense!

All that said, however, The Fast and the Furious is surprisingly entertaining. Fans of vintage racing will probably like the old cars, as well as the footage from old road races that has been inserted at various points to make the film look like it's got more action than it really does. Ultimately, The Fast and the Furious stands as nn example of how you can entertain people even on a low-budget, if you have a little creativity. You don't need a nine-figure budget, CGI effects and explosions, and umpteen sequels.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Looking for radio

I notice that TCM is running the short Patrolling the Ether tomorrow morning at about 9:35 AM, just after the feature Cheers for Miss Bishop (which starts at 8:00 AM and runs 94 minutes). This is part of the Crime Does Not Pay series, but is a bit different from othe rentries in the series, in that it doesn't really deal with crimes that the average people going to the movies and seeing this before the feature would have either gotten involved in or fallen victim to. Instead, it deals with fifth columnists who have illicit radio transmission gear trying to send messages to the Axis powers, and the vituous people of the FCC who try to find the equipment and apprehend the criminals. There are several realtively boring scenes of men in detector vans trying to triangulate the source of the radio waves so that they can get the bad guys.

Finding radio waves, as well as the worry from the transmitting side over whether those transmissions are going to be detected, is something that shows up quite a few times in movies about World War II. Building radio equipment to send messages to the Nazis is one of the substantial plot points of The House on 92nd Street. He has difficulty getting the radio equipment without being detected by the US, except that he's working for the US. The Nazi agents eventually discover that his equipment isn't powerful enough to transmit to Germany, which is a problem for him.

Similarly, Bob Cummings realizes that something's up -- and finally gets Priscilla Lane to believe him -- when he discovers radio transmitting equipment in an "abandoned" shack in Soda City in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur. Nobody here is actually looking for the illicit radio gear, however.

There were also people fighting the Nazis who had radio equipment and were deathly afraid of the Nazis catching them. It's how James Cagney gets caught on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines in 13 Rue Madeleine. And those detector vans I mentioned at the beginning? We get to see more of those in The Heroes of Telemark. Speaking of The Heroes of Telemark, I see that it has received a DVD release since I blogged about it back in 2008.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hal Needham, 1931-2013

When I was looking up a movie on IMDb, I saw that one of their news headlines mentioned the passing of Hal Needham, at the age of 82. He's one of those faces I'd never have recognized, to an extent only having seen his face in a piece TCM ran earlier this year, I believe (or maybe it was last year) about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors' Awards, which are now awarded in a ceremony separate from the main Oscar ceremony. Needham was honored in 2012 for his body of work, which was predominantly as a stuntman.

That, of course, is why one wouldn't be so likely to recognize Needham's face. He did stunts in quite a few movies, including some I've blogged about, and others that are well-known even though I never got around to doing a post on them. Obviously this includes a bunch of westerns, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, the 1960s version of Stagecoach, and Bandolero!, but there are also war movies such as Pork Chop Hill or The Devil's Brigade, and even other genres: IMDb lists Needham as being in The Spirit of St. Louis and The Great Race.

Needham also did some actual acting, playing small roles, and especially on TV. He was one of the state troopers in W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, and is listed as a sergeant in the aforementioned The Devil's Brigade. W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings was not the first time Needham worked with Burt Reynolds, and it turned out to be somewhat auspicious, as it got him the chance to direct a story he had written: Smokey and the Bandit. Needham would go on to direct the sequel, as well as directing Burt Reynolds in the Cannonball Run movies.

Two Hearts in Wax Time

Last night just before House of Wax kicked off Vincent Price night on TCM, they showed the short Two Hearts in Wax Time. It turned out to be one I'm pretty certain I've seen before on TCM. The short does seem to be available, on an old DVD version of the 1935 version of David Copperfield. Amazingly, this is one that the TCM Shop says you can't buy -- or more accurately, it says they have no DVDs available for the 1935 David Copperfield, which surprises me greatly with this being a film from MGM. David Copperfield is on the December schedule; I'm not certain about the next time Two Hearts in Wax Time will show up.

The short kicks off with two men in a department store who design the mannequins and dress them for the window displays. They're just about finishing up their night's work, when in walks the janitor Joe, played by Gus Shy, who was apparently a holdover from the vaudeville days. Joe is a chronic drunk, but in a movie like this, that's supposed to be funny. The two dressers decide to play a joke on Joe by claiming the mannequins are actually alive, and Joe needs to treat them better. Eventually they leave; Joe goes about his business and finishes up his shift at 2:30 AM.

As he leaves the store and walks past the displays outside, he sees that perhaps the dressers were right, and the mannequins really have come to life! Nah, he's still drunk and this is his drunk fantasy, but the mannequins perform various musical numbers in front of various scenes that have been set up in the multiple display windows. Two of the mannequins, a man and a woman, appear to be in love, too, as they stroll from one display to the next.

And then they get to the last window, which has "The Greatest Menace of Them All". I'm not certain what this display was supposed to be selling. The others at least advertised clothing, or in one case, camping equipment. Perhaps the last window was supposed to be advertising Hollywood costumes, ad the window has a number of stock horror film characters. Most surprising is the presence of a Frankenstein's monster character. Mary Shelley's story was in the public domain, of course, but this monster looks surprisingly like the one Boris Karloff portrayed in the 1931 movie (and would reprise a few months later in Bride of Frankenstein). That Frankenstein movie, however, was made at Universal. Go figure.

There's not a lot of story here, and the music is more inoffensive than memorable, but the color is a sight to behold, with the monsters being the second most worthwhile part of the short. Overall, if you can find it, it's worth a watch.

About five minutes of the short have shown up on Youtube, too.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vincent Price horror is finally here!

For those who like the schlocky old Vincent Price horror movies, you're in luck: the last two weeks of Price as TCM' sStar of the Month brings some of those silly 1950s and 60s horror movies that he did.

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with House of Wax, which is the 1953 remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum. Personally, I love the 1933 movie, while the 1953 Vincent Price remake is one that I find OK but not nearly as good as the original. There's more of a focus on the sculptor character (Lionel Atwill in the original; Price here) in the remake, but probably the biggest issue I have with the remake is that it was shot in 3D. There are a couple of scenes where it's obvious shots were selected not for artistic reasons, but because the filmmakers wanted something that would show up well in 3D to wow the viewers in theaters who got the 3D print. Seeing a 2D print, which is all TCM can really show, highlights this problem. On the bright side, the character of the sculptor's mute assistant is played by Charles Buchinsky, befor he changed his last name to Bronson. House of Wax is available on one of those four-movie "Greatest Classic Films" collections that TCM often hawks in between movies.

And then there's The Tingler, coming up at 2:15 AM. I've recommended it before, as part of a night of William Castle movies. It is available on DVD, but I think the DVD has gone out of print since it's not available at the DVD shop and Amazon claims only a limited number of copies is available.

And then there are the movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, of which Price made several. This week sees House of Usher at 11:00 PM, with The Raven tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM. I'm pretty certain I've never seen The Raven, and think I haven't seen House of Usher. But then, I may be confusing the latter with The Pit and the Pendulum. There's something about these and especially the Hammer horror films that makes all of them flow together after a while. I don't know if it's the set design or the color, but every time I see one of them there's something that seems just a bit "off". Not so much wrong or bad, but just distinctive.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Trader Hound again

Tonight sees a night of "Bob's Picks" on TCM, a set of movies Robert Osborne thinks we should see. I know I've seen Macao (early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM) before, as I blogged about it back in June of 2011.

