Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bob Hoskins, 1942-2014

Bob Hoskins, with animated Jessica Rabbit, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Bob Hoskins, who had a long and varied career from perforing Shakespeare on stage to gangsters on film, has died at the age of 71. I'm not certain which of Hoskins' roles would be considered his best remembered, although one good guess would be Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which had Hoskins playing a private detective in a Hollywood that was an homage to 1940s noir, opposite a bunch of animated characters. Critical acclaim came in the form of an Oscar nomination for playing an ex-con who gets a job as chauffeur to a call girl in Mona Lisa, a movie that I have to admit I haven't seen before.

As evidence of how broad a set of roles Hoskins played, his filmography includes 1985's dystopian classic Brazil; a small role in the 2004 period movie Vanity Fair; the Peter Pan disaster Hook; and Mario in the video-game themed movie Super Mario Bros. He also played himself in the film Spice World; it's hard to believe it's been 17 years since the phenomenon that was the Spice Girls.

Hoskins retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Remakes vs. originals

Back on Sunday, TCM ran a double bill of Too Many Husbands, followed by My Favorite Wife. Neither of them was a remake of the other; it's more that both have pretty much the same story. A person loses their spouse in a shipwreck, and some years later remaries, only for the missing spouse who was legally declared dead to show up quite alive. Complications ensue. It wouldn't be the first such situation in Hollywood; Warner Bros. supposedly rushed Union Depot into production after learning that Grand Hotel was going to be an all-star movie so that Warner Bros. could have their own all-star movie. I'm not sure if I believe that story, which I heard in one of Robert Osborne's presentations, though, as Union Depot was released three months before Grand Hotel. Those two, however, aren't quite as close as Too Many Husbands and My Favorite Wife. All they have in common is a place where a lot of people gather, and a day in the lives of the people gathered there.

The real reason I mention all that, though, is that TCM is showing both an original and its remake in today's lineup, although not back-to-back. Nancy Goes to Rio is on at 3:15 PM, with the original, It's a Date, showing up at 2:15 AM. Boht have the plot of a young woman singing and trying to get a part in a big show, only for it to turn out that her mother is trying out for the same part. And, to make matters worse, they both wind up being pursued by the same man. In the original, the daughter is played by Deanna Durbin; the mother by Kay Francis; and the love interest by Walter Pidgeon. Frankly, I don't know if I like the idea of Walter Pidgeon going after Deanna Durbin, but there you are. The remake has daughter Jane Powell; mother Ann Sothern; and love interest Barry Sullivan, an actor you might best remember from the first section of The Bad and The Beautiful. Sullivan also shows up today in Grounds for Marriage at 1:30 PM, and Her Twelve Men at 6:15 PM.

In and among these movies are several Traveltalks shorts: Beautiful Brazil between Grounds for Marriage and Nancy Goes to Rio; a trip to Singapore and Jahore just after the Bette Davis version of The Letter, or about 9:38 PM; and a display of the Mexican police forces at about 11:50 PM, or just after Man Hunt.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Putting Faces to Names

First, I should probbly apologize for not having done a post on The Baron of Arizona, which is airing this morning as part of a day of films directed by Sam Fuller. Thankfully, it's on DVD, as part of a box set of his first three movies. There's an increasing number of movies I saw on TCM the last time they showed up, and probably ought to get around to doing reviews on them. Life however is, if not a mess, energy-sapping at times, and this is one of those times, which is why there haven't been quite so many posts actually about individual movies, and why the overall quality of posts has been lower. As always, though, I feel it's a good habit to write something every day, which is why posts like this show up from time to time.

So today's post will be about another blog I came across recently. When I was doing the birthday post on Elisabeth Risdon a few days back, a Google image search led me to, among other places, a blog called Forgotten Actors. It seems to be updated on weekdays, with a picture or two of some actor whose name you might see a good ways down the credits, but whose role you might not recognize. One of the things I like about some of those Warner Bros. movies from the 1930s is that in between the traditional opening credits and the action, there will be a montage of cast members with their names and the names of the characters they're playing. It's something that makes it much easier to look for some of the upper tier of 1930s character actors, like a Hobart Cavanaugh or a Donald Meek. Other movies had a screen in between showing just a list of the first ten or so cast members and which characters they played, which is also nice, but not quite as good, of course. Forgotten Actors gives us photos of actors further down the list, which is also a nice thing to have.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Robert Ryan vs. Robert Mitchum

TCM is showing The Racket overnight tonight at 12:15 AM as part of a night of Robert Mitchum movies. Now, I recommended The Racket a month ago, but that was the 1928 silent version. This is a remake, in which Robert Mitchum plays the McQuigg role and Robert Ryan takes on the Louis Wolheim role, renamed to a less ethnic Nick Scanlon. The Racket wasn't even the first time that Mitchum and Ryan had appeared together; four years earlier the two had starred together in Crossfire, which also had Mitchum playing the good guy and Ryan playing the bad guy.

I would tend to think that Ryan got cast in the bad-guy role in part because he didn't have the looks that Robert Mitchum had. Crossfire was early in his career. He had been in several smaller roles before and during the war, but there was a three-year gap before Ryan's career really took off in 1947. However, Ryan proved to be quite good at playing unreservedly bad guys, while Mitchum was playing a lot more characters who were supposed to be sympathetic, but had really screwed up their lives, from Out of the Past on. Ryan's bad-guy roles include such excellent movies as Bad Day at Black Rock, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Billy Budd.

But I wonder which movie would contain Ryan's most sympathetic, this is obviously a good guy role, where it's not even a case of making some really stupid decisions like the aforementioned Mitchum's character in Out of the Past. One good suggestion would be The Set-Up, even if by design the movie doesn't give us too much background on any of the characters. There's also Inferno, which still doesn't seem to be on DVD. Even in Inferno, though, he's not the easiest person to be around at the beginning.

Or perhaps it was Ryan's portrayal of John the Baptist in King of Kings. I don't think that character is supposed to be a bad guy.

What's your favorite Robert Ryan good-guy performance?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Wizard of Baghdad

Two months ago, I blogged about the movie The Adentures of Hajji Baba. It aired again this morning on FXM/FMC as part of a double feature with The Wizard of Baghdad. The two are going to be on again tomorrow in a double feature, at 6:00 AM and 7:40 AM respectively. The Wizard of Baghdad is much the inferior movie, but since I haven't blogged about it before, this is my chance to explain why it's so lousy.

Dick Shawn plays Ali Mahmud, a genie who has been using his powers for, if not malicious ends, for thoroughly incompetent ends. Ali spends more time drinking and cavorting with women then he does practicing his magic for good as his boss Asmodeus would have him do. So Asmodeus is going to give Ali one more mission and, if he can't do that, he's going to be made a mortal. That mission is to make certain the child prince Husan and child princess Yasmin get married when they grow up, which according to the bood of fate they're supposed to do. The current caliph of Baghdad has no male heirs, and his advisors are begging him to pick an heir to the throne. One of his advisors has produced the daughter Yasmin, and another advisor has the son Husan and, since the two like each other, they would be a good match, ruling over Baghdad together. Things get complicated, though, when the Egyptians invade, and Sultan Julnar (John Van Dreelen) has the caliph killed. He never did name an heir, and Julnar would be more than willing to take Yasmin for a wife when she reaches the age of majority. Husan and his family hvae barely escaped the Egyptians, and are out wandering the desert somewhere.

Fast forward several years. Yasmin is now an adult (played by Diane Baker) and living in the palace as a kept woman. Ali Mahmud shows up, but immediately begins to cavort with women and drink wine, so Asmodeus takes away his powers, leaving him with naught but a talking horse whose conversation only he can hear. Ali makes his way into the palace as a sorcerer's apprentice, even helping Yasmin's father out of prison. He makes it to the desert and even finds Husan, and the two return to Baghdad, although stupid Ali doesn't realize that this is Husan (to be fair, Husan can't go by that name, and Ali doesn't have his magical powers). Husan thinks Yasmin is evil, because the Sultan has tricked her into doing bad things, and Yasmin doesn't recognize Husan, who has gotten himself made her bodyguard. Ali thinks the captain of the bodyguards is a threat to Yasmin's marrying Husan, and plots to have the guy killed, not knowing who he really is....

