Monday, March 31, 2014

Eva Marie Saint, Taped at the TCM Film Festival

TCM is running what I think is a premiere, seeing as they're also running promos for it: Eva Marie Saint: Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival. It's running at 8:00 PM tonight, with a repeat for the benefit of the people on the west coast at 11:30 PM. This would be an interview taped at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Or, I think, since I wasn't there, and don't have tickets for this year's festival either (it's not as if I would have been able to go anyway). But it certainly wasn't at this year's festival, since this year's hasn't taken place yet. At any rate, I'm looking forward to the interview.

Between and after the airings of the interview, TCM will be showing some of Eva Marie Saint's better-known movies:

First, at 9:00 PM, is On the Waterfront, which won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Then, at 12:30 AM, is Raintree County, in which she plays a supporting role to the romancing Eliabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.
Finally, at 3:30 AM, Eva Marie Saint runs around Mount Rushmore with Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Where are the Ewings?

When somebody mentions Dallas, at least in conjunction with entertainment, the first thought is probably the long-running prime-time soap opera starring Larry Hagman as JR Ewing. In fact, there was an earlier, completely unrelated movie with the same title made in 1950. That movie shows up on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Leif Erickson plays Martin Weatherby, a US Marshal from Boston on his way to 1870s Texas, via Missouri. In Missouri, he sees something that you'd think is rather shocking. Wild Bill Hickoc (Reed Hadley in a bit part) gets in a gunfight with former Confederate officer Blayde Hollister, shooting Hollister dead, and sending Hollister out of town slumped over his horse. That's not the shocking part; what is shocking is that Hollister is in fact alive. Not only that, he's supposed to be alive, as this was all part of a plan. Weatherby is going to Dallas to deal with a bunch of catle thieves, while Hollister (played by Gary Cooper) has personal matters to attend to: some other southern outlaws burned Hollister's house during the Civil War, and Hollister is looking to bring them to some sort of justice. Weatherby, it turns out, also has personal business in Dallas, in the form of a fiancée named Tonia Robles (Ruth Roman). Her father owns a ranch, and his are among the cattle being stolen.

On the way to Dallas, Hollister concludes -- quite rightly -- that Weatherby is not suited to work in this part of the country, and that trying to be a US Marshal in the Southwest is going to bet Weatherby killed. So Hollister comes up with a plan, that he and Weatherby are going to switch identities. This will give Hollister a freer hand to do hist investigation, while it should also keep Weatherby alive. Of course, there's a little issue with Tonia waiting for her fiancé, whom she's seen, although the rest of the family hasn't. So she has to pretend this complete stranger is her future hasband, something she's obviously not pleased with at first.

I say at first because you know that with Cooper and Roman getting top billing, they're eventually going to fall in love with each other, which is going to cause more problems. That's not the only complication; there's also those cattle thieves and the people Hollister is looking for. Thankfully, those turn out to be the same set of people, the Marlow brothers. In another bit of following the Hollywood plot formula, there's both a cold-blooded, calculating brother, Will Marlow (Raymond Massey), who runs a company that buys and sells land as a front. He's got a pair of hot-blooded brothers. Cullen gets killed early on, so it's up to the other one, Bryant (Steve Cochran) to be the trigger-happy brother who wants revenge now, if not sooner.

There's a lot going on in Dallas. Even though there are some of the stock elements, the plot is at times a bit complicated, what with all of the dual identities. That complexity sometimes acts to the film's detriment, I think, as there's just too much going on. Gary Cooper is good, but he always seems well-suited to the western genre. Leif Erickson is more of a cipher, to the point that one almost doesn't care about the character. Eventually you realize that the only way he's going to get the girl is if Cooper gets killed off. Raymond Massey does OK, although he's miscast; Steve Cochran, on the other hand, doesn't disappoint here although he has the more showy role of the two villians. All in all, Dallas is another of those competent films that isn't quite great, although for the most part it successfully entertains, helped out enormously by the Technicolor photography.

Dallas did get a DVD release at some point, although I don't know if it's still in print. And if you're using other search sites, you'll have to be careful what with all the other movies and TV shows that have "Dallas" in the title.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Free Radicals

Overnight tonight is TCM Underground as nomrally scheduled. This week sees a documentary called Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film at 2:00 AM. I haven't seen this one before, althogh I did mention it briefly last November since it was part of the lineup at the end of Daylight Savings Time, along with the schedule problems that always brings. Following the documentary is a series of shorts which are also experimental films. I didn't get to see any of them last November, but a look at the November 2011 schedules reveals that the shorts aired back then are the same ones that are going to be airing overnight tonight. The only thing I'm not certain of is whether they'll be in the same order.

Not having seen any of these experimental shorts before, I'm going to have to leave you with a different one: Mechanical Principles, from 1930

Friday, March 28, 2014

Anthony Bourdain has a sense of humor

Or, at least, somebody at TCM has a sense of humor in programming the Friday Night Spotlight for Anthony Bourdain. This month's spotlight has been food in the movies, and the night ends with three rather interesting selections.

The first of them, at midnight, is Soylent Green. While there are some scenes with real food, I'd assume that the only reason this one was selected was for the reveal at the end of the secret about Soylent Green which is advertised as being full of planktony goodness.

Then, at 1:45 AM, is Night of the Living Dead, in which the "food" involves zombies trying to eat the brains of normally-living human beings.

The last of the three is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane at 3:30 AM, which has one wonderful food scene of Bette Davis serving Joan Crawford dinner in her wheelchair on a silver platter, complete with those lids that you usually see when movies are showing room service bringing a meal to a hotel room.

Unrelated to the Firday night spotlight, TCM finished up the last of the Hildegarde Withers mysteries last Saturday morning, and will be starting with a new series tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM, that being the "Mexican Spitfire" movies starring Lupe Velez as a daffy Mexican woman who meets an American and, well, sparks fly.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Racket (1928)

TCM is putting the spotlight on actor Louis Wolheim tomorrow on his birth anniversary. I've recommended him in a few movies before, a couple of which are airing tomorrow. A movie that's on the schedule that I haven't recommended before is The Racket, at 12:15 PM.

Louis Wolheim plays Nick Scarsi, a gangster in some largish 1920s American city that could be any American city. This being Prohibition, he runs the bootlegging, and has done a good enough job of it that he's made the money to buy all the important people in town. One of the few people he hasn't been able to buy is police captain McQuigg (Thomas Meighan). McQuigg is one of the few honest cops in town, trying to bring down Scarsi, because the war on politically disfavored mood-altering chemicals that we're still fighting to this day is just so virtuous, and the people who traffic in these evil substances need to be taken down. Well, the movie doesn't put it quite like that, of course. At any rate, McQuigg eventually goes too far in his attempt to get Nick, or at least too far for his own good. Nick controls the police commissioner, who has McQuigg transferred to a suburban precinct, which in this case really means out in the middle of nowhere.

Nick has one other person he hasn't been able to control, that being his brother Joe (George E. Stone). Nick has been almost single-minded on building up the business of distributing liquor, to the extent that he even excludes women from his life. Joe, on the other hand, has developed a taste for the high life, drinking and cavorting with women. This includes nightclub entertainer Helen Hayes -- that's the name of the character; she's played by Marie Prevost. Wilfully ignoring big brother's orders, Joe goes out on the town one evening, gets drunk, and on eht way back, gets in a fatal hit-and-run accident. In the past, Nick has been able to get out of jams using his influence with the police. But this accident has taken place in that out of the way precinct to which McQuigg was transferred. McQuigg, sensing he has a chance to take down Nick, decides he's going to take it.

Before seeing The Racket, I would have thought the gangster movie wouldn't translate as well to the silent era as comedies or adventure movies. There's more of an emphasis on dialog, and the molls don't get to perform the way they soon would once sound came along. And yet, The Racket is extremely entertaining and well made. Wolheim gives a good performance, and the plot is quite good. Even if you know that it's going to end in the "right" way, the climax is still exciting.

As far as I'm aware, The Racket isn't available on DVD at all, so you're going to have to catch the infrequent TCM airing.

Recycled Movie Costumes

An acquaintaince on another forum who knows I'm a fan of old movies put up a comment that was nothing more than a link and saying it was porn for me. The link was in fact to the Tumblr blog Recycled Movie Costumes. As you can guess from the title, it's a blog about movie costumes that have been recycled, taken from one movie and used in another, perhaps years later.

