Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is it on DVD or not?

Yesterday, I mentioned that Make Mine Mink did get a DVD release in the UK, but doesn't seem ot have been released in the US. So it was to my surprise when I looked up today's TCM schedule and saw one of those "Buy DVD" icons next to Make Mine Mink. The thumbnail photo, and eventually the page for the DVD it linked to, looked suspiciously like one of the out-of-print DVDs on offer at Amazon, and a closer reading of the TCM Shop page led me to spot: "ON ORDER", followed by a JavaScript popup to give them your email address so they can tell you when it becomes avaialbe. Presumably, you could buy the DVD if only it were in stock! Or in other words, it's much the same situation as at Amazon.

And then there's tomorrow's airing of The Clock at 8:15 AM. There's no "Buy DVD" link next to this one, which really surprised me. And, sure enough, it's been released through the Warner Archive Collection. Although, to be honest, this is the sort of movie I'd have expected to end up on one of those four-film box sets you see mentioned between films on TCM, and a search of the TCM Shop didn't quickly reveal any such DVD. (The linked DVD was the first hit.) And, unforunately, these Warner Archive MODs are really more expensive than they ought to be.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Make Mine Mink finally back on the TCM schedule

I blogged about Make Mine Mink all the way back in February 2008. As you can see from that post, there's a photo of the cover are from a DVD box set including Make Mine Mink, so it has gotten a DVD release. At least, it did in Europe; all of the DVDs available for sale on Amazon are listed as Region 2, which is Europe and not the US. I don't know who has the rights to it in the US, but it really deserves a DVD release here too.

At any rate, I see it's on the TCM schedule for tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM, which isn't exactly the most convenient time, but then something has to be on at 6:30 AM. This is the first TCM showing in ages: I've got the monthly schedules on my hard drive going back to July of 2007, and tomorrow is the only hit for Make Mine Mink. It's well worth seeing if you haven't seen it before, and I have no idea when it's going to show up again.

Christmas in July

Tonight's the last Friday in November, so we're reaching the end of the Friday Night Spotlight on screwball comedies. This week sees a couple of Preston Sturges movies from the end of the screwball era. Of them, the one I haven't recommended before is Christmas in July, which you can see at 9:45 PM.

Dick Powell stars as Jimmy McDonald, a good guy working in the accounting department of some big business, but not really getting ahead in the world. He's engaged to Betty (Ellen Drew), but still lives with Mother in an apartment building in the poorer part of town. Part of the problem is that Jimmy dreams of getting rich, in a way peculiar to the decade or so just before World War II: winning big money in a radio contest. (You'll remember a radio contest being a major part of the plot to The Magnificent Dope.) This particular contest has a grand prize of $25,000, which would have been several years' income back in 1940, and involves coming up with the best new slogan for Maxford Coffee. (Where's Mrs. Olsen when you need her?)

Meanwhile, we get to see the contest in action. Everbody's sent in their slogans, and now it's tim for the jury to select the winners, but there's a problem: the jury can't agree on which slogan ought to be the winner. One juror, Mr. Bidlocker (William Demarest) has one slogan in mind, while everybody else has a different one. With the contest at a deadlock, some of Jimmy's co-workers decide to play a cruel joke on him: they send him a bogus telegram claiming that his slogan has been selected the winner, and he should go see Mr. Maxford (Raymond Walbourn) to pick up his $25,000 check. Some co-workers. Jimmy goes, and because Maxford has been unable to get in touch with any of the jurors, he assumes that the incompentent jurors simply never informed him that they had finally selected a winner. So, Maxford actually cuts Jimmy a $25,000 check on the spot!

Being declared the winner of one of these big radio contests changes Jimmy in that it gives him more confidence, but it really changes other people's perception of Jimmy just as much. Jimmy's boss gives him a promotion, and retailers are more than happy to give Jimmy an advance on his check when he wants to buy an engagement ring for Betty and gifts for all of the people in his apartment building. It's only at this point that the other shoe drops, and Maxford discovers that the telegraph was a phony, and that the jury still hasn't selected a winner. Maxford understandably presumes that Jimmy is trying to con him, and stops payment on the check. What a PR nightmare.

Things look terrible for Jimmy, but this being a Preston Sturges comedy, you know it's going to have a reasonably happy ending for him and Betty. It's more a question of how the characters are going to reach the resolution that allows the viewers to be happy for Jimmy and Betty. In that regard, Christmas in July succeeds fairly well, although I'm not going to give away the ending.

Christmas in July was only Sturges' second movie as a director following The Great McGinty, so even though he had written quite a few screenplays, the full Preston Sturges style isn't quite here yet. Christmas in July isn't quite as zany as The Palm Beach Story or The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and it isn't as pointed in its criticisms of people in power as Sullivan's Travels or Hail the Conquering Hero. It's fairly gentle, but a nice gentle. And it's still Preston Sturges. Even his mess The Great Moment was worth watching. And Christmas in July is much more successful than The Great Moment.

The TCM shop lists Christmas in July as being available as part of a Preston Sturges box set. It did get a standalone DVD release a couple of years ago, at least according to Amazon, but I don't know if that's still in print.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tony Musante, 1936-2013

Tony Musante (center) terrorizing an el train car full of passengers together with Martin Sheen (background) in The Incident (1967)

The death has been announced of actor Tony Musante, who died on Tuesday at the age of 77. Musante had a varied career which included a lot of work on the stage and in TV as well as movies. I've recommended two of Musante's movies in the past. First was The Incident, in which Musante and Sheen play a pair of young hoodlums who board a late night el train in New York City and won't let the passengers out, terrorizing each of them in turn. It's a gripping movie, but as far as I know, it still hasn't received a DVD release, which is a huge shame.

The other movie was The Detective, in which Musante has a smaller role, again as a hoodlum. This time, he gets arrested by main character Frank Sinatra and charged with a murder he didn't commit, for which he's sent to the electric chair. When the real murderer commits suicide, it drives Sinatra to a crisis of conscience. It's a very interesting movie, and one that's well worth a watch. When I blogged about it back in June 2010, I pointed out that it was on DVD, but I don't know if that's a DVD that's still in print.

And for evidence that entertainment marriages aren't all doomed to failure, Musante is survived by his wife of 51 years.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The final night for Star of the Month Burt Lancaster

We're already up to the final Wednesday in November, which means it's one final night of Burt Lancaster's movies for his turn as TCM's Star of the Month. The overnight schedule includes The Professionals at 1:15 AM. This is another of those movies I thought I had blogged about before, but a search of the blog, as well as a search of the posts on my computer claims no, I haven't. So now would be a good time to blog about it.

The scene is the Amreican Southwest in 1917; a bit later than your standard-issue western, but just before World War I and the social change that would bring. Over on the other side of the border, in Mexico, there's a revolution going on. Sure, the government is bad, but it's just as likely that the rebels are going to turn out to be a problem, too, as we saw in Crisis many years earlier. Industrialist JW Grant (Ralph Bellamy) has had his wife kidnapped by bandits, and taken to a stronghold somewhere on the Mexican side of the border. And dammit, he wants his wife back! To that end, he's willing to hire the best mercenaries, and pay them a substantial sum. Leading them is soldier-of-fortune Henry Fardan (Lee Marvin). Hnery assembles a team of the best fot the operation: dynamite expert and bon vivant Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), who always seems up for an adventure; horse wrangler Hans Ehrengard (Robert Ryan), and tracker Jacob Sharp (Woody Strode). Their mission, as Grant explains it to them, is to go into Mexico, find Mrs. Grant, and bring her back to him, for which they'll be mighty well compensated.

And so, they head off to Mexico, a place that is pretty desolate and tough to live in, as we saw when discussing the movie Bandolero! back in January 2010. But our team of mercenaries braves the conditions and eventually gets to the camp where Mrs. Grant has been spirited away to, which is where they discover the first of their problems. It's the camp of Jesús Raza, one of the more notorious revolutionaries. As a revolutionary, he's pretty well armed, and getting Mrs. Grant out of there is going to be a darn sight difficult. Additionally, with Raza being her kidnapper, there's also the problem that the Mexican government wants Raza, so our Americans dealing with Raza means they're also eventually going to have to deal with the other side of the revolution. But they want their money, and in a nice set piece they rescue the lovely Maria Grant (Claudia Cardinale; where do all these people in Westerns get their trophy wives from?).

At this point, with Maria in tow and Raza and the Mexican government going after them, the team faces its third problem: Maria doesn't want to go back to Grant. Hers is a marriage not born out of love, but out of Grant's rapacious and controlling desire to have a beautiful wife. In fact, Maria loves Raza and is happy to be with him. But our professionals, faced with all the other problems they have, understandably figure that the least bad thing to do is complete their mission and get the money; if Maria wants to escape back to Raza afterwards that's her business. Except that there are going to be complications getting back to the States, with another set in a mountain pass; more difficult is when Maria suggests that Grant isn't going to pay them according to the terms of hte deal he made with them....

