Thursday, July 31, 2014

Busby Berkeley finally goes off the deep end

FXM Retro showed The Gang's All Here earlier today. It's on the schedule again tomorrow morning (August 1) at 6:00 AM

James Ellison plays Andy Mason Jr., a man about to be shipped off to World War II. He's actually the son of wealthy businessman Andrew Mason Sr. (Eugene Pallette), so he's got the money to be able to spend his final days of furlough at swanky places like the Club New Yorker, where the proprietor puts on outrageous musical numbers. It's in one of these musical numbers that Andy Jr. meets Edie Allen (Alice Faye). He immediately falls in love with her, and finagles his way into spending the night with her going around New York, during which time she ultimately falls in love with him. However, he's quasi-engaged to the girl next door, Vivian Potter (Sheila Ryan), except that "next door" means similarly wealthy parents (Edward Everett Horton and Charlotte Greenwood). So Andy Jr. gives Edie a fake name.

Andy goes off to the Pacific theater. Time passes, and he wins a medal for some heroic action, which also gets him furlough in the US. Mr. Mason gets the idea of having a party for his son, but since his son doesn't want any stag parties, Mr. Mason decides to get together with Mr. Potter and have a big benefit ostensibly honoring his son but having it raise money for war bonds. Mr. Mason knows that his son enjoys the Club New Yorker, so the original plan is to have the benefit there, but it's closed for renovations while the talent is putting together a new show. So Mason and Potter invite the cast up to their estates, with the expectation that they'll do their extravagant musical numbers in the backyard for a garden party. Of course, Messrs. Mason and Potter have no idea that Potter's daughter and star of the show Edie are both in love with the same serviceman, and that he's going to be the guest of honor....

The plot of The Gang's All Here is threadbare, and really in service of the musical numbers which take up the bulk of the proceedings. And boy are those musical numbers outrageous. The first of the two really big production numbers is "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat", which has Carmen Miranda as that lady:

That hat is nuts, and gets used for an even more outrageous sight gag at the end. And the banans on the hat aren't the only ones. There's a long line of chorus girls holding giant bananas as tall as the girls themselves, gentle undulating them in Busby Berkeley-like patterns. In fact, Berkeley not only designed the numbers, he directed the whole movie.

The other big production number is the finale, and if get to the end of "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat" at about the half-hour mark of the movie and think youv'e seen everything, wait until the end. The finale includes elaborate water fountains lit by gentle pastel colors; a mass dance of children doing the polka; neon hoop polka dots that look like they could have been recycled from the neon violins in Gold Diggers of 1933; cardboard-looking dots that are a nearly vomit-inducing combination of hot pink on one side and olive drab on the other; kaleidoscopic Alice Faye; and the entire cast of the movie appearing as disembodied heads. Yikes.

As for the cast, when they're called upon to act as opposed to doing musical numbers, they're OK. Ellison, Faye, and Ryan are all pleasant to look at. Miranda is typically ditzy. And the three parents get to have all the funny moments, which nicely separate the musical numbers. Benny Goodman also shows up to play a clarinetist leading a band. Sounds familiar.

I don't think you can mistake The Gang's All Here for truly great cinema. But boy do those outrageous musical numbers make the movie interesting. The Gang's ALl Here has been released to DVD before, although I'm not certain if it's still in print since the TCM Shop lists it as "On Order".

Silent Movie

TCM has another night of Mel Brooks, just like they did a month or two ago. The only difference is that while that feature looked at the films Brooks produced, tonight's lineup has a bunch of movies he starred in and/or directed. This includes what I think is the TCM premiere of Silent Movie, at 9:45 PM.

Brooks plays Mel Funn, a down-on-his-luck movie director in modern Hollywood. He needs a hit, and has a radical idea: make a silent movie. So he goes with his two assistants Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Bell (Dom DeLuise) to see the studio bosses. Nobody really wants to take a chance on this, of course. It seems a daft idea, and not only because it's coming from a washed up guy like Mel Funn. But, there's one studio head (Sid Caesar) whose studio is in trouble, and he agrees to it on condition that Funn can get stars contracted to do it.

And so, Funn and his assistants go off and try to get those stars under contract, while our Studio Chief tries to keep the big non-Hollywood business from taking over the studio. The outside business, however, wants to take over the stuido, so that have every interest in making sure that Funn doesn't make the movie, and if he does, that it not be a success. This being a Mel Brooks comedy, however, you know that there's likely to be a happy ending....

The one thing Silent Movie decidedly is not is a silent movie in the traditional sense. Oh, there's no spoken dialog with one exception that's the ponchline to a joke, but the movie doesn't feel like any of the old silent movies, mostly because it's not supposed to be. Mel Brooks had previously done spoofs of the horror genre with Young Frankenstein and westerns with Blazing Saddles before turning his sights on silent films. Silent Movie is first and foremost a parody of the silent genre with its broad slapstick humor, overwrought gestures, and melodrama, with the added conceit that they weren't going to have spoken dialog but use intertitles instead.

Mel Brooks is one of those moviemakers where whether you like his movies is going to come down to whether you like his style, much more than other actors or directors. Silent Movie, like Brooks' other parodies, is filled with sight gags and homages to movies and stars of the past. But as with many of his other movies, the material often seems overcooked, as though he's hitting us over the head with his jokes. We get it already, Mel. Silent Movie has good sequences of course, many of them having to do with the various stars Funn is trying to get to star in his movie. In the end, though, I think I'd recommend something like The Producers to somebody who doesn't know much of the Mel Brooks style. Those who like Brooks already will probably very much enjoy Silent Movie, however.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lee Grant night

TCM is putting the spotlight on actress Lee Grant tonight with four of her movies, of which I've already blogged about three. The schedule is:

Detective Story at 8:00 PM; this earned Grant a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a shoplifter awaiting booking at a precinct where very angry detective Kirk Douglas is working.

The Landlord follows at 10:00 PM; here Grant plays the mother of upper-class Beau Bridges, who as bought an apartment buliding in he poor Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn looking to fix it up. Mom is by no means happy about this.

That's followed at midnight by Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. Grant plays the wife of one of three World War II veterans. All of the veterans have, unknown to the others, been supporting a child (Janet Margolin) they think they fatherd, while the child's mother (Gina Lollobrigida) has been telling her daughter all these years that the father died in the war. Imagine her surprise when all three putative fathers show up at a reunion in the town wher mother and daughter live!

Last up is Middle of the Night at 2:00 AM. In this one, Grant plays the adult daughter of Fredric March, a widower who has met a young Kim Novak and has fallen in love with her, much to the consternation of everybody around them who think this won't work.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spencer's Mountain

Coming up at 10:00 PM tonight as part of the last night of Maureen O'Hara movies is Spencer's Mountain.

O'Hara plays Olivia Spencer, wife of Clay Spencer Sr. (Henry Fonda) and together the parents of a large family out in Wyoming earning a living partly by running a farm on the titular mountain, and partly by dad working in the local quarry. The oldest of the children, Clay Jr., called Clay-Boy (James MacArthur), is graduating high school, and is more than smart enough that he could go on to college and make big things of himself. The only problem is, where is this poor family going to get the money to send him to college? Clay-Boy, for his part, is also feeling the first stirrings of falling in love with a young woman....

It's just the latest money problem for the large family. Clay Sr. has always been trying to build Olivia the house she always wanted up at the top of the mountain, but something in terms of money has always come up to slow down the building of the house, and that provides the other plot of dramatic tension running throughout the movie. They've never been rich, but there's always love and the money always seems to come from somewhere eventually.