TCM some months back ran a documentary about Warner Bros. that was made a few years back, and spent some time looking at the various studio departments as they now are. The set design and costume departments were the most interesting. It shouldn't be surprising that in the days when everything was done on the studio soundstages and backlots, the same things would get used over and over again, since it's a good way of keeping down costs. The backlots would probably be the most noticeable place for this, followed by larger set pieces. Sometimes when I see a gaudy curvy staircase in an old movie, I find myself trying to firgure out which other old movies that staircase has appeared in. There's also a round recessed window in the courtroom scene in Leave Her to Heaven that I could swear shows up in the Jamaican government building in The Black Swan.

It shouldn't be a surprise that costumes would get resued, too. If you're going to make Civil War-era uniforms for a movie, why use them once and get rid of them? If you were a studio churning out movie after movie, it would make sense to keep the costumes and then alter them to fit every time you were doing a scene set in the Civil War. The same would hold for all sorts of other period outfits. It's a practice that's still going on, as the blog shows.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Considerate TCM

As I mentioned yesterday, TCM had rescheduled the Carson on TCM interviews that were scheduled to air on March 18th for last night, since a glitch at TCM led to the interviews that were originally scheduled to air last night to run on March 18th. It's not too surprising that TCM would do something like this. But what I did find a bit surprising is that they were able to bring in Ben Mankiewicz to tape a hasty wraparound at some point in the last week, during which he explained to us that there was a glitch and they were making it up to us by running last week's interview lineup. Moreover, there was one at the end to explain again why there would be a night of Gene KElly movies as originally scheduled even though his interview did not air last night. The other interesting thing was that it sounded as though TCM took the Conan O'Brian piece that aired at the very end of last week, about being honored to host another season of Carson on TCM, which sounded like the one that ended last week's interviews, since that was supposed to be the end of this season.

It shouldn't be too big a surprise that TCM brought in Ben Mankiewicz to do the wraparound. Robert Osborne is turning 82 in May, and if the guy wasn't already in Atlanta to do a set of wraparounds for some future month's prime time lineup, why put him through the rigmarole of doing one little wraparound? Besides, Ben is presumably going to be taking over for Robert at some point. Johnny Carson asked Lucille Ball in one of last night's interviews what she thought about the likelihood of people even 50 years from now enjoying her comedy, to which she replied that she didn't want to think about being around in 50 years. She was 65 at the time, so you can understand why she wouldn't want to think about being 115, even if the question was really more about people enjoying her work after she was dead.

One other interesting thing from the interviews last night was the opening of the Carol Burnett interview. Her variety show had ended not long before, and the band obviously played the theme to that show when she came on, because Johnny asks her about it. Last night, though, we didn't get to hear it, which would almost certainly be down to rights issues. You'd have to ask somebody who knows more about intellectual property law than I do, but there's something about the lincensing for an essentially live combo like the band on a daily talk show that makes ancillary rights, like rebroadcasting, different from the rebroadcasting of old movies, where those things are probably hammered out before releasing the movie in the first place. (And then there's the rights to the songs originally used on a show like WKRP in Cincinnati....)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Carson on TCM for March 25

Last week, TCM was supposed to show several interviews that Johnny Carson did with comics just as well known, if not better known, for the work they did on TV as for any movies they made. Of course, somebody at TCM screwed up and ran the interviews that were originally scheduled for tonight. So, TCM will be rectifying that error by running the interviews scheduled for March 18 tonight; click the first link for the exact schedule.

Of course, this lineup has six interviews, which were scheduled to lead into the first movie of the night running at 9:15 PM. What was supposed to be the last night of Carson on TCM, the night that actually ran on March 18, had seven interviews, to get to a total of 25, which was supposed to necessitate the first movie -- Gene Kelly in The Cross of Lorraine -- beginning at 9:30 PM. TCM has been running the interviews in 12-minute blocks more or less, for the benefit of people who want to DVR them, I suppose. But, the interviews haven't quite been running that long, an the seven interviews that ran last week actually finished before 9:15 PM. At any rate, with one fewer interview this week, there's going to be time left over for a short, which will be Portrait of a Genius, one of those Carey Wilson MGM shorts, this time about Leonardo da Vinci.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Let's Make Love

One of the movies that's in the FMC/FXM rotation currently is Let's Make Love. It's airing twice this week: at 10:45 AM Tuedsay (March 25) and again at 8:00 AM Wednesday. (It'll also be airing again at the beginning of April.) It's also gotten a release to DVD, so even if you can't catch the FMC airings, you can still watch it.

Yves Montand plays Jeam-Marc Clement, the latest in a long line of French entrepreneurs. The family has been successful through the generations, to the point that Clement is a dollar billionaire, which is a lot in 1960 dollars. Unfortunately, he's also become a bit of a playboy, still not having a wife and any children to be his heirs and carry on the family businesses. Worse, is that his behavior has made it to the tabloids. Not only that, but his PR man Alexander (Tony Randall), who used to work on Broadway in New York, has learned that there's an off-Broadway production doing a parody of modern fame, and including Jean-Marc in that parody. This is unacceptable, and must be stopped!

So everybody decamps to New York City, where Alexander can use his Broadway connections to see what's going on with the new show mocking Jean-Marc, and see if anything can be done to stop it. Alexander and Jean-Marc go to the theater where rehearsals are being held, and the director quickly mistakes Jean-Marc for a would-be actor, which is forgivable since he's with Alexander who used to do PR for Broadway stars. Furthermore, it turns out that Jean-Marc can do an excellent version of this playboy the director is tryin gto spoof, and even bears somewhat of a resemblance to him; this is again forgivable since when the director asks Jean-Marc to say a few lines, he's of course imitating himself. They're willing to give him the part, but they don't believe him when they ask him for his name, which he claims is Jean-Marc Clement. So now Jean-Marc has to go under an assumed name, making things more complicated.

That's not the only thing complicating matters for him. There's also the lead actress in the play, Amanda Dell (Marilyn Monroe). Jean-Marc falls for her, but she's got night school and a somewhat boyfriend in Tony (Frankie Vaughan), an up-an-coming singer for whom this would be a big break. Amanda, however, begins to fall for this poor naïve actor with a French accent, not knowing that he is in fact a billionair. And that's a good thing since she doesn't like the snooty rich. (She shouldn't fall in love with saxophone players, either, but she's not very bright.) Meanwhile, there's the matter of keeping the show from lampooning Jean-Marc. His advisors have been getting busy on getting subsidiaries owned by Clement to get a controlling interest in the show and close it down, but Jean-Marc has pangs of conscience in that there are these people who have jobs and for whom this is the difference between eating and not eating.

The story itself is a bit lightweight. It seems like the logical conclusion for everybody to reach is for Jean-Marc and Amanda to wind up together, with her dislike of the rich overcome. but the way the story gets to the end is a bit abrupt. FMC, the last time I watched it, was putting this movie in a two-hour slot, and as the minutes ticked by the story seemed to be introducing more plot twists, rather than unraveling them in a satisfying denouement. Montand also seems a bit out of place when he's playing Jean-Marc playing an actor, although that may be deliberate in that the characer really isn't supposed to fit in.

There are some genuinely funny moments, however. One involves Jean-Marc trying to impress the rest of the theater company by telling them a new joke, so he buys one from a comedy writer, only for it to backfire. Later, in order to figure out what it is that Amanda finds charming in men, Jean-Marc hires Milton Berle to teach him comic timing; Gene Kelly to teach him how to dance; and Bing Crosby to teach him how to sing. Jean-Marc isn't quite capable of any of them.

Overall, Let's Make Love is a movie that's certainly not the best that Marilyn MOnroe did, but also not as bad as many of the reviews on a site like IMDb make it out to be. It's certainly worth a viewing on a rainy day, if not a movie you should go out of your way to see.

Journeys in Classic Film

I ran across the blog Journeys in Classic Film the other day, and since it's interesting and (more importantly) still being updated, it's worthy of being in the blogroll on the right side of the page.

I notice this also means I'm up to 11 blogs in the blog roll. When I started the blog roll, I selected the Blogger setting to have the blogs show in order of which one has been updated most recently, with the title of the most recent update and how long ago that update was. One of the reasons for that choice was so that I could see for myself when one of the blogs was updated and reda the post. I've got an RSS reader, of course, and have a whole bunch of feeds from real news organizations, but there aren't enough hours in the day to update all of them on a regular basis and read them. If I added a dozen movie blogs to my RSS feed instead of paying attention to the blogroll, I wouldn't get around to reading half the blogs.