The Professoinals is more entertainment than anything else, as it's not rying to address any social issues or make any really dark points the way that a lot of other movies started to do with the destruction of the Production Code in the late 1960s. But there's nothing wrong with a movie being pure entertainment, and in that regard The Professionals succeeds in spades. Lancaster looks like he's having the time of his life making this one, getting to be rakish at times as he gets knocked on his keister wearing just his long johns. Lee Marvin is good, even if he was more enjoyable when he was playing bad guys. Everybody else has smaller roles, but all of them do well. All along the way, The Professionals is lovely to look at.

The Professionals is available for purchase from the TCM Shop.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stakeout on Dope Street

A few months back when I blogged about The Man With the Golden Arm, I mentioned in the comments that another movie with an interesting heroin withdrawal scene is Stakeout on Dope Street. That latter film is airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM on TCM, so now would be a good time to blog about it.

The movie begins with a drug bust gone wrong: two policemen try to catch a drug courier, but are ambushed, with the suitcase holding the drugs discarded where none of the parties were able to obtain it. Coming upon it accidentally is Julian Vespucci, nicknamed "Ves", one of a group of teenaged friends. He takes it to the room behind his father's store, where he and his other friends Jim and Nick hang out. They open the suitcase and find it's filled with... a salesman's cosmetic samples! Much like hiding the drugs in a doll in Wait Until Dark, this was done so that normal people coming upon the suitcase wouldn't spot that one of the containers actually had two pounds of pure heroin in it. Obviously, these teens don't get it either, and dump the canister of heroin, pawn the suitcase for some quick cash, and give the make-up to Jim's girlfriend Kathy (Abby Dalton, whom you might remember from the TV show Knots Landing or her many game show appearances).

One of the three reads about the drug bust gone wrong, and realizes that they had the suitcase involved in the bust! Unfortunately, the garbage truck has already picked up the trash, so they head off to the dump to try to find it, and when they do, they have a brilliant idea that they question whether or not is brilliant: sell the drugs themselves! Suuuure it's a brilliant idea. But there wouldn't be a movie if they hadn't gone for the drugs, or if they had taken the drugs to the police. (Well, they probably would have gotten arrested in the latter case, but that's a completely different story.) So, they decide to sell the drugs themselves, despite the fact that they know next to nothing about who the illicit drugs business works. They also don't get that everybody in town wants those drugs. The police want them off the street, while the drug dealers want them so they can keep making their profits, and the users want them so they can get their fix.

But among the three, one knows a former heroin addict, so they decide to use him as the fence for selling their drugs. As I said in the previous paragraph, boy is this a brilliant idea. Surely the regular dealers are going to figure out pretty darn quickly where the drugs are coming from, putting our three teens' lives in danger. It all leads to a climax that satisfies the strictures of the Production Code, which is probably the one big problem with the movie, but one the movie makers couldn't do anything about.

If there's another problem, it might be realism, or a lack thereof. I have no idea whether three reasonably good teens like this could so easily get themselves involved in fencing heroin, even if one of them did know a drug addict, and even if that addict is willing to help them without getting violent. The addict, however, provides, what is probably relatively realistic, and one of the film's best scenes, as he discusses going through withdrawal for the first time, in a scene that's played like a flashback. I don't know what drug withdrawal is really like, but as presented here, it's quite disturbing.

Stakeout on Dope Street was made with a cast of relative unknowns. Abby Dalton, the one cast member I named, probably went on to the biggest career, although this was made at the beginning of that career. I don't think it was designed to be one of the studio's prestige releases either, what with its black-and-white photography and if IMDb is to be believed, TV-friendly aspect ratio in an era five years after the introduction of Cinemascope. Still, it's quite an effective and entertaining little picture. As far as I know, Stakeout on Dope Street has not received a DVD release. That's a shame, because it deserves one, at least from the Warner Archive.

Another night at the movies

TCM is running another original documentary in its irregular series A Night at the Movies, which look at various genres. I think they've done epics, Christmas movies, and a couple of others before, but tonight, the subject is crime movies. The documentary runs at 8:00 PM, with a second airing at 11:00 PM for the benefit of those on the west coast, as is often the case for these documentaries. My memory of these A Night at the Movies programs is that they're more of a survey show, not providing any particularly new information that would be likely to be unknown by anybody who spends a lot of time watching TCM; the programs, however, are inoffensive enough and probably a reasonably good primer for people who don't know much about the movies.

TCM is also showing several well-known crime movies as part of the prime time lineup, naturally. (Well, of course they're airing crime movies; the "naturally" is for the fact that the ones they've picked are more well-known. I've briefly mentioned Bullitt a couple of times; that's the movie at 9:00 PM in between the two airings of the documentary. Then, at midnight, you can see The Naked City. Pictured above is James Cagney in White Heat, which is on 2:00 AM. The 1970s version of The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three follows at 4:00 AM, and the night concludes with The Thomas Crown Affair at 5:45 AM.

All of the movies in tonight's TCM lineup (not including the documentary) are available on DVD from the TCM Shop.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A night of "making of" featurettes

TCM has reached Part 13 of its Story of Film series, with the movies reaching the early 1990s. Once again, I'll admit to not knowing much about tonight's movies, so I can't really comment about them. I notice, however, that TCM has also scheduled several featurettes on the making of various 1980s films.

You've probably seen the sort of short I'm talking about before; I've mentioned shorts such as Redd Foxx Becomes a Movie Star before. In the January 2012 post I also mentioned All Eyes on Sharon Tate, although that one is a bit different because it's only partly about the making of the movie, and just as much about what Tate did away from the set. Not that it isn't interesting, of course; it's just not solely focused on the movie it's promoting.

As for tonight's "making of" featurettes, there are four of them showing up, although I think I've only seen two of them. First, at about 9:49 PM, is one on Cannery Row. The most interesting of the four might be the one on 2010, at 11:28 PM. 2010, being set in large part on a spaceship, has a lot of special effects, and this featurette discusses in part how they did the effects. That, to me, is much more interesting than hearing a bunch of dramatic actors.

The other two shorts, which I'm fairly certain I haven't seen before, follow the night's third feature, Beau Travail, which begins at midnight. First is one on Fame at about 1:33 AM, followed by a featurette on The Blue Lagoon at about 1:47 AM. Brooke Shields was about 15 when she made The Blue Lagoon, so no perving on her!

Any ideas on what the earliest "making of" featurette was? I know there was one on the trucks that ferried everybody across Africa for the making of King Solomon's Mines back in 1950, and even before that, I seem to recall a short popping up on TCM from time to time about location scouting in Idaho for Northwest Passage. But they really only seem to have become commonplace in the 1960s. (I'm not talking about simple trailers, of course.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Found in New Zealand, Part 2

Tonight sees the second half of of the movies that were Lost and Found: American Film Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. This week actually does have the three surviving reels of The White Shadow, a film whose finding I've mentioned a couple of times in the past since it was written by Alfred Hitchcock at the beginning of his career. If the list on the TCM page is correct, it would be the final item, but I don't know if that list is in the order of airing.

The two-strip Technicolor short The Love Charm sounds reasonably interesting, if only because I'm always up for two-strip Technicolor. There's also a Keystone comedy with Mabel Normand very early in her career, although I don't believe this is a Keystone Kops short: the studio produced much more than just those cop comedies.

There are also a couple of newsreel-like things that look interesting as well. Much as with stuff in two-strip Technicolor, I always find period documentaries fascinating. Well, I don't know that these are documentaries in the sense that we use the words today, but films that were meant to document something more or less factually without actors. I don't think anybody would call the Traveltalks shorts documentaries, but that's the sort of thing I'm thinking of here.

Amazingly, the stuff has already been put on DVD.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Briefs for November 23

I get to complain about the IMDb's search algorithm again. As part of the salute to Ralph Meeker this past Thursday, they showed the movie Shadow in the Sky, one of those Dore Schary-era message pictures from MGM that certainly has some things to recommend about it but also goes hilariously wrong in places. I wanted to check on IMDb whether it was on DVD at all (it doesn't seem to be), but my first search got the title slightly wrong: You'll note the "on" instead of "in". Even with a small mistake like that, you'd think the movie I was looking for would be near the top, but it's way down. I can understand some of the Shadow on the [something or other] movies being above it, but many of the choices are baffling, especially those where there's [something or other] in the Sky before Shadow in the Sky. That having been said, it's fairly clear that the algorithm spits out movies in part due to popularity: the 1953 John Wayne version of Island in the Sky shows up, but not the 1930s Gloria Stuart movie. As for, it does helpfully return the movie I was loking for right at the top. But this one also returns only the John Wayne version of Island in the Sky.