Other than that, there's not really a whole lot to the story. It's written by Earl Hamner, Jr., and if that name sounds familiar -- and especially if you find the movie starts to look famliiar -- that's because it should be. This is the same story that several years later was moved to West Virginia, and back in time a couple of decades, for what became the long-running TV series The Waltons. There's even a scene in Spencer's Mountain in which everybody says good night to each other, just the way they did on the TV show.

Although the movie's plot seems a bit threadbare, the movie itself is not uninteresting. It's filled out with a bunch of homespun vignettes providing gentle humor, such as when free-thinking Dad, who doesn't have much use for religion, goes fishing with a man he doesn't realize at first is the new preacher. And then imagine Clay Sr.'s shock when he finds that although there's a place for Clay Jr. at the college, it's in the theology department. (You'd think students even back then would have been able to choose their majors.) There's also drama and sadness, as when Grandpa (Donald Crisp in his final film performace) dies. By the end of the movie, though, generic Christian values -- not so much the God stuff as the "do unto others as you'd have done unto you" or "be kind and honest" stuff -- win through. The movie's values are really fairly inoffensive even for non-believers.

In fact, Spencer's Mountain, like the later TV show The Waltons, is good for the whole family, except maybe for teenagers who will probably retch at the material only to have a change of heart when they get older. Henry Fonda generally isn't thought of as a comic actor, but he was more than capable of providing a few laughs when a movie called for it, and does a wonderful job here. Maureen O'Hara is sturdy enough as the loving mother, but nothing spectacular. The younger kids are kids, for better or for worse. Overall, though, the cast gives a nice ensemble performance.

If this post hasn't come far enough in advance for you to see the TCM showing, don't worry; it's been released to DVD.

James Shigeta, 1933-2014

The death has bene announces of actor James Shigeta, who died yesterday at the age of 81. Shigeta actually started off as a singer, which would explain how he got the role in Flower Drum Song. His first starring role, however, was as a police detective in the pretty darn good movie The Crimson Kimono

Another of Shigeta's movies that I'd really recommend is Bridge to the Sun, in which Shigeta plays a Japanese diplomat stationed in Washington just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Before the two countries go to war, however, the diplomat marries an American (Carroll Baker) and fathers a child by her. So when all of the Japanese are expelled after December 7, 1941, the wife makes the fateful decision to follow her husband to Japan.

In his later career, Shigeta played a banker who gets killed by Alan Rickman in the first of the Die Hard movies when he refuses to open up the bank vault for the villians, and did the voices in Mulan, one of those Disney princess movies that I obviously have no interest in.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rudy Vallee, 1901-1986

Rudy Vallee (r.) in The Palm Beach Story (1942)

Today marks the birth anniversary of sometimes actor Rudy Vallee. Originally known as a singing bandleader, Vallee made movies on and off throughout the 1930s and 1940s, often playing second male leads, as in The Palm Beach Story, which is pictured above, in which he plays the extremely wealthy man who meets and woos Claudette Colbert, not realizing that she's still married to Joel McCrea and that the "horrible husband" she's describing is about to show up in Palm Beach!

Vallee appeared in another Preston Sturges film, Unfaithfully Yours, which has him playing the brother-in-law of conductor Rex Harrison, and has him causing problems for the conductor when he looks after the conductor's wife (Linda Darnell) while the conductor is away. The photo above has Vallee, the actress playing his wife in the movie (Barbara Lawrence), and Rex Harrison.

Vallee played a doctor in I Remember Mama, but since the movie belongs almost exclusively to Irene Dunne, and Vallee's character isn't too big, it's difficult to find any good photos of Vallee from the movie. Another light comic role comes in Mother Is a Freshman, where he plays opposite Loretta Young.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Before the James Garner tribute

Coming up overnight tonight, or early tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM, just before the 24 hours of James Garner movies begin, is the excellent British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Albert Finney stars as Arthur Seaton. By day, he works in one of those grimy factories that were a staple of northern England in the first couple of decades after World War II, going home to a cramped house where he lives with his parents. Arthur lives for the weekends, when he can rebel against the world by going out to one of the local pubs and drinking up a storm and carousing with his mates and the women. On the face of it, it's not much of a life, but Arthur sees it as a way of keeping his independence by not being too attached to anybody

Despite this, he's got a girlfriend, in the form of Brenda (Rachel Roberts). There's only one catch: she's already married, and it's to one of Arthur's coworkers at the factory (Bryan Pringle)! Surely Arthur would be better off with Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), a more girl-next-door type whom Arthur meets at the pub. She's a bit naïve, but she liks Arthur, and thinks she can tame him. Arthur starts to have a relationship with her, too, because after all having relationships with two women at the same time is a good way to rebel against a world where doing such a thing would be considered terribly bad form.

Problems develop, of course, and the big one comes when Brenda announces to Arthur that she's pregnant by him, and not by her husband. Oh dear, that's a big problem. Arthur isn't ready to be a father, and there's also the little matter of Brenda already having a husband anyway. So the two of them decide that they're going to abort the baby, except that abortion was highly illegal at the time in Britain, so they have to go to an unreliable woman who tries a folk remedy that, it goes without saying, is unsuccessful. How is Arthur going to get himself out of this problem?

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a film that was a shock to British moviegoers when it was released in 1960, as it showed a section of British society in a way that hadn't been done before. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning looks decidedly different from all the stuio-bound movies Hollywood had been making, as it's more realistic in showing what wasn't a very rich life, leaving us to wonder why these people should have had any optimism or been happy with their station in life. Albert Finney gives an excellent performance as Arthur Seaton, the man who thinks he's getting his something better by pissing away all his money on booze and women. The rest of the cast is good although subordinate to Finney, and the locations are also a big plus to the movie.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning did get a DVD release at one time, but I think it's out of print. The TCM Shop lists a DVD, but you'll note that they say it's "On Order". Likewise, Amazon lists a couple of releases, but all of them with only a limited number of copies available.

TCM's James Garner tribute

James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, on tomorrow at 10:00 PM

You've probably seen the TCM Remembers piece on the recently deceased James Garner that's been running from time to time. At the end, it points out that TCM is running a 24-hour salute to Garnre starting at 6:00 AM on Monday, July 28. That's tomorrow, and TCM has 12 films with Garner in the cast as part of the tribute:

6:00 AM: Toward the Unknown
8:00 AM: Shootout at Medicine Bend
9:30 AM: Grand Prix
12:30 PM: Cash McCall
2:15 PM: The Wheeler Dealers
4:00 PM: Darby's Rangers
6:15 PM: Mister Buddwing
8:00 PM: The Thrill of It All
10:00 PM: The Americanization of Emily
Midnight: The Children's Hour
2:00 AM: Victor/Victoria
4:30 AM: Marlowe

A nice cross-section of movies, although I wouldn't have minded seeing Support Your Local Sheriff! or 26 Hours on the lineup as well. But they only had 24 hours; there's only so much you can do.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Zdeněk Liška

My RSS feed from Radio Prague never actually mentions what the feature stories are going to be about; it's just a link to the audio download. So not having gone to the website, I had no idea that Thursday's program was going to include a feature on film composer Zdenêk Liška, who wrote a bunch of scores for Czech movies in the 1960s and 1970s before his death in 1983. The feature originally aired back in April 2011, but I didn't blog about it then, I don't think, from looking at the archives from that month.

I have to admit to not knowing anything at all about Liška before listening to the program yesterday, but I'll also admit that I don't pay quite as much attention to film scores as some people do.

The link above is a link to a transcript of the program, but as always, they've got a streaming audio applet on the site, as well as a link to the MP3 download. It's just shy of 11 minutes, and about 5MB to download.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Capriccio Italien

TCM is airing the short Capriccio Italien tomorrow morning a little after 8:00 AM, or immediately following Julius Caesar (6:00 AM, 121 min).