One of the other settings that Blogger has is for how many blogs to show, which I had originally set to 10, only because that was the default setting. Now that I've finally added an 11th blog, it of course means that not all of them are going to be shown. So get updating your blog if you want it to be seen in the blogroll! ;-)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Patrice Wymore, 1926-2014

Actress Patrice Wymore died yesterday at her home in Jamaica. She was 87. Wymore made a handful of movies at Warner Bros. in the early 1950s, including Tea for Two with Doris Day. But it was on the set of Rocky Mountain where she met Errol Flynn, and wound up marrying him. They separated after one child -- I can imagine having to live with Errol Flynn wasn't always easy -- but never divorced, remaining married until Flynn's death in 1959. Indeed, it was apparently Flynn who was responsible for her ending up in Jamaica, as he had land there that she inherited after his death.

I don't think Wymore made enough movies, or is well enough known, to receive a TCM programming tribute, so she'll be the sort of person whose image will show up in December during the annual TCM Remembers retrospective, leading some viewers to say "Who was she?", some disappointed to find that she had died, and others amazed that she was even still alive at the beginning of the year. It's a shame, but not everybody can be a big star.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bright Eyes

Jane Withers (l.) and Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934)

A couple of weeks back, TCM showed Bright Eyes to honor its star, Shirley Temple, after she had recently died. It was already on the TCM schedule for March, though, and that original scheduled airing is coming up tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. If you didn't get a chance to see it two weeks ago, don't miss it this time.

Five-year-old Shirley Temple plays Shirley Blake, whom we see at the beginning of the movie hitch-hiking her way to the airport, at a time when there was little enough air traffic that the idea of armed goons at an airport claiming to protect "homeland security" would have been considered bizarre nonsense. Never mind the idea of a five-year-old hitch-hiking and not having helicopter parents. Of course, part of the reason little Shirley doesn't have helicopter parents is that her dad's already died, having "cracked up" in a plane crash as Shirley's godfather Loop (James Dunn) tells her. Indeed, it's Loop whom Shirley is going to see at the beginning of the movie; the two love each other like a real father and daughter would, and the other pilots also like little Shirley, considering her a sort of good luck charm.

Of course, life isn't as swell and idyllic as it might seem from that opening description. Shirley's mom Mary (Lois Wilson) is working as a maid for the Smythe family, considing of parents (Theodore von Eltz and Dorothy Christy), a daughter Joy (Jane Withers), and their wheelchair-bound uncle Ned Smith (Charles Sellon). They don't really care for Mary or the fact that she's got a flyboy coming to see her, and they don't particularly care for Shirley, either. In fact, the only thing the Smythes seem to care for is uncle Ned's money that they expect to inherit when he finally dies. They've also got a cousin Adele (Judith Martin) who is coming to visit; complicating matters is that she had a relationship with Loop that broke off. She might be willing to patch it up, but Loop isn't.

Christmas is coming, and Shirley is going to be given a party at the airport by all the pilots. All they're waiting for is for Mary to bring the cake. Unfortunately, as she's trying to cross the street with the cake, she gets run down in a traffic accident and killed. Poor Shirley is now an orphan! Who will ever take care of her? Loop wants to take care of her, but he's a single man constantly away from home on businees, what with being a pilot. He even lives at the airport! That's no place for a little girl. Uncle Ned likes Shirley even though they're not related, so eventually the Smythes try to get custody, if only to humor Uncle Ned until he dies off and leaves them his money, at which point they can just drop Shirley in an orphanage. Adele wants to help Loop, and there's a really obvious solution to all this involving the two of them patching up their relationship. But can Loop put his feelings of pride aside and suck it up for Shirley's sake?

Bright Eyes was one of the first Shirley Temple movies to follow the formula that would become more or less standard for her movies, that of the poor girl with an unstable family situation who finds somebody who could take care of her, but has their own problems that only Little Miss Fix-it Shirley can resolve. Oh, and she can do it with some songs and dances along the way. Temple is pretty good here, although it's tough to judge exactly how good of an actress a five-year-old can be. She's engaging enough, though, and has a real chemistry with Dunn, which is most notable in the scene in which he has to tell her that her Mom has "cracked up" too. Most of the other adult actors are serviceable, with Jane Darwell particularly noticeable as the grandmotherly cook in the Smythe household. The one person who really stands out is Jane Withers as Joy. She's Veda Pierce from Mildred Pierce and little Rhoda from The Bad Seed rolled into one, a spoiled brat who makes life difficult for Shirley. There's a scene in which Shirley finds a doll that Joy threw in the garbage and is willing to take care of the doll, but Joy responds by literally tearing the doll limb from limb! Later on, Joy wants to play "Train Wreck" with Shirley; adults should be able to figure out where that joke is going. She also gets a final line that's both delightful and kind of shocking at the same time.

Bright Eyes has a little of everything. There's a melodrama, a love story, comedy, and music, with Shirley famously singing "On the Good Ship Lollipop". Little girls will probably enjoy it more than little boys, but it's the sort of movie that adults of all ages can enjoy. It's easy to see why Shirley Temple was such a hit with audiences of all ages in the 1930s.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Gold Rush heads-up

TCM's Friday Night Spotlight, looking at food in the movies, continues this evening with another set of movies with food scenes. This week includes Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush, in which the Tramp eats his shoe, at 10:45 PM.

The only thing is, this isn't going to be the 1925 original. In the early 1940s, after making The Great Dictator, Chaplin did a re-editing of The Gold Rush. This version added music and narration, and cut out and rearranged several scenes. I for one find Chaplin's narration irritating and pointless; after all, if you've made a competent silent picture, you should only need a few title cards to substitute for any narration. What I've read from pepole who are much more expert on silent films than I ams indicates that they generally prefer the original version too. The original is apparently on one of the DVDs along with the 1940s reworking.

But, as I said, TCM is showing the 1940s edit, as they have every tie the movie has been on the sschedule the last few years. My theory, which somebody over at the TCM boards more or less confirmed, was that the fault lies with the folks responsible for managing the Chaplin estate. For whatever reason, they must want TCM to show the 1940s edit, even though the original is available on DVD, and send that print over to TCM for whenever it's on the schedule. One of the posters at the TCM boards apparently asked TCM programming head Charlie Tabesh about The Gold Rush, and wsa told that it's the Chaplin side that keeps sending out the re-edit instead of the original.

I suppose there's only so much TCM can do about it. After all, they'd like to be able to keep airing Chaplin's other movies, and if TCM piss off the estate over The Gold Rush, the estate might not want to work so much with TCM regarding all the other movies. (I believe the estate holds the rights to all Chaplin's films: isn't that the reason why he co-founded United Artists in the first place?)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Briefs for March 20, 2014

TCM is running a short at about 1:10 this afternoon called Traffic With the Devil about the toll taken by automobile accidents. It's apparently not a Crime Does Not Pay short, although it's one I don't think I've seen before. Immediately following, at 1:30 PM, will be Any Number Can Play, which I have recommended in the past.

I've also recommended Dirigible, which is coming up tonight at 10:15 PM as part of night of movies about dirigibles and other lighter-than-air aircraft. TCM's schedule is saying that this movie still isn't available on DVD.

Cavalcade is now not only out on DVD, but on Blu-ray as well, having gotten a release last August. I only noticed it because I was looking to see which of yesterday's Betty Compson films were on DVD, for which the answer was, sadly, "Not the ones I watched".

Amazon, does, however, say that you can watch The Lady Refuses on streaming video, something I haven't tried since I don't have the bandwidth to do so. It wasn't as good as Street Girl, anyway, and that one doesn't seem to be available at all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Successful Calamity

TCM's Star of the Month Mary Astor had a long career, lasting some 40 years from the silent era to 1964's Hush, Hush... Sweet Charlotte. Her career crossed genres as well as eras, with this week's look at Astor covering 25 years, and comedies, dramas, and a mystery in there. One surprisingly good movie in the lineup is the early talkie A Successful Calamity, at 6:45 AM tomorrow.

