Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Summing up 2014

With this post, I think I've made exactly as many posts this year as I did in 2013. For the first time, I haven't done more posts than the previous year. To be fair, though, that was bound to end at some point as otherwise I'd be puting up multiple posts every day. Perhaps a bit more interesting is that I feel like I've posted rather less of meaning this year. I make myself post something every day, and I've often felt like a lot of the posts this year weren't very meaningful, beyond saying what was on TCM this particular evening. Part of it has to do with the fact that there are only so many new to me movies, or perhaps more accurately movies new to the blog, to blog about. Interestingly, I think there are going to be two separate B movies tomorrow that I'll be blogging about.

Then there's also been the intrusion of my personal life. I don't like talking about my personal life in too much detail, or more specifically my family. But my parents are getting up there in years, and I cook a couple of nights a week for them and otherwise do some of the looking after them since I'm the one living closest by. They celebrated their 50th anniversary this year and we had a big gathering at my sister's place. Thankfully, my parents haven't had to separate like the couple in Make Way For Tomorrow.

I didn't get to mention the death earlier today of actor Edward Herrmann. Herrmann played one of the students in The Paper Chase, as well as having a lengthy career in TV with films mixed in. Herrmann was 71.

And with that, I well and truly finish posting for 2014, and wish all of you a happy and healthy 2015.

New Year's Eve 2014/5 programming notes

TCM already had a TCM Remembers piece for Luise Rainer up, in the slot between the last afternoon movie and the prime time lineup. News outlets all have obituaries for all sorts of famous people ready to go if those people should die suddenly, and when youv'e got a woman nearing 105, it shouldn't be a surprise when she finally does die. That, and with almost all of Rainer's Hollywood career having been at MGM, it would probably have been easier for TCM to get the rights to show those clips. All you have to do is get somebody to stick the year of death on at the end of the piece.

The short that followed the TCM Remembers piece was the unexpected Season in Tyrol. Every time I've seen that on the TCM schedule, I've assumed it was a "making of" featurette for Where Eagles Dare, which came out around the same time and was filmed in part in Austria, but I was wrong. First, I didn't notice that Where Eagles Dare came out a few months earlier, and was not made at the same studio. Season in Tyrol is actual a two-reeler that looks like the old Traveltalks shorts, except that it was made at Warner Bros. many years after James Fitzpatrick retired. There was a lot of nice scenery of the four seasons (which really does mean winter, spring, summer, and fall, and not some figurative seasons), although it helps that Tyrol is easy to make look good. There was also some vintage winter sports, although not as vintage as in many even older movies.

Tonight's prime time line-up is rock and roll musicians, giving us an Elvis concert movie, another showing of A Hard Day's Night, the documentary Gimme Shelter about the Rolling Stones' disastrous free concert at Altamont CA, and a few more. I don't know if I'd call Aki Kaurismäki's Total Balalaika Show (tomorrow morning at 5:00 AM, or overnight tonight depending on your point of view) rock and roll, but there you are.

Somebody who programs TCM has a vicious sense of humor. The Thursday morning and afternoon lineup pits Joan Crawford against Bette Davis. The two famously hated working together on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, so much so that Davis went to substantial lengths to get Crawford off the set of Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. Tomorrow's lineup alternates later period Crawford and Davis. The day starts off at 6:00 AM with Crawford in Torch Song, followed at 7:30 AM by Davis in Storm Center, both of which I've recommended for being hilarious in their misfiring. So you can probably guess where the rest of the day is going.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fill this blog with your intelligence

TCM is spending tonight and the first part of Wednesday morning looking at people who died in 2014. One of the names that is not as well known is that of cinematographer Gordon Willis, whose movies include The Paper Chase, which TCM is airing tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM.

Timothy Bottoms plays James Hart, a recent college graduate from a small town who has been accepted to be a law student at prestigious Harvard Law School. Hart is an underdog type, and as such, wants to prove that he belongs at Harvard Law School with all these other hot-shot students. So Hart and the various other students set up study groups, with the idea that each of them is going to focus more heavily on one particular subject from among the mandatory areas of law that first-year law students have to take, and then help each other with the various areas of expertise. Or at least that's the plan; it's not quite going to work out that way. But more to the point, we're told from the beginning how difficult law school is supposed to be, especially the first year.

One of the more difficult professors is contract law professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman. Kingsfield is a taskmaster, expecting everybody to sit in the same seat every day so that he can call on them more easily; he's only going to call on them by surname, which seems highly impersonal, but there you are. Not only that, but he's goign to teach these young skulls full of mush not only about contract law, but how to think, using the Socratic method. You can see why anybody encountering this on his first day at law school would find it rather intimidating.

And that first year of law school does turn out to be quite demanding, taking a toll on the various students, including Hart, who wonders if he's going to succeed. It doesn't help his confidence any when he tries to get in Prof. Kingsfield's good graces by agreeing to write a précis for a law review article, but being unable to complete the task. Still, there's time to find a love interest, which Hart does in the form of the lovely Susan (Lindsay Wagner, before she became the Bionic Woman). The only thing is, Hart finds out later that Susan is in fact the daughter of Prof. Kingsfield!

In between, there is a series of interesting adventures for the students, with some facing extreme difficultiy and others facing a bit more humor, such as the attempt to find a copy of Kingsfield's senior law review article from the 1930s, and Hart's ultimate failure to refer to it when he could have rebutted Kingsfield in class one day. At the end of the movie, we reach the end of the first year, with the movie leaving open the question of what's going to happen to Hart in the last two years of law school.

Overall, The Paper Chase is a well-made movie made excellent by the presence of John Houseman. I had no desire to be a lawyer, but the movie does make law school seem like an interesting, if demanding place. Timothy Bottoms and Lindsay Wagner are good enough; we ultimately don't care that much about the other students; and Houseman is great as Kingsfield, and richly deserved the Supporting Actor Oscar he won. Houseman had had one small role in a film back in the 1940s, but had otherwise worked mostly as a producer. He stepped in front of the camera for The Paper Chase, and it gave him a second career that lasted until his death 15 years later. And since the movie is being shown in honor of its cinematographer, Gordon Willis, I have to admit that I don't always notice much special about cinematography. Harvard Law School is lovely to look at, but I wouldn't consider myself expert enough on cinematography to comment on whether indoor scenes are particularly good or not, other than to say I never found it distracting.

The Paper Chase is well worth watching, even if you're not interested in the law, for the masterful performance of John Houseman.

Luise Rainer, 1910-2014

Luise Rainer in one of her Oscar-winning roles as O-Lan in The Good Earth (1937)

Two-time Oscar-winning actress Luise Rainer has died two weeks shy of her 105th birthday. Rainer will probably be best remembered for playing O-Lan opposite Paul Muni's Wang Lung in the film adaptation of Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth. However, that was Rainer's second Oscar, having won the previous year for The Great Ziegfeld. Rainer left Hollywood at the end of the 1930s and lived in London for many years.

Rainer returned at the age of 100 for the first TCM Classic Film Festival (well, she'd been in Hollywood a bunch of times since the 1930s) and had a memorable scene that shows up on TCM now and then. Robert Osborne was going to sit down and do an interview with her, but in the bustle of the transatlantic flight, she lost her hearing aids, leaving her profoundly deaf and unable to hear Osborne's questions. Somebody in the audience got the brilliant idea of sending up a pen and notepad, on which Osborne wrote The Good Earth and Rainer replies, in her wonderful low voice, "Oh, you want to know about The Good Earth!"

TCM already had a morning and afternoon of Rainer's movies planeed for Monday, January 12, since that would have been Rainer's 105th birthday. I'd presume that either they'll have Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz do some introductions for those movies, or they'll add prime time, probbaly Monday night, and do a 24-hour tribute to Rainer. I don't think anything has been officially announced, however.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The last night of Cary Grant

Tonight is the last Monday in December, so it's the last night for Star of the Month Cary Grant on TCM. There's one movie that's really worth recommending, except that I haven't seen it in ages and don't remember it quite as well as I remember some other movies that I haven't seen in ages. Don't ask me why some movies resgister better than others; they just do. So I'll just give a one-paragraph synopsis of that movie, Houseboat, which is on at 10:15 PM, and brief mentions of a couple of others.

Cary Grant plays a widower in Houseboat, but a differnet kind of widower: one who hadn't seen his kids in years since he was estranged from his wife. So he's got custody of the kids and tries to be the best father he can, saving money by living on a houseboat on the Potomac River. However, the kids need a mother, and a motherly presence comes in the form of Sophia Loren, who passes herself off as hired help even though she's running away from her conductor father. You can probably guess that the Grant and Loren characters fall in love, and everybody learns something about being a family along the way. I remember being reasonably and inoffensively entertained by the movie, but nothing to make it stand out against the other family comedies of the 50s or 60s (such as the much more memorable Yours, Mine, and Ours). Houseboat is apparently available on DVD from Amazon, but not at the TCM Shop.

The same goes for Father Goose, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM and which I blogged aboug back in June 2009. Cary Grant plays a drunk vagabond who winds up as a plane-spotter in World War II, and then winds up having to take care of a stranded schoolteacher (Leslie Caron) and her kids. This one is also apparently not available at the TCM Shop, but is worth a watch.