At this point the plot really goes downhill, because Ali goes to Asmodeus and begs for a deus ex machina ending. I mean, that's pretty much exactly what he does: he's failed at uniting Yasmin and Husan, but since the book of fate says they're supposed to end up together, Asmodeus is just supposed to let Ali wave his magic wand, or the genie equivalent, and right all the wrongs. Yes, the ending is that dumb. The movie up to that point was not very good. DIck Shawn was given a bunch of irritating and not terribly funny dialog; the plot is a bit difficult to follow at times; and the special effects are terrible. To make things worse, FXM/FMC ran a pan-and-scan print. It's lousy on oh-so-many levels. But if you don't believe me, see for yourself.

The lousiness of The Wizard of Baghdad is probably a big part of the reason why it's not out on DVD.

April 27, 2014 briefs

I've briefly mentioned the Traveltalks short Looking at London, but it's coming up again on TCM today a little after 6:00 PM, or just after The Way We Were (4:00 PM, 118 min plus an intro/outro from Ben Mankiewicz). James FitzPatrick went back to Europe not long after the end of World War II, and one of his stopping points was London, where he filmed some of the famous sights, as well as some of the sites that didn't quite survive the war. It's the look at those bombed-out sites which really make this short worth watching even more than many of the other Traveltalks entries. Granted, I have a soft spot in my old-movie viewing heart for the Traveltalks shorts as compared to some of the other series, but this one is worthwhile even compared to many of the other entries.

I don't think I've ever seen Angora Love before. It's airing a little after 1:30 AM, or just after The Viking to round out Silent Sunday Nights. This is listed as the last silent short Laurel and Hardy made for Hal Roach, and deals with the duo winding up with a goat in their apartment, which as you can imagine causes all sorts of problems for them.

I can't believe it's been 20 months since I blogged about Guilty Hands. I would have thought it was last summer, not the summer of 2012, that I did a post on the movie. How time flies. Anyhow, it's showing up again tomorrow at 11:15 AM on TCM as part of a morning and afternoon of movies showing John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, or both of them. I don't believe Ethel shows up at all. Guilty Hands, with Lionel Barrymore and Kay Francis, is worth one watch if you didn't see it the last time I mentioned it, but it's not particularly great.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Elisabeth Risdon, 1887-1958

Elisabeth Risdon as Aunt Della in one of the Mexican Spitfire movies

Today marks the birth anniversary of character actress Elisabeth Risdon, who was born on this day in 1887. Risdon started off in British silent movies in the mid-1910s, before going to the stage, where she worked on stage for over 15 years before getting another chance to do movies, this time in Hollywood. Now, though, she was pushing 50, so she got a lot of character roles, as mothers or aunts or what-have-you. One of those was Aunt Della Lindsay in the "Mexican Spitfire" movies, which are currently showing up on TCM at 10:30 AM on Saturdays for a couple more weeks at least; I haven't been paying attention to how many installments are left. But you can certainly catch her this morning at 10:30 AM in Mexican Spitfire at Sea

As for her more memorable roles, one of the bigger roles is as one of Irene Dunne's prudish aunts in Theodora Goes Wild, which if a blog search is correct is the only time I've mentioned her. But she showed up, without my mentioning her, in movies such as Make Way For Tomorrow or Girls on Probation

One small role where it might be easier to recognize her is in High Sierra; there she plays the wife of the character played by Henry Travers, whom you can't miss since he was Clarence the Angel in It's a Wonderful Life and his voice is unmistakeable.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Briefs for April 25, 2014

I wonder who's got the rights to True Grit. I thought I mentioned it someplace during one of my mentions of John Wayne as this month's TCM Star of the Month, but True Grit wasn't included in the salute, which is odd since it's Wayne's Oscar-winning role, and it's not a bad movie. Either Scott Eyman had a hand in programming the prime time themes that didn't include True Grit or, more likely, TCM weren't able to get the rights. Even if the various prime time themes included other Wayne movies, I'd think the TCM programmers would want to include True Grit during the daytime.

I haven't seen The Greatest Story Ever Told (overnight, or very early tomorrow morning, at 4:45 AM, depending on your point of view or time zone), so I don't know exactly how small John Wayne's role, listed in the IMDb page as "Centurion at crucifixion" is. And no, I don't have any desire to sit through a three-and-a-half hour movie about the life of a Swedish Jesus. I should also apologize for missing Max von Sydow's 85th birthday earlier in the month, although I did do a birthday post for von Sydow back in 2008.

IMDb might be worse than TCM in terms of the interface with whatever TV schedule data they use. To be fair to IMDb, they're not a TV channel or a listings site, so having the info on when a movie is coming up on TV should really be seen as a bonus. But I found it slightly humorous when looking up Max von Sydow on IMDb this morning that it's listing von Sydow as coming up in the movie Judge Dredd, at 9:00 AM on April 24. I only use the IMDb schedule when I'm too lazy to open up my copy of the TCM monthly schedule, though.

As for the shorts, there's a "making of" piece on Westworld a little after 12:30 AM, or following McClintock! (10:15 PM, 127 minutes plus an intro/outro from Scott Eyman). I presume I've seen this one, since I tend to enjoy the behind the scenes or making of pieces when they show up on TCM between movies, but I honestly can't remember.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book him, Duke-o

As part of TCM's salute to Star of the Month John Wayne, they're showing the oft-panned Big Jim McLain, tomorrow afternoon (April 25) at 3:45 PM. Although it has a critical reputation as a terrible film, it's one you ought to watch once and judge for yourself.

Unsurprisingly, it's John Wayne who plays Jim McLain, who at the start of the movie is working in Washington DC as a lawyer for the House Un-American Activities Committee. Those evil Communists are all asserting their right under the Fifth Amendment not to answer questions on the grounds that the answers may incriminate themselves, which naturally infuriates the oh-so-totally virtuous folks working for HUAC. (A Man For All Seasons hadn't been written yet, so nobody could have given them Thomas More's lines to William Roper about giving the Devil the benefit of the law.) Ah, but there are filthy Commies everywhere, such as in Hawaii where the scuttlebutt is that they're trying to take over the shipping unions, as opposed to the mob that took them over in On the Waterfront. The feds obviously had jurisdiction in Hawaii since it was still a territory at the time and not a state, so it's off to Hawaii for Jim and his colleague Mal Baxter (James Arness).

The search for the members of the communist cell quickly centers on one Mr. Nomaka, who had been the treasurer for the cell, but has since gone missing, with whispers that he's in a sanitarium or something. As part of the search, Jim plies information from secretary Nancy Vallon (Nancy Olson), who eventually shows up from time to time as a sort of love interest for Jim. The search for Nomaka eventually leads to a club run by a Mr. Sturak (Alan Napier). Nomaka isn't there, but a couple of Sturak's employees had been seen taking a trunk out of Nomaka's former apartment and then going to see Sturak! Aha, we have a solid lead!

Mal eventually finds Nomaka at the sanitarium, but he's of no real value. Sturak's the guy they really want, although there's others too. McLain deals with preternatuarlly evil communists who would be willing to murder anybody, as well as virtuous Americans who believe that truth, justice, and the American way means turning in anybody who might be a communist, even if it's your own son. There's eventually a climactic showdown at Sturak's place, and everything is more or less resolved, with several twists along the way.