Astor is second-billed, playng Emmy Wilton, the second wife of banker Henry Wilton (George Arliss, the star of the proceedings). Henry is returning from Europe, where he's been negotiating on behalf of the US government to provide loans to various European countries after World War I. Henry's banking work has helped make the family wealthy, and after a year in Europe, he's almost anxious to return home to see the family. Unfortunately, they not as anxious to see him as he is to see them. Not because they're bad people; it's just that the kids are all grown up and have lives of their own, while Emmy has been keeping herself busy while Henry was away too. Emmy has become patron to a musician Pietro (Fortunio Bonanova) whose music Henry really doesn't care for. Son Eddie (William Janney) has become a moderately successful polo player under coach Larry Rivers (a very young Randolph Scott), and goes from polo match to date, barely noticing Dad has come home. Daughter Peggy (Evalyn Knapp) has romantic problems of her own: secretly, she loves Larry, but he wouldn't be a right fit to marry a yound socialite of Peggy's standing, so she has to feign a romantic attachment to Struthers, somebody more suitably wealthy (Hale Hamilton), even though he's a drip and we know he's not right for her. About the only person who still pays attention to Henry is his faithful valet Connors (Grant Mitchell).

So what's a neglected father to do? Connors tells him that because the servants and others of their social standing aren't well-to-do, they have to come up with ways to entertain themselves, rather than going to soirées or polo matches or whatnot. In short, they spend more time together, even if we've seen in a lot of other movies from the early 1930s that the working classes didn't have a home life that was as idyllic as Connors seems to portray it. But it gives Henry an idea! He finally gets everybody together at dinner and tells them that while he was away in Europe, the business apparently suffered some financial reverses, and this has left the Wiltons flat broke. Now, as I said at the beginning, Henry's family are supposed to be at heart good people; it's just that they had their own lives to lead. So when they hear that Dad is broke, they immediately do a 180, as opposed to the family in something like My Man Godfrey where the family members remain just as screwed up. Emmy tries to sell some of her jewelry to raise money, while Eddie tries to get honest work. Some of Wilton's business rivals even try to get the better of him when he's "broke", but they play right into his hands. Eventually Dad tells the family they aren't really broke, and everybody more or less lives happily ever after, except possibly Struthers.

A Successful Calamity is, to be honest, a fairly wispy trifle. It moves along breezily running about 70 minutes, and not all that much really happens. And yet it's a lovely little trifle. This, I think, is almost entirely down to having George Arliss in the lead. The cast around Arliss is all reasonably good, but they pale in comparion to Arliss every time he's on screen. Arliss imbues the Henry Wilton character with a vitality that makes you care what happens to him, even if you don't care all that much about the rest of the family or remember them very much after the end of the film. In fact, Arliss got put in multiple trifling movies like this one and made them a joy to watch. A Successful Calamity isn't the best plot out there, but George Arliss takes what little there is and makes a lot of entertainment value out of it.

A Successful Calamity did get a DVD release as part of a George Arliss box set that can be purchased from the TCM Shop.

An apology, even though it's not my fault

I'm sorry if I led any of you astray with my listing of the interviewees on Carson on TCM last night. However, it's pretty clear that somebody at TCM simply punched in the wrong file name when it came to telling the systems that play the stuff we see on TCM what should have been on. Conan O'Brien's remarks at the end about this being the end of another season of Carson on TCM pretty well imply that this was the batch of interviews that was supposed air on the last Tuesday of the month, which would be next week. A look at next Tuesday's schedule confirms this. I didn't stay past the end of the last interview with Gene Kelly to see whether or not Whistling in the Dark, or the other Red Skelton movies, aired as they were scheduled to do, although I'd presume that they did.

One thing that slightly surprised me, although perhaps it shouldn't have, is that all of the night's interviews were programmed to play together, rather than as individual files. My first thought when Conan's intro came up and he started talking about Julie Andrews and Arnold Schwarzenegger was that somebody had just inputted the wrong introduction to play, and that the correct interviews would play. After all, the individual interviews are going to have to be split up so that they can air between features, as we've been seeing from time to time on Satuday mornings.

The other thing that somewhat interests me is what TCM is going to do next Tuesday. I'd guess that most people who are interested in these interviews have been watching the whole series, which means that TCM could simply run the interviews that were supposed to be on last night on the 25th, without too much problem. But I'd feel for people who wanted to see one specific interview that was supposed to be on the 25th, only to tune in and find TCM is running a set of interviews that was originally supposed to air on the 18th.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Carson on TCM looks at classic TV

This being another Tuesday, we get anothe rsix interivews in the Carson on TCM series. This Tuesday looks at six people who are just as well-known, if not better-known, for the work they did on TV as the work they did in the movies. Once again, the online daily schedule seems to be getting it wrong, listing only five interviews and in the wrong order. From the monthly schedule, tonight's lineup:

First up is Lucille Ball, from 1977.
That's followed by Carol Burnett from 1979;
Candice Bergen is interviewed in 1984, follwed by
Don Adams in a 1980 interview.
Jack Benny, in 1973 near the end of his life, shows up, and finally is
Red Skelton in 1983.

The rest of the prime time lineup is half a dozen feature films starring Red Skelton, starting at 9:15 PM. Skelton isn't my favorite star, often being a bit too wacky for my taste, but I'm sure there are people who like him. I am mildly surprised, however, that I haven't seen the piece that Michael Richards did on Skelton some years back when Skelton was TCM's Star of the Month.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Apparently, I haven't blogged about Banjo on My Knee before

FXM, or what's left of the Fox Movie Channel, is airing Banjo on My Knee tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. I thought I had blogged about it, but apparently not. It also doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so I'd better blog about it now.

Joel McCrea stars as Ernie Holley, who at the start of the movie is living with his dad Newt (Walter Brennan) on a sort of houseboat on the Mississippi River as part of a "Shantytown" of houseboats where the locals have their own peculiar culture. It's a happy day for the Holley family, though, as Ernie is about to get married to landlubber Pearl (Barbara Stanwyck). She's willing to live the river life, and since Ernie and Pearl love each other, it's presumably a match made in heaven. Except that it's not going to work out that way. After the wedding, Slade (Victor Killian), who purchases the fish that the Shantytown people catch wholesale, tries to kiss the bride. Ernie doesn't like this, so he gives Slade a slug, and he falls off the boat into the river. Ernie fears that he's drowned Slade, and to make matters worse, his former girlfriend Leota (Katherine DeMille) is willing to call the police to have him arrested and ruin his life. If she can't have him, nobody will. So Ernie makes a quick escape, leaving poor Pearl behind.

Ernie shows up six months later, having worked as a sailor, and offers Pearl a plan: he's going to take her to Aruba, beyond American jurisdiction. But Pearl doesn't like that idea, nor the idea that Ernie should be making all the decisions for the couple. She she up and leaves for New Orleans, where she's been offered a job in a photography studio. The photographer turns out to be a lecher, however (he probably really would have been a pronographer, but they couldn't say that in a 1936 movie), so Pearl leaves him and takes a job at a small restaurant washing dishes in order to make ends meet. Ernie shows up at the photography studio looking for Pearl, but can't find her, of course, so he goes off again. Eventually Newt and another of the Shantytown folk, Buddy (Buddy Ebsen) find her, and try to get Ernie to make up with her. In the meantime, though, the restaurant's entertainment, singer Chick (Tony Martin), has fallen in love with Pearl and is willing to marry her. We know that Ernie and Pearl are really right for each other, but will they ever be able to get back together and find that true happiness?

Banjo on My Knee is an odd little movie, at least in the sense of its subject matter. As talented as both of the leads were, neither Stanwyck nor McCrea seems quite right to play the part of people almost outside regular society, living off the river and only interacting with the civilized world as required. Yes, I know McCrea did a somewhat similar role in Bed of Roses, and Stanwyck played outsiders in movies such as Baby Face, but these characters seem like they're supposed to be the river version of hillbillies. Still, Stanwyck and McCrea aren't as glaring errors in their parts as many other stars would be. (Try imagining William Powell and Myrna Loy playing these roles.) They're also helped by Brennan and Ebsen, who both it their roles quite well. The story is nothing particularly special, as it seems like a plot that could fit in a whole bunch of different settings. Overall, Banjo on My Knee is a very interesting, if somewhat imperfect, film, but one that's well worth a view. It's a shame that it isn't known better.

