Monday, June 30, 2014

Il compito

TCM is putting the spotlight on composer Quincy Jones tonight. Jones might be best remembered as a producer of pop music, but he did write several movie scores over the course of his career. Among the movies Jones scored is the caper film The Italian Job, overnight tonihgt or early tomorrow morning at 4:15 AM.

Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, a small-time thief who has just finished a two-year stint in prison. After getting out, he's picked up by his girlfriend, who takes him to see a mysterious foreign woman. This woman, Mrs. Beckerman, is the wife of a man who was friends with one Bridger (Noël Coward). Bridger is a prisoner in the same prison where Charlie spent his two years, and is in fact the top dog in the prison, being a master criminal. Beckerman's late husband had apparently come up with an idea to pull off a daring heist in Italy, and she's offering that plan to Charlie.

The plan is audacious: steal a shipment of gold valued at £4 million being transported from Communist China to Italy when it's coming off the plane at the Turin airport. As cover, but also making things more complicated, is that the shipment is taking place at the same time as a big soccer match between England and Italy taking place in Turin. The city is going to be filled with English fans, and who's going to notice a few more who turn out to be criminals? Complicating matters is that more people is going to mean more traffic on top of the notorious Italian traffic.

Charlie can't do this by himself, and in fact it's obvious he's going to need Bridger's connections. Bridger, for all his other criminal faults, is a man who loves Britain, sp the thought of stealing gold from Italy appeals to his chauvinism, and he helps Charlie at least as much as a man in prison can, which seems to be quite a lot. Chief among the members of Charlie's gang assembled for the job is Prof. Peach (Benny Hill), an electronics expert whose job it's going to be to deal with all the security cameras and similar electronics. Peach, however, is also a mental patient, which again serves to make the job more difficult.

And so on to the heist itself. Well, not quite. Word has made it through the grapevine that some Englihsmen are plotting this heist. Of course the police don't like it, but there's another problem for Charlie & Co.: the Mafia. They don't like the idea of anybody muscling in on their turf, and they're going to make certain the heisters don't even get to Turin. Of course, the heist is going to go off, but are our English heores going to get away with it?

The Italian Job is probably remembered for one thing, which is the getaway scene after the heist in Turin involving a bunch of Mini Cooper cars going pretty much everywhere in Turin as they try to escape everybody chasing them. And I mean literally everywhere, including stairs and rooftops, among other places. There's a reason why this sequence is generally known as the highlight of the movie, and it's very well done.

In fact, much of The Italian Job is well done. Michael Caine had already played on conman in Gambit, and he seems a natural for the role here. The set-piece sequences -- not just the Mini Coopers, but the ones before the gang gets to Turin, the heist itself, and the finale -- all work well. About the only thing that doesn't work is Noël Coward,who comes across as though he's playing a parody of himself. The Italian Job isn't supposed to be particularly realistic; it's a fairly comedic heist movie. (As if you didn't figure that out from the Mini Coopers.) But the Coward sequences, especially one after he learns about the hesit, come across as particularly ill-fitting. That doesn't detract much from the movie as a whole, however, which remains thoroughly entertaining.

The Italian Job was remade about a decade ago, so if you're looking for it on DVD, make certain you get this 1969 version and not the remake.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A report on the Shanghai International Film Festival

Sadly, there's nobody out there who would pay to to go on junkets to film festivals around the world. Not that I particularly want to go to most festivals of current movies, although getting to go to exotic or elegant (eg. Cannes) locales on somebody else's dime might be nice for a whlle. Instead, I have to make do with reports on the film festivals from the various international broadcasters.

China Radio International recently devoted one of its half-hour feature programs, In the Spotlight, to the recently concluded Shanghai International Film Festival, with topics devoted to converting old movies to being suitable for the new 4K exhibition format; collaboration between China and the US in making movies, and Chinese collaboration with Australia.

The second of the links above is to a transcript of the "In the Spotlight" episode, although there's also a download link on the page as well as a plugin for streaming audio if you prefer that. The download is about 8.3 MB and 24 minutes long.

If you're interested in other parts of Chinese culture, CRI's News Plus section has links to both their current affairs and cultural programs, with many of them available for download.

TCM's Eli Wallach programming tribute

Eli Wallach died last week, and TCM have been quite quick in coming up with a programming tribute to him. Tomorrow morning and afternoon, starting at 9:00 AM and going to the start of prime time, TCM will be showing five movies in which Wallach appears. Apparently, they don't have the rights to either The Magnificent Seven or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the current time, since neither of them shows up in the schedule, much to the consternation of those who like to whine and shriek about the poor choices made by the TCM programmers for obituary or Summer Under the Stars programming choices.

Wallach's tribute begins at 9:00 AM with Kisses For My President, in which he plays Valdez, a South American dictator trying to conclude a military deal with the USA's first female president (Polly Bergen); to give the First Gentleman (Fred MacMurray) something to do, she has him go around with Valdez, getting into all sorts of trouble. It's a pretty poor movie but it's not really Wallach's fault.

That's followed at 11:00 AM by Act One, a movie about the New York theater world of the 1930s and the attempt to break into that world as a playwright.

A whole bunch of stars, including Wallach, tell the story of How the West Was Won, at 1:00 PM. This one was originally filmed in Cinerama, and I believe the last few times TCM has run it it's been in the "smilebox" format that's designed to imitate the fact that in a Cinerama theater, the center of the screen would be a bit farther away from the viewer than the sides. Smilebox, however, winds up looking phony.

The Misfits (3:45 PM) was the last film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, and deals with a bunch of misfits out in Nevada who go off to the middle of nowhere to try to make a few dollars by roping a bunch of wild horses that will be turned into dog food.

Finally, at 6:00 PM, there's Baby Doll in which Wallach plays a man from out of town getting into the cotton business in Mississipi, which is how he meets Karl Malden and his young bride Carroll Baker. If you like overheated Tennessee Williams stuff, you'll love Baby Doll.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

TCM Remembers Ruby Dee

I probably should have posted this last night, but TCM pre-empted a bit of their lineup in order to honor actress Ruby Dee, who died a few weeks back at the age of 91. They're going to be showing two of Dee's movies this afternoon, presumably with an intro and outro from Ben Mankiewicz:

First, at 4:15 PM, is Edge of the City, in whcih Dee has a smaller role as Sidney Poitier's wife as Poitier tries to help a troubled John Cassavetes. Note that TCM lists the running time for this as 86 minutes, so with the pieces from Ban Mankiewicz booking this, it's going to come up close to the 90-minute timeslot.

Then, at 5:45 PM, is A Raisin in the Sun, again with Ruby Dee as Sidney Poitier's wife. This time, they're part of a family in the projects of Chicago that gets an insurance check after the late patriarch dies and then has to make the serious, life-changing decision of what to do with that money.

(TCM has also announced its programming change to mark the late Eli Wallach, but more on that in a future post.)

Friday, June 27, 2014

When (and why) did Warner Bros. get the rights to Mack Sennett shorts?

I noticed that TCM's schedule for tomorrow has the short Happy Times and Jolly Memories, tomorrow morning at about 11:50 AM, or just after Topper Takes a Trip (10:30 AM, 80 min). This particular short is new to me; it's a 1943 short from Warner Bros. looking back at the olden days of silent comedy by showing a whole bunch of clips from Mack Sennett's comedies at Keystone. (But, as the IMDb commenters say, not including Charlie Chaplin; I wondered if he nixed his appearance.) To be honest, I wondered how Warner Bros. got all these clips back in 1943. Keystone had gone defunct in 1935, long after Sennett left. However, a Wikipedia search of Sennett's biography says that many of Sennett's movies that he made after leaving Keystone were in fact distributed by First National. Warner Bros. of course, later bought out First National, and that ould explain how they got all the shorts, but not any of those with Chaplin. You learn something new every day.