I was going to do a one-paragraph post about Dream Wife, the way I did about Houseboat, only pointing out that it's pretty dire. However, it turned out that I already did a fuller-length post back in the summer of 2011. As always with a movie I strongly dislike, you may still want to watch it to judge for yourself. I'm sure somebody out there likes this movie.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

And Then There Were None

I have no particular dislike of Agatha Christie's work, but at the same time I know there are people out there who are much more actively fans of her material than I am. So they'd probably be able to do a much better post on the 1945 film version of And Then There Were None, which is airing tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on TCM.

The movie starts with several strangers all taking a boat to an isolated island, where all of them have been invited to a party at the only house on the island. The boat is also the only way to and from the island, so they're going to be stuck there for the entire weekend. Now, it transpires that none of them actually know the man who invited them there, so you have to wonder why they all agreed to come. The obvious guess is blackmail, and based on what happens the first evening they're at the place, it seems as though this is a reasonable guess.

The man who invited them to the island, a mister U. N. Owen (get it, "un-owen"?), left a phonograph record with the instructions that it be played by the two servants, who never met the guy either. On this record, Mr. Own accuses all of the assembled guests of murder, and they're all on this island for their punishment! Needless to say, the assembled houseguests are totally put off by all of this. It doesn't help that the dining room table had a centerpiece of ten little Indians, the subject of the nursery rhyme about how each of them came to an untimely end. It turns out that the guests may have been responsible for anything from wrongful death to manslaughter, but none of them has ever been punished for anything. Until now.

One of the guests, Prince Starloff (Mischa Auer), collapses and dies! Alcoholic doctor Armstrong (Walter Huston), whose crime was performing an operation while drunk, determines that Starloff was... poisoned! And one of the Indian figurines is broken! Even if you haven't read any of Agatha Christie's work, you can guess what happens next. Owen's statement that the assembled guests are going to die one by one seems to come true, as of them wind up dead and figuriens break respectively. The guests start to look for Mr. Owen and, when they can't find him, start to turn on each other, believing that one of them must be the murderer, since there's no other possibility.

Who's the murderer, and how will the last of the ten die? Heaven forfend I reveal that outcome! Now, as I said at the beginning, there are other people who know more about Agatha Christie's work than I do and who say that the ending in the film is not quite the ending in the book. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on that, although it wouldn't surprise me if the Production Code required some changes. (From what I've read, Murder on the Orient Express couldn't be made until the 1970s because Agatha Christie's ending violated the Production Code six ways from Sunday. The ending of the movie certainly does.) That having been said, what I saw in the movie was well worth watching. There's a cast full of people who mostly didn't quite make it to A list status, but did a lot of supporting work. That works well for a movie like this where you really have an ensemble cast. Barry Fitzgerald, fresh off winning the Oscar for Going My Way, plays a judge who condemned an innocent man; Roland Young plays a police detective who gave false testimony to convict an innocent man; C. Aubrey Smith is a retired general; and Louis Heyward plays an explorer accused of killing natives. The atmosphere is excellent, with this feeling very much like a British movie of the era even though it was made in Hollywood, by a French World War II exile René Clair.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Everybody reports the same news about the Alamo

So I was flipping through stations on the radio yesterday afternoon and heard a blurb-like variation on this story:

BRACKETTVILLE, Texas — Time and Mother Nature are threatening to dismantle the Alamo. Not the original, but the replica 18th-century Spanish mission and Old West movie set John Wayne built for his Oscar-nominated 1960 movie and that for decades was a tourist mecca and film production site.

So I went to Google News to look for a link to the story to mention it here, since it certainly is movie-related. Amazingly, there's a surprisingly large number of items all pretty much saying the same thing. Somebody has a good PR firm putting this story out there.

Well, technically, there are two different but related stories. In addition to the lament that the old sets are rotting away, there's also a listicle called "5 Things to Know About Alamo Village". One of the upshots is that we should probably all be a bit more skeptical of how today's news outlets actually get their news.

But that's not why I blog. It shouldn't be a surprise that John Wayne had to build custom sets in the middle of nowhere to make this movie. Just like Alfred Hitchcock couldn't film on Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, there was no way anybody would be able to filmi in the Alamo. Never mind the fact that the inside of it is probably much too small for the movie cameras of those days to operate. That, and even 50 years ago when San Antonio had about half the population it has now, it would have been much too built up.

Of course, what I've always found more interesting is how the United Nations didn't want Alfred Hitchcock filming establishing shots of the UN headquarters for North by Northwest, and Hitchcock had to do it surreptitiously.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Great Lady Has an Interview

The Friday Night Spotlights on MGM choreographer/director Charles Walter have been continuing into Saturday mornings, albeit without the films being introduced by Robert Osborne and Brent Phillips. Not thaty were going to be introducing a short anyhow, but the lineup for this final Friday night in December includes a short that I always found bizarre: The Great Lady Gives an Interview, tomorrow morning at 8:21 AM, or just following Ziegfeld Follies (6:30 AM, 110 min).

The short has no titles and an unnamed Lana Turner doing a mock interview talking about pencils and how she's become a pencil magnate and that made her the great lady. (I think it's pencils; it's been some time since I've seen the piece.) The only thing is, she accompanied by a bunch of men in formal wear who do a dance with her with the whole thing set to music. The Nicholas Ray version of the film King of Kings was on earlier this week, which gave TCM the opportunity to run a Word of Mouth piece that they always show for that film. Screenwriter Philip Yordan talks about how he was called in by the producer, Samuel Bronston, to help with the script. When Yordan sees the "script", he says, "This is insane!" Except, Yordan in his retelling says it in a much better tone that I can reproduce on the printed page. But when I've seen this short, Yordan's "This is insane!" always springs to mind because I've always found the short so baffling.

Since it's on again, I finally decided to do a bit of research. The TCMDb page for the short has no synopsis, and there is no IMDb page for it. More research, however, reveals that Turner is actually performing a number called "Madame Crematante". That number had originally been performed by Judy Garland in the aforementioned Ziegfeld Follies, in brilliant Technicolor. Garland's version is currently on Youtube if you don't want to watch the whole movie. As for Turner's version, it's in black and white, which is because it's apparently a kinescope from an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, from 1954 and honoring MGM's 30th anniversary. That would explain why there are no titles on this short, and why there's scant information on TCMDb and IMDb about this short. Turner's page at IMDb has her listed under "Soundtrack" for a 1954 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as under "Self".

As I said, I find the musical number bizarre, but it's one you should probably watch for yourself. If anybody has better information and wants to correct me, feel free to do so in the comments.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas and beyond

First, I'd like to apologize for my comments yesterday suggesting that FXM's airings of A Christmas Carol would be colorized. They ran the movie four times last night (in addition to the six airings later today), and at least the first one was in black and white, although the print was fairly poor. There were still lots of commercials, though; at one point I counted a commercial break and it started and ended with promos for various Fox properties and had seven commercials in between. I seem to recall reading when the old Fox Movie Channel first dumped the old format in favor of newer movies in the 3PM-3AM slot that it would have "limited" commercial interruptions and thought to myself, "Yeah, right." Of course, I thought the 3AM-3PM period would go to the FXM format and include commercials within six months. It's been nearly three years now, and a look ahead seems to imply that it will still last into the new year. How much longer than that I don't know, but there you are.

After all the Christmas movies, TCM will be switching to something different: a night of Mel Brooks comedies. I don't think I've done a full-length post on High Anxiety (8:00 PM) before, and if it weren't Christmas I might thing about doing that today. Just enjoy Brooks' parody of Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Henry Fonday gets the spotlight on Friday morning and afternoon, even though his birthday is in May. Another movie I would have thought about blogging about is That Certain Woman (7:45 AM), except that it turns out I've already blogged about it, back in March 2012.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas! With today being Christmas Eve, it's not surprising that TV channels really ramp up their Christmas themed programming. Of course, there are only so mnay Christmas movies out there, so I find that some of what I wrote at Christmas 2013 can easily be recycled.

First off is the short Compliments of the Season. That one is going to be airing twice: first at 11:46 PM tonight after Christmas in Connecticut (10:00 PM, 102 min plus an intro/outro from Bob Osborne), and again tomorrow morning at approximately 9:15 AM, following Tenth Avenue Angel (8:00 AM, 74 min), which unsurpisingly I didn't particularly care for since the star of the proceedings is Margaret O'Brien. In fact, most of the shorts that TCM has this Christmas will be getting multiple airings. Jackie Cooper is going to wish us a merry Christmas in The Christmas Party at noon today and 7:48 AM tomorrow; the whole Hardy family opens up some Christmas gifts at 3:41 PM today and 10:57 AM tomorrow; and Lewis Stone flies solo to wish us a happy holiday on behalf of MGM at 9:57 PM tonight and 7:36 PM tomorrow. The only short htat doesn't seem to be getting an airing this Christmas is Star in the Night.