I went into Big Jim McLain knowing that it had a reputation of being an incredibly bad movie, not only one of John Wayne's worst A movies, but bad regardless of who had made it. As I watched the movie, however, I got rather a diferent impression. As I said back in October, 2011 when I mentioned the movie The Woman on Pier 13 (aka I Married a Communist), I find a good way to judge the anti-communist movies of the early 1950s is to try to imagine them with the communists being either Nazis or the Mob, whichever would make more sense in the plot. In the case of Big Jim McLain, we not only have something like the aforementioned On the Waterfront to compare it too; the plot could just as easily have had Jim and Mal working for the Kefauver Committee without too much change to the plot.

In that regard, Big Jim McLain would still be a misfire of a movie. In addition to thinking about comparisons between the Communists and the Mob while watching the movie, I also found myself thinking of the later TV series Hawaii Five-O. Old episodes of the Jack Lord version have been showing up on on one of the nostalgia TV digital subchannels, with some of them being fairly good, some of them not all that good, and a general atmosphere of being workmanlike -- they had to put out a lot of content to make two dozen one-hour shows a season. Big Jim McLain feels like a more subpar episode, with the characters being almost cardboard in that it's so obvious who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, and not much development. But Big Jim McLain isn't the "Oh my God this is the worst thing ever!" type of movie that those who pan it seem to believe; I'm convinced that that attitude is down to the movie being an unabashedly anti-Communist film made during the post-WWII Red Scare.

As I said at the beginning, though, watch it and judge for yourself. If you miss tomorrow's showing, it is available on DVD and as of this writing on sale at the TCM Shop.

A Fistful of Films

I've got a post on one of the John Wayne movies in tomorrow's TCM lineup coming up, but it's a post I don't need to write until lunchtime and put up then. So, this morning I clicked on one of the blogs in my blogroll to read the blogger's latest post, and noticed there was a link to a blogathon on "God in the Movies". That blogathon was being run by a blog called A Fistful of Films. Since the blog is being updated regularly, and since it looks interesting, I've decided to add it to the blogroll.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A pre-Code primer

A non-movie blog I follow introduced me today to an article at a site called "The Toast", called Pre-Code Movies Worth Watching. There are a couple of movies I have to admit I don't know, and I don't agree with all of the selections or the author's take on all of them. To be fair, even though it's a blog, there are still going to be space limitations. You can't mention everything in one post. But there are some fun gems in the writing discussing certain movies:

The Maltese Falcon, 1931 -- GAYER AND SLUTTIER THAN THE HUMPHREY BOGART REMAKE (Obviously not as good, though. I mean, it doesn't ask us to believe that Mary Astor is a femme fatale who has had sex, so that gives it a leg up on the John Huston version, but still. Only worth watching as a comparison to the classic. And I don't think being as overt about sexual matters makes much of a difference -- it's still incredibly clear that Bogart and Astor bone, that Joel Cairo is super-mega gay, and that Gutman is giving it to poor Wilmer in the 1941 remake.)

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Two shorts for those who don't like John Wayne

John Wayne isn't everybody's cup of tea, but thankfully, TCM is running a surprising number of shorts in between the John Wayne movies this week. Two of these shorts are coming up during prime time tonight.

First, at about 10:23 PM, or following They Were Expendable (8:00 PM, 135 minutes plus an extended intro/outro with Scott Eyman) is The Friendship Train. The premise of this documentary is that, following World War II, much of Europe was not only in Europe, but starving as well since the war had screwed up their agriculture so much. This was the genesis of CARE. There were other private relief efforts as well, such as this titular "Friendship Train", which started off in Los Angeles courtesy of Warner brother Harry, and worked its way across the country, picking up aid supplies along the way, until it reahced New York where everything would be put on a ship and sent to Europe. This short tells that story. It's nothing earth-shattering, but a nice little document of what America was like back in 1947/8 when the movie was produced.

The other short is A Lady Fights Back, at about 2:48 AM, or following The Fighting Seabees (1:00 AM, 100 minutes plus an intro/outro). This one is an entry in John Nesbitt's Passing Parade series, although it deals with the present day rather than the past as a lot of the Passing Parade shorts did. The short looks at the Normandie, a ship which started off as a luxury transatlantic liner, or at least 1930s style luxury. But in 1939 the war came, and there wasn't any need for luxury liners. Plus, the Normandie had suffered a fire and would have needed extensive renovations anyway. So the plan was to convert the Normandie for military use, and this short looks at that conversion, or at least as much of it as MGM felt they could show what with military secrecy needing to be maintained, as the film was released in late 1944. There's actually a bit of irony in this, as with the success of the D-Day invasion, the conversion wouldn't be done quickly enough for the ship to be put into military use, which resulted in its being scrapped instead. But all that was after filming had finished.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A few more apologies

I should apologize to all of you for not paying closer attention to the main page of the TCM web-site, and not just the schedule pages. If I did, I would have read this page on Star of the Month John Wayne, which very obviously mentions that Robert Osborne is sitting down with Wayne biographer Scott Eyman to discuss those of the Wayne films that will be on in prime time. And if I had read that, I would have made a point of to all of you. As for last night's airing of The Big Trail, I was very impressed by the print, which for the most part seemed quite good. There were a few scenes that didn't look so good, with a line running down it as sometimes happens in old prints, but for a movie that's over 80 years old, who can complain?

Scott Eyman also mentioned the origin of the "Duke" nickname, which I probably should have looked up before posting yesterday. Apparently it came from a dog Wayne had back when he was still the child Marion Morrison. Eyman also mentioned how Morrison got the name John Wayne in part from the Revolutionary War general Mad Anthony Wayne, and in part because John sounded good put together with Wayne. "Duke Morrison" apparently sounded like a more appropriate name for a stuntman, goes the story.

The Big Trail was followed by the 1937 Technicolor Warner Bros. short A Day at Santa Anita. This is one of those shorts that I think I've seen the opening of but have never stuck around for the end, and didn't last night either. But Technicolor shorts from the 1930s, other than the whole Traveltalks series, aren't all that common and probably deserve a mention. Technically, the short has made it to Youtube, but in a version dubbed into Russian. The terrible dubbing reminds me of the semester I studied in Sankt-Peterburg, the former Leningrad, back in 1992. It seemed any time there was a western movie on Russian TV, it was dubbed into Russian, but you could hear the origian dialog underneath. Yikes.

The Searchers is on overnight tonight at 2:30 AM. It's basically the story of John Wayne becoming obsessive to the point of it being damaging for everybody around him in the attempt to rescue his niece from the Indians who kidnapped her as a young girl. It's a good movie, to be sure, but I've never found it quite as good as a lot of the critics do, with the way they heap praise on it. It probably has something to do with so many of them talking about the movie's discussion of racial issues, with the implication being that because it's John Ford coming to grips with race, that automatically makes it a better picture. I was born in 1972, after all of the Baby Boomer stuff on race and civil rights had happened, so I think I come in to movies like The Searchers wiht a different frame of reference than a lot of the critics, not obsessing about race the way many of the older critics seem to do. But, I really wanted to mention tonight's airing of The Searchers because it's another example of TCM's databases not working together. The TCM daily schedule claims that The Searchers is not on DVD, which surprised me since Amazon lists a TCM Greatest Classif Films Collection box set of John Wayne mvoies that includes The Searchers. Certainly, that ought to be available from the TCM Shop. And sure enough, that box set is available at the TCM Shop, too, and in stock.

Monday, April 21, 2014

TCM Star of the Month April 2014: John Wayne

And so, we finally get to this month's Star of the Month on TCM: John Wayne. Normally, TCM has a Star of the Month one night a week, every week for a month. But with the Film Festival and the week of Fan Programmers and the 20th anniversary among other things, somebody in the TCM programming department decided that it might be better to have a Star of the Month get every weeknight for one week. That's fine as far as it goes, but for better or worse, because of how many movies John Wayne made, TCM is also able to program the daytimes with John Wayne movies, so we're getting almost exclusively John Wayne movies from now until the Mexican Spitfire movies return on Saturday morning.