Elsewhere in the shorts department, TCM is once again running the King Solomon's Mines promo that's really a promo for Dodge trucks, overnight tonight or very early tomorrow morning at about 4:15 AM. One that I haven't seen before is The Backyard Broadcast, a two-reeler from 1936 coming up a little after 7:30 AM tomorrow. This one seems to be another of the revue of juvenile talent acts, much like the two that aired on Judy Garland's birthday a few weeks back, or Show Kids. Unsurprisingly, I don't recognize any of the child acts here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TCM schedule warning

TCM is running Rock Hudon's 1969 movie A Fine Pair tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the salute to him as Star of the Month. That will be followed by Ice Station Zebra, which according to the schedule is supposed to come on at 9:45 PM. There's a problem, though. The monthly schedule that I downloaded back at the end of May lists A Fine Pair as being 115 minutes, which clearly won't fit into a 105-minute time slot, especially once you add in Ben Mankiewicz's intro and outro. TCM's online schedule lists A Fine Pair as having a running time of just 90 minutes, which clearly would fit an allow Ice Station Zebra to begin at 9:45 PM. Complicating matters is that the AFI database that TCM uses for the individual movie pages, and the IMDb, don't agree on the running time either. TCM's page on the movie says 89 minutes, which could fit with TCM's daily schedule rounding things differently: 89 minutes and change could round down to 89, but you're still not fitting it into an 89-minute time slot, and if I were a programmer, I'd want to know about the "and change" in the run time of any movie. Best to round everything up to the next whole minute. As for the IMDb page on A Fine Pair, it gives several different runtimes, although very helpfully stating that these were running times in various countries, which would make sense if you consider that some countries had some edits made that other countries didn't. The upshot, however, is that I have no idea how long the print that TCM is running tonight will be.

If TCM does have the longer print of A Fine Pair it may affect a fair portion of the night's schedule. Ice Station Zera is listed on the monthly TCM schedule and the online schedule as running 152 minutes, but IMDb says 148 minutes, and I seem to recall it fitting barely into a 2-1/2 hour afternoon time slot when I watched it on TCM. Of course, with Ben Mankiewicz doing an introduction and a bit after the movie, it's going to run beyond the 2:30 in any case. The night's third movie, Pretty Maids All in a Row, is listed on the TCM schedule as beginning at 12:30 AM, and being 91 minutes, with a short on the making of Guns for San Sebastian thrown in to get TCM to 2:15 AM for the start of the fourth movie, Seconds. But, if A Fine Pair runs long, it'll push Ice Station Zebra to 10:00, and Pretty Maids All in a Row to sometime after 12:30 AM. TCM has had a couple of cases where they get prints longer than expected where they go straight from the end of the too-long movie to the lineup announcement to the "now showing" bit for the next movie. If that happens here, TCM could catch up in time for Seconds by skipping the short. Otherwise, Seconds might start a bit late. Seconds is listed as 101 minutes in a two-hour slot, so in any case the schedule should finally get back on track by The Second Face at 4:15 AM.

I hope this doesn't inconvenience anybody too much. I was going to do post on Ice Station Zebra today, but I don't feel comfortable doing it if I'm not certain if it's going to begin at the time the TCM schedule says it will. And besides, it's gonig to be getting another airing during Summer Under the Stars in August, so I can blog about it then.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Karlovy Vary Artistic Director Karel Och

I've mentioned several times in the past that I like to listen to the international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio, although nowadays most of them are on internet and satellite only. The other day, Radio Prague had a brief interview with Karel Och, who is the artistic director for the 49th Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the northwest Czech spa town of the same name (also known as Karlsbad in German). Apparently Mel Gibson is supposed to be given a lifetime achievement award. Of course, you can read about it for yourself at the second of the two links above. This being radio, there's also an MP3 file, which is about 1.8 MB and about four minutes.

Eli Wallach, 1915-2014

Eli Wallach in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Veteran actor Eli Wallach has died at the age of 98, it has been announced. Wallach had a long career on stage, TV, and film. Perhaps his most famous roles were westerns: one as the bandit defeated by The Magnificent Seven, and the other in Sergio Leone's spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Wallach's career, however, was much more varied with that. He appeared on stage in a wide range of plays quite often with his wife of 66 years, Anne Jackson, as well as numerous TV roles. There were also a lot of different movies, from his first, the Tennessee Williams melodrama Baby Doll, to bad comedy like Kisses For My President, in which he plays a Latin American leader visiting Washington to conclude an arms deal with President Polly Bergen, only to get waylaid by First Gentleman Fred MacMurray.

Wallach appeared on TCM a few years ago, I think as a Guest Programmer, and told a funny anecdote about Baby Doll. In that movie, he played opposite Karl Malden. One day his wife sat down to watch either the day's rushes or a preview of the completed film, I forget which. Eli said that his wife's succinct response was, "Never before have two noses filled the screen so completely!" I'd guess there's going to be a TCM programming tribute sometime, but TCM's website doesn't mentino anything yet. I also haven't seen TCM at all to see if they're already running a "TCM Remembers" piece.

Wallach was never nominated for an Oscar, but received an honorary award for lifetime achievement in 2010.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Another Man's Poison

TCM is showing several movies tonight that were made in Britain, but are notable for their American stars or themes. I was thinking of doing a full-length post on No Orchids for Miss Blandish (overnight at 1:15 AM), which is interesting for the British trying to make a movie about Americans set in America. It's a fiarly straighforward Hollywood-style gangster story, but it's notable for having been made in the UK. The characters are supposed to be American, but as with Purple Noon, these characters don't seem like Americans I'd recognize. Anyhow, TCM's schedule lists No Orchids for Miss Blandish as being available on DVD, so I'd like to blog today about a movie that I don't think is in print on DVD: Another Man's Poison, tonight at 9:45 PM.

Bette Davis stars as Janet Frobisher, a mystery writer living in a country house somehwere in the middle of nowhere in norhtern. She's married, but her hasband has been away in Malaya managing the couple's business, that being a rubber plantation. At least, that's the story Janet has been telling everybody. In fact, we're about to find out that the truth is quite different, when one George Bates (Davis' real-life husband at the time, Gary Merrill) comes knocking on her door. George says that he and Janet's husband were both in prison together, but that they escaped and robbed a bank together. No wonder Jaanet didn't want to tell the townsfolk the truth about her husband. The robbery went wrong, though, and George traced Mr. Frobisher back to this house. So where's the husband, and where's George's half of the loot? Davis, of course, knows that the story of her husband being in Malaya is nonsense, and she's about to show George why. There's her husband in the study, really quite dead. Not only dead, but dead at the hand of Janet, who poisoned her.

Janet was presumably planning on burying the body, which would have gotten rid of all the evidence. Nobody in town had seen her husband, what with their thinking he's in Malaya. And it's not as if anybody lives with Janet to have seen her husband come to the house. But here's George, and he's bollixed everything up. The two of them are going to have to bury the body together, but surely they were familiar with Double Indemnity, so they'd know that wouldn't be the end of the matter. Janet certainly realizes it, as she's planning no poisioning George, too. But before that can happen, a young couple who are friends with Janet show up: Chris (Barbara Murray), is engaged to Larry (Anthony Steel), who it seems has a little closer relationship to Janet. Also constantly popping in to complicate things is the local veterinarian for Janet's beloved horses, Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams), whose purpose in the story in many ways seems similar to the one Edward G. Robinson has in Double Indemnity. Who is this strange man? Well, it's obvious that it must be Janet's husband, finally returned from Malaya!

Another Man's Poison is one of the many movies that has a bit of a problem in that, if they wanted to show the movie in American, they were going to have to deal with the restrictions of the Production Code. Bette Davis as a murderess can't get away with it unless the writers come up with a deus ex machina that somehow turns the killing into self-defense, which isn't really murder. Gary Merrill as a bank robger certainly can't get away with that. So we're left with seeing how everything is going to unravel. Well, we're left with that and Bette Davis. I can't help but think that the movie of Another Man's Poison (which was originally a stage play) was designed as a vehicle for Bette Davis to emote her way through: sometimes going over the top, but never failing to entertain. Gary Merrill was never the world's greatest actor, but tended to do OK when playing roles that had him be sturdy and a bit of a moral center, as in Phone Call From a Stranger or a bit less in All About Eve. Here, his sole purpose is not to get in Bete Davis' way, and in that he suceeds admirably. The young couple don't have much to do, while Emlyn Williams really looks like he's enjoying himself. All in all, it's entertaining if not great.