Jean-Luc Godard's feature film debut Breathless is showing up again as this week's TCM Essential tonight at 8:00 PM. It's not my favorite film, as I find it drags terribly once the police corner the Jean-Paul Belmondo character. But I'm sure some of you will like it.

The Four Feathers is on again tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on TCM. This is a rousing adventure, even though it's got a wildly implausible plot. As I mentioned last September, it's another one that's not quite my type of film, but I can't deny the quality of it. It's also got lovely color.

I've mentioned the Pete Smith short Let's Talk Turkey several times. With Thanksgiving coming up, it'll be coming up twice in the following week, once on Thanksgiving, and once tomorrow afternoon around 5:45 PM following Plymouth Adventure, which begins tomorrow at 4:00 PM.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of CS Lewis. You may recall Lewis for the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books which have started to be turned into a series of movies, first with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (probably the one Narnia book we were most likely to have read as kids since it's the first in the series) in 2005. I have to admit to not following new releases as much as other people, so I didn't know how far along the series has gotten. The third, The Dawn Treader, was already released back in 2010. IMDb lists the fourth, The Silver Chair, as being "announced", while the fifth, The Magician's Nephew is "in development". To be honest, though, other than the Narnia books, CS Lewis has no real relation to classic cinema, so remembering him here is a bit like remembering William Shakespeare on his birth or death anniversary.

Aldous Huxley also died on November 22, 1963, and he has a bigger relationship to classic film. Huxley is undoubtedly best remembered for his novel Brave New World, which as far as I can tell from looking at IMDb hasn't received the feature film treatment. I recall the lousy 1998 TV movie with Leonard Nimoy as Mustapha Mond, and IMDb also lists a 1980 version for NBC here in the States. His short story "The Gioconda Smile" has been filmed several times, including the 1948 Hollywood feature A Woman's Vengeance starring Charles Boyer and Ann Blyth. It was released by Universal-International, so it doesn't show up very often. "The Gioconda Smile" also has nothing to do with 2003's Mona Lisa Smile. More importantly, however, Huxley wrote a couple of screenplays: for the 1940 Laurence Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice, and the 1943 Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre.

Other November 22 deaths of note include Lorenz Hart in 1943; TCM could easily show his biopic Words and Music, in which he was portrayed by Mickey Rooney of all people. There's also character actor Moroni Olsen who died on this day in 1954, and Stooge Shemp Howard, who died November 22, 1955. Oh, and we could add Mae West (died November 22, 1980), and 1930s character actor-turned voice of Winnie the Pooh Sterling Holloway, who died 21 years ago today.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men

Back in the 1930s, it was quite common to make breezy little movies that, when they show up on TCM nowadays, would fit in a 75-minute time slot. Many of them are B movies where, when I see the names of them on the schedule, I find myself asking, "Have I seen that before? It looks as though it might be familiar." And then, there are the more memorable movies. A movie that fits into the latter category is Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men. It's getting an all-too-infrequent airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Aggie, played by Wynne Gibson, is a waitress living with, but not married to Red Branahan (William Gargan). There's no way they could get away with that a year later when the Production Code started being enforced, but here you are. Red is a petty criminal, and quickly runs into trouble when he gets into a fight with a couple of policemen. Red ends up in prison, and Aggie ends up jobless and unable to pay the rent. Aggie doesn't know what to do, so she goes to see her best friend Sibby (Zasu Pitts). She works as a maid, and she knows a client whose apartment is currently not being used. Aggie can crash there for a bit while she gets her life back on track.

Except, of course, that the apartment isn't vacant. It's being rented by a guy named Adoniram Schlump, nicknamed Schlumpy and played by Charles Farrell. He's the polar opposite of Red. Schlumpy claims to be from upstate and from a well-to-do family with a girlfriend and a snobby aunt, and is definitely not cut out for the big city, being as unable to get a job as Aggie. Schlumpy lets Aggie stay with him based on her lying about her circumstances, and in exchange she turns him into a man. Unfortunatetly, the man she turns him into is Red Branahan, at least outwardly. Still, it's a successful transformation, as he's able to get a good construction job and falls in love with Aggie.

There's a problem, which is that both main characters have people in their past, and you know that those characters are going to show up. Schlumpy's girlfriend Evangline (Betty Furness) and aunt Katherine come for a visit. More problematic is that the real Red has been released from prison, unbeknownst to Aggie. He's not going to be happy that she apparently has another man, even though she's been spurning Schlumpy's advances since she had lied to him about her past. Worse is that he's not going to be happy that somebody else has taken his identity!

Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men is in many ways a typical pre-Code programmer. The studio wasn't trying to make a prestige movie here, just something to fill the bill for theaters to have product to push. You also know that the movie is going to resolve itself with a happy ending. In that regard, it's by no means the world's greatest movie: other 1933 product like Dinner at Eight and Gold Diggers of 1933 sparkle by comparison. Yet with all those limitations, it's still a lot of fun, rising well above all those other programmers.

As far as I am aware, Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men is not available on DVD.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A glimmer of good news from FMC

Somebody posted on the TCM boards yesterday or the day before -- I didn't see the thread until yesterday evening -- that there's a schedule back up at he Fox Movie Channel schedule page. Indeed there is. Not only that, but the printable monthly schedule seems to be showing actual movies that are really coming up, too. That monthly schedule continues through December 7, so I'd guess that FMC si going to be around through at least the end of the year. How much longer than that, I don't know.

The other interesting thing is that the monthly schedule shows a couple of movies that I don't think have shown up on FMC in a long time, such as Wild River next week, or Man on a Tightrope the week after. As I think I said back in September, enjoy it while you can.

(And Blogger, why is
not giving me any results?)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Národní filmový archiv

So I was listening to Radio Prague again, as I often do and have mentioned several times in the past. So it was a pleasant surprise when Monday's interview program "One on One" presented an interview with Michal Bragant. It's a name you probably wouldn't recognize -- I certainly didn't. But he's apparently the head of the Czech National Film Archive. Bragant talks about the history of the archive, and also mentions the restoration of All My Good Countrymen, which was also discussed on Radio Prague last June in the runup to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

The link to Michal Bragant above is a link to the transcript of the interview. If you want to listen to the interview, there's an MP3 here, to a file that's about 5.7MB and 10 minutes.

Animal Kingdom

A few months back, DirecTV was running a free weekend of Sundance and some other channels, and one of hte movies I got the chance to see for the first time was Animal Kingdom, a 2010 film from Australia not to be confused with the 1932 Leslie Howard film The Animal Kingdon. It's running again in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, at 4:40 AM on Starz (if you get both the east coast and west coast feeds, you'll have a chance to see it at 7:40 AM ET as well).

The movie starts off with a scene that's both prosaic and disturbing. Teenager Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), nicknamed J, is sitting on a couch in some suburb of Melbourne, Australia, watching some mindless game show on TV. Next to him is his mother -- who's just died of a drug overdose. Dad's nowhere to be found, so J calls his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), nicknamed "Smurf", and asks her for advice. That advice includes moving in with her. After all, it's not as if he's got any place else to go.

J moves in to an extended family. In addition to Grandma, there are three of her sons, or J's uncles, who always seem to be around: younger brothers Darren and Craig, and older brother Andrew (Ben Mendelsohn), nicknamed "Pope". Also around a lot is their friend Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), nicknamed "Baz"; he, however, has a wife of his own. The four of them are a criminal gang of a sort that's never quite fully explained. Grandma, depending on your point of view, is either a Mildred Pierce type: she's simply spoiled her kids to the point that they've gotten in a very bad way; or, she might be like Raymond Shaw's mother in The Manchurian Candidate, actually being the lynchpin on the plot.

It's always a dangerous time to be part of a criminal gang, but the atmosphere of the movie makes it even more dangerous. For reasons that are again not quite fully explained, the police have begun to take the law into their own hands. Instead of just arresting the putative bad guys, they actually ambush one in a grocery store car park and shoot him in cold blood! This causes the brothers to want to gain revenge, in a plot which involves stealing a car, abandoning it in a suburb, and then shooting the police who come to investigate. The plot also involves J, who is expected to hotwire the car for his uncles.

And so J has been sucked into the criminal gang, although he's still a minor. The police are investigating, and J's being a minor gives the chief investigator, Det. Leckie (Guy Pearce) some leverage. Further complicating things is that J has found a girlfriend in the form of Nicky (Laura Wheelwright). J faces a very tough situation. Obviously, he doesn't want to go to prison, and to that effect it might just be best to lawyer up and not answer any of the police questioning. And he might want to live something resembling a normal life, or at least as normal as you can approach after his chaotic upbringing. But he's also got a family full of criminals who eventually show that they're willing to use discipline to keep people in line.

