Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tonight we're gonna party like it's 2008!

Tonight's TCM lineup has all three of MGM's That's Entertainment! movies, followed by That's Dancing!, a title which I suppose implies that dancing is somehow not entertaining. (Sorry for the bad joke.) I figured I had commented at some point about That's Entertainment!, and it turns out that my brief comments were on New Year's Eve 2008 -- because TCM ran the exact same lineup of movies to ring in the new year of 2009. Well, not quite the same exact lineup. TCM, after the four compilation movies, is running the American Masters episode about the Freed Unit at MGM that they ran a few months back. It's part clip show just like the movies, but with a rather different set of interviews, since MGM didn't really think the moviegoers would care quite so much about a bunch of behind the scenes people like songwriters. And to be fair to MGM, I don't quite disagree, especially when you consider how many stars they were able to get to do the new pieces between the clips.

At any rate, last night after It Started With Eve, I saw that TCM ran the (presumably) original trailer for That's Entertainment! that would have been seen in theaters back in 1974. There are a few funny things, such as the comment about never seeing the likes of this again. I suppose that might have something to do with the fact that MGM was falling on hard times, and in the 1974 scenes specifically filmed for the movie, the studio is really beginning to look scruffy. But there's also a line at the end of the trailer: "Boy, do we need it now", that sounds a bit odd to me. Sure, there was a lot going on in America at that time, but I don't know if I'd want to use a line like that to promote my film.

I looked on Youtube, and I think, not having watched it, that this is the trailer:

Happy New Year 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Twist Around the Clock

I've briefly mentioned the movie Twist Around the Clock a couple of times before, mostly because it's an almost exact remake of Rock Around the Clock. TCM is running a series of rock-and-roll related movies tomorrow as part of their New Year's Eve dance party, and both of these are on the schedule: Rock Around the Clock at 1:45 PM, and Twist Around the Clock at 3:15 PM.

Twist Around the Clock has a promoter (John Cronin) lamenting that the old music he was promoting is going out of style. But he's in some town in the middle of nowhere, and finds that everybody si dancing to some new sound that he's never heard in any big city. That sound is, of course, the twist, and the promoter takes a brother and sister (Mary Mitchell and Jeff Parker) who are great at this new dance and promises to make them and their dance a success.

There's one problem, and this time it's actually different than in Rock Around the Clock. In the previous movie, the promoter had a female boss who was trying to get him in bed or something romantic that didn't violate the production code. In this case he's got a male boss (Tol Avery). But the boss has a daughter (Maura McGiveney), and the boss wants his promoter to marry the daughter, when of course the promoter is falling in love with the sister of the dance act.

That all having been said, Twist Around the Clock isn't the sort of movie you watch for the plot. Instead, you watch for the music, and Twist Around the Clock might be a fair bit better than Rock Around the Clock in that regard. One plus is that with the twist being a bit of a novelty, there were a lot of people doing knockoff twist songs, much in the way that a recording artist could do a Christmas song without having it seem like they were doing something completely different. So while we get the Platters in the former movie, who clearly aren't rock and roll no matter how talented they are, we get the Marvelettes doing their one twist song, "Merry Twistmas". We also get Chubby Checker, who isn't an actor, but was the guy who made the twist popular and is at least passably engaging playing himself. Dion DiMucci was reasonably successful, and the Marcels are well-known for their version of the old standard "Blue Moon", although that's not the song they sing here.

Rock Around the Clock and Twist Around the Clock both received a DVD release at one point or another, but they both seem to be out of print. Watch either or both for the curiosity value if you haven't seen them before.

One more TCM remembers salute -- or seven

After spending half a day honoring Joan Fontaine and half a day honoring Peter O'Toole, TCM is spening tonight's prime time lineup doing something ever so slightly different. This time, it's honoring a whole bunch of people who died over the past year, with one movie each. Those honorees are:

Deanna Durbin in the comedy It Started With Eve, in which she helps Bob Commings please his dying father Charles Laughton, only for things to get complicated, at 8:00 PM;
Annette Funicello on the beach with Frankie Avalon in Bikini Beach at 9:45 PM;
Eileen Brennan as part of a murder mystery in The Cheap Detective at 11:30 PM;
Jonathan Winters gets a dual role in the dark funeral spoof The Loved One, overnight at 1:15 AM;
Karen Black falls for Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, at 3:30 AM;
Julie Harris falls in love with James Dean in East of Eden at 5:15 AM; and
John Kerr has an inappropriate relationship with Deborah Kerr (no relationship in real life) in Tea and Sympathy at 7:15 AM.

This is the sort of programming that I really love from TCM, and that few if any other channels here in the US would ever do. I'm not really just referring to the actual names from decades ago being honored; I don't expect somebody like John Kerr to be a big story in the news when he dies. But there's something about TCM's salutes that comes across as far more thoughtful and even tasteful than anything you'd get from, say, the "pop culture" channels. Even Game Show Network, back when Marcia Wallace died, only looked for a few episodes from the shows they're currently running on their schedule when she was a celebrity player -- and even that's is still not as bad as when I flip through the channels and come across one or another of the entertainment news shows, which are almost entirely gossip and often not about entertainment at all but the latest lurid trial of the day; the sort of trial reminiscent of Anatomy of a Murder.

Anyhow, getting back to the movies on TCM's lineup tonight, four of them seem to be available from the TCM shop: It Started With Eve, Bikini Beach, Five Easy Pieces, and Tea and Sympathy. I'm really surprised that there's no "Buy DVD" icon next to East of Eden.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

TCM's Peter O'Toole programming tribute

TCM is spending this morning and afternoon honoring the recently deceased Joan Fontaine. They're going to be spending tonight honoring Peter O'Toole, who died the day before Fontaine. He's only getting three movies, in part because one of his films runs nearly four hours:

Peter O'Toole gets his first Oscar nomination for playing Lawrence of Arabia at 8:00 PM.
That's followed by an interview he did with Robert Osborne at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival, which is on at midnight.
At 1:00 AM you can see O'Toole's fourth Oscar nomination, in the musical version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
The last movie is O'Toole's seventh nomination, for My Favorite Year, at 3:45 AM.

It's a bit difficult to program a salute like this to Peter O'Toole. The thing is, you can't really omit Lawrence of Arabia, and if you put it in a less-than-prime slot, you're probably going to have people complaining. And there goes four hours of your schedule. There's a short on following My Favorite Year, so in theory you could get rid of the short and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which isn't one of my favorites -- and O'Toole himself knew he couldn't sing very well; there's a "Word of Mouth" piece that shows up from time to time about this movie. But that only frees up three and a quarter hours, which means you'd have to find two shortish movies to fit in that slot, shich si going to be quite difficult for O'Toole. The Lion in Winter needs a 2:30 slot; so does Becket.

And I wouldn't want to remove the TCM Film Festival interview. It only runs an hour, which is a bit of a shame. I wasn't there, but somebody who was posted on the TCM message boards that O'Toole apparently really liked to regale everybody with stories from Lawrence of Arabia and the other movies, since the interview actually ended up going on for over two hours and the editors had to excise quite a bit. If memory serves, the interview as it airs also includes a fair bit of O'Toole talking about his early life before the movies.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TCM's Joan Fontaine programming tribute

Joan Fontaine (l.) with Judith Anderson in Rebecca (1940)

TCM has set aside its previously scheduled programming to honor the recently deceased Joan Fontaine with seven of her films. Those movies will be airing tomorrow, December 29, during the morning and afternoon:

Blond Cheat, one of the B-comedies she made at the start of her career, kicks things off at 6:30 AM.
That's followed by The Women at 7:45 AM;
Fontaine as a bad girl in Born to Be Bad at 10:15 AM;
The costume drama Ivanhoe, based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott, at noon;
The Constant Nymph finds Fontaine in love with Charles Boyer at 2:00 PM;
Fontaine wins an Oscar for Suspicion at 4:00 PM; and
Fontaine becomes Laurence Olivier's second wife in Recebba, at 5:45 PM.

Suspicion was already on the schedule for tonight at 10:00 PM. As for the availability on DVD, TCM lists all of them as being on DVD with the exceptions of Blond Cheat (not too surprising) and Born to Be Bad.