The John Wayne marathon kicks off with The Big Trail, which looks to have been Wayne's first credited screen appearance; he had been in bit parts in several movies in the year before making The Big Trail. TCM's online schedule indicates that we're getting the Grandeur print, at least if I've read the schedule correctly.

The Big Trail was a financial flop, and one of the results is that Wayne wouldn't become a star at a big studio again until after making Stagecoach (which kicks off prime time on Tuesday at 8:00 PM) in 1939. In the intervening years, he either had bit parts in roles at the major studios, as in Baby Face overnight at 2:30 AM, or bigger roles in B-grade if that westerns, which is what much of the lineup between The Big Trail and Allegheny Uprising (tomorrow at 5:00 PM). A few interesting things in between:

Haunted Gold at midnight. This is a 60-minute movie combining the western with... one of those old haunted house movies, this time with the haunting being of a mine that Wayne is part owner of. Wayne's horse is named Duke, which is where I'd guess he got his nickname from; I'm not the biggest John Wayne fan so I don't know these things.

The Life of Jimmy Dolan at 7:00 AM stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who accidentally punches a man who then dies; he has to run away to Utah to keep ahead of the law and winds up on a farm run by an older lady (Aline MacMahon) and her niece (Loretta Young), who take in a bunch of orphans. If this sounds familiar, it's because the movie was later remade as the excellent They Made Me a Criminal.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ting tang walla walla bing bang

After the success of King Solomon's Mines in 1950, studios started making more movies set in Africa. Some, like King Solomon's Mines and The African Queen, did a lot of the shooting in Africa. Others were more restricted to the soundstages and back lots, such as White Witch Dcotor, which you can see tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM on FMC/FXM.

The titular "white witch doctor" is played by Susan Hayward, but we'll get to her in a minute. The movie actually starts with Robert Mitchum, playing "Lonnie" Douglas, a man in Belgian Congo in the first decade of the last century whose ostensible job is to wrangle big African wildlife for zoos in the west. But that's only the half of what he's doing. The other half has him involved with Huysman (Walter Slezak) in a search for the mineral wealth that the region holds -- specifically, gold. They've searched all the districts in the region, except for one, where the warlike Bakuba tribe holds sway. The Bakuba are notorious for their dislike of the white man, and this fierce protectiveness, combined with the fact that the gold isn't anywhere else, leads Huysman to believe the gold must be there.

Into all this walks Ellen Burton, played by Susan Hayward. She trained as a nurse, but after the death of her doctor husband -- something conviently not revealed until a couple of reels in so that we have the chance to get some conflict between her character and Mitchum's -- she wanted to fulfill his legacy of working in Africa to bring health to the uncivilized areas of the word. So she's come to this God-forsaken place since there's a white woman running a medical clinic near here.

Lonnie thinks this is no place for a white woman, especially one not accompanied by a man, and Ellen's naïveté only confirms Lonnie's suspicions. Still, he guides Ellen to the clinic, which is a good thing, since the woman running it is on her deathbed, fairly quickly dying and leading Ellen to run it herself. When Ellen saves the life of a local non-Bakuba woman who has an abscessed tooth, the locals finally give her respect, calling her "Little Mama" after the previous lady, whom they called "Big Mama".

It's all fairly standard and formulaic plot development, leading up to the climax. The son of a Bakuba chieftain is doing his "prove your manhood" ritual by hunting a lion, and gets attacked in the process, close enough to Ellen's clinic that she's the one who winds up treating the kid's serious wounds. (The clinic is between where Huysman has his office and the Bakuba country.) The Bakuba eventually come and take the kid back home to recover, although his condition was serious enough that he's still going to need modern medicine and can only survive if Ellen goes into Bakuba country to take care of him. The Bakuba are grudgingly willing to let her come alone, but Huysman sees an opportunity to get into Bakuba country and get the gold. The Bakuba, of course, aren't about to let a whole bunch of white folk in, so Huysman has Lonnie ostensibly play guide, but use this as aruse to scout out where the gold is. Ultimately, it's not just the chieftain's son whose life hangs in the balance....

White Witch Doctor is, I think, not as good as some of the other Africa movies from the early 1950s. The reason is not because Fox didn't go to Africa to make this; instead, it's more down to the plot. The movie is predictable and oftentimes rather slow in its development. Lonnie and Ellen seem almost ripoffs of the Bogart and Hepburn characters from The African Queen. Mitchum and Hayward both try, and are reasonably competent, but they are dragged down by the script. Walter Slezak is pretty good as usual playing a villain, but he too isn't helped by the script. White Witch Doctor is an OK enough movie to watch once, but it's not anything special. As far as I know, it hasn't been released to DVD, so you'll have to catch the infrequent FMC airing.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

More Fox premieres on TCM!

This week's TCM Essential is Laura, airing at 8:00 PM this evening. I believe it's a TCM premiere; at least, I have the monthly schedules going back to July of 2007 and a search of them didn't yield any other matches for Laura other than this month's showing. Gene Tierney stars as the beautiful model Laura, whose murder police detective Dana Andrews is brought in to investigate. Laura kicks off a night of movies starring both Tierney and Andrews, with three movies all of which I've blogged about before.

TCM showed Where the Sidewalk Ends back in 2010 when Gene Tierney was one of the stars in Summer Under the Stars; it gets another airing tonight at 9:45 PM.

The last of the three movies is, I think, also a TCM premiere: The Iron Curtain, at 11:30 PM. (Figuring out whether this one was a premiere was a bit more difficult because several movies have the phrase "Iron Curtain" as part of the plot synopsis.) I recommended it before, although didn't do a full-length post on it as I thought I had, for which I apologize.

Easter Question

With tomorrow being Easter, what's your favorite movie or scene in which candy or chocolate plays a key plot role?

I'll start off with Ian Carmichael learning about how the candy snack "Num-Yum" is made, in I'm Alright Jack.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, remade about 10 years ago as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would be another good choice, being one of those movies I have fond memories of from my childhood, although I don't think I've watched it in 20 years or more.

Buster Keaton tries to buy a box of candies for his girlfriend in Sherlock Jr., only for his rival to buy her an even better box of chocolates. As Tom Hanks says in Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going ot get." But Forrest Gump isn't really about chocolate, and isn't a particular favorite of mine.

There's a small scene involving candy in The Grapes of Wrath that's interesting. Pa Joad (I think; it might be Grandpa Joad) goes into the diner portion of what would now be a big service station, except that they didn't have such big things back in the 1930s, so it's more like the little place in The Petrified Forest. There's a container of candies, and Pa asks if they're penny candies, to buy two for the little ones. Ah, the days when you could get anything for a penny. The woman behind the counter points out that they're actually two for a penny. After he and the kids leave, the truckers ask her what she was doing, since the candies are really a nickel each. They then proceed to remark how crazy these people must be to try to make it across the desert of Arizona in the beat-up truck that they're driving. The scene, like much of the movie, is a bit didactic and blunt -- yes, John Steinbeck, we get the point that the Depression and Dust Bowl did terrible things to the Joads and the rest of the Okies. It's still a damn good movie, however.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Miklós Rózsa, 1907-1995

Today marks the birth anniversary of Hungarian-born American composer Miklós Rózsa, who was born on this day in 1907. Rózsa started off as a classically-trained composer, and in fact continued to do "serious" (that is, non-film) classical composing all his active life. It was in the late 1930s for his fellow Hungarian emigres the Korda brothers that he first composed scores, before working at Paramount with Billy Wilder on such scores as Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend and then, from the late 1940s, for MGM, where he composed several well-known scores, including the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur won Rózsa his third Oscar; the first two were for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound and 1947's A Double Life, which rarely shows up on TCM. If you were ever wondering what he looked like and were too lazy to look up his photo, well there he is.

I said earlier that Rózsa spent most of the 1950s at MGM, so unsurprisingly, those MGM movies show up reasonably often on TCM. In fact, three of Rózsa's movies are going to be on TCM over the weekend:

Ben-Hur will be on overnight tonight at 2:00 AM;
Quo Vadis shows up tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM; and
the 1961 version of King of Kings forms part of TCM's Easter Sunday lineup at 1:30 PM Sunday.

For more information on Miklós Rózsa than you can shake a stick at, you could do worse than to surf over to the website of the Miklós Rózsa Society.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shorts and other briefs for April 17, 2014

TCM's weekly schedule is showing shorts a bit further out than the daily schedule once again. TCM is airing Meet Me in St. Louis tomorrow (April 18) at 8:00 PM as part of the 90th anniversary tribute to MGM. Before that, at about 7:50 PM, is the Traveltalks short Visiting St. Louis. At least, it's on the weekly schedule; the daily schedule only has shorts on it for today, and not any further days. I've never understood why there should be such differences between the daily and weekly schedules. I would think that both of them (and the monthly schedule) go off of some master schedule database, and once the shorts are inserted into that, they'd show up on any of the TCM schedules. Apparently it doesn't work that way.

One short airing today is The Rainbow Pass, airing just after noon or just before The Good Earth (12:15 PM). The Rainbow Pass, which I haven't seen before, sounds like an interesting idea, trying to present Chinese theater to American audiences. Unfortunately, it's narrated by Carey Wilson -- I've mentioned before that I don't care for his style.

The 1935 versino of Mutiny on the Bounty is coming up at midnight tonight. I really like this one for the performance of Charles Laughton and to a slightly lesser extent the performance of Clarke Gable. They're not showing the 1962 version, so you can't compare and contrast. I briefly mentioned back in 2010 that it's Brando that is one of my big problems with the 1962 version, much as it is with a movie like Sayonara. Robert Osborne is probably also happy not to see the Marlon Brando version show up, but not Alec Baldwin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It really is MGM's 90th anniversary

If you've been watching TCM, you'll know that TCM has been promoting a special programming marathon in honor of MGM's 90th anniversary, starting tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM. April 17 really is the anniversary of MGM, when Marcus Loew, owner of a chain of theaters, purchased Louis B. Mayer Pictures. Back then, it was still possible for a studio was able to own the movie theaters in which its movies were shown, which changed in the late 1940s when Paramount was found in violation of the antitrust laws for its vertical integration. Loew had already bought Metro back in 1920 and Goldwyn in between, but Louis B. Mayer was apparently the right person in Hollywood to oversee the California side of production. At any rate, this explains why you'll see Loew's mentioned in smaller print on the title screen of a lot of early MGM movies.

I'm sure you all know the basic history of the movie studios, though, and that's not really why I'm posting on the 90th anniversary of MGM, or even posting a day before. TCm is running 49 hours of movies from the first 40 years of the studio, which are the best. The real end probably ought to be with That's Entertainment! in 1974, although the decline really set in sometime after Ben-Hur in 1959. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur will be concluding the marathon at 2:00 Saturday, while kicking it off will be... the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. So if you'd like you can compare and contrast both of them. And when you watch the silent version in all its 4:3 aspect ratio glory, you can think about Sydney Pollack and whether he would have gotten the heebie-jeebies watching the chariot race scene. Both versions have been released to DVD, although the 1925 version isn't available from the TCM shop and only a limited number of copies are available from Amazon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


TCM is honoring Marie Prevost tomorrow morning and afernoon with a bunch of her movies, even though she was born in November. Not that I'm complaining, though. One of the better movies in the set that I haven't recommended before is Paid, which comes on at 8:30 AM.

Prevost isn't the star; her personal problems prevented her from having a starring career in talkies and ultimately led to her untimely death, which is another story. The actual star is Joan Crawford, playing Mary Turner. Mary is a clerk in Gilder's department store, run by wealthy Mr. Gilder (Purnell Pratt). There's a shoplifting case at Gilder's, and Mary gets arrested for it even though she's completely innocent. Gilder and the DA want to make an example of somebody, and Mary happens to be the convenient example, so when she's found guilty, they refuse to show any leniency even though this would have been her first crime and we know she's not guilty, anyway. For a little shoplifting, Mary gets three years in the clink. As she's going off to prison, Mary vows that she's going to make them pay for theyears of her life that are being taken away from her.

If you remember Mildred Pierce, you'll recall a montage from just after Joan Crawford's Mildred gets a waitressing job from Eve Arden's Ida, with Crawford's voiceover stating that six weeks after taking the job she felt as though she had been born in a restaurant. Well, Crawford's Mary here in Paid brings that same sort of determination to her circumstances, studying law while in women's prison. When Mary gets out, she goes to see one of the friends she made in prison, good-time girl Agnes Lynch (that's Marie Prevost). Agnes is part of a gang of con artists led by Joe Garson (Robert Armstrong), and Mary has an idea for them. What they're doing is penny ante stuff, and illegal. Mary has been studying the law, and while in stir figured out ways to blackmail the wealthy while staying on the right side of the law in doing it. She's got the brains, but she can't do it alone, and that's where Joe and his gang come in.

Of course, there's some conflict in all of this. Mary is really doing what she is as a means to get her ultimate revenge, that being seducing Gilder's son Robert (Kent Douglass/né Douglass Montgomery). Joe doesn't like basically being emasculated in having to give a good deal of control over to Mary, and constantly runs the risk of saying things he shouldn't to the police, who are always investigating and never finding anything. The police eventually come up with a plot to get the gang that involves stealing an artwork from Gilder's mansion. Mary knows it's a trap, and has also fallen in love with Bob, making the finale really complicated.

Mary Turner in Paid is the sort of role that Joan Crawford was quite good at; it's also interesting to see that this is one of the first times she played such a role, having done much lighter stuff for the first five years of her MGM career. Marie Prevost is also memorable, with the rest of the cast being adequate. They do nothing to bring down the proceedings, but they're not particularly memorable either. You could chalk this up to Paid Being an early talkie, and using quite a few actors who had come from the stage. Paid does have some of the problems that a lot of early talkies have, but not to the same extent as many others. The bigger problem is with the plot, which really starts to strain credulity when it gets to the art heist. Overall, though, Paid is a thoroughly entertaining movie, and more than worth a watch.

As you can probably guess from the photo accompanying this post, Paid has been released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, and is available from the TCM shop.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy 20th anniversary, TCM!

April 14 marks the 20th anniversary of the day TCM went on the air, or technically showed up on cable systems since they don't broadcast over the air. The first movie they ran was Gone With the Wind, so it's fitting that TCM is going to be showing it at 8:00 PM. Actually, I think the actual launch of the channel was earlier in the day on April 14, as the clip of Osborne pulling the lever to start the channel in New York is much too light for 8:00 PM. Indeed, this snippet from the Chicago Sun-Times says it launched at 6:00 PM.

Following Gone With the Wind will be an encore presentation of the Private Scrrenings interview in which host Robert Osborne was the subject, interviewed by Alec Baldwin. It's a lot of fun, with clips of a much younger Osborne when he was trying to be an actor, and from the early days of TCM. That comes on at midnight.

At 7:00 PM, just before Gone With the Wind, TCM is running Twenty Classic Moments, a new program which I would presume is precisely what the title says: twenty classic moments from the history of TCM. With all the Private Screenings interviews, the Guest Programmers, and the Essentials co-hosts, I'd guess there's enough material for 20 moments.

Unrelated to the 20th anniversary, TCM's tribute to Mickey Rooney last night, just before Boys Town was very nice, showing clips of Rooney at the 2011 TCM Film Festival where he sat down for an interview with Robert Osborne. It didn't occur to me until a day or two ago that this probably wasn't preempting any previously recorded piece on Boys Town that Robert Osborne would have done for a prime time movie. After all, all the other intros from the weekend of the TCM Film Festival were done at the festival, so I should have expected an intro for the previously scheduled Mickey Rooney movies to have been done there too.