I also mentioned last Christmas that FXM was going to be putting the 1951 Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol on a loop. They're doing that again, starting tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 PM, so not in the still commercial-free FXM Retro block. I think they're giving it six consecutive airings this year, up until the FXM Retro block resumes at 3:00 AM Friday. The movie runs 85 minutes, but each time it's in a 108-minute block followed by some FXM promo or another. So you can figure out just how many commercials they're going to shoehorn in. That, and I distinctly recall the movie having been colorized in last year's showings.

TCM will be running the John Wayne version of 3 Godfathers tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I think I haven't actually seen that version in its entirety, although I have seen the original version from the mid-1930s, and you can get a good synopsis of the movie from the link above.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Briefs for December 23, 2014

I probably should have apologized earlier for implying that Sunday night's presentation of the first Disneyland episode was going to be in color. I was going off the titles the TCM schedule was using, and forgot that the show had gone under several titles over the course of its run on TV. I think there had been some experimental color broadcasts by 1954, but there wasn't a standard for broadcasting in color.

I wish I had seen Look in Any Windo before last night's airing, which I stumbled into part of the way through. Paul Anka (yes, the singer) plays a teen with a screwed-up home life who responds by becoming a peeping tom. It was supposed to be a serious drama, but I found myself laughing the whole time. On the other hand, it looked like a wonderful example of early 1960s design.

Director Joseph Sargent died yesterday at the age of 89. Sargent did much of his work in television, and among his more memorable movies are the original version of The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three as well as the biopic MacArthur starring Gregory Peck as the World War II general.

Tomorrow being Christmas Eve, TCM is going to be starting a 38-hour marathon of Christmas movies. Well, not quite, in that there's a TCM Night at the Movies documentary in there, at 11:00 AM tomorrow. I think I've mentioned my opinion on the Night at the Movies episodes before.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Dame Peggy Ashcroft, 1907-1991

Peggy Ashcroft in The 39 Steps (1935)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Peggy Ashcroft. Her film career is relatively limited, mostly because like a whole lot of British actors and actresses, she did quite a lot of work on the stage. But there's some memorable work that she left behind on film. First would be in one of Alfred Hitchcock's early classics, The 39 Steps. Here, she plays the wife of the sternly religious Scottish farmer, who offers Robert Donat the box bed, and then helps Donat to escape when the police approach, even giving him her husband's bible which returns in another key scene.

A half century later, Ashcroft, by now carrying the Dame title, would win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in A Passage to India, playing the mother of a British civil servant working in India, who travels to India with the woman (Judy Davis) who is supposed to marry the old woman's son. Needless to say, things happen once they get to India.

In between, Ashcroft made about 10 films, with all that stage work and some TV work in between.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Yank in the RAF

If you haven't seen enough World War II pictures, FXM Retro has been running another one in its rotation the past several weeks: A Yank in the RAF, tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM. I had some problems with the film, but this is definitely one of those movies you should watch for yourself.

Tyrone Power is the Yank, a man named Tim Baker. He's doing cargo runs over the Atlantic, since this is only 1940 and America isn't actually in the war yet, even though a lot of Americans have sympathy for the plight of the UK. Indeed, he's not the only American in the UK: he meets his old girlfriend Carol Brown (Betty Grable), who i more or less doing her bit by entertaining the British servicemen and otherwise being around all the time, it seems. Indded, quite a few of the men meet Carol or want to meet her. Seeing his old girlfriend again gives Tim an idea. He's going to volunteer for the RAF, where he thinks he could do a great job as a fighter pilot. And serving in the RAF would certainly give him a way back into the good graces of Carol.

Or maybe not. Carol's got one of the British flyboys, Wing Commander Morley (John Sutton) pining for her. Worse for Tim is that the RAF commanders don't hae the same view of his abilities that he does. Instead of getting to be a fighter pilot, they stick him in a bomber. Talk about a come-down. Making matters even worse is that they stick him in the bomber piloted by Morley. So now we've got the dramatic tension for the rest of the movie.

Tim and Morley both continue to pursue Carol, and in this pursuit we see that Tim is quite often a selfish jerk, which brings some sense into why he though the RAF would be falling all over themselves to put him in a fighter. But his arrogance also leads to wonder what Carol saw in Tim in the first place, unles she's just one of those dummies who falls for the good-looking bad guy. There are women like that, after all. Tim jilts Carol; she goes to visit Morley's family and accepts a marriage proposal from him. Tim and Morley get shot down over Holland, and Tim uses that as one more opportunity to get back in Carol's good graces by faking injury. Stupid idea. Finally, Tim gets the chance to be a fighter pilot when the Battle of Dunkerque greatly depletes the British flying corps. Surely now he has the chance to redeem himself.

I think there are two big problems I have with A Yank in the RAF. One is that the movie seems fairly predictable. One sees the romantic tension coming, but with Tyrone Power and Betty Grable being Fox's two big stars of the period, the expectation is always going to be that they'll wind up together in the final reel. But Tyrone Power's character is also such a jerk that it makes watching Tim's pursuit of Carol grating at times, and the final ending leaves you wondering why she picked him. Not only that, but it comes across almost as a deus ex machina ending.

Still, everybody acting in the movie does a professional job. They're just given a script that lets them down in places. So some of you will probably find those script problems to be lesser flaws than I do, and will like the film a good deal more than I do. It doesn't hurt, either, that Power and Grable are both lovely to look at. The movie is also listed as being available on DVD at Amazon.

Treasues from the Disney Vault

A few weeks back, I mentioned that TCM had signed an agreement with Disney that would result in TCM doing some branding on a Disney movie-themed attraction, in exchange for TCM getting the rights to show some stuff from Disney several times a year. The first of those nights of Disney programming is tonight.

I personally think the beginning of the evening is the more interesting part. The night is going to start off at 8:00 PM with a trio of one-reel comedies, including one with Chip and Dale, the Disney chipmunks who featured in about a dozen shorts in the 1940s and 1950s.

At 8:30 PM, there's an episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color from early in the show's run looking at the construction of Disneyland, when that amusement park was considered a big deal. Of course, a decade and a half later, the construction of Disney World in Florida would put Disneyland to shame.

At 9:30 PM, TCM is showing The Reluctant Dragon, something I'd never heard of becaue Disney has apparently been keeping stuff like this in the vault not knowing how to monetize it. Robert Benchley visits the Disney studio where he learns about the animation process. (Animated TV shows don't go out live because that would put a terrible strain on the animators' wrists.)

The Davy Crockett TV show turned out to be popular enough that a couple of episodes were stitched together into a movie; that you can catch at 11:00 PM. The nature documentary The Vanishing Plain follows at 12:45 AM, and last but not least, you have the opportunity to catch James MacArthur, before he was on Hawaii Five-O, climb the Matterhorn in Third Man on the Mountain at 2:00 AM.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thin Man comedy

TCM is running The Thin Man tonight at 8:00 PM as this week's Essential. It's a movie that I've never done a full-length posting on, although I've mentioned it quite a bit when talking about William Powell or Myrna Loy. I'm not certain, but I think the reason I've never done a full-length post on the film comes down to a couple of things. First, I can't help but think it's a bit better known that a lot of other old movies. Not that I want to deal in obscurities, but I've always felt a bit uncomfortable about doing posts on the tent-pole titles since, as I've been known to write about some movies, it's a story you all know.

The other reason is the plot, such as it is. As wonderful as the movie is, The Thin Man is one of those mysteries that you watch not for the mystery, but for all the comic elements that go on around Nick and Nora's attempts to solve the mystery. Some good examples:

Early on, before we get Nora's comedic entrance including a pratfall, we see Nick drinking one martini after another. If Nick is going to have that many, so is Nora, so she orders six martinis lined up. Needless to say, the next morning she wakes up with a hangover. "What hit me?" she asks Nick. "The last martini."

Gil (William Henry), one of Wynant's sons, if in the movie in large part for comic relief, claiming to have studied crime and trying to put on airs that he knows as much about how to solve a case like this as everybody else, although when push comes to shove you know he's not going to have the stomach for it. But perhaps his best line is when he tells the police that his missing father is a "sexagenarian". Perfectly accurate, but it's one of those words like "titillate" that sounds racier than it is.

Asta gets a couple of good scenes too, afraid of the popping balloons and afraid of the gunam who comes into Nick and Nora's bedroom. Oh to have a dog like that.

What's your favorite part of The Thin Man?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Technical difficulties

Last month, I mentioned how the TCM high definition feed is now apparerently the default one. For those of us haven't gone through the rigmarole of converting all our equipment to HD -- I'd have to get a new dish, install it on the roof and aim it properly -- there's still the SD feed. Sometimes, though, things get a little wonky.

Cary Grant is on at least his third go-round as TCM's Star of the Month, and instead of finding a new celebrity to do a new Star of the Month piece on him, TCM has been re-running thw pieces from the previous two times, by Tony Curtis and Michael Caine. The Caine piece looks to have been cropped on top and bottom to go from 4:3 to 16:9, with the result that in many of the clips Cary Grant's head is cut off somewhere in his forehead, while at the bottom, half of the movie titles are cut off. I don't think I noticed anything wrong with the Tony Curtis piece, however.