Amazon lists a ridiculously expensive DVD released in 2000, but also claims you can stream the movie if you're a member of Amazon Prime. Unfortunately I don't have the bandwidth or internet speed to do streaming video, so I can't comment on Amazon Prime streaming movies.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Briefs: June 23, 2014

Somebody at TCM needs has been cribbing their own ideas: the short Gym College is back on the air, overnight at 3:35 AM, just between Gypsy and She's Working Her Way Through College. I mentioned this short back in January, when it was on... just after She's Working Her Way Through College. One thing I didn't mention back in January is that Gym College has made it to Youtube:

After tonight's burlesque movies on TCM, we're going to get a number of "summer" movies, or at least movies that have the word "summer" in the title. I don't know if it was by design or just a coincidence, but the first two happen to be musical remakes of non-musical MGM movies: Summer Holiday, at 7:00 AM, is a remake of Ah, Wilderness!. Mickey Rooney played the younger son in the 1935 movie; now, a dozen years on, he's all grown up (or at least as grown up as he was going to get) and at 26 plays the young man about to graduate from high school.

The other remake is In the Good Old Summertime, at 9:00 AM. This is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Van Johnson and Judy Garland taking the roles that James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan did in the original. There's a piece Liza Minnelli did on her mother that used to air quite a bit on TCM, in which Liza mentions that she shows up very briefly in this movie, being carried in her mother's arms.

Over on FXM Retro, they've brought back Pickup on South Street. Most of you reading this are probably going to miss this morning's airing at 10:00 AM, but it's on agani in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, or overnight tonight depending on your time zone, at 4:30 AM. If you've got FXM, this one is highly worth watching.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Guns at Batasi

Those of you who have FXM will have another chance to catch Guns at Batasi, tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM on FXM Retro.

Made at Fox's British operations, Guns at Batasi stars Richard Attenborough as Regimental Sergeant-Major Lauderdale. He's more or less in charge of the British military base at Batasi, which is in some East African country in the years just after decolonialization began; so, it's a British base abroad now in a newly-independent country and the British are more or less training the new African soldiers. Lauderdale is a throwback to an earlier era who insists that everything be done exactly by the book. As such, he's a bit the butt of jokes from the British under his command and not exactly thrilled at the new way of doing things that decolonialization seems to be imposing on the British.

Two women come to visit the base at Batasi. One, MP Barker-Wise (Flora Robson), is scheduled to be there. She's doing an inspection for Parliament, and is one of those do-gooders who has decided sympathy for the cause of the Africans, to the point that she's quite frankly naïve in putting her faith in the African soldiers. The other one, Karen (Mia Farrow), is a UN worker who is supposed to be leaving the country, but winds up being accompanied to the base by Private Wilkes (John Leyton) because the situation at the airport in the capital city is a bit chaotic. Although the country is independent, there are people who don't like the group to whom the British handed over control. As in many other African countries, they'd be willing to take over, by force if necessary.

That force eventually winds up coming to Batasi. Or, more accurately, it's already there. Presumably among the local soldiers being trained by the British at Batasi would have been members of both factions, and the faction that's been planning the military coup in the capital is going to have to take over the base as part of that coup. As for the British, they're in a sort of ambiguous position. They're more or less being held hostage against their will, and that is certainly unacceptable to them. So it's up to Lauderdale to try to lead an operation to get them all to safety. Complicating things is the limited manpower and ammunition, as well as the fact that Barker-Wise, stupid lady that she is, is still willing to trust the new local (African) commander at the base. She just knows that they're really gentlemen at heart, and will give free passage to the wounded, even though one is the old local commander they'd execute for treason for collaborating with the old regime.

I think I've stated before that military movies are in general not one of my favorite genres. To be fair to Guns at Batasi, however, I have to say that it's a well-made movie with a tense and fairly believable storyline about how things can go really wrong in a place that's in the middle of nowhern and cut off from all information. Never having been in the military myself, I have no idea how believable the military characters are, but the Barker-Wise character certainly seems believable, which probably bodes well for the others. If you like military movies, and want somehting different from your normal Hollywood World War II stuff, then Guns at Batasi probably isn't a bad choice.

For those without FXM, Guns at Batasi did get a DVD release, although I'm not certain if it's still in print.

Essentials Jr.: Godzilla, King of the Monsters

Tonight at 8:00 PM, TCM's Essentials Jr. is presenting Godzilla, King of the Monsters. As I mentioned back in June 2012, this isn't quite the same movie as the original Gojira. I'm not certain why it was transliterated to Godzilla in English since English speakers don't have difficulty with the Japanese sounds. If the story were originally an English-language Godzilla adapted by the Japanese, I could see the title change, but as far as I can tell the story is originally Japanese. Wikipedia suggests that "Gojira" comes from the Japanese words for "gorilla" ("gorira") and "whale" ("kujira").

My post of two years ago mentions that when the American distributor added Raymond Burr and dubbed it into English for American audiences, all of the dialogue was dubbed into English. I think this is technically untrue. It's been a while since I've seen the movie, and there are apparently places where the dialog is left in Japanese, with Burr's policeman friend explaining to Burr (and us) what's going on. It must have been cheaper to do this when they could get away with it.

I'm not surprised that TCM selected this version of the story for Essentials Jr. instead of the original Gojira. After all, Essentials Jr. is supposed to be for the whole family, and I can imagine that the young kids aren't going to want to spend an hour and a half reading subtitles. True, Essentails Jr. did include Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday a couple of years back, but that one's got quite a bit less dialog than most movies, and most of the comedy is visual. They've also included silent films, but again, the intertitles are less frequent than the subtitled dialog in most movies. For better or worse, we in the United States don't have the experience of constantly reading subtitles that people in some non-English speaking countries do.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two movies in one, and it's not an anthology

TCM is showing the odd movie Saratoga Trunk tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM. It's a movie with two distinct parts but the same actors playing the same characters, which really seem more like two completely different movies.

Ingrid Bergman is definitely the star of the first half of the movie, which is set in New Orleans. Bergman plays Clio Dulaine, a woman returning to New Orleans after an absence of some years together with her two servants Angelique (Flora Robson as a mulatto) and the midget Cupidon (Jerry Austin). From the way everybody around them reacts, it's clear that Clio has a past. That past involves her mother, who was definitely not from the upper crust of New Orleans society, getting knocked up by a man who was part of that high society, with Clio being the result. Apparently Mom eventually killed Dad in an accident, resulting in Mom going off to jail and Clio and company having to leave New Orleans. Now she's back to claim her rightful inheritance. One day when she's getting shunned by everybody in a polite Sunday brunch establishment, she meets Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). He's a colonel from Texas who's been making his way by gambling, and seems to be one of the few people to show kindness to Clio, although she doesn't particularly want him since he doesn't have any money. One of the other reasons she's in New Orleans is that she's looking for a respectable husband -- and here respectable means wealthy -- to bring her up into polite society. Eventually, Clint leave New Orleans, and Clio is paid by Dad's lawyer to leave town too.

Cut to Saratoga Springs, NY. Nowadays, it's known for the horse races every summer where the wealthy equivalent of NASCAR fans meet. But back in the late 19th century, the place was better known for being a spa resort -- after all, what's the word "Springs" in the town name for? -- where the wealthy hypochondriacs would go to recover. Clio, with some of that money from Dad's lawyer in hand, has gone up to Saratoga in search of that wealthy husband, using that money to pass herself off as being of higher class than she actually is. She's got her eyes on young Bart Van Steel (John Warburton), the scion of a railway family. And this is where she's going to meet Clint again. By this time he's made his way up the ladder in the railroad business, and it's going to bring him into conflict with the Van Steels. There's also the possibility that Clint is going to spill the beans about Clio's real status. Apparently, some trunk line in to the southwest of Saratoga is being fought for, not only in the boardroom but literally, with railroad goons getting into fights, and the outcome of that fight will determine wither Clint or Van Steel ends up king of the railways. Or something like that; it's all rather muddled.