I have to admit I have no idea what the point of this short was. After all, people could get classical music on the radio, and this was the early days of television when high-minded programmers would actually show classical music. I'd guess th MGM Orchestra had a day or two where they weren't needed to play the score to one of MGM's upcoming releases, so somebody higher up decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to stick them on one of the soundstages and have them perform a piece of classical music, which is Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien". Now, I happen to think it's a reasonably nice piece of music, but simply filming the MGM Orchestra playing it seems kind of pointless. This short was released in June, 1953 in conjunction with the aforementioned Julius Caesar. That's a couple of months before How to Marry a Millionaire, the first film made in Cinemascope. That movie, in order to show off what Cinemascope could do, had a prelude sticking a Cinemoascope camera in front of Fox's studo orchestra, and having them play some music. It has no bearing to the movie, but it shows that dammit, you can put an entire orchestra on camera, something which Capriccio Italien rarely achieves. How to Marry a Millionaire is also in Technicolor, while Capriccio Italien is in old-looking black and white. Either the orchestra had a free day to make this short, or somebody wanted arhcival footage of the MGM Orchestra. I can't think of any other reason to make this short.

And possibly, they don't even play the whole piece. The MGM short has a running time of 10 minutes, while other versions of "Capriccio Italien" put up on Youtube by orchestras run 14 minutes or longer. (I've never timed it when it shows up on the local classical music station.) So give it a watch, and wonder what they were thinking.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Things I'm Going to Miss

I missed Guest Programmer William Friedkin last night. We had a severe thunderstorm come through that knocked out power for the entire evening, so needless to say I couldn't watch anything on TV. To make matters worse, it looks like there's a problem with the satellite box. I can turn the TV on, but the box doesn't seem to turn on at all. So I'm probably going to be without any of the movie channels for a day or two while I get that fixed. Thankfully the computer and Internet is still working, although I don't have the bandwidth to do streaming video, of course.

The one thing I was really looking forward to watching was the Kirk Douglas one-man show tonight. TCM is running a night of his movies, and in among them at 10:15 PM is Before I Forget, a one man show he did back in 2009 at the tender age of 92. TCM used to advertise it on one of those four-movie box sets that they sell featuring one actor, so even though the daily schedule page claims Before I Forget isn't on DVD, I think that's not the case. Lust For Life and Young Man With a Horn, which are also on that bax set, are on tonight's schedule as well, at 8:00 PM and midnight. The Bad and the Beautiful isn't, although it shows up often enough on TCM.

Thankfully there was nothing in tomorrow's lineup of World War I movies that I was particularly anxious to see.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TCM Guest Programmer: William Friedkin

Once again, we've reached the time of the month when TCM gives over a night of prime time to a Guest Programmer, who was selected four of his favorite films to program. This month, the programmer is William Friedkin, a director who is probably best known for The French Connection and The Exorcist. The promos imply that he's selected movies that were influential in becoming a director and in how he directs movies, so I'll certainly be interested in seeing the intros for the first two movies.

The full lineup is:

Bullitt at 8:00 PM, which has the car chase scene that Friedkin says certainly influenced how he did the nearly as well known chase scene in The French Connection;
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre at 10:15 PM, which has Walter Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Tim Holt being consumed by greed in their search for gold;
Belle de jour at 12:30 AM, starring Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who takes up prostitution while her husband is at work in order to deal with the boredom; and
Blow-Up at 2:15 AM, in which photographer David Hemmings discovers that, in the background of one of his photos, there's a murder taking place!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chris Amon remembers James Garner

If you don't know the name Chris Amon, that's OK; I hadn't heard of him either before an interview with him showed up in one of my RSS feeds yesterday. Amon was a racecar driver from New Zealand who was active back in the 1960s and 1970s. It's apparently he upon whom James Garner's character in th emovie Grand Prix is based. Amon is enjoying his retirement these days, but with James Garner's death it's unsurprising that Radio New Zealand would call him up and ask him about the time he spent working with James Garner, what with much of Grand Prix being done on location. It's an interesting interview, although I wonder if a movie production would be able to get sporting authorities to change the way they do things as much as Amon implies happened.

Amon's interview can be found here; the interview runs about four minutes and the file is around 1.5 MB. I don't think Checkpoint puts up transcripts of their reports. The website for the Radio New Zealand show Checkpoint is here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Spotlight (1950)

Yesterday evening, I tuned into TCM to see if they'd come up with a TCM Remembers piece for James Garner, since I figured just before 8:00 PM would be a good time for it to air. (Well, that, and I wanted to see which order the shorts were airing in.) TCM was running an odd short that looked as though it could have been a Traveltalks short if it had been in color, about women making lace in Bruges, Belgium. However, the short fairly quickly cut to a segment about a man in London whose rabbits walk on their front legs. Weird stuff.

So I went to the TCM's online schedule page to see what was up. The schedule listed something called Spotlight, from 1950. Off to IMDb, which didn't have a match for any 1950 short called Spotlight. TCM's page on the short didn't have much information, except for the name of the director, Ronald Haines, which was a big help. That indicated that the short in question was actually called Spotlight on the World We Live In, which is listed at IMDb as a 1951 short.

But here's where it got interesting, at least for me. Ronald Haines is listed at IMDb as having directed four other similar shorts called Spotlight on the World We Live In, except that they're numbered #1, #3, #5, and #16. Sure, MGM could have had different people direct these, but a look at the filmography for the production company (Gordon Films; presumably MGM's British arm got the distribution rights from them) only lists these same five shorts! And an IMDb title search on Spotlight on the World We Live In doesn't indicate any shorts other than these five.

The other odd thing is the reviews on TCM's page for Spotlight (1950). IMDb's lone reviewer gets it right, but the two reviewers on the TCM page are for something completely different than what TCM showed yesterday, as both of them talk about offensive stereotypes and African-American actors. The bit of what I saw last night didn't have anything like that, and a reading of the user review on IMDb as well as the user-generated plot summary indicates no such racial stereotype. There's apparently a scene of horse racing in what is now Ghana that I tuned in too late for, but that wouldn't fit the two reviews on TCM. So I wonder what short these two people were reviewing. Obviously, they must have been reviewing something else in good faith, but I can't figure out what.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Essentials Jr. heads-up

TCM's Essentials Jr., every Sunday night at 8:00 PM during the summer, presents a bunch of movies that are supposed to be good for the whole family. The site that TCM has set up for it has a schedule for the whole thing which lists tonight's movie as "Silent Comedy Shorts". Not much help there, is it? A look at TCM's regular daily schedule page lists the following:

8:00 PM: Coney Island (1917)
8:00 PM: The Immigrant (1917)
8:00 PM: Never Weaken (1921)
8:00 PM: Two Tars (1928)

So, it's another one of those programming blocks where they've put a bunch of short movies into a longer space, and who knows which order they're going to air in? I say that because the downloadle monthly schedule, which really ought to be the same as the daily schedule, has The Immigrant and Coney Island switched. And to make things even more frustrating, my box guide has things in the exact reverse order from the downloadable schedule; that is, Two Tars comes first and The Immigrant last. At least everything but Two Tars is close enough to a half hour that one could reasonably expect all of them to begin on the half-hour. Anf if Two Tars really is first, then adding in Bill Hader's introduction would make it come out rather closer to the half-hour.

One other interesting thing about the daily schedule is the genre indicators. Coney Island and The Immigrant are both listed as being in the genre "Silent", while Never Weaken and Two Tars are both listed under the genre "Short". Later on, in the Silent Sunday Nights slot at midnight, there are several movies; again I have no idea what order they're going to run in. But the first three are listed under the genre "Comedy". To be honest, when you have a movie that fits multiple genres, it's always going to be debatable which one to use. But I wonder if "Short" should be reserved for the stuff that's only put on the schedule to fill the space between two features.