I'm not certain if I've seen Trader Horn (midnight) all the way through. It's one of those movies that I've turned the TV on in the middle of on more than one occasion, but I don't think I've actually sat down to watch the whole thing. It doesn't help that it's easy to conflate having seen that with having seen Trader Hound, the Dogville short spoofing Trader Horn before. Trader Hound is on at 11:43 AM, after Castle on the Hudson. Surprisingly, Trader Horn doesn't seem to be on DVD; I'd have figured it was a good candidate for the Warner Archive. Unsurprisingly, Trader Hound isn't available either; that one would make a good extra if Warner Home Video ever put Trader Horn on DVD. Trader Hound also doesn't seem to be on Youtube either; I was thinking of linking to it if it had been.

Coleen Gray turns 91

Coleen Gray with Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

Today marks the 91st birthday of actress Coleen Gray. Gray more or less retired in the late 1970s when she maried her third husband, and spent most of the last 20 years of her career doing episodic television, showing up in a lot of different TV shows. But she also made a couple of significant movies before that. I found a photo from The Killing above; Gray plays the girlfriend of Sterling Hayden, who is masterminding a plan to rob the takings from a racetrack.

Before that, she was in a couple of Fox's great entries in the noir (more or less) cycle. First, she played Nettie, the second wife of Victor Mature's (Nick Bianco), in Kiss of Death. The very same year, she played the "pretty girl" working the carnival circuit in Tyrone Power's Nightmare Alley.

It's been quite a while since I've seen The Killing, but if memory serves, she's not really a bad girl in that one, just married to a bad guy. The real bad girl there is played by Marie Windsor. So it's interesting to see her show up in several prominent noirs, consistently playing reasonably good girls. It's a character type which, again if memory serves, she reprises in Kansas City Confidential, another of those noir-type movies I haven't seen in a long time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New to Blu-Ray

Something that's both good and bad about the Story of Film series running on Monday and Tuesday nights on TCM is that they're showing a lot of foreign films in conjunction with the series that I've never seen before. It's good in that I get a chance to see movies that, in some cases, I had never even heard of, such as last night's airing of Boy, which doesn't seem to be on DVD at all. Boy was directed by Nagisa Oshima, whom I've recommended before in the form of Cruel Story of Youth. The bad thing is that, not having seen movies like Boy before, I can't really do a blog post about them. Also, as I've said before, I don't like doing a post after the fact on a movie that's not avaiable on DVD. If it's coming up on TV, then sure, I can give people a heads-up. But if they're not going to have a chance to watch it soon, I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about some wonderful movie that peoplw won't be able to see.

Anyhow, one of the upshots is that there isn't a whole lot on the upcoming TCM schedule over the next 24-36 hours that I can blog about. In that case, one of the first things I do is to look at the TCM schedule for the shorts in between the movies. And I saw HMS Bounty Sails Again! on tonight's schedule, just after Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (8:00 PM, 90 min), or 9:34 PM according to TCM's schedule page. Since I had just blogged about the short about the Bounty at the New York City World's Fair, I figured this would be a good time to mention the one that's coming up tonight. Except that I already did a brief post on it last November.

And then I saw the not-quite-advertisements along the side of the page mentioning stuff that's newly released on DVD or Blu-Ray. Technically they're not advertisements since they link to articles that both give good background on the films in question, and review the DVD or Blu-Ray in question. But you can't help but wonder if part of the reason for these articles being there is to drive people to the TCM shop and help the channel get a few extra bucks. It's not that much different from the "Hi, this is the TCM Classic Movie News Report" that shows up sometimes between movies. Anyhow, there are two movies new to Blu-Ray worth mentioning: Eyes Without a Face is getting a Blu-Ray release courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

The other one is a Fox release of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which I blogged about back at the beginning of March.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bank Holiday

Yesterday, I mentioned that I would be blogging today about one of the movies that's running as part of TCM's Margaret Lockwood salute. That film is Bank Holiday (also released as Three on a Weekend), which comes on at 9:00 AM tomorrow.

Those who remember their American history classes well will remember the "bank holiday" that Franklin Roosevelt instituted in 1933, shutting down the banks to prevent a run on more banks, but that's not what the title menas in Britain. In UK English, a "bank holiday" is nothing more than a public holiday giving people a long weekend. The action in our film takes place around one of those summer bank holiday weekends as various people go to one of those grand old seaside resort towns. This is back in the days before World War II when international travel wasn't very convenient, especially among everybody not in the upper classes, and the seaside resort towns still had a resplendent glory. Compare this to the town Laurence Olivier is working in in The Entertainer, 20 years later. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The main plot involves Catherine, a nurce at a fashionable London hospital played by the aforementioned Lockwood. Her boyfriend Geoffrey (Hugh Williams) wants to take her to the seaside for the upcoming bank holiday, promising her great things although he's got ulterior motives. There's still work to be done, and unfortunately for Catherine that means attending at an operation in whith the yound lady dies, leaving behind a grieving young husband, Stephen (John Lodge). He clearly isn't going to be enjoying his bank holiday. Eventually, Catherine and Geoffrey become two among the great throng of people making their way -- by train, of course!, as cheap air travel hadn't been developed yet -- to the sea for their vacation. So many that Catherine and Geoffrey aren't able to get the room that Geoffrey claimed to have reserved. He was probably lying about having taken a suite anyhow, and Catherine knows that's not a good thing. Besides, Catherine is still preoccupied with that poor widower back in London.

We'll get back to the Catherine and Stephen story line in a bit. Without a room for the first night, Catherine and Geoffrey are forced to camp out on the beach, which is where they meet the people who make up the movie's other subplots. One is a poor Cockney family, in which the father only seems to want to drink a pint at every bar along the shore, while the mother aspires to a higher socioeconomic status and giving her children a better life than she's had. The other major subplot involves some people down to the sea for the beauty pageant that one of the hotels is running. Winning the pageant would mean a nice sum in economically tought times. (Ah, another would-be beauty queen, just like in The Entertainer.) Those plots will intersect with Catherine and Geoffrey eventually. Meanwhile, Catherine somehow wound up with widower Stephen's cigarette lighter, and she keeps thinking about him. She has to get back to London to see whether he's all right, since she was already worried about his well-being when she left London.

Bank Holiday is a nice little movie. I don't know exactly how accurate the view of the seaside resorts is, being too young by decades and not British. But I'd presume the filmmakers (including director Carol Reed) weren't just making up an atmosphere out of whole cloth. Movies generally tend to focus more on the high-class stuff, but the scenes on the beach show hints there's also a darker side for the aspirational who want to hobnob with the upper crust but can't really afford it. (There are, however, movies like Brighton Rock and I believe Night Train to Munich which show this underside much more explicitly.) The stories are generally good, except that there's a predictably happy ending that seems trite. All in all, Bank Holiday is, for this American, a nice look at a time and a society that as far as I know don't really exist any longer.

Bank Holiday doesn't seem to be on DVD at all.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Another pair of non-birthday salutes

I've mentioned in the past that TCM tends to have birthday salutes run in the morning and afternoons of weekdays, with other people getting a prime time salute for one evening. But, not every daytime salute is a birthday salute. TCM is actually running non-birthday salutes for the next two days.

Tomorrow, October 21, is given over to a day of Deborah Kerr films, even though she was actually born in September. TCM is showing seven of her movies (not including From Here to Eternity), and I've blogged about two of them in the past:

Quo Vadis, which isn't quite my favorite, airs at 7:30 AM.
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, in which Kerr plays a nun on a Pacific island behind enemy lines in World War II who meets Marine Robert Mitchum, is on at 12:45 PM; and
I thought I'd blogged about Eye of the Devil (on at 6:15 PM) before, but a search of the blog claims that I've only blogged about the short that came out in conjunction with the film, All Eyes on Sharon Tate.
All three of the features I've mentioned are on DVD.