That's the problem with the entire movie, in fact. There's something really wrong with the script in that the movie is hard to follow. Clio's presence in New Orleans makes sense; Clint's is rather more difficult to grasp. The New Orleans scenes wrap up rather suddenly, with the action very suddenly switching to Ne wYork in a way that seems rushed and badly plotted. And the whole railroad stuff is a bit nebulous. All of the actors try their best and the acting really isn't bad, but they're let down by that script. It doesn't help, either, that the script runs too long. The movie would probably be better if it focused only on the Saratoga Springs part of the story, with the New Orleans part being a brief back story.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Night Descends on Treasure Island

Back in April 2013, I mentioned the Traveltalks short Night Descends on Treasure Island, which I had recently seen between movies on TCM. I think I did a fairly good write-up no it back then. Half of so of it is an extremely interesting look at a light show that was created for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939/40 on an artificially-constructed island in San Francisco Bay. I found the light show surprisingly stunning even 70 years on. The other half of the short is a look at the artworks on loan from various museums for the exposition. For viewers in movie theaters back in the day, this part was probably more interesting than it would be today, when we can just look up all of the paintings on Google's image search. Needless to say, I'm mentioning Night Descends on Treasure Island because it's on the schedule again tonight a little after 11:30 PM, or just after Captain Blood (9:30 PM, 119 minutes plus an intro/outro from Greg Proops). Other than the title, Night Descends on Treasure Island has nothing to do with pirates.

Night Descends on Treasure Island was actually not the first time James A. Fitzpatrick filmed a World's Fair for MGM. It was the second of a two-part series on the Golden Gate Exposition, with the first part unsurprisingly looking at Treasure Island by day. But two years earlier, Fitzpatrick had gone to the Paris World's Fair of 1937 and made Paris on Parade. Night Descends on Treasure Island did get released as an extra on DVD; I'm not certain about the other two. I can't find any of them on Youtube, either.

This airing also reminds me that I really need to update which posts have the Traveltalks tag.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

TCM doesn't show any mysteries

I was mildly surprised this morning when looking at the TCM to discover that TCM doesn't run mysteries. Well, of course they do, it's just that the schedule doesn't call them mysteries. Tomorrow morning sees a lineup of several well-known mystery movies, but the TCM schedule page lists the genre as "Suspense". Sure, there's some suspense in a mystery movie, but there's certainly a difference between the two genres, as Alfred Hitchock was fond of pointing out. Looking at the top of the weekly schedule page, mystery is skipped among the genres, going from musical to romance.

But that's not really why I'm posting this morning; instead it's to give a brief nod to the movies in TCM's lineup tomorrow, which are generally recognized as some of the great mystery movies of the classic era. First up, at 6:00 AM, is The Thin Man, which is probably the definitive comedy mystery. William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles trade a series of barbed zingers while Nick solves a murder involving a nutty family and drinking like a fish. Well, Nora drinks like a fish too, as seen in the classic exchange in which a hung over Nora asks, "What hit me?" to which Nick responds, "The sixth martini."

The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon follows at 7:45 AM. This is, of course, the Humphrey Bogart version. I like both this and the Ricardo Cortez version from a decade earlier, although for different reasons. Cortez doesn't really pull off hard-boiled the way Humphrey Bogart does with ease, but the Cortez version has a bunch of nice pre-Code touches. The Bogart version, however, has all the great supporting characters, with Sydney Greenstreet's laughter and Elisha Cook's bug-eyed gunsel Wilmer being my favorites ahead of Peter Lorre.

I thought I had mentioned it earlier on my blog, but I'm not a fan of The Big Sleep, which airs at 9:30 AM tomorrow. I've never gotten why the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall marriage is considered the gold standard for romance ahead of marriages that stood the test of time (eg. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) or those that ended tragically (Clark Gable and Carole Lombard). Bacall's acting generally leaves me cold, and nobody is helped by the script, which is maddeningly complex. Supposedly, even author Raymond Chandler was confused as to who had bumped off one of the characters. And yet, this is one of the movies that constantly gets called an all-time classic.

I think the stylish Laura, on at 11:30 AM, is much better. It's more compact, it makes sense, and for the most part the characters are just so much fun to watch. I bet Clifton Webb had a blast playing his part as the supercilious radio columnist mocking detective Dana Andrews. It's also movies like Laura that show that Vincent Price really could act, something the younger folks who only know him as a horror star might not realize.

Dick Powell showed he could act in Murder, My Sweet, at 1:00 PM. Hitherto known as a musical star, Powell took on the role of detective Philip Marlowe. Sure, Powell like Ricardo Cortez, doesn't do hard-boiled the way Humphrey Bogart does, but Powell has a somewhat dark aloofness that fits the detectives that populate these murder mysteries, and used it to good effect in a string of movies in the second half of his career be they mystery/suspense movies like The Tall Target, or straight-up drama like The Bad and the Beautiful.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


A week or so ago I mentioned that when I went to watch the movie Kangaroo, I noticed that what used to be the Fox Movie Channel had finally been rebranded as FXM Retro. Ever since I started watching the channel a decade or more ago, I noticed that they seemed to take a limited number of movies out of their vault and run them over and over before putting them back in the vault. So it's not surprising that Kangaroo shows up again, tomorrow afternoon at 1:35 PM on FXM Retro.

Finlay Currie plays Michael McGuire, a cattleman somewhere in the outback of South Australia circa 1900 who's come to the big city to try to take out a loan. The weather's been bad, and the drought threatens to kill off everybody's stock of cattle, so McGuire is looking for a loan to tide his ranch over until the next rainy season -- if the rainy season comes. McGuire is also an inveterate drinker, which would probably explain why he's staying at a flophouse for sailors, and why he goes babbling on about some long-lost son. Seeing everything at the sailors' hotel is John Gamble (Richard Boone). The two will meet up again later.

But first, Gamble has some other business to take care of. Passing by the local casino, he hears Richard Connor's (Peter Lawford) winning £4,000, so Gamble proceeds to try to rob Connor out of the money. Except that Connor actually lost the money, and is broke, so the two team up to try to rob the casino's safe. They get the money, but unfotunately the manager gets shot along the way, so now our two gamblers are going to be criminals wanted by the police. Which is where Michael McGuire comes in again.

What better way to get out of Sydney than by telling McGuire they'd like to buy some of his cattle off of him? It'll give McGuire the money he needs, and it will get our two criminals on the run out to South Australia presumably safely away from the police, for a while at least. And to grease the wheels, Gamble suggests to McGuire that Connor is in fact that long-lost son he's been looking for. Not that Connor is particularly happy about it, since his presence here feels more at times as though he's been blackmailed into the whole cockamamie scheme. And things are going to get a whole lot more complicated when they get back to the ranch and find that McGuire has a lovely daughter named Dell (Maureen O'Hara). Connor would like to fall in love with Dell, excapt that he's supposed to be her brother, which presents all sorts of problems. There's also the fact that one of the ranch hands eventually notices the marks from the leg irons one of the escapees was in....

Kangaroo, to me, plays out like a typical Hollywood Western, only with the action moved over to Australia instead of the US west, much like The Jackals and Untamed would use South Africa later. The problem is, the Australian settings -- and Fox really did go to the expense of filming on location in Australia -- are not used to the effect they could. There's a couple of sequences with Aboriginals, and some footage of native Australian fauna. But there's really nothing to give the impression that they couldn't have set the story in the US and filmed in some western scrubland location. The plot is also fairly thin, and the actors are all pedestrian. Kangaroo is by no means a bad movie; instead, there's just nothing distinguishing about it.