A bit more distressingly was yesterday's showing of Never on Sunday. The movie was apparently filmed in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, while the 16:9 aspect ratio for HD TV is 1.78:1. As with the Michael Caine piece, it looked as though the bottom and top must have been cropped, albeit not quite as much. But it was obvious because the bottom line of the subtitles when people were speaking Greek was partially cut off. This suddenly changed about 40 minutes into the movie when the showing switched to the proper aspect ratio and you could see the subtitles in their entirety.

I imagine it must be a pain for cable channels to have to worry about all those old TVs and cablt/satellite boxes out there. And at least TCM's problems haven't been anywhere near as bad as when FMC/FXM ran A High Wind in Jamaica. Still, it's a shame.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

About that interview

By now you've probably heard about how Sony Pictures shelved its movie The Interview because of the hacking kerfuffle and the purported threats of violence from... somebody: the hackers? North Koreans? Who knows. It is one of the more interesting reasons for a studio to shelve a movie, although there is in fact a fairly long list of movies that were either shelved completely, or just delayed by years in getting their release.

First up would be those movies whose principal production was never finished. Probably the best example I can think of would be Something's Gotta Give, the movie that Marilyn Monroe was making just before she died. Although her death definitively ended production on the movie, she had actually been fired from the production two months earlier and the movie probably wasn't going to get done, at least not in any way close to what the footage filmed to that point might have indicated.

Some movies get delayed because of the censors; a good example of this, I think, is The Outlaw. Howard Hughes' new discovery, Jane Russell, had a very ample bust, and that bust was used to good effect in the movie. Of course, that really ticked off the people enforcing the Production Code, because how dare anybody know that women have breasts? Production finished sometime in 1941, but the movie didn't get released until 1943. On a slightly different note, apparently 1933's Convention City did get a release, however brief. It was the horrified reaction to the more prudish critics that caused Warner Bros. to pull the movie and destroy all the copies.

Some movies had troubled productions that probably had something to do with the delay in their getting released. Greed had to be edited, becuase there was no way anybody was going to watch a nine-hour movie. The Magnificent Ambersons is another movie famous for being edited heavily after production was finished, much to the disgust of director Orson Welles, who was away from Hollywood when the editing was done. Another movie with a difficult production whose release was delayed is Night Unto Night, although the reasons for the delay were, I think, a bit difficult.

Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella was delayed for a fairly reasonable cause: the studio wanted a summer release, but Lewis thought the movie would work better as a Christmas release. So the release was delayed, and for summer release Lewis made The Bellboy whish was a smashing success.

Amd then there are movies like The Narrow Margin which had a delayed release for reasons I can't divine. Star Jacqueline White had already retired from the movies by the time the movie was actually released.

Any other interesting stories of movies whose release was delayed by a long time?

Virna Lisi, 1936-2014

So I saw on Wikipedia's obituary list page that Italian actress Virna Lisi died this morning at the age of 78. The name looked familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. It turns out she came to Hollywood in the mid-1960s and made half a dozen or so films, most notably How to Murder Your Wife with Jack Lemmon.

Lisi returned to Italy in the early 1970s and worked steadily thereafter, but that relative lack of a Hollywoof career is probably why I didn't remember her so well, and also why I haven't been able to find an English-language obituary so far. There's on in Italian if you can read that, or one in German.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Coming up in the next 24 hours

Yesterday, I mentioned that TCM's morning and afternoon lineup for today was a bunch of crime movies made in 1950. That programming block ends at 7:00 PM with Experiment Alcatraz. I missed the first 10 minutes or so of this one the last time it showed up on TCM, which means I missed a lot since the movie runs under an hour. The plot involves a doctor who has an experimental radioisotopic medicine that he has to try out on Alcatraz prisoners. One of the prisoners goes insane, stabs another, and escapes; the doctor and his assistant have to solve the case by finding the guy and proving that he really wasn't insane. It's the sort of thing that by the end of the decade would likely have been produced as episodic television, but it's reasonably entertaining.

Speaking of episodic TV, those of you who watch enough of it may recognize this month's Guest Programmer: Jason Lee, from the sitcome My Name Is Earl. He shows up wiht Robert Osborne tonight, although he's only presenting three movies, unlike the four most Guest Programmers normally present.

First up, at 8:00 PM, is The Kid,which has Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp becoming a foster father and having to fight to keep custody of the kid.
At 9:00 PM is another Chaplin film, City Lights, which has the Tramp going to great lengths to try to raise the money for a blind flower seller to get an operation that will presumably restore her eyesight.
Finally, at 10:45 PM, you can see Paris Texas, with Harry Dean Stanton as a man who comes in from the desert and has to try to reunite with his estranged family.

Unrelated to the Guest Programmer, but for those of you who like the Traveltalks shorts, tomorrow at about 7:38 AM, or following The Affairs of Martha (6:30 AM, 67 min), TCM is showing Minnesota, Land of Plenty, showing the state as it was, or as James Fitzpatrick envisioned it, back in 1942.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Destination Murder

TCM is showing a bunch of crime films made in 1950 tomorrow morning and afternoon. Most of them are decidedly B movies, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As an example of how that's not bad, you can watch the interesting movie that opens the day's proceedings, Destination Murder, at 6:00 AM.

The basic plot is simple, but the way it unfolds is rather complex with a bunch of twists and turns. The movie starts off with a bang, almost literally. Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements) is at a movie with his girlfriend. During the intermission, he gets up, presumably to go to the restroom or the concession stand. In fact, he's picked up by a boss of sorts named Armitage (Albert Dekker). Armitage drives Jackie to a house where Jackie, having changed into a uniform worn by telegram delivery boys, rings the doorbell and shoots Mansfield, who answers! It's the perfect crime, except for one thing: during the getaway Mansfield's daughter Laura (Joyce Mackenzie) shows up having returned from boarding school or something. She sees Jackie, and can even identify him from a police lineup, but... nothing else happens!

What's a woman to do? Why, this woman decides that a little ingenuity might be a good thing. She strikes up a relationship with Jackie, who is apparently more than willing enough to dump the girlfriend he had at the movie theater in favor of Laura. Laura eventually learns that Jackie has some dealings at Armitage's nightclub, so Laura goes to the club along, looking for a job! Of course, her real reason is so she can get inside and try to get some inside information on what's going on with Jackie and Amritage so that she can get the people responsible for her father's death. After all, Jackie only pulled the trigger; certainly somebody ordered the hit.

What follows is a twisty plot with blackmail; a double-dealing moll (Myrna Dell); a vicious, scheming assistant (Hurd Hatfield); torture set to classical music; and some plot turns that you you should probably expect to exist because of the genre of film, but the specifics of which you may not see coming. The ending is one that conforms to the Production Code, so you know the bad guys are going to get theirs. And since we know from the beginning who the bad guys are, there's a bit less suspense than there otherwise might be. Overall, though, Destination Murder is a fun little B movie that entertains just fine, even if afterwards it may blend in with all the other B crime movies from the era.

Destination Murder has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Maxwell Anderson, 1888-1959

Today marks the birth anniversary of playwright Maxwell Anderson. Several of his plays have been turned into movies. Probably the best known of those movies would be Key Largo, which I never realized was based on an Anderson play, although to be fair John Huston apparently changed the play almost beyond recognition. I've seen the movie but never seen or read the play, so I wouldn't know.

Perhaps a better example, then, of Anderson's work might be his play Elizabeth the Queen, which was adapted for the screen as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939. The ending of Elizabeth the Queen can also be seen being performed on stage by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in the delightful film The Guardsman; the rest of the play is a Ferenc Molnar work. Anderson actually wrote several plays about that period of English history, including Mary of Scotland which was turned into a movie in 1936, and Anne of the Thousand Days, which didn't become a movie until a decade after Anderson's death.

Anderson did more contemporary work, too, writing the play Saturday's Children, which became a film twice, with the better known version being the early 1940s version starring John Garfield, and The Bad Seed, which in fact was the subject of a post on Anderson's birthday back in 2008.

Anderson also did screenplays from other authors' work too; perhaps the best known among these would be the Joan Crawford version of Somerset Maugham's story Rain, or the Fredric March version of Death Takes a Holiday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


TCM is airing The Camerman overnight tonight at 12:30 AM as part of the regular Silent Sunday Nights feature. I was looking for a good picture to illustrate the post I was going to do on the movie, and found that one of the pictures linked to a post about the film at the blog Silentology. Lea, from the looks of that and the other posts I've read, clearly has a much greater love and knowledge of silents than I do. Not that I dislike silents, mind you; it's just that I'm not particularly well-versed in the topic compared to those who are avid fans. I also have to admit that I've really preferred silent comedies to silent dramas. To me, the physical humor necessitated by having to do comedy without dialog holds up better than the outsized melodrama that the dramas tend to have.

At any rate, I notice that Silentology not only has a bunch of interesting posts about the movies, it's still a going concern. Those two qualities -- especially the latter -- are the two things that make me want to put a blog into my blogroll over on the right side of the screen, so Silentology has been added.