Tuesday will see a day of Margaret Lockwood films, including The Lady Vanishes to conclude the day, but there's more on her tomorrow since I'm planning to blog about another of the films tomorrow.

Decade for Decision, and other thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I briefly made mention of the short Decade for Decision, about how America's research universities are an important tool in churning out all those scientists and engineers we're going to need to keep up in the race against the Soviet Union (remember them?). Of course the material is all dated, but it's an interesting time capsule. But I mention it again because it's on the TCM schedule, at about 3:40 PM today, or just after Jailhouse Rock, which starts at 2:00 PM, and is listed with a 97-minute runtime (plus Ben Mankiewicz's intro and outro).

Later in the evening, following Send Me No Flowers (10:00 PM, 100 minutes) is an MGM promotional short called Every Girl's Dream. In this one, MGM brought the "Maid of Cotton" (I presume this is the woman crowned at the Cotton Bowl and its accompanying parade) out to Los Angeles to show her the studio, which includes a brief view of the set of The Glass Bottom Boat; she shows them the latest cotton fashions for women. This short really should have been in color; as it is, it's more interesting to see for a "why did they make this" moment.

Finally, at 5:15 AM tomorrow, is the 1949 Some of the Best. Lionel Barrymore presents 25 films from the first 25 years of MGM's production, followed by the big luncheon MGM held to mark the anniversary. That's the real reason to watch this one, to try to figure out who all the people are; there's no voiceover or graphics in this section. Some of them are in costume, presumably having come straight from whatever movie they were making, which adds to the historical worthiness of the short.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Who or what is trolling the blog

Unfortunately, this is a fairly low-traffic blog, in part due to my not pimping it everywhere else I go on the internet. People know that I'm a fan of those old movies starring a bunch of dead people most of whom they've barely heard of, but I don't generally go around telling people to visit my blog. Sometimes, I'll mention that something that's being talked about in a discussion forum references an old movie, and includ a link to the post I've done on the particular old movie in question. Or, if they're talking about newer films, I'll mention the older ones that did it first. Whenever I do that and check the site stats, I'll notice a small bump in page hits on those particular pages.

However, something strange has happened in the past month -- maybe longer, but I've only noticed it in the past month or so. A couple of posts have received a ridiculous number of page hits. Or, at least, way above anything that the site normally gets. The most recent example is the post from the beginning of the week on Broken Blossoms, which gave me the idea that perhaps there's traffic coming from China. My October 1 post mentioning China's National Day is another of the posts that saw a jump in traffic. But there are other posts that don't mention China at all, and have received even more hits, with the one on Buster Keaton's One Week being the one with the most hits. Besides, it's the US that is providing the most hits, with Russia being second.

There also doesn't seem to be a pattern when whatever is hitting the blog is doing so. There are breaks of two, four, six, and three days (in that order), and one break of a couple weeks, in when the various posts that got the big numbers of visits were done. And, after all, the top referring site is Google, surprise surprise. I'd think that search engine spiders would operate like clockwork, though, and that it would only result in slightly increased volume on every post.

I also don't see anything in search keywords generating site views that looks obvious. Any ideas?

Friday, October 18, 2013

British Z-grade science fiction

I've recommended some British made science fiction films from the 1960s before. Five Million Years to Earth isn't terrible, although it's implausible. They Came From Beyond Space, which earned a brief mention, is terrible, but is so bad it's hilarious. And then there's Spaceflight IC-1, which is airing tomorrow at 6:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel, with several more airings the rest of October. This one actually has a more reasonable premise, but the execution is amazingly bad.

The basic idea is that at some point in the not too distant future, Earth is going to face problems with nathure that are ultimately going to doom life as we know it here, so humanity is going to have to find another planet suitable for living. Well, actually, that planet has been found, but the distances of interstellar space are such that it's going to take 25 years to get there. So some manned rockets have been sent to the planet, dubbed "Earth-2". The ships are manned by a skeleton crew which looks to be about a captain and four married couples, and a child or two. There's also one disembodied head running a computer, and a bunch of people in suspended animation.

Now, of course, you know that the 25-year voyage isn't going to be a piece of cake, and that's where a movie like this would have the potential to get interesting. At the time the real action of the movie begins, such as it is, the crew is a year into the voyage, and have just received their orders for Year Two. Why this stuff wouldn't have been planned before liftoff, so that the people taking the jounrey could go into it with eyes fully open is a logical question, but then we wouldn't necessarily have a movie. Anyhow, the orders are apparently going to cause a problem. But there are some other, more pressing problems. The ship's doctor, Dr. Thomas (John Cairney, part of a cast of no-names) and his wife Helen (Linda Marlowe) are at odds whether to have a child, and over the course of her illness, which is ultimately going to kill her if she doesn't get back to earth. (Or, I may be conflating two couples here. Both of these are conflicts, but it's tough to keep track of what's going on with whom.) Oh, and the captain has, over the course, of the year, proved himself to be a martinet. To be fair to Captain Ralston (Bill Williams), a ship in space is even a more unforgiving environment than a ship at sea.

The good doctor leads a mutiny, but it fails when one of the kinda neutral officers lets the captain out of his cabin confinement, and the captain physically assaults the doctor to regain control of his ship. The penalty for mutiny is death, but there's only the one doctor on board, so the captain can't sacrifice him. Or can he? There's another doctor in suspended animation, and the active doctor is ordered to re-animate that one, at which point the execution can be carried out. Of course, the re-animation procedure is risky and not fully tested, something you'd think they'd all have figured out before liftoff....

There is actually material with potential in Spaceflight IC-1, but the execution is terrible. Much of the action is never really explained well enough to dispel the viewer's confusion. The ship is both incongruously spartan and spacious: the exterior establishing shots are beyond low-budget, while the interiors are much too spacious. Worst of all might be the direction, which looks as though it would have fit in with those stagy early-1930s talkies, with the exception that there are more close-ups here. This only compounds the movie's other problems. Ultimately, the movie isn't very good, and in a rather boring way to boot. The only thing in its favor is that it ends mercifully quickly.

As far as I know, Spaceflight IC-1 has not received a DVD release.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

While the City Sleeps

A couple of weeks back, I mentioned that While the City Sleeps would be coming up twice on TCM in October, with the second time being on October 17 as part of Vincent Price's turn as Star of the Month. Well, October 17 is here, and so it's on again tonight at 8:00 PM.

Vincent Price isn't actually the star of the movie; he's billed behind several other players starting with Dana Andrews, who really is the star in addition to being top-billed. Andrews playd Edward Mobley, a TV jounralist with a nightly commentary on a TV station owned by magnate Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick). Mobley is one of Kyne's favorites in a sprawling organization that includes not only the TV station, but also newspapers, a wire service, and a tabloid photo service. And the Kyne organization is going to need all of those: there's a killer on the loose, and Amos wants Mobley to use the various branches of the Kyne news services to find that killer. Or, at least, that's Amos' plan for Mobley, whom he wants to become the managing director of the whole organization eventually. Unfortunately, things don't work out that way: Amos is a sick man, and he drops dead before Mobley can put any of his plans into motion.