Friday, December 27, 2013

That film they "destroyed"

TCM is showing The Magnificent Ambersons tonight at 8:00 PM in honor of costume designer Edward Stevenson. I have to admit that this is one of those movies that I've always found a tough slog for whatever reason, and I don't think I've actually seen it all the way through. It's one of those movies that I first learned about, I believe, from watching some documentary or another on PBS back in the days where you had to be in a huge city to have more than four or five TV channels. It was mentioned, of course, because it's the Orson Welles movie that was "destroyed" by the studio. Those evil studio bosses, ruining the movie!

Ever since I first tried to watch the movie, though, I've wondered how much of the problem I had is because of the studio editing it, and how much is down to the movie perhaps not being quite as good as it's cracked up to be. Finally having done a bit of online research, I'm still not certain. Apparently, Orson Welles' original edit of hte movie was quite a bit longer than the roughly 90-minute version we have today. There's nothing wrong with longer movies, of course; even Welles' previous Citizen Kane ran two hours and is damn good at that running time. But, for whatever reason, the preview audiences didn't like the first cut, or a second preview that had brief edits. It's after this tht the big changes were made.

Robert Wise, who worked as an editor on the film, this being before he became a top-notch director, would later claim that Welles' original wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Composer Bernard Herrmann, on the other hand, so a large portion of his score go when about a third of the movie was excised, to the point that he decided he didn't want his name on the credits. They also changed the ending, although supposedly the studio ending is more true to the book. I haven't read the original book either, and my relatively brief searching didn't yield much information on what Tarkington himself thought. He died four years after the movie was released but was blind by the end of his life.

The impression I'm beginning to get now is that there probably was a great movie to be made from Tarkington's original source material, but that neither the 1942 movie we got, nor what Orson Welles conceived, was quite it. Kind of like Greed in that regard. But judge for yourself.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Penny Wisdom

Tonight at 11:49 PM, following Billy Liar (10:00 PM, 99 min), is the short Penny Wisdom. This is one of those shorts I'm not certain if I've seen before, since I've seen so many of them that all blend together, and because it's more or less a remake of an earlier short.

It's a Pete Smith short, whcih means you're not going to get dialog from the characters, but snarky commentary from Smith instead, and humor which may or may not be to your liking. The plot, such as it is, involves an upper-class wife whose cook quits on her on the very day that hubby is bringing home the boss for an important dinner. At least nobody dropped the aspic or rushed off to Florida, leaving our hosewife two guests short. Actually, this woman isn't quite a housewife, in that she's useless around the house. What's a woman to do in such a situation? Why, call a newspaper cooking columnist. Gone are the days when you could get her recipes by sending in a self-addressed, stamped envelope care of your local newspaper; at any rate, for the purposes of this short, the columnist actually comes over to help out our wife in distress, showing her how to cook some nice stuff that's not too difficult.

From everything I've read, food photography in general is difficult. Sure, in these days of cell-phone cameras, it's easy enough to take a picture of what's on your plate. But it's difficult to photograph food and make it look good. If you've ever watched a TV cooking show and tried to follow the recipes, you'll probably know that the finished product in your own kitchen never looks quite like what the professional chef on TV is able to whip up quickly. It must have been even more difficult for the folks making this short at MGM, since they were doing it in Technicolor, which had those ridiculously bulky cameras back in the late 1930s.

Penny Wisdom is much the same story as a short called Menu, made four years earlier in two-strip Technicolor. I'm pretty certain I've seen that one, although I might be mixing the two up. Penny Wisdom apparently got a DVD release on one of the sets of The Prisoner of Zenda, but it's also available on Youtube.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bush Christmas

Over the weekend, TCM showed a movie that's nominally a Christmas film, but really only is set around Christmas: Bush Christmas.

As the movie's opening narration tells us, the movie is set in an out-of-the-way portion of the Australian outback around Christmastime, just after the school has let out for the Christmas holiday, which, being in Australia, is in the middle of summer. Three siblings and their two companions are heading home to the ranch their farmer works, getting on their horses to go home since this being the middle of nowhere in the 1940s, school buses would have been unheard of. There's Helen, the oldest of the bunch; her younger brothers John and "Snow", named for the color of his hair; Michael, a boy who was evacuated here from the UK because of the war; and Neza, the Aboriginal son of the ranch owner's best ranch hand. Although they're supposed to head straight home, one of them gets the idea to take a little detour, and it's on this detour that they meet Long Bill (Chips Rafferty). They don't realize it, but he's a horse thief, which is a big deal in these parts considering the way everybody relies on horses. He gives them some money to keep quiet about having met him, and this gets them in big trouble.

They face even bigger trouble when they wake up th enext morning and discover that that Lucy is missing. Lucy is dad's prized mare, and the kids know just who did it. And they also know that they let on about Lucy, so they feel terribly guilty about what they've done. They try to rectify the situation by telling Dad and the police about the guy they met, but the police don't quite believe their theory about where the horse thieves might have gone. Well, if none of the adults are going to believe them, then the kids are just going to have to find the bad guys by themselves. They say that they're going to go camping for a couple of days -- something the presumably would have been considered completley normal in 1940s Australia, but would make any parent in today's era of helicopter parenting blanch. Kids doing this stuff independently?

The kids are actually legitimately fairly independent and resourceful, although they would have been better served with a few more days' worth of rations, being reduced to hunting snakes to eat, which of course turns one of the kids' stomachs. Not Neza, though; he's vital to the mission as he knows the ways of the outback and can track and hunt with any adult. As for those horse thieves, they get the distinct impression that somebody might be chasing them, especially after they find Helen's hat. And if they didn't think the kids were just lost, they really know something's up when they wake up to discover the kids have ambushed their camp and freed the horses and taken their boots! Still, the penalty for horse thievery must be so severe that the thieves march on, eventually making their way to a ghost mining camp for a climactic scene.

Bush Christmas is a good movie for both children and adults. In many ways, you could think of it as a children's movie because the kids are the most important part of the cast, and because the themes are so simple. But these children seem realistic. They have some smarts but aren't so brilliant that they can't be outwitted at a key point by the horse thieves, who themselves are suitably good villians. More importantly, the kids aren't irritating like a lot of Hollywood child actors can be. Sure, you know there's eventually going to be a happy ending, even if the opening narration didn't imply it. But Bush Christmas is a winner in any case, and a good movie for any time of the year, not just Christmas.

Bush Christmas has received a DVD release, although I wonder from the Amazon entry whether it's out of print as they claim to have only a couple of copies left. The TCM Shop says they have it in stock, although I wonder whether they've confused the 1947 Bush Christmas with a 1983 remake which introduced a young Nicole Kidman to the world.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas eve briefs

I figured I had probably blogged about Star in the Night before; sure enough it's been four years to the day. This short, which is a modern-day take on the nativity story set at the sort of motel you'd also have seen in Heat Lightning, is going to be on again tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM.

Yesterday, TCM ran an interesting little short I'd never heard of before called Compliments of the Season. Unfortunately, this one doesn't seem to be on DVD or even on Youtube, and it's not on the schedule again since it's got a Christmas theme. A pickpocket who's just been released from prison and can't keep a job when his criminal past gets revealed saves a woman from jumping into the drink because she can't find her boyfriend; complications ensue. The interesting thing about this early Vitaphone short is that Pat O'Brien plays the cop in one of his very first roles.

My set-top box guide claims the Fox Movie Channel is going to be airing the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol several times. It's supposedly running four times tonight, in two-hour blocks starting at 7:00 PM. I'm guessing that this would be with copious amounts of commercials involved, because the guide claims it's airing twice more during the FMC part of the schedule, in 95-minute blocks at 11:50 AM and 1:25 PM. It's an 86-minute movie, so 95-minute blocks would allow for the promos FXM runs between films even during the FMC portion of the lineup. But I'd be less surprised if this is some other, more recent, version of the story, since I cna't imagine FMC getting the rights to this for the commercial-free portion of the lineup.

