Friday, January 31, 2014

31 Days of Oscar is back!

I'm sure some of you are oh so excited! Tomorrow being February 1, TCM is bringing back its annual 31 Days of Oscar salute, with each movie being nominated for at least one Academy Award. Actually, not quite, since they're going to be premiering a new documentary about the Oscars. But to be fair, I'd presume that documentary is going to have some clips of films that were nominated, or footage from vintage awards ceremonies. Anyhow, I'm mentioning 31 Days of Oscar a bit early because the subject of this post deals with movies that are airing early tomorrow morning.

This year, TCM is programming 31 Days of Oscar by having prime time look at the nominees in one particular category in a given year. I don't know if every prime time has every single nominee, although I'd presume that TCM tried to get all of them. February 1's prime time lineup looks at the Best Picture nominees from 1939. Of course, back then there were 10 nominees for Best Picture in a given year, a procedure which was discuontinued after 1943 when the number of nominees was reduced to five; it was of course increased a few years back to a maximum of ten, although the Academy doesn't have to nominate ten if they don't wish to. But with ten nominees, and one of them being the four-hour Gone With the Wind, there's no way TCM could fit them all in a ten-hour prime time block. So TCM is spending almost all 24 hours tomorrow with the nominees of 1939, starting at 6:00 AM with Goodbye, Mr. Chips, with a break at 8:00 PM for that documentary that I mentioned.

Science movies repeating in February

Tonight on TCM is the final night of January's Friday Night Spotlight on science in the movies. There are several movies coming up that I surprisingly haven't written a full-length post about. However, three of them are also going to be airing on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar, so with any luck I'll be getting around to at least two of them in February.

The first of them is The Story of Louis Pasteur, at midnight tonight, and repeating on Feburary 10 early in the morning. Paul Muni plays the title role, of the French scientist who discovers what's causing mothers to die in childbirth at an alarming rate, before using his revolutionary for the times methods to find treatments for rabies and anthrax.

I mentioned Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1:45 AM, with an overnight repeat in the wee hours of February 11) several times before, with the best synopsis in a post I did back in February 2012:

Edward G. Robinson stars as Ehrlich, the man who comes up with a treatment for syphilis, only for his work to cause controversy that lands him in court in a libel trial. The movie itself would have been controversial back in the day, if only for the use of the word "syphilis", which would shock the people enforcing the Production Code. Yes, people had sex back then, and people got venereal diseases.

Charly finishes tonight at 3:45 AM, and gets a repeat on February 28 at a more civilized time. This one sees Cliff Robertson playing a mentally retarded man who is given a treatment that has the potential to turn him into a genius. Robertson won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

Amazingly, the TCM schedule lists only Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet as being available on DVD from the TCM Shop. The Story of Louis Pasteur is apparently available on an import, while Charly is listed at Amazon as being on some out-of-print releases.

Unrelated to the science, TCM is showing the short Song of Revolt following Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, a little after 3:30 AM. This is a dramatization of the creation of the French national anthem La Marseillaise, made with everything MGM could give it, with the exception of color. Which is probably a shame, since Warner Bros. was spending the late 1930s making Technicolor two-reelers about American history and doing a very interesting job of it. MGM's attempts at history tend to be less interesting than the Traveltalks or Crime Does Not Pay shorts. They made an entire series of in the late "Hitorical Mystyeries" of which Song of Revolt is not one. These are narrated by Carey Wilson, who also gave us the Nostradamus shorts that I mentioned earlier this month; Wilson's narration is one of the things that in my opinion makes these shorts inferior to what Warner Bros. was doing.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Birthday coincidences

John Ireland and Dorothy Malone in a lobby card from Security Risk (1954)

Not knowing what to blog about today, I decided to look at the IMDb's list of people born on this date, and noticed Dorothy Malone, who is still alive and turning 89 today. Nowadays, Malone would probably best known for winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Written on the Wind, which I blogged about back in May 2012. Later, she would go on to play Constance MacKenzie in the primetime TV soap opera version of Peyton Place, taking up the role Lana Turner had originally done in the movie for four seasons. (I don't think I've ever seen an episode of the TV show, so I can't comment on it.) And, as you can see from the lobby card above, she appeared in lesser-known movies like Security Risk.

And that's where the coincidence comes in. As you can also see from that lobby card, Malone's co-star in Security Risk was one John Ireland, who was also born on January 30, albeit in 1914 -- today would be his centenary. Looking through the list of movies, I first spotted them as appearing together in The Fast and the Furious, from which the photo at left is taken. Seeing that collaboration sent me off to do a Google search for photos of Ireland and Malone, with the intention of using a screencap or lobby card from The Fast and the Furious at the top of today's post, but as you can see, I found the lobby card for Security Risk, a movie I'd never heard of.

The image search also yielded something else, which was for a promotional photo from The Bushwhackers, a 1951 western that, like Security Risk, I'd also never heard of. (They both seem to have been made at low-budget studios, which would probably explain why I'd never heard of them.) The Bushwhackers also looks to be one of those movies that fell into the public domain at some point, and may or may not be in print. Amazon lists a couple of versions available for purchase, but they only list a couple of copies available, or only available from resellers. One wonders what one is getting for 23 cents, anyway.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Forgive TCM for repeating a five-year-old schedule

TCM's daytime lineup for tomorrow, January 30, includes six Philo Vance films. I was pretty certain I had made a few comments about Philo Vance before, he being one of those upper-class detectives that were popular in 1930s Hollywood. And sure enough, I had done so back in May 2009. As I was reading that post and looking at tomorrow's schedule, I noticed that the lineup looked quite familiar. I only mentioned three of the movies back in 2009, and referenced a fourth coming in between. But the ones I mentioned in 2009 are airing in the same order tomorrow as they did back then, which got me to open up my copy of hte May 2009 schedule. Sure enough, all six Philo Vance movies are airing in the same order as they did five years ago. For the record, the six Philo Vances are:

Basil Rathbone in The Bishop Murder Case at 8:15 AM;
William Powell in The Kennel Murder Case at 9:45 AM;
Warren William in The Dragon Murder Case at 11:00 AM;
Paul Lukas in The Casino Murder Case at 12:15 PM;
Edmund Lowe in The Garden Murder Case at 1:45 PM; and
James Stephenson in Calling Philo Vance at 3:00 PM.

Edmund Lowe you might recall as the doctor having a thing with Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight; James Stephenson played Bette Davis' lawyer in The Letter.

The rest of tomorrow's daytime lineup includes three films in the "I Love a Mystery" series from the mid-1940s, a series that I have to admit I don't know all that much about.

As for TCM running all of the Philo Vances in the same order they did five years ago, it's kind of difficult to get too irritated. After all, they don't show up very often unless TCM is doing a salute to one of the stars; The Kennel Murder Case, for example, will be running again in March due to the presence of Star of the Month Mary Astor's being the female lead. And as for running them in the same order, TCM's running them in chronological order, which makes perfect sense if you're talking about running a mystery series. So if this says anything it's more a commentary about how long I've been blogging.

One final note: TCM lists only The Kennel Murder Case as being available from the TCM Shop. With William Powell and Mary Astor in the cast, and having been directed by Michael Curtiz early in his Hollywood career, it's no wonder.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


TCM is honoring Walter Slezak tomorrow, January 29, even though his birthday is in May. The last of the movies they're showing is Dr. Coppelius, at 6:15 PM.

The story is based on the ballet Coppélia with music by Léo Delibes and ultimately based on a couple of stories by ETA Hoffmann. The basic story goes that Dr. Coppelius (played by Slezak) lives just outside a small town where he's a bit of a recluse, keeping the townsfolk off of his property by setting off explosions. It's not that he dislikes them so much as it is that he's got a laboratory of sorts going on where he makes life-sized mechanical dolls. The townsfolk have seen these dolls from afar, not realizing they're dolls, and are understandably curious about what's going on at the Coppelius house, which is why they try to get in.

Meanwhile, Franz (Caj Snelling) loves Swannhilda (Claudia Corday) and plans to marry her, but Swannhilda sees that Franz has also shown an interest in one of those beautiful dolls that Coppelius has made. Of course, neither of them realizes it's not human. But this causes a spat between Franz and Swannhilda, and Swannhilda goes with several of her friends to break into Coppelius' house to learn the truth. Meanwhile, Franz also breaks in, at which point Swannhilda impersonates Coppélia. Dr. Coppelius catches them, which means danger for everybody!

If you like ballet, you may well like this movie. Snelling and Corday were two of a bunch of ballet dancers brought together by husband and wife director and choreographer team of Ted and Jo-Anna Kneeland to make this movie, which was done through dance. If you're not such a big fan of ballet, you probably won't like the film. I suppose that's a bit of a shame, since everybody was clearly giving their best and competent at what they were doing, but ballet is an acquired taste. Further complicating matters is that there are two different versions of the movie out there. The movie was released in the late 1960s as a straight-up ballet, but bankruptcy and other legal problems left the movie in limbo and made it a box office bomb. The Kneelands eventually reobtained the rights, and rerelased it in the mid-1970s with voiceover and a couple of animated dream sequences. This for me made the movie even more tedious -- dammit, we can see what's going on! The last time TCM showed the movie, it was the 1970s version with the animation. I don't know which version will be running tomorrow, although I'd guess the 1970s version again.