Animal Kingdom is a gripping story with a lot of twists and turns. What I've outlined above is mostly the first half of the film; I want to avoid giving too much in the way of spoilers. The acting is generally quite good. Frecheville as the lead generally portrays an atmosphere of somebody who thinks he's in invincible teenager, but at heart really wants to be detached from everybody else. Mendelsohn as the more depraved uncle, and Weaver as the grandmother are especially chilling at times. Guy Pearce was probably the biggest name in the cast at the time the movie was made, but his role is more of a supporting role, which he performs well enough. Ultimately, though, Animal Kingdom rests on the strength of its story depicting one mightily screwed-up family.

Animal Kingdom did get a DVD release which you can find on Amazon (including an "Instant video" version), but I'm not certain if the hard-copy DVD is still in print, since I couldn't find it at the TCM Shop.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gunnar Fischer, 1910-2011

I think I'm giving something away in The Seventh Seal (1957)

Today marks the birth anniversary of cinematographer Gunnar Fischer. Fischer worked with Ingmar Bergman in the 1950s on several famous movies, with The Seventh Seal probably being the most well-known of them here in the USA. Smiles From a Summer Night and Wild Strawberries are also well worth watching, although if we're talking about Fischer and not Bergman I think it's probably better to mention The Seventh Seal just because of some of the images it has.

If only Max von Sydow know how much opening theory advanced since the Middle AgesThere are the scenes of Max von Sydow playing a game of chess against Death, and even some great individual shots of Death himself, in that black outfit where you can only see the face and hands. It something that I don't think would have nearly the effect if the movie had been made in color. Likewise is the famous shot from near the end that is pictured at the top of this post. One of the interesting things about the shot is that those are by and large not the cast members. Either Fischer or Ingmar Bergman, I don't remember which, saw the way the sun lit up the sky at the end of filming one day, and realized it would make a gorgeous shot. However, filming had been completed for the day, so the cast wasn't around, only the crew. They still filmed, using crew members standing in, and there's the memorable shot we got.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lost films, rediscovered

Tonight's program for Silent Sunday Nights on TCM is titled Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive Part 1, beginning at midnight. The title is more or less self-explanatory: a whole bunch of film footage was discovered in New Zealand in 2009, including stuff previously considered lost. This is some of the stuff that was until now thought lost.

I'm not certain is this is the same discovery that also produced three reels of The White Shadow. I'm not certain whether any of the footage found in 2009 made its way to the documentary Fragments, which I mentioned back in December 2011. I have a vague memory of stuff from New Zealand being mentioned, and a stronger memory of John Ford being mentioned, but I know there was a lot of other stuff in that documentary, and it would have been made not too long after the discovery.

Johnny Apollo

Doing a search of the blog posts on my hard drive, it looks as though another movie I have yet to do a full-length blog-post on is Johnny Apollo. It's coming up on TCM tonight at 10:00 PM.

Tyrone Power stars as Robert Cain Jr., the son of wealthy businessman Robert Cain Sr. (Edward Arnold). Cain Jr. is a student at Harvard, presumably being groomed to join Dad's business, which is a stock brokerage. However, the son's happy world is about to come crashing down upon him. Well, Dad's is about to, as well, because Dad is being indicted and convicted of embezzlement. There's no more money for college, so it's off to find a job in the real world. However, no honest business seems to want a Robert Cain in their workforce. At least, not any of the businesses that hire people out of Harvard; one supposes the younger Cain could have gone into blue-collar work. So Cain changes his name and gets a job -- which he's able to hold until it's discovered that his real name is Robert Cain. This time, the boss says that he would have been willing to hire him if only he had used his real name. Yeah right.

Without any good prospects, young Robert goes to see lawyer Emmett Brennan (Charley Grapewin) to see if the lawyer can obtain parole for his father. After all, the guy succeeded in gettting another guy who was sentenced at the same time as Dad out on parole. That guy is Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan), who runs the gang that has a monopoly more or less on the underworld. Robert Jr. needs money to get a parole for Dad, and honest labor seems a closed door to him, so he decides to join Dwyer's gang. Also there is "Lucky" Dubarry (Dorothy Lamour), a street-smart woman who nkows more than Cain.

What a bright idea. Robert, now going by the name Johnny Apollo, proves himself to be quite good at the rackets. But these of course are crimes, and we know from Code movies that crime does not pay. Further complicating matters is that Lucky has fallen for Cain/Johnny Apollo -- considering that Lucky was Dwyer's moll, this is a problem. Eventually the law catches up with the Dwyer gang, and the two men get sent to prison. Dad discovers that his son has joined the rackets, and is not one bit happy with it. You see, he spent his time being an impossibly model prisoner, or the sort that you wonder whether they exist in real life. How can Johnny Apollo atone for his crimes, and regain his father's love?

Johnny Apollo isn't a bad movie. Tyrone Power had never played a character like this before, previously having done some period pieces like Lloyd's of London and some light comedies like Love Is News. Perhaps the meatiest work he had done was in The Rains Came the previous year, and even that is a costume drama. Power does reasonably well here, although somebody like Clark Gable over at MGM or Humphrey Bogart at Warner Bros. would have found the material right up their alley (even though they would both have been much too old for the part). Edward Arnold is fairly good as well, even if his character is a bit unrealistic. Lloyd Nolan is interestingly cast, since he played a lot of good guys at Fox; Johnny Apollo came before most of those however. If there's a problem with the movie, it's that the script is problematic, especially once the younger Robert Cain gets sent to prison. Still, Johnny Apollo rises above the script problems and is more than worth a watch.

Johnny Apollo is available from the TCM Shop as part of a Tyrone Power box set; I'm not certain if it's available as a stand-alone.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

This Land Is Mine

A search of the blog, as well as a search of that portion of my hard drive where I save my blog posts, claims that I have never done a post about This Land Is Mine before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:15 AM on TCM.

The setting is a village somewhere in France, or at least the RKO backlot dressed up to look like Hollywood's conception of bucolic France. The movie was released in 1943, a date which means World War II, and an occupied France. Surely enough, this town is occupied by the Nazis, represented by Major von Keller (Walter Slezak, again providing a suitably evil Nazi as he did in Lifeboat). Albert Lory (Charles Laughton), meanwhile, is one of the schoolteachers in the village. He just wants to survive by making as few waves as possible. Not that he wants to collaborate with the Nazis; he just doesn't want to run afoul of them either. In fact, Albert is so meek that he still lives with his overbearing mother Emma (Una O'Connor). That, and he can't bring himself to disclose his feelings for fellow teacher, and neighbor Louise Martin (Maureen O'Hara). In some ways, though, that's not a bad thing, as she's already engaged to George Lambert (George Sanders), who is the superinendent at the rail yard.

Of course, you know all this is going to change thanks to the Nazi occupation. Louise's brother Paul (Kent Smith) is part of the Resistance, but, more importantly for Albert, Nazi propaganda is coming to the school. Lory would rather teach the truth, although not at the cost of his life; Louise, for her part, is sympathetic enough to the Resistance that she's going to rebel in passive ways where her brother is going to resist in more active ways.

It's that active resistance that's going to change everybody and get Albert to wake up from his torpor and realize how evil the Nazis are and that, my goodness, every right-thinking person is supposed to fight them everywhere and no matter the cost. More specifically, there's an act of sabotage at the railyards. It's at this point we learn that Lambert is, in fact, a collaborator! Paul, for his part, has been engaging in some of that sabotage, and when the Nazis come after him, he asks Louise and Albert for help. Albert lies ot the Nazis to protect Paul, his first major act of resistance.

Albert is going to get more chances to resist the Nazis, as his character transforms from meek to either foolhardy or somebody who realizes his previous life was pointless. It culminates in Albert being wrongly accused of murdering Lambert, and being put on what was always going to be a show trial anyway for it. Since Albert knows it's a show trial and there's no chance of being found not guilty, he can tell off the Nazis for what they really are. (I don't think it's giving too much away, since you know a movie like this has to have a positive message for the American audience for which this is intended, and the Nazis are always going to be portrayed in the worst possible manner.)

Charles Laughton is, as always, exceptional. I wouldn't say he steals every scene he's in since he's the star of the movie, but he certainly makes every scene his own, outshining the other cast members. That's not to say they're not good; it's just that when you're up against somebody like a Charles Laughton, it takes a lot to shine as much as he does. Clark Gable was able to do it in Mutiny on the Bounty; Maureen O'Hara and the rest instead provide a good atmosphere for Laughton to show his chops. And to be fair to them, they're all quite good at it. If the movie has any flaws, it's the fact that, being set in World War II and made at the time, it's kind of constrained in how it can present the unbelievably virtuous Resistance and preternaturally wicked Nazis. Somebody like Catherine Deneuve in The Last Metro is probably a more realistic portrayal of having to deal with Nazis.