Amazon claims that Kangaroo did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but it seems to be out of print.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TCM Guest Programmer June 2014: Gene Wilder

Tonight sees this month's Guest Programmer on TCM: comic actor Gene Wilder. He's selected four of his favorite movies and sat down with Robert Osborne to discuss those movies, which are airing starting at 8:00 PM. Somewhat surprisingly, there's not much in the way of comedy in Wilder's selections:

Wilder's first pick is Random Harvest, at 8:00 PM. I've never done a full-length post about this movie mostly because it's one for which I have an intense dislike, with material almost as retch-inducing as Magnificent Obsession. Ronald Colman plays a World War I veteran with shell shock and amnesia who meets Greer Garson; the two fall in love. However, Colman has an accident that suddenly causes him to remember his old life and forget that he ever knew Garson. So she goes and works her way into that life, in the hopes that he'll remember her. I suppose it could be an interesting story, but the way the story is told in Random Harvest is incredibly sappy.

Second up is The Merry Widow at 10:15 PM. This is Ernst Lubitsch's version of the Franz Lehár operetta, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. Neither of the stars is a favorite of mine, especially not when they're singing. So this one starts off with a bunch of strikes against it for me, although that's more a case of personal preferences than anything about the actual quality of the movie.

Witness For the Prosecution comes on at 12:15 AM. This is a good one, with Billy Wilder directing Charles Laughton as the sick barrister who takes on "one more case", that of Tyrone Power who's been accused of murdering an old lady for her money. Marlene Dietrich plays the other woman in Power's life.

The last of Gene Wilder's selections is Dark Victory, at 2:30 AM. Bette Davis plays a selfish socialite who has her life turned upside down when she's diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctor George Brent operates on her and she thinks she's cured, but in reality she only has a year or so to live, although the doctor isn't going to spoil her life by telling her that. Still, she falls in love with the doctor. Davis gets to have one of her great scenery-chewing eruptions when she discovers what "prognosis negative" means. Humphrey Bogart is terribly miscast as Davis' stableman, and Ronald Reagan plays one of her socialite friends.

Following those movies, you'll have a chance to see an interview Wilder did with Alec Baldwin that TCM premiered a few years back.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stan Laurel, 1890-1965

Today marks the birth anniversary of comic actor Stan Laurel, who was one half of a duo with fellow comic actor Oliver Hardy. (Stan was the tall thin one.) Laurel and Hardy are, of course, one of those tentpoles of old movies that everybody, even people who aren't fans of old movies, knows of, so I I wouldn't think of going into much detail about Laurel and Hardy themselves.

I thought I had done something at least moderately substantial about their classic short The Music Box before, but apparently not. Granted, it's not as if there's much substantial to say about the movie, since it's a half-hour short with a very thin plot. Mrs. von Scwarzenhoffen (Gladys Gale) orders a piano, and it's up to deliverymen Stan and Ollie to deliver it. The catch is that the house lies at the top of a flight of steps. And boy is it a long flight of steps. So there's ample opportunity for comedy as the two hapless piano movers try to move that piano up the steps. And then once they get the piano up all those steps, they have to get it in the house. That's pretty much all the plot is, but even though it's not much, the short is still brilliant, if a bit manic at times.

The Music Box is on DVD, but has also made its way to Youtube:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Crime Unlimited

Back in the 1930s, the UK had a law that British theaters had to show at least a certain minimum percentage of British-made movies. The Hollywood studios wanted to show their movies in British theaters, but obviously those movies wouldn't count toward the quota of British films. So the studios solved their problem more or less by setting up production arms in the UK and making B movies as quickly and cheaply as possible, putting those on the bill with the Hollywood product to reach the quota of British-made movies. These films were never really intended for anything other than cheap, disposable domestic consumption, much like Hollywood probably never expected anybody to take an interest in its own B movies 50 years on. In 2007, TCM got the American broadcast rights to six of the movies made at Warner Bros.' British production unit. One of those, Crime Unlimited, is back on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM.

The plot is fairly simple. There's a rash of jewel robberies going on in London. Naturally, the police are having difficult solving the cases, so the police take one of their inspectors, Pete Borden (Esmond Knight), and have him try to infiltrate the gang. Along the way, Borden meets Natacha (Lilli Palmer), a moll of one of the gang members, who claims that she'd really like to get out of the racket. But does she really believe that, or is she going to betray Borden to the unsees gang leader when the time comes?

This is a B movie, so there's not much to it, but that doesn't mean it's a bad movie at all. The six of these movies that TCM got the rights to fit in just fine with all the Hollywood B movies they show: there's stuff that's a bit dumb, and stuff that turns out to be quite entertaining. None of it, however, will ever be mistaken for the greatest movies ever made. If any of them in addition to Crime Unlimited show up on TCM, give them a chance.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Carla Laemmle, 1909-2014

I noticed yesterday evening that Carla Laemmle has died at the age of 104. Laemmle was the niece of Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle, and came out to Hollywood in the early 1920s along with her family at uncle's invite. She wound up appearing in The Phantom of the Opera, which was originally made in 1925 but which tends to wind up on TCM in the re-release print. Also, Laemmle appeared in some of the Universal horror movies from the early 1930s.

Laemmle was one of the last links to the silent era. I believe the last adult link, at least in the form of somebody who worked as an adult in Hollywood's silent era, was screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, who died in January 2012 at the tender age of 111. All that's been left are juveniles: Mickey Rooney started out in silents and lived to the age of 93 before dying earlier this year. That, and the folks who started out even younger, such as Baby Peggy, who started out making movies at about 18 months and was washed up when she was still in her single digits, before having a fascinating life. She's still alive at the age of 95. There are still quite a few Hollywood people older than that still alive, but they mostly, if not all, started in the sound era.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th briefs

Today is Friday the 13th, and somebody has a sense of humor in programming a bunch of movies with 13 in the title. They're not all horror movies, either; the list includes The Woman on Pier 13, also known as I Married a Communist, at 2:00 PM. I've blogged before that this is a relatively lousy movie, and not because of its strongly anti-Communist point of view. Still, it's worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Much more interesting might be Thirteen Frightened Girls at 6:15 PM. William Castle directed it, and it's a mix of comedy, horror, and the spy genre that's never quite certain what it wants to be, but is interesting -- if nowhere near great -- because of it.

Greg Proops was thoroughly inoffensive last Friday in presenting the pirate movies, at least in the two intros I watched. I'm not too interested in tonight's films, which include a Judy Garland musical in The Pirate at 10:00 PM, followed by the Bob Hope comedy The Princess and the Pirate at midnight. I think I've mentioned before that I'm not the biggest fan of Bob Hope; his attempts to remain relevant in the 1960s and beyond are often painfully unfunny, while even the earlier stuff turns out to be not quite as good as advertised.

I was remiss in not mentioniing yesterday the death of actress Ruby Dee at the age of 91. I've mentioned a couple of her films, notably No Way Out, or The Incident, which as far as I know is still not out on DVD.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

There must be one person out there who likes Magnificent Obsession

I don't know who that person would be, but for the one person who enjoys Magnificent Obsession, TCM is running it tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the salute to Star of the Month Rock Hudson.

Rock Hudson stars as Bob Merrick, a wealthy playboy who seems to be universally despised. To be fair, he doesn't make it very easy to like him, what with running his sppeboat at full throttle on the mountain resort lake where he's staying. Unsurprisingly, something goes wrong, and there's an accident. A serious accident, as it stops Merrick's heart and leaves him needing the 1950s equivalent of a defibrillator. (I don't think the exact device they need is named.) Where the hell are they going to get that technology in the mountains? Well, it turns out that there is one machine around, in the home of Dr. Phillips. He built the local hospital, but because he's got a bad heart, he has a defibrillator at home. So they borrow the good doctor's machine to revive Merrick, which works. The only thing is, the good doctor has a heart attack while they're reviving Merrick, and since there's no machine around to save him, poof! -- he's dead.

Needless to say, nobody's happy about the situation. The doctor left behind a wife Helen (Jane Wyman) and daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush), and while Helen is trying to handle her late husband's affairs at the hospital, we begin to learn more about the doctor. It turns out that he was impossibly virtuous, and so generous that no sane person could help but love this man. It's a complete contrast with Merrick. Everybody hated Merrick before because he was an idle rich selfish playboy, and now they hate him even more because his reckless actions have led to the death of somebody who probably deserves sainthood. Merrick, for his part, can at least tell that none of these people at the hospital like him, and wants to get out of the hospital even if it's against medical advice.

Merrick at least has the conscience to feel bad that the doctor died, so he tries to let Helen know that he feels bad. But every time he tries to see her, something goes awry. Ultimately, it leads to Merrick getting Helen involved in a car accident that leaves her blind! Yes, apparently Merrick is that evil. Ah, but things are about to change, as he meets the guy who was responsible for making Dr. Phillips a saint. Merrick hears some Christian mumbo-jumbo, and decides that he has to go back to medical school to try to save Mrs. Phillips, as a way to save his own soul. Or something nutty like that.

As you can tell, Magnificent Obsession is the sort of nonsensical drivel that I don't particularly like. It's didactic in the moral lessons it's trying to teach, and incredibly heavy-handed. We get ten minutes in that Rock Hudson's character is Evil Incarnate, while the doctor must have been The Best Person Ever to Walk the Face of the Earth, because of the influence he had not only on the people at the hospital, but the strangers who come to see the widow when they learn of his death. This version was directed by Douglas Sirk, and normally you can count on Sirk at least to be over the top and make the material fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. I'd argue that's the case with Written on the Wind, which also stars Hudson and is on tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. With Magnificent Obsession, however, the material is just so leaden that it brings even Douglas Sirk's considerable talents down.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shorts update: June 11, 2014

Tomorrow is Ida Lupino's bithday, so TCM will be spending the morning and afternoon with her. I've either blogged about the movies before, or am not too interested in them -- I've never really been able to get into Out of the Fog, for example. So instead I note that there are going to be a couple of interesting-looking shorts coming up in the next day or so.

First, at about 11:45 PM, or just following The Deadly Companions (10:00 PM, 93 min plus an intro/outro) will be one called The Sky Divers. As you can guess from the title, it's about skydiving, or at least the sort of skydiving movie stuntmen do. Specifically, this one deals with the stunts for the movie The Gypsy Moths. The short sounds familiar, but I'm pretty certain I've never seen the feature film before. I tend to find most of the old "making of" featurettes worth at least one viewing, even if it's for a movie I don't like, such as the one on the location shooting for Mister Buddwing.

In the middle of the night comes The Moviemakers: Lolly-Madonna XXX Featurette. It's on at about 4:29 AM, coming on after Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (2:30 AM, 115 min). The interesting thing to me about this one is that it's about a feature I'd never even heard of before, in Lolly-Madonna XXX. It's apparently the story of two feuding families in the rural south, with Rod Steiger as the patriarch as one of the families and Robert Ryan as the other! And, there's no Tennessee Williams in sight. Instead, the screenplay is by Sue Grafton. Yes, that Sue Grafton, who wrote the Kinsey Millhone "A Is for Alibi" and on and on murder mysteries. Grafton turned 74 at the end of April; I didn't realize she's been around that long. At any rate, Lolly-Madonna XXX sounds like a movie that deserves an airing on TCM.

Finally, at 6:40 AM tomorrow, after The Glory Guys (4:45 AM, 115 min) comes Football Headliners. This is another of the RKO Sportscope pictures, looking at the college football games of 1955. I can't imagine why the people producing the RKO Sportscope shorts would think audiences of the day would find this interesting, since the events would have been a few months old already. Granted, the games weren't on TV at the time for the most part, I don't think. It's the sort of short that really needed to be in color, in which case it would have much more interesting historical value than it does.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

FXM Retro

So I was watching Kangaroo over lunch today. I noticed that the folks at FXM finally got rid of the Fox Movie Channel graphics pacage, replacing it -- and the FMC branding -- with "FXM Retro". I would presume that the change happened on June 1 since the first of the month is a common time to make changes like this, and I just hadn't noticed it yet because I don't watch very many movies on FXM what with all the repeats. I think the last movie I watched on the channel was A Flea in Her Ear, which would have been at the end of May.

At any rate, I think this marks the final end of the Fox Movie Channel. When the first format change happened back on January 1, 2012, I guessed that it probbaly be six months until FCM was gone completely, and any idea of FXM as a movie channel would likely be gone, too. I'm still quite surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Surprised that it took almost two and a half years before the Fox Movie Channel was rebranded out of existence, and surprised that the afternoon/evening part of the day seems to be movies, if edited for content and broken up with commercials. Also mildly surprising is that at least Kangaroo on FXM Retro didn't have any commercials. So it seems that the mornings are still going to have some old movies and no commercial breaks during the movies.

At least, it will stay that way for a little while longer.

Three Godfathers

I've briefly mentioned the 1936 movie movie Three Godfathers once or twice in the past, but never done a full-length post on the subject. Often thought of and run as a Christmas movie because it's set at Christmastime and has an obvious reference to the Three Wise Men and Jesus, TCM is running it tomorrow afternoon at 12:45 PM as part of a day of movies with babies.

Chester Morris plays Bob, an outlaw returning to the town of New Jeruslaem where he's from and where his old flame Molly (Irene Hervey) still lives. But he's not really there to catch up on old times with her; besides, she's engaged to another man. No; Bob is here with three of his partners to rob the local bank! Sure enough, Bob and his friends Doc (Lewis Stone), Gus (Walter Brennan), and Pedro (Joseph Marievsky) rob the bank the next morning, but this being the era of the Production Code things don't go as well as planned and Pedro gets killed in a shootour. (This would also explain why there are only three godfathers and not four.) This being a western, our three remaining robbers have to try to make their escape across the desert, and as we've seen in films like Yellow Sky, it's going to be an arduous trek.

The first problem is that the first watering hole they come to has gone bad and is now poisoned. Go ahead and drink from it, but if you do, you'll die! The next one is dry, which they probably should have been able to figure since they met a dead man between the two watering holes. What they aren't expecting is what they find at that now dry watering hole: a dying woman with a baby. The dead man they met along the way was her husband, and he was looking for water without which the mother is going to die. At least there's enough baby milk left, though, for them to get the kid to New Jerusalem, where he'll be safe. Ah, but that would mean uur three bank robbers going back to New Jerusalem as well, where thye will face certain hanging. Bab, instead, plans on going the other direction, even though it's a 90-mile trek to the next watering hole. That decision may change, however, when the robbers wake up the next morning and find that their horses have died....

Three Godfathers is one of those movies that, thanks to the Production Code, you have a vague iea once the baby shows up where the movie is going to go. But, like a good disaster movie, you don't quite know how it's going to get there; that is, it's not necessarily a straightforward question of the three bank robbers just going back to New Jerusalem and surrendering; one or all of them could just as easily kill each other off along the way. And that is what makes this realtively simple story such a good movie. Three Godfathers is full of MGM contract players who were never as big stars as the top players, but who were all professionals and do just fine here, in service of a well-told story.

Three Godfathers has been made several times, with the most famous version probably being the late 1940s movie 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne. The 1936 version is on DVD, as part of a double feature with Hell's Heroes, a 1929 version of the same story starring Charles Bickford.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Judy Garland's birthday tomorrow

June 10 marks the 92d birth anniversary of actress Judy Garland, and unsurprisingly, TCM will be spending the morning and afternoon with her movies. The two shorts that are on the schedule also have her in them, and the shorts are to me the more interesting part of the schedule anyway.

The second of the two shorts is Bubbles, but I mention it first because I've mentioned it here in the blog previously. It comes on almost immediatley following Babes in Arms (11:45 AM, 96 min). Basically, it's a talent show except that it's the moonbeam children doing it, produced by the man in the moon. Or something like that, as it's all quite a bit odd. But watch for an 8-year-old Garland with her sisters, as part of the Gumm Sisters.

The Gumm Sisters show up in the even earlier Starlet Revue, which is on at about 9:33 AM, or just after Everybody Sing (8:00 AM, 91 min). I don't recall whether or not I've actually seen this one before, but it too is a revue of a bunch of children performing various songs and dances, with the Gumm Sisters doing one of the pieces. Judy would have been about seven here.

Fragments of Bubbles seem to be on Youtube, but I couldn't find anything for Starlet Revue.

An ironic poster

So I was listening to a program from Polish Radio's English-language external service, and they were discussing the 25th anniversary of the first semi-free elections in Poland. What I didn't know is that Solidarity used the poster above as part of the campaign. That is, of course, Gary Cooper as the sheriff in High Noon, presumably giving Polish voters the implied message that Solidarity were the only ones with the courage to stand up to the massed forces of Communism, and won't you join them? (The literal message on the poster says something about voting at high noon on June 4; having studied on Slavic language in Russian I can make out some words in other Slavic languages but not a lot.)

I find there's some irony in using an iconic image from High Noon for a poster, since it's generally considered to be an anti-anti-communist movie, in that it was really a parable about standing up to the congressional committees investigating communist activity in Hollywood. John Wayne, one of the more anti-communist actors in Hollywood at the time, disliked the movie, although, to be fair, it apparently received a cool critical reception from actual movie critics who wouldn't be strongly anti-communist. The Soviets, who clearly weren't anti-Communist, disliked the movie too, while any number of people on the right (including Ronald Reagan, who although still a Democrat at the time was a noted anti-communist, having dealt with an allegedly Communist-backed union during the filming of Night Unto Night) praised it.

Gary Cooper, for his part, testified before the HUAC in the late 1940s and was considered a "friendly" witness, even though he didn't name any names, instead giving a bunch of vague platitudes about there being a bunch of useful idiots in Hollywood, and his drawing the conclusion that Communist ideas wouldn't work in real life. I'm reminded of the scenes at the beginning of The Iron Curtain about the Communists in Canada using "peace organizations" as a front; there really were useful idiots for Communism, and have been for almost any ideology you can think of. In 1959, long after Joseph McCarthy had died, Cooper was actually invited to visit the Soviet Union by Nikita Khrushchev. The Polish Radio broadcast I listened to yesterday also had a clip of Cooper himself speaking on a Voice of America broadcast to Poland in the mid-1950s, basically saying how pleased he was that it looked like some Hollywood movies were going to be shown again in Europe after a long absence, and how pleased he was about this because Hollywood was making some really fine movies. That reminds me of the short that TCM runs in which MGM announces the new picture palace it's opening in Cairo, and all the wonderful movies that Egyptian audiences would now get to see.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Orfeu Negro

Bruno Mello and Marpessa Dawn in Black Orpheus

This week's TCM Import is the gorgeous Black Orpheus, which airs overnight tonight at 2:00 AM.

Black Orpheus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, except that it's been updated and set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the time of Carnival. Orfeo (Bruno Mello) is a tram conductor in Rio, about to celebrate Carnival and then get married to his fiancée Mira. However, that's going to change. Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) comes to Rio from some small town because she's trying to escape somebody who's stalking her. Eurydice stays with her cousin Serafina, who just happens to be a friend of Mira and Orfeo. So you know that Orfeo is going to meet Eurydice and fall in love with her, because the fates require it.

Sure enough, Orfeo is taken with Eurydice, and that's going to cause conflict, but dammit, it's Carnival, and everybody should be celebrating! Besides, they've all got such lovely costumes for Carnival. Still, the figure that had been stalking Eurydice back home has been following her, and it turns out that figure is Death, looking rather better than he did in The Seventh Seal: everybody and everything in Black Orpheus is impossibly beautiful, even though the movie is supposed to be set in the favelas, the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro.

If you know the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, you know that Eurydice has to die, so eventually that happens in our movie. Orpheus in mythology descends into the underworld; in the movie, that's replaced by the local morgue. Orpheus is given the chance to win Eurydice back from death, but there's a catch. He has to walk in front of her, and he can't look back until both of them are back in the regular world....

The mythological tale of Orpheus and Eurydice isn't a bad one, and could probably have been made competently at any Hollywood studio, although apparently none ever did. It's probably good that they didn't, because the studio era wouldn't have used location shooting, which is one of the many things making Black Orpheus such a wonderful movie to watch. It's filled with one gorgeous visual after another, made beautiful not only by the location, but also the actors, the Carnival costumes, and the color. Even though you likely already knew the story, Black Orpheus is still a movie well worth watching.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A weekend with non-fans

So I've got a family function to go to this weekend. By the time you see this post witten ahead of time, I'll probably be on my way to what amounts to a family reunion for what isn't a particularly big family. I don't think any of them are really fans of old movies, so I doubt I'll be able to veg out on one of my sister's couches and watch On the Waterfront and the rest of the dockland gang movies tonight. Granted, I've seen On the Waterfront several times, but I might try to se if I can convince anybody else to watch it with me. I've been seeing the trailers for The Mob, which comes on at 11:30 PM, and that's one I haven't seen before and wouldn't mind.

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, TCM is showing Face of Fire, which is another movie I'd like to see but am sure I won't get to since we're probably all going to be going out for breakfast on Sunday morning. This one has James Whitmore playing a handyman working for a doctor who saves the doctor's son from a fire, only to become disfigured in the fire, which frightens all of the town's residents.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pirate this movie!

Now that we're in a new month, we get a new Friday Night Spotliht on TCM. This month, the spotlight is on pirate movies, hosted by comedian Greg Proops. I have no idea if Proops is going to be a good host; most of my knowledge of him is based on those snarky list shows that usually have a countdown of itmes that fit whatever the show topic is, with various talking heads making comments about the various items in the list. With Proops, I think I saw him in I Love the 80s on VH1; looking through his credits, I see why I don't know his work very well.

Anyhow, tonight's lineup kicks off with the 1924 version of The Sea Hawk at 8:00 PM. This one stars Milton Sills as a retired privateer in Elizabethan England who gets tricked into his half-brother into going with a ship's captain (Wallace Beery) who has been paid off to sell Sills into slavery. The only thing is, the ship gets taken by the Moors which is not the sort of slavery that the half-brother had in mind. Sills sees the valor of the Mohommedan (I think they use that word rather than more modern words in the movie) fighters and converts to Islam himself, vowing to gain revenge. This is one of those movies that I saw several years back when it aired on TCM as part of a salute to something: I think the Arab Images in FIlm series, but I'm not quite certain. Rousing entertainment, although for more detailed information you'd probably want to consult somebody who has a specific interest in silents. The knowledge they have on silent movies puts mine to shame.

You may recall the Errol Flynn title The Sea Hawk. That title was taken from this movie, or more accurately both were taken from the book by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote The Black Swan, which follows at 10:15 PM tonight. However, only the silent version of The Sea Hawk tells the story that's in the Rafael Sabatini book; the later Errol Flynn movie tells a different story. The Errol Flynn movie will be part of this month's pirate movie spotlight, on June 20.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A salute to mawkish tripe

If you like the sort of sentimental, romanitcized view of small-town America that's su sugary it'll eat out the insides of mere mortals, FXM/FMC has just the movie for you: Good Morning, Miss Dove, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Jennifer Jones plays the titular Miss Dove, a teacher in Liberty Hill, a small New England town that looks as picturesque as Peyton Place but which doesn't have the scandal going on underneath the surface; or, if it does, everybody's decided to repress it. Miss Dove is an irritating scold who expects all of her students to act just so, and when I say "all of her students", I could just as easily say the whole town, since this is one of those towns where nobody new seems to move in and everybody who lives there seems to have had Miss Dove for a teacher. That may be about to change, though, as Miss Dove's life is in mortal peril! This is not a joke. Miss Dove has kept one student after school because he wasn't acting just so, and while looking after him, Miss Dove feels a sharp pain. Would you oh-so-kindly fetch your father the doctor (Robert Stack), Miss Dove tells the young lad.

With Miss Dove's health in a possibly parlous state, what's a woman who's spent her entire life in this little town as a teacher to do, other than to look back on her life? So, we get a series of flashbacks, which is a groundbreaking technique since no moviemaker had ever thought to do something so radical before. In the first flashback, we learn why Miss Dove became a teacher in the first place. Miss Dove came from one of the town's well-to-do families, as her father was a banker. Dad was apparently well enough off that she could run off with an archaeologist to get married and escape Liberty Hill. The only problem is, Dad drops dead, at which point it's been discovered that he's been embezzling from the bank! Now, any sane person would just sell off the house and assets, which probably ought to cover the $11,000 that Dad embezzled. But not Miss Dove. She's got some bizarre sens of duty, which tells her to dump her fiancé and try to repay the debt by becoming a teacher and teaching the children of Liberty Hill.

Once Miss Dove goes off to hospital, where she's going to get an operation that will supposedly save her life (or at least prolong it; she probably had cancer which would have had a terrible prognosis at the time although I don't think the script ever mentions precisely what's wrong with her). The nurse at the hospital was of course one of her students, so Miss Dove thinks back to the influence she had on the nurse. The nurse's boyfriend Bill (Chuck Connors), the town cop, was also one of her students. Indeed, Miss Dove's influence on the town's children was so great that former students come from far away just to see her. Yeah, we get the point already.

Good Morning, Miss Dove way overdoes it with the sentimentality. Even though everybody is doing the best they can, they're working with a script that drags all of them down. In watching Good Morning, Miss Dove, I found myslef thinking of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and why that's such a great movie while Good Morning, Miss Dove founders on the rocks of sentiment. I think one of the big reasons is that Goodbye, Mr. Chips focuses almost solely on Mr. Chips; the students are almost an afterthought. Indeed, the passage of time is shown by using montages of the same children to note historical events and technological advances. Where Mr. Chips leaves it to the viewers to imagine the impact he's had on the lives of his students, Miss Dove takes us by the shoulders and shakes us, screaming "God dammit you're going to realize the impact this teacher had!" Well, Miss Dove herself wouldn't do that, as it would be ever so improper.

I'm not certain if Good Morning, Miss Dove is on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM/FMC showing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ursula Andress night

Ursula Andress in Doctor No (1962)

TCM is putting the spotlight on Swiss-born actress Ursula Andress tonight. Andress is probably best known for her role as Honey Ryder in Doctor No, the first of the James Bond movies Andress has the famous scene where she comes out of the water at the beach where James Bond is, trying to avoid whoever owns the private island since that's what he's out to investigate. Andress, of course, serves no real purpose to the plot; she's there to be the eye candy, and succeeds at it. At any rate, TCM doesn't currently have the rights to the James Bond movies.

Instead, TCM is starting the night off with She at 8:00 PM. Andress plays the titular "She", but doesn't show up for a while in that role. Peter Cushing plays a British Army Major in Palstine just after World War I, or about the time that TE Lawrence would have been a bit futher south in Arabia. Together with an orderly (Bernard Cribbins) and another soldier (John Richardson), they obtain an ancient coin that has a face on the heads side that looks amazingly like Richardson. This leads them to a meeting with Ayesha (Andress), who gives them a map to a legendary lost city.

So our heroes set out for the lost city, which is somewhere in Egypt, this being one of the eras when Egyptology was in vogue. Eventually, they discover that the map is accurate, and that there is a lost city, ruled by Queen Ayesha, who looks amazingly like the Ayesha that they met back in the British Mandate. The story gets more interesting when she claims that she's been ruling for over 2000 years, and that she's been waiting for her lost love, an ancient Greek king named Kallikrates, who also happens to be the man on that coin they got. So Queen Ayesha thinks she's got the reincarnation of Kallikrates here, and offers him eternal life and eternal love. But it's going to come at a price....

She was made by Hammer Films, who produced a long series of stylish horror pictures in the 1960s starring Cushing and Cristopher Lee, who is also in this one. I have to admit that the Hammer style isn't quite my thing, but there are a lot of people who do enjoy it, and they'll probably like She more than I do.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2001, and other outer space movies

TCM's lineup for tonight is a bunch of science fiction movies set mostly in outer space. It kicks off at 8:00 PM, as always, with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wrote some of my thoughts about the movie back in December 2008. It's a movie where the first two acts are quite good, especially the plot about the computer as villain. And when the two astronauts realize that the computer is out to get them, and try to get around it, the computer still outfoxes them by reading their lips! But, of course, all the good work done in the first two acts is undone by the pretentious third act. One thing I didn't mention back in 2008 is that Arthur C. Clarke, in his novelization of the movie, apparently gives a better explanation of what's going on in that third act, or so I've been told by somebody who's read the novel; I haven't read it myself. (Note that the movie and book were more or less done concurrently. Clarke wrote the novel for the movie and neither is really based on the other.) Of course, he had to rely on words and not images. The last time 2001 was on TCM, it had a descriptive video service, and I listened to some of the third act. I can only imagine how baffled the poor blind people must be trying to figure out what's going on in that third act.

The movie on tonight's schedule that's definitely worth a look if you haven't seen it before is Destination Moon, overnight at 1:00 AM. It was a relatively low-budget movie with a cast of unknowns about the attempt to lead the first manned space mission to the moon, made back in 1950, or long before mankind had even put a sattelite into space, never mind getting to the moon. Still, the science in this one isn't anywhere near as outrageous as in movies like Queen of Outer Space (4:45 AM -- my heavens, it's been two years since I blogged about that movie!). But the real highlight of the movie is the use of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon to explain some scientific principles. Destination Moon is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The British are coming!

TCM's prime time lineup for tnoight focuses on the British Invasion, when British music bands came onto the scene in the United States and really shook up the music world. If you want a good example of how the music world needed to be shaken up, get a copy of It's Trad, Dad. Chief among these were the Beatles, of course, and it's fitting that TCM is able to bring us the TCM premiere of A Hard Day's Night at 8:00 PM. It's not a documentary, but it seems more or less based on what life behind the scenes must have been like for John, Paul, George, and Ringo (playing themselves). Along for the ride is Paul's "grandfather" (not his real-life grandfather, but actor Wilfrid Brambell). It's light in tone and incredibly fun.

The rest of tonight's lineup:

Go Go Mania at 9:45 PM, which is a concert compilation movie, I believe, not having seen it before;
The Dave Clark Five in Having a Wild Weekend at 11:15 PM;
Herman's Hermits in Hold On! at 1:00 PM; and
A double feature of Herman and those Hermits in Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter at 2:45 AM.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Essentials Jr. returns

Now that we're past Memorial Day, it's time for another season of Essentials Jr. on TCM. It's the eighth or ninth season -- I've lost count, and besides, the first season was called Funday Night at the Movies of movies that are designed to be good viewing for the whole family, and especially for the children. Bill Hader is returning for his fourth season as host. The season kicks off tonight at 8:00 PM with Bringing Up Baby, the screwball classic in which paleontologist Cary Grant finds his wife turned upside down by Katharine Hepburn and her jaguar (or is it a leopard?) Baby.

I'm sure Bringing Up Baby has been used before as part of Essentials Jr., but this is the one series where I don't mind repeats. After all, the series is designed mostly to reach the younger viewers, albeit with movies that their parents or grandparents would recognize. That last time Bringing Up Baby was run in Essentials Jr., some or even many of today's kids would still have been too young to watch it and get the bulk of the humor. This, I think, is a big part of the reason why there's been a fairly limited lineup of movies in Essentials Jr.

The other reason, and I think I've mentioned it before, is that the TCM programmers have to hook the parents as well. Children probably aren't going to stop the remote at TCM of their own accord, and the sort of parents they're trying to reach out to probably don't have nearly as much passion for old movies -- and especially the lesser-known titles -- that a lot of us do. So we get some well-known movies, as well as some titles that are taken from works of juvenile literature. Mix in a few famous names like Shirley Temple and you've got yourself a season's worth of Essentials Jr.