TCM Guest Programmer March 2014: George Pelecanos

Tonight sees another in the long line of Guest Programmers: detective fiction writer George Pelecanos, who has also written for the HBO TV series The Wire. I have to admit to not knowing much -- or more accurately, not knowing anything -- about Pelecanos' work. But that has no bearing on whether or know he knows about movies or whether he'd be good at presenting the movies he's selected. Unsurprisingly for a writer of detective stories, two of Pelecanos' selections are in the crime genre. But the other two are westerns:

First, at 8:00 PM, Robert Duvall tries to avenge the murder of his brother by the Mob in The Outfit.
Then, at 10:00 PM, Roy Scheider leands NYPD detectives in the search for a cop-killer in The Seven-Ups.
As for the westerns, at midnight, Lee Marvin plays a cowboy against the backdrop of the changing west in Monte Walsh.
The other western is also set aginst an old west way of life that's coming to a close: Ride the High Country at 2:00 AM.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Oh dear, tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day

I've stated a couple of times that I've found the syrupy, romanticized view of Ireland and Irish immigrants to the US that we see in a bunch of Hollywood movies of the studio era to be nearly retch-inducing at times, so I'm not a huge fan of the St. Patrick's Day movie lineup, which generally includes a bunch of such movies.

This year is no different, with the features being Ireland-set or Irish-American themed. But, there are also two Traveltalks shorts, and those are always worth watching. First up is one of the earliest color Traveltalks shorts James A. Fitzpatrick made: Ireland, "The Emerald Isle", at about 7:12 AM, or just after The Key, which begins at 6:00 AM and runs 71 minutes. This short dates back to 1934, and has Fitzpatrick running around the Republic of Ireland.

Later in the day, we get Roaming Through Northern Ireland. This one, from 1949, comes on at about 3:07 PM, in other words just after Rising of the Moon (1:45 PM, 81 min). I'm pretty certain I haven't seen the 1934 short before, but I think I might have seen this one. Fitzpatrick made several shorts about the UK after World War II, with perhaps the best-known of them being Looking at London, which shows a bunch of bombed-out buildings in addition to the London that survived World War II.

As always, I enjoy the look at history that the Traveltalks shorts provide, even if they presented a rose-colored view of the places Fitzpatrick was visiting.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Robert, not Mary, Stack

Robert Stack in a production still from The Mortal Storm (1940)

I think I've mentioned once or twice before that I've got a blog-stalker; that is, somebody who seems to read the blog only for the purpose of posting the odd comment about how awful the blog is or to promote some link to her site. This stalker comes from one of my other interests, that being the libertarian blog of the reason magazine, where a bunch of us like-minded people blow off steam in the comments. It gets quite bawdy at times and much of the comment sections would never have made it past Joseph Breen enforcing the Production Code. ACtually, he probably would have had a fit of apoplexy at seeing how vulgar it can get. But all this is beside the point, other than to point out that the troll who followed me here used the surname Stack as a pseudonym.

So what better than to deal with another comment from her than to post a bunch of gratuitous Robert Stack photos?

Robert Stack, this time fighting the Nazis, in a still with Carole Lombard from To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Moving ahead 20 years, we've got Robert Stack trying to help people in a doomed luxury liner, including half-naked crewman Woody Strode, in The Last Voyage

Robert Stack (on the far left) fought late-career Joan Crawford for the approval of mental hospital administrator Herbert Marshall in The Caretakers

Finally, Robert Stack got the chance to revive his career when he was cast in Airplane!; here he is with Lloyd Bridges.

Friday, March 14, 2014

That missing plane

Amazingly, the various authorities in Southeast Asia have not been able to find that Malaysian plane which went missing from radar over the weekend. Or, at least, they claim not to have been able to find it; I've heard suggestion that various militaries might have been able to track it on radar longer than civil air traffic control could, but that would involve giving up military secrets. I also tend to think that if it had crashed into the ocean, parts of it would have washed up somewhere. But none of this is really relevant to a classic movie blog. Not being able to think of much else to write about today, I found myself wondering which old movie would be best suited to what is becoming a really strang story.

If the plane crash landed somewhere on terra firma and the authorities were looking for it, perhaps the closest movie might be the John Wayne version of Island in the Sky, although in that case the plane crashed in rather a colder place than where the Malaysian Airlines plane could have gone down.

A plane that goes down in a more tropical location is Five Came Back, although I shudder to think of the passengers on the Malaysian plane being subjected to the possibility of being eaten by cannibals.

The Flight of the Phoenix, in which James Stewart and company crash-land in the Arabian desert and try to rebuild the plane, is another one that would fit in well.

With stolen passports and suggestions of terrorism, perhaps the 1970 version of Airport could fit in here, with Helen Hayes having stolen a passport instead of being a stowaway, and Van Heflin bombing the plane.

More fancifally, perhaps some guy swallowed up the plane and took it back to his secret volcano hideaway. That would certainly explain the sudden disappearance from radar and the governments' inability to find anything. ;-)

I'd humorously suggest TCM preempt part of its programming to run such a marathon, but in addition to people finding it offensive, you'd have regular TCM viewers having a conniption fit over some movie they wanted to see being preembpted, as happened with the Shirley Temple tribute on Sunday.

If you've got any god airplane gone missing movies I missed -- and I'm sure there are dozens -- feel free to add them in the comments.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Can anybody help?

Yesterday I got a comment on an old post of mine, about Gloria DeHaven:

Hi Cineast,

I am trying to contact Gloria DeHaven because she knew the New York showman
Billy Rose, and I'm researching him for a biography.

Any ideas?

Thanks very much for any help or advice you can offer.


Sadly, I don't know any of the old stars, so I'm not much help. I wouldn't even know if DeHaven is in good enough health to help this man out. As for Billy Rose, he's one of those people who might be an interesting subject, although again I don't know much about him. Other than being the inspiration for the film Billy Rose's Jumbo, which is one I've never gotten around to watching since it's always looked to me like one of those overblown late-studio era musical extravaganzas. (It's not even about Billy Rose, apparently.) By the same token, I've never warmed up to films like Gypsy for Funny Girl either.

Can anybody else help him?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Man With Two Faces

Back in April 2012, I briefly mentioned the showing of The Man With Two Faces and how I'd have to write a fuller-length post about it at some time. It's airing again tomorrow morning at 6:45 AM in honor of TCM Star of the Month Mary Astor, and is worth watching.

Astor plays Jessica, a stage actress who has been retired from the stage for a couple of years. She retired because of the difficult relatoinship she had with her controlling husband Stanley. Stanley disappeared a couple of years ago, which resulted in a nervous breakdown for Jessica. But with no word from Stanley in a couple of years, he's believed dead, allowing Jessica after a period of recovery to try to take uyp a career on the stage again. All of that takes place before the movie begins; we pick up the action at about the time Jessica is ready to go back on stage, in a play starring her brother Damon (Edward G. Robinson). Producing the play is Weston (Ricardo Cortez), who has also fallen in love Jessica along the way.

And so they produce the play, it's a big hit, and they live happily ever after. Yeah right; there's no possible way it could work out like that, at least, not without a whole bunch of complications along the way. Now, you could have comedic complications like those between Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in The Guardsman, but our movie isn't a comedy, so we get a different complication, one which you probably should be able to see coming from a mile away: Stanley (played by Louis Calhern) isn't dead. He was only presumed dead, and now he's shown up again.

It's at this point that we get to see he control Stanley had over Jessica, and that control is ludicrous. Jessica sees Stanley, and immediately starts acting like she's some sort of mind-controlled zombie, or one of the women destroying their faces in The Hypnotic Eye. I'd say it strains credulity and, if Stanley could exert this sot of control over Jessica even after all these years, why not cultivate that sort of controlling relationship over the rest of Jessica's family? I suppose, however, that Weston would still be a problem though, since Stanley had never met him before.

Whatever the case, all of the people who love Jessica are extremely distressed by Stanley's return, and wonder what to do about it. And then, like in one of those bad TV sitcoms, somebody gets an idea, we don't hear about the idea, and we cut to a scene of the idea being put in motion. A wealthy Frenchman named Chautard shows up with a business proposition for Stanley. Stanley wants control over Jessica, but also wants money, and so takes up Chautard on his offer to meet. It turns out not to be a proposition for money, but a proposition to be a murder victim: Chautard drugs and stabs Stanley in a hotel room, fleeing the scene. Will Chautard get away with it? Will we discovre Chautard's relationship to Stanley and Jessica?