I also noticed in looking up the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol that I've been spelling Alastair Sim's name wrong all these years. Sure, I knew it was Sim and not Sims, but it's Alastair, not Alistair. You learn something new every day.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas movies I don't like

Amazingly, TCM has managed to come up with an entire night of movies that, not only do I not particularly care for them, in most of the cases I actively dislike them! So, a brief mention of each movie and why I dislike them:

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Meet Me in St. Louis. Please don't tell me there are people who actually like the Trolley Song. I've mentioned in the past that I'm not a huge fan of Judy Garland's singing. The Trolley Song combines what I see as the worst of Garland's singing with everything that causes people to prefer non-MGM musicals. Margaret O'Brien also plays Garland's kid sister, but more on that later.

Tonight's second movie is The Bells of St. Mary's, at 10:00 PM. This is a sequel to Going My Way, a movie I think I've mentioned I really, really dislike; Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman return to reprise their roles as the priest helping a nun keep her parochial school afloat. About the only thing this one has going for it is that it doesn't have Barry Fitzgerald in the "aren't those Irish people oh-so-charming" role? This one also has a special place in our family -- my dad was a kid when it was released in 1945, and the nuns as the parochial school he attended took the school to see the movie, and he too has had a special dislike of it for going on 70 years.

There's another airing of the Night at the Movies episode on Christmas movies breaking things up at 12:15 AM. I don't particularly dislike these, although I do find them a bit cursory and maybe more for people who know next to nothing about the movies.

This is followed by the 1949 version of Little Women at 1:30 AM. I don't have nearly the dislike for this movie as I am for the other three; it's much more that I'm probably not supposed to be a member of the target audience, not being a young girl. This one also has Margaret O'Brien, as well as Peter Lawford, who is another of the people on my list of not my favorite actors.

Finally, at 3:45 AM, is Tenth Avenue Angel. This is the sort of movie that explains why I dislike Margaret O'Brien movies. O'Brien plays Flavia, a girl living in the tenements during the Depression along with her parents and aunt Susan (Angela Lansbury). Strike one is that even more than other movies it glosses over how bad grinding poverty is. Susan's boyfriend is a convict, but everybody's lying to Flavia about the reason for the boyfriend's absence. Strike two: trying to keep a "big lie" going is something which generally irritates me in a movie. And then there's Margaret O'Brien, whose acting is so syrupy they need to put a warning on this movie for diabetes patients. Strike three.

But, I suppose there are people who like some or all of these movies, which is why TCM trots them out every Christmas. TCM's shop lists Meet Me in St. Louis and Little Women as being available from the TCM Shop, but not the other two.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

48 hours of Christmas movies

Or, at least, that's what we're going to be getting from TCM for Christmas, starting tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM with All Mine to Give, and continuing through to Wednesday, when the prime time lineup brings us one final night of Fred Astaire as Star of the Month, while the daytime lineup is relgious themed movies, but not specifically Christmas themed. Speaking of the latter, I suppose I ought to mention the silent verion of Ben-Hur: A Story of the Christ, which is on at midnight tonight as this week's Silent Sunday Nights selection.

One short airing tomorrow that's worth seeing is technically titled Loews Christmas Greeting, although it's really Christmas greetings from the Hardy family. You can catch it at 11:32 AM tomorrow, or just after Love Finds Andy Hardy, beginning at 10:00 AM Monday. The short basically is nothing more than the members of the Hardy family coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to find their Christmas gifts, and then thanking the movie goers for turning out at the cinema palaces and watching them. And yet, there's something incredibly charming about it. It's commonplace for casts of TV shows, or families in family businesses, or local TV news, to do little blurbs running maybe 15 seconds, in which they're posed like some sort of family portrait, wishing viewers happy holidays. But nothing this elaborate. And there aren't movie series these days that could do a thing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Husbands underground

TCM's weekly Underground slot in the wee hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning, usually has cult films or horror films. This week sees something a little more unexpected as director John Cassavetes' Husbands shows up overnight at 3:30 AM.

The movie starts out intriguingly, with four suburban husbands at the beginning of middle age are shown in a series of stills doing the thing four such men who are also good friends do. All of that changes by the end of the opening sequence, however, as we cut to a funeral procession: one of the men has died tragically young. Unsurprisingly, this causes the other three guys (Cassavetes himself, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk) to enter the midlife crisis stage of their lives. Not wanting to face their fears of death, they go on the bender of all benders, staying out 24/7, doing guy things, and eventually jetting off to London at a time when transatlantic jet travel wasn't exactly cheap.

Unfortunately, I found it all to be not quite the type of movie for me. Something about the three guys' antics just grated on me, reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky's The Bachelor Party. I never fit in with the type of person presented here anyway, always being more of a homebody who would stay home watching old movies than going out clubbing. Both films are well made, but just unappealing to me.

Or perhaps John Cassavetes just isn't my sort of director. I don't know as much about his work as I probably should, really only having seen A Child is Waiting before Husbands. So for me, it's a bit interesting to read the reviews of a film like Husbands and see how many of the fans of his work compare it to other movies, with the suggestion that his work isn't quite in the mainstream. Perhaps that too might have something to do with the way I look at a film like Husbands. I think I've stated it before, but if there's one big problem I have with a lot of movies of this era in general, it's the impression many of them leave me as wanting to protest against the old system -- not just filmmaking under the Production Code, which was finally only scrapped a few years before Husbands; but the whole middle class suburban society that a movie like Divorce, American Style is commenting upon -- just for the sake of protest. In other words, I have to admit that my mindset leaves me a bit predisposed to take a more jaundiced look at filmmaking style of the era. Sure, there are movies from that era that I really enjoy, but there are going to be others that I probably ought to give a fairer shake to.

Husbands did get a DVD release, and I even distinctly recall that release getting significant mention on TCM in one of the "Hi, this is the TCM Classic Movie News report" monthly features. But that release seems to be out of print.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Eddie Foy

TCM is showing The Seven Little Foys tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, starring Bob Hope as the patriarch of the Foy family, a family of vaudevillian performers, more or less. Eddie Foy Sr. was an accomplished performer; the kids not so much at least according to the movie. But they only wind up in the act because Mom dies and Dad wants the kids around him lest he lose custody of them to his sister-in-law.

There is one chance to see the kids as they really were, in the 1928 short Chips of the Old Block. It's following The Seven Little Foys on TCM at 7:34 AM tomorrow, and is also available on Youtube, although it's technically not in the public domain as far as I know.

Eddie Foy, Jr. actually went on to have some success as an actor. I personally would remember him best for having played Gabby, the sidekick to Ronald Reagan's Brass Bancroft, in the four Brass Bancroft movies. Eddie Jr. actually played his father three or four times on screen. Foy was part friend, part rival of George M. Cohan, so it's unsurprising that he shows up as a character in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and it's not surprising that Cohan shows up in The Seven Little Foys -- played by James Cagney, no less! Foy the character also appears in Wilson: I don't remember the scene, although there are a couple of scenes where the Wilsons go to the theater, and I'd presume it's in one of these that Foy shows up on stage. There's also the Lilian Hellman biopic, but that's one I haven't seen at all and can't comment on.

The Seven Little Foys did get a DVD release at one point, but as a standalone and as part of a Bob Hope collection, but both seem to be out of print.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Only five versions of Dickens' Christmas Carol

TCM's prime-time lineup for tonight is a slute to Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol. This starts at 8:00 PM with Scrooge, which I've briefly mentioned before; it's a musical version from 1970 starring Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Second up is the 1951 Alistair Sim version at 10:00 PM, which TCM's schedule has listed as A Christmas Carol, although I could swear I've also seen the title Scrooge for it; I think that's one of thost UK vs. USA title differences that show up from time to time.

The third version, at 11:30 PM, is a new one to me; a British version from 1935 again titled Scrooge, and will be followed by the late 1930s MGM version at 1:00 AM.