James Garner, 1928-2014

James Garner in The Americanization of Emily (1964)

James Garner, who starred in a bunch of movies in the 1960s but will probably be best remembered for the title role in the 1970s TV series The Rockford Files, has died at the age of 86. This being a movie blog, though, we're going to remember him for those movies. There's The Americanization of Emily, which is pictured above, which has Garner as an American who is selected to be the first man to go ashore during the D-Day invasion, although he's really more of a coward who's been trying to stay out of the war by doing desk jobs in London.

Another movie dealing with the D-Day invasion is 36 Hours, which is a thriller in which US Army officer Garner knows the plans for the D-Day invasion, and is kidnapped by the Nazis who, under the leadership of Rod Taylor, plan to get the information out of him! Garner was also in the war movie The Great Escape.

Garner was also good in light comedy, having made a couple of movies with Doris Day: The Thrill of It All, and Move Over, Darling. Doris Day isn't particularly my favorite actress, so when it comes to Garner and comedy, I'd recommend the comic western Support Your Local Sheriff! Garner could also do straight drama too, as in The Children's Hour.

Since Garner's death only hit the news overnight, I don't think TCM has had the time to come up with a programming tribute yet. I wouldn't be surprised if they get something in before Summer Under the Stars begins in August, since Garner isn't getting his own day in Summer Under the Stars.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Sugarland Express

This week's TCM Essential, at 8:00 PM tonight, is also Steven Spielberg's first feature film: The Sugarland Express.

Goldie Hawn plays Lou Jean, a young woman whom we first see at the start of the movie getting off a bus at an intersection in the middle of nowhere in Texas. That middle of nowhere happens to be the entrance to a minimum-security prison, where her husband Clovis (William Atherton) is currently incarcerated. It's a big visiting day, with most of the inmates having people visit them, so Lou Jean's presence here is nothing remarkable. Or, at least, to outsiders it would be nothing worth mentioning. But this is a movie so we know that there's a good reason for Lou Jean to be visiting her husband beyong the hopes of getting a conjugal visit.

It turns out that Lou Jean had been in jail herself, getting arrested on an accomplice charge when Clovis had committed some larceny or another. It's a tragedy that a husband and wife both end up in prison, but the bigger tragedy is that they had had a child together before winding up in prison. That child was put into foster care while the two were in prison. Now that Lou Jean is out she'd like her child back, but the social services department has decided they'd rather give full custody of the kid to the foster family. A mother scorned is a dangerous thing, and Lou Jean is no different. She's determined to get her child back by any means necessary, even if those means are highly illegal.

As illegal as springing her husband from prison, in fact. Somehow her crazy plan to have Clovis change clothes and just walk out of prison -- don't they have a log book of who goes in and who goes out? -- works, at least to the extend that they wind up in the parking lot on the other side of the prison fence, where they hitch what Lou Jean probably plans to be the first of a couple of rides to the town of Sugar Land, where they'll be able to get their child. Except that of course it's not going to be quite so simple. The salt of the earth couple with whom they've hitched their first ride from the prison parking lot have a burned out taillight, which rookie highway patrol officer Slide (Michael Sacks) notices, so he pulls the car over. Clovis, fearing he's going to be caught, takes off with the car while Slide has the older couple outside! So Slide takes off after them, and after a chase and a botched apprehension, Clovis winds up getting a hold of Slide's gun and taking him hostage in his police car, planning to drive to Sugar Land. It doesn't quite work out like that, resulting in the comical and bizarre spectical of a whole line of police cars from multiple jurisdictions chasing aftre them in a long line in what seems more like a procession, or maybe the following of OJ Simpson's white Ford Bronco back in 1994.

Goldie Hawn, certainly when she was younger, always looked like she was stereotypically ditzy, and winning an Oscar for a movie like Cactus Flower probably didn't help any. But she does an admirable job here playing a woman who is in many ways nothing more than understandably desperate to see her child. Her plan may be hare-brained, but that's to be expected, and even fits well with the ditz stereotype. Sure Lou Jean and her husband are committing all sorts of crimes, but the viewer can't help but have sympathy for them. Michael Sacks is also pretty good as Slide, the young patrolman who probably still has all those platitudes he learned at the academy ringing in his ears, and is now confronted with a situation that he never would have been trained to handle, with the result that he develops a case of Stockholm Syndrome before the term had been coined. (In fact, the original hostage case in Stockholm in 1973 thet coined the phrase was handled problematically.)

The story is supposedly based on a true story, although I have to think a lot of liberties were taken by the screenplay, as it seems thorougly unreal. It gets the geography of Texas particularly wrong, positing that going from the prison outside of Texas to Sugar Land would be a long cross-state drive, while the drive from Sugar Land to the border with Mexico would be maybe a half hour or so; in fact it's almost the reverse in that Sugar Land is about an hour from Houston and the border would be five or six hours away. It's quirky and successfully mixes both comedy and drama, as in a scene where they hole up for the night in a motor home dealership and watch cartoons at the drive-in across the way. There's also that poor couple Lou Jean and Clovis first hitch a ride with. Steven Spielberg uses the camera effectively, which is especially noticeable when he films inside the cars.

When The Sugarland Express last aired as part of the Essentials, co-host Drew Barrymore, who had of course worked with Spielberg on E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, had an interesting story to tell about Spielberg, so stay tuned for that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch, 1925-2014

You may not have heard the news yesterday, but actress Elaine Stritch has died at the age of 89. Stritch did quite a lot of work on Broadway, but she also made many forays into television and a lesser number into movies. One of the earliest was the 1957 Jennifer Jones/Rock Hudson version of A Farewell to Arms. The 1932 version is on today's schedule since the movie is based on the Ernest Hemingway novel set against the backdrop of World War I, but the 1957 version isn't on this month's schedule. One of Stritch's films that I've recommended before was Out to Sea, in which she plays the mother of the character played by Dyan Cannon.

Elaine Stritch was also a TCM Guest Prorammer back in December 2007, and the four films she selected were:
Born Yesterday, with chorus girl Judy Holliday learning about politics when husband Broderick Crawford hires William Holden to teach her;
The 1935 version of David Copperfield, in which Freddie Bartholomew learns to stay within his budget;
Butterfield 8 starring Elizabeth Taylor as a model/escort with tastes above her station; and
The 1940 version of Waterloo Bridge, about a woman who loses her fiancé in World War I and suffers greatly as a result.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stamboul Quest again

I briefly mentioned Stamboul Quest back in November 2008. It's on again tomorrow afternoon (July 18) at 12:30 PM as part of TCM's Friday look at World War I in the movies. What I said about it back then holds true, I think; if you haven't seen it before, it's worth a watch. But I wanted to mention it again since it doesn't seem to be available on DVD.

Boris Karloff night, of a sort

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a pair of crime movies, both of which were remade. The twist, however, is that TCM is running both the originals, and the remakes. It's also mildly interesting, although purely a coincidence I think, that both of the originals have Boris Karloff in decidedly non-horror roles. (It's probably also coincidental that Howard Hawks directed both originals.)