Eddie Muller to TCM

I haven't been able to find anything about it on TCM's web site, nor have I been able to find particularly specific details, but apparently it's being mentioned that Eddie Muller will be joining TCM as a more regular on-air presenter.

You may recall Muller from last June's Friday night spotlight on noir writers. Muller, from what I saw, is quite the fan of noir and I have no reason to believe that the encyclopedic knowledge of the genre he displayed back in June was at all inaccurate. Far be it from a piddly little blogger like me who has a distressing tendency to get things wrong to comment much on the work of somebody like Muller, at least not in that regard. If he had come across as stiff in his presentation, the way some of the Friday night presenters have, that would be different, but I didn't even think Muller was bad in his presentation.

I don't know exactly what Muller's duties at TCM are going to be, or how much air time he's going to get. But you can already see that change is hard for some people. I came across a comment on the TCM boards that Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz ought to be concerned about their futures at TCM. This is the point where I should probably include a sentence ending with a bunch of 1s and exclamation points intermixed. For heaven's sake, Robert Osborne is turning 82 years old in the spring. If he just wanted to up and retire and enjoy the rest of his life traveling, who could possibly begrudge him? Besides, it's not as if he's going to be around forever, unless the powers that be at TCM are busily sampling all of his intros and outros to build up a vocabulary of words an animatronic Robert Osborne can use. Which, of course, makes me wonder whether the animatronic Osborne knows the word "archaic".

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Lion

William Holden was an advocate of animal conservation, the the point that he had a large interest in an African game reserve. Holden discussed that to an extent in the interview he did with Johnny Carson that's popped up once in a while as part of the Carson on TCM series. It's probably that interest which is responsible for the making of The Lion, which is coming up tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

William Holden stars as Robert Hayward, a lawyer whom we first see at the beginning of the movie being picked up by a woman at a game reserve somewhere in Kenya. That woman turns out to be Robert's ex-wife Christine (Capucine, no last name). They got divorced and she stayed in Africa to marry game warden John Bullit (Trevor Howard) and retain custody over daughter Tina (Pamela Franklin). Well, that was a few years back. Tina's grown, and Christine is worried that living in the middle of nowhere in Kenya isn't good for a growing girl like Tina. Christine is more specifically concerned that under Bullit's (everybody calls him by his surname) influence, Tina is "going native". Heck, Tina considers him her father, and barely recognizes Robert.

Robert gets a taste fairly early on of how "native" Tina has gone. A monkey of some sort comes into his hut through the window, and just outside the hut is a deer-like ungulate. These are animals that hang around the compound, and not out in the nature of the reserve, because apparently Tina has treated them well enough that they're practically tame. Of course, this isn't the only animal with which Tina has what she claims is a friendly relationship. She takes Robert through the forest to see the lion who is her friend. The lion seems perfectly gentle with Tina, but growls rather menacingly at Robert. It's obviously foreshadowing something, but what?

Now you can see why Christine is worried about Tina's development, especially when you consider that Bullit has had a native shadowing Tina without her knolwedge every time she goes out. Tina doesn't want to leave because she's identifed with Bullit as her dad, and Christine is claiming to be in love with him still. But as the movie progresses, we see more and more signs that there might still be a flame for Robert burning somewhere inside. And Robert, for his part, has a court order from the divorce settlement saying that he can come and take custody of Tina at any time he wants. Now might be a good time to do so....

Meanwhile, there are also the black African natives. They have special rights on the reserve because they more or less roamed the land nomadically before the Europeans closed it to any further development as a reserve. Bullit has a reasonably good working relationship with them, but of course Robert knows nothing about their ways. And sure enough, tribal customs are going to clash with western customs thanks to Robert's not understanding the tribe; this causes more problems for Tina as well.

The plot of The Lion is somewhat conventional, seeming vaguely reminiscent of parts of The Yearling or Old Yeller. It's also a bit muddled, what with combining the family drama with the native stuff. In some ways, this is too bad, because there's a lot of lovely location shooting of wildlife. On the other hand, that footage is combined with some very obvious rear-projection photography. Like everything else in the movie, it's symptomatic of the idea that everybody was really trying, but the movie is never quite successful. And that goes for the Fox Movie Channel too. The last time they showed this, the print seemed to be in the Cinemascope aspect ratio. But, it was not only letterboxed, but pillarboxed as well. Amazon suggests that The Lion is available on Amazon instant video, but there's no hard-copy DVD available.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Foot in Hell

I didn't want to say anything this morning, but the real reason I wasn't going to blog about Closely Watched Trains today is that there was somwthing else I wanted to blog about. FMC showed One Foot in Hell earlier today, and are showing it again tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM.

Alan Ladd plays Mitch Garrett, who at the start of the movie is migrating westward with his wife. The two left their home in Georgia after the Civil War, since Sherman's march through the state resulted in their home being burned to the ground and their being left with nothing. The couple are near the town of Blue Springs in the Arizona Territory, with Mitch's wife heavily pregant but also seriously ill. Mitch takes her to town to see the doctor, and has to spend his last two dollars on a hotel room for the night -- cash up front since he's a stranger. This means that when Mitch sees the pharmacist, he doesn't have the $1.87 to pay for the medicine his wife needs. Mitch tries to take the medicine at gunpoint, which leads to the sheriff being called in. This delay ultimately results in the wife dying. Thw townsfolk, in order to try to make it up to Mitch, offer him almost any job he wants.

Mitch takes up the job of deputy sheriff, but he really only does so because he's got ulterior motives. The first time the cattle come in, Mitch meets itinerant laborer Dan Keats (Don Murray). Dan is, like Mitch, a transplant from the vanquished South, his parents having owned hardscrabble farmland in Virginia that was destroyed by the Union. Dan's been reduced to a drunkard who makes a little extra money by offering to draw portraits of people. Mitch, seeing somebody who has no real goal in life, decides he can use Dan in his ultimate plan, which is going to be robbing the Bank of Blue Springs, which holds all of the town's money. Mitch still holds a grudge against the town's citizens whom he sees as responsible for killing his wife. Dan goes off to Royce City on the border with Mexico, followed a couple of days later by Sheriff Mitch. Unfortunately, Dan has complicated things a bit by getting drunk, and telling Mitch's plan to Julie, one of the women working in the bordello (Dolores Michaels). She by default has to become part of the plan. Mitch elists two other aimless men, a British man with a gun up his sleeve Harry Ivers (Dan O'Herlihy), and quick-draw man Stu Christian (Barry Coe), since neither of those two have ever been seen in Blue Springs.

The five all return to Blue Springs for the heist, which of course you know is eventually going to go wrong. Thanks to the Production Code, you couldn't have a heist that worked out in the end. Everybody had to expiate their since. So, the reason to watch a movie like this is to see what goes wrong and how. Sometimes, it looks like the original heist works, as we saw in the recently-recommended The Sicilian Clan, or to a lesser extent in The Asphalt Jungle -- although an alarm gets tripped off in the latter complicating things almost immediately. Here, there's no alarm, so instead something is going to go wrong after the heist. That something turns out to be Mitch. In addition to hating the townsfolk, he deliberately hired aimless men for his plan so that, while playing the part of sheriff, he could round them up and kill them, leaving him as the only one with the money, and allowing him to retire with his ill-gotten gains. Of course, things don't work out that way, but you're going to have to watch the movie to see exactly how things fail.

One Foot in Hell isn't the world's greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, either. Alan Ladd isn't a particular favorite of mine, but there's nothing wrong with him here, at least in terms of Ladd's acting. Sure his character is a jerk, but that's not the actor's fault when a character is written that way. Don Murray is pretty good as the guy whose character changes when he sobers up, while Dolores Michaels is inoffensive while being nice to look at. Coe and O'Herlihy are more nondescript, but then their characters were hired precisely because they were throwaway characters.

Unfortunately, the FMC print is panned-and-scanned except for the credits, which is a shame because you can see from the credits that the cinematography looks like it would be nice. Amazon lists the movie as having gotten DVD release from the Fox Cinema Archive MOD scheme, although I'm not certain of the aspect ratio of that print. Amazon lists 16:9, while some of the reviewers suggest it's the Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, although some of those reviews are clearly not of the Fox MOD release, but of a European release.

Speedy out of print?

I blogged, not all that in depth, about the Harold Lloyd movie Speedy back in July 2010. It's coming up again tonight at midnight as this week's Silent Sunday Nights feature, and as part of a late night of movies dealing with rails, at least if you consider trolley cars rails. It's available at Amazon on a Harold Lloyd box set, but that set seems to be out of print based on the pricing information and the fact that the TCM shop doesn't list any DVDs available for Speedy. Amazingly, while TCM's daily schedule page lists Speedy as being on tonight, their database's actual page for the movie doesn't mention it!