The last version might be the most curious, A Carol for Another Christmas at 2:15 AM. This is a 1964 made-for-TV movie starring Sterling Hayden in the Scrooge role, as a man who lost his son during the Korean War, and as such is thoroughly against the United Nations and its "peacekeeping" operations. So the UN sends the ghosts of Christmas wars past, present, and future to convince Hayden why the UN is unbeli8evably virtuous. This was commissioned by the United Nations, funded in part by Xerox, and is incredi bly propagandistic and unsubtle, even compared to something like I Want to Live!. It may be worth seeing once for the historical value, but if you find yourself irritated with its bluntness (although to be fair, A Christmas Carol is by its nature a bit blunt), don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TCM Remembers updated

TCM got around to editing the annual TCM Remembers piece that airs from time to time during the last half of December. I'm not quite certain, but I think five names were added: Audrey Totter, Peter O'Toole, and Joan Fontaine have all been mentioned here before; there's also Tom Laughlin who played Billy Jack in a series of movies in the early 1970s, and Jean Kent, who died at the end of November and appeared in several British movies, with the 1951 film The Browning Version probably being the best known of them. At least, I don't remember her from the original version of the piece. TCM's media room has a piece in their media room that's dated December 17 and so should be the updated piece, but the embed code looks to be identical to the original version.

As for Joan Fontaine and Peter O'Toole, they're both going to be honored by TCM with a change to the programming lineup on December 29. Fontaine gets the 14 morning/afternoon hours from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM, with Peter O'Toole getting the prime time salute. There are also individual TCM Remembers clips, each running a little over a minute as is generally the case for the individual remembrances, which should be showing up from time to time until the 29th.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FMC repeats for December 18

With another snowstorm about to come through and the prospect of having to go up on the roof to clear off the satellite internet dish (ah the joys of living in the middle of nowhere), I'd just like to write up a brief post on a couple of movies that I've blogged about before that are coming up again on what's left of the Fox Movie Channel for those of you who have it, before the snow blocks the dish:

In Shock at 6:00 AM; Vincent Price plays a psychologist who kills his wife and then finds out there's a witness -- who's gone into a catatonic state on witnessing the murder!

Next up is The Dark Corner at 7:12 AM, in which criminal-turned-private detective Mark Stevens and his secretary Lucille Ball figure out some shady dealings involving art dealer Clifton Webb;

Finally Cry of the City at 8:50 AM sees hoodlum Richard Conte being pursued by his boyhood friend, police lieutenant Victor Mature. Hope Emerson from Caged shows up in a supporting role and is great to watch again.

Monday, December 16, 2013

TCM's Eleanor Parker Programming tribute

I would have posted this earlier, but with all the other deaths, I haven't had time. As regarding the deaths of Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine, TCM's main page already has TCM Remembers pieces on both of them, although I don't see anything as to when the programming tributes are going to be. But getting back to Eleanor Parker, TCM is running seven of her movies tomorrow, December 17:

The Very Thought of You at 6:00 AM;
Of Human Bondage at 7:45 AM;
The Woman in White at 9:45 AM;
Caged at 11:45 AM;
Scaramouche at 1:30 PM;
Interrupted Melody at 3:30 PM; and
Home From the Hill at 5:15 PM.

TCM lists the last four movies as being available from the TCM shop, but not the first three.

Joan Fontaine, 1917-2013

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940)

The death has been announced of Joan Fontaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Suspicion. She was 96. Fontaine is survived by her sister, fellow Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland, who as of this posting was still alive in Paris at the age of 97.

Fontaine started her career not all that long after her sister, in the movie No More Ladies. Not wanting to ride on her sister's coattails, she took the name "Burfield", apparently from a road sign, before settling on using her stepfather's last name. Fontaine continued to toil at RKO, making B movies such as Maid's Night Out, and getting cast opposite Fred Astaire in A Damsel in Distress, which is coming up at 2:00 AM Thursday as part of the Star of the Month salute to Astaire. This, even though singing and dancing weren't Fontaine's strong suits. Small roles in bigger movies like Gunga Din and The Women followed, before she really hit it big being cast as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca, pictured above.

Rebecca earned Fontaine an Oscar nomination, but it was next year with Suspicion that she won. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Suspicion, because they had to redo the ending and the ending we have is a mess. Allegedly, it was beating her sister Olivia for that Oscar that caused their long-time feud, although according the obituaries they weren't particularly close growing up anyway, Fontaine made about a movie a year through the 1950s, stuff like The Bigamist or Island in the Sun.

I'm sure there's going to be a TCM programming salute for Fontaine as well as Peter O'Toole, and it should be easier for TCM to get movies for it since she started off at RKO, even if those aren't her best movies. I don't know when it's going to be, what with TCM having to schedule multiple tributes, and having to do all this after coming back from a weekend and the TCM Cruise.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole, 1932-2013

Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia, which netted O'Toole his first Best Actor nomination

Another great actor has died: Peter O'Toole died December 14 after a long illness, aged 81. O'Toole was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar eight times without ever having won, which is a record. He did eventually receive an honorary Oscar for the body of his work 10 years ago, although at first he wanted to refuse it since he felt he still had something left to give to the acting profession. It turned out he was right, as at the time he had only been nominated seven times, with the eight nomination for Venus still to come.

I haven't done much in the way of recommending Peter O'Toole's work, perhaps in part because I've never been much of a fan of Lawrence of Arabia. I did briefly mention Becket, in which O'Toole plays English King Henry II, before.

When it comes to that period of English history, there's also The Lion in Winter, in which O'Toole once again plays Henry II, this time with Katharine Hepburn playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in a drama about a very dysfunctional family. In looking for the photo above, I found something that I had rather forgotten about:

Peter O'Toole starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million, which deals with O'Toole helping Hepburn to steal a statue from a Paris museum, because the statue is actually a forgery done by her father (Hugh Griffith).

I presume TCM is going to be doing a programming tribute to O'Toole at some point, but I have no idea when it's going to be: there's all the Christmas movies coming up, as well as Fred Astaire's Wednesdays as Star of the Month, and the Friday night Hollywood costume design movies. Besides, they have to have time to do at least some minimual publicity for their programming changes.

Audrey Totter, 1917-2013

Audrey Totter and Robert Ryan in a promotional still from The Set-Up

Noir actress Audrey Totter died on Thursday, but I don't think the news of her passing hit the Internet until yesterday afternoon. Totter was a week shy of her 96th birthday.

One of the movies she was in that I'd love to recommend is The Set-Up. But she's not really the star here; that honor goes to Robert Ryan. Even though she gets star billing, it's in a smallish role that's clearly a supporting role. That, and it appears to be out of print on DVD, having been released as part of some noir collection back in 2004. Totter plays the wife of Ryan, who is a boxer on the way down, reduced to fighting in small-stakes bouts that are maybe one step up from the church Rocky Balboa fights in at the beginning of Rocky, or where the fights take place in Fat City. In fact, Ryan is such a lousy boxer that his trainer has agreed with a mobster backing Ryan's opponent to take a dive for some extra money. But the only complication is that Ryan isn't told about this. He's supposed to be so lousy now that he's bound to lose even without having to take a dive, but he's going to try to win the fight anyway. Totter, as his wife, desperately wants him to give up boxing and take up something more honorable, like being a trainer.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The latest from the Czech Film Archive

I've mentioned a couple of times that I listen to international broadcasters, and that Radio Prague has had several movie-related features over the years. The latest news concerns the part-silent movie Mysterious Island: apparently a copy more complete than any heretofore known to exist has turned up in the Czech Film Archive. The story goes that when Hollywood sent silent movies abroad for exhibition, the English-language intertitles had to be removed and replaced with titles in the language of whichever country was getting the print. Hollywood had no need for the prints once the English titles had been removed, as it would have been expensive to put English titles back in. Besides, it's not as if they were going to send the movies back out to theaters, especially once talking pictures came on the scene. So the foreign exhibitors were allowed to dispose of the prints as they saw fit. Obviously, in some countries the prints were saved, which is why we have surviving prints of certain films. The link above is to a transcript of the report; if you'd like the audio interview you can click here; the audio is 5.1MB and about 11 minutes

The other news is that Closely Watched Trains is to be restored, with the restoration set to premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival next summer, I believe.