The first of the movies is The Criminal Code at 8:00 PM. Unfortunately I only got to see about two-thirds of this the last time it showed up on TCM, and then something interrupted me and I never got to see the end, so I'm looking forward to tonight's airing. Walter Huston plays a DA turned prison warden who tries to rehabilitate the young naïf (Phillips Holmes) he sent to prison. Things, however, get complicated when Holmes falls in love with Huston's daughter (Constance Cummings), and even more so when he sees his cellmate commit a murder. It's Boris Karloff playing that cellmate. There's shades of Robert Montgomery in The Big House here, but the two-thirds that I saw were certainly interesting. A bit of trivia: The Criminal Code is the movie that Boris Karloff's character is watching on TV at the beginning of Targets. The Criminal Code was remade in 1950 as Convicted, which TCM is showing at 10:00 PM. I haven't seen that one at all.

The other original is Scarface at midnight, which has Paul Muni starring as a gangster who's based somewhat loosely on Al Capone. Karloff plays an Irish gangster who gets a memorable scene in a bowling alley. But it's Paul Muni's movie all the way as he plays the ultraviolent mobster. Scarface was remade in the early 1980s by Brian De Palma, starring Al Pacino as the gangster and moving the action to Miami's Cuban-American community and having Scarface control the drug trade. That version is on at 2:00 AM, as TCM won't show a film with so much bad language at a more reasonable hour. Personally, I find the De Palma version overlong and bloated. But, I know that a lot of critics would disagree with me on that one. As always, judge for yourself.

Now TCM really needs to dust off fellow horror star Bela Lugosi's comic turn in Broadminded.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Three years before Judd Hirsch was born

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of James Cagney, so natrually TCM is celebrating the day with a bunch of his films. Nine of them, in fact, almost all of them made in the first half decade of Cagney's Hollywood career. The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with the 1932 film Taxi!.

Cagney plays Matt Nolan, a taxi driver in New York at a time when driving a cab is even more tough of a proposition than normal: there's a taxi war going on, with the new company owned by Buck Gerard (David Landau) trying to win business away from independent cabbies like Matt and all of his friends who, although they're technically competing with one another, have an unwritten agreement on where they're going to operate. The new company doesn't care about any such agreement, and isn't just trying to win business; it'll take business by force if necessary. In this case, it meand sending in a truck-driving enforcer (Nat Pendleton) to get in an "accident" with Pops (Guy Kibbee) to try to destroy Pops' cab. No cab, no business, and an opportunity for the new company to come in. The only problem is, Pops fights back, which results in one of the members of the gang trying to destroy his taxi getting killed. Pops, unsurprisingly, gets sent to prison.

The other independents have a problem on their hands, and it isn't Pops, of course. They're facing violent attempts to drive them out of business, and unsurprisingly, they're not about to take it lying down because if they do, they'll be driven out of business just like Pops. So they hold a meeting to discuss what to do, inviting Pops' daughter Sue (Loretta Young). She surprises all of them, and most especially Matt, by saying that fighting back with violence, which is what Matt would like to do, isn't the answre. So you've got Matt and Sue butting heads, as it were. But this is also a 1930s movie, so it shouldn't be too surprising that our male lead is going to fall head over heels for our female lead, to the point that they actually get married!

But will Sue be able to tame Matt's desire for angry retribution, or will Matt crush Sue's heart by getting himself in legal trouble in a violent attempt to save his taxi business? That question comes into stark focus when Buck gets in a fight with Matt's brother Danny, leaving Danny to bleed to death. Now Matt really wants revenge, even if it goes against everything Sue has been talking about....

Taxi! is reasonably representative of the programmers Warner Bros. was making in the early 1930s. It's short, at just under 70 minutes, but it tries to put a lot of action in. Some of the plot turns you can see coming a mile away, and if this movie had been assigned to much of the stock cast who were around the studios in the early 1930s, it would be one of those pre-Codes that shows up on TCM with a bunch of people whose names are obscure now and about which you think it's mildly interesting but nothing spectacular. Taxi!, however, has James Cagney, and his presence alone is enough to bump up even an otherwise by-the-numbers pre-Code up several notches. Everybody else is professional, but as so often happens, Taxi! is Cagney's movie all the way. Watch for George Raft on the dance floor.

As far as I'm aware, Taxi! isn't on DVD.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


So I turned on TCM about five minutes before 8:00 last night so I could watch For the Defense, the first of last night's Kay Francis movies. TCM was finishing up what looked to be a fairly unfunny short that I didn't recognize, although it was obviously from the early 1930s. A look at TCM's online schedule revealed that short to be 1932's The Soilers, starring Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly.

So I went to IMDb to look it up. The search revealed that in addition to the 1932 version of The Soilers, there was also a 1923 short also titled The Soilers. The two have nothing in common other than the title. The 1923 version stars Stan Laurel -- without Oliver Hardy -- and is set against the backdrop of the Alaska Gold Rush. It sounds interesting, since I don't think I've seen any of Laurel's early shorts without Hardy. That, and the presence of a really stereotypically gay character. Half of the 20-minute movie seems to have shown up on Youtube, but not the whole thing. (The 1932 The Soilers doesn't seem to be on Youtube at all.)

Stan Laurel's The Soilers was parodying The Spoilers, which was apparently one of the popular movies of 1923, and was filmed in several versions, perhaps most famously in 1942 with John Wayne. In fact, all of the versions of the movie are based upon a popular novel from the beginning of the 20th century by a man named Rex Beach. For some reason, that name sounded familiar to me, although I wasn't quite certain why. It turns out that quite a few of Beach's adventure novels have been turned into movies. I blogged about The Silver Horde before, while another one that sure sounds famliiar is Flowing Gold (1940), which has John Garfield and Pat O'Brien working in the oil fields. In fact, I may be mixing it up with the 1939 movie Blackmail, which I know I saw a year or so ago on TCM when TCM ran it. (Was it really only three months ago? For some reason I thought it was longer, but a search of TCM's monthly schedules on my hard drive doesn't yield any other matches since 2007.) That one is also set in the oil industry and has a criminal on the run (John Garfield in Flowing Gold, Edward G. Robinson in Blackmail), but the key difference is that Robinson is clearly innocent and being blackmailed. IMDb doesn't seem to have links to Amazon for either Flowing Gold or Blackmail, so I'm not certain that either of them is on DVD.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stella, without Dallas

A search of the blog archives suggests that I have not done a post on the 1935 film I Found Stella Parish before. It's on TCM tonight at 10:45 PM as part of a night of movies featuring Kay Francis. It's par for the course for Kay Francis movies, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Kay, naturally, plays Stella Parish. Stella, at the beginning of the movie, is an American actress working on the stage in London, where she's fairly successful. Her producer, Stephen Norman (Paul Lukas) would like to marry her, but she says no. She's got a good reason for saying no, too. She was previously married, and has a six-year-old daughter as a result of that marriage named Gloria (Sybil Jason). Gloria lives out in the country with a nanny (Jessie Ralph); Stella is keeping all of this a secret because she fears that if the secret comes out, it's going to ruin her career.

Stella has good reason to fear what will happen to her career, mostly because there's more to her secret than just having been previously married. That more comes to light when her former husband, Clifton Jeffords (Barton MacLane) comes on to the scene. He had committed a murder and gotten Stella sent up for it, and Gloria wsa actually born in prison! But the conviction was overturned and now Stells is in England making her way as an actress, with her American past not known to the folks in the UK. But now pesky little Clifton is here, and with the mother of his child being successful, he wants a piece of the action!

Stella makes a quick getaway back to the US, but her secret is about to be uncovered anyway. Stephen has a friend named Keith Lockridge (Ian Hunter), who is a journalist. Needless to say, you know in a movie like this that when a male journalist meets a lady with a secret, two things are going to happen: the journlist is going to fall in love with the woman, and the secret is going to get printed. Sure enough both of those things happen, and it causes all sorts of problems for Stella and the folks around her.

I Found Stella Parish is a melodramatic potboiler of the sort that Warner Bros. was making a lot of with its leading ladies -- and this was just before Kay Francis was about to be eclipsed by Bette Davis. That's both good and bad. Kay Francis always did her best in roles like this, but the plot is the sort of thing we've seen a dozen times before, and parts of it really srain credulity. It's moderately entertaining, but not quite as entertaining as pre-Code stuff.

I Found Stella Parish is as far as I know not on DVD. It would be a perfect candidate for a Kay Francis box set from the Warner Archive.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A trip down memory lane

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of actor Sidney Blackmer (1895-1973), who played opposite Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar as well as playing US President Theodore Roosevelt on quite a few occasions, from those late 1930s Warner Bros. Technicolor two-reelers (The Monroe Doctrine and Teddy the Rough Rider) as well as feature films like This Is My Affair.

I was thinking of doing a birthday post about Blackmer, and since I knew he had played Roosevelt on several occasions, I did a Google image search of Blackmer playing Roosevelt. That search wasn't quite successful, but it did lead me to this post about Blackmer from a blog titled, "A Trip Down Memory Lane". It's better written than I would have been able to do quickly, and contains quite a bit of information that I wouldn't have known about.

The blog isn't just about movies, but also contains some posts about singers and such. But there seems to be a fair amount of interesting posts, and it's still being updated on a regular basis, so I've decided to add the blog to my blogroll.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Traveltalks and non-Traveltalks

I've mentioned the Traveltalks shorts on quite a few occasions before, and they're always worth watching. One that's coming up in the schedule is 1951's Visiting Italy, which you can catch tomorrow at about 11:50 AM. TCM's schedule lists is following Make Way For Tomorrow, which starts at 10:00 AM and only runs 92 minutes, so I'm not certain quite when in the extra time the Traveltalks short is going to show up, or what TCM is going to do with the other 18 or so minutes. But I'd guess the online schedule is right that the short is going to be at the end of the two-hour block, especially since it's probably being run to coincide with The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone which comes on at noon.

But I'm not writing this post to discuss yet another Traveltalks short. It's just that it's nice to have this particular Traveltalks short on the schedule so we have something to compare to the short I really want to mention: Amalfi Way, which is coming a little after 3:30 AM (overnight tonight or early tomorrow morning depending on your perspective), following The Baby (2:00 AM, 85 min). This one was made in 1955, which was a year or two after the last of the Traveltalks shorts was produced, and has a narrator telling tourists all the fun they can have on the charming Amalfi Coast just south of Naples. Indeed, tourists almost seem to be a character in this one, much more than in the Traveltalks shorts.

So why is this short so different from all the Traveltalks shorts? Eagle-eyed viewers will note the opening credits to this short include one stating it was produced in conjunction with the Italian State Tourist Office. It would explain why tourists are the focus of this movie, and why the narration is so much more directed at tourists, almost as though it was advertising to them, as opposed to the Traveltalks shorts which, while they often mention some of the hotels for tourists, was somewhat more documentary in its focus. Being commissioned by a government tourist office would probably also explain the why the short looks a bit cheap and shoddy, as it's in black and white.

Amalfi Way isn't terrible, but after seeing all those Traveltalks shorts, you'll probably wish the production values could have been better.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Favorite Brunette

I'm not the biggest fan of Bob Hope. But for those of you who are, you may enjoy the double feature of Hope movies that TCM is running tomorrow morning. I'm really not a fan of Hope's 1960s work, so I wouldn't recommend A Global Affair (8:45 AM). The first movie, however, My Favorite Brunette at 7:15 AM, is rather better.

Bob Hope stars as Ronnie Jackson, a baby photographer. Except that, as the movie opens, he's on death row in San Quentin. So the movie goes into a flashback to tell us what happened.... As I said, Ronnis is a baby photographer, so the movie switches to his photography studio, in the same building as the detective agency of Sam McCloud (Alan Ladd in a cameo). Ronnie has always wanted to be a detective, but Sam has never had any desire to let Ronnie do anything to help him, because surely everybody knows that Bob Hope trying to be a detective is going to be fraught with unintentional incompetence. But Sam is going off to Chicago for a job, so Sam lets Ronnie man the phones while Sam is away.

You can of course guess what's going to happen next: Somebody walks into the office desperately needing a detective. That woman is Carlotta Montay (Dorothy Lamour), who claims that she's the daughter of a baron, and that her father is in danger because there are bad guys who want the mineral rights to a mine he owns, and will stop at nothing to get them. This nothing includes almost every trope in old detective movies: disguised identity; trying to claim somebody is insane when they're not; an old dark house; trying to find and destroy negatives to a photograph that will be evidence; and so on.

The difference is that with Bob Hope as the star, My Favorite Brunette is not designed to be a straight-up detective movie, or perhaps not even a detective movie at all, but a comedy. The plot is a bit convoluted, but that might have been by design, with the intention that this not be a detective movie, but a comedy that's simply using the tropes of the detective genre to hang its jokes on.

My Favorite Brunette stands or falls largely on what you think of Bob Hope and his distinctive style. He's certainly competent at doing it here, and fresher than he would be by the time he started making all those unfunny sex farces in the 1960s. Dorothy Lamour is a good foil for Hope, and the bad guys were more or less typecast for comic effect, those being Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. Bing Crosby shows up briefly for a cameo. If you like Bob Hope, you'll probably like this movie and probably already have seen it. If you don't know too much about Hope, this is a better place to start than the later movies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Briefs for July 10, 2014

TCM's lineup for tonight is a bunch of documentaries. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about most of these other than the brief blurbs on them, so they'll be new to me. The only one that was familiar to me is Come Back, Africa at 11:30 PM, which showed up some time back when TCM did a night of movies made by independent documentary film maker Lionel Rogosin. Rogosin wanted to make a movie about the apartheid situation in South Africa, this in 1959 before it really became a hot-button topic in the western world. The South African authorities obviously wouldn't have wanted this, so Rogosin had to lie about his intentions and smuggle his work out.

The first two documentaries sound moderately interesting. First, at 8:00 PM, is Salesman, a late-1960s movie about door-to-door Bible salesmen. When's the last time anybody saw a door-to-door salesman, somebody for whom that was actually their job? I'm not talking about Girl Scout cookies, or Jehovah's Witnesses trying to sell God for free. That's followed at 9:45 PM by The Times of Harvey Milk, the gadfly politician on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors best-known for being gay and getting shot by a rival politician, along with the thoroughly straight mayor.

I mentioned last week that retired general Wesley Clark is presenting the Friday night spotlight of World War I movies. In fact, for the rest of July, the World War I movies will be running all day Friday starting at 6:00 AM, although Clark won't be presenting the daytime movies of course. Tomorrow kicks off with the silent version of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentino. Never having seen the 1960s remake with Glenn Ford, I was surprised to see that the remake is updated to be set in World War II, which would explain why it's not on TCM this month.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Golden Equator

I've mentioned the shorts that RKO was making in the 1950s before. Another interesting one, the 1956 short The Golden Equator, is coming up on TCM tomorrow at 1:07 PM, or just after Lizzie (11:45 AM, 81 min).

This time, the subject is Ecuador, that small South American country that straddles the equator, hence the name both of the country and of this short. This isn't like the old MGM Traveltalks shorts which by this time had wrapped up. Those were almost entirely fluff and travelogue, with James A. Fitzpatrick overlooking the poverty of places (or telling us that they're happy in spite of being poorer than Americans) in favor of the scenery. RKO does give us some scenery; after all, how could you not in a country like Ecuador? But The Golden Equator is more about Ecuador's attempts to move forward as a developing country, with the narrator seriously, but optimistically, telling us about the various development projects.