The other two movies include this week's TCM Import, Closely Watched Trains at 2:00 AM. This Czech film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and as such is scheduled to show up in 31 Days of Oscar, specifically on February 4, so I'm intending finally to do a fuller-length post about the film next week. This one is on DVD, as is the final feature, Strangers on a Train, at 3:45 AM. As you can see from the link, I've already blogged about this one, and it's going to be running again on TCM in March.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More shorts worthy of mention

With tonight's TCM Essential being Jaws, and there being a night of 1970s movies as a result, I have to admit to not being terribly interested in blogging about any of those right now. Thankfully, nobody famous died in the past day, either, so I don't have to do an obituary post. (Watch somebody die later today. Yes, I know that sounds morbid.) So instead, I decided to look ahead on the TCM schedule for anything interesting that might be showing up tomorrow. There are a couple of shorts that look interesting, although I have to admit that I haven't seen either of them before.

Souvenirs of Death, at 7:39 AM following Luxury Liner (starts at 6:00 AM and runs 98 minutes), is part of the Passing Parade. This one tells the story of a gun that was taken from the Nazis in World War II, presumably as a souvenir. Think the sword that Fredric March gives his son in The Best Years of Our Lives, for example. However, the gun got waylaid along the way and ended up in the underworld. Apparently, narrator John Nesbitt provides the narration from the point of view of the gun itself.

Gym College comes on at 9:42 AM, following She's Working Her Way Through College (starts at 8:00 AM and runs 101 minutes). This is an RKO Pathé Sportscope, from the sports section of Pathé which was producing newsreelish stuff for RKO by the mid-1950s. The current events shorts are an interesting window back to the 1950s, but the sports shorts are, from what I've seen, the bottom of the barrel. This one, which as I said I haven't seen, looks at Florida State University's men's gymnastics team. So there might be some eye candy for the ladies.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Man in the White Suit

Back in December 2010, I briefly made mention of The Man in the White Suit when it was airing on TCM during a night of comedies from Britain's Ealing Studio. I hadn't seen it at the time, but it's been on a couple of times since then, and it's going to be on again overnight tonight at 1:45 AM. If you haven't seen it before, it's well worth watching.

The movie begins with the textile mill run by titan of industry Michael Corland (played by Michael Gough). Or, more specifically, at the mill's research laboratory. There's an experiment going on that looks almost as though it could have fit in an early 1930s horror movie, what with the complex contraption and various bubbling potions, and the odd sound effects that punctuate the experiment's operations. What exactly is going on here? Well, that's going to be explained later, but the experiments are being carried out by janitor-turned-research chemist Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness). They're also being carried out somewhat surreptitiously, as when Corland finds out how much money is being spent on these experiments that nobody seems to know what purpose they serve, he has an apoplectic fit and orders the person in charge of them fired.

Stratton goes to Corland's rival Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker) and worms his way into Birnley's laboratory in order to continue his experiments. Stratton doesn't really care which company reaps the benefit; he's trying to do something that's going to be for the benefit of all mankind. So the experiments continue, punctuated not only by the odd soundtrack, but by a series of explosions every time one of the experiments fails. You'd think that would have been a good reason to fire Stratton, but no.

Eventually, Stratton's experiments succeed! It turns out that Stratton was trying to create a new synthetic fabric, and what he's produced is a white fiber that's so white it seems to glow in the same way as that glass of milk Cary Grant carries upstairs to Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion. But the point of this fabric isn't its seeming glow, but the fact that it's extremely resistant to dirt, and extremely resistant to wear. Imagine the boon to mankind: everybody, and not just the upper classes, will be able to afford a fine suit, as they won't continually have to pay for dry cleaning or getting a new suit when the old one wears out.

Ah, but here lies the problem. Never mind whether the stuff Stratton invented is about as stylish as a 1970s polyester tie; the bosses see a bigger problem. If nobody ever needs a new suit because the old one wears out, that's going to kill the textile industry by reducing demand to near zero. Sure, things don't really work that way, but the term Luddite comes from a real person whose name was appropriated for an early 19th century campaign against new industrial machinery in the belief that it was going to destroy jobs. The modern day Luddites depicted in The Man With the White Suit (eventually including not only the business owners but the labor unions) may be foolishly short-sighted, but they weren't unpredictable. About the only person who supports Stratton is Birnley's daughter Daphne (Joan Greenwood), and the industrialists try to use her to get Stratton to sign a contract granting them the rights to produce this new fabric, although the industrialists are really only planning to buy him out and never actually produce the fabric or release any information that it's actually been invented.

The Man in the White Suit covers some of the same ground that the later British comedy I'm All Right Jack did, alhtough the style of humor is radically different. I'm All Right Jack is nothing but farce, while The Man in the White Suit is much more subtle. There's good visual humor in the sciencey stuff when Stratton is doing his experiments, but when it comes to industrial relations, the humor, while there, is somewhat more understated. Both movies work, and I don't know that you can say one is necessarily better than the other. By the time I'm All Right Jack was made in 1960, British society was, I think, really beginning to change, although that's a topic that British posters would be better able to discuss. The Man in the White Suit is more gentle in any social commentary it's trying to make, but does it in a very entertaining way. Alec Guinness is just as good here as he is in all those other Ealing comedies, and the rest of the cast supports him well. For whatever reason, The Man in the White Suit isn't as well known as some of the other Ealing comedies, and that's a shame. It deserves more recognition.

The Man in the White Suit is available on DVD is you miss tonight's overnight showing.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Sicilian Clan

One more movie that what's left of the Fox Movie Channel is airing in the middle of the night is The Sicilian Clan, tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight depending on your perspective and which time zone you're in) at 4:00 AM.

Alain Delon plays Roger Sartet, a career criminal in Paris whom we see at the start of the movie about to be transferred from a hearing to prison for having killed a policeman in his last crime. Or at least, that's the plan; we can tell from the way the opening is shot that somebody is trying to get Sartet out of jail, and that the escape is going to be made during the transfer. That escape plan involves Sartet drilling through the floor of the van transferring him, and then getting into the plotters' van, which has stopped the police van with the aid of a putatively stalled convertible. Sure, it's unrealistic, but it's also9 entertainingly well-done.

The people plotting to get Sartet out take him to a shop producing primitive electronic games and pinball machines owned by Vittorio Manalese (Jean Gabin). He wants Sartet out because Sartet is useful in what Manalese hopes is going to be the last heist he has to pull off before he can finally buy up all the land he wants to retire to Sicily. That plan involves a whole bunch of jewels that are going on exhibit in Rome. To that end, Vittorio has gotten in touch with his American friend Tony Nicosia (Amedeo Nazzari), who's an expert in security systems. He and Vittorio go to Rome to case the joint where the jewels will be on exhibit, and Tony discovers taht the job is going to be a no-go: there's one new security feature that he hasn't figured out a way to defeat yet.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. The Manalese children are hanging out in the south of France, along with Sartet, waiting for Vittorio to give all of them the go-ahead to do the job. While they're waiting, Sartet falls for Jeanne (Irina Demick), who is Vittorio's daughter-in-law. You just know that relationship is going to cause problems at some point down the road. Also, the police have been working quite diligently on trying to find how Sartet escaped, which includes putting the screws on Sartet's sister. The procedural part of The Sicilian Clan is just as good as the parts where Vittorio and company are planning the heist. There's even a running joke of Commissioner Le Goff (Lino Ventura) trying to give up smoking while investigating this stressful case.

At any rate, with the Rome job off, Vittorio has to come up with a new idea, which turns out to be even more ridiculously unrealistic. The exhibition is going to be going to New York after Rome, so the Manalese family, with Sartet in tow, plan to hijack the plane and escape with the jewels when it lands in New York! As I said, it's unrealistic beyond belief, but this being a movie, they pull it off. Or at least, it looks successful at first; as with any good heist movie, you know that things are eventually going to go wrong.

There's so much about The Sicilian Clan that strains credulity, but damn if it isn't incredibly entertaining. Delon and Gabin are both excellent, with everybody else more than suitable in support of the two leads. The women are all nice enough to look at, but really not much more than eye candy. The only real problem I had with the film was the ending, which didn't quite work for me. But it's not the sort of ending that undoes everything the movie has done in the first hour and a half; instead, it's more like an attempt to tie up loose ends that doesn't ring quite true. Overall, The Sicilian Clan is more than successfully entertaining, if nothing ground-breaking. And there's nothing whatsoever wrong with simply being entertaining.

Amazon suggests that The Sicilian Clan did get released to DVD at some point, and they're even offering it on "Instant video", but the DVD seems to be out of print.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

John Goldfarb, please stay over there!

When I blogged about Dondi back in April 2011, I had nothing but bad words to say about it. A movie that gives Dondi a run for its money in sheer awfulness despite having stars and presumably a big enough budget is John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!, which is airing on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow at 3:00 AM and repeated at 11:00 AM.

John "Wrong Way" Goldfarb, played by Richard Crenna, is an Air Force pilot, whom we see at the beginning of the movie running into journalist Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine) in a government building in Washington. She gave him the nickname "Wrong Way" some years back when, as a college football player, he ran the wrong way on the football field. However, he's had a series of similar incidents in his career since then, and he's none too happy about running into Jenny. Goldfarb is being asked by the CIA and its head, Heinous Overreach (Fred Clark) to go on a U2 reconnaisance mission over the Soviet Union. Jenny, for her part, is trying to get info on the US relationship with the Arab oil sheikhdoms. In a plot twist, Jenny's editor decides the best story for her to get involves going undercover in a harem in one of those countries, taking clandestine photos and using US diplomatic channels to get those photos out.