Ans shorts are beginning to show up again, at least on the daily schedule. The weekly schedule has shorts for this morning and afternoon, but that's it; the daily schedule for today has a couple in prime time as well. It doesn't seem as though there's anything further out than that, though.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Are TCM's shorts missing in action again?

I enjoy seeing the shorts come up on TCM, as I've blogged about on quite a few occasions. A lot of them, especially the more fact-based shorts like the Traveltalks series, are interesting time capsules. Some of the old Vitaphone two-reelers from the early 1930s aren't that bad in terms of story quality, either. And one of the nice things about having all those shots on TCm is that if there's no feature worth mentioning here, it's often possible to find an interesting short that's going to be coming up in the next day or so.

But not now. TCM's weekly schedule is only mentioning those longer shorts that get scheduled far in advance, such as you sometimes see in TCM Underground as with Tear Gas in Law Enforcement last night. There's not going to be any shorts in TCM Underground this week; the only short listed is the 1950 version of The MGM Story which if memory serves is another Some of the Best. It's listed as a short, even though it's 57 minutes.

It's also the only short on the weekly schedule. The daily schedule doesn't have any shorts listed, either. Of course, there aren't shorts after every movie, and generally maybe two shorts a day. But for the upcoming week, TCM is listing zero shorts. This, even though there are more then enough cases where there's time left over after a movie to stick a short in between. Tomorrow's first movie is an example. The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon comes on at 7:00 AM, and is a 100-minute movie in a two-hour time slot, leaving close to 20 minutes left over. But there's no short following The Maltese Falcon, or any of the other movies that have 15-minute or longer gaps following them.

I wonder if it has to do with the Mickey Rooney tribute and/or the TCM Film Festival. Shorts are generally only put up on the schedule a week or so in advance, and with Mickey Rooney's death I presume everything got very busy over at TCM trying to come up with the memorial tribute. That, and having to get everybody to Los Angeles for the Festival. All that having been said, I'm surprised the shorts aren't schedule a bit further in advance. I'd presume that whoever does the programming knows where the time gaps are going to be, and it's easier to get the rights to all those old MGM and Warner's shorts.

I'm sure the shorts will show up again on the TCM schedule pages soon enough.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two related movies, back on FXM/FMC

It was three years ago that I first recommended Yellow Sky. It's a darn good western from Fox, starring Gregory Peck as the head of a gang of old west bank robbers who wind up in a ghost town where only an old man and his granddaughter (Anne Baxter) live. Peck begins to fall for Baxter, while the other gangsters figure out there's a reason why the old guy and his pretty granddaughter are here, and eventually figure out what that reason it. At any rate, it's back on FXM/FMC for the first time in a few years, tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM. So if you're not too into the Mickey Rooney movies, Yellow Sky is a film that's well worth a watch.

Yellow Sky was remade in the late 60s as The Jackals. Vincent Price gets top billing in the grandfather role; the rest of the the cast is a bunch of relative no names, as the movie was filmed in Australia and set in South Africa. It's certainly inferior to Yellow Sky but not as bad as some reviewers would have you believe. If you want to judge the two movies, this week is your chance: The Jackals will be airing next Friday, at 10:45 AM on FXM/FMC.

Both movies have been released to DVD, but I'm not certain if either of them is still in print.

TCM's Mickey Rooney programming tribute

Mickey Rooney died last weekend, and with Boys Town and Men of Boys Town already on the TCM schedule for April 13, the powers that be decided to make tomorrow the day for the 24-hour programming tribute to Rooney. That salute has 13 movies:

Broadway to Hollywood (1933) at 6:00 AM;
The Devil Is a Sissy (1936) at 7:30 AM;
A Family Affair (1936) at 9:15 AM;
You're Only Young Once (1938) at 10:30 AM;
Captains Courageous (1937) at 12:00 PM;
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) at 2:00 PM;
The Human Comedy (1943) at 3:45 PM;
Killer McCoy (1947) at 6:00 PM;
Boys Town (1938) at 8:00 PM;
Men of Boys Town (1941) at 10:00 PM;
National Velvet (1944) at midnight;
Babes on Broadway (1941) at 2:15 AM; and
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) at 4:30 PM.

It looks as though Rooney's Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne isn't on the schedule, which is a bit of a shame. I suppose it would have been nice if we could have gotten stuff Rooney did as an all-grown-up actor in the 1950s, like Drive a Crooked Road, but it's possible they couldn't get the rights to some of the Columbia stuff at such short notice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Howard W. Koch, 1916-2001

April 11 marks the birth anniversary of producer/director Howard W. Koch. Koch's best work, or at least the best movies he was involved with, are probably as a producer, with several well-known and quite good movies to his credit in the 1960s and 1970s. These include The Manchurian Candidate, The Odd Couple, and Plaza Suite.

However, I think Koch's work as a director might be more interesting. Like many directors, he started off as an assistant, doing work on films as diverse as the docudrama He Walked By Night, to a western like The Naked Spur, with things like Million Dollar Mermaid in between.

In the mid-1950s, Koch got the opportunity to be the actual director of movies, not just an assistant. The movies aren't as good, but they might be more interesting. Bop Girl Goes Calypso is a terrible movie, but terrible in a way that will have you laughing if you can find a copy of it. Looking back more than half a century, the idea that calypso was going to take over from rock and roll seems utterly ludicrous. And, the way the movie presents this is also beyond belief.

Untamed Youth sees Mamie Van Doren as one of a pair of sisters who gets caught for vagrancy and sentenced to the youth labor farm by a corrupt judge (Lurene Tuttle) sending the youth to her boyfriend who runs one of the cotton farms and uses the kids almost as slave labor! It's not a bad idea, but it's also punctuated with several incongruous musical numbers, and awful dialog, that make the movie another unintentional hoot.

The Girl in Black Stockings is more serious and a better movie, but it's still decidedly a B-mystery, if you ask me. Mamie Van Doren shows up again, along with Anne Bancroft and Lex Barker.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Andy Hardy Comes Home, the 1958 coda to the Andy Hardy series that has Hardy, now all grown up, coming back to his home town to try to convince them to build a defense plant.

With movies like this, perhaps it's not a surprise that Koch switched to being mostly a producer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I haven't seen Four Jacks and a Jill before

TCM is running the movie Four Jacks and a Jill tomorrow morning at 11:30 AM. I have to admit to not having seen this movie before, so I can't give an honest review. However, it's one you might want to give a try since it's a remake of a moderately enjoyable movie that I saw on TCM last month, Street Girl. Unfortunately, neither version seems to be on DVD. And there's a third version, That Girl From Paris, but that one isn't on DVD either.

The plot is: immigrant girl is in the big city, down on her luck and almost out of money. She meets a nice obliging young man. The young man happens to be a member of a band that is doing slightly better than the girl, but not that much. At least, they're doing well enough to have a place to sleep at night. Anyhow, the girl has musical talent, enough that she was able to perform for royalty back in her home country. She eventually becomes their manager; the band becomes successful; and then, royalty from the old country shows up, leading the guy from the band to think the girl is in love with the royalty.

The original version, Street Girl, was released in 1929 and for an early talkie, was surprisingly good. It did hwlp, though, that Ned Sparks was around to deliver some acerbic wit. Four Jacks and a Jill features the talents of Ray Bolger as the Boy; Anne Shirley as the Girl; and Desi Arnaz as the putative royalty.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not part of the Mickey Rooney tribute

TCM hsa been running that TCM Remembers Mickey Rooney piece several times, with a note at the end saying there will be a 24-hour salute to Rooney on Sunday starting at 6:00 AM. Technically it's a 25-hour salute since the last movie, A Midsummer Night's Dream, goes from 4:30 AM Monday to 7:00 AM, but that's beside the point.