It all adds up to a document that's interesting as a time capsule, but also sad in a way. As with the Traveltalks shorts, the use of an optimistic tone in discussing Ecuador's development would likely have left the viewers believing that Ecuador was a country soon to become prosperous. Of course, Ecuador has wound up never reaching the potential that this short claims the country has. This isn't the place to discuss why; suffice it to say that they didn't. (To be honest, I have a feeling shorts like this were overstating the subjects' potential in the first place, and that development was going to take longer than the movie implies.) The playthings for the middle and upper classes are wonderful examples of 50s style, but I wonder what life was like away from these places, and how much the middle classes were made to suffer when the inevitable attempts to close the wealth gap happened.

One other problem is that this short is in black and white. Like the Traveltalks shorts, it should have been in color. They couldn't help but show some scenery, especially since the short discusses some of the development projects that are away from the cities. All of that would have looked much better in color. Still, it's a very interesting short of something that never quite came to pass.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Foreign Actresses

I probably made some brief mention back in 2010 that I'm a soccer fan, so I've been enjoying the World Cup. The tournament has reached the semifinal stage. Today's first semifinal features:

The Carmen Mirandas


The Marlene Dietrichs

Well, not quite, but it's Brazil vs. Germany. As far as I can tell, Marlene Dietrich never appeared in a movie with Carmen Miranda. I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like. It would have to have been a musical, I think; I just couldn't see Miranda as a Witness for the Prosecution or one of the nuns in The Garden of Allah. Dietrich, on the other hand, could have fit in doing a musical number, as she did in movies such Blonde Venus pictured above. I have no idea what movie the Carmen Miranda photo is from, of if it's just a generic publicity still. All those fruity hats start to look alike after a while.

The other two teams in the semifinals are Argentina and the Netherlands. I can't really think of too many classic-era actresses from either of those countries, although I was surprised to learn when I was looking up Argentine-born actresses that Olivia Hussey from the 1960s version of Romeo and Juliet was born in Argentina. Maria-Renee Falconetti escaped to Argentina to get away from the Nazis and died there in 1946. Italy went out early, even before the US, but TCM is giving us a bunch of Italian actresses tomorrow, with three movies starring Sophia Loren, two starring Claudia Cardinale, and two starring Gina Lollobrigida. Ireland didn't even qualify for the World Cup, but Irish-born Maureen O'Hara is back on TCM tonight, inclduing Sitting Pretty at 1:00 AM. And hey, TCM is also showing the new-to-me They Met in Argentina at 9:45 PM. (Actually, Argentina is the setting for a surprising number of classic movies.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Come to think of it, I've seen Midnight Court before

When I was looking through the TCM schedule this morning to see if there was anything to do a full-length post on, the title Midnight Court didn't ring a bell. Heck, even the TCM synopsis and the cast didn't sound familiar. It wasn't until I saw the synopsis on my TV box guide that I realized that I'd seen the movie before. It's on tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM, and if you like the B movies that Warner Bros. was putting out in the 1930s, I think you'll like this one.

John Litel plays Victor Shanley, who at the start of the movie is drunk at a seedy bar that gets raided, sending him and a bunch of young people to night court a half century before the TV sitcom of that title. Shanley was actually a prosecuting attorney before becoming a derelict, so when he appears before the court, he goes into a screed against the corruptitude of the legal system. Meanwhile, his old girlfriend Carol (Ann Dvorak), who apparently still has a flame for Victor, takes him to her place to try to sober him up.

Victor, amazingly not having been disbarred, winds up taking a job with local crime boss Al Kruger (William Davidson), because he needs the money. And as is a trope in these movies, going from being on the "right" side fo the law to the "wrong" side immediately becomes profitable, as Victor earns a tidy sum getting the small-time people working as Al's minions (in this case a car-stealing racket) from going to jail and spilling the beans. Victor even takes pity on one of these minions, young Bob Terrill (Carlyle Moore, Jr.). Bob really wants to get into engineering, and only wound up getting into crime because he was more or less tricked by Al and his gang. So when Victor offers Bob a chance to get out of crime by paying for Bob's tuition. Of course, once you get into crime, it's difficult to get out, especially if you're stupid enough to tell your boss that you're getting out of crime....

Midnight Court is typical of the B movies that Warner Bros. was making at the time (it came out in 1937). It's breezy, packing a lot into a short running time, with a bit of social consciousness. Everybody is competent, but the movie never really rises above being the sort of movie that was churned off a production line to fill the public's demand for new movies. Note how many tropes show up here: the washed up drunk; meeting an old girlfriend; the sympathetic young kid who shouldn't be involved in any of this; and the idea that working for the defense not only will immediately be profitable, but is also somewhat immoral. Still, Midnight Court is entertaining enough, if nothing great. If you like old B movies, you could spend 63 minutes in a far worse way than by watching Midnight Court.

A salute to sound editing

So I read in Wikipedia's obituaries page that Paul Apted died over the weekend at the tragically young age of 47. For some reason the name sounded familiar, and that's becuase his father Michael is a director. As for Paul, he was a sound editor, so I wouldn't have recognized his work. That, and I don't get to see movies in the theater very often.

Sound editing, though, is one of those areas that TCM could put a spotlight on if they haven't already done so. Back in December 2012, they had a night focusing on production design, in which Robert Osborne sat down with a pair of production designers, asking them about their work and having them present two movies that they thought showed well what a production designer does. If TCM hasn't done so yet, it might be interesting to sit down with some sound designers/sound editors and get them to explain exactly what it is they do.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cathy O'Donnell, 1923-1970

Cathy O'Donnell with Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Cathy O'Donnell, who depending upon sources was born on this day in either 1923 or 1925. O'Donnell's first substantial role was as Wilma, the girl next door who still loves Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) even though he lost both arms in World War II, in the movie The Best Years of Our Lives. With a good performance like that, you'd think her career would be headed to big things, but life intervened. She decided to marry director William Wyler's brother Robert, who was a good 20 years her senior, something that the studio heads apparently thought wouldn't be good for her image. In fact, the marriage lasted for 22 years until O'Donnell's untimely death from cancer in 1970, but the damage to her career was done.

O'Donnell still was able to appear in several very interesting movies, such as the wife of Farley Granger in Side Street; Granger's girlfriend in They Live By Night; or a supporting role in Detective Story. Her last movie appearance was in William Wyler's Ben-Hur, although I think half of Hollywood appeared in that one since it went on for four hours.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Briefs for July 5, 2014

Wesley Clark, who's presenting the TCM Friday Night Spotlight on World War I movies, wasn't exactly terrible, but it seemed clear he was reading somebody else's script, and I wonder how knowledgeable he really is about all these movies. In fact, he made a comment about being approached by TCM that made it sound as though he never would have had the idea to present the movies himself. To me, there was a marked contrast between Clark and presenters like Jacki Weaver and Anthony Bourdain who both seemed to have a lot more passion. That having been said, somebody at TCM is having every one of these presenters turn to face a different camera halfway through the scripts, because nobody seems to be hitting the mark at the same time the camera does. It's really noticeable, and rather jarring.

I don't know if TCM is going to be running a traditional Star of the Month piece for Maureen O'Hara the way we get for most months -- see Doris Day's piece last month on Rock Hudson, or the one Shirley Jones did on Burt Lancaster. Instead, I saw them run a short interview that Robert Osborne did with O'Hara at the most recent TCM Classic Film Festival this past April, in which O'Hara was as engaging as ever, delivering a couple of zingers to unsuspecting Osborne. I think this is the link, although I didn't actually watch the video at the link, and I can't find a way to embed it. I couldn't find the interview at the TCM Media Room, either.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Two July series on TCM

This being the first Friday in a new month, we're getting a new Friday Night Spotlight on TCM: World War I movies. You may have heard last weekend about the ceremonies looking back at the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event that eventually led to World War I. Former general and briefly candidate for President Wesley Clark will be presenting the movies; I have no idea if he's got any expertise on movies but there you are. The spotlight kicks off tonight at 8:00 PM with Gary Cooper playing Sergeant York, one of the most decorated US soldiers in World War I.