This Land Is Mine does seem to be available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reassessing Julia Ross

So My Name Is Julia Ross was on TCM again last night. I got sucked into it again because it's just so darn entertaining, and it's only about 65 minutes. But this time I was thinking of some other movies as well. Warning: this way lies some serious spoilers

It's surprising just how many hostage moives there are, when you think about it. Specifically, the scene that got me to thinking about it was the one in which Julia Ross (Nina Foch) tries to get a message out by crumpling it up and tossing it through the gate. You know this early attempt is going to be unsuccessful, but part of the fun is in seeing how obvious the movie makes it that the hostage is going to fail in the beginning. The message isn't always crumpled, but Tyrone Power tried to pass a message to visitors to the stagecoach station in Rawhide (the message falls out of the recipient's coat); or Ethel Barrymore in Kind Lady (her captors have convinced visitors that she's going insane and that any message like this is a fake). In the case of Julia Ross, the gatekeeper notices it before anybody else does. Frankly, I think the most clever attempt to get a message out is the one by Priscilla Lane in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur.

Later on in the movie, Julia tries to send a letter to her on-again, off-again boyfriend Dennis in London. Very obvious shots are made of Julia's captors taking the letter out of the envelope and replacing it with an empty sheet so that this attempt will fail too. Although, I wonder how the boyfriend will react to getting a blank letter from some mysterious persno and address he's never heard of before. But the bigger point of the attempt is to have Julia write a second letter, and replace the blank with that before sending the envelope. This scene is handled in a florid style that made me wonder how the other two people in the car didn't see what Julia was doing. When they learn that she replaced the blank with an actual letter, they send a servant to London to get it, and that scene is so obviously handled as well to attempt to make the viewer question whether or not the guy got away with the letter or whether the police caught him.

One other thing I wondered about is when the movie was set. It was released in 1945, which is obviously smack in the middle of World War II. Don't these people know there's a war going on? Presumably, the movie is set at some point before the war, but this is never quite made clear. At any rate, My Name Is Julia Ross is still quite entertaining and worth a watch if you didn't get to see it last night. (It is available on DVD.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Another shoutout to the Widescreen Museum

So I was watching Gunfight at the OK Corral last night. Unsurprisingly, at the beginning of the movie, up pops the VistaVision logo. The movie, however, didn't seem to be particularly wide in its aspect ratio, at least not as wide as I remember other VistaVision movies like North by Northwest being. And on my 16:9 TV, there didn't appear to be any letterboxing, which would have implied that Paramount provided a print cropped to 16:9, or about 1.78:1. FMC seem to have been doing this with a number of their Cinemascope movies, with the latest I noticed being Return to Peyton Place. But Cinemascope was a 2:35:1 aspect ratio, much wider than what we see nowadays.

So it was off to IMDb, which lists the aspect ratio of Gunfight at the OK Corral as 1.85:1, which is more or less the standard these days. For some reason, I thought VistaVision had a wider aspect ratio than that, since the widescreen aspect ratio hadn't been standardized in the 1950s. So off to do some more research. Unsurprisingly, Google searching very quickly brought me back to the Widescreen Museum, a site I first mentioned very early on in my blogging because they also have an extensive section on early color processes.

To make a long story short, apparently the widescreen aspect ratio was closer to being standardized than I had thought, with Cinemascope being a decided exception. I knew that there was an odd practice of studios cropping the top and bottom off of some of their old pictures in the 1.37:1 "Academy ratio" when they re-released them, but didn't know that 1.85:1 was decided on fairly quickly. Widescreen Museum's page on VistaVision has a good deal on this, as well as a bunch of technical and promotional pictures from the early days of VistaVision.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not on DVD repeats for November 14

I'm always up for fun 1930s B movies, and have blogged about quite a few of them before. A lot of them aren't available on DVD, which means you have to wait for them to show up on TCM. Tomorrow is a day chock full of such films, several of which I haven't blogged about -- or even seen -- before, and most of which are not out on DVD. There are two films which I did post on before that aren't on DVD.

First of these is Professional Sweetheart at 11:45 AM, in which Ginger Rogers plays a radio star who has to marry hillbilly Norman Foster in order to maintain her image of purity. It's enjoyable enough, although comedies where having to maintain a fiction is one of the main plot points is something that can get a bit tedious after a while.

The other of the two movies is also a comedy with the characters having to keep a lie going: We're Rich Again, at 3:30 PM. In this one, Grant Mitchell plays the father in a family that's going broke, but he has to keep up the fiction that they're not in order that he can marry his daughter off; meanwhile, his daughter's cousin shows up to make things more complicated. One thing I was slightly off about in the original post is the suggestion that Buster Crabbe doesn't have a line of dialog. He finally does have the chance to speak, but only in the last ten minutes or so of the film.

I've also blogged about Rafter Romance (1:00 PM before), but that one is on DVD as part of a box set of six films that Merian C. Cooper got the rights to as part of his severance package with RKO.

Star of the Month Burt Lancaster, Part 2

Tonight see's TCM's second week fo Burt Lancaster films in his turn as Star of the Month. I finally ran across the new promo that was made about Lancaster, as they do every month. This time, it's Shirley Jones, who won the Oscar alongside Lancaster in Elmer Gantry (which is on tonight's schedule at midnight). Jones, who was born in 1935, talks about being a big fan of Lancaster when she was growing up, which made it a big deal for her to be able to work with Lancaster on Elmer Gantry, even though the director (or was it producer?) didn't really want her for the part. It's a pretty good piece. I'd link to it, but it doesn't seem to be avaiable in the TCM Media Room.

The only bad thing is that the Shirley Jones piece is probably going to replace the piece from the previous time Lancaster was Star of the Month, one done by director John Frankenheimer. If you watch enough TCM, you'll have seen that piece a dozen times, with Frankenheimer talking about Lnacaster's raw physicality enabling him to do that baseball slide in the sermon scene in Elmer Gantry; or Frankenheimer's talking about doing The Train (which will be airing next week)and how he supposedly learned more in making that one movie than he could have learned in an entire career elsewhere. This one also doesn't seem to be anywhere in the TCM Media Room.

I am very surprised to see that I haven't blogged about Elmer Gantry before, although on quite a few occasions I've referenced it and given enough of a plot synopsis so that you'd recognize it as the movie in which Lancaster's Elmer Gantry meets traveling evangelist Jean Simmons, and decides to fall in with her and more or less dupe the people by preaching the Gospel; Shirley Jones plays the loose woman who was part of Gantry's past in a way that would make the people not believe in Gantry. I was even more surprised to see the TCM Shop not have this available for purchase on DVD -- and I actually checked the TCM Shop instead of just going by the schedule. Amazon does have a two movie set of Elmer Gantry and Birdman of Alcatraz available, but it's apparently a barebones release with the movies and nothing else.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TCM Guest Programmer November 2013: Simon Helberg

Those of you who, unlike me, watch a lot of episodic television, may recognize the name Simon Helberg as one of the stars of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Helberg sat down with TCM host Robert Osborne to present four of his favorite movies, and those movies will be airing tonight. It's an interesting set of movies, even if none of them are particular favorites of mine.

First, at 8:00 PM, is Peter Sellers playing an Indian actor who mistakenly gets an invite to The Party; comic complications ensue.
Peter Sellers returns for a triple role at 9:45 in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is another one that I have problems with, mostly because I find the Dr. Strangelove character so intensely irritating with his physical mannerisms.
Then, at 11:30 PM is Brief Encounter, a little British movie from 1945 in which housewife Celia Johnson meets doctor Trevor Howard in a train station, and proceeds to have a brief but intense love affair with him. It's a well-made and high quality movie, but I find it veering into chick flick territory. (In looking to see whether I'd blogged about Brief Encounter before, I see that I made more or less the same comments about it back in January 2012, although I haven't done a full-length post on the film.)
Finally is Modern Romance at 1:15 AM, with Albert Brooks as a film editor with a complicated love life.

TCM says Dr. Strangelove and Brief Encounter are available for purchase from the TCM Shop; I didn't check the Amazon availability of the other two.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Buck Henry, Class of '52

When I mentioned Robert Ryan this morning, I linked to a profile on him from my school's alumni magazine that was published a year or so ago. A couple of weeks back, the most recent issue of the magazine came in the mail, and who was on the cover? None other than Buck Henry, who was a member of the Class of 1952. Ty Burr, the same man who wrote the piece on Ryan, has done a piece on Henry, and that piece is now available online. (A warning that the site uses a picture of the cover of the print version that hasn't been scaled down for thumbnail use, and that might slow down the browser a bit.)