In the post I wrote on Rooney on Monday, I mentioned Hide-Out, since it's a movie with Rooney in the cast that I really like. That's not going to be part of the tribute, but that might be in part because it was already on the schedule, for 12:45 PM tomorrow, April 10.

I think there's one other Mickey Rooney movie airing on TCM between now and the start of the Sunday tribute: The Courtship of Andy Hardy, at 4:00 PM Saturday. The brief summary at TCM says this one has Rooney's Andy Hardy falling in love with Donna Reed, who is playing a character whose parents are getting divorced -- and the divorce is being handled by Judge Hardy! I haven't seen this one, but then, I don't go out of my way to seek out the Andy Hardy movies.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Briefs for April 8, 2014

TCM already ran a TCM Remembers piece on Mickey Rooney, which stated at the end that the programming salue for Mickey Rooney will be a 24-hour salute on April 13, which is this Sunday. Boys Town and Men of Boys Town were already scheduled to air in prime time on Sunday, although I presume Ben Mankiewicz or Robert Osborne will have to record a new intro for those two. With the TCM Film Festival being this weekend, I'd bet everybody's scrambling for time. Supposedly there's also going to be a tribute at the Film Festival, although I'm not going to be there.

Mary Anderson died over the weekend at age 96. Most mentions of her make the biggest mention of her having been in Gone With the Wind, as Maybelle Merriwether, a role I have to admit I don't remember at all. I will also admit, however, that Gone With the Wind is a movie I don't watch all that often, and with a hugh cast of characters, it's easy to miss a small part like that. Anderson also played the nurse in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.

The Fan Programmers return tonight. I wasn't certain if I had blogged about The Catered Affair (8:00 PM) before, but apparently I did last January. TCM says that you can't get Witness for the Prosecution (9:45 PM) from the TCM Shop. Amazon lists it, but it does look like the DVDs are out of print.

Around the World in California is showing up again on the TCM schedule, a little after 9:00 AM tomorrow. Or, more specifically, it'll be on sometime after Kid Glove Killer (7:45 AM, 75 minutes). Kid Glove Killer itself is well worth watching if you haven't seen it before, and as far as I know hasn't been released to DVD via the Warner Archive.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in a promotional still; I think from Babes on Broadway

The death has been announced of actor Mickey Rooney, who died yesterday at the age of 93. Rooney started his career in vaudeville, became a child star at the end of the silent era, and then became a big juvenile star at MGM in the 1930s, where he would go on to be paired with Judy Garland a whole bunch of times, starting with 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy. One of Rooney's most enduring juvenile roles at MGM might be opposite Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, pictured at left.

Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award four times, receiving a special juvenile award and a lifetime achievement award, but never a true competitive Oscar. Perhaps the best of those four roles was in The Human Comedy, in which Rooney plays a high school student working as a telegram delivery boy forced to become the man of the house thanks to World War II.

Rooney was lent out by MGM once, to Warner Bros. when they made A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1935 and cast the 14-year-old Rooney as Puck, who becharms everybody, including making James Cagney appear with an ass' head. Rooney's Puck is slightly irritating, but I think it's called for by the script, which mkes Rooney's performance quite entertaining. MGM realized they made a mistake letting WB have Rooney's success, and never lent him out again.

One other juvenile role from Mickey Rooney that I really enjoy is in Hide-Out, in which he plays the kid brother of Maureen O'Sullivan. Poor Mickey takes care of the rabbits, only for his mom to take one of the rabbits and turn it into dinner for Robert Montgomery, much to ROoney's chagrin! Rooney aside, the movie is still quite good.

TCM will be getting around to having a big Mickey Rooney programming tribute, although I didn't see anything on that suggested when the tribute would be. This week has the 20 Fan Programmers in prime time, and the Film Festival is at the weekend. Next week has the actual 20th anniversary on the 14th, followed by a 48-hour salute to the 90th anniversary of MGM. And then the week following is the Star of the Month salute to John Wayne, which goes on almost non-stop from prime time on Monday.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Snowed Under

There are several interesting movies coming up in the next day or so, but there's one that I'd prefer to mention because it doesn't currently seem to be on DVD: Snowed Under, which is on TCM at 1:00 PM tomorrow (April 7).

George Brent plays Alan Tanner, a formerly successful playwright who has fallen on a bit of hard times. That is, he's got two acts of a play written, but he's unable to come up with a third act for that play. And that's a problem, since the play is supposed to open in a week's time! So Alan's agent gets a place out in the country for Alan to go for a weekend where he'll have the peace and quiet necessary to come up with that third act. Unbeknwonst to Alan, the agent is also sending somebody else to that cabin out in the country: Alan's first wife Alice (Genevieve Tobin). They had collaborated on his plays back when she was the first Mrs. Tanner, and that's how Alan became successful. Plus, she still holds a candle for Alan. So getting Alan to finish the play, and to spend some time with the first Mrs. Tanner, might not be a bad thing.

That's because there's a problem with the second Mrs. Tanner, Daisy (Glenda Farrell). That marriage hasn't been successful either, and it resulted in a divorce that required Alan to pay Daisy a substantial amount of alimony. But without any hit plays, Alan isn't able to scrouge up the money to make the alimony payments, and has fallen behind. Daisy wants those alimony payments, to the point that she's willing to have a court order enforced on her ex-husband. As if that's going to help Alan finish up the play. But, sure enouhg, Daisy shows up with the local sheriff's deputy Rowe (Frank McHugh), with that court order.

If you thought things were complicated for Alan before, they're about to get a whole lot more complicated. There's actually a third woman in the house, Pat (Patricia Ellis). She's supposed to be Alan's typist, but claims that she and Alan are engaged, and that she's going to become the third Mrs. Tanner. Having one woman after you is bad enough, but having three? Yikes. And there's still the matter of finishing that play.... As for the title, Snowed Under, it comes from the fact that a snowstorm is coming, threatening to strand everybody at each other's throats in that small cottage.

Thankfully, Snowed Under was conceived at Warner Bros. as a programmer for George Brent. He's not exactly the best comic actor out there, but was good at being the man whose purpose in the plot was to let the women around him (often Bette Davis) sturt their stuff. When it came to these shorter movies that were clearly designed to be second-billing to Warners' prestige films, though, Brent isn't that bad. (See a movie like Front Page Woman for an example.) And with the short running times, these movies don't wear out their welcome, being over quickly if you think they're going to drag. Snowed Under is nothing spectacular, but it's reasonably entertaining.

Red Light to get DVD release!

I blogged about the interesting movie Red Light back in November 2011. It's one that I actually quite enjoyed, although it does have some serious plot holes. It didn't seem to be on DVD at the time. But as I was online looking at TCM's schedule, I noticed the little news headlines along the right side of the page had a link to an article on a DVD release for Red Light. The article doesn't say when the release is, or was, but it's courtesy of the Warner Archive.

Various sidebars on the schedule page and on the link to the Red Light release above mention some othe rinteresting things to be getting DVD releases. First, Columbia is releasing a fourth volume of "Film Noir" movies. I put "Film Noir" in quotes because there's at least one I don't know that I'd consider a noir, that being Walk East on Beacon, which is more of a docudrama about the hunt for Communist spies than it is a noir. The set also includes Johnny O'Clock, which is more of a noir.

Finally is Roadblock, which has Charles McGraw falling for a girl and doing al sorts of illegal things. It's got nice photography of northern California, and nice photography at the end of dried-out and concreted riverbeds in Los Angeles. This is one of those movies I really ought to do a full-length post on the next time it shows up on TCM, as it's been quite a few years since I've seen it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

They Drive By Night

They Drive By Night showed up on TCM several months ago; surprisingly enough, it was one of those movies that I had never seen before. It's more than enjoyable enough, and so I waited for it to show up again on TCM so that I could do a full-length blog post on it. That TCM airing is tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM.