It's at this point that Vincent Price comes in. He plays Walter Kyne, Amos' son, who has spent his adult life doing everything but learning the family business. However, Amos' will bequeathed the business to his son, and so Walter owns the joint now. And he's got much different ideas than his father. He doesn't know anything about who should be managing director, so he comes up with a deviously brilliant idea: set the various divisions of the Kyne organization against each other as they try to solve the murder mystery, which by this point has been dubbed the "Lipstick Killer". The head of whichever branch solves the mystery is the man who will get the big job of managing director.

With this, the varoius grasping candidates are set against one another: John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is the editor of the Sentinel newspaper; Mark Loving (George Sanders) is in charge of the wire service; and Harry Kritzer (James Craig) runs the photo service. Mobley is seemingly left out of the running for the top job, but Mobley seems OK with that. The three division heads are all more than willing to resort to underhanded methods, most of which involve the various women in and around the organization. For Loving, that involves his girlfriend, fashion columnist Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), who Loving hopes can get information unobtrusively because who would suspect a fashion columnist. Kritzer, for his part, tries to get his girlfriend Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming) to use her influence. The only problem is that Dorothy is Mrs. Walter Kyne. Mobley also has a girlfriend Nancy (Sally Liggett) who seems on the sidelines, but Ed turns out to be perhaps the most amoral of all the characters, as he realizes he can catch the Lipstick Killer by using his girlfriend as bait!

While the City Sleeps is one cynical movie -- it's only too bad Lee Tracy doesn't get to show up. There aren't any virtuous, crusading Torchy Blanes here. There are a few flaws: if anything, I think the movie is a bit too unralistically cynical. There's also the continuity problem that a corporate empire as big as the own Amos Kyne built would be much too big for one building, and the various heads of the divisions wouldn't be working cheek-by-jowl. That, of course, would take away from all of the backstabbing and alliance-forming. But those are minor minuses. While the City Sleeps is more than outweighed by its plusses. Pretty much all of the male characters hae plausible motivations, and having the presumptive good guy Ed Mobley turn out to be just as amoral as the rest of them, only in pursuit of "journalism" instead of the top job, is an excellent plot point. The acting is good, with an heretofore unmentioned John Drew Barrymore deserving attention as the psychotic killer. (This doesn't give much away; the movie isn't so much about the mystery as to who can solve it and how theye can solve it.)

While the City Sleeps is another of the many movies that has been released to DVD by the Warner Archive Collection.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tyrone Power night on TCM

I've mentioned a couple of times how it seems as though TCM is having more luck at getting Fox to let more of its films out of its vault for TCM to show. In that regard, TCM has a night of Tyrone Power films tonight, with five of Power's roles. Four of the films are from Fox, and three of those I've already blogged about:

The night kicks off with what I think is the TCM premiere of Rawhide, at 8:00 PM. This one has Power as the son of a stagecoach line owner getting caught out by a gang of escaped convicts at one of the stateions.
That's followed at 9:45 PM by Nightmare Alley, in which Power plays a carnival performer who makes it to high society for a time;
At 11:45 PM you can see Power swashbuckle with Sherlock Holmes (er, Basil Rathbone) in The Mark of Zorro.
Power is near his swashbuckling best, this time against George Sanders, in The Black Swan at 1:30 AM.
Finally is MGM's Marie Antoinette at 3:00 AM, in which Norma Shearer plays the doomed wife of French king Louis XVI. I don't know how historically accurate this is, but being an MGM film from the late 1930s, it's got great production values.

All five of tonight's movies are available on DVD.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A world that's nice to visit, but not live in

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is showing the movie Secret World tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I've suggested before, in conjunction with movies like Village of the Damned, that if you have a great story, it can overcome a lot of low budget problems. Secret World is the opposite: a movie that's lovely to look at with great location photography, but a story that's ultimately quite empty.

Jean-François Maurin plays François, a young boy living in a big manor house someplace in a relatively isolated rural area of France. (Unfortunately, IMDb doesn't have any information about the filming locations, since the house, although in need of a good paint job, is otherwise lovely.) The bad news for François is that he lives with his uncle Philippe (Pierre Zimmer) and aunt Florence (Giselle Pascal), since his parents were recently killed in a car crash. There don't seem to be any other children around, at least, not as far as the adults can see. François likes to go off to what looks like an abandoned open-pit quarrying operation where a lake has filled in the big hole; here he meets other children and fills him in on the details of his rich fantasy life, details that are mostly fabrications.

Philippe was a pilot in the French air corps that operated out of the UK, so he speaks English and has a good English friend, although he doesn't get to visit the friend since the friend lives up in Manchester and his "business" only takes him to London. Still, the friend has a daughter Wendy (Jacqueline Bisset), who has decided to come for a visit. You can probably guess why she's really coming. Philippe and Florence have an adult son Olivier (Marc Porel) who comes to visit from time to time, and unsurprisingly, he develops an immediate romantic attraction to Wendy. Who wouldn't be attracted to a young Jacqueline Bisset? Even if the director for some bizarre reason decided to give Bisset a terribly unflattering blonde dye job. She, of course, has no attraction for him. Wendy, for her part, takes an interest in François of the sort that an adult cousin who likes kids might take in one of their much younger cousins.

And that's about all that happens. It's a shame, because the basic story idea isn't a bad one. In fact, when I first sat down to watch the movie I thought I might get something reminiscent of The Fallen Idol. But Secret World isn't like that at all. Olivier figures out that Dad is having an affair with Wendy; Mom never seems to figure that out; beyond that none of the characters seem to develop except for François, who finally overcomes his fear of riding in a car.

The other reason it's a shame is because the cinematography is so lovely. In addition to the old manor house, which is approached by a tree-lined lane, the characters spend a day in a village, which looks much more realistic than the whitewashed settings of The Young Girls of Rochefort. The village itself is nice to look at in a run-down way, although it's probably not the sort of place you'd want to live in. There are also ruins on a hilltop overlooking the village, and those too are beautiful to look at. Ultimately, Secret World is a well-filmed movie that falls flat because the story never quite works out.

As far as I know, Secret World is not available on DVD.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Columbus Day post

Back in 2009, I did a Columbus Day Lazy List Post, not looking at Columbus himself, but at some of the things that are vaguely related to Columbus Day. Technically, of course, Columbus Day should be celebrated either on October 10, or October 21 if you convert for the fact that the Gregorian calendar had not yet been invented in 1492.

In looking at IMDb, I'm mildly surprised that Christopher Columbus doesn't show up more often as a character. Sure, there haven't been too many feature films made about Columbus, but since IMDb lists television episodes and shorts, I'd have thought Columbus showed up a bit more often there. As for the feature films, I remembered the movies released in 1992 in time for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' most famous voyage: Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise starring Gérard Depardiu as Columbus, and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, in which top billing goes not to Columbus, but to Marlon Brando playing Torquemada; Tom Selleck as King Ferdinand is also billed above Columbus. The one other Hollywood version of Columbus would be the 1949 film starring Fredric March, which I think last aired on TCM when March was Star of the Month, and which I didn't get around to watching. One other actor of note to play Columbus is... Albert Bassermann. Yes, they guy who gets kidnapped in Foreign Correspondent; he started his career making silent movies in Germany, which apparently included a 1923 film about Columbus.

As for shorts or cameos, you can see Christopher Columbus played by Anthony Dexter in a scene in the hilariously bad The Story of Mankind when it shows up this Thursday on TCM thanks to the presence of Star of the Month Vincent Price. More interesting might be the animated movies. Those who grew up watching the Looney Tunes shorts on Saturday morning, which were a staple on one of the US broadcast TV networks until about the mid-1990s, might recall Hare We Go from 1951, in which Bugs Bunny accompanies Columbus on that famous voyage, with even less historical accuracy than any of the feature films.