One other big name from the classic Hollywood era who went to Dartmouth was Budd Schulberg, who was a member of the Class of 1936, I think. I don't know that th emagazine has ever run a piece on him, although when he died they had a big two-page picture of him from the 1954 Oscars with the rest of the winners from On the Waterfront. Schulberg's first wife eventually married Peter Viertel, one of the screenwriters of Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, who coincidentally also went to Dartmouth. Wikipedia says he graduated in 1941, but I thought I recalled from the obituary in the alumni magazine several years ago that he only matriculated and didn't graduate. I'm probably misremembering though.

"Veterans'" Day

Today being November 11, it's the public Veterans' Day holiday here in the US. Amazingly, TCM isn't showing any war movies, at least not by design, but instead a birthday salute to Robert Ryan, something that pleases me to no end. I wonder how many people are going to complain about TCM's not honoring the holiday. As for me, a couple of years ago on Veterans' Day I mentioned on another board how my father had 18 months taken out of his life by Uncle Sam, which he spent at White Sands Missile Range in Nex Mexico keeping the missiles from falling into the hands of the Ernst Stavro Blofelds of the world. It's true, excepting the Blofeld part; before Dad married Mom he was drafted and had to take all that time out of his life. Unsurprisingly, the people who deify military service weren't happy about my comments. So let's just say that I wouldn't mind seeing TCM run a day of Elvis movies on November 11 to honor people who were forced into service courtesy of the peacetime draft.

Even in America, the holiday was originally conceived to mark the end of World War I, being called Armistice Day. But after World War II, the "Great War" was, I think, largely stuck into one of those "we'd rather not talk about it much" closets. WWI was a mess, while in the US, WWII is the obviously virtuous war that we were only forced into by those people who attacked us. And for Hollywood, it was easy to make heroic movies about WWII, much more so than WWI. Vietnam changed all of this, but that's another story.

Even so, there were quite a few good World War I movies made in the years before 1939. People who are bigger fans of silent films than I am talk about how The Big Parade is one of the best silents ever. It's praise I'd find a bit too high, but it is a very good movie. There's also Wings, and then when you get into the sound era, pictures like All Quiet on the Western Front.

After World War II ended, however, thate haven't been too many movies about the first one made. The best Hollywood example I can think of would be Paths of Glory, which is of course an extremely anti-war movie, probably even more so than earlier World War I films like All Quiet on the Western Front or the French Grand Illusion. Elsehwere in the world, there's Peter Weir's Gallipoli, which I'll admit I haven't seen. (War movies, like westerns and musicals, aren't my favorite genre.) Looking through IMDb's list of films with "World War I" as a keyword, there are a lot listed, although the war isn't the main point of the movie in a lot of the cases, even with films made before World War II. People fight in the war in Cavalcade, for example, but that's not really the point of the film.

What's your favorite movie about World War I made after World War II?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mabel Normand, 1895-1930

Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Mabel Normand, one of the earliest female comic stars. Those who know silents better than I do can probably come up with names of other comic actresses who were a hit even before Normand, but not by too many years. Normand's career took off at a young age when she worked with Mack Sennett at Biograph. Sennett is probably best known for the Keystone Kops, but he also helped launch the careers of Normand and Charlie Chaplin. As you can see above, Normand and Chaplin worked together in several movies, mostly shorts of course, since features weren't too common at the time. Or, at least, what we would consider features with a reasonable running time.

Tillie's Punctured Romance was a success, and with Mabel's success in a series of two-reelers co-starring Fatty Arbuckle, she wanted to do another feature, which resulted in Mickey, which also seems to be on Youtube in its entirety. Actually the runtimes of the Youtube videos differ by a couple of minutes, but I'm not certain how much of that is down to differing frame rates. At any rate, the stuff is all public domain so there's absolutely no problem re-linking it here.

Unfortunately, Normand's career ended badly, in a possible murder or suicide case involving her lover, actor William Desmond Taylor; then there was another case involving her gun, her chauffeur, and a millionaire. Oh, and she partied hard too, making her a difficult person to work with on her movies. That partying eventually caught up with her, as she caught tuberculosis and died at the age of 34.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Desperate Siege

TCM had a premiere (for TCM) of the movie Rawhide last month. It's on again late this afternoon at 4:15 PM, and is available on DVD, so now would be a good time to do a full-length post on it.

Tyrone Power plays Tom Owens, whom we see in the opening scenes of the movie using precious water to shave himself in a building somewhere in one of the desolate parts of the Arizona territory. It's a clear foreshadowing sign that he's not quite a westerner, and that it's something that's eventually going to be a problem. Tom, in fact, is the son of the owner of a stagecoach line, and this is one of the stations along the line. Dad has sent him out west to gain some practical experience in running the family business, so he's working under station manager Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan). A stage stops by, and in the chit chat between the drivers and Sam and Tom, it's mentioned that a gang of criminals has busted out of prison, and that the cavalry is looking for them. This is Foreshadowing Sign #2 that Something Really Bad is going to be happening in the movie.

One of the passengers on the coach is Vinnie (Susan Hayward), a woman who had followed her sister out west and tried to make it as a hostess in one of those establishments that served the men who had migrated west to try to make their fortunes. Unfortunately, the sister had a child, and the sister and her husband are now both dead, leaving unmarried and unaccompanied Vinnie to take care of a toddler daughter back east. The driver of the coach, knowing about the criminals on the loose, says that he can't be responsible for unaccompanied lady passengers if there's a stagecoach robbery, so she's going to have to stay behind at the station until the next coach east comes in 24 hours' time. She, unsurprisingly, is none too happy about it. Not that Tom is happy about it either.

Some of what happens next should be easy to predict: namely, that the fleeing convicts show up at the station. They, led by Rafe (Hugh Marlowe), know that that a gold shipment should be coming through on one of the stages, and that's what they're really after. Except, of course, that things don't quite work out according to their plans. When Sam is trying to fetch one of the guns from the stable, he gets shot and killed by a gang member. Why didn't Tom use his gun? Well, he lent it to Vinnie, who was out back at the water hole taking a bath when the criminals first show up, so she walks into a situation not having any idea what's happened. Worse, she dropped the gun accidentally somewhere along the way, so now the two of them are more or less alone, against four hardened criminals, and at each other throats since Tom didn't want a woman stuck at the station waiting for the next coach and it wasn't her choice to be there! The criminals, however, make the natural assumptino that Tom and Vinnie are husband and wife. This makes things even more complicated for the two of them. It's better just to play along than to rile up those criminals.

But what's a guy like Tom to do? He has to try something, but the situation is such that it feels like nothing is under Tom's control. A coach going west comes through, and Tom tries to get a message to them; that doesn't work although the way it doesn't work seems a bit contrived. Then he steals a knife from the kitchen and tries to tunnel his way out! Yeah right, as if that's going to work.

The second section of Rawhide is a bit problematic since it doesn't seem particularly grounded in reality, with the shootout at the end being particularly full of coincidences. But the character study of Tom and Vinnie's characters is pretty good, as both do a nice job with their characters. As for the criminals, Marlowe is good as the intelligent, calculating evil. But even better is Jack Elam, playing a man who's been in prison long enough that he wants feminine contact, and with Vinnie around, he's insistent that he's not to be denied, regardless of what she thinks or whatever problems this poses for Rafe. The divisions between the various prisoners is one of those old plot staples that show up again and again in movies like this (Hello, Yellow Sky!) and for which you just have to go with the flow. Rawhide has some formulaic parts to it, and will remind you of other movies at times (although it was made several years before The Tall T), but in the end it's a pretty entertaining ride.

Rawhide the movie has nothing to do with the later TV show of the same name; when the TV show came along prints of the movie for TV late shows were given the title Desperate Siege. But for me a bigger thing is what a movie like Rawhide says about the Fox Movie Channel. I don't think I recall it ever showing up there, at least not since I started blogging. Now, I've stated before that westerns haven't always been my favorite genre by a long shot, but over the years I've been finding myself more and more willing to give post-Stagecoach westerns, at least the ones that weren't obviously conceived as B movies, a chance. Even though I wouldn't consider myself knoledgebale about westerns compared to many other bloggers, the fact that somebody like me wouldn't know much about a mobie like Rawhide until it showed up on TCM says something.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Yes, Virginia, there really is a DVD

TCM's Friday Night Spotlight returns this evening, with Matthew Broderick presenting four more movies, this night with a theme of divorces that turn out not necessarily to be the right move. That will be followed by two more screwball comedies to fill out the night. TCM's schedule page is claiming that four of the six films are available to purchase from the TCM Shop; in fact, the two that don't have the "Buy DVD" icon are also on DVD and can be found at the TCM Shop.

The first of these is Love Crazy, which I blogged about back in January 2009 on the first anniversary of the blog. William Powell and Myrna Loy try to celebrate their anniversary, things go wrong, and a series of misunderstandings leads to them nearly getting divorced and winding up in the nut hatch. It's airing at 11:30 PM, and is available as part of a William Powell and Myrna Loy collection that was released a year ago. I didn't see a stand-alone DVD available from the TCM Shop.