To be honest, The Man With Two Faces is a movie with a plot that probably ought to have people screaming at the screen for making no sense and having no grounding in any sort of reality. Those are qualities that are less of a problem for comedies, scifi, or musicals, but in a dramatic mystery, there's something about it that should bring the movie crashing down around a fatal flaw. And yet, that doesn't happen with The Man With Two Faces. I think it's down to the acting of the main characters, especially Edward G. Robinson, who gets a juicy role here, and runs with it for all it's worth. Robinson singlehandedly takes dumb material and makes a film worth watching. I wouldn't call this as good as a lot of Robinson's other movies, but it's entertaining and certainly deserves a viewing.

The Man With Two Faces has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection.

Apologies on William Powell Day

On Monday, I mentioned that TCM was putting the spotlight on William Powell today even though it's not his birthday. I also suggested that there was little to no Myrna Loy. Well, there is one movie the two of them made together, that being I Love You Again, which is airing at 3:00 PM.

The movie I find odd, though, is The Girl Who Had Everything, which concludes the day's proceedings at 6:45 PM. This is the sort of shorter B movie that MGM was making in he early 1950s to pay for those Technicolor musicals which were MGM's prestige pictures. And yet, this one has a cast far above B movie status. True, Powell was getting old, but the female lead is Elizabeth Taylor. She wasn't just the big child star; she had already done important adult roles like Conspirator at MGM and, even more importantly, A Place in the Sun over at Paramount which really showed off her acting chops And the studio was probably trying to push Fernando Lamas at the time, so why stick him in a little movie like this? Oh, and to top off things, it's also a remake of A Free Soul, with Powell playing the Lionel Barrymore character, Taylor taking Norma Shearer's role, Lamas in the Clark Gable spot, and Gig Young appropriately cast as the drip originally played by Leslie Howard. Howard and Gable were much better actors than Young and Lamas, however.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Carson on TCM again

I'm not certain why, but it looks as though TCM's daily schedule page has the lineup for Carson on TCM wrong. Well, I'm fairly confident that it's the daily schedule that has things wrong; what I don't understand is why it would be so different from the monthly schedule since I have no reason to believe there are going to be any preemptions. This time, the online daily schedule is only listing five interviews, with the first feature, Designing Woman, to begin at 9:15 PM. Since the rest of the prime-time lineup is devoted to Lauren Bacall, it's logical to assume that she's going last as the monthly schedule says, and with it beginning at 9:15 PM and the interviews plus Conan O'Brian's intro running about 12 minutes each, it's also a safe assumption that there are going to be six of them again. Oh, and as we learned last week, it was the monthly schedule that had things right. So, without further ado, tonight's Carson on TCM lineup seems to be:

Bob Hope from October 1978; I'm not certain if he's promoting anything;
Bing Crosby from 1976; I doubt he's promoting a movie either, but it's logical to pair him up with Bob Hope;
Tony Randall from 1974; I wonder if there are any usable interviews with Jack Klugman;
Truman Capote from 1972; this is the one that to me seems the most intriguing;
Gregory Peck from July 1976; I'd guess this came out around the same time as The Omen; and
Lauren Bacall from 1980.

It's also logical to have Gregory Peck just before Bacall, since the two were costars in Designing Woman. That would also go a ways to explain why TCM ran the Peck piece on Bacall instead of the more recent Star of the Month pieve, especially since Peck discusses the shooting of Designing Woman what with Bacall's husband Humphrey Bogart being terminally ill during the shooting.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Briefs for March 10, 2014

TCM's daytime lineup for today includes several films starring Ruth Roman. This, even though her birthday isn't until November. It's not uncommon for TCM to spend an evening in prime time honoring somebody whose birthday it isn't, and who usually doesn't get much attention; this is especially true for people who work behind the camera. In looking up today's birthday's, I see TCM could have tried to get enough films to honor My Man Godfrey director Gregory La Cava (1892); actor Barry Fitzgerald (1888), or perhaps Sam Jaffe from The Asphalt Jungle (1891). Although, at least no Barry Fitzgerald means no Going My Way.

The bigger reason I mention Ruth Roman's non-birthday tribute is because there are actually two others coming up. William Powell is getting several movies on Wednesday, even though his birthday is in July. This tribute includes many of his lesser-known movies, with little to no Myrna Loy. Not that I have anything against Myrna Loy, but it's nice to see some movies that don't show up quite so often. Then, on Friday, Gina Lollobrigida, also a July birthday, is getting a daytime of her films.

TCM was running the "Star of the Month" piece Gregory Peck did on Lauren Bacall quite a bit over the past few days, using it as a promo for Dark Passage. The interesting thing is, Lauren Bacall was star ot the month more recently, in September 2012. (Gregory Peck, having died in 2003 as you might remember if you saw the Mary Badham piece which also ran over the weekend to promo Twelve O'Clock High, couldn't possibly have narrated a pice from 2012. To be fair, the 2012 featurette was voiced by Kelsey Grammer, who doesn't have quite the star power that Gregory Peck does. It does make me wonder, though, whehtr TCM is going to keep trotting out the piece John Frankenheimer did on Burt Lancaster, even though the more recognizable Shirley Jones did a more recent Star of the Month piece for Lancaster.

For those who like the shorts, there's a Traveltalks short on Washington state just before Sleepless in Seattle comes on at 8:00 as part of a night as Bob's Picks. (In case you were wondering why tonight's line-up seemed to have little in common, that would explain it.) The TCM schedule says it's coming on at 7:49 PM, although there are over 20 minutes between the end of The Far Country (6:00 PM, 97 min), and Sleepless in Seattle. I don't think I've seen this particular Traveltalks short before, so I can't say much about it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

TCM's Shirley Temple Tribute

Shirley Temple in The Little Princess, which is on tonight at 9:30 PM

Shirley Temple died back in February, and with 31 Days of Oscar there was no way for TCM to program a tribute until sometime this month, and that tribute comes starting later this afternoon and overnight in the form of eight movies:

Heidi at 4:30 PM;
Stowaway at 6:15 PM;
Bright Eyes, in which Temple sings "On the Good Ship Lollipop", at 8:00 PM;
The Little Princess, mentioned above, at 9:30 PM;
I'll Be Seeing You, in which Temple plays a supporting role behind Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten, at 11:15 PM;
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, in which Temple develops a crush on Cary Grant, at 12:45 PM;
A Kiss for Corliss at 2:30 AM; and
The Hagen Girl at 4:15 AM.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Middle of the Night

The Essentials returns tonight, with Drew Barrymore sitting down with Robert Osborne for a third season of discussing movies that are apparently considered "essential" for a well-rounded film fan to have seen. Tonight's first essential is Marty at 8:00 PM, which leads off half a night of movies written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Delbert Mann. The second of them is Middle of the Night, at 9:$5 PM.

Fredric March stars as Jerry Kingsley, a widower who works in New York's garment industry by day, and goes home to a lovely apartment with his spinster sister Evelyn (Edith Meiser) by night. He's also got an adult daughter Marilyn (Lee Grant), but she's got a life of her own, married to Jack (Martin Balsom) with a kid on the way. Jerry had a good life, with the emphasis on had; now, he's a bit of a lonely old man.

Of course, you know that's going to change. Enter Betty Preisser (Kim Novak). She's a secretary working in the receiving office in the dingy ground level of the clothier that Kingsley and his business partner run. She's also a divorcée, having left the instability of her musician husband George (Lee Philips) and living with her mother, Torchy Blane. Well, actually, it's not Torchy Blane; it's Glenda Farrel playing a decidedly olded-up and less energetic woman than Torchy ever was. Now, you'd think that this nice woman would be just right for Jerry, but that's not what's going to happen. Betty gets sick and has to leave early, and when Jerry stops by her place to see how she's doing, the two feel a spark between them.

Or at least, they think they feel a spark between them. They're both lonely souls in need of a companion, so perhaps they might just be loving the one they're with rather than being with the one they'd truly love. They also recognize that other people are going to have uncomfortable questions about this new relationship. This was the 1950s, though, so the questions have nothing to do with a boss dating the secretary and any "sexual harassment" issues that might bring up. Instead, once everybody finds out about the relationship, the objections are that Jerry is too old for Betty, and besides, they're really of mismatched backgrounds. They need to find partners more compatible for themselves.