The other short that sounds interesting is another one for which Mel Blanc provides the voices: Hysterical High Spots in American History, from 1941. This one was produced by Walter Lantz of Woody Woodpecker fame, and distributed by Universal, which is probably why it never shows up anywhere. Columbus is one of several figures from American history who shows up in the seven or so minutes of the short.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Broken Blossoms

Monday, October 14, marks the birth anniversary of Lillian Gish. It's only natural that TCM should spend some time with Gish, starting with several of her silents since Gish was at her most famous during the silent era. The first silent Gish film TCM is showing tomorrow is Broken Blossoms, at 6:00 AM. A search of the blog suggests that I have never done a full-length post about it before, so now is a good time to do so.

Richard Barthelmess plays Chen Huan, the "Yellow Man". He's a Chinese man who's come to London to preach the non-violent Buddhist way of life, only to find that Londoners apparently don't care about such things -- Chen has wound up in the Limehouse, one of London's slum districts, where he makes a living, such as it is, by selling Chinese-themed knickknacks.

The other male lead is "Battling" Burrows, a boxer played by Donald Crisp, long before he became the kindly older man in movies like How Green Was My Valley -- these are his young, virile days. Well, not that young, since he's old enough to have fathered a teenaged daughter Lucy (Lillian Gish), who lives with him. Burrows is a brute of a man, and not only inside the boxing ring, as he treats Lucy like dirt, making her wait on him hand and foot and beating her if she doesn't do what he says.

It's unsurprising, then, that Lucy would eventually run away from her father. You can probably guess what happens next, which is that Lucy winds up in the Asian section of Limehouse, which is how she meets Chen. He takes her in, nd she falls hard for him because she's never known a man to show her any kindness -- kindnesses that Chen sees as part of his Buddhist duty. Burrows realizes what a jerk he's been, and Chen and Lucy live together happily ever after.

Yeah, right, you know there's no chance in hell of that last sentence coming to pass in a movie like this. Burrows would never just give up his daughter if she ran away. And he especially wouldn't do it if she wound up with -- horror of horrors -- a Chinaman! One of Burrows' friends finds out what's happened to Lucy, sending Burrows to Limehouse to get her from Chen and take her home, which ultimately leads to the movie's tragic denouement.

Broken Blossoms has naturally aged somewhat in the 90-plus years since it was released, and that's unfotunately to the detriment of the movie at times when watching it in 2013. Modern critics will immediately point out that you've got lily-white Richard Barthelmess playing somebody from China. That, and the Chinese people being portrayed as having all the old stereotypes. (To be fair, the whites aren't exactly morally upstanding here either.) As for the idea of interracial love being forbidden, I think in the case of Broken Blossoms that's beside the point. Burrows is a controlling, possessive man much like Patrick Bergen's character in Sleeping With the Enemy 70 years later, a man who would go halfway across the country to find the woman he obsesses over, even if she's seeing another white guy now. The three leads all give excellent performances for a silent melodrama, and the story, while predictable, still fascinates.

Broken Blossoms has received a DVD release, although the one TCM sells is a bit expensive.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Another chance to capture The Flag

I mentioned the silent two-strip Technicolor two-reeler The Flag back on Flag Day 2008, and again in 2010. It still doesn't seem to be on DVD; I would have thought it would by a worthy addition to some Warner Archive DVD set as an extra. That having been said, I see IMDb says it was produced by the Technicolor Corporation in conjunction with MGM; or, at least, IMDb lists both of them under "Production Companies". I'd have no idea what happened to the rights since then, although since it shows up on TCM from time to time you'd think that Warner Bros. wound up with the distribution rights at some point.

Anyhow, TCM has scheduled another airing of The Flag, overnight at 4:58 AM, or just after The Unholy Three, which starts at 3:30 AM and is listed as having a running time of 86 minutes. It's about your only opportunity to see it, since I couldn't even find it on Youtube.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mystery Street

Lobby card for Mystery Street (1950)

Nowadays, when people think of Ricardo Montalbán, they probably think of one of two things: the TV show Fantasy Island, or Montalbán's portrayal of Khan first on an episode of Star Trek back in the 1960s, and then in the second of the Star Trek movies. It's a shame that Montalbán became almost a parody later in life, since he was actually a fairly capable actor. A good example of Montalbán's dramatic chops can be seen in the movie Mystery Street, which TCM is showing tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM.

Montalbán plays Peter Morales, the Portuguese-American police chief of Hyannis, one of the small towns that dot the Cape Cod coast. (His accent had to be explained somehow, I suppose.) Morales gets involved in our story when a bird-watcher stumbles across some bones -- bones that are obviously human! The body has obviously been decomposing for some months if there are only bones left, and there aren't any obvious identifying features to tell us who this body is. So it's off to Harvard's forensics lab up in Cambridge, to summon the help of Dr. McAdoo (Bruce Bennett, whom you'll recall as Joan Crawford's first husband in Mildred Pierce). It's fairly quickly established that the deceased was a woman, and when McAdoo extrapolates the shape of the woman's face from her skull. This, combined with a list of the missing persons cases dating to the time this corpse started to decompose, eventually leads the two to figure that the deceased is one Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling). Of course, we already knew who the deceased was, since the movie starts off with her story.

Heldon was a nightclub girl who was down on her luck, as an affair with a sugar daddy, one Mr. Harkley (Edmon Ryan) was going south. But, she's gotten knocked up by him, so she goes to see him down on the Cape, even carjacking (not that the word was used back in 1950) the car of one Henry Shamway (Marshall Thompson) along the way. His car is discovered not far from the dead body, and so he's the first obvious suspect. The police obviously don't know baout Harkley yet.

However, there's one person who does figure out about Harkley: Vivian's landlady, Mrs. Smerrling (Elsa Lanchester). Vivian's of course was found in Hyannis, and when Smerrling notices a Hyannis phone number written on the wall next to the pay phone on the ground floor of her building, she immediately puts two and two together. In fact, she's willing to blackmail Harkley: pay me or I'll tell on you to the police. Smerrling even steals Harkley's gun.

Mystery Street is more of a police procedural than a mystery, as it should be fairly easy to figure out which of the two main candidates did the deed. You know that in a movie like this they're going to catch the bad guy, since the Production Code wouldn't all anything else. Even though there's not much mystery, that doesn't mean Mystery Street isn't a good movie. Indeed, it's quite underrated. Montalbán does a good job, even though his character ultimately doesn't have any more depth than the cops from TV shows back in the days when shows didn't have story arcs longer than a single episode. Jan Sterling looks lovely while she's still alive, but it's really Elsa Lanchester who walks off with the honors. But really, it's more of an ensemble cast, and they all work together to make an entertaining film. Despite the Production Code constraints, the ending is still just as tense as, say, The Naked City. It's too bad Ricardo Montalbán couldn't make more serious movies like this.

Mystery Street has received a DVD release, and is in print.

Another chance to catch Dead of Night

This being October, TCM's Friday Night Spotlight is horror movies, which are a staple of the TCM schedule every October in honor of Halloween at the end of the month. One of tonight's movies is Dead of Night, the 1945 horror anthology classic; it's airing at 11:00 PM. If you haven't seen it before, it's more than well worth watching.

If you have seen it before, this is still going to be one of your only chances to catch the movie. I was mildly surprised to see on the TCM schedule that the movie doesn't seem to be available to purchase from the TCM Shop. I looked at the post I did two years ago when it got another October airing, and see that I didn't say anything about the movie being on DVD. So off to IMDb, which has a "Buy at Amazon" link that's not particularly accurate, especially on a movie like Dead of Night which has only common words in the title.