Rounding out the night is Vivacious Lady at 4:30 AM. Professor's son James Stewart falls in love with nightclub singer Ginger Rogers, and then has to keep the marriage a secret from his stuffy parents. This movie got a release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection about six weeks ago. (I had blogged back in August about it not being on DVD, which at the time was accurate.) I don't know how long it should take the various databases at TCM to talk to each other, but I'm surprised the schedule doesn't say anything about Vivacious Lady now being on DVD.

The other four movies are:

The Awful Truth at 8:00 PM; Cary Grant and Irene Dunne divorce, realize they shouldn't have, and then try to make each other's new relationships fail.
My Favorite Wife at 9:45 PM; Cary Grant's explorer wife is presumed lost at sea; on the day he's having her declared dead years later so he can get remarried, she shows up again with Randolph Scott in tow. Complications ensue.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, at 1:15 AM, has a slightly different premise; the characters don't get divorced so much as their marriage is declared invalid. Trying to get back together, however, turns out not to be as easy as planned.
And Too Many Husbands at 3:00 AM has a similar theme to My Favorite Wife, except with the genders reversed. Jean Arthur was married to Fred MacMurray who died, so she married Melvyn Douglas. Except that MacMurray didn't really die, and he shows up again.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

MODs gone missing?

TCM is giving us another showing of It's a Big Country this afternoon/early at 6:30 PM. When I blogged about it back in 2010, I mentioned that it was available only from the TCM Vault, by which I really should have said the Warner Archive MOD scheme. You can find the movie on Amazon, where the packaging makes it quite clear that it's part of the Warner Archive Collection. There's even a disclaimer on the page that the DVD is manufactured on demand using DVD-R recordable media.

And yet, on today's TCM schedule page, there's no price tag icon with the "Buy DVD" label next to it. With any regular DVD, that's perfectly reasonable. Either there's a limited print run, or else a provider could sell out their stock and not have any in stock. But this shouldn't be the case with MOD. Amazon's page also only states that the DVD is "In stock"; normally if it's on out-of-print DVD, there will be an indication that there are only a couple of copies available, as with the most recent example of having blogged about a movie that's apparently out of print, Fire Over England.

Further strangeness is that the TCM database page for It's a Big Country doesn't have anything in the upper right corner stating that either the movie is available from the TCM Shop, or that there's no DVD available, but you can click to let them know you think there ought to be. Compare this to the movie I blogged about yesterday, Come Back, Little Sheba. So I have no idea what's going on.

And then I got a brilliant idea: use the TCM search pages! When I have it search the TCM Database for It's a Big Country, I get the link I posted above. But the results page has a column for the matches, and a smaller column on the right for buying the DVD. As you can see, there's also a "From the Shop" column on the right, which indicates "No titles available". Which is where the really brilliant idea came. I used the search box at the top to search directly from the TCM Shop. Since there are a number of commonly-used words in my search and I didn't search for the words as they are put together, I got a whole bunch of matches. The very first of these matches is... It's a Big Country. Surprise surprise.

I think the upshot of all this is that if you're looking for a movie that wouldn't have been released by the Warner Archive (in other words, it's not from MGM, WB, or RKO), the lack of a link to purchase is probably accurate, and if there was a DVD, it would be out of print. But not with Warner Archive stuff. Note, of course, that not everything produced by MGM, WB, and RKO has made it to the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TCM Star of the Month November 2013: Burt Lancaster

Now that we're in the first full week of a new month, we get a new Star of the Month on TCM, which in this case is four Wednesdays (actually, into the morning hours on Thursday) of movies starring Burt Lancaster. He might be best-remembered for making love to Deborah Kerr on the beach in From Here to Eternity, which is airing tonight at 11:45 PM. He also won the Best Actor Oscar for Elmer Gantry, which is airing next week. So this week, I'd like to mention a movie which seems to be out-of-print on DVD, which coincidentally is also one for which it's not Lancaster who is remembered: Come Back, Little Sheba, at 10:00 PM tonight.

Lancaster does get top billing, as "Doc". Twenty years ago, he was in medical school, but unfortunately, his relationship with Lola (Shirley Booth) took a wrong turn, and Doc was forced to marry Lola and drop out of medical school. Instead, he became a chiropractor, which at the time wasn't the most respectable branch of medicine out there, if it was considered real medicine at all. Doc dealt with having his dreams crushed by turning to the bottle, eventually becoming an alcoholic. But all that is in the past, as for the last year of so Doc has been attending AA meetings, which is where we are at the point the movie opens.

Lola, for her part, has a nearly meaningless existence, especially since the disappearance of her dog Sheba. She of course had to get married to Doc because she had gotten pregnant by him, but the pregnancy went wrong and left her without the ability to have any children. So, for the last 20 years, she's been trapped in a childless, and at times loveless, marriage. Lola wants something to brighten up her life, and so for a change of pace she's decided to rent out a room in their house to a college student -- bring in somebody fresh and bring in a few bucks. Doc doesn't like that at first, because he doesn't want the stress and the pangs to drink that such stress brings.

And then Doc sees the student to whom Lola is showing the house. That student is Marie (Terry Moore), who is studying art at the local college, and is the embodiment of young femininity. Marie gets Doc's juices flowing, even though it would be highly inappropriate for the two of them to have a relationship. Besides, Marie isn't in love with Doc; who other than Lola could be? Marie likes Bruce, a fellow college student, although she's also got another college man following her. Needless to say, all this gets Doc very jealous, and threatens to drive him back to the bottle.

Come Back, Little Sheba is one of those little movies that looks more as though it's just trying to be a character study in the lives of a couple of relatively ordinary people rather than anything grand. But as with a movie like Marty or The Catered Affair, a movie that tells its story about such people well rises above its apparent "little movie" status and becomes truly great. Thanks to the acting of Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba achieves that greatness. In some ways, Lola seems to be pathetic, what with her having no life and little to no prospects of a good life now that she's well into middle age. You'd think she would have retreated into the bottle, much like Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce mentions at the beginning of the movie before the flashback that she's learned to drink over the last several months. But back in the early 1930s, when Lola would have gotten married, it wasn't as though there was a lot of opportunity for somebody with her social status and predicament. She's making the best of a bad situation, which isn't very much. Booth makes the character not particularly sympathetic -- you can easily see why Doc is so bitter -- but understandable. Doc, for his part, isn't particularly sympathetic either, what with his ogling Marie. Lancaster too does a good job with Doc; it's just that Booth is even better.

Come Back, Little Sheba isn't always an easy movie to watch, what with its dark themes of alcoholism and a couple that, as with the family in the recently-mentioned Primrose Path, would get the label "dysfunctional" had they been in the 1980s. But it's an extremely well-made movie, and one well worth watching. Amazon lists a couple of DVDs for sale, but they all seem to be out of print, and it's not available from the TCM Shop. This is a bit of a surprise considering that Booth won the Oscar for her portrayal of Lola, but some of the studios seem not to have any idea what to do with their old movies.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Primrose Path

While TCM is celebrating the centenary of Vivien Leigh today, it's also the birth anniversary of Joel McCrea, who was born on this day in 1905. TCM will be spending tomorrow morning and afternoon honoring McCrea, with movies including Primrose Path, tomorrow at 12:30 PM.

The star of the movie isn't McCrea, but Ginger Rogers, who plays Ellie May Adams. Ellie is the eldest daughter in a family that by the 80s would have been called dysfunctional. Dad Homer (Miles Mander) is at heart a good person, but he's an alcoholic who can't keep a job and depends on his wife to support him. That wife, Mamie (Marjorie Rambeau) has been making a living as a prostitute, something that's been going on in the family for over a generation, since Grandma (Queenie Vassar), who lives with them, was a prostitute herself -- and you get the feeling that she encoraged her daughter to become one.

Ellie wants a better life for herself, so one day when she's at the seashore digging for clama and meets a man, she takes her chance. That man, Ed Wallace (the aforementioned McCrea), works at a short-order diner on the beach. She falls in love with him, and seeing a way out of her family in the bad neighborhood, charmingly horns in on Ed's life in such a way that he eventually agrees to elope with her. Of course, Ellie hasn't told Ed about her family.

This is a problem for multiple reasons. First, as in a movie like The Mating Season, the spouse who has been kept in the dark is understandably rather displeased about not having been told the truth in the first place. You get the impression that if only Ellie had told Ed the truth, he might have loved her anyway, but lying to him is a big problem. Primrose Path, however, is not a comedy; not by a long shot. If you had any thoughts about it being a comedy, those will be disabused once Ellie introduces Ed to her family. It's here that Ed leaves Ellie. But her family hasn't reacted well, either. Mom and Grandma seem to think that they're going to lose their meal ticket for retirement if Ellie goes off with Ed and marries him. Just as Grandma had encouraged Mom to become a prostitute, now they're encouraging Ellie to follow in their footsteps.