George Raft gets top billing as Joe Fabrini, who, together with his brother Paul (Humphrey Bogart, a year before success in High Sierra made him always be top-billed), runs an independent trucking operation. Well, it's only one truck, which the two of them drive together so that they can spend more hours of the day on the road as they ferry fruit between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Trucking that many hours a day can be dangerous, as one could fall asleep at the wheel, causing an accident. Indeed, we'll see a couple of accidents, but more on that in a bit. There's also the eternal struggle to stay one step ahead of the financing company in making the payments. Anyhow, at one of the vintage 1940 truck stops -- remember, there was no interstate highway system with divided highways and fancy rest areas at this point -- they meet a hash slinger who wants to get away from it all. So Cassie (Ann Sheridan) gets in the truck with our two brothers. She begins to fall in love with Joe, while Paul already has a wife down in Los Angeles.

As I said earlier, we're going to see a couple of accidents. The first is witnessed by the Fabrinis, and kills a fellow trucker. The second, however, involves the Fabrinis, and changes the plot of the movie, as Paul loses an arm. This makes him unfit to drive, and there goes the business. So Joe goes to work for the Carlsen trucking operation. It's run by Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), a man who was a small-time trucker like the Fabrinis but made good and now has a fleet of trucks. He's also got a trophy wife named Lana (Ida Lupino). And therein lies another problem. Although Ed has made good financially, with a nice house including a detached garage with automatic opening and closing by electric eye, he hasn't made good socially. Oh, he tries, but he can be quite the drunken fool. Not a bad person; just one with no social graces. The irritates Lana no end, and when she sees what a good worker Joe is, she hatches a plan.

Lana has fallen in love with Joe, and she intends to get Ed drunk, have him park the car in the garage, and then have it close on him with the car's motor still running, which will lead Ed passed out drunk in the car to die of carbon monoxide poisoning! Oh, Ed does die all right, and Lana really starts putting the moves on Joe, who had no desire whatsoever to see Ed die and doesn't particularly have any romantic feelings for Lana either. But this being a movie in the Code era, you know Lana isn't going to be able to get away with all of this.

They Drive By Night is, for the most part, a darn entertaining movie. George Raft, who generally wasn't the most talented actor, does OK here. Ann Sheridan gets to deliver a lot of zesty lines. Bogart is underused, but the studio didn't know he was on the cusp of stardom. Alan Hale is playing the same garrulous, gregarious figure he did in a whole bunch of character roles, from It Happened One Night to The Adventures of Robin Hood and beyond. Ida Lupino, however, really gets to chew the scenery. At times, it's a problem, as the Code forces her to pay for her sins, making her veer nearly into territory plumbed by Bette Davis in Now, Voyager while doing it. It's laughable in that it's rather over the top, and not quite fitting in to an otherwise solid drama. But it doesn't sink the movie, which overall succeeds in entertaining, even if it falls a bit short of greatness.

The TCM Shop lists They Drive By Night as being part of one of those four movie box sets, this one of Humphrey Bogart movies.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A special month on TCM

If you've been watching enough TCM, there's no way you could have msised that TCM's 20th anniversary is coming up. That will be the 14th, with a special just before prime time, with prime time that night airing Gone With the Wind, which was the very first movie run on TCM all the way back in 1994. That, combined with the TCM Film Festival coming up later in the month, means that there are some programming changes on TCM in April.

First, if you paid close enough attention, you'll note there was no Star of the Month this week. True, Monday was still part of March, but rather than having a traditional Star of the Month, John Wayne is going to be the Star of the Month the entire week beginning April 21. He'll be showing up in prime time every night, and a lot of the daytime too.

There's no Friday night spotlight either. This first Friday night in April brings a memorial to Charlton Heston, who was born in October 1923, but whose death was almost exactly six years ago. The night kicks off with Ruby Gentry at 8:00 PM.

Next week brings five nights of TCM Fan Programmers, with 20 of them (for the 20th anniversary) each presenting one movie. Sorry, I wasn't selected, and I don't think you'd want to see my ugly mug anyway. It looks like four programmers a night for the five weeknights next week.

Finally, a post-script to yesterday's post. I was a bit surprised to see that the closing shot of Stopover in Hollywood was indeed the Hollywood sign, and more surprised to see that it wasn't in as decrepit a state as it would be by the 1970s just before the restoration. The rest of the short was slightly odd and desperately in need of a restoration (not going to happen, I'd presume) as the color was so uneven.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stopover in Hollywood

TCM is honoring Doris Day on her 90th birthday today, although I've also seen conflicting sources that claim Day was born in 1922. At any rate, it's 24 hours of Doris Day, minus a couple of shorts. The one that looks mildly interesting is Stopover in Hollywood, at about 7:39 PM, or just after Tunnel of Love (6:00 PM, 98 min). It's another of those "let's see all those famous places in Hollywood" shorts, of which quite a few have been made. This one dates from the early 1960s. If I'm not mistaken, the "Hollywood" sign was really beginning to fall into disrepair by the early 1960s, ultimately being restored to what we see today in the late 1970s. So somehow, I doubt we'll be seeing that.

The other short, which I mentioned briefly last October, is Every Girl's Dream. It's on following Send Me No Flowers (midnight, 100 min plus an intro and outro from Ben Mankiewicz), or about 1:43 AM. This one has the queen of the Cotton Bowl brought in to Hollywood by MGM, who try to make her more glamorous as she more or less is a walking advert for cotton garments. When I wrote about it mive months ago, I mentioned that it also has a brief mention of The Glass Bottom Boat, which happens to be a Doris Day movie that's not airing today. You'll have to make do with The Glass Bottom Boat in Catalina, which you can see at about 3:38 AM, or following With Six You Get Eggroll (2:00 AM, 95 min and there should be an intro/outro from Ben Mankiewicz).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

More Alec Guinness photos

Alec Guinness with Stanley Holloway in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Today is the centenary of actor Alec Guinness, about whom I already did a birthday post three years ago. But since it's his centenary, TCM is spending all 24 hours of its broadcast day with Guinness movies. I've blogged about quite a few of them before, but didn't provide photos for all of them, as with my post on The Lavender Hill Mob, which is airing at 3:45 PM.

One Guinness movie that I haven't blogged about before but it on today's schedule is A Majority of One, at 1:45 AM. This one has Guinness as a Japanese widower who meets and falls in love with Jewish-American mother Rosalind Russell in Japan in the 1950s; the two teach us some obvious messages about tolerance and forgiveness. Or hits us over the head with those messages, if you will. The movie is in color, but in tring to look for good photos from the movie, I could only find black-and-white photos of Guinness and Russell. The two of them look all wrong, don't they?

I've used this photo from Kind Hearts and Coronets before; that's airing at 1:45 PM this afternoon. I prefer it to The Ladykillers, which kicks off prime time tonight at 8:00 PM, although I think I was a bit too harsh in my criticism of The Ladykillers. Most of the comments I've seen from professional critics have them giving the opinion that The Ladykillers is much the better movie, but I prefered The Lavender Hill Mob for whatever reason.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marc Platt, 1913-2014

I just noticed the obituary for Marc Platt, a dancer and actor whose most famous film role would be as one of the brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Platt was 100, and according to the obituary fairly active until late in life.

I have to admit that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn't a favorite of mine, although that's something you probably could have figured out if you've read this blog enough. Musicals aren't my favorite genre, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one that I find particularly artificial. On the other hand, I'm always intrigued by people who are able to remain active until a very advanced age, so the story of somebody like Platt, who started out in the late 1930s, is interesting in that regard.

Platt is another of those people who will only be showing up in TCM's year end TCM Remembers piece of people who died earlier in the year. I'm sorry to say that, not remembering which brother is which, I couldn't find a good photo to illustrate this post that I would be certain was Platt from the movie.