Last Saturday saw the third and last of the Topper movies in the Saturday at 10:30 AM time slot, so we get a new series this week, which is the four Nancy Drew movies, with Bonita Granville as the teen girl detective. The series starts tomorrow with Nancy Drew: Detective, and continues for the next three weeks. This lasts through the end of July, just in time for Summer Under the Stars to take over in August and then get a new series in September.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The limited number of Revolutionary War-themed movies

I suppose I could have titled today's post something to the effect that I could just recycle last year's Independence Day post. I knew I had posted several times about various American-history themed Technicolor two-reelers that Warner Bros. did in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but I had forgotten that I had done a post on all of the Independence Day-themed shorts all airing on one July 4.

TCM is running all of the same shorts again tomorrow, since it's Independence Day again. One big difference is that this time, the shorts actually have their own 30-minute slots on the schedule and show up at least on my box guide. Those three shorts are:

Give Me Liberty at 6:00 AM;
Sons of Liberty at 8:45 AM; and
The Declaration of Independence at 1:00 PM.

The rest of the schedule has many of the same features that you'll see every July 4, mostly because there's a fairly limited number of studio era movies on the Revolutionary War. Perhaps TCM could have found a way to include Northwest Passage, which is colonial themed but not quite Revolutionary War themed. They've also run Drums Along the Mohawk in the past, although it's not on this year's schedule, probably because Fox movies aren't quite as easy to get as some of the other studio's films. I also think that TCM doesn't have the rights to the Disney live-action stuff at all, and hasn't for a couple of years now, which is why the well-suited Johnny Tremain isn't going to show up for Independence Day.

Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Moon and Sixpence

TCM will be marking the birth anniversary of George Sanders tomorrow with a morning and afternoon of his movies. One that I've never recommended before is The Moon and Sixpence, which is coming on tomorrow morning at 11:15 AM.

George Sanders stars as Charles Strickland, who at the start of the movie is a stockbroker living in Victorian London with his wife and kids, and friends with writer Geoffrey Wolfe (Herbert Marshall). However, what Strickland would really like to do is be an artist. So one day, he just gets up and runs off to Paris, so that he can be where the action is and away from all the people he knew, who would only serve to distract him from his art! Mrs. Strickland gets word of her husband's presences in Paris, so she sends Geoffrey to go see him and with any luck, Geoffrey can put some sense into Charles and get him to return to England. Yeah, right. Strickland is living in poverty, but he's got passion for art, and he's actually quite good at it, not that commercial success concerns him.

Time passes, and Wolfe returns to Paris, where he finds out that Strickland has a friend! Well, not quite: he's got a man who thinks Charles is a friend, but Charles doesn't give a damn either way. That man is Dutch artist Dirk Stroeve (Steven Geray) who, like Strickland and a lot of other artists, has moved to Paris with his wife Blanche (Doris Dudley). Dirk doesn't have that much talent himself, but he realizes that Strickland has it in spades, as we already knew. Dirk supports Strickland and even goes so far as to take him in when the state of poverty in which Strickland has been living leads to Strickland's falling seriously ill. Not that Strickland wants the attention, and not that Mrs. Stroeve likes it either.

Eventually, Strickland realizes that the only way he can truly engage his passion for art is to get away from it all by going all the way to the end of the world, which in this case means the South Seas. It's here that Strickland finally meets a woman he can love and who is willing to put up with him, allowing to create art better than he ever had back in Europe. However, it's going to come at the price of his health, as Geoffrey discovers when he goes to the South Seas to discover what ever happened to Strickland....

The Moon and Sixpence is George Sanders' film all the way, and he's excellent. His character is a jerk to everybody around him, but to be fair, a lot of the time he'd really be happier being left alone. People are lavishing attention on him that he never even asked for, and that helps us to be more sympathetic to Strickland. It doesn't hurt either that Sanders was generally quite good at playing the caddish character we like to hate. Everybody else is more than good enough in their supporting roles, although the roles are nothing more than supporting roles. The story, from a novel by Somerset Maugham, is quite good, and the cinematography is interesting, effectively using both sepiatone and for the finale, Technicolor. The Moon and Sixpence deserves to be better remembered than it is, and I'm glad that TCM is showing it again.

Amazon implies that The Moon and Sixpence did get a DVD release at some point, but it looks to be out of print now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paul Mazursky, 1930-2014

I just now noticed the death of director Paul Mazursky, who has died at the age of 84. I didn't realize that Mazursky started as an actor, but according to the obituary, Mazursky played one of the students in the Glenn Ford film Blackboard Jungle. I think the movie I'll always remember Mazursky for is Harry and Tonto, in which Art Carney plays a widower in early 1970s New York City who decides to visit one of his sons out west... but has to take his cat Tonto with him. Harry's adventures with the cat lead to his developing a new outlook on life and to everybody who meets the two of them learning a bit too about how even old people have something to offer us. Art Carney won the Best Actor Oscar for his uplifting portrayal.

Mazursky directed Jill Clayburgh to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the 1978 movie An Unmarried Woman, which is a better movie than I would ever give it credit for, although my negative views about it are really more that it's not my type. When I was six years old it sounded like such a grown-up movies, and it is. But I'm also a man, and when I finally decided to watch it back in the old days when the Fox Movie Channel ran older movies 24 hours a day, I could only sit through it up to the point where the Clayburgh character starts telling her shrink about having her first menstrual period. Yeah, that's what I really want to watch a movie about. Not that this is Mazursky's fault, of course.

Mazursky was a guest programmer on TCM, I think back in the November 2007 month of guest programmers. I distinctly recall his comments on King Kong. He said he watched it with a friend of his when they were about 10 years old. During one key sequence -- I think the one where Kong kills the dinosaur -- the effects caused his friend to throw up all over the movie theater floor. Gee, thought Mazursky. If movies can make my friend do this, then I want to make movies that make people do things like this!

TCM Star of the Month July 2014: Maureen O'Hara

We've already reached the first day of a new month, and this time, it's also the first of five nights given over to a new Star of the Month on TCM: Maureen O'Hara. O'Hara might be best remembered for the westerns she made with John Ford and John Wayne, and indeed there's an interesting Word of Mouth piece that TCM runs from time to time featuring O'Hara talking about her experiences with the two of them. They were making another movie together, and one night Ford and Wayne got drunk enough that Wayne was in no condition to drive. So Ford told O'Hara to drive Wayne home, and along the way, Wayne made O'Hara stop at the house of some complete strangers, where he pounded on the door and got the residents to fix him a drink!

None of O'Hara's movies with Wayne are on tonight's schedule. Instead, it starts off at 8:00 PM with the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which O'Hara plays Esmeralda opposite Charles Laughton's Quasimodo.

That's followed at 10:15 PM by How Green Was My Valley, in which O'Hara plays the adult daughter in a Welsh family where the only work around for the men is going down in the coal mines.

Sentimental Journey is up third at 12:30 AM; this one has O'Hara as a terminally ill actress trying to adopt a child for her husband so he won't be alone after she dies. You'd think the adoption agencies would reject such a request outright.

Then at 2:15 AM is The Forbidden Street which I think is a TCM premiere; in this Victorian-era drama O'Hara plays a woman from a reasonably well-to-do family who marries down and finds tragedy.