Jenny gets sent to Fawzia, which is run by King Fawz (Peter Ustinov). He's got a son, Prince Ammud, who is going to college over in the States -- specifically Notre Dame -- and has taken up football. So King Fawz has decided to use hsi petrodollars to help start a football program to be Ammud's plaything, although the longer-term goal seems to be getting Notre Dame to come over to Fawzia to play a game.

Thanks to John Goldfarb's nickname, and the title of the movie, you can probably guess what happens next. He has problems with his plane, and instead of going over the Soviet Union, he ends up over Arabia, being forced to make an emergency landing... in Fawzia. Imagine his surprise when he first meets Jenny as a harem girl. The authorities back in Washington are trying to figure out a way to get John Goldfarb back to the US without creating an internatinoal incident, which is tough since they don't even know where he landed! Meanwhile, Goldfarb and Jenny, who aren't exactly the best of friends, are trying to figure ways out of their predicaments. Goldfarb's has been made much more dificult by the fact that King Fawz has learned the Goldfarb played football. Fawz makes him the coach of the "University of Fawzia" football program, and expects him to lead the team to victory over Notre Dame -- or else.

Where to begin with how this film fails spectacularly? I think I'd pick Peter Ustinov, who shows up before the other problems. I've never been a particularly big fan of Ustinov's work, as I've always gotten the impression that someplace just below the surface, there are antics about to break out. Those antics break out here, and in a very bad way; he's far more irritating than the worst Jerry Lewis parody, or even the tic-ridden Dr. Strangelove character (in Peter Sellers' defense, the other two characters he plays in the movie are done well). Fawz's harem looks like it's taken out of one of those Bob Hope movies from the same era: somebody's stereotyped misconcetion of what a king's harem would be mixed with an attempt to be hip for the 1960s. Some people might find it offensive; I only found it dumb. And then there's the football game that climaxes the movie. Here, it looks like the filmmakers were trying to take what the Harlem Globetrotters do in basketball, and transfer it to the football field. A lot of Hollywood's portrayals of football are unrealistic; this one is simply an insult to viewers' intelligence, regardless of whether those viewers are football fans or not. The closest part to a redeeming aspect of the movie is the government flunkies back in Washington. In addition to the already mentioned Fred Clark, there's Richard Deacon from The Dick Van Dyke Show as the Secretary of Defense; Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H as the Secretary of State; and Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island as the State Department's Middle East expert. Even here, though, these characters are used for the standard tropes about US incompetence in foreign affairs.

All in all, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! is terrible on so many levels. But, as always, you might want to watch and judge for yourself. I don't think this one is on DVD, so you'll have to catch the FMC airings.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TCM Guest Programmer January 2014: Judith Sheindlin

Tonight sees this month's TCM Guest Programmer on TCM: Judith Sheindlin, who is best known as TV's Judge Judy. Unlike most Guest Programmers, she's only presenting three movies:

The Goodbye Girl, in which aspiring actor Richard Dreyfus worms his way into the apartment rented by divorcée Marsha Mason and her daughter -- you know they're going to fall in love -- kicks off the night at 8:00 PM;
That's followed at 10:00 PM by Elmer Gantry, in which self-proclaimed preacher Burt Lancaster goes on a roadshow with evangelist Jean Simmons, until his past comes back to haunt him;
and at 12:30 AM, Luise Rainer and Paul Muni play a pair of Chinese peasants battling the elements in the adaptation of Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth.

I'm not a fan of Judge Judy the TV show, as I find her actions from the bench constantly shouting down petitioners she disagrees with to be worthy of a report to the ethics commission if she were still a real sitting judge. That, however, ought not hae anything to do with whether she can make cogent remarks about movies that she likes; besides, I can't imagine her trying to treat Robert Osborne the same way she treats people on her TV show. To continue being fair, she's probably a pretty good sort of person to select as Guest Programmer in the first place, considering that she's got a fairly popular show that appeals to pepole who probably aren't typically fans of "classic" (however you define that word) movies. This is in contrast to somebody like Joel Gray, who I thought would be less likely to bring in people who aren't particularly classic film fans.

The Good Earth will be followed at 3:00 AM the the interview that Luise Rainer did at the first TCM Film Festival back in 2010, and another of her movies, The Great Waltz at 3:45 AM. The Rainer interview is good enough reason to sit through Judge Judy presenting movies.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Colin Clive, 1900-1937

Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, when the cameras weren't filming a scene from Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Colin Clive, whose career was cut short due to his heavy drinking that led to his early death. Clive, being British, started his career on the stage in London, eventually making his way to the US in the late 1920s. His voice made him a natural when Hollywood was looking for actors who could deliver lines well and sound good doing it, so he went west with his friend and frequent collaborator, director James Whale. The rest, as they say, is history.

Clive only made 18 films, but some of those roles are quite memorable. Of course, top among those is as Dr. Frankenstein, who created the monster played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 version of Frankenstein, and then reprised the role for Bride of Frankenstein four years later.

But there was other horror as well, when Clive played the pianist who gets a hand transplant that doesn't work out the way he expects in Mad Love. There's also the melodramatic One More River.

Colin Clive was also a descendant of Robert Clive, the British military officer responsible for making India a British colony. Colin actually appears in the 1935 movie Clive of India based on Robert Clive's life, although not as his ancestor.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Angels and trouble

Six years ago, I briefly mentioned the movies The Trouble With Angels, and its sequel Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. Both of them are airing on TCM tonight, starting with The Trouble With Angels at 8:00 PM and following with Where Angels Go, Troubles Follow at 10:00 PM.

I stand by what I said back then about The Trouble With Angels. I don't know what non-Catholics would think, and I have a feeling boys wouldn't care so much for the movie, at least not for the reasons the movie was made. It's dated, but not in a bad way, since the idea of adolescent immaturity and growing out of is is something that's really universal.

As for Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, I have a slightly less negative view of it than I did when I blogged back in April 2008. It still has all the problems of trying to be hip to the youngsters in a post-Vatican II world, and there are still a lot of cringeworthy scenes, but it's not quite as bad as I suggested six years ago. I will still stand by my use of the words "pale sequel", however.

Both movies did get DVD releases, but I think they're out of print, based on how Amazon doesn't seem to have normal new copies, and how they don't seem to be available from the TCM Shop.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sinuhe egyptiläinen

If you've already got copies of everything that TCM is running tonight, you could switch over to the Fox Movie Channel and catch The Egyptian at 3:30 AM. Or, this being FMC, you could wait for the repeat, which is going to be tomorrow afternoon at 12:35 PM.

Edmund Purdom plays Sinuhe, the title character in the original novel by Finnish writer Mika Waltari; the "Sinuhe" was removed from the title when translated to English. Sinuhe is, at the beginning of the movie, writing his memoirs at the end of his life sometime around 1350 BC, where he's in exile somewhere near the shores of the Red Sea. Flash back to the early part of his life....

Sinuhe was abandanoned by his birth parents, being sent down the Nile on a reed boat ostensibly to die, but being discovered by foster parents who raised him. Sinuhe's foster father was a physician, such as they were in the ancient world, but regardless of the quality of doctors back then Sinuhe follows in Dad's footsteps and becomes a doctor himself. One day, together with his friend Horemheb (Victor Mature), who wants to be in the military, he goes hunting for lions but instead saves the life of a man attacked by a lion. Horemheb and Sinuhe are arrested because hunting lions is only for royals, but what is only discovered later is that the man they saved was the new Pharaoh, Akhenaton (Michael Wilding). Sinuhe become the Royal Physician, while Horemheb gets a plum posting in the army.

This gets Sinuhe into the ancient Egyptian version of the smart set, which is where he meets Nefer (Bella Darvi), who seems to be ancient Egypt's equivalent of a socialite who's famous for being famous, or something. Sinuhe falls for her, hard, even though he'd be much better off with tavern owner Merit (Jean Simmons). Merit loves him, but he doesn't return the favor, instead sacrificing all his worldly good for Nefer, eventually being forced to go into his first exile as a result. In this first exile, Sinuhe meets the Hittites, who have developed a new metal that's tougher than any of the metals they have in Egypt, and which the Hittites are turning into swords with which they're going to conquer the known world! Sinuhe has to warn his people.

So he goes back to Egypt, only to discover that the place has changed. Akhenaton, despite being Pharaoh, is also somewhat of an apostate, at least in that he only believes in one god, as opposed to the plethora of gods that made up Egyptian theology. The military doesn't like this, and they plan to stage a palace coup with the help of Akhenaton's sister Baketamon (Gene Tierney). However, in the meantime, there is a portion of the regular population that has taken up Akhenaton's monotheism, and the military is going to have to deal with them, too. And this includes Merit -- that's also not her only secret....

Sinuhe has the chance to take part in the palace coup by poisoning Akhenaton, who for his part is perfectly ready to die. And, in fact, we know that whatever action Sinuhe takes, it's going to lead to his eventual exile, since that's where he was at the start of the movie. But since we're getting close to the climax of the movie, I'll spare the plot details so as not to give everything away.