Amazon's search produced several hits on things like Night of the Living Dead, and other things with "dead" and/or "night" in the title. but there was one DVD release. It's obviously out of print, since the cheapest you can do is a used copy for $37.50, shockingly expensive compared even to the Warner Archive selections. This particular DVD is has Dead of Night on a double bill with The Queen of Spades. That's a movie I haven't seen, although I know the story, since I had to read it back when I was in college studying Russian, what with it being based on a short story by Aleksandr Pushkin. That's another movie I'd be curious to watch if it showed up on the TCM lineup.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hard Contract

I don't know how many more times it's going to show up on the Fox Movie Channel, and it doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so I'd better blog now about Hard Contract, which is getting an airing tomorrow (October 11) at 1:00 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

James Coburn stars as John Cunningham, who makes his living as a hired killer. He's getting to the point, however, that he'd like to retire on his previous earnings, but to do that, he's going to have to undertake one last contract from his boss, Ramsey Williams (Burgess Meredith). This, however, is a "hard contract", in that it involves killing three people in three differenct countries over in Europe, and John won't be able to learn who the third target is until after killing the first two.

The first one is living in a seaside town on the Spanish coast near Gibraltar, so it's off to the south of Spain. John's an asocial man in the sense that he doesn't want to get too close to anybody, lest emotional attachments get in the way of his job of killing people. So when he gets to the hotel in southern Spain, he tries to obtain the services of a prostitute, something the concierge apparently knows how to provide. Or maybe not, since the hotelier arranges for Sheila (Lee Remick) to have a rendezvous with John. Sheila isn't a prostitute, but a bored American divorcée of means traveling around Europe with some idly wealthy Europeans because, well, it's not as if she has anything better to do. She, of course, doesn't know why John is in Spain, but she's willing to sleep with him anyway.

This sexual experience changes both John and Sheila. Sheila senses that John isn't quite what he's made out to be, while John begins to form an emotional attachment with Sheila. John is able to kill the first guy in Spain, and then it's off to Brussels to commit the second murder. But, John starts finding that killing people isn't so easy like it used to be. Ramsey calls up Cunningham in Brussels, and gets the impression that there's something not quite right with him. Besides, Ramsey is going to have to give his assassin the information on the third victim, so he heads off to Europe unbeknownst to John. It turns out that the third victim is back in Spain, so it's off to Spain again, at which point John meets up with Sheila and all her friends again.

Only this time there's a bigger problem, in that Sheila and her friends know the third victim, one Michael Carlson (Sterling Hayden). That, and Carlson is a former professional assassin himself. Oh, and by now Sheila's figured out the truth about Cunningham. And his relationship with her is deepening. Things are getting really complicated. How is John going to get himself out of this predicament?

Hard Contract is an interesting premise, although it's a premise that had been around in the movies for at least 20 years, being a staple of a certain noir subgenre: people who for whatever reason want to get away from their past, only to find they can't escape. In Hard Contract, the execution of the premise kind of fizzles out. Perhaps it's that all of the characters wind up being like Sheila: not just idly wealthy, but giving off an vibe of blah as a result. I really found myself having difficulty caring about what happened to these characters. And the sexual peccadilloes that John has seem to be just as conveniently post-Code material as they are character developers. On the other hand, there is a lot of lovely location shooting in Hard Contract, and the actors are all professional in doing the best they can with sub-par material. Hard Contract is worth a watch, but it's nowhere near one of the great movies even in its genre.

Another non-birthday tribute

TCM is spending this morning with JM Barrie, a writer who had several works turned into movies. Barrie was actually born May 9, 1860, so why TCM is choosing today to show the movies, I don't know. (Then again, I think it was the nice Alain Delon tribute on May 9 this year that ran all morning and afternoon on May 9 this year.) Of the day's lineup, I think the only one I've seen is Quality Street (11:00 AM), which isn't a particular favorite of mine sine I'm not a terribly big fan of Katharine Hepburn. The Admirable Crichton (12:30 PM) sounds interesting.

Now, when you think JM Barrie, you probably think Peter Pan. Of course, TCM isn't showing any Peter Pan story. But it really shouldn't be surprising. TCM is never going to get the rights to the Disney animated movies; Disney is extremely controlling of those, to the point that a lot of people assign responsibility to Disney for the 1998 copyright extension law, since they were trying to keep Steamboat Willie and other works from entering the public domain. Disney's 1953 animated version of Peter Pan is probably the best known, and there are some movies based on the Peter Pan story that have been made. (A look at the IMDb character page for Peter Pan implies that a lot of the stuff is either made for TV, or derivative Disney work.)

There's even one from before 1953, a 1924 silent made by Famous Players-Lasky, the forerunner to Paramount. I have no idea if Paramount has a copy of this that would be in suitable condition to run on TV, but reading the IMDb reviews on it, it sounds interesting. Barrie himself had extensive control over the project, since his play was still under copyright at the time, only recently having been created. At any rate, it's one I'd be interested in seeing at some point. Kino Video apparently released this to DVD, but I don't think it's in print

IMDb also lists a character called "The Village Peter Pan" in a 1925 short from Famous Players-Lasky titled Too Many Kisses. That one sounds interesting, too, since the Peter Pan character is played by Harpo Marx, without Groucho et al. around; the two male leads are Richard Dix and William Powell. This one apparetnly survives too, since there's one reviewer on IMDb claiming to have seen it at an exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. I have no idea about whether this has any prints ready to be shown on TV. And, having been released in 1925, it's most likely still under copyright, since the 1998 CTEA extended copyrights on anything made after 1923.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Another set of briefs

TCM is honoring Peter Lawford today, even though he was born in September. Among the Lawford films being shown is Good News (8:15 AM), which you'll probably miss since most of you will be reading this after the movie airs. But it's on DVD for those of you who might like to see it. I have to admit that it's a movie I'm not particularly fond of. First, Lawford isn't my favorite actor; second, I think he's badly miscast in this musical as a college football player; and third, it's a remake of a 1920s stage show. The musical was first turned into a movie back in 1930, which I might be interested in seeing just once, although it would probably be a bit of a slog to see since musicals before 42nd Street tend to be very stage-bound. Interestingly, my box guide was acting up again last night. Instead of Good News, it was sugesting that TCM would be showing The Good News, a 2008 Spanish movie about a Catholic priest having to deal with the Spanish Civil War. It sounds more interesting than the Peter Lawford film.

The last of the Lawford films is It Should Happen to You at 6:30 PM, which is one of the very first movies I blogged about back in February 2008. It's gotten a DVD release, but it's presumably out of print, since it's not available from the TCM shop. I enjoy this movie, although it's not for Lawford, but for Jack Lemmon and especially Judy Holliday.

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel has one more airing of Prince Valiant, tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. This one is available on DVD from the TCM shop, at a bargain price.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chevy Chase turns 70

I was looking through today's birthdays, in lieu of writing a full-length post about anything coming up on TCM since I've either not seen them or already blogged about much of the upcoming lineup. I notic4ed that today is the 70th birthday of comic actor Chevy Chase. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, since he's been reasonably prominently woring since at least the beginning of Saturday Night Live back in 1975.

I was a bit more surprised at how prolific Chase has been, appearing in something like 40 movies since he left Saturday Night Live and made what first big movie appearance in Foul Play back in 1978. Quite a few of them are more recent stuff that I barely remember if at all; the 80s stuff, when Chase would have been at his most successful, is stuff I remember. That having been said, though, I probably haven't seen most of those 1980s films in at least 15 years.