Christmas movies in the snow

As you can see from my location, I live in the middle of nowhere -- more specifically, that middle of nowhere is up in the Catskill Park preserve of New York state. American readers will know that this part of the country is about to get socked in with a nice snowfall. It doesn't look as though it's going to warm much in the next week either, so there's a very good chance we're going to get a white Christmas. Speaking of which, I noticed yesterday that the movie White Christmas showed up on AMC, presumably interrupted by a zillion commercials. So for those of you who want to complain that TCM doesn't get your favorite Christmas movie, well, there are other channels trying to get them too. In never ceases to amaze me -- and in some senses infuriate -- that there seem to be people who think TCM can just get any movie they want, and how dare TCM not show whatever movie the complainers have gotten a bee in their bonnet about.

Anyhow, the above rant isn't really the reason for this morning's post. A few weeks back I mentioned TCM's irregular Night at the Movies series since the latest installment was airing. Tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM, TCM is showing the episode on Christmas movies that first aired a couple of Christmases ago. It's part of their Sunday afternoon movie bits that are giving us an appetizer of Christmas movies before the real thing begins this coming week in prime time. There's the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol at 10:00 AM, which is going to be airing again in the Thursday night prime time lineup as TCM has an entire night of movies based on Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

After A Night at the Movies, at 12:15 PM, is Holiday Affair, in which Robert Mitchum shows Janet Leigh that Wendell Corey is an utter drip. This one is going to be on again in the Tuesday prime time lineup.
And, at 2:00 PM, you can see The Bishop's Wife, which will be running again on Christmas Eve, although that airing is in the overnight hours. In searching my blog for the original posts on these movies, I notice that I mentioned both of them briefly in the same post about repeat Christmas movies, for whatever that's worth. But then, there are only so many Christmas movies out there.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A brief post about Beloved Infidel

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is running the movie Beloved Infidel tomorrow morning at 3:30 AM, and a further two times next week. Amazon suggests you can get it on "Instant Video", but other than that, I don't know if it's in print on DVD, at least here in North America.

Deborah Kerr plays Sheilah Graham. Graham was a London-born journalist who left London in the early 1930s for the United States, eventually becoming a Hollywood gossip columnist. In 1937, she met F. Scott Fitzgerald (Gregory Peck). Fitzgerald is of course best known for novels like The Great Gatsby and several others that have been turned into movies. But by 1937 he was in a difficult marriage with Zelda, who was suffering from mental illness and needed care in a sanatorium. In order to pay the bills, Scott went off to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter, contributing to several films although he only received screen credit for Three Comrades. Scott, for his part, was an alcoholic and not exactly pleasant to be with, and not exactly thrilled about having to do this sort of writing work.

Graham immediately fell for Scott, even though there was no way he was going to be able to get a divorce, and immediately began to have an affair with him. It lasted for three years or so until Scott's death in 1940, his dead body apparently being discovered by Graham. Graham wrote about this in her book Beloved Infidel, and that book was turned into the movie that's showing up in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Since it's from one of the participants in the relatoinship, I don't know how much of it is fully accurate, and how much of it is what we would nowadays call spin, with Graham presenting her side of the story in what would have been a relatively scandalous thing, I suppose. A difficult relationship, too, what with Scott's alcoholism.

Beloved Infidel is another of those movies that I haven't seen in years, since the previous go-round of FMC airings that would have been four? five? years ago? So it's another one of those movies that I have fuzzier memories of how good or bad it really was. But Gregory Peck is always worth watching, as is Deborah Kerr. So even if it's not the world's greatest movie, it still deserves a viewing.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Van Heflin's birthday tomorrow

December 13 marks the birthday of actor Van Heflin, and TCM will be spending much of Friday morning and afternoon with Heflin's movies. I was looking to do a post on Saturday's Heroes (7:45 AM), but I see that I've already mentioned it briefly. So I'll post those comments again, and then expand on them:

Here, he plays a college football player who sees the corruption going on surrounding the college football team -- and the administration supporting it -- at his school, and doesn't like it. When he protests, he gets kicked off the team. How does he respond? He gets the local sportswriter to help him get a coaching job at the school's main rival!

One of the things I didn't mention in that brief synopsis is that Heflin is also engaging in the corruption himself, to the tune of scalping tickets, and it's when that scalping is revealed that a lot of the plot conflict begins. This one I think doesn't have the trope of a college being in dire straits and needing the football team to be successful, but it does have some of the other tropes. One involves the character of Heflin's girlfriend (played by Marian Marsh). Now, there's nothing stereotypical about a college football player having a girlfriend, but once again, the girlfriend is the daughter of somebody important to the plot. In Gridiron Flash which I mentioned the other day, it was a campus security officer; here it's the coach of the football team. (Elsewhere in the movies there's Eleven Men and a Girl, in which the woman is the daughter of the college president!)

The professional versus amateur thing was actually an issue back in the 1930s, so that's not quite a trope. Andy Devine, as I understand it, played semipro football before playing in college. The movie, of course, climaxes with the big game between two rival schools, and heaven knows we've seen that in several thousand other college football movies. Still, Saturday's Hero is a reasonably entertaining way to spend an hour. As far as I know, it still hasn't received a DVD release of any sort.

TCM apparently honored Van Heflin on his birthday two years ago as well. That's when I blogged about Grand Central Murder, an eminently enjoyable little B movie that's on at 11:00 AM tomorrow. Heflin is at his wisecraking best, and MGM assembled a cast of oddball stock characters who ably perform around Heflin. When I blogged about this one I also mentioned Kid Glove Killer, which I enjoy even more, but which unfortunately isn't on tomorrow's TCM lineup. But Grand Central Murder is a more than fun enough movie to sit down with with a bowl of popcorn. This one does seem to have received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TCM Remembers

Stuck at home in a snowstorm yesterday, I decided to watch TCM. OK, I didn't really watch TCM so much since I had seen all the movies on yesterday's morning/afternoon lineup already; I was watching for the end of the movies to see if TCM had done a "TCM Remembers" piece on Eleanor Parker, or if TCM's year-end tribute to those who have died had shown up yet. It turns out both have.

I'm embarrassed to admit I couldn't match up which film clips went with which film in the Eleanor Parker tribute for the most part. There was nothing on the final screen, the one that normally says "TCM Remembers", followed by the name of the deceased and the years of birth and death, about any programming change, the way there sometimes is when TCM has schedule a salute. That may change, as TCM seems to have a seven-film programming saulte for the morning and afternoon of December 17.

Later in hte day, the year-end "TCM Remembers" piece showed up. Again, I have to admit to not recognizing quite a few of the names of people who had died, although I wonder how many of them are people whose careers started more recently than most of what TCM shows. Eleanor Parker was included, as were a couple of people who died last December after the 2012 TCM Remembers piece premiered, such as Jack Klugman and Charles Durning. Once again TCM has selected a classy motif, this time of cleaning up a theater, including taking down and putting away images of some of the deceased. If you want to see it, it does seem to be available from the TCM Media Room. Ooh, I see they do have an embed code too; let's see if that works here:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Football films for December 11

TCM is showing a whole bunch of football movies tomorow, several of which are not available on DVD and don't get shown very often. One of them is The Cowboy Quarterback, which I've briefly mentioned a couple of times, at 1:45 PM. Bert Wheeler, after the death of Robert Woolsey, plays a cowboy from Montana who is discovered by a professional football scout (William Demarest) and becomes quarterback for a team called the Chicago Packers (seriously); our hero gets waylaid by gambling, and the folks to whom he owes money want him to throw the big game.

One of the movies that I've never recommended before is Gridiron Flash, which is airing at 10:00 AM. The movie starts off at a prison, where the prisoners are playing football, which is presumably supposed to rehabilitate them rather than take out their violence on each other. Watching them is Howard Smith (Grant Mitchell), a booster for Bedford College. Bedford is one of those staples of Hollywood's college football movies of the 1930s, a school that's likely to go bankrupt if they don't get a winning football team to bring in the money. Smith has heard of a guy who's got great skills at quarterback -- but the guy is in jail on burglary charges, having taken part in some big jewel heists.