It's here, though, that Primrose Path starts to develop some problems. The melodrama that gets piled on top of melodrama strains credulity, and the way the problems are resolved between Ellie and Ed don't seem realistic either, but forced to provide an ending that won't have the audience screaming at the movie screen. The writers probably also had to do quite a lot of contortions with the script to satisfy the Production Code: even though it's clear that prostitution runs in the family, that's never explicitly stated. That having been said, the cast members playing the folks in Ellie's family, as well as Rogers herself, are all excellent. The dysfunction in the Adams family is somewhat reminiscent of the family structure in A Patch of Blue, except that Ellie's supporting herself is more realistic. Both movies have an excellent portrayal of family dysfunction. McCrea is more than adequate, but he's not the center of attention here. Although the plot does have some problems, the movie as a whole more than overcomes those problems.

For whatever reason, Primrose Path doesn't receive quite the attention that many of Ginger Rogers' other films -- even the ones without Fred Astaire -- do. That's a shame, because it's really quite good, especially in those supporting performances. Primrose Path has at least received a DVD release from the Warner Archive Collection, so you can catch it any time you want.

Vivien Leigh centenary on TCM

Vivien Leigh with Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind> (1939)

Today being the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vivien Leigh, it's not surprising that TCM is spending 24 hours, more or less, showing her films. (Unlike most 24-hour tributes, it's starting mid-morning because the Story of Film selections run long and going into mid-morning Wednesday.) Leigh of course won two Best Actress Oscars, and both of those movies show up in prime time. The first Oscar was for Gone With the Wind, which is on at 10:15 PM, so at a good time for folks out on the west coast. Not that I was going to be watching it anyway. It's a spectacle, but there are other movies I considerably prefer. And in general, most movies that run over two and a half hours could do with some paring down. Anyhow, the second Oscar was for A Streetcar Named Desire, which starts prime time at 8:00 PM. It's another movie I find a bit of a slog, because Tennessee Williams can be over the top, and I am not the biggest fan of Marlon Brando.

A couple of the movies airing in the next 24 hours are ones I've blogged about before, but which aren't available for purchase from the TCM Shop:

Fire Over England, at 4:00 PM, sees Leigh as a lady-in-waiting to English Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson), although the actual star of the movie is Leigh's future husband Laurence Olivier.

I mentioned the wonderful comedy Storm in a Tecaup back in August; that's airing overnight at 2:15 AM and has Leigh paired with Rex Harrison. Leigh plays the daughter of the provost of a Scottish village; Harrison a journalist from London who writes an exposé on the Provost.

Dark Journey (5:45 AM) is one that I'm pretty certain I saw back when Vivien Leigh was Star of the Month on TCM. It's a World War I-set movie that has Leigh and Conrad Veidt getting involved with spying in neutral Stockholm. It's one that probably deserves another viewing.

As for movies I've blogged about before that are on DVD at the TCM Shop, Leigh is in another costume drama as That Hamilton Woman, at 5:45 PM. Leigh's 24-hour salute concludes with Caesar and Cleopatra, tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Story of Film: An Update

This first Monday in November sees the tenth installment of The Story of Film: An Odyssey on TCM. From here on out, the accompanying programming will only be on Monday nights. No reairing of the documentary on Tuesdays and no movies in prime time Tuesday to go along with the documentary. This week brings movies from around the world in the 1970s, with films from Australia, Germany, and Senegal, among others.

I have to admit that I haven't been too terribly interested in the documentary itself after seeing the first part, which really bounced around too much when a more didactic discussion of the pioneering days of film would have sufficed. Parts of the first two episodes also gave me a vibe of "Let's slag Hollywood for the sake of doing so", which is something I have an instinctive reaction against. Not that Hollywood is the be-all and end-all of cinema; it's more that some people give me the impression of pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction.

I'm always up for interesting and new-to-me foreign films, though, and in that regard, along with some of the silent stuff that got shown, the programming around The Story of Film has been quite a good thing. Some of it, like Falling Leaves or Rome, Open City, I had already seen before, but was nice to have on the schedule again. (I say this especially about early silent stuff.) Other films, like the Japanese film Boy a couple of weeks back, was totally new to me in that I had never even heard of it. Boy, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be on DVD, which is a shame since it's a very interesting, if imperfect movie.

Some of them, I have to admit I didn't particularly care for, such as Jean Vigo's Zéro de conduite, which to me really didn't seem to go anywhere or have characters I was particularly interested in. But I'm sure there are people who don't like some of my selections, and TCM really should be praised for giving everybody something new to try.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November 3 shorts repeats

I'm not certain whether I've blogged about Joan Crawford's 1932 film Rain before; it's airing tonight at 10:00 PM. For some reason I thought I had posted about it, but Blogger's search function, which has been acting up, hasn't been able to find a post. I really need to catalog my posts, but that would be a time-consuming affair. At any rate, while I try to figure out whether or not I've done a post on Rain, enjoy some of the many shorts TCM has put in today's line-up. At least Rain, and the remake Miss Sadie Thompson are both available on DVD from the TCM Shop.

Back in March, I mentioned the fate of poor Jan Savitt and his Band. Obviously, Warner Bros. would have had no idea that Savit wasn't going to live too much longer after the short was made. TCM is running the Jan Savitt short again this morning at 11:49 AM, following Kismet (10:00 AM, 100 min)

I don't think I've seen That Mothers Might Live before. This one, airing at 9:47 PM just after Miss Sadie Thompson (8:00 PM, 90 min) tells about one doctor's struggle to introduce concepts of modern hygiene into childbirth to reduce the number of deaths of newborn infants and new mothers. It's directed by Fred Zinnemann, before he became a director of feature films.

Coming up overnight at 1:28 AM is 24-Hour Alert, Jack Webb's 30-minute short about the necessity of having an airborne defense system, even it if inconveniences the people who live near the local air force bases. The Jack Webb style is quite evident here, and the short is an interesting historical document.

Finally, at 3:50 AM is Where is Jane Doe?, in which hte police try to find a girl who's gone missing, and it takes them all of nine minutes to do so! This short always strikes me as giving off a vibe of, "This is the worst people had to deal with back in the mid-1950s?" It's kind of like Teenagers on Trial in that regard.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The last day of Daylight Savings Time

Those of us in North America, except for you freaks in Arizona, Hawaii, and I believe parts of Saskatchewan, will be turning our clocks back one hour tonight. The resaon it's worth mentioning here is that it always seems to bring up issues with television programming, what with channels having to program for a 25-hour day instead of a 24-hour day.

On a day like this, I prefer to look at a schedule in terms of UTC, as I mentioned last year on the day clocks were to be turned back. UTC is roughly the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), with standard time zones being listed as an offset from UTC, with times listed in military-style 24-hour time. So, for example, here in the Eastern Time Zone, we're on UTC-4 during the summer, and UTC-5 in the winter; those of you in time zones further west can probably figure out the appropriate offsets for your local time. During the summer, TCM's programming day that begins at 6:00 AM ET stars at 1000 UTC, with that changing to 1100 UTC in the winter.

Tonight's prime-time lineup concludes with a special late-night Essentials airing of Silkwood, which comes on at 0415 UTC and runs about 131 minutes, taking us to 0630 UTC, which is where things start to get confusing if you're using regular time zones. The clocks are supposed to be turned back at 2:00 AM local time, so the start of TCM Underground tonight is technically at the second 1:30 AM in ET, or the first 1:30 AM in the Central Time Zone. Tonight's Underground lineup includes an 83-minute documentary on experimental shorts, followed by a series of those shorts which are listed as beginning at 4:00 AM (0900 UTC); adding the times of those up from the monthly schedule only gets to about an hour and a half.

Well, it's easy enough to add an extra short in at the end, which TCM seems to have done with 1942's Inflation, which is scheduled for 5:42 AM ET, which is after the time change for everybody. The hour in between, however, is now listed as being occupied by the 57-minute promotional film The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Story (listed as 1950 at TCM and 1951 by IMDb), wiht Lionel Barrymore presenting upcoming films from MGM. TCM's daily online schedule has this as starting at 2:33 AM, or three minutes after the documentary!

My guess is that either Lionel Barrymore comes on at 0630 UTC followed at 0730 by the documentary, and 0900 by the shorts, or 0630 for the documentary, 0800 for Lionel Barrymore, and again 0900 for the shorts. I'd suggest checking the box guide, but who knows if that's going to get it right? Mine has Silkwood running until 0630 UTC and, as normal, no mention of shorts scheduled as part of TCM Extras.