The Egyptian isn't the world's greatest movie, but it's not terrible either. There are nice sets and nice cinematography, although it's too bad Fox couldn't come up with more location shooting, at least for establishing shots. The ancient Egyptian monuments would probably look good in Cinemascope. The plot is meandering and a bit of a mess at times. For example, I don't see exactly what Sinuhe sees in Nefer, and the palace coup section goes on a bit too long. As for the acting, everybody is ostensibly playing ancient Egyptians although they could just as easily be playing archetypes, as the story could almost be set in Rome or possibly Henry VIII's England or any of a number of other places and times. Nobody is terrible -- not even Bella Darvi -- but nobody particularly shines, either. All in all, The Egyptian is certainly worth a viewing. It's no worse than most of the other ancient epics that Hollywood was making in the mid-1950s.

Amazon suggests that The Egyptian has been released to DVD, but it's either imports or out-of-print stuff.

A fine night of underscreened repeats

This week's TCM Essential, at 8:00 PM tonight, is Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat. This one doesn't show up often enough, probably because Hitchcock did it at Fox. It's been years since they put it on FMC, and TCM was only able to get the rights to it last year. I do wonder, however, if they had any difficulty with the fact that it wasn't going to show up until September. All of the Essentials pieces are taped long before the series premiere in March, and I wonder what TCM would have done had something fallen through with getting the rights to Lifeboat.

At any rate, Lifeboat is being used as part of a night of Tallulah Bankhead movies. Faithless, at 10:00 PM, is a pre-Code about the Depression that sounds awfully familiar, but it might be one of those where I've seen a similar movie and not this one. And then there's Die! Die! My Darling! at 11:30 PM. TCM ran the trailer for this one recently, which doesn't make the movie look anywhere near as fun as it really is. It's not the world's greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but one of those movies that's just so damn fun and entertaining that you don't really care if it's not all that good.

TCM Underground generally begins at 2:00 AM or later, so to fill the time after Die! Die! My Darling! we get another airing of Lionpower from MGM just after 1:30 AM. As for TCM Underground, it brings the first airing in a good five years of Skidoo, another movie that shows up much too rarely.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dvenadtsat' stulyev

Over the summer, TCM finally showed The Twelve Chairs. It's on again tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM, so now would be a good time to do a full-length post on the movie.

Based on a novel by Soviet humorists Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, The Twelve Chairs is set in the Soviet Union of the late 1920s, after the Revolution and upheaval of the Civil War, but before the Stalinist repression really took off. All of the old nobles have been dispossessed, such as Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) and his mother, who is on her deathbed. He learns, however, that before the Soviets were able to confiscate everything, she hid a box of her jewelry in the upholstery of one of the chairs of the family dining room set, hence the twelve chairs of the title. Find that dining room set and that chair, and you'll be rich. Or at least, that's the theory. Needless to say, it's not going to work like that in practice. Or at least, it's not going to be so easy to find that chair.

There are a couple of complicating matters. One is that the set was split up, so Vorobyaninov is going to have to go all over the Soviet Union to find the right chair. The other thing is that he's not the only personj in on the search. Vorobyaninov meets Ostap Bender (Frank Langella), who survived the revolution and civil war on his wits as the Soviet version of a con man in a system which even more than capitalism frowns upon such conmen. He's got wits and Vorobyaninov doesn't, so Bender gets Vorobyaninov to let him in on the search for the chair. The bigger problem, though, is Orthodox priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise). He heard about the jewels in a deathbed confession from Vorobyaninov's mother, and with organized religion officially on the way out in the USSR, why not fall in to a life of greed? Thankfully for Vorobyaninov, Bender and his quick wits send Fyodor all the way to Siberia, where the dining room set was not delieverd, to look for it.

Vorobyaninov and Bender go on their own search for the chairs, first to Moscow where they find some of them, but none of those contain the jewels. This perhaps shouldn't be a surprise, since there might not be so much of a movie if they found the jewels early on. (Well, there would be a radically different movie.) Eventually, the search takes the two men to a theatre troupe performing on a barge on the Volga; to the Crimea, and eventually back to Moscow, with Fyodor showing up from time to time trying to find the jewels himself.

The Twelve Chairs was directed by Mel Brooks, which might be a warning, since Brooks' style can be at times a very acquired taste, especially with the later parodies. This is earlier Brooks, though, so the things about his movies that aren't quite my thing don't show up here quite as much as they do later in the 1970s. Plus, there's a real plot here of the search for hidden treasure, and not something designed for the purpose of shoehorning in all the parodic elements. There were a few things I found grating, though, such as Bender's teaching Vorobyaninov to beg by faking epileptic seizures, which reminded me of one of the hysterical fit/argument scenes from early in The Producers.

Even with the caveat that this is a Mel Brooks movie, it's still pretty good, mostly because the plot is such a staple that it can be translated almost anywhere and in any culture. The main actors are all good enough not to detract from the story, and the resolution of where the jewels are is handled in a way that makes eminent sense. If I were going to recommend a Mel Brooks movie, I think I would have people start off with The Producers, but The Twelve Chairs also isn't a bad movie to show to people who may not be such big fans of Brooks' type of comedy. TCM's shop lists this movie as being on a box set of eight of Brooks' movies.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Further prophecies of Nostradamus

Coming up in the TCM shorts lineup is Further Prophecies of Nostradamus, at about 4:00 AM overnight, or early tomorrow morning. Or, to put it another way, it's just after They All Kissed the Bride, which starts at 2:30 AM and runs 87 minutes.

This short is based on the writings of Michel de Nostradame, commonly called Nostradamus for short. Nostradamus among other things wrote a whole bunch of rhymed quatrains, which can be interpreted any way you like them. Nostradamus himself did call them prophecies, or at least the French equivalent, since he was writing in 16th century French. But of course this is stuff everybody knows already.

As I said, the prophecies could be interpreted in whatever way fits your agenda, since they were vague. Since Nostradamus' death in 1566, they've been interpreted and reinterpreted, with all sorts of people using them presumably in an attempt to fool the gullible. MGM even got in on the act, with four or five shorts on the subject in the early 1940s, showing how Nostradamus' prophecies are supposedly coming true. In the particular short that's running tonight, those prophecies deal with World War II. Apparently, one of the quatrains referred to a "Hister", which was obviously supposed to mean "Hitler". One wonders how the people trying to curry favor with Hitler interpreted the prophecies for him. That would make for a more interesting short, but one that MGM wouldn't have been able to make back in 1942.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lloyd Bridges, 1913-1998

Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop giving up birthday salutes
Lloyd Bridges (l.) and Robert Stack in Airplane! (1980)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Lloyd Bridges, who had a long career in both movies and TV, working almost up until his death at the age of 85. Depending upon one's age, one might remember him best as McCroskey, the air traffic controller who gets some stress he doesn't need in the spoof movie Airplane!, a role he would reprise for Airplane II: The Sequel. At the start of his career, though, he made westerns. A lot of westerns, including B stuff I don't think I've ever heard of like Saddle Leather Law with future Durango Kid Charles Starrett. However, there are better known westerns in there, such as

High Noon, in which Bridges plays the cowardly deputy sherriff who in one scene has his cowardice shown rather starkly by Katy Jurado. One other movie that's not a western but that I've recommended before and has Bridges in the cast is Plymouth Adventure.

Lloyd Bridges is also the father of famous actors Jeff and Beau Bridges, who have done some movies I've recommended here in the past.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Toscanini, Iturbi and Me

As part of the birthday salute to Margaret O'Brien tomorrow, January 15, TCM is airing Music for Millions at 2:00 PM.

O'Brien plays "Mike", a young girl who arrives in the big city alone, having been sent on the train by her aunt up in Connecticut and expecting to be met by her sister Barbara (June Allyson). However, Barbara must not have gotten the telegram, because there's nobody at the train station to meet Mike. Eventually somebody takes pity on Mike and takes her to the symphony hall, since Barbara plays the double bass in the orchestra. What with the war going on, the men have all been drafted to fight, leading poor put-upon Spanish conductor José Iturbi (playing himself) to lead an all-lady orchestra and wonder whether he's going to lose anybody else. Mike screws up the rehearsal by going on stage, which unsurprisingly gets Iturbi angry, but dammit, Mike is just so charming that nobody who doesn't have a heart of stone like I do can't help but fall for her charms.

Mike goes to live with Barbara, who rooms with several other members of the orchestra at a rooming house, where a seven-year-old like Mike isn't wanted, at least not by the landlord. (The question of what she's going to do during the day is pretty much left unanswered.) Barbara is happy to see her sister, since it brings some joy to an otherwise hectic life. In addition to all the stress of being in the orchestra, Barbara is also pregnant, by her husband Joe who knocked her up just before going off to fight in the war -- the Code wouldn't have let her get knocked up out of wedlock, especially not in what was supposed to be a movie for the whole family.