That guy, Thomas Burke, is played by Eddie Quillan, complete with big smile every time he runs the ball. Burke has no real desire to play college football, but Smith has a plan for Burke: he can rob the jewels of all the wealthy people who come to the football games! (You'll recall that back in the 1930s, college football was bigger than the professional game; apparently it was perfectly normal for the smart set to go to big college football games.) And if that doesn't work, Smith's got another trick up his sleeve: lovely co-ed Jane Thurston (Betty Furness). Eventually, Burke gives in and decides to play.

The team does well, but deep down inside, everybody really has a standoffish relationship with Burke, and when he doesn't get to be the big man on campus, he has a crisis of conscience and quits the football team. Well, that and some of his old friends from the east who are into robbery. He tries to leave town, gets picked up on spurious charges, and only gets sprung out of jail just in time for him to score the winning touchdown in the big game!

Gridiron Flash is one of those movies that's chock full of the clich├ęs that college football films had in the 1930s. Eddie Quillan is believable as a con artist in the Jack Carson mold, but he's one of the most unlikely football stars you'll ever see. He gets some fun scenes when it comes to the robbery, as he gets to rob a campus cup (Edgar Kennedy), only to discover later that the cop is the father of the Betty Furness character! Margaret Dumont plays a wealthy matron whose house Quillan and Mitchell case. If you like college football movies, Gridiron Flash is passable, but it's nowhere near the first film I'd recommend for college football, or for fans of 1930s B movies.

TCM Guest Programmer December 2013: Patton Oswalt

Tonight is the night that Robert Osborne sits down with this month's TCM Guest Programmer, stand-up comedian turned actor Patton Oswalt. (Well, it was of course taped several months ago, but the results are being shown tonight.) Oswalt has a lineup of two classic movies I've blogged about before, and two foreign films about which I know next to nothing:

Kind Hearts and Coronets kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, and if you haven't seen it before, it's a wonderful comedy.
That's followed at 10:00 PM by 3:10 to Yuma, the 1957 western starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.
As for the foreign films, there's The Wind Journeys at 11:45 PM which according to the blurb involves a Colombian man who thinks he has the Devil's accordion and wants to return it; and
Aaltra at 2:00 AM, about two feuding French farmers who become paraplegics in a farm accident, and travel to Finland to deal with the company whose tractor was involved in the accident.

The last two movies sound interesting.

Eleanor Parker, 1922-2013

Eleanor Parker (r.) with Agnes Moorhead, in Caged (1950)

The death has been announced of actress Eleanor Parker, at the age of 91. The headline mentions Parker's portrayal of the Baroness in the 1965 movie version of The Sound of Music, which I suppose is appropriate in some ways what with the recent live TV version of the stage show. But Parker was actually nominated for the Best Actress Oscar three times, even though she never won. The first is for Caged, which I pictured above. Unfortunately, that was the year that All About Eve and Sunset Blvd. were released, making for tough competition at the Oscars, even though surprisingly neither film garnered trophies for the actresses.

Parker would be nominated again the very next year for playing the wife of violent detective Kirk Douglas in Detective Story, with the last being for playing an opera singer overcoming serious illness in Interrupted Melody.

Above and Beyond didn't garner Eleanor Parker an Oscar nomination, but it's still a worthwhile movie about Paul Tibbets, the US Army officer who led the mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Not knowing what was going on must have been extremely difficult for the wives, and Parker does a good job of portraying that dilemma.

TCM is probably furiously editing their annual obituary piece, which as far as I know has not yet aired. I don't know when or if there's going to be a change in the programming lineup to honor Parker.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Roots of Heaven

The Fox Movie Channel had at lunchtime today the 1958 movie The Roots of Heaven. My box guide lists the movie as being on FMC again tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM. But Amazon claims you can get a digital copy of it, or an out-of-print Blu-Ray, or a DVD import from Europe, so I gues it's worth mentioning here.

Errol Flynn gets top billing, although he's not the lead by any stretch of the imagination. The actual lead is Trevor Howard, playing Morel. Morel is an early conservationist working in French Equatorial Africa, in what is now Chad. He's tryin gto protect the majestic African elephant, without much success. Indeed, he's been trying to get the colonial authorities to sign his petition to outlaw elephant hunting, but he can't get in to see them at all. In fact, when he finally does get to see the colonial governor, we find that the governor is trying to make things as perfect as possible for the upcoming visit of US TV commentator Sedgwick (Orson Welles, in a small role).

What's a guy like Morel to do? Why not take extreme measures, like shooting would-be elephant poachers in the buttocks? Not to kill them, but to send the message. And it certainly does send a message once Sedgwick gets shot: he goes back to Amreica vowing to use his TV show as a vehicle for ginning up support for Morel's ban on elephant hunting (on the set of that TV show about a half hour in is actually the last we see of Sedgwick). It also has an effect on a couple of locals. One, the barmaid Minna (Juliete Greco) actually becomes the first person to sign the petition. She's followed by Forsythe (the aforementioned Flynn).

Morel goes out into the bush to protet those elephants, while the authorities are after him for obvious reasons. Minna tries to convince the authorities not to arrest Morel, but when they don't agree to that, she goes off with Forsythe in search of Morel! They also wind up not being the only ones to join Morel's Robin Hood-like band of animal lovers. Some, such as colonial administrator Paul Lukas, seem to be sincere; others, especially the native Africans who are in an uprising against the French colonists (the movie was released in 1958, a few years before the big decolonialisation year of 1960) are more trying to use Morel as a way to get their own message out to the west. And if all that weren't enough, about an hour and 20 minutes in to the movie, American press photographer Eddie Albert survives a plane crash not far from where Morel and his crew are hiding, and he joins them as long as it's convenient from him to be working with them.

Unfortunately, The Roots of Heaven descends into a convoluted mess. There are a lot of interesting ideas here, but the plot doesn't resolve very much. Characters also disappear (Orson Welles) and appear (Eddie Albert) too quickly. It's all a bit of a shame, because there is a fair bit about the movie that's good. Errol Flynn's part is a small one, but he does quite well with it. Trevor Howard is very good, playing the sincere man with a lot of Don Quixote in him. Eddie Albert's character provides some comic relief. There's also a scene in which Morel and his supporters punish the matron who runs a safari business -- by spanking her in the middle of a ballroom! It sounds nuts, but fits in well with Morel's preference to be relatively nonviolent (at least not to kill) if he doesn't have to.

John Huston directed, and in that regard I'd have to say The Roots of Heaven makes an interesting bookend with his other film A Walk With Love and Death: both have a fair amount of worthwhile stuff, but otherwise end up misfiring to an extent.

Hi, this is your TCM classic movie out-of-print update

If TCM is going to run those "Classic Movie News" reports with the lady who starts her voiceover with the phony "Hi", perhaps they ought to do a beter job updating the news of which classic movies are no longer in print on DVD.

TCM's schedule for tomorrow, December 10, has Manhattan Melodrama kicking off the morning at 6:00 AM. I was surprised to see there was no "Buy DVD" icon, so when I did a search of the TCM Shop, the first hit was to... the TCM Spotlight collection, which is oddly listed as a "(Repackage)". Something's not quite right here. The DVD is supposedly on sale for $20, which is 60% off, except that it's only "on order". What's the point of having a sale on items not in stock? The other interesting thing is that TCM's web shop lists the box set as having been released on November 20, 2012.

So, it was off to Amazon to do some searching. The first hit was to... this TCM Spotlight DVD, which looks remarkably similar to the one TCM lists but isn't selling. This one has a price of buying from a reseller for $45, or used for about 10% less. And there's a release date of August 7, 2007. That would probably explain why my March 2008 blog post suggested that Manhattan Melodrama is available on DVD.

But wait, there's more! There's a box near the top listing "other formats and versions", which is generally the case any time a movie has had mutliple DVD releases (say, individually and as part of a box set). There's a "5-disc version" listed that's available from Amazon at a price of $17.99! (Humorously, that one is apparently for sale used from $34.95.) That version is here, which remarkably seems to be another version of the TCM Spotlight collection, only this time being released on November 20, 2012, the same as the one listed but not available at the TCM Shop.