Lea will be running a Buster Keaton blogathon in February; I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to take part. Most likely I'll do what I normally do when I see a blogathon: think it's a neat idea; spend several days coming up with an interesting idea, and then forget about it until after the blogathon has come and gone.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Circle of Deception

A worthwhile little World War II spy movie is showing up on FXM Retro: Circle of Deception, tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

The movie starts off in London in the spring of 1946, as a parade honoring the soldiers who served in the recent war are marching down the street receiving their well-earned heroes' welcome. Up in one of the apartments overlooking the street are a bunch of people who served as well, but not in a combat capacity. Lucy Bowen (Suzy Parker) served under Captain Rawson (Harry Andrews), and it's fairly quickly made clear that Lucy has some issues regarding the time she served with Rawson. Rawon, for his part, doesn't seem concerned at all: there was a war on, after all, and the Nazis would have done stuff far worse than anything Rawson or the rest of the British signed off on. Specifically, Lucy wnoders what happened to one Captain Raine, who was in France the last she knew. Rawson has Raine's post-war address, which is a seedy bar in Tangier, Morocco. Cut to an establishing shot of Tangier....

Lucy goes to the address given, and at first the proprietor of the bar claims that he hasn't seen Raine in some time, as he goes in an out keeping odd hours. Soon enough, though, it's revealed that Raine is in fact there, and he has good reasons for not wanting to see Lucy. They talk a bit, and we're about to get a flashback to what happened with Raine, Rawson, and Lucy that made Raine so sour on Lucy.

But first, we get a flashback to occupied France, in 1944. In the town of Marignan somewhere not far from the English Channel, the Maquis are operating as apparently they were in lots of little French towns. The Nazis are onto this particular Maquis cell, however, and capture most of the members of the cell. This is bad news for the English, who were looking to use the Marignan-area Maquis as a diversion from where the real invasion of Normandy was going to be. They still want to do that, but to do so, they're going to have to get new instructions to the Maquis, which involves sending a British spy. Or at least, that's what they want the Nazis to think they're doing. More specifically, the English want the Nazis to find the British spy and break him through torture so that he'll reveal the information that Marignan is important when, unbeknownst to the spy, Marignan is only a diversion. But if the spy believes in the importance of Marignan, so will the Nazis, and they'll move some troops away from the areas that are really important to the allies. (They couldn't use a dead body for this purpose, because they had already done that in Operation Mincemeat, as told more or less in The Man Who Never Was.) But, paradoxically, the British need a spy who is likely to break when of course they've been training their spies not to break for obvious reasons. Raine's psychological profile suggests that he's the right man for the job.

Raine gets parachuted into France and fairly quickly gets caught by the Gestapo, who unsurprisingly begin to apply totrure on him. Exactly what happens next forms the climax of the film, so I won't give it away, other than to say what because the movie is told in flashback, we know Raine is going to survive the war. As for the movie as a whole, the acting is nothing special, but the story makes this movie. Parker is relatively wooden, while Andrews does a reasonably good job of coming off like a jerk who rationalies he has to be like this because of the war. The torture scenes are surprisingly brutal, depicting several rounds of waterboarding and attaching electrodes to Raine's ears (I'd assume in real life the Nazis would have attached the electrodes to his testicles, but obviously they couldn't show that on screen back then). There's also the standard issue beatings. The final scene is one I found a bit implausible, but other than that the movie is well worth a watch.

Unfortunately, Circle of Deception doesn's seem to be on DVD at all. And the print FXM showed is panned and scanned.

TCM Remembers 2014

So I finally got a chance to see this year's parade of the dead, better known as TCM Remembers on TCM, yesterday evening. It's as well down as it alays is, which means it's a heck of a lot better than anything I would have been able to think up, even if there are a few omissions. Although, with as many people as TCM is remembering, how far down the list of fame is somebody if TCM isn't remembering them? Errol Flynn's widow Patrice Wymore is not in the salute, even though she did make some Hollywood movies. I also remember the death of Tatyana Samoilova from The Cranes Are Flying this spring, although she didn't make so many movies and with her being foreign it's not a surprise that TCM might have overlooked her. But they did remember people like Menahem Golan and Alain Resnais, which is nice to see.

One name that threw me for a loop was Dickie Jones. When I saw that I thought to myself that if he had died, I certainly would have seen the news either on Wikipedia or on the TCM Forums. It turned out that Dickie Jones was the voice of Pinocchio, and yes, I did remember seeing that obituary over the summer. The reason I had some confusion is that I was getting the name Dickie Jones mixed up with Dickie Moore, who is still alive at the age of 89.

TCM have put the video up on Youtube and allowed embedding, so I've put it up here for you to watch. It's probably better to watch the embed than to read the whining from the Youtube commenters.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Last Gangster

No; this isn't the last blog post about a gangster movie; it's about the movie The Last Gangster, whith TCM is running today at 6:00 PM as part of a birthdy salute to Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson stars as Joe Krozac, a mob leader of Yugoslav descent who lives the good life, apparently saving the violence for the little people. Joe wants a family, so he goes back to the old country to find himself a wife, which he does in the form of Talya (Rose Stradner, whom MGM were apparently grooming to be their next European star but who never quite made it). They get married and have a seemingly happy life, Talya knowing nothing of what Joe really does because he's keeping her in the dark; being a foreigner with a limited command of the English language helps. Of course, you know that the authorities are eventually going to get Krozac, because the Production Code demands it. That arrest and conviction comes on a tax evasion charge, much as happened to Al Capone. So there's a trial and Joe is found guilty and sent to Alcatraz.

Ah, but there's a catch. In the meantime, Joe has successfully knocked up Talya, who is with child as the whole legal falderal against him goes on. Joe gets a ten-year sentence and vows to fight it every step of the way, as well as coming out of prison better than ever and having a great family and all that stuff. Needless to say, it's not going to happen this way. Talya doesn't want her son to know that Dad is a prisoner. And when the newspaperman Paul North (James Stewart) writes a story that puts Talya in a bad light, he takes pity on her. The two of them fall in love, leaving Talya to file for divorce from Joe, marry Paul, change her name, and move to one of those peaceful small cities that you can find anywhere on MGM's back lot.

Of course, Joe only got a ten-year sentence, not a life sentence. Those ten years are going to run out and Joe is going to get out of prison, wanting to see his wife and son. Only they're not his wife and son any longer, which of course is going to be one of the dramatic tensions of the second half of the movie. There's another, however. When Joe gets out of prison, his old gang is still there. They've been waiting for their payoff for ten years, and they're convinced that Joe has been holding out on them and has a secret stash of money somewhere. They're going to get that no matter what. And if torturing Joe won't get him to reveal the location, then perhaps they'll have to kidnap the son he loves but has never met....

There's some hoary material here, but unsurprisingly based on who we've got in the cast, it's all handled fairly well. Robinson did better work, to be sure, but he's more than capable as the man whose world crumbles around him over the course of the movie. Stewart was still fairly early in his career, and is a good second lead, neither having the "aw shucks" persona from films like Harvey or the hard-boiled post-war persona from something like Rope. Rose Stradner isn't much, and you can see why she never became the star MGM had hoped for. It's also worth watching the 30s character actors who show up in Joe Krozac's gang. Overall, the story is done well, if nothing groundbreaking. It's not as good as the Warner gangster movies, but I liked it more than MGM's Johnny Eager. The Last Gangster is more of a programmer than a prestige film, and that's to the movie's benefit.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Walk of Fame interview

So some Kiwi filmmaker received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this week. I don't really follow these things, since it's really no more meritorious than ome actor or another being honored by his hometown. Sure, it's nice to have, and everybody involved gets to have a good time, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't amount to a hill of beans, if I may mix my movie quotes. I recall many years ago seeing a TV feature on the Walk of Fame stop and show us the star that Strongheart earned many years ago. Yeah, I'd never heard of strongheart either, but apparently some of his work is on Youtube if you care to look it up and watch.

At any rate, I'm really writing this post because Radio New Zealand took the opportunity to do an interview with Ana Martinez, who produces the Walk of Fame ceremonies. The MP3 file can be downloaded here; it's a little under nine minutes and a little over 3MB.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Art of Collaboration

I mentioned another documentary yesterday; this evening we have a TCM premiere, of a new episode in the AFT series on the "art of collaboration". I have to admit that I have no idea if this series is any good, since I haven't been bothered to watch any of the previous episodes. This particular episode looks at the collaboration between director Rob Reiner and editor Robert Leighton, and comes on at 8:00 PM.

As is usually the case when TCM presents a new documentary in the 8:00 PM time slot, the schedule will see one movie pertaining to the documentary. This time out, that movie is The Sure Thing at 9:00 PM, in which a college student (John Cusack) takes a road trip with a woman (Daphne Zuniga) he doesn't like at the start of the movie, only to find himself falling for her along the way. Ah, the road trip is such a time-tested formula in Hollywood. Perhaps TCM should devote the Friday Night Spotlight to road trips some month. ;-)

After the one film relating to the documentary, we get a repeat of the documentary, at 11:00 PM. If you have a copy of the monthly schedule, note that it has everything an hour off following the first showing of the documentary. What's on the daily schedule but not on the monthly schedule is another showing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, tomorrow morning at 5:45 AM.

Handle With Care

TCM is putting the spotlight on the great character actor Thomas Mitchell all morning and afternoon. (His birthday, however, is in July.) The spotlight concludes with one of Mitchell's last movies, Handle With Care, at 6:30 PM.

The star here is a young Dean Jones, before he started doing all those Disney movies in the 1960s. Here, Jones plays Zachary Davis, who is a third-year law student at a small law school where all the students seem to be in one class and all of them but Zachary come from the same small town where everybody has known each other for generations since whenever the town was founded. As part of the class' final project, they are to do a mock trial. Zachary, however, wants to reenact a real trial, preferably something from the town's history. He probably saw Peyton Place and realized that every idyllic small town has a hotbed of iniquity under the surface, or something. But Zachary's father was a disgraced toofficial in another town; that's part of why he came here and why he wants to do a trial about a real event from the town. There's some dissension, but eventually everybody agrees, and the students go off to examine the town's history.

Zach finds something he doesn't like. While looking through the early 1930s, Zach discovers that the town's tax collector, Dick Williston (that's Thomas Mitchell), handed out receipts for the full amount of taxes owed, but didn't deposit that much money into the town coffers. The obvious conclusion is that Williston was embezzling! Making matters worse is that a quarter of a century on, Williston is now the town's mayor, and everybody loves him, because everybody loves everybody else in these small towns. It seems, however, as though there may be other corruption from the 1930s that was never made public. This all causes quite a rift in the town and Zachary, being the outsider, is a convenient lightning rod. But the townsfolk agreed to have a mock trial about something from the town's past, so they're going to have a trial about this.

Now, this is the sort of movie that could go in the direction of one of two Walter Pidgeon movies from the beginning of the decade: either The Sellout, where it turns out that the officials accused of corruption really are corrupt, and the hero saves the day; or Scandal at Scourie (which I haven't blogged about), which has a little girl falsely accused and there's some simple explanation that results in the accusers realizing how wrong they were and learning to love her. I won't say which ending Handle With Care takes. I mention Walter Pidgeon however, because even though he isn't in Handle With Care, he damn well should be. This was one of those programmers made at MGM in the 1950s presumably to subsidize the more prestigious color movies, and it has all the imprints of MGM's moralizing. Pidgeon would have been perfect as the law professor (actually played by Walter Abel) or some other prominent town citizen like a town judge. The tone that the movie takes on once the mock trial starts is certainly a strike against it.

In some ways, that's a shame, because Handle With Care has some interesting ideas. Dean Jones might be a bit too earnest in his role, but I think a good portion of the blame can be put on the script. Mitchell is professional as the man who understanbly fears his life's work might be pulled out from under him, while the rest of the cast feels like a bunch of players from a stock company: nothing particularly memorable, but they don't detract from the movie. It's just that darn script again. On the whoe, though, Handle With Care is not a bad movie. It's just one that I think could have been better. I don't think it's available at all on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hollywood: The Dream Factory

I've mentioned quite a few times before that I like how TCM runs documentaries on Hollywood history. One that I haven't seen before is Hollywood: The Dream Factory, which is coming up tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM.

The reviews on IMDb diverge wildly, but I have a feeling the less positive ones are going to be closer to the mark. This is apparently one of the earlier Hollywood-on-Hollywood documentaries, dating to 1972, and focusing on MGM two years before That's Entertainment! came out. It was a time when the studios were facing difficult cicrumstances, and MGM would be a few years away from selling off the backlot -- I think That's Entertainment! was one of the very last movies made on the MGM backlot. Hollywood: The Dream Factory apparently has as its framing story the auction of some MGM movie memorabilia. In some ways, it would have been a shame for a studio to have to sell off its memorabilia like that, but to be fair, what was anybody going to do with a mock-up of the HMS Bounty?

The film runs 51 minutes, which I think is probably the biggest reason it would deserve a criticism. It's tough to do a history of an entire studio in that little time, and with TCM having been around for 20 years, I can't believe there would be anything new to those of us who watch the channel faithfully and have seen a whole bunch of the documentaries TCM runs. For audiences in 1972, I suppose the material would have been rather fresher, what with the subject not really having been covered before. And of course there are a lot of clips; sometimes part of the fun of watching a movie like this is trying to identify the films or faces in the clips.

Rory Flynn

Robert Osbourne sits down tonight with a guest, that being Rory Flynn, the daughter of actor Errol Flynn. TCM are going to be showing five of Flynn's movies, with Rory discussing the movies, and her father, with Robert. (At least, there are five movies on the schedule; I don't know if Robert and whoever he has as a guest generally do intros for more than the first four movies on most nights.)

The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Objective, Burma!, which has Flynn as an American army officer fighting in the Burma campaign in World War II. I seem to recall reading once that this movie got the British dander up, since it was the British and not the Americans doing most of the fighting in Southeast Asia during World War II. Flynn, having been born in Australia, could plausibly have played somebody fighting for British Empire forces, but finding enough other actors in Hollywood to play British alongside him might have been difficult. The C. Aubrey Smiths of the world were a bit too old to play in a movie like Objective, Burma!

Next up at 10:30 PM is the venerable The Adventures of Robin Hood. Granted, many of the actors here aren't particularly British either, but then the British of the day wouldn't have been speaking modern English. And besides, The Adventures of Robin Hood is just so damn fun!

At 12:30 AM, you can watch Gentleman Jim, a biopic about boxer James Corbett, who was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world at the end of the 19th century. I don't know exactly how truthful this one is; also in the cast are Alexis Smith as the love interest and Jack Carson as Corbett's best friend.

Finally we get a western. At 2:30 AM, TCM will be showing Rocky Mountain, which stars Flynn as a Confederate soldier trying to recruit more troops out west. This movie also stars Patrice Wymore, who was Flynn's wife (I think his last wife; I can't remember the order of his marriages).

Rounding out the night of Flynn's movies is Never Say Goodbye at 4:00 AM. This one has Flynn playing the estranged husband of Eleanor Parker and trying to win her back.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Some more thoughts on An Affair to Remember

Cary Grant is this month's Star of the Month on TCM, so at some point it's only natural that they're going to get around to running An Affair to Remember. That airing is going to be tonight at 8:00 PM. Now, I've mentioned it quite a few times, perhaps most notably back in August, 2009 when I tried to compare the movie humorously to King Kong. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl. It's a story line as old as the earlist plays, I think.

I should probably be a bit fairer to An Affair to Remember, however, and tke a serious look at the film. After all, the film does have quite a bit to recommend it. That starts with the two leads, Grant and Deborah Kerr. Both of them are on their way across the Atlantic to meet up with their future spouses. You'd think that a wealthy guy like Grant's character would take the plane across the Atlantic, but he takes the slow boat, which allows our two main characters to fall in love. Grant by this time was quite good at playing the wealthy and elegant playboy types, even if I think he was a bit too old to be playing one here. I don't know that Deborah Kerr was rightly cast either as she's a bit too British and giving off an upper-crust vibe to be a teacher who isn't upper-crust. If she were doing it for charity purposes as in Lydia, it would make more sense. That having been said, Grant and Kerr are both professional actors, and do the best they can with their parts, which isn't bad. It's easy to see why these two would fall in love with each other.

Where I have a big problem with the movie is when Grant is supposed to meet Kerr at the observation deck of the Empire State Building, and she's waylaid on account of getting hit by a car. The movie turns into a weepy, almost melodramatic movie, which just isn't my thing. I suppose it was more common at the time for wheelchair-bound people to be viewed as though their lives were somehow much lesser because of their disability. Indeed, when TCM did a spotlight of disabilities in film a couple of years back, the guy who presented the series alongside Robert Osborne selected this movie to make precisely that point. And to be fair, back in those days getting hit by a car would have necessitated a long recovery, even if Kerr wasn't going to wind up in a wheelchair. It just that there's something so overdone about the way An Affair to Remember handles the material, at least for my taste.

Of course, there are going to be a lot of people out there who like this sort of story, and as such are going to love the movie. It is, after all, quite well made, just like those MGM musicals that I don't particularly care for either. In some ways it's kind of unfair to pan a movie just because it's not one's own favorite genre, so don't look at my comments on An Affair to Remember as a pan. Instead, think of it as a caveat for pepole who might have problems with a certain type of movie.

I should also add that An Affair to Remember is available on DVD from the TCM Shop.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cartoons from Van Beuren Studios

Back in October, TCM ran a night of programming called "Back to the Drawing Board" which began with three sets of vintage animated shorts, some of them a century old. Or, at least, the schedule started with three sets of shorts. Due to a technical glitch at TCM's end, the third set, from the Van Beuren Studios, didn't run, much to the consternation of those who were looking forward to the animation. TCM, as they generally try to do, rescheduled this particular block. That rescheduling is on tonight at midnight as part of TCM's Silent Sunday Nights block.