And then Joe goes missing in action. Granted, that's not necessarily family-friendly, but then Music for Millions was released in late 1944, at a time when families all over America would have had to deal with such things in their own lives and would be sympathetic to somebody on screen who had this happen to her. All of Barbara's friends try to keep the news from her, but she already suspects something, not having heard from him for a couple of months.

There's a lot of schmaltz in all of the above. Added to the movie to reduce the schmaltz quotient is Jimmy Durante, who plays Andy, the orchestra's manager. He provides the welcome comic relief, doing things like singing the song "Toscanini, Iturbi, and Me", in which he parodies Iturbi, only for the conductor himself to enter the room without Durante's knowledge. The schmaltz, however, eventually overpowers even Durante, as the movie chugs on to its improbably happy ending.

Music for Millions is a movie that's not badly made; it's just not exactly my sort of movie. People who like Margaret O'Brien, however, will probably enjoy it. It's gotten a release to DVD from the Warner Archive, too, so you can watch it any time you want.

You, John Jones! update

I last mentioned You, John Jones five years ago, when it was on the schedule as part of a birthday salute to Margaret O'Brien. Wouldn't you know, her birthday is coming up again tomorrow (she'll be 77), and TCM is spending an entire morning and afternoon with her, which includes another airing of You, John Jones!. It'll be on at about 9:52 AM, or just after Journey for Margaret, which starts at 8:30 AM and runs 81 minutes. (Interestingly, I blogged about that one four years ago on Margaret O'Brien's birthday.)

Since then, You, John Jones has also bee posted to Youtube. Posted twice, in fact. The wonders of the modern age.

I'll be posting about a different O'Brien film later today.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Treasure of the Golden Condor

What's left of the Fox Movie Channel is still plugging along, even airing movies that are new to me. One such movie is Treasure of the Golden Condor, which is on again tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM.

Cornel Wilde plays Jean-Paul, who at the beginning of the movie is actually a young boy living with his maternal grandfather in 18th century France. His paternal grandfather was the Marquis de St. Malo, and his father married his mother on a ship's voyage to the colonies in the Caribbean, where both of them eventually died of tropical diseases, leaving the boy an orphan living with the other grandfather on the ancestral lands. Those or now controlled by Jean-Paul's uncle (George Macready), who is a usurper, and knows it. He's got a plan to get Jean-Paul out of the way though, which involves playing on the illiteracy of young Jean-Paul and his grandfather to present them with a document supposedly legitimizing the familial relatoinship, but in actuality making Jean-Paul a bonded servant.

Fast forward to Jean-Paul's adulthood. Jean-Paul is still working in the St. Malo stables, where he from time to time is met by his cousin the Comtesse (Anne Bancroft). The two fall in love, but there's no way for them to have a real relationship as long as he's a servant. He needs some way to claim his rightful inheritance, which means money to find the proof of the marriage.

Wouldn't you know it, a plan, however cockamamie and unrealistic it may be, shows up, in the form of MacDougal (Findlay Currie). He's a Scot who had lived in the highlands of Guatemala among the descendants of the Mayans, and he's got what is supposedly a treasure map in the old Mayan language, showing the location of wealth beyond anybody's dreams! He can't read it of course, but the one person who can just happens to be the priest in the local parish on the St. Malo lands. Yeah right. Jean-Paul finds out about it, and decides to run away (which is technically highly illegal) with MacDougal to go to Guatemala and get some of that treasure for himself so that he can reclaim the inheritance.

So, we get about a third of the movie set in Guatemala (and partially filmed there, at least the establishing shots) in which MacDougal and Jean-Paul try to get that treasure. Along the way, MacDougal meets his daughter Clara (Constance Smith), who is decidedly against her father's quixotic quest, because she's seen the destruction it's wrought upon her family. Still, what with the whole plot line of Jean-Paul needing the treasure to go back to France, you kind of have to expect that they're going to be successful in getting the treasure so that the rightful climax of the movie can be back in France. You can expect that the good people are going to come out well, the bad guys are going to get their comeuppances, but I won't go into much detail as to exactly how that happens once Jean-Paul gets back to France, so that I won't give away the key plot details. One thing worth adding, though, is that Jean-Paul gets help from financier Dondel, played by Leo G. Carroll.

Although there are some plot twists, Treasure of the Golden Condor is a fairly formulaic movie, with an ending you might be able to see coming from a mile away, as well as some other plot points that are quite telegraphed. But then, you're watching an adventure movie, not something serious. You should know going into it that the point is to be entertained and not edified. In that regard, Treasure of the Golden Condor certainly succeeds. Cornel Wilde is well-suited to this sort of movie; the color cinematography is lovely, both of the Guatemala scenes and the interiors; and the acting from the supporting characters is generally reasonably good. Currie is a treat to watch, even if what happens to his character is a bit unbelievable.

As far as I can tell, Treasure of the Golden Condor doesn't seem to be on DVD.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Grand Bounce

I like to recommend shorts when they show up on the TCM schedule, since there aren't any other movie channels showing these old shorts, and some of them can be just as interesting as the feature films between which they're placed. Tomorrow morning at about 7:00, you have the chance to watch The Grand Bounce, on after Street of Women, which starts at 6:00 AM and runs 59 minutes.

The plot is fairly simple: a man, in ordre to pay off his gambling debts, writes a check for $1,000, hence the "grand" in the title. A thousand bucks was quite a bit for 1937. And, unsurprisingly, the guy doesn't have a thousand dollars in his bank account for the check to clear, hence the "bounce" in the title. But it's a holiday weekend, so our hero has three days to find the money and deposit it in the bank before the payee can try to cash the check.

Meanwhile, the payee has some debts of his own. He doesn't have the cash to cover those debts, but he will when he cashes our hero's check, assuming of course that the check clears. But if he just signs the check over to the person to whom he owes the debt, presumably his hands will be clean: he paid a debt in good faith, and it's not he who wrote the check in the first place. Not that it would work out that way in real life of course. So while we have our hero trying to get the check to clear, we've got a bad check being passed around, uncashed, from one creditor to another to another. Boy is there going to be a mess when they finally try to cash the darn thing.

Let's just say that The Grand Bounce has an ending that theoretically leaves everybody to live happily ever after, at least if they don't keep racking up debts they can't pay off. Maybe they should just engage in a little quantitative easing instead, like Edmund Gwenn in Mister 880. It's all a theme that's handled reasonably well for a one-reeler, although it does get a bit tedious before the ending: yeah, we get the point.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that Jacques Tourneur directed, back in the early part of his career when he was doing shorts to try to make a name for himself. Tourneur would later go on to direct such well-known pictures as Cat People and Out of the Past.

I could not find any indication that The Grand Bounce has made it to DVD as an extra anywhere.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Yet another movie where we know the two leads are going to wind up together in the last reel

Earlier this week, I've mentioned a couple of movies where you just know the two stars are going to reunite at the end, despite all the romantic complications they face earlier on in the movie. There's another one coming up on TCM. This time, though, the movie is from Britain, and in early three-strip Technicolor: Over the Moon, at 10:30 AM tomorrow.

Young Merle Oberon plays June Benson. She plays the granddaughter of an elderly nobleman who at the beginning of the movie is dying in his estate house that looks as though it's seen better days: Jane has no idea how she's going to keep the place going once her grandfather finally dies. His doctor, Freddie Jarvis (Rex Harrison), has a good idea: marry him! He loves her, and she does like him, but there's also the problem of all the servants and what to do with the estate. And then the old guy finally dies. It turns out that the reason the estate didn't seem to be in such great shape is that Grandfather was a miser. During his life he saved up a princely £18 million, which is in late-1930s currency and so would probably be in the middle nine-figures range today, even in pounds, never mind the conversion rate to dollars. Any way you look at it, it's a substantial sum of money.

With all that money comes the possibility that Jane can finally live a life of comfort. More comfort than Jane could ever have living off of a doctor's salary. Also, her large inheritance has made national news, so there are lots of people who, wanting to live in comfort themselves, claim to be either distant relatives or some sort of suitor. Dr. Jarvis has principles, and one of those is apparently not being wealthy through a wife's inheritance. Either that, or money has just changed her to the point that he doesn't like her as she now is. Freddie's received an offer to do research at a clinic in Switzerland, so he takes that offer, and leaves Jane to her money.

Jane goes off to France and eventually to Monte Carlo, and it's at this point where the movie begins to go off the rails. We know that Jane and Freddie are ultimately meant for each other, and that they're supposed to end up together, but it takes Jane seemingly much too long to realize this, and the movie seems to run too slowly from here to the reunion. Freddie, for his part, finds that he's gotten into something he didn't bargain for, doctoring at a chic clinic for the rich, much like the work Robert Donat was doing in The Citadel, which was made after Over the Moon but released before.

Merle Oberon and Rex Harrison both try hard, but I think that in the end, the material really sinks them, making the movie a muddled plodding mess that I actually found a bit difficult to sit through even though it only runs about 80 minutes. It didn't help either that the print wasn't the best. If you want early British color, I'd really recommend starting off with The Divorce of Lady X instead.

I couldn't find any DVD release of Over the Moon, so you'll have to catch the TCM showing, which isn't very often.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Didn't we just discuss Hildegarde Withers 3-1/2 years ago? It only seems like yesterday!