And so, everybody talks at each other about the relationship, or more like talking past each other, which is one of the places that for me the movie really starts to lose steam. The whole time I was watching the movie I felt like the two protagonists would be better off with companionship than love, so I didn't care too much about their relationship. I also couldn't bring myself to care that much about everybody around Jerry and Betty, who to me generally wound up seeming rather nondescript. It's a bit of a shame, since the acting by everybody is quite competent, and the production design is a very nice look at New York City as it was in the late 1950s. Ultimately, if I were going to recommend one of Chayefsky's movies from this period, I'd suggest Marty or The Catered Affair.

But, I'm blogging about Middle of the Night in part because I'm sure that there are other people who are going to like it despite my mixed review. That, and the fact that it seems to be out of print on DVD.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Night Spotlight returns

Another of TCM's features that goes on hiatus for the month of February and 31 Days of Oscar is the Friday Night Spotlight. It comes back tonight now that 31 Days of Oscar. This month's theme is food in the movies, or at least movies with famous food scenes. The presenter is celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who was also the TCM Guest Programmer back in April 2012.

I'll be interested to see how Bourdain does. He's quite a bit more familiar with being in front of the camera, compared to some of the other folks who have hosted the Friday Night Spotlight, so he should probably come across as more polished than some of the presenters, who probably did know about the films but looked stiff in talking about them. To be fair, I did live radio back in college, and it's hard to be up all the time when you're reading copy. Plus, it looks like they're all standing in front of a green screen with that backdrop added in, and that has to make it tough, too. I also think Bourdain showed a genuine passion for movies when he was Guest Programmer, based not only on his selections, but on his talking about sharing movies wiht his staffers.

Anyhow, this first Friday night in March sees five films, although I'm not certain whether he'll be discussing all five, or just the first four:

First up, at 8:00 PM, is Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, a wonderful film about an aging chef losing his ability to taste, and his three adult daughters.
Next, at 10:15 PM, is Mostly Martha, a film I don't know much about, so I can't really comment on it.
Tom Jones, at 12:15 AM, has one famous gluttony scene, which is presumably what got it included in the month's spotlight.
Women in Love at 2:30 AM is another of those films I haven't actually seen, amazingly enough.
Finally, at 5:00 AM, is Dinner at Eight, with all the stars in the MGM firmament giving great performances as they make their way to the dinner Billie Burke is coordinating.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Macomber Affair

I'm not particularly a fan of the stories of Ernest Hemingway. However, a movie that I found worth watching even though it was based upon one of Hemingway's short stories is The Macomber Affair. It's on TCM again tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM, so you have a chance to see it and judge for yourself.

Gregory Peck plays Robert Wilson, a safari guide in British Kenya back in the days when international travel was more difficult and to go on a safari like this would be an adventure reserved for the wealthy, or at least people with pretentions of wealth. At the beginning of the movie, Wilson is returning to Nairobi from a safari with two of those people in the latter category, Mr. and Mrs. Macomber. The only thing is, Mr. Macomber is really quite dead, having been shot in the back by his wife. Clearly it's a case of murder, or is it? Wilson has to file a report on the case, and under the cause of death, he wants to call it an accident....

As you can probably guess, much of the rest of the movie is told in flashback, as we have to see for ourselves what led to Mr. Macomber's death and whether or not it really was an accident. (I suppose Hemingway could have used the device of a trial, as in The Story on Page One.) Several days earlier in Nairobi, Wilson was at the bar in one of those hotels catering to the expat crowd, where he's approached by Francis Macomber (Robert Preston). Francis wants a guide to take him and his wife Margo (Joan Bennett) on a safari. Wilson doesn't like the idea of a woman going on safari, but it's good money. Besides, Francis has what he thinks is a good reason for wanting his wife along: their marriage has hit the skids, and he's trying to patch it up. She doesn't think he's enough of a man, and a safari is just the thing to show that yes, he is a real man.

So, everybody sets off for the savannah where they are, with any luck, going to find some big game and shoot it dead. The Macombers get one tent with Wilson in another; this gives a fortuitous chance for the screenwriters to insert some more dramatic tension of the Macombers by themselves, so we can see just how bad their relationship is. And of course it's about to get much worse. The next day everybody goes out hunting for lion, with Margo going in the car with them but staying there rather than do any tracking. Francis shoots but only wounds a lion, and when the time comes to do the actual killing, the lion tries to pounce with its last energy, causing Francis to flinch. Oh, I guess he's not a "real" man, at least not by Hemingway's definition of what a real man ought to be. This only causes Margo to lose more respect for him. But we knew that was happening already, since there are obvious signs that she's falling in love with Wilson -- and the feeling might be mutual.

Fast forward to the fateful shooting. This time, the party is out hunting buffalo, with Margo still ehind in the car. The hunt doesn't go quite right, with Francis and Wilson between Margo and a wounded buffalo that charges the two men. She shoots, and hits Francis. Accident or murder? Fast forward again, out of the flashback, to an inquest to determine whether or not it was an accident.

As I said at the beginning, I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work, because the way he presents mascuilinity in his work gives the impression that he was some sort of neurotic playing out his own issues in his writing, as well as the impression that he was some sort of utter jerk in real life. This adaptation of his story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", however, worth watching. Gregory Peck was always quite good at playing morally ambiguous characters, and also looks like he could fit the part of a safari guide. Preston is a bit of a cipher, although I think that fits what his character is supposed to be. Joan Bennett does well in showing why a safari guide might fall for her even though it's against his better judgement. It's not the world's greatest movie, but it's ceratinly good enough.

The Macomber Affair doesn't seem to be avaiable on DVD, even at Amazon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Once Upon a Screen

TCM's Star of the Month for March 2014 is Mary Astor. Her movies are running every Wednesday night in prime time, running into the Thursday morning schedule, that being the part of Thursday that's listed on the TCM schedule as Thursday, and not just the overnight hours leading up to 6:00 AM Thursday. Perhaps Astor's most famous role is as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon, although that isn't airing until next Wednesday at 8:00 PM. Astor won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Great Lie, which is on tonight, at 10:00 PM. I stand by my assertions that I made six years ago that the plot contrivances are nuts, and the men of today are probably not going to appreciate the movie. I'm not certain about the quality of the DVD, as the Amazon copies are several years old, while the TCM shop only offers a "repackaged" box set. But at least it's available

But that's not really why I'm posting. I was looking for some photos of Astor as O'Shaughnessy to illustrate a post on her being Star of the Month, and one interesting-looking photo led to the link for The Maltese Falcon above. As you will have noticed, it's to a blog called Once Upon a Screen. Now, normally my thinking is not to take other people's bandwidth by hotlinking to the photos on their blog; that is, having the image show up here but with the source in the HTML IMG tag being back to the other site. If a blog hasn't been updated in a long time, as is often the case, I'll save the photo to disk, repost it to my Photobucket account, and then have the IMG tag link to that. (I did find one smaller photo leading to a blog where the most recent post was from two years ago stating that the author of the blog had died. No wonder it hasn't been updated.) I feel slightly bad about copying other people's uploaded images, but then we're all copying from the original movies.

In this case, the blog seems to be updated two or three times a week, so I decided that it would be better to forgo a traditional post on Mary Astor being the Star of the Month and instead finally add another blog to my blogroll. I think Aurora's post on The Maltese Falcon is better than anything I would have written, anyway.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Anna Lucasta (1958)

Carson on TCM which premiered last July, is resuming again on TCM tonight, with a whole new (to TCM; Johnny Carson isn't doing any new interviews last I checked) set of interviews, and will be running new ones every Tuesday night this month. I'm not certain of the order of the interviews since the printable monthly schedule has a different order than TCM's daily online schedule. I'd guess that the 1972 interview with Sammy Davis, Jr. is going to be the last one, since the rest of the night's lineup is devoted to movies with him in the lineup. These include the very interesting Anna Lucasta, which is on at 11:30 PM.

Anna Lucasta is played by Eartha Kitt, and we see her at the beginning of the movie in one of those portside dive bars that serve sailors both booze and the possiblity of sex if they want to buy it; this particular place, being in San Diego, serves the men coming and going from the US Navy base nearby. Anna is working there, having left her familiy back in Los Angeles; however, she's also got one particular sailor Danny (that's Sammy Davis, Jr.) interested in her and wanting to settle down with her and provide her a better life after his navy hitch is up.