One other thing that surprised me is looking at Chase's most recent credits on IMDb. IMDb goes in reverse chronolgical order, with #1 on a person's list being the last movie they made (at least for dead pepole), or stuff that hasn't been released yet for many actively working people. (One thing that bothers me is that TV seriers are inserted by the date of most recent appearance, which can be a problem in the case of something like Saturday Night Live where Chase has been a guest host several times.) In Chase's case, that includes playing Clark Griswold one more time in another movie in the Vacation franchise, which started off 30 years ago. The Vacation franchise also included a straight-to-DVD release. There's also apparently a Hot Tub Time Machine 2 in production, in which Chase again plays the part of "Repairman". (I didn't see the original Hot Tub Time Machine, so I don't know how small a part it is.)

Film franchises are of course nothing new to Hollywood; they've been going on at least since the Hildegarde Withers mysteries in the early 1930s, or the shorts written by SS Van Dine, if not earlier, since recurring characters were a very common feature of silent shorts. It seems to me, however, as though most fo the franchises back in the day were either shorts or B movies; look at all those detective series TCM has been running on Saturday mornings and early afternoons. Sure, The Thin Man was a big series, although I believe that was never actually meant to be a series. It's just that athe first one was so popular that even back then the studios couldn't resist trying to milk characters for all they were worth. There's also the Andy Hardy movies, although those don't seem to me to be quite the prestige movies as the other stuff MGM was putting out at the same time. I think we'd have to fast forward to James Bond in the 1960s, or am I missing something in between?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Creature with the Atom Brain

Before the start of October, TCM had been running some of those B-level science fiction movies from the 1950s and early 1960s just before whatever movie series they were going through at the end of Saturday mornings: the scifi would come on around 9:00 or 9:30, with the series usually being a 10:45 AM movie designed to let the afternoon lineup begin right at noon. In October TCM is putting in some more Hammer horror films in the late morning Saturday slot. It's not quite my thing, but it is October, and I'm sure there are a lot of folks out there who do like Hammer horror films more than I do. Anyhow, the last of the 1950s sci-fi movies in September was Creature With the Atom Brain, which is available on DVD.

The movie starts off with a man shuffling along a tree-lined street, eventually coming up to the window of a house. Inside, a gangster is talking with one of his underlings, and counting out the night's winnings. The man on the outside breaks the window, and climbs right into the house! He then says that he's "from Buchanan", which is supposed to mean something to the gangster who is obviously in mortal danger, before using his new-found superhuman strength -- bullets don't even affect him -- to break the gangster in two. It's not quite Zachary Scott getting shot at the beginning of Mildred Pierce, but it's still a fun way to open a movie.

But there's more to the opening than that. We also see that somebody is watching all of the above murder on a TV screen someplace, and has been speaking into one of those intercom-type microphones that are a staple of the police in movies back in those days, telling the murderer where to go and what to do! This guy is Buchanan (Michael Granger), and he's got a Dr. Steigg (Gregory Gay), a German doctor whose relationship with the Nazis is never fully explained, with him. What are they doing?

Well, let's go back to the crime scene. The police are brought in to investigate, in the form of forensic scientist Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning), who has a wife Joyce (Angela Stevens) and daughter Penny, but he's really more married to his job. He's constantally being called upon at hom by Captain Dave Harris (John Launer), to the point that Penny refers to the captain as Uncle Dave. Anyhow, they go off and investigate the crime scene, and one clue is a radioactive fingerprint left on the window sill. Surprisingly, when the run the fingerprint check, they find it was left by a man who's been dead for three weeks!

Things get more interesting when there's a second murder, of a former assistand DA, and the investigators find things in common between the two murders. Eventually, it leads Dr. Walker to an astounding conclusion: the murders are being committed by people who are technically dead, but are being kept alive by some sort of electric stimulation that involves radioactivity in some way. (Being shown stock footage of a dog with electrodes attached to its brain doing what its master tells it to do will help you come to that conclusion.) Or to put it in a way the general public can understand, an army of murderous zombies mught be on the loose!

It's amazing to think that the cops' first hypothesis might be right, but then the movie only runs about 70 minutes so there's not much time for them to get things wrong. It turns out that Buchanan and Steigg are taking dead bodies and using a combination of radiation and electrodes to the brain to turn the dead bodies into these zombified contract killers. Of course, we viewers already sort of knew this, since we've been shown scenes of Dr. Steigg doing his experiments in one of those laboratories that looks like it could have come out of a 1930s horror movie what with all those dials and the massive amount of electricity required.

That's about all you really need to know of the plot to get what this movie is about, even though I've only gotten through about the first half of the movie. The second half is a race between the police and the bad guys using an increasing number of zombie killers, climaxing in a scene outside the house turned into a laboratory with several zombies who are bulletproof, and an army of cops/military. You'd think the zombies would actually kill several of the cops in this climax, based on the way the fight is staged, but that doesn't seem to happen.

Creature With the Atom Brain has a lot of problems such as the lack of continuity in the climax, as well as a bunch of nonsense science. In order to find the source of the radiation, Dr. Walker gets a bunch of jets from the nearby military base scrambled to do a quick search overhead, which is obviously done only so the filmmakers could use more stock footage to pad out the plot. There's also no reason to panic the people by referring to these radioactive zombie killers. Especially since the cops have good reason to believe (rightly, as it turns out), that there's a set of specific nameable murder targets, not the general population. But really -- jets flying that fast can find a pinpoint source? At least use helicopters. To be honest though, in a movie like this, you're not supposed to worry about all the continuity problems and the bad science. Just sit back and be entertained. And this movie is very successful in that regard. In addition to the previously mentioned stock footage, there's also a great scene in which Penny realizes there's something wrong with "Uncle" Dave, who responds by tearing her little dolly to smithereens.

Creature With the Atom Brain may be dumb, but damn if it isn't a hell of a lot of fun. As I said at the beginning, it's available on DVD, and still in print, since you can get it from the TCM Shop too.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Bounty again

TCM's prime time lineup tonight is both of the movies about Ensign Pulver: Mister Roberts at 8:00 PM, followed by Ensign Pulver at 10:15 PM. That's followed at 12:03 AM by a short the TCM schedule calls simply The Bounty, which the TCMDb's page lists as "Bounty/NY World's Fair".

I'm not 100% certain whether this is a different short from HMS Bounty Sails Again!, which I mentioned last November, but despite the TCMDb's odd naming style, I think they're two different shorts. Most notable is that there's a separate page for HMS Bounty Sails Again, although this one the TCMDb calls Tour of the Bounty. Secondly, TCM's schedule suggests that tonight's short is in color, while the IMDb page for HMS Bounty Sails Again says it's in black and white (the link to the TCMDb page for both shorts doesn't indicate whather they're in color or black and white). Further searching reveals a TCM Media Room video that's pretty clearly in color. I couldn't find anything on Youtube of HMS Bounty Sails Again! however.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mr. Lucky

Another movie that a search of the blog claims I've never blogged about before is Mr. Lucky. It's getting another airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on TCM, so now is a good time for a full-length blog post about it.