The rest of the Silent Sunday Nights block is the odd movie Yankee Doodle in Berlin, at 1:15 AM. Set during World War I but released a few months after the end of the war, the movie stars a noted female impersonator of the day, Bothwell Browne, as an American soldier who gets selected for an important spy plot trying to steal plans from the Kaiser. To do this, our doughboy dresses up as a woman. The jokes in the movie would be considered extremely anti-German and in poor taste if Germans were a group that it was considered wrong to make fun of, the way Japanese-Aemricans are now. But Germans don't get as much of that benefit now as the Japanese do, and the Germans at the end of World War I certainly didn't.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

TCM's Mike Nichols tribute

Director Mike Nichols died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83. TCM had Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on the schedule for tnoight at 8:00 PM already, as part of TCM's The Essentials. So it made logical sense to make tonight the TCM programming tribute to Nichols. I have to admit that I'm not a particular fan of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, or at least the portions I've seen. The screamin and arguing in the portions I've seen have always been enough to make me want to turn the movie off.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf will be followed by two more movies. TCM are only showing three of Nichols' films I think in part because they must have wanted not to preempt the TCM Underground movies, and in part because Nichols had long breaks between films in his career while he was directing on the stage. The second of the movies, at 10:30 PM, is The Graduate, pictured above, with a story you all know about a recent college graduate (Dustin Hoffman) who gets seduced by the mother of a friend (Anne Bancroft plays the mother; Katherine Ross the friend).

The last of the Nichols movies is Carnal Knowledge at 12:30 AM, with Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel playing a pair of friends who navigate the sexual revolution of the 1960s together (as friends; those sexual relationships are with women).

Friday, December 5, 2014

Charles Walters

Since we're still in the first week of a new month, we still have to get to the Friday Night Spotlight on TCM. This month, it's Charles Walters, who started out as a dancer at MGM in the early 1940s, before becoming a choreographer and then director. Waters' biographer, Brent Phillips, will be presenting a bunch of Waters' films every Friday night this month.

I've said quite a few times that MGM's Technicolor musicals aren't my favorite genre, so I have to admit that this is a spotlight that I'm not particularly excited about. Of course, it also has to be said that everybody at MGM was very capable at the time, with the result that the movies are for the most part at a high level of technical and articstic quality. It's just that they're not my thing.

The other thing that's bad about it is that we don't get many of the the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen films since they were for the most part doing their own thing at MGM, with Kelly doing his imaginative choreography himself, and Donen doing a lot of the directing. Summer Stock is the one exception since Walters did the choreography for Judy Garland. And since he Walters did choreography for Garland, we get a lot of Garland films which, as I mentioned yesterday, are another of the things I don't particularly care for.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The "Lost" Tapes of Orson Welles

Recently, my RSS feed for BBC's audio documentaries contained the following item:

DocArchive: The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles

Director Orson Welles was asked to write his life story in his later years. He declined but was convinced by his friend Henry Jaglom to discuss his life over a weekly lunch at their favourite Hollywood restaurant, Ma Maison. The hundreds of tapes, recorded from 1983 to 1985, reveal extraordinary, frank, conversations between Welles and the independent director Jaglom.

Now, I don't think the tapes were really "lost". Indeed, when I saw the name Henry Jaglom in that blurb I immediately thought to myself that I could have sworn Jaglom showed up on TCM to sit down with Robert Osborne and discuss the relationship with Welles. Sure enough, he did in May 2014.

I haven't listened to the BBC documentary yet -- I've got about 45 hours of various radio programs from all around the world to listen to, so I don't see myself getting to it until the Christmas break or so. But for the time being, you can download the documentary here. I think the BBC keeps their stuff up for a month, so you've got another three and a half weeks to download it. It's 23MB, and about 50 minutes. The link to the RSS feed is here.

Christmas is three weeks away

We're in December, which means Christmas, if you haven't already figured that out from the plethora of Christmas-themed ads on TV or Christmas songs on the radio. (One of the local stations switched to all Christmas songs, all the time, around Veterans' Day. Ugh.) TCM, thankfully, has more or less waited until December to do a bunch of Christmas stuff, and doesn't seem to be going overboard this year, which will probably disappoint people who have favorite Christmas movies, but is a bit refreshing to somebody like me who doesn't care for the overload. Not that I dislike the holiday, but the amount of Christmas stuff we get from some places is ridiculous. Anyhow, TCM will be showing Christmas movies on the next three Thursday nights.

The Christmas festival kicks off with Remember the Night at 8:00 PM, which has Fred MacMurray playing a prosecutor who takes personal custody of shopifter Barbara Stanwyck over the Christmas holiday; unsurprisingly, as he takes her home to mother he winds up falling in love with her -- never mind the professional conflict of interest.

Stanwyck returns for Meet John Doe at 10:00 PM, in which she plays a reporter who writes a story about a homeless man (Gary Cooper) and finds that the powers that be twist that story all out of proportion, turning Cooper into a national folk hero as long as it suits there interests.

That will be followed by a pair of Judy Garland movies. The first is In the Good Old Summertime at 12:15 AM. This one, a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, has Garland as a worker at a music shop who dislikes co-worker Van Johnson, with neither realizing that the two have been writing to each other from the personals column. Perhaps they should have tried piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

The second Judy Garland movie is the old chestnut Meet Me in St. Louis, about a family that may have to move from St. Louis to New York, set against the backdrop of the 1904 World's Fair. I'm not a fan of this one, in part because I've never been the biggest fan of Garland's singing, but also because of the presence of Margaret O'Brien, who was one of my least favorite child actors. (I mentioned my not caring for Garland's dancing when I blogged about The Clock which, while not a Christmas movie, is worth a watch.)

Last up is All Mine to Give, about a family in mid-19th century Wisconsin in which both of the parents die, leaving the eldest son to have to find new homes for all of his siblings on Christmas Eve. This one is well made, but it's also one of the bigger downers out there.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Smiles of a Summer Night

Several months ago, TCM had a night of Ingmar Bergman movies programmed, and I was looking forward to doing a full-length post on Smiles of a Summer Night. But then James Garner (I think it was him) died, and TCM came up with a 24-hour tribute that pre-empted the night of Bergman movies. That night has been rescheduled, and the Ingmar Bergman movies are on TCM tonight, starting at 8:00 PM with Smiles of a Summer Night, which is the subject of today's post.

Gunnar Björnstrand plays Fredrik, a successful attorney at the turn of the last century. He's middle-aged with an adult son Henrik (Bjön Bjelvenstam), who was the product of his first marriage. But Fredrik's first wife died some time in the past, and Fredrik has taken a new wife in the form of the very young Anne (Ulla Jacobsson). So far, so good; all of this is normal as life happens. But unfortunately, both of our male protagonists seem to have a problem with sex. Dad, for whatever reason, has never been able to consummate his marriage to his now not-so-new wife, while the son is studying for the priesthood which has apparently left him sexually repressed.

Dad goes off to the theater, where he sees star actress Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck). It turns out that he's been having an affair with Eva, which might have something to do with why he hasn't ben able to consummate his marriage to Anne. And let's just say that things aren't even that simple. Desiree has been having a relationship with Fredrik, but it turns out that he's not the only one. She's also having a relationship with Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), and when the Count finds out that another maa is having a dalliance with his Desiree, the Count isn't going to be happy. Not that the Count should have much to complain about, since he's already married to the Countess (Margit Carlqvist) and probably shouldn't be having that affair with Desiree either.

What's a person to do in the face of all these love triangles? Desiree gets a brilliant idea. There's an old country house that the family has owned, and Desiree, realizing that nobody seems to be happy with the the one they're with and would be better off pairiung up with somebody else, invites everybody to that country house, where she'll work on pairing everybody up properly. It sounds daft, but this is where the movie starts to get fun. Fredrik and Henrik come; the Count and Countess arrive, and with the help of a couple of servants we've got enough for four couples, or at least three couples and Desiree. Will everybody wind up with the person most appropriate for them? Shenanigans abound as the various people temporarily couple and decouple on the way to being with whicever partner they'll have at the end.

Smiles of a Summer Night is aa film that can be a lot of fun, although the plot can be a bit complicated to follow what with multiple couples all in states of flux. Thankfully, director Bergman's steady hand guides us through the proceedings, giving us a rewarding journey, and a film that's lovely to look at at times. Although the film starts off a bit slowly, it really picks up, especially once the action hits the country house. It's also lighter than the later Bergman movies that I've seen (although there are several I still haven't seen), so if you've been put off Bergman before, Smiles of a Summer Night might not be a bad place to start.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rhonda Fleming night on TCM

TCM is putting the spotlight on actress Rhonda Fleming tonight. Fleming, now 91, was a flaming red-headed beauty of the 1940s and 1950s, and I'm surprised to see that I never found a good publicity still to use to illustrate a post about any movie of hers. The night kicks off at 8:00 PM with Out of the Past, a movie which only has Fleming in a small part and which I'm a bit surprised I've never done a full-length blog post on before. Then again, that might be because I do have a few problems with the movie. To me, it really feels like there's a very distinct past part and then the noir present which are much more separate than a whole lot of other movies that have flashbacks. To me it really muddles the whole story and detracts a bit from what everybody else says is an outstanding film.

Second up, at 9:45 PM, is Home Before Dark, in which Fleming plays the step-sister of star Jean Simmons. It's a mess, but fun at times; I just wish it didn't clock in at an overlong 137 minutes.

It's slightly odd that TCM picked a pair of black-and-white movies to start off the night of Rhonda Fleming films, since Technicolor was exceedingly kind to her. The first of the color films tonight is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, with Bing Crosby playing the Mark Twain character who winds up a millennium before his time. That's followed at 2:15 AM by a film I'd never heard of before, Instant Love, so I can't say much about it.

Last up is the hilariously awful The Crowded Sky, at 4:00 AM, which has Fleming playing the wife of military pilot Efrem Zimbalist Jr. This is an all-star movie about a pair of planes on a collision course, where all of the characters have problems and lay them bare for us, including a series of wildly overdone voiceovers and a whole bunch of stereotypes. Sure, it's terrible, but it's one of those movies that fun to watch precisely because it's terrible.

Monday, December 1, 2014

TCM Star of the Month: Cary Grant

We're in a new month, which means we're getting a new star of the month on TCM. Every Monday in prime time, actually going into Tuesday morning, we'll have the films of Cary Grant. This first Monday in December brings several of the films that Grant made at Paramount at the beginning of his career. One that I thought I had blogged about before, but apparently haven't, is I'm No Angel, at 10:45 PM.

Grant isn't the star here; this was the beginning of his career. Instead, the star is Mae West, playing Tira, who at the beginning of the movie is a dancer in the traveling carnvial show. But she's more than that. She's got a partner in crime in Slick Wiley (Ralf Harolde), a pickpocket who poses as Tira's husband when she lures unsuspecting men into her hotel room for dalliances. One of those dalliances goes wrong, and the mark ends up knocked out, but still able to recognize his two assailants. Slick eventually goes to prison; Tira's case is more complicated.

Tira seeks help from her boss Bill (Edward Arnold) to pay for the lawyer she's going to need to stay out of prison. He agrees, but only under the condition that she'll play a part in his new lion-tamer act that ultimately has her sticking her head into a lion's open mouth. You can understand why she's not so happy about it, but if the choice is between that and jail, what are you going to do? She stays out of jail, and the act becomes a success, enough for the carnival to make it to New York to perform, which is where Cary Grant is going to come in.

New York means high society and wealthy people, and some of them go to see the show since it's at a respectable arena. One of them, lawyer Kirk (Kent Taylor) sees Tira and falls for her, which is a bit of a problem not simply because they're from two completely different worlds, but because Kirk has a fiancée who needless to say isn't very happy about her man going to see this carnival performer! So it's up to Kirk's cousin Jack (Cary Grant) to solve the problem by paying off Tira to leave Kirk alone. The only thing is, Jack falls for Tira too, which presents a whole bunch of complications....

Mae West's bawdy persona suited her well for the pre-Code era as she flings off one-liners full of sexual innuendo, and that allows her to shine in I'm No Angel. This is West's movie all the way; Cary Grant, who gets second biling and is our Star of the Month on TCM, doesn't show up until halfway through the film. Grant gets the chance to play a suitably elegant and dashing young man, and does so as well as he did with his Salvation Army worker in She Done Him Wrong (airing just before I'm No Angel at 9:30 PM). The rest of the cast is adequate, but not particularly standing out.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Music on FXM Retro

Tomorrow is the first day of a new month, which in theory means that we should be getting some movies on FXM Retro that haven't been around for a while. I haven't been following the FXM schedule quite so closely as to recognize which movies haven't been on the channel in ages, but I notice that the December 1 schedule contains a bunch of music-themed movies that I haven't said very much about.

First, at 6:00 AM, Glenn Miller shows up in Orchestra Wives, which as you can probably guess is about the women who marry the members of the band.
Then, at 7:40 AM< we get Benny Goodman in Sweet and Low-Down, about a trombonist who joins his band and rises to stardom, facing obstacles along the way.
Fox liked to make musicals in the 1940s into the early 1950s, and we get a a Betty Grable musical. At 9:00 AM, you can watch Sweet Rosie O'Grady. This one is more or less a remake of Love Is News. (Fox would remake it again as That Wonderful Urge at the end of the 1940s. Some stories have staying power.)
Finally, at 11:50 AM, I'll mention The I Don't Care Girl at 11:50 AM. This one tells the fictionalized life story of vaudeville star Eva Tanguay, staring Mitzi Gaynor as Tanguay. The title comes from the name of a song Tanguay made popular.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tomorrow's animal movies

I probably should have done a full-length post on Sounder, which is airing tomorrow (November 30) at noon. Cicely Tyson stars as the mother in a 1930s Louisiana family struggling to make ends meet when her husband (Paul Winfield) gets railroaded into prison, thsi being the Deep South of the 1930s. Against the backdrop of this is a coming of age story about their son (Kevin Hooks) and his beloved dog Sounder. It's a well-made movie, although I have to admit I find it a bit mawkish at times.

Perhaps more interesting is the pairing, or non-pairing, of National Velvet and International Velvet. Elizabeth Taylor, who would have been about 13 at the time, plays Velvet Brown in National Velvet, which tells the story of a young girl who, with the help of trainer Mickey Rooney, enters her horse in the Grand National steeplechase, and even rides the horse thanks to some terrible rear projection photography -- I can't imagine MGM having their new property do horse-jumping even if she were capable of doing it. That's airing at 10:15 PM tomorrow, not next to International Velvet. The latter movie is not a remake of the former, but telling a different story several decades on. Velvet, now played by Nanette Newman (wife of the director Bryan Forbes) takes in a young American (Tatum O'Neal) and teaches her to be a show jumper. International Velvet comes on at 8:00 AM.

One that sounds as though it could be interesting although is more likely to be a damp squib (I haven't seen it before) is Zebra in the Kitchen at 2:00 PM. Child star Jay North plays a kid who, in a fit of pique, decides he's going to try to free the animals from his local zoo.

Rupert Pupkin speaks

Yesterday, I noticed that Colin's blog Riding the High Country had a new post titled Underrated Thrillers. It turned out that Colin was doing a guest post over at a blog that I hadn't seen before, Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

Rupert has an interesting blog, and it's updated regularly, so onto the blogroll it goes. The blogroll lists the 10 most recently updated blogs, although I've actually got 16 blogs now on the blogroll, I think. So if you want your blog to show up there, post more often!

Friday, November 28, 2014

A few thoughts about film preservation

The print of Tree in a Test Tube that TCM ran yesterday was terrible, although I'd presume there's no better print available, what with the short having been made by the US Forest Service and the federal government having less reason to look after any movie they might make than the Hollywood studios.

It got me to thinking about the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, which will be turning 25 this year. Sometime in December, they'll be announce the latest set of films to be added to the Registry. As the NFR mentions at its site, "To be eligible for the Registry, a film must be at least 10 years old and be 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'" This means that in addition to Hollywood movies, there are a bunch of traditional documentaries (Harlan County, USA, about a coal miners' strike in Kentucky, was the first documentary added to the NFR in 1990), as well as home moives. George Stevens' films that he took in World War II are there, as is the Zapruder film.

Anybody can nominate films to be added to the Registry, although I've never actually gotten around to doing so myself. There are several that I'd think of nominating:

The Cat Concerto. As best I can tell, there are no Tom and Jerry shorts on the Registry, and this one, which has Tom trying to play Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody on a grand piano that Jerry has turned into his nest, is one of the best, having won an Oscar for the best animated short.

Night Descends on Treasure Island. I don't think any of the Traveltalks shorts are in the Registry either, and some of them -- especially the ones that James A. Fitzpatrick did in the US during the World War II years -- would fit the cultural and historic signifcance part of the Registry's criteria. Fitzpatrick made two shorts about the international exposition that was held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay in 1939. The two together would probably be a good choice, but the second one with its light show is even more in need of a pristine print.

The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theaters. This is another one that has clear historical significance, showing what the small movie theaters, and I think smaller towns in general, thought of themselves at the time when TV was really starting to take off.

The complete list of titles in the Regsitry is avaiable here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

TCM and Disney

So news came over the wire yesterday that TCM will be partnering with Disney. TCM will apparently be providing mateiral for the "Great Movie Ride" at Disney's Hollywood Studios attraction in Orlando, while Disney will be letting TCM show some material from the archives in prime time blocks on TCM. The first o those blocks is scheduled for December 21.

I have a feeling that anybody looking for Disney's animated features to show up on TCM will likely be disappointed. Disney have always seemed to me to be exceedingly controlling of their material, especially the classic animation that shows up o nthe latest home video format for a brief time, only to go back into the vaults before the next advance in home video comes along. I find it difficult to believe that Disney are just going to let TCM run something like Snow What and the Seven Dwarfs or Cinderella uncut and commercial free.

Still, some of the animated shorts are going to be showing up; the article mentions a 1932 short called Santa's Workshop that's on the December 21 schedule. For the most part, though, it looks like lesser-known stuff that, like MGM's Traveltalks shorts that I love to talk about, is of historical interest even if it isn't the greatest material the studio produced. I just wonder how long it will be until people start complaining about the lack of the truly classic stuff in these blocks.