I didn't check up the DVD status of the other movies in the collection. That having been said, it sounds like this particular William Powell/Myrna Loy box set really needs another printing.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Well, that didn't last long

Two and a half weeks ago, I mentioned that the Fox Movie Channel's website was back to showing the monthly schedule. That schedule runs through today, with the rest of December being blank. Now, FMC still has the older movies on the schedule if you run through your box guide or one of the listings services; it's just the web-site that's back to not working properly or not being updated.

I've mentioned a couple of times that I've been expecting for a long time for FXM, which has the afternoon and evening half of the channel, to take over the entire channel at some point, yet I haven't found anything to indicate exactly when that's supposed to happen -- you'd expect a press release of some sort to wind up on the Internet. At any rate, the upshot is that for the time being if there are any movies worth blogging about om the FMC schedule, I'll be a bit more likely to miss them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Easing our way into Christmas

We're already a week into December, and there hasn't been all that much in the way of Christmas movies on TCM. That's changing a bit tomorrow, with a couple of Christmas films in the afternoon, followed by a break and a few more Christmas movies in prime time.

I think the only one of them I've recommended in the past is It Happened on Fifth Avenue, which you can see at noon tomorrow; it'll be showing up again on December 16. That will be followed at 2:00 PM by Scrooge, which is the 1970 musical version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol staring Albert Finney as Ebeneze Scrooge. That one will be showing up again on the 19th; in fact, starting the week of the 16th is about when TCM schedule really seems to pick up its Christmas movies.

Sunday night will have two Debbie Reynolds movies set at Christmas time: Susan Slept Here at 8:00 PM, followed at 10:00 PM by Bundle of Joy, which is a remake of Bachelor Mother. Both of those will be getting another showing later in the month; Bundle of Joy in the overnight between December 17-18, and Susan Slept Here early on the morning of Christmas Eve.

Reap the Wild Wind

John Wayne got to wear a lot of costumes during the course of his career. A lot of them were old west duds, but there were also military uniforms. In some cases, such as Red Riber, the two were combined as he played a cavalryman in the West. But Wayne gets to wear a different period costume in Reap the Wild Wind, which is airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM: that of a mid-19th century ship's captain.

Wayne plays Captain Jack Stuart, the captain of a clipper ship that plies the route from New Orleans to New York, more or less. If you look on a map, you'll note that the quickest route involves going through the Florida Keys. That, of course, is dangerous, as there are all sorts of shoals on which a ship could run aground. Indeed, it's something we saw in Jamaica Inn, where you had people deliberately trying to get ships to run aground so that they can salvage the cargo. There's that in the Keys as well, and sure enough, Stuart is betrayed by one of his officers who is being paid off by the saboteurs to run the ship aground.

There are also legitimate salvage operations, since there are so many wrecks. Indeed, when Stuart's ship wsa scuttled, he himself is salvaged, so to say, by one of those salvagers, tomboyish Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard). Loxi takes Jack home to recuperate, and you can guess that they're going to fall in love. You can also guess that there are going to be complications. Jack Stuart is a ship's captain, so in theory he should be leaving soon to take command of another of the shipping company's vessels. This is where another of the complications comes in: there has to be an investigation of the disaster, and that's being headed by the shipping company's lawyer, Stephen Tolliver (Ray Milland). Loxi belives Stephen is trying to keep Jack from getting another command, so she goes to him in Charleston to try to convince him otherwise, and when Stephen meets Loxi, he falls in love with her.

This sort of a love triangle may cause complications for the lives of the characters, but it's a fairly standard plot twist. The rest of the plot, however, begins to get rather more complicated at this point. Stephen had been planning to give Jack another command, and of the best ship in the line, but due to a series of mixups Jack and Loxi believe that it was Stephen's boss who approved this and Stephen is trying to keep Jack from getting the captaincy. So Jack joins in with the people who scuttled his previous command and tries to scuttle the shipping company's steamship. Loxi, however, discovers that everything was a mistake and heads off to try to stop Jack....

The story in Reap the Wild Wind is fairly silly, but damn if it isn't a terribly entertaining movie. John Wayne is good enough as a ship's captain, in many ways playing the same role he did when he'd play all those cavalrymen. Paulette Goddard is a bit miscast as a tomboy, but she doesn't do anything to drag the film down. Ray Milland is more than good enough as the other man, and the supporting characters are all enjoyable enough. And then there's the finale, which involves Wayne and Milland going underwater to try to find a key piece of evidence which will exonerate Jack. That is, until Milland gets attacked by a giant octopus! Yes, it's silly, but as I said, it's a fun silly.

Reap the Wild Wind is avialable on DVD, even from the TCM Shop.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Night Spotlight: Costume design

Tonight being the first Friday in December, we get a new Friday Night Spotlight, which this month focuses on costume design. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a costume designer herself who was nominated for an Academy Award for the costumes in Coming To America, is presenting two films from each of a bunch of designers. The TCM page lists twelve designers, which would imply three designers a week with six films, but I don't think she'll be presenting the third designer of the night since it's generally only the first four films in prime time that get the TCM announcer treatment.

This first Friday night sees two films from Travis Banton, a name that I have to admit isn't particularly familiar to me, although that's probably because he worked for Paramount in the 1930s and those films don't show up all that often on TCM what with the broadcast rights being owned by Universal. His work on display tonight includes costumes for Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (8:00 PM) and Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra (10:00 PM).

That's followed by Orry-Kelly. I don't remember anything particularly notable about the fashions in Casablanca (midnight), but then I don't particularly have an eye for fashion. Orry-Kelly's other movie is Auntie Mame (2:00 AM), in which Rosalind Russell gets to showcase a whole bunch of Orry-Kelly's designs.

Last up on this first Friday in December is Adrian, whose last name was Greenberg. Or, I suppose, you could call him Mr. Janet Gaynor, since they were married for 26 years until his death in 1959. His spotlighted films include The Women (4:30 AM), and the 1935 Greta Garbo version of Anna Karenina at 7:00 AM. Adrian, having wored at MGM, designed costumes for a bunch of famous MGM movies, but if you can only go with two, a period piece and one with only women in the cast aren't bad choices.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

City of Fear

I've briefly mentioned the movie City of Fear a couple of times before, generally in cnojunction with other movies that are on the Columbia film noir collection, Volume II. However, recent events in the news make it worth finally doing a full-length post about.

Vince Edwards plays Vince Ryker, a prisoner at California's San Quentin prison. Or, more accurately, he's an escaped convict from San Quentin, as he breaks out at the beginning of the film, showing no compunction about bumping people off to get out and keep from having to go back in. As part of the escape, Ryker winds up with a thermos flask-sized container that he believes to be filled with heroin from the prison infirmary, which would presumably have been converted into methadone or something. But, in fact, it's not heroin, or any sort of drug he could sell on the streets at all! It's cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope which in real life, as the news aticle points out, is used in various medical devices and radiotherapy. Now, you'd think such a container would be labeled as being radioactive and highly dangerous, but dammit it isn't. So Vince, thinking he's hit the motherlode of drugs, heads off with the cobalt-60 towards Los Angeles.

Needless to say, the authorities are none too pleased with this. As with The Killer That Stalked New York, they know they've got a potentially dangerous situation on their hands, but they don't want to panic the city. Besides, they're also looking for a fugitive, and if they're too public, they'll tip him off and allow him to make an escape. In reality, the guy would probably just die of radiation poisoning, which is not a nice way to go, but as long as the container is properly shielded, the radiation contamination to the general environment shouldn't be too bad. At least, not bad enough to blow up the city, which is what the authorities here seem to imply.

Ultimately, we get a movie that's half police procedural, and half criminal study of the Vince Ryker character. What I don't think it really is is a noir. There's a class of movies that I like to think of as "post-noirs": movies that were made after the traditional noir cycle, and in brighter locations, but with a fair amount of the hard-boiled sensibility of traditional noirs. Those are all things that City of Fear has quite a bit of. It's got some plot holes too, being a briefer B movie, but it's quite entertaining nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TCM Star of the Month December 2013: Fred Astaire

Wednesday nights in December see a new Star of the Month on TCM: Fred Astaire. He made enough movies that the Astaire films contine into Thursday mornings; good news for those of you who like musicals. Astaire is probably best remembered for all those musicals made with Ginger Rogers. There are ten of them in fact; nine in the 1930s and The Barkleys of Broadway ten years later. Five of those movies kick off the salute to Astaire in tonight's prime time lineup. (The other five won't be airing until Christmas night.) Their first screen appearance together, in Flying Down to Rio, is on at 8:00 PM this evening.

As for my favorite of their movies, I think I'd have to pick The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, which you can see overnight, or early tomorrow morning depending on your perspective, at 4:00 AM. What I like about it is that, being a biopic, it actually has a mature plot, where films like The Gay Divorcee (10:00 PM tonight) have fairly dopey plots that are little more than hooks for dance numbers. Granted, the dance numbers in Flying Down to Rio are spectacular, and it's got some nice pre-Code dialog, but it's still a standard-issue love story.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Back Pay

A few weeks back, TCM showed the 1930 film Back Pay. IMDb claims that it's not available to purchase on DVD from Amazon, but lo and behold you can get it on MOD from the TCM Shop. Granted, it's pricey at $19.95 for a 56-minute movie, but what are you going to do.

Based on a story by Fannie Hurst, whom you might better remember from having done Imitation of Life, the movie stars silent star Corinne Griffith as Hester, a department store clerk in the backwater town of Demopolis, VA, circa 1916. Gerald (Grant Withers), from another department, loves her, and wants her to marry him, but she can't accept. There's no way they could raise a family on just his salary, this being the era when married women didn't work except by necessity; women had to stay home and raise the kids. So marry the guy, and put off having the kids, saving the money that would have been spent running two separate households. Except that she's not really keeping a separate household, since she lives with her aunt, who runs what is presumably a boarding house, but has vibes of the arrangement Barbara Stanwyck's dad had for her in Baby Face, what with the way one of the male roomers treats her. She meets somebody from New York, and immediately runs out on her aunt to get a train to the city, since she believes that to be the only way out of her dreary life in Demopolis.

In New York she winds up as the kept woman of industrialist Charles Wheeler (Montagu Love, one of those names that shows up well down the credits in a host of 1930s movies but whose face you might not recognize). She lives the high life with him and his circle of friends, while he's constantly trying to get her to marry him. The group goes on glamorous vacations together -- at least, glamorous by the standards of 100 years ago, to various Eastern mountain resorts. One of those vacations takes her not far from Demopolis, so they take a detour to her home town, where she sees Gerald again. You know she still has a bit of a candle for him.

I said at the beginning of the post that the opening scenes are circa 1916, which of course means that the US entry into World War I isn't far behind. It's the small-town boys who go marching off to war, from places like Demopolis, but they go through New York first, and when Hester sees them, she wonders once again whether she's doing the right thing by staying with her rich lover. Gerald is one of those boys, and wouldn't you know it, he gets mustard gassed, leaving him blind and the rest of his health in a parlous state. The rest of the film descends into some rather extreme melodrama.

This is one of Corinne Griffith's last movies, with the claim being made that the talking pictures didn't like her voice. Sure, she has an accent, but I didn't find it terribly bad. Griffith isn't the problem here; it's the story. On the one hand, it's much too brief. There should have been more time spend on what exactly was going on in that boarding house, for example. And the melodrama once the movie hits WOrld War I, boy is it obvious, hitting you over the head and becoming almost laughably pathetic. Possessed, which came out only a year later, covers the material better and much more intelligently, even though it's only 20 minutes longer. In addition to the story, there's also a problem with the time period, as all the cars (and supposedly the fashion and hair styles) are contemporary to 1930 and not World War I era.

It's a shame Back Pay doesn't show up on TCM a bit more often, because it would be better to see it first before you decide whether you want to drop a twenty on the MOD DVD.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Warren William, 1884-1948

Warren William, back row center, in Lady For a Day (1933)

Today marks the birth anniversary of 1930s actor Warren William. I'm not certain which of his movies was his biggest: Lady for a Day, pictures above, is really May Robson's movie although William is the male lead. William is the male lead as well in the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, although that's Claudette Colbert's film. Diito Cleopatra, where Cobert plays the title character to William's Julius Caesar. IMDb lists him as being billed second, although I thought the trailer I saw on TCM recently -- Cleopatra is coming up at 10:00 PM Friday -- has him third, behind Colbert and Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony.

William was the male lead as well in several precode programmers that I've blogged about before, such as Under 18 and Smarty, an deven played the Sam Spade character renamed in Satan Met a Lady, the 1937 Bette Davis version of The Maltese Falcon.

Last, but not least, Warren played detectives in multiple film series. He played Philo Vance twice, and Perry Mason four times. But it was Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, that he played the most, eight times between 1939 and 1943. TCM has for several years now been running movie series in the Saturday just before noon time slot, and have already gone through the Perry Mason and Lone Wold films. I don't recall whether they've done the Philo Vance movies, although there the main character was played by several actors.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Please pronounce the last name correctly!

TCM is running the immensely entertaining The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM.

Edward G. Robinson stars as the titular Dr. Clitterhouse, a well-to-do society doctor. You might think he's not well cast to play such a character, but in real life Robinson was an art collector with very refined tastes, so this is actually a good role for him. Besides, the script allows for Robinson to play a variation on all those gangster characters he had been playing for much of the 1930s. In this case, that means Dr. Clitterhouse has an interest in figuring out how the criminal mind works, as he's writing a scholarly work on the subject, presumably wanting to use psychology to get the minds that want to commit crimt not to do so. But this is a movie about crime, not psychology, so Clitterhouse has come up with an idea that breaks all the rules of scientific propriety, but without which we wouldn't have a movie. He's going to investigate the criminal mind -- by committing crimes himself! Really. He starts off by pilfering the jewels of his society friends, but that isn't good enough. He needs some experience with real criminals.

To this end he looks for Joe Keller, supposedly a well-known fence for those jewels he's stolen. It turns out, however, that Joe Keller is actually Jo Keller -- a woman (played by Claire Trevor)! And she's not just a fence, she's practically running the gang, or at least co-leader with her boyfriend "Rocks" Valentine (Humphrey Bogart). Against Rocks' better judgment, Jo lets Clitterhouse into the gang, where he earns the nickname "The Professor". Rocks is right to question whether the Professor should be a part of their gang. He's got some different ideas, but even worse, Jo is falling for him. This, unsurprisingly, causes Rocks to get even angrier, to the point that when the gang is commiting a fur heist, Rocks locks the Professor in a cold-storage locker. Either the Professor will die, or the poilice will catch him there, but either way, it's the end of Rocks' problems with the Professor.

Oh, of course it's not the end. Clitterhouse figures a way out of the place, and eventually goes back to his real job, working on that book about the criminal mind. Everybody can live happily ever after, Clitterhouse as a society doctor, and Rocks and company getting rich on all that stolen loot. Yeah right; that's not going to happen either, as there's no way the Production Code could ever let Rocks get away. Rocks eventually figures out that the "Professor" was in fact the society doctor, and goes to confront Clitterhouse. Clitterhouse offs him, and since he used a drugged drink to do it there's no way anybody is going to be able to claim self-defense.

The movie climaxes with one of those 1930s vintage courtroom scenes, which bear no resemblance to any reality, but which can serve as a convenient deus ex machina to get the desired ending as long as it's OK by the Productoin Code. But don't let the courtroom scene dissuade you from watching this movie. It's a breezy, fun ride, expertly mixing comedy and drama. Robinson could have pulled off roles like this in his sleep, and is as always a joy to watch. Humphrey Bogart supposedly really disliked this film, as he knew he was ready for bigger things but couldn't get Warner Bros. to give him those bigger parts. And yet he's fine here. Claire Trevor is pretty good, although she's also clearly the thrid character. The rest of the cast has a bunch of standard supporting players, including Donald Crisp as a police detective, and Allen Jenkins as one of the gang members.

I've briefly mentioned The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse in the past, suggesting that it wasn't available on DVD. That is of course wrong, as you can find it as part of the Warner Gangsters box set, Volume 4.