Back to that family in Los Angeles. It's one of those multi-generational families, with the patriarch Joe (Rex Ingram) dealing in junk, his wife Theresa (Georgia Burke), and their two adult children together with their spouses. It's not quite clear whether Anna was the black sheep and had to leave, or whether she left for whatever reason and then started working in the sex trade. Either way, Dad knows what Anna does and doesn't like it, while Mom would like the chance for a reconciliation with her daughter. All of those conflicts are about to come to the fore, although you could probably figure that out since if it didn't happen, there wouldn't be much of a movie.

Those conflicts come in the form of a letter from an old frend of Joe's back east. The guy is sending his son Rudolph to California with several thousand dollars, in the hope that he'll be able to find a good wife to bring back to the family farm: does Joe know anybody like that? Well, Joe doesn't, but everybody else does, and that person is Anna. For Mom, having Anna get married to the guy would mean a chance to et out of the sex trade and have a better, more stable life. Everybody else, though, sees the money. Except for Joe, who still won't have it. Still, the rest of the family convinces Joe to go down to San Diego and fetch Anna to tell her of the offer.

If you thought there was conflict before, there's about to be a whole lot more. Anna discovers that Danny wants to live with her but not necessarily marry her. Rudolph states that although he's looking for a wife, it's not to take back to the farm; instead, he's gotten a job as an instructor at one of the local colleges. And Joe still doesn't like his daughter, and seems to like her even less, to the point that he's willing to sabotage her chances of happiness.

Anna Lucasta is an interesting story, although at the times it goes over the top. I think that's more down to the script than the acting though. The script plays out like something you'd think was written by Tennessee Williams, although in fact it was written by screenwriter Philip Yordan, originally as a stage play. The story had been made into a movie ten years earlier with an all-white cast, so any thoughts that the script here deals with any stereotyping of the black characters probably ought to be disregarded. As for the acting, everybody is engaging and compelling, if not quite great. Sammy Davis isn't all that believable as a sailor, but he doesn't do anything to sink the movie. Eartha Kitt is a vamp, and I wonder how much she played like this all the time; I almost expected her to break out hissing like the Catwoman at some point. Rex Ingram is a force every time he's on screen, and the rest of the cast I found not particularly memorable, but competent. It's not the greatest movie you'll ever see, but I found myself more interested in what happened to these characters than with a lot of other movies.

Anna Lucasta did get a DVD release several years ago, but it seems to be out of print.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Check the schedule carefully

A couple of days ago, I was fast-forwarding on my satellite box guide through he TCM and FXM schedules. I noticed that in today's lineup of nominees for the Best Picture of 1935, the final selection, Lives of a Bengal Lnacer, was set to begin at 6:10 PM. That can't be quite right, I thought, since feature films on TCM begin on a quarter-hour. Besides, sometimes the box guide gets things wrong, as I've mentioned a few times in the past.

So I opened up the print copy of the March schedule that I downloaded at the end of February, and sure enough, it too is claiming that Lives of a Bengal Lancer will be starting at 6:10 PM. It's following A Midsummer Night's Dream, which comes on at 3:45 PM and runs 143 minutes, which should have it end around 6:08 PM. Lives of a Bengal Lancer runs 109 minutes, so it would need to start at 6:10 PM if the next feature were to begin at 8:00 PM as the prime time features do.

This is the first time I can think of that TCM has scheduled two features like this, so as to have one of them not start on the quarter-hour. Shorts following features have always been scheduled irregularly, and when TCM schedules shorts as part of some programming block -- as with the Carson on TCM segments that are going to be showing up on TCM again in prime time this month -- it's sometimes been the case that the TCM schedule lists things as beginning at odd times, already on the monthly schedule. There are also times that they've simply put a block of shorts to play in one 30- or 60- minute slot (or perhaps longer), and you have to be careful to figure out exactly what short is airing at what time.

But the upshot is that I'd bet Lives of a Bengal Lancer really is beginning at 6:10 PM and that it's not a type or glitch in your set-top box.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Apparently I haven't blogged about Alice Adams before

Katharine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray in Alice Adams

A search of the blog claims I haven't done a post on Alice Adams before. It's airing tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM on TCM as part of their look at all of the Best Picture nominees from 1935. So now I think would be a good chance to rectify this oversight and do a full-length post on the movie.

Katharine Hepburn stars as Alice Adams, a young woman in one of those small cities in Anywhere USA that seem to be a staple of Hollywood in the years before World War II. She's from the lower middle class, maybe slightly better off than Joan Crawford's character at the beginning of Possessed, as we see her at the beginning wishing that she could shop at the fine dress store to get a dress for the big society party. Her parents can't help her out because Dad's been ill, and hasn't made that much at his job anyhow, since he didn't have much ambition. At least, not the sort of ambition Alice has. Alice goes to the party with her brother Walter (Frank Albertson), and it's at the party that Alice meets Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray). Arthur is there because the folks giving the party, the Palmers, expect that their daughter Mildred (Evelyn Venable) to get engaged to him.

But things don't quite work out that way, or at least, we're given reason to think they're not going to. Arthur sees Alice, and she's just so charming that he can't help but be taken with her. Alice, for her part, sees her big chance to move up in life. But she's convinced that Arthur wouldn't want her if he knew the real truth about her and her family, which is that they're decidedly common. Soon enough, of course, Arthur is going to want to meet the family, which poses a dilemma for Alice. She comes up with the brilliant plan of having a fancier dinner for Arthur, to make it look as though the family is more well-to-do, even though nobody else in the family wants to have that sort of dinner.

Sure enough, the dinner goes badly. Back in those days there must have been no way that relationships with such a class difference could end positively, at least if you were thinking like Hollywood did. Which is why Possessed becomes more interesting when we find that the boy from Crawford's home town has become successful. Even though the plot of Alice Adams could easily be called trite, the movie is benefited greatly by having a cast that performs so well. I'm not a big fan of Katharine Hepburn, but she does a fine job here. I do kind of wonder how much she was playing herself, or at least the same character type she played in so many movies, that of the self-centered blankety-blank who thinks the world ought to be revolving around her. There's some of that character type here, and in Stage Door and Bringing Up Baby as well, among other of her films. MacMurray is fine, although he isn't given enough to do. Fred Stone is very good too as father Virgil Adams, a man who seems OK with a comfortable enough life, even if the women around him wish he had had more ambition.

Alice Adams did get a DVD release a decade or so ago, but it's out of print, since Amazon claims there's only one ridiculously expensive copy available. So you'll have to watch or record tomorrow's TCM airing.

Alain Resnais, 1922-2014

French director Alain Resnais died on Saturday aged 91. I have to admit that Resnais is one of those directors whose name I probably ought to know better, as I probably should have seen one or another of his filma along the way.

Of course, I may in fact have seen one. Resnais directed Night and Fog, a short documentary about the Holocaust which was one of the points of discussion in an introductory religion class I took my Freshman year of college. Since it's only a half-hour long and not a feature, we would have had time to watch the whole thing in one class, but I don't recall offhand whether or not we did.

I do know, however, that I haven't seen Hiroshima, mon amour or Last Year at Marienbad, two of his early features that are the sort of title I hear people who are big fans of French cinema bring up. I probably should have seen one or the other of them at some point, but there you are.

The upshot is I'm really not the person to be writing a post about Resnais, at least not a competent post about him. So I apologize for the brief nature of this particular obituary post, as compared to, say, the one I wrote on Shirley Temple.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lionel Atwill, 1885-1946

Lionel Atwill in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Today marks the birth anniversary of Lionel Atwill, an actor who appeared in small parts in several famous movies, but generally got to be the star only in horror/mystery movies. I think his best starring role might be as Ivan Igor, the man making the uncannily lifelike wax statues, in Mystery of the Wax Museum. Atwill also played the title character in another two-strip Technicolor horror film from the same period, Doctor X. (Atwill is not in the "sequel", The Return of Doctor X.)

Atwill's supporting roles in prestige movies include Captain Blood in 1935; a count in The Great Waltz in 1938; De Rochefort in Fox's more comic version of The Three Musketeers in 1939; and To Be or Not to Be in 1942.