Last Saturday saw the last of the Maisie movies on TCM during their Saturday pre-noon slot that's been showing various movie series with the movies beginning generally at 10:30 AM or 10:45 AM depending on the length of the film. Having finished with Maisie, TCM is switching to teacher-detective Hildegarde Withers, with the first of those movies being The Penguin Pool Murder tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM. I last mentioned Hildegarde Withers back in September 2010. Edna May Oliver played the detective in the first three movies in the series, which should takes us through to January 25, or just before 31 Days of Oscar comes along for all of the regular programming to take a break. The series will return in March after 31 Days of Oscar, and with Helen Broderick in one Withers movie and Zasu Pitts in two more. James Gleason played the police detective/love interest of Withers in all six movies. The Penguin Pool Murder is as far as I know not on DVD at all; I didn't check to see the availability of the other five.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stars vs. stories

Yesterday when I blogged about The Florodora Girl, I mentioned that it was a movie with a story we've seen before, elevated in part by the performance of its leading lady, Marion Davies. I think it's safe to say that there are a lot of movies like this from the early 1930s. An example of this phenomenon that's even better than The Florodora Girl might be Chained, which is airing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM on TCM as part of their Star of the Month salute to Joan Crawford. For the most part it's a standard love triangle story, but Crawford and the rest of the cast do a very good job with it.

Crawford plays Diane Lovering, who is the executive secretary to shipping magnate Richard Field (Otto Kruger). That's her job, but she's really more than that; she's his mistress too. The wife is finally returning from Europe, and Richard is going to tell her that he's getting a divorce from her so that he can marry Diane, whom he sincerely loves, and who loves him in return. Of course, there's a catch, which is that the wife says "Hell, no!" Well, of course she doesn't use quite those words since this was released just after the imposition of the Code, but it sums up her attitude. And who can blame the wife for holding out for a better deal if her husband is going to break their marriage contract? (One has to presume that the wife was faithful during all that time in Europe. But since she talks about her social position, that's a relatively safe assumption.)

What's poor Diane to do? She still loves Richard, and is willing to stand by him, but with no prospects of marriage any time soon, Richard doesn't want to hurt her by having her around in a hopeless situation. So he sends her on a cruise to the Argentine, which at the time was one of the world's more prosperous countries, as you might have seen from the Traveltalks short I mentioned a few days ago. During the cruise, Diane meets two wealthy men. Johnnie (Stuart Erwin) flirts with her, but she doesn't want any part of it. Mike (Clark Gable) tries to help Johnnie, but the help doesn't quite have the effect that Johnnie would like. Mike and Diane start to become an item aboard the ship, but go their separate ways when they reach Buenos Aires: she to her hotel, he to his cattle ranch. Of course, since they're the two stars and pictured together on the poster, you know this isn't the end of their relationship. Eventually, Mike sees Diane again, invites her to his ranch, and the two start a real love affair. Real enough to the point that Diane is able to tell Mike about her past life with Richard, and to tell Mike that she's going to go back to New York to apologize to Richard and say that she's found another love.

So she goes back to New York, but there's a minor problem. When Richard meets Diane, he's got some really good news for her: his wife finally agreed to the divorce, so now he's free to marry her! And he's even got the wedding ring to ask for Diane's hand in marriage! And, of course, he tells her all of this before she's got a chance to tell him about Mike and her intentions to go live with him in the Argentine. What's a girl to do? In this case, she figures that since Richard went through so much to get the divorce, and since she had said she was going to remain true to him even if he sent her to the southern hemisphere, there's really nothing to do other than go through with the marriage to him. Really. Surely she can't really be happy with him especially once a manly rancher as hot as Clark Gable comes into her life! But whatever. The film still isn't over, and you know that eventually Mike and Diane are going to run into each other to cause further complications.

As I said at the beginning, all of this love triangle stuff is the sort of material that's been done a lot in Hollywood, and in many ways it's the sort of stuff that really strains credulity, to the point that you could forgive viewers for having an aversion to the movie just for its plot. But MGM films stuff like this with so much style, and Crawford and especially Gable are just so darn good that you can't help but think this really isn't a bad movie at all. And, thankfully, this was made back in the early 1930s when it wasn't uncommon to put big stars in movies that had fairly brief running times (Chained only runs about 75 minutes), so despite the plot material the movie never gets tedious. Chained isn't quite the first movie I'd pick to introduce people to either Crawford or Gable, and maybe not even the tenth. Chained is merely a "good" movie while both stars have done top-notch work. But it's still good enough that I'd have no qualms recommending it to people who would like to se something new-to-them from the mid-1930s or with Crawford or Gable.

Chained has made it to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Florodora Girl

Marion Davies is one of thsoe Hollywood people whose career seems to get assessed less than objectively, thanks in most part to the long affair she had with William Randolph Hearst, who spent years bankrolling movies starring her in an attempt to make her a star. Tomorrow brings a chance to see for yourself how good or bad an actress she was, as TCM is showing The Florodora Girl at 6:15 AM.

Marion Davies plays Daisy, the titular "Florodora Girl", who is actually a chorus girl in a Gay Nineties era Broadway show. If you've seen enough old movies you'll know that, at least according to the movies, a lot of wealthy people went to Broadway shows, with the men -- both the married older men and the young playboys -- eying the pretty chorus girls. The chorus girls, for the most part, seemed to be willing to let these rich guys pursue them, because it sure would have been nice to be on something resembling easy street. Daisy, however, doesn't seem to be doing too well in this milieu. Whether it be because she really wants true love first and money second, or because she just doesn't know the ropes of the way relationships between the chorus girls and the potential sugar daddies works, Daisy hasn't been having the success with the men at the stage door that the other chorus girls are having.

Enter Jack Vibart (Lawrence Gray). He actually seems like Mr. Right for Daisy. Sure, he's rich, but Daisy feels she might truly be in love with him. Unfortunately, all the other chorus girls still think there are set rules as to how they're supposed to be interacting with the rich guys, and they're trying to teach those rules to Daisy. This sounds perfectly reasonable, except that whatever rules work for all the other chorus girls, they don't seem to work for Daisy and Jack, and what seems the sort of relationship where you expect them to wind up together in the final reel.

And then there's another complication: one of the frequent financial crashes of the era. Before the introduction of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, the American economy was such that when there were crashes, they tended to be relatively short, but quite a bit more severe than the recessions of today. Jack gets more or less wiped out in one of these crashes. That's not a problem for Daisy, who it turns out really is in love with Jack for who he is, and not for the money that he no longer has so much of. Jack's famliy, however, has a problem with the relationship. If he had married a rich girl and one of them lost their fortunes, well, things happen. But marrying a chorus girl and then both of them winding up poor? The horror!

The Florodora Girl really isn't a bad movie, but it definitely is a product of its time, that being near the beginning of the sound era in 1930. Before 42nd Street, most musicals were very static, and the musical numbers here (including a finale in two-strip Technicolor) show that weakness. The need to capture the sound also saw directors use much less of the camera's range of movement than was the case at the end of the silent era, and that's another area where The Florodora Girl has the same problems that a lot of movies from around 1930 have. And, of course, the plot doesn't seem fairly original. None of this is Marion Davies' fault, and she gives a perfectly capable performance, helping The Florodora Girl rise above the leve of many of the other musical comedies from this era.

The Florodora Girl seems to be not only not available on DVD, but not in TCM's database at all! So, you'll have to catch tomorrow's TCM airing, since this is one that shows up very infrequently.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Briefs for January 7

I'm not certain what was the most enjoyable part of last night's Priavte Screenings interview with Robert Osborne. I think I'd have to say all the commercials did early on in his career, thinking about life insurance and drinking lots of beer. Well, technically you're not allowed to drink the beer in beer commercials, but there were three or four different beer commercials in there, mostly for brands I'd never heard of. It made me wonder if Osborne ever actually tried those beers back in the day before doing the commercials.

Oh, there was also the very first introduction Osborne did, all the way back in 1994. I don't remember the precise wording, but he specifically mentioned that TCM would combine movies from MGM and Warner Bros. (it seems he ommitted RKO), combined with more recent films, something that stuck out at me as I immediately wondered what the folks on the TCM message boards who get in a tizzy every time a movie after about 1968 airs would think about that comment.

TCM is honoring the 90th anniversary of Columbia Pictures today with a lineup of high-quality movies, most of which I've already blogged about. This is one of the bad things about TCM's not having a relationship with Columbia the way they do with the old Turner Library of MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO films where they can much more easily get movies from those studios to air. Back in October 2008 TCM had an 80th anniversary salute to RKO and was able to run a lot of relatively obscure movies. If you're only going to be able to do one day's worth of movies to honor a studio, I think it's much more reasonable to show the famous ones. Besides, we've seen too many unfortunate cases of TCM having ot strike a Columbia movie off the schedule because the proper print apparently wasn't available.

In among the Columbia pictures are two Traveltalks shorts appropriate for the programming: Glimpses of Argentina, at 3:50 PM between Cover Girl and Gilda is listed on the on-line schedule as being from 1952, but dollars to doughnuts it's the 1938 Traveltalks short. IMDb's imperfect search on the title didn't yield anything from 1952. The other short is India on Parade from 1937, at 3:30 AM following Gandhi.