Cary Grant stars as Joe Adams, a gangster in an early 1940s coastal city. The early 1940s, of course means that World War II is on, which was of course a problem for gangsters in general. More importantly to Joe, however, is that there's a draft going on, and Joe doesn't want to have to go off and fight in the war. Thankfully, though, Joe has a way out of the draft: there's a petty criminal, Joe Bascopoulos, who's dying, and has been declared 4-F, or unfit to serve. Joe Adams takes over Bascopoulos' identity once the real Bascopoulos dies. At the same time, Joe also comes into possession of an old ship, which he plans to renovate into a gambling ship, which will take people past the 12-mile territorial limit so they can gamble to their hearts' content.

But there are some catches. Joe needs money for the renovations and operations, and with a war on, there's going to be difficulty in finding that money. Ah, but there's a War Relief Fund! They're organizing charity events, so why can't Joe horn in on them, and skim off some of the charity proceeds for himself? Sure, that's not only highly illegal but also terribly immoral, but when have the gangsters let little things like morality stop them? There's a bigger problem with relief fund worker Dorothy Bryant (Laraine Day). Joe begins to fall for her, to the point of using his con games to get people to donate to the relief cause, which causes Dorothy to begin to fall in love with him.

There are still more catches for Joe, however. Bascopoulos, whose identity he took, has some outstanding parole violations, and the way that Adams has been getting the money to renovate the gambling ship gets the police involved. Joe's increasing attraction to Dorothy is also beginning to give him some moral qualms, but even more so is what he learns about Bascopoulos' family. In theory, it wouldn't be that unrealistic if Joe had an epiphany in time of war, but of course there's a problem in that there are other gangsters who have been relying on Joe to get him this money from the charity gambling event Joe has ben planning.

Mr. Lucky is an interesting movie in part because the character Cary Grant plays is so atypical for him. The only other characters close to this that I can think of Grant playing are in Suspicion and None But the Lonely Heart. Grant does a pretty good job, although I don't think he's quite as believable playing the criminal who falls in love that somebody like a young Gregory Peck did so well in Yellow Sky. There are also some script problems, which I think are largely down to having to comply with the Production Code. Still, the script also gives Grant a few lighter moments, such as having to take up knitting for the War Relief Fund. Good training, I suppose, for having to be a male war bride several years later.

Mr. Lucky has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Friday, October 4, 2013

711 Ocean Drive

A search of my blog claims that I haven't done a full-length post on the movie 711 Ocean Drive before. Oh, I've mentioned it a couple of times as being a movie that fits into various themes, but never a full-length post. It's airing tomorrow morning on TCM at 8:30 AM.

Edmond O'Brien, who seems to show up in several other interesting noirish movies, plays Mal Granger. He's a telephone lineman, at a time when people working for the phone company don't make very much money, if they ever did. So he's tried to make some money by playing the horses, which has earned him notice from the criminal underworld that runs the betting rings. They need people who work in communications, to get the results from the tracks to the network of bookies. Vince Walters (Barry Kelley), who runs the wire in California, wants Mal to work for him. Mal rather stupidly accepts.

I say "stupidly", since you know in a code-era movie that crime can't possibly pay. But without such stupidity, we wouldn't have a movie. So Mal accepts -- besides, he needs the money -- and proceeds to do a good job for Walters. In fact, he does such a good job that he makes himself more or less indispensible to Walters. This indispensiblitiy gives Mal what he naturally thinks is a trump card: what will the wire syndicate do without him if they don't give him more of what he wants? In fact, it's not so much a trump card as it is hubris. Sure, Male is good at what he does. But that doesn't mean that he's going to be good at running the syndicate. And besides, this is only the California branch of the wire syndicate; there are still national leaders above Mal who would be able to put him in his place if he gets too big for his britches. But just as with Mal's stupidity, we wouldn't have a good movie if it weren't for Mal's hubris. And so Mal uses his power for his own aggrandizement.

When Walters eventually gets offed, Mal takes over, and does a good enough job that the aforementioned national syndicate notices, and sends an emissary in the form of Mr. Mason (Donald Porter) to "invite" Mal and his California syndicate into the national syndicate. Mal eventually accepts because Carl Stephens (Otto Kruger, whom you'll remember as one of the bad guys in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur), the head of the national syndicate, realizes that one of Mal's weaknesses is women, and uses Mason's wife Gail (Joanne Dru) to get to Mal.

At this point, things begin to go south for Mal. He learns that the national syndicate is cheating him, while he's also falling too much in love with Gail, who for her part is getting slapped around by her husband. Mal's attempt to hire a hitman fails, with Mal having to murder the hitman, which means he's now a murderer and will have to escape, for which he needs more money. And he's got a great plan to get that money, and give the shaft ot the national syndicate. Mal, with that expertise in telephone electronics, develops a plan to have the clocks in the Vegas branch go slow, so that Mal can substitute a taped call of one of the horse races, meaning that Mal will already know the result and will be able to make big money by betting on it. Well, he's going to have to send underlings to do the wagering, which means that there's a conspiracy, and we know that in a movie like this the conspiracy is ultimately going to fail. Mal is forced to flee again, and this time winds up at Boulder (Hoover) Dam for the climax.

The more I think about 711 Ocean Drive, the more I realize that I can't think of anything particularly new here, as opposed to something like O'Briens DOA from the same year which feels fresh and unique. We've got the same themes of a man's own greed and hubris driving him to his ultimate doom, with some help from lovely women along the way. Most if not all of the typical noir boxes seem to be ticked here. And yet, none of that stops 711 Ocean Drive from being an immensely entertaining movie. Most everything pretty much makes sense, in terms of Mal's motivation and the way the others in the crime syndicate get him to do their bidding, while fitting together neatly in a way that some other films don't necessarily do. The movie doesn't have the biggest stars, but everybody does a professional job in their roles. All in all, 711 Ocean Drive is a more than worthwhile movie.

711 Ocean Drive is also available on DVD.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Catch them if you can

I notice that the lineup tomorrow (October 4) on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel has several movies that I blogged about years ago. I think they're all available on DVD, but since I don't know if they're ever going to air again on FMC, I figure I might want to mention them as a heads-up:

The House on 92nd Street, at 8:35 PM, is a very interesting docudrama in which William Eythe infiltrates a ring of Nazi spies trying to get secrets about the atomic bomb;
Cry of the City at 10:05, stars Richard Conte as a criminal being pursued by his childhood friend turned cop Victor Mature; and,
In A Blueprint for Murder at 11:45 AM, Joseph Cotten suspects sister-in-law Jean Peters of murder, but how is he going to catch her?

Star of the Month October 2013: Vincent Price

Now that we're into a new month, we get a new Star of the Month on TCM. Price is an excellent choice for October, since he became well known for all those B-level horror films he made in the second half of his career. And I presume part of the reason Price's films are going ot be on TCM every Thursday this month is because Halloween is falling on a Thursday. However, Price had a long career outside of making horror movies, and it's fitting that the month starts off with some of Price's excellent non-horror movies. (Actually, the salute unofficially kicks off before prime time with an airing of While the City Sleeps at 6:00 PM, but that's coming up in prime time on October 17 so I'm intending to do a full-length blog post about it then.) I notice that I've already blogged about most of tonight's prime-time lineup:

First, at 8:00 PM, is Price in a smallish role as Sir Walter Raleigh (pictured above) in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
Then, at 10:00 PM, prosecuting attorney Price baders Cornel Wilde and Jeanne Crain in Leave Her to Heaven.
Price plays a priest who sends novice priest Gregory Peck to China in The Keys of the Kingdom, which comes on at midnight.
Price gets to play another priest, Cardinal Richelieu, in the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers, at 2:30 PM.
Finally, Price may or may not be involved in some nefarious going on in The Bribe, at 4:30 AM.

All of the movies in tonight's prime time lineup are available on DVD.