Finally, FMC is running For Heaven's Sake tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I'm somewhat surprised that the daytime schedule of FMC is still trudging along, still without commercials. And they've got some new-to-FMC titles on the schedule. Or, at least, titles that haven't shown up in years such as this one, which I saw years ago when it previously aired on FMC but haven't seen since, and isn't on DVD. The plot involves Clifton Webb and Edmund Gwenn as angels who come down to earth to help a juvenile angel fulfill its destiny of being born human to a couple (Bob Cummings and Joan Bennett) whose marriage seems to be on the rocks.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Private Screenings: Robert Osborne

Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin when they were younger

You've probably seen the promos. Robert Osborne does Private Screenings interviews on an irregular basis with various grand old names of the screen. This time, however, the interview is going to be different, as Osborne is going to be the one getting interviewed, by former Essentials co-host and good TCM friend Alec Baldwin, who, we assume, acted reasonably sanely when he interviewed Osborne. Anyhow, tonight is the night for that interview. As if often the case with TCM original productions, it's going to air twice, first at 8:00 PM for the folks on the east coast, and then following a feature film, at 11:30 PM for the benefit of TCM's viewers out west. Note that where most Private Screenings interviews fit in a one-hour time slot, this one is listed as running 74 minutes, so it needs a 90-minute time slot.

TCM's online lists tonight's prime-time theme as "Robert Osborne", which I'd guess means the feature movies are actually a night of Bob's Picks as we get every month:
The Third Man at 9:30 PM, in which Joseph Cotten learns the disturbing truth about what his friend Orson Welles has been doing in Vienna;
Libeled Lady at 1:00 AM, which as I mentioned a few days ago when blogging about Design for Scandal is much better;
Soldier Joseph Cotten falls in love with amnesia patient Jennifer Jones in Love Letters at 3:00 AM; and
Fred Astaire dances with Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon at 5:00 AM.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Silent Sunday Nights: Roscoe Arbuckle

Tonight sees the first of two Silent Sunday Nights of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle shorts. Unfortunately, as is often the case when TCM programs a block of shorts, the starting times of the various shorts are not accurately given. In this case, there are seven shorts between midnight and 2:00 AM, with the TCM online schedule listing all of them as starting at 12:00 AM.

The good news, however, is that all of these shorts were produced before 1923, which means that they're all in the public domain. Some, if not all of them will be available on Youtube, such as Fatty Joins the Force, which sees Fatty become a policeman when he saves the Commissioner's daughter from drowning in the park; Fatty then discovers that being a cop isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are several copies posted to Youtube, with running times between about 12:15 and 13:30:

Fatty Joins the Force is, according to the TCM schedule, the third of tonight's shorts, following The Knockout (27 min) and A Flirt's Mistake (8 min), so if the order listed on TCM is correct, you can figure out what time it's on. Or just record the whole two hours.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Design for Scandal

TCM is showing a night of Walter Pidgeon movies to go with this week's Essential, The Bad and the Beautiful at 8:00 PM. The second of these movies, Design for Scandal, comes on at 10:15 PM.

Edward Arnold plays newspaper magnate JM Blair. Blair has a wife, Adele, who isn't quite being wifely, so Blair decides he's going to get a divorce with cause: if he can prove she's at fault, he won't have to give up any of his fortune in the divorce settlement. (Didn't they have prenups back in 1940?) Unfortunately, there's a problem. Blair gets in divorce court, Judge Cornelia Potter (Rosalind Russell). Yes, a lady judge. There are men nowadays who claim that famiy court is severely biased against men, although they at least have the claim that it's normal for women to support themselves financially. Back in the 1940s when women were expected to stay home and be housewives, there might have been more of a need for women to get alimony. But the movie plays it more as though of course Cornelia is going to be biased toward the wife, since the judge is a woman.

Blair, being forced to pay a princely sum in alimony, decides that the best way to get out of it is to dig up some dirt on the judge, which would presumably get her brought up on ethics violations or something like that. So he calls on his best reporter, Jeff Sherman (Walter Pidgeon), to get to know Judge Potter and get the dirt. Well, except that Sherman isn't Blair's best reporter right now because he's just been fired again. (How much of this shtick have we seen in Libeled Lady or It Happened One Night?) Sherman takes on the job in exchange for a hefty raise, and follows Judge Potter off to Cape Cod where she's about to go on vacation with her sister and nephew.

You can probably guess what's going to happen next. Cornelia avoids Jeff at first. But then the two finally meet, and you just know they're going to fall in love. That, of course, means serious plot complications: The love affair itself might actually be the dirt on her, since Jeff already has a lady friend he was intending to marry. But Jeff, falling in love with Cornelia, will have moral qualms about giving that dirt to Blair. (Gee, didn't we see some of this in Libeled Lady too?)

When I blogged about Johnny Eager back in April 2010, I suggested that it looks like what you'd get if you put MGM's glitz on a Warner Bros. gangster movie. By the same token, I might say that Design for Scandal could be what you'd get if you took MGM's other values of being oh so morally upstanding and tacked those onto a screwball comedy. And yet, with Libeled Lady five years earlier, MGM had already made one of the great screwball comedies. Design for Scandal, on the other hand, comes across as a bit tired and tedious. Walter Pidgeon and Rosalind Russell try, but they've got such leaden material. They're not bad; it's just that they don't really get the opportunity to show how good they really could be. On its own it's not terrible, but compared to all those other screwball comedies it really begins to pale.

Design for Scandal has received a DVD release from the Warner Archive.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Women in Hiding

I've briefly mentioned the short Women in Hiding before. It's coming up again this evening on TCM a little after 7:30 PM, or just after the 1931 version of Possessed.

This is another of the Crime Does Not Pay series, this time looking at a controversial topic for 1940: getting pregnant out of wedlock. Marsha Hunt plays Jane, who's just one such young woman, living in one of those unnamed big cities that could be a stand-in for your town. Jane has nobody to turn to, so when she sees an ad in the classifieds about a discreet clinic for women in her situation, she goes there.

It turns out she probably shouldn't. The place is run by a crooked Dr. Mansby (C. Henry Gordon), with the place sustaining itself financially by selling the kids into adoption. And that's the kids that survive! Let's just say that the doctors here don't treat the patients as well as they should.

It must have been shocking for moviegoers back in 1940, and it's shocking even today. Of course, the shock value is for different reasons. Back then there might have been some incredulity, but I get the impression that people would probably have responded with a bit more of a sense of horror. Looking back on it 70 years ago, it's more shocking in the sense it's hard to believe anything like this might have gone on at all. After all, there's much less of a stigma toward getting knocked up out of wedlock. And young women could just go off and disappear like this? Somehow I find that tough to believe, but then, I'm looking at this from a 2013 perspective. This is, however, one of the more worthy Crime Does Not Pay shorts.

As far as I know, Women in Hiding still isn't on DVD, so you'll have to catch the rare TCM showings.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

TCM Star of the Month January 2014: Joan Crawford

TCM is honoring Joan Crawford as this month's Star of the Month by showing her movies every Thursday in prime time. Crawford actually made so many movies that TCM has the rights to that the films continue into the morning hours on Fridays. This first Thursday in January sees quite a few of the silent films Crawford did. Among those films early on Friday morning is West Point, at 7:15 AM.

William Haines is actually the star here, as Brice Wayne. We first see him taking a boat up the Hudson to go to the titular West Point, where he is set to become one of the plebes, the new cadets. It's a role similar to what Haines had done the previous year in Tell it to the Marines, in that Brice is a know-it-all who thinks he's going to be able to bend West Point to his way of doing things. Well, not just West Point, but also Joan Crawford. She's Betty Channing, the daughter of the manager of one of the local hotels, and when Brice sees her on the boat, he immediately starts flirting with her. She doesn't really like him, but you know that because this is a William Haines silent comedy, he and the girl are going to wind up together in the last reel.

But there's some more important stuff first, which is Brice's time at West Point. As a plebe in the first year at West Point, he's supposed to be at the bottom of the heap, following orders from everybody including the upperclassmen. None of that for Brice, though; he knows better than everybody else, and dammit, he's going to show them. It doesn't work as a plebe, and it doesn't work on the football field, either, leading to Brice's eventually getting cut from the football team despite being a very capable player. Brice, living to play football, decides that if West Point won't let him play on the team, well he'll just quit West Point. This ought to be a serious problem since I believe even back in the 1920s enrolling at West Point was contingent upon doing some years of military service after graduation in exchange for not having to pay any tuition. If you fail to graduate, you're going to have to pay that tuition.

At any rate, Brice is such a damn good football player that his West Point roommate Tex (William Bakewell) and Betty both convince him to come back and do things the Army Way so that he can be on the football team again and help Army beat Navy in the big game. Boy does this plot sound familiar.

William Haines was a very charming silent screen actor, and he's certainly charming here. If you haven't seen any of his movies, West Point isn't a bad place to start. If you have seen any, you might be a bit uncomfortable seeing what is much the same sort of movie he'd been making several times, not only with the previously-mentioned Tell It to the Marines.

West